Saturday, February 27, 2010

Weekly Fishing

Took my almost weekly fishing trip today. Caught three nice steelhead and kept one. I'll put it in the smoker tomorrow. I went alone and it was nice. The steelhead still seem to be running just fine, but it should be winding down here in the next month. I think season is open until April 15th.

Then on April 15th turkey and bear season opens. I'm excited about turkey season. Bear season I could take or leave. Some of my friends swear that bear sausage is the best thing they've ever eaten in their lives. Some of the older gals I know say that bear lard is the best for making pies. I don't know. I've never taken a bear. I've never taken a turkey either for that matter.

I could have shot a bear on opening day of deer and elk season two years ago, but I was more interested in elk and not in spending the weekend dealing with a bear. I'll probably go out once or twice for bear. I'll bring my Marlin lever action 45-70. It is the perfect bear rifle.

Turkey I'll probably go out as much as I can. I love walking in the woods in the pre-dawn listening to the turkeys gobble in the trees. It's fun to learn a new kind of hunting, but it can also be frustrating. Going out and not being successful. But, it's not like fishing for bluegills. If it were easy, everyone would do it

I've got places where I know there are both turkeys and bear. Now I just have to make sure I'm in good enough physical shape that I don't over exert myself alone in the woods.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Divine Presence

"We believe that the divine presence is everywhere" - Rule of Saint Benedict

This was from the reading from today in the "Rule of Saint Benedict". It goes on to mention that the eyes of the Lord are on both the good and the evil everywhere.

I don't know much about evil, but I had some good moments and some bad moments today. I suppose God was present through it all. I sure needed all the help I could get.

I like to remember to see God's presence in everything I encounter. We are all God's children, whether you are sick or well, pleasant or unpleasant, happy or unhappy. God is present in the least likable people I meet each day. God is present in the funky spring weather that is sunny and warm one day and sleeting and cold the next. He is present in the puppy that won't mind your commands.

It is important for me to try to see God in the places where he is difficult to see.

For me, it is easier to see God in the mountains or a trout stream. With the sun shining down and a fly-rod in my hand. It's easy to see God in puppy dogs or baby chicks, in the flowers coming up in spring, in the grass starting to grow in the hayfield.

So, that said, I have a few days off and I hope to spend them seeing God in the easy places. On the farm, fishing for steelhead, hiking with the puppy and Colleen, planting tomatoes in the sun-room. Hopefully then I will carry the vision of God into the following week when God's divine presence is less obvious.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

First Flowers!

The first flowers to bloom of the year. I'm not exactly sure what the yellow ones are, but the white ones are called "snow drops." After the amazing February warm streak, bulbs are coming up everywhere.
It sure is nice to have flowers. I haven't seen any garlic yet, but it can't be far behind. It gives me hope that Spring may have arrived early.
Of course, we got snow on June fifth here a couple of years ago.
Well, happy Spring.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Barn restoration

Our beautiful barn, which is in the picture on our header, is in need of some TLC. The foundation along one wall is crumbling. It is a field stone foundation over 100 years old. The good news is that the structural components of the barn look sound. A neighbor and new friend is a retired construction worker and specializes in barn restoration. He took a look and is interested in helping us. We would, of course, pay him for his technical assistance, while I would do part of the grunt work. I can work hard and am reasonably handy but lack the expertise to do something this complicated. We would support the side of the barn, take out the old rock and prepare the area, have a concrete contractor pour quick footings, and then he and I would build the new foundation from there. Lots of work I'm sure.

We would probably do one side of the barn at a time but do the whole foundation eventually. Then put a tin roof on it and re-nail the structural supports. I know, I know, I hate to put a tin roof on a historic barn, but cost wise we just couldn't afford to do it in cedar shake.

There is a tax credit available for the work. It's only 10% if you are not on the historic registry, but it's something. I don't think we want someone telling us what we can do with our barn, so we aren't interested in getting on the registry. The tax credit is 20% if you go on the historic registry.

I'm excited to do the work and get it done. It would be a tragedy to lose the barn. Colleen and I both agree it is a priority.

We were talking tonight about how blessed we have been to find this special place and have things work out to purchase it. I am doing the things I have dreamed of doing my whole life. Teaching part time and owning a working farm. I am so filled with gratitude.

Another Spring Day

Luna and the barn in the distance. It definitely feels like Spring here. Not that we couldn't still get a 2 foot March snow, but at least for the moment it is 50 degrees and sunny. There is plenty to do around the farm. My teaching week is done and it's back to work on the barn ramps.

Orders for eggs and meat birds keep rolling in. We are going to have to start turning people away for eggs. Maybe we'll try to get some young pullets. We are going to get some laying hens as chicks for sure. We've got room for a few more laying hens.
Luna is looking more and more like a hunter each day, but there is nothing for her to hunt on our property. All the rabbits have disappeared. Seasons are closed on all the game birds in the mountains.
Life is good. I love the teaching I do half time and love the fact that I get to spend the rest of the time on the farm. With this warm spell, the rivers are high so steelheading fishing this weekend is out. I'll be spending some time trying to plant some last minute garlic if the ground dries out enough. We have one variety, "Red Chesnok", that we didn't plant enough of. It is a great tasting purple strip variety. Then just cleaning up and building the ramps.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I guess I'm praying hard now!

To pray is to work, to work is to pray. Orare est Laborare, Laborare est Orare. For the last two days I've been building earthen ramps into the barn for the pigs and goats. The doors to the areas for the animals are about three feet off the ground. There must have been wooden ramps there at one time that rotted away.

So I built a frame out of free pallet wood and scraps from around the farm. Then I've been filling it in with stone and broken concrete. Then covering it with dirt and gravel. The pig ramp has been a special pain in the butt because it is at an angle that I can't dump the loader into. I have to shovel the rock and gravel into the loader, then dump it and shovel it again into place. The goat ramp I will be able to dump directly into. Hard work!

I taught this morning before working on the ramps. After twenty years of teaching, I'm not used to working hard with my hands. It feels good, but I am sore. Not that I've been a couch potato or anything. It's just that the exercise I have gotten has been hiking, and hunting, and fishing, and backpacking. Shoveling rock is a whole different thing.

Did I mention it was raining. Didn't really bother me much. It wasn't raining hard. Just enough to say to yourself, "Self, you are shoveling rock in the rain in February."

But really, it was very meditative. It's hard to be distracted by worldly clamors when you are working outdoors. I wasn't worried about money or pride or responsibility. I just was.

And now the pigs have a way to get into their nice warm home.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Russ' day off

Went steelhead fishing today with a friend and his young nephew. No teaching or planning, no farm work. Caught a beautiful wild steelhead. The wild ones are catch and release while the hatchery fish you can keep. So, no picture today. I like to release as quickly as possible. The youngster got to see me catch it. Steelheading is not really perfect for an 8 year old. You can fish all day without a bite. But I know I would have loved to spend a day in the outdoors with a couple of scruffy, late middle aged, woodsmen when I was that age. He lasted a few hours before he lost patience with the fishing.

I enjoy bringing home steehead and getting them in the smoker, but actually it's kind of nice not to have to come home after a long day and clean fish. I've been eating smoked steelhead on crackers every day for two weeks anyway. A cracker, a slice of tomato, and a hunk of steelhead. Mmmm.

Tomorrow I will be building ramps into the barn in two places. Both for the animals and also to make it easier to clean out the ancient hay and manure. I'll be building a frame of scrap wood and old pallets then filling it in with gravel. It should work well.

We are having a workday in a few weeks. We are recruiting some local friends who need some extra cash and paying $50 and a farm lunch for 4-5 hours of work. I'm hoping everyone will think it is fun and worthwhile. Pitching out the hay and manure really will be a strenuous and dirty task, but I'll be working right along side.

I remember helping with a barn raising when I was a younger man and it was a really fun day of hard work.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

picking up steam!

We are picking up steam in our farm endeavor. We've had more and more people placing orders for eggs and meat. Unless we increase the number of laying hens we have, we won't be able to keep up with demand. People have ordered pork and chicken as well. We've had people ask about goat's milk too, but we are awaiting changes in the current Idaho agricultural code that would make small scale milk sales legal. We expect that decision soon.

We are ordering seeds TODAY! We could start planting any week now. I am so excited and so scared. What if we fail horribly? We've spoken with the farmer's market and have decided to do a "walk-on" table, so if it doesn't work out we aren't in the hole for a table all summer long. The market is "produce first" so farmers automatically bump other vendors even as walk-ons.

At our current level of advanced sales for eggs, we won't have any left to sell at the farmers market. We are thinking of getting another dozen layer chicks. We are going to do three batches of meat birds, at least three pigs, and start with two milk goats. Zoicks!

There are a myriad of various regulations that apply to selling local food. All of them are designed to make life easier for large corporate farms and difficult for small farmers. Things are loosening slightly, especially as it relates to milk. The pigs, for example, we have to sell "live." The person who purchases them must butcher them themselves or bring them to an approved butcher. We can't butcher for someone else. Same with the chickens.

Anyway, all this farm and garden action is making February seem a lot more Spring-like. Makes me smile.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Puppies, steelhead, and teaching

I apologize that all my posts have been about dogs, steelhead, and teaching. It's February, what can I say. Not much else going on. We will be ordering seeds tonight as well as a four tray germination heat mat. I've never tried one before, but I'm hoping it will help jump start the peppers and tomatoes. We will also be discussing chick orders, barn cleaning and restoration, goats, pigs, fencing, and of course, MONEY. Romance and finance.
My teaching week is done tomorrow and I'll have four days off for President's day. My teaching schedule is fairly light as it is which allows me to do farm stuff even during the school year. I also don't expect to be teaching in the summer. Our only income this summer will be from the farmer's market. Farming is sort of like gambling I guess. Or Russian roulette. We've never done the farmer's market gig before, but we've had so much food the last couple of years we've been giving it to friends and charity.
The dog, as you can see, is now big enough to jump on the couch. She is still quite a handful, but she is learning. I can't wait to take her grouse hunting in September. Then waterfowl hunting, which I'm hopelessly obsessed with.

The seasons dovetail into each other here in Idaho. Gardening and fly-fishing for trout in the summer, harvest and grouse in the early fall, then waterfowl, deer, and elk, then ordering seeds and starting them indoors, then Spring Turkey, then planting season, then back to summer. It works out well. I've never had it so good.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Humus-another rambling meditation

Humus in Latin means earth, ground, or soil. It is the Latin root from which we get English words like "humility" and "humble." It would seems ironic to write in a personal blog about humility, since blogging is a little narcissistic, but here goes.

I was thinking more about being grounded and centered. I was also meditating on beginning seeds in my sun room for this year's market garden. Both are humbling activities. I can nurture seeds and hope that they grow, but much of the miracle of growth is out of my hands. I didn't create the soil or the sun. I can't control whether the Spring is wet or dry, early or late.

Being close to the earth and soil also grounds me. It helps me learn humility. Being "grounded" is not a new idea. It was not invented by the new age folks. The juxtaposition of lightness and weight has been a theme in philosophy and religion for thousands of years.

Mulan Kundera says, "The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?"

But the image of finding meaning in a burden is not new. Of course, the burden of bearing the cross is one of the oldest metaphors or images of this same idea.

When I "take leave of the earth" I become only "half real" and my life becomes "insignificant." If my life is close to the earth. Intertwined with the soil, from which springs sustenance both physical and spiritual, I find meaning.

Sometimes when I think of our farm. The garden, the critters-the chickens, cats, dog, goats, and pigs-I think "dang" how am I going to spend a week fly-fishing in the mountains with all these things relying on me? I lived a life as light as air for years. No commitments, no responsibilities. As the number of burdens I carry has increased, so has my sense of fulfillment. Meaning, purpose, peace, and serenity has increased. How ironic.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Sunny Day on the River

It was sunny and 62 degrees on the Grande Ronde today! That's in Northern Washington State in early February! I was fishing with my sleeves rolled up. Colleen and Luna and I and two friends and their dog went down to the river to fish and relax. The puppies wore themselves out playing and eating fish guts, and I wore myself out not catching fish. Fish were caught, just not by me.
At dawn we were sitting at the bottom of the Lewiston grade waiting to rendezvous with our fellow anglers. Sitting in a roomy, old, American truck with a dog and a friend. Can't beat it. The roads were a little icy and foggy on the way there, but things had cleared by the time we reached the bottom of the canyon on the Ronde.
We saw eagles and mule deer. I really needed a day in the wild after a long week of teaching.
My friend Jamie caught these two, and three others, on a fly-rod. I tried flies briefly but didn't really have the right set up. After watching him and looking at the rig he was using I'll be going back next week with the right gear.

Steelheading is a weird obsession. You can fish all day and not catch a thing. Some days are stellar, and you actually catch a fish. Steelheading sort of falls between the end of deer and waterfowl season, before Turkey season, and around about the time you are reading seed catalogs and ordering seeds. It's a great excuse to get outside and make a day of it in the middle of winter. Sure beats the shack nasties. We should be starting our tomatoes and peppers in the next couple of weeks.

I'm back at home, the sun has set, the owls are hooting, and it's time to go.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bunnies have left the area

We haven't seen but one rabbit this week on our morning walks. Hopefully they have left the immediate garden area. More likely, some have left and the rest have become nocturnal. We will see when we start the lettuce and radishes in the garden. I will play with Luna and a rabbit hide to make sure she has the scent right, but I had been kind of saving the hides for fly-tying.

Today is the last day of my "face to face" work week. I have four hours of face time and a few hours of prep to do. I'm not too overwhelmed. I will be on puppy duty all day Friday and have plenty of farm chores and work planning to do around the farm. I love working my own schedule but that means I have to actually set aside the time to do the work. Whether that's Saturday night at 2 am on the couch, or a sunny Friday afternoon at the picnic table. If I put it off, I don't get paid.

Well, it's breakfast, then off to teach.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hard work

I've had a tension headache for two weeks. I've tried more coffee, less coffee, aspirin, tylenol, more sleep, less work and everything else I could think of. The one thing that didn't occur to me was trying a nine hour day of teaching special education. All of it non-stop with students. I was totally stressed this morning, wondering how I would make it through the day. Now I feel a sense of tired peace. I worked hard. I did a good job. I made a difference in the lives of the children and families I work with. I served God and my fellow man to the best of my ability.

And as a reward, my tension headache is gone. For the first time in weeks I feel calm and at peace. I feel confident in my abilities to teach and handle my work load for the rest of the week.

I hope to do a little bunny hunting with Luna (the puppy) later this week, go steelhead fishing with Colleen and hopefully some other good friends, and maybe even bring the fly-rod to the steelhead stream. Life is good. We are indeed blessed.