There a few things I hope to accomplish in 2010:
- Work on that attitude of mine;
- Establish a horseshoe pit;
- Get our wine sold;
- Submit another story (or two, but one’s a start);
- Build some shelter on our hilltop.
Each one you’ll most likely hear something about here at The Uncultivated Life, but it is to the last, the shelter on our hilltop, that I now write because seriously, enough is enough.
Almost four years into this, we need something on our hilltop other than our camper. Just a small something where someone like you, dear Reader, can come out and kick back; to sit and survey, look out and see and enjoy the quiet and the expanse, like a small oasis from the rest of the busy world. And someplace where the dreamer inside can go free. (Not to mention, we also need a place to store our farming gear, get that cute little tractor out of the elements, and clean up the clutter that drives me NUTso). As much as we may have started this for ourselves, it’s always been our hope to share it with other individuals who get it: the inherent beauty of a Western landscape; the timeless, intrinsic connection shared between the earth, its bounty, and the people who work it; the idea of possibility and the determination to go for it; the appreciation of the simple and authentic.
Right now, the camper is probably too simple. Authentic, yes. But somewhere between the sleeping berths and small piles of grass seed that trickled out of the mouse-chewn sacks (that still needs cleaning up), plus the chance that the batteries may have worn out and the heat no longer heats is something NOT for the faint hearted. Anyway, that’s only if the wind hasn’t blown the whole thing over, something I’m surprised that hasn’t happened yet.
No, as much as I do love the camper, it IS time to feel the real permanency of this endeavor. Right now as it is, we could simply pack up and pull out like a Traveler family, set up shop down the road, maybe pull into Old Wise All’s yard or roadside (I don’t know why secretly something inside would LOVE to do that, pop my head out of the camper each morning and wave at the Wise Alls, but only for a few days…probably something to do with that attitude that needs polishing up). Scott of course feels the permanency; every time a bill comes due he knows how deep we’re in it. “And what about the vineyard?” you say? “Don’t 35 acres of vines that you planted from nothing but potted starts and cane cuttings now growing for the last four years provide enough roots for you? Don’t they?” Nope. Sorry. Gimme shelter, the kind with no wheels.
It’s always been our plan to preserve our site’s natural setting, as much as possible. Historically, this area is the land’s end of the Oregon Trail, the place where settlers piled their belongings onto rafts for the perilous float down the at that time untamed Columbia River, or in later years, began the treacherous hike up and around Mt. Hood through the Barlow Pass, before reaching their destination: the fertile Willamette Valley. The cultural landscape that surrounds our hill has since been shaped—and particularly in the last decades—by generations of wheat farmers. What has been left “natural” is what’s unfarmable, the “eyebrows” too steep for horses or machinery. It is here you can catch a glimpse of what was: pointy clumps of native grass; bushy dots of grey-green sage; scraggly scrub oak; the purples and blues of the lupine that color this muted landscape in spring before the emerald brilliance of young, growing wheat takes over; and on our property, a lone, dark juniper. Framed by the wheat that grows so well on this dry and bright land, these eyebrows elegantly showcase the old among the new (or newer, I guess) out on these steep and rolling hills. And whatever we build, we do not want to take away from any of it.
Authentic and simple.
“What would the Ingalls family build?” I ask myself.
Always feeling like a pioneer out there on that open, dusty, harsh land, Laura Ingalls is one who springs first to mind.
“Pa’d use what was there,” is my reply.
OK, then. Here’s what we have to work with: loads of earth, a whole lot of wild wind, an occasional fire, nearly every-day sunshine, 120 extra acres to grow stuff on that we currently lease out to a very kind gentleman who grows wheat on it, and very little rain. We also have the most beautiful assortment of colored stones and pebbles washed in by the Great Missoula Floods some 14,000 years ago; after a little digging we’d get to them: ochre and maroon jaspers, deep-to-olive-green North American jade (that’s what I believe it is), dirty white Missoula granite, various grey and brown agates and a ton more that I wish I could identify.
There are also badgers, coyotes, fox, snakes and gray diggers and gophers, and an assortment of song birds like the meadow lark, robin, some kind of finch, sparrows; game birds like the pheasant, Hungarian partridge, California quail, and a wild turkey family just down the road; as well as birds of prey: red-tailed hawks, kestrels, eagles that sometime fly overhead because we’re so close to the river, and cooper’s hawks. Anyway, that’s what’s out there.
My first thought, then, is a rammed-earth something or other (“The Ingalls family lived in an earthen home, a dugout on the banks of Plum Creek” my inner Laura-lust child reminds me). Would of course be wonderful to harness the badgers for their digging power for such a project, or the coyotes—you should see the size of the holes they dig going after a gopher. Maybe if we put gopher scent out they could dig us a proper cellar?! My second, straw-bale. I don’t know which critters out there could help with that. Maybe the birds whistling while we work is enough. They might also be willing to whistle for my third idea, too, a pole barn. I know we don’t have naturally occurring materials for its construction on our property, it still is a traditional agricultural structure.
I guess my next step is to do the research: which is more energy efficient; figure out building timelines when all we have is weekends, really; costs; county requirements; etc.—in essence, what’s do-able time-wise, energy and natural-wise, and cost-wise; I may have said this before, but the only thing supporting this endeavor is Scott, so whatever we do can’t break the bank. And whatever we do, it has to blend in. Sit in the landscape, not on it, or be a reflection of the cultural arena in which we find ourselves. It must embrace the soul of the place, and all what nature provides us. And then when we’re done, maybe we can all sit together, and watch as the shadows grow long in their evening trek over the hills below us, with Mt. Hood becoming nothing but a darkened outline, and the sparkle of the Columbia replaced by the glow of The Dalles until the Milky Way appears in its own dazzle. And as the night’s first coyotes begin their lone songs we will all be there, in the chill of the night’s air, sharing some wine. Or a Side Car or two.
I’ve gotta pull this off. This has to happen by this summer, in time for when we bottle the 2008, our inaugural harvest. Somehow.
Welcome, Little House on the Hill Project, 2010. Stay tuned.
Tags: authentic, California quail, horseshoe pit, Hungarian partridge, juniper, Laura Ingalls, lupine, meadow lark, Missoula Floods, native grass, Oregon Trail, pheasant, pole barn, rammed earth, robin, sage, scrub oak, sparrows, straw-bale, The Dalles, vineyard, wheat, wine