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“I have something to show you.” Out at the vineyard, a crazily windy day, Scott was doing some farming while Sam and I loitered along a section of the road that was nestled down between the hills and out of the wind, playing Sam’s freshly invented rock toss games.

“What?”

“Jack found an owl in the vineyard. I don’t know if it’s still there. I must have walked right by it, but then Jack found it. It was there, it’s big round face peeking at me, and its wings out.”

“Where is it?”

“In the vineyard. I’ll show it to you after I’m done.”

And off he went, leaving me to my racing thoughts. An owl in the vineyard! In daylight. It must be hurt. It has to be hurt. Why didn’t it fly away? What are we going to do? I hope it’s flown away, was some fluke thing, but in the daylight! On the ground.

Oh, was my heart pounding loudly while Sam and I made our way back up the hill, remembering that windy day when we found the flicker. Today, though, despite the excitement, emotionally I felt calm enough, something I didn’t remember feeling back when I headed down the hill toward the birdnet-wrapped flicker. Maybe my skin was toughening up, out here on the farm? Because now, the simple resignation that we’d have to figure out a course of action IF the owl was still there was what propelled my thoughts as we plodded toward the hill’s top. It seemed the practical had replaced the emotional, to some degree.

Back at the camper, I started to look for Oregon Fish and Wildlife on my phone in case the owl was still there, hurrying, hurrying, so I’d be ready when Scott came back. It seemed like forever, but I found it, and wrote it down. Scott had just come in and waited for me to finish. We all got in the car and headed down the vineyard road. Leaving Jack inside, we–Scott, Sam, and myself–got out.

As we stepped into the vineyard, the wind howling around our ears and pulling at my hat, I was rather nervous. But still calm, I had to be; we didn’t even know if the owl was still there, and if it was, we all had to stay quiet. A ruckus would not help anything. As we made our way down the hill, Sam wondered about the owl, and Scott was telling him something, I don’t know what it was because I was thinking too much of what we might find.

We walked some 15 yards or so down a row. “See where that matted grass is?” asked Scott. “That’s where he was.”

For a brief moment I was somewhat relieved. It had flown away! Until I saw a little face one row over to the east peeking under the wire.

A barn owl. And it was still there, with its wings out, in what appeared to be a menacing posture the more we looked at it, but it was not flying anywhere. We stayed for a few moments, me snapping some pictures, trying to see if the wings looked mangled or it looked mangled somewhere else or anything that might help me pin down and understand why that guy was there, and describe the situation to whomever I spoke with next on the phone. I had never been so close to a barn owl, and marveled at that strangeness of this little one’s face; the triangle of white, the  blackness of its eyes. And its beauty. The dark spots on its back and wings jumped in the light, and its gentle buff color was a perfect disguise for the grasses it was now in. We didn’t stay too long, we didn’t want to bother it any more than we had to, and anyway, now we knew: we had a barn owl on the ground that could not fly, and we had to figure out what to do; we weren’t just going to leave it there.

Back in the car I dialed Oregon Fish and Wildlife, but, it being Saturday, reached no-one. So I called the Oregon State Troopers as recommended by OFW and told them my owl story. They took the information, and the gal told me a volunteer would be calling me back sometime. I questioned the experience of the volunteer and how long I’d have to wait and hung-up satisfied knowing it was an Audobon-type rescue person. Now I had to wait for a call back. And there it was. Not the volunteer, but the State Troopers, relaying the number for a more local wildlife rescue spot in Rowena, Rowena Wildlife Clinic, just down the Columbia River a few miles from The Dalles. I called them and got the answering machine, suggesting if I had an injured animal that I try to capture it and put it into a padded cardboard box! My message relayed I would not try to do this, please call back.

For a few minutes after leaving the message, Scott and I thought about how we might capture the owl; I had rounded up an injured duck once, gently securing it in a blanket before placing it in a box and hauling it off to the Audubon Society Wildlife Care Center in Portland, and had done the same thing for a young Scrub Jay, too. But an owl? With talons and sharp beak? No, we needed professionals on this.

Of course Sam was getting hungry now, it was well past lunchtime, and he had forgone breakfast on the drive out to wait for MacDonalds to begin their lunch service (oh, the things that kid will do for a cheese burger), so he and Scott headed to town and left me and Jack on the hill in the camper, waiting for a phone call.

Antsy, I looked up Portland’s Audubon Society number, to talk to SOMEONE and try to figure out more about our owl. And I’m glad I did. The gal there asked me about its wings and if one seemed to be hanging. The wings seemed to be fine, I told her. She told me it could be the owl was simply eating. In the daylight? I asked. She said if an owl doesn’t get enough to eat at night, they’ll hunt in day. I told her we had plenty of rodents on our hill, and I wouldn’t think that would be the case, but what did I know. She asked about any downy plummage. I told her I noticed the chest feathers blowing in the wind, but maybe it was just because it was so windy and not because of them being downy. She said if I could send some pictures it would be a great help. So after hanging up, off I tramped to look for our owl again.

I found him, wings no longer outstretched, but now tucked close to his body.

He was hunkered down under a vine, next to a post. For a minute or so he didn’t even seem to notice me, but then lifted his head. I spoke to him, and saw his eyes readjusting toward me. Just a little bird, it looked like. I also noticed more downy feathers. I got what pictures I could on my iphone, nothing too exciting because I didn’t want to get too close; the grasses were also blowing wildly. Back at the camper I sent one then called Audubon again, to update the goings on of the little owl.

We chatted briefly, I told her about the downy plummage, and then there was an “a-ha” moment. It’s possible, she told me, that this was a fledgling. Barn owls, she said, spend around 2 weeks on the ground after they leave their nest, because they can’t fly. Where would this guy come from, then? I asked her. Do you have an out building where they might nest? she asked. Nope. Well, she said, this guy hopped from somewhere. We hung up, she telling me the expert would get back to me sometime, but that it was a busy day at her center.

So it might be a baby. Where did it come from? We had a number of owl houses in the vineyard, boxes we had put up to help entice owls for rodent patrol. Could it be finally a family had moved in? I looked out the camper window and sure enough, there was an owl box not far from where Scott had found the owl. I headed out again.

What a grand surprise. The base of the pole on which the box is attached was littered with owl pellets. I looked up at the box, the sun in my eyes as I peered toward the hole that faced eastward, out of the wind. And there was something looking back. An owl.

That was it. Our guy was a young barn owl who had left the nest. I was thrilled. We had owls, and what we had stumbled upon was just a part of the life-cycle of this beautiful creature.

I went back to the camper and since I had not heard back from the Rowena Wildlife Rescue Center, I called them again, with hopes of talking to someone more local, probably for more verification of this new discovery. I got through. I chatted with Jean a bit, and I felt comfortable enough with the idea of leaving the owl now, knowing it was a fledgling, but I wanted to be to be as close to 100% sure he was OK to leave. The big thing in my head was to try and see if the wings were ok. I had asked Scott what felt like a million times that day TO HIM if he was CERTAIN both wings were extended when he first saw the owl. “How many times do I have to tell you they were?!” he would exclaim. So I told the Jean about the wings being out the first time, the hunkering down the second time I saw it. We discussed me going back and trying to coax some more defensive behaviour, just to check its wings. She told me other than the spread wings, a barn owl would jump backward and try to show its talons, and possibly screech. She had to go because she was just about to perform surgery, but told me she’d listen for my message with what I found.

I headed out again. The little guy was still hunkered down. I edged closer and closer. No defensive behaviour, but the swinging of his head back and forth and up and down. By this time Sam and Scott had come back and came down the hill to find me. We all sat near the little owl. Scott spoke to it this time, and told him we wouldn’t hurt him, and how glad we were to have him there. Sam didn’t seem to really care one way or another. I got more pictures then headed back to the car to call Rowena with my update. It wasn’t long before Jean called me back, and said what I described sounded perfectly normal.

So there you have it. Tear have finally come to my eyes as I write this and think about that little one, alone out in our vineyard, still within sight of his Mama, but still. In the end, we collected as much information as we could, spoke with experts, and made our decision to leave him on the hill. But oh! such a small, fragile life! Of course I worried all the way back to Portland and then last night about him. We have coyotes near the vineyard and I’m sure fox are around as well. Then I read Great Horned Owls will hunt these little guys. And I’m already nervous about the bird netting we ensconce the vineyard in when the grapes ripen. All I can do is keep my fingers crossed that it’ll all be OK. And smile for the new little owl life and his family, out there on our hill.


[If you ever find a hurt or “misplaced” animal in the wild, click here for some information that can help, from the Rowena Wildlife Clinic, in Mosier, Oregon]

 

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Well, more like their scent. And thankfully not everywhere I look/smell around because that would just be wrong. Lilacs in February? I found this little lovely in in Pier Park, right next to where we live, one of two small bushes nestled under the towering firs that have decided: it’s time. You can’t blame them — it’s been unseasonably warm. In reality, though, they are more an early May/Mother’s Day bloom out this way, and if all the bushes happened to be flowering, that would be trouble: too warm.

We want, no, make that NEED, our vineyard to slumber for another few months, so that a late season frost doesn’t cause harm if it awakens too early. Although what can you do? Even though our land is 90 miles away in a cooler, drier climate, 90 miles really isn’t that far; it’s almost 60 degrees F here in Portland today, and in the low 50s right now in The Dalles. As long as the nights stay cool, though, we’re good, and Weather Underground is showing some rather chilly nights during this period of warmth. If we were making maple syrup (which we can’t out here since sugar maples are not to be found — dang it!) we’d love this weather. But it puts me a little on edge vineyard-wise. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it, how something so lovely and scented as a lilac can make one worry?

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It’s been warm here in Portland these last few days, and it’s projected to continue. So that means it’ll be just what we need out east in the vineyard, helping those little vines catch up to the slow start they, and most others out here in the West, have endured. And while they do, and while the heat leaves us looking for cool and sweating out whether or not our grapes will ripen in time, may I suggest a drink I have concocted: Basil-Strawberry Rum-Ade.

We made it up after I had had enough of the sickly sweet of diet coke in the Cuba Libres Scott had been pouring for us pre-dinner (we drink wine at dinner; nothing fancy, we are on a budget, after all). So I used what we had on hand, as any desperate-for-a-good-drink housewife might–lemons, basil from our “terracotta” garden pot, and strawberries saved from the slugs in the earthen garden–and put this refresher together. Maybe one like it already exists in the mixology-sphere, I dunno; I’ve never seen it on menus or run across it online. So here’s what I made, and it’s rather flavorful, the basil a lovely herbal counter-balance to the sweet of the strawberries and triple-sec:

Basil-Strawberry Rum-Ade
2-3 small strawberries — I used the very small and incredibly flavor-saturated ones grown in our garden
1 fresh large basil leaf
1/4 lemon, juiced
ice cubes
1 good splash of triple-sec — I used approx. 1 TBLSP
rum

Here’s how it goes:

Muddle the strawberries and basil leaf in the lemon juice.

Add the triple sec, then fill up the glass with ice.

Top off with rum, as much as you’d like.

Mix.

And there you have it. I’m looking forward to trying it with a little seltzer splash, for some bubble. And I can’t wait for the day I can offer it to friends at our home on our hill, overlooking Mt. Hood,

listening to the coyotes gather in the distance, our vineyard (and maybe winery, do I dare to dream so grandly?) in view; of course I’d also serve my favorite flavor of pork rinds (plain), because nothing beats a good rind and  good drink with good friends in the glorious wilds of the West.

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Our well’s pump stopped out at the farm. Nice. After hours of Scott calling around for trouble-shooting and alternatives–new pump? repair existing?–it was decided, we’d get it fixed. The problem was that Scott was at work, and the people who would fix the pump were in Vancouver, WA, some 90 miles-ish from the vineyard, and every day without water for the vines was, well, everyday without water. So after getting the phone call from Scott, off me and the little one went, from Portland to The Dalles, to pick up the pump, and haul it to Vancouver.

The pump and motor had already been pulled out of the 250 foot hole, so all that was needed was to lift that sucker and 250 feet of wiring into the back of the truck. Thankfully, our neighbor out there, who also shares the pump, had a winch on his work truck, so after some struggles, we lifted and pushed the motor (looked like a 5 foot torpedo) and pump into the pickup’s bed–Sam kept himself busy running up and down the road and tossing little stones into the neighboring wheat field…hmmmm… and then off we went, well, first had to change some little boy’s diaper out in the cheatgrass, but then we were racing the clock to deliver the pump by 5 PM, or as close as we could, which had its own troubles attached: rush hour, and getting across the Columbia River to Vancouver, WA, with all those Vancouverites who come in to Portland to work and then clog up highways on the return home; we needed to get across the river BEFORE we got to Portland.

From The Dalles, there are only three bridges that cross the river before hitting Portland’s highways: one in The Dalles, one in Hood River, and one in Cascade Locks. Crossing any one of these puts you directly in Washington State, on SR (state road) 14, on the most beautiful leafy drive that follows the folds and contours of the Gorge. While stunning, with the vistas of the river and Oregon, it’s much slower going, and it is tourist season, making it even slower. So we opted for the closest-to-Portland bridge at Cascade Locks, The Bridge of The Gods.

The Bridge of The Gods is so-called for the land bridge that formed there eons ago, when Table Mountain collapsed, damming up the river for some time before the backed up river resumed its flow to the sea. This occurrence was experienced and passed down through local Native American lore, the bridge built by one of the sons of the Chief of all the Klickitats’ gods. It’s a great bridge to cross, despited the ongoing $1 toll ($2 if all you have is credit card….), and high above the river, it’s not a lift bridge like at Hood River, where you have to wait for all the river tug and barge traffic, so great a commerce conduit is the Columbia.

After the bridge we were in Washington, in Skamania County, and on the rolling road. Sam almost three, said, with no prompting, “It’s beautiful.” And it was. The tree canopies, the views, the grasses, a very different drive than the highway on the other side of the river. And we made it into Vancouver just at 5. Found the well/pump shop, and we were back over the Columbia River and into Portland not soon after. Sam and I had a great time, we laughed a lot, sang songs, had our standard going-to-the-farm Mc Donalds lunch in the truck, enjoyed the sights (made a mental note to take Gramma and Sam hiking up Beacon Rock when she comes), and now the pump can get fixed.

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So, not having a tasting room, and Memorial Day weekend supposedly being one of the busiest for wine tasters out and about, and knowing our vineyard was TOO far off the beaten trail (not crazy far, but not on a prescribed “wine route,” so to speak), we were driving down a road in Hood River a couple of months ago, on the way to where we have our wine made, and I saw a very cool abandoned garage with great parking out front, conveniently located right off the highway on a great bluff overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, and fully on a “wine trail.” We found out who owned it, he laughingly agreed to let us use the spot–at no charge–we got all required permits with city of Hood River, and Oregon’s governing alcohol commission, and voila, a farm-stand was in motion. So we schlepped our stuff each day 70 minutes down the most scenic highway, to Hood River, and set up our blue canopy wine farm stand, at the Old Garage.

We had a ton of fun, and I believe, met some of the most adventurous of the wine adventurers that weekend. Making one’s mind up to pull off the well-traveled highway and discover what’s under that blue canopy is not for the faint-hearted, but it IS for the curious and courageous, and we are thankful for everyone who had it in them to dodge the potholes and come on in. And they really liked the wine. So one of my theories of our wine being really for the most adventurous was proven that day.

There was also a great showing of our Portland friends, as well as one of our The Dalles buddy’s, and my old boss from ages ago who now lives in “The Hood,” whose support of our endeavor really made us feel all warm in that chilly wind;  Scott was referred to as “the kid” setting up; some guy pulled in and asked if what we were doing was legal and then just left without tasting a thing; the scotch broom smelled divine(!); and an eagle soared out in front. It was truly a grand weekend.

“Will we do it again?” That is the question. People did stop, and we did sell wine, but was it enough to sustain the idea? Will we need to keep going back to keep the momentum going? Or was this weekend it? We’re still working it through. But we do know that from this we have happily run across another “farm stand” opportunity with a restaurant in Mosier, a neighboring town, as well as a very interested and supportive local journalist, and maybe a couple more ops with some of the area’s mover and shakers that can help get our wine out and about even more.

The big thing for us is that we need to get people to our hill; we’re not happy separating the land from our wine, we want people to experience the whole kit and kaboodle, and we know visitors will just be blown away by our site, they will.  So we hope to soon begin hosting “camper” tastings since now we’ve disinfected it from all the mice who conveniently took it over instead of going south to Phoenix for the winter…stay tuned! And if you’re interested in being one of the first “Camper tasters,” please do let us know!

Here’s a link to some photos I posted on Face Book (click on the underlined link, Mom).

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Hat? Check.

Coffee? Check.

Wool socks? Note to self, get some.

Laptop? Check.

Cell phone? Where IS that? Ok – check.

Lots of books to catch up on? Double check.

Toilet paper for public bathroom? Triple check.

Ladies and Gents, I’m back in the Car Office again.

After a fairly short break in real life but like an eternity in web life, I’m right back here at Columbia Park, in north Portland, Oregon, in the car. “Where have you and your Car Office been?” you ask? Well, why don’t I just tell you?

But FIRST, some BREAKING HARVEST NEWS:

The bird netting is being taken off as we speak! Yoohoooooo! That’s right everyone. We’re gearing up for harvest this week. Boy those grapes are taking their sweet time this year! Have had some recent frost scares, some rain scares, but looking at the forecast for the rest of the week

we’re good to go. Scott says the sangiovese still needs some time, but the riesling, cabernet sauvignon, and tempranillo will be snipped by Friday. I’ll try to wing Sam and myself out there for some live, on the spot reporting…

Now on to me. Ha! Seriously. I’ve enjoyed this time away from writing/blogging and here’s why: When we first planted our vineyard, all our freetime went there. All of it, and boy, did it piss me off when I no longer had the vineyard fever like Scott did. We were down to one car, my old Subaru, my autobahn and mountain baby I had with me when I lived in Germany and week-ended in Switzerland, and then my solace when I returned to the States as solo gal, that old suby my trusty trusty on all my Pacific Northwest adventures. Nope, it had been relegated to the farm car, and we had a vineyard to plant, dammit! Anyway, I didn’t want to feel pulled in two directions again, especially now with Sam in our lives.

Some months’ ago, Sam’s daycare ended, thankfully, not that he had a bad time there, but I didn’t like how the gal tweeted about green sale sweaters and a lot more when she was supposed to be engaging with the kids. Geez, louise! That experience solidified how precious our boy was, and somehow I felt guilty to have put him in that gal’s care. I also finally “heard” the lyrics, when Bert sings to Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins, “…childhood slips like sand through a sieve,” and boy didn’t that tug at my heart. Having just moved into a new house last month (yes, there are loan gods!), I essentially have just been hanging out with our very sweet boy in our new digs, and boy am I happy for it.

But now I’m ready to return to this (it’s time!), and thankfully have found a VERY COOL nanny who comes to our home twice a week, and then I escape. Back in the car office again. Look for more coming soon.

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A list of 10 things a person should have at their disposal when venturing out into the Wilds of Wine.

One of the great things about where we live in the Pacific Northwest is all the hiking that surrounds us. The Cascade Mountains are essentially at our doorstep, Mt. Hood the closest to us in Portland, as well as the vineyard (30 miles or so, as the crow flies), Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams near by to the north, and then all the peaks in central Oregon: Mt. Jefferson, Three Sisters, Broken Top…. Not to mention all the opportunities in the Columbia Gorge – Dog Mountain, Table Mountain, Ruckle Ridge, Mt. Defiance, to name a few. Before the vineyard and wine, when times seemed much simpler, and we had the time and car and energy to head out into nature, I was a rather avid hiker, even enrolling in and completing the Mazama’s Basic Climbing Education Program (BCEP) in Scott’s and my salad dating days. The Mazamas are the second oldest climbing group in the West, founded on the pinnacle of Mt. Hood in 1894, and their BCEP a primer for physical conditioning and basic climbing—rock and snow/ice—techniques to get you to the top of some peaks—along with a seasoned Mazama climb leader, of course—at the end of the course.

One of the key things that gets hammered into you in the Mazamas Basic Climbing Education Program is what’s called the 10 Essentials. They are what every climber should carry with them, no matter what the duration of your hike, day or overnight, car-camping or wilderness rambling, to help you in a pinch, and keep you prepared for outdoor’s unexpected twists and turns. They are:

  1. Map of where you are hiking
  2. Compass (I carried one, but still really don’t know how to use one, no fault of the Mazamas, I would even skip lukio in Finland whenever we had our Orienteering gym class. I don’t know why I have such an aversion to the compass. Odd.)
  3. Whistle
  4. Waterproof matches and a fire-starter
  5. Knife
  6. Extra food/water
  7. Extra clothing
  8. Sun protection (extra glasses, lip and skin balm/cream, and hat)
  9. Flashlight with working and extra batteries
  10. First-aid kit

Based on this, I’ve assembled my own list of 10 Essentials that everyone should have at their disposal when starting a vineyard, for going whole hog into the wine business, for even, like in hiking, as much as you think you know where you’re going, there are a ton of unknown variables that can cause you to alter course, or terminate the mission altogether. Here they are, in no real order:

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Woke up this morning to the Times Square bomb scare. How thankful I am for the people there, of NY, of this country that a terrible tragedy was avoided. I was just thinking of bombs and explosives yesterday. We had just finished The Hurt Locker, and well, if you’ve seen it, or have first-hand experiences with such madness, how can it not leave a mark on you?

Out walking Jack we were in our usual park, one in north Portland I don’t think many people care much about. It’s almost always empty, save for errant underwear or condom wrappers or fried chicken bones. But it is a beautiful park, tall, majestic cedars, soft, full grass, forget-me-nots dotting out in the sun-kissed areas. This park backs up to an armory, kept separate by a chain fence with barbed wire at the top. Samuel likes to go close to it and look at the desert transport vehicles lined up next to olive drab trucks and other machinery uncategorizable to a civilian eye.

So there I was, out running around with Jack, and I came across a golf ball just lying there. I’ve stopped picking up errant objects out of fear, I hate to say, from all the news of middle east bombs disguised as toys from years back. Even though if I were to pick it up, I would most likely not lose my hand or arm or life doing so. But I think about it, and more importantly, I think about others who face real crap like that every day. And how much we take for granted. And then I think about my own whining, “Oh, this small house! Oh, all the naysayers! Oh, all sacrifices for this vineyard and wine!” Oh, woe is me, little, poor Stephanie. Tcha. I gotta shut up and buck up. I’ll try. I really will.

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This just in!

Made voice contact with the Architecture and Fine Arts Departments at Portland State University, two in one day. They are interested. Spoke about expectations and timelines and touched briefly on what the University can and cannot do on private property. The most exciting part was when I was told, “I think this is something we can do.” Which is HUGE, as that means we will continue the conversation. It of course is yet to be seen how it might all play out, but the big thing is there is movement. And interest. In fact, I sent my Architecture Professor contact some more info (directions, etc.) so he can go visit the hilltop directly. Yoohoooo!

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HIGHLIGHTS: An idea considered. Hawaii building musingsmusings.

COUNTDOWN: 39.5 WEEKS

With Week Three-Point-Five of The Little House On the Hilltop (TLHOTH) project now behind us, let me share what’s happened.

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