Holiday Letter, December 2017

Underwood Holiday Letter – December 2017

The leaves are raked, the fountains drained, the east wind has swept the back drive clean, and we feel prepared for winter. The ice of last year was a strong incentive to get moving before it hits again.

In September we got the house re-roofed. This remedied persistent leaks and caused Jer to exclaim, “The roof is so beautiful.” His marveling is akin to a dentist admiring our gums, beauty being in the eye of the speaker.

Our house with new roof

Another of our annual projects – smothering the yards in lilies, hydrangeas, daffodils, tulips, begonias, brown-eyed susans, roses, iris, daylilies, coreopsis, and hosta – was universally admired.

And on to our travels:

At Joshua Tree National Park

In February we drove to Tucson, visiting relatives in Sacramento (where June bought a fine pair of hiking/desert boots),  seeing friends in Mesa and Tucson (where we made a new face-to-face friend from the Internet), and exploring three national parks: Pinnacles and Joshua Tree in California, and Saguaro in Arizona.

Tucson and the Saguaro were grandly exotic (we were serenaded by the phainopepla  every morning).

Phainopepla (from Wikipedia, photo by  Lip Kee Yap from Singapore, Republic of Singapore)

Alas, we realized that hiking and clambering over boulders no longer suited our joints.

On the other hand, Jer did not grab a saguaro or a cholla to steady himself


The Casita, our home in Tucson

We never tire of the desert, so we went home via Utah, Great Basin National Park, and U.S. Route 50 across Nevada, the latter a long fascinating ride through multiple Basin-and-Range iterations.

One iteration along Route 50

In July we took a short trip to Bandon, Oregon, along the coast, where the cold and wind kept us huddled inside. In late September our friends George and Kit Szanto flew down from British Columbia, and we drove to Ashland. On the way down, we took them to Oakland (Oregon) where Tolly’s Restaurant, a fine kitschy eatery has been joined by Coco’s Grill and Bar. Two places to eat in this city of 900 save travelers from fast food and monotony along Interstate 5.

Scene from Ashland

After a hiatus from painting, June has begun AirSpace, three-dimensional art works made of wire strands, mesh and spherical objects and hung from ceiling hooks.

From the AirSpace collection

Jer contributes to Wikipedia while June makes art, and we take long daily walks together to see sights and get the stink blown off.

June, Jer, Sam, Jan

Sam, our grandson, is now a chemist at Forrest Technical Coatings and lives in Eugene with Emma, a chemistry student at the University of Oregon. Rick, our son-in-law, builds things and climbs mountains. Jan teaches Spanish at Portland Community College and joins Rick on hikes, climbs, and trips to exotic places.

Jan and Rick’s cat, Edward, Prince of the Household

Another of June’s AirSpace pieces

At Saguaro National Park

Looking south from the Desert Museum in Arizona

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The Last Homestead: Epilogue


 “Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson






























Find out more about the Triple H Homestead at

Rose has written two books, based on her blog entries: “Diary of a Redneck Englishwoman” and “Reflections of a Redneck Englishwoman”. They can be ordered from Amazon or off the Triple H Website.

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The Last Homestead: Sept 18

Sun, September 18, 2016  11:34 AM,

Late Morning, and Hello,

It’s been showering all morning, without warning, so I don’t want to spend too much time out in the open. I’m not made of sugar, but rain is rain. Wet.

I had a splendid walk, about 8 AM. The rain had let up and the mountains were full of misty moving fogs and clouds. So I went up the lane, talked to the horses, photographed more deer (More Deer Photos!!!) and took what I hope will be some decent photos of landscape and misty mountains. I can’t wait to see them on a good screen.


Morning mist and clouds


More morning mist and clouds

I continue to whittle down my photos. I’ve finished the first run-through with deletions – out of focus, duplicates and near duplicates in any single batch are gone – but I’ll need to do a lot more editing (Deer Photos!), and it will be easier to do now that I’ve got some organization going.

The rooster is roostering, the cows have finished their lowing, the pigs are sleeping but the hens have not yet started cackling. Rose and Darrell had finished the milking and got the ’37 chevy running and moving and put it under the arena roof. I suspect it may have gotten wet last night, even though it was covered with a tarp.


So off I go to the back yard. I shan’t add any more to this note unless a big event occurs – I won’t even regale you with tales of Bella’s naughtiness. And I certainly won’t report on any more deer events.

6:06 PM,

Well, here I am again. Bella just came over and tried to lay her nose on the computer but I’m on the narrow deck out of the rain and the computer case in her way. Brandy didn’t recognize me and gave a bit of a growl when I approached, but then decided I was ho-hum and went back to paying no attention.

I took a bit of a nap and then went out to paint (before painting, I ate sardines for lunch and more crackers — I’m beginning to get rather tired of crackers). The painting went very well. I will have a lot of work to do when I get home and I’m hoping to get in another session of painting tomorrow if it doesn’t rain, but nevertheless, the big beast is coming nicely. Each version (iteration?) is better than the last.

Bella is rolling around in the grass on her belly, the black cat is sitting beside me in the sun, and even Brandy has moved fairly near me, probably to be companionable, but perhaps to protect her people. Never clear with Brandy. Now Bella is fixing to have a bit of a scuffle with Brandy, who is not responding.


While I was painting, I heard Ramona, the mum pig, singing a lullaby to her piglets. I swear that’s what it was. Earlier, I saw that one of the piglets had a bad sunburn and may have to have it lanced by Rose. She, the piglet, was frantic with itching, so frantic that I went down to check on her because she seemed to be acting strangely. Ramona and the others were outside, paying little attention, and when sun-burned piglet wasn’t scratching against a fence or a friend, she was happily playing with the others. I saw she was probably OK and went back to my painting, and then, in a while, I heard Mona making soothing grunting sounds. I looked down and everyone in the pen was inside the farrowing shed, but I could hear Mona vocalizing, in a kind of low, non-demanding voice. I have heard her yelling at the piglets and wanting food and being impatient but this was an ongoing grunt, a series of slightly different sounds but all in a sequence, all in a row as it were, somewhat connected, and it must have been a soothing of everyone to sleep. A bit later the sounds fell off and then later than that, I heard her snoring, gently snorting if you will, in that sleeping way (probably much the same as I do).

I can hear a hawk in the woods behind me. I photographed a couple catching the wind currents. I have a few more late afternoon photos I want — sunflowers and corn. I may have to come down and do that before my dinner. I need to catch the sunflowers in the clouds of the sky.


Speaking of dinner, I’m going to have couscous tonight, with a red pepper and the last of the tuna, about 3 bites.

I’m weary — standing up to paint is a bit much these days, even on grass.

Rose and I just had a good conversation and I have a couple more questions answered — she’s been doing equestrian training since 1987 and quit, generally speaking, a few years ago. And “Triple H” was originally Darrell’s brand, standing for his three children, the three Howe’s.  They added Homestead for web purposes because there are lots of Triple H’s out there.

So this is the last communication before I see you tomorrow late afternoon. Safe travels and sleep well. Drive like you always do and I’ll be waiting with hugs.

Jer showed up, right as scheduled, we spent the late afternoon admiring the piglets and the evening admiring the stars, and the morning walking up the lane to say hi to the deer and the horses. Rose was butchering, so Jer got to see the butcher shop and Rose in action. He was impressed. Then we packed everything into the Honda Civic and drove to Portland, where I spent the next week trying to return to the realities of responsible life in the city.

I finished the ponderosa  painting, and it hangs in our living room, reminding me of the fine days on the Last Homestead.


jou,  Ponderosa,  40 x 60″ (two panels), Oil on Baltic birch, 2016

But don’t go away quite yet. The Epilogue is coming up tomorrow, and aside from a quote by R.W. Emerson, it’s all photos:-)

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The Last Homestead: Sept 17

Sat September 17, 2016, at 7:25 AM

Good morning, Ducks,

I daresay when you see the opening time, you are impressed. Actually, it’s even more impressive than that. I have been up since 5:30, speaking with cows and people and watching the milking operation.


As Rose says in her book, Diary of a Redneck Englishwoman, [yep, she also wrote a book] she likes milking by hand but the machine ensures that the milk stays pristine. She uses commercial filters when she gets the milk (in its large closed teakettle-ish container) to the kitchen and transfers it to the stainless steel bucket that she’ll cool it in. The Howes have cranked up their water heater as hot as it will go, so the washing and rinsing of the equipment is done with extremely hot water. And everything is air-dried over the wood stove (on which she cooks most of the winter).  She stores her milk in those big glass containers like I fill with dried flowers at home. And she makes cheese often, perhaps a couple of times a week.


Part of the Automatic Milking machine

This morning, I met her at the crack of dawn (actual crack, sun through clouds) and followed her on her 4-wheeler down to the long shed, which at the end near the bunk house houses Mona and the piglets. The other end, closer to the barn yard gates, is the milking stall; and between these two working spaces is a storage area. The cows greeted us with long loud “good moanings”.

I waited for Rose and Heidi at the door to the milking stall. I was warned to stand back — Heidi can be eager to get to the stall, where a good lot of grain awaits her. She’s fast and not terribly polite. I stood back and was very polite! Even a young cow is a big animal. Heidi did take a hard look at me, but as I was not between her and the stall with the grain, she went in and put her head through the stanchions into the grain bin with haunches extended. She isn’t roped in or anything, but her grain bin was well filled and she didn’t move from the requisite spot.


Rose explained that because Heidi’s a jersey and a milker, she has a hard time keeping weight on. And indeed I saw ribs, although her belly looked full enough. Rose allows her to eat as much as she wants at any time.

Heidi’s teats and udder are washed, some milk from each teat is expressed onto the ground, and then she is hooked up to the machine. The milking machine has 4 hoses that go to the cow’s udder, with long tubes returning to the enclosed container. The hoses are hooked somehow to a suction machine which can be monitored. Everything is set at the right temperature.


She, Heidi, was uninterested in this process, being quite happy to eat. Rose then washes her around the backside a bit and checks just to make sure all is OK. Rose does a lot of handling of the animals – she massages Heidi’s teats as she milks because the cream stays at the top of the cow’s bag and Rose wants some of that cream for her own milk. She pats Heidi and talks to her as the process goes on. Rose stops milking Heidi before she is empty because Heidi still has a calf that is taking milk and stopping early leaves some for the calf.

Apparently Darrell does not milk except as a necessity and indeed does not seem to deal with the animals much at all, except for Rose, whom he treats with great care. That was a joke, OK?

Once Rose has decided enough milk has flowed into the container, she removes the equipment, turns off the air hose, and waits for Heidi to finish her breakfast. Then Heidi goes back into the yard (giving me a stink eye as she passes). The animals are all well-trained by Rose, who seems to have different commands for each of the groups. With the cows, who must allow Rose to go through the gates first, I laughed out loud when I heard her say to Heidi sharply — “Manners!” Heidi understood immediately and stepped back, waiting for Rose to lead her.


Rose, leading a docile Heidi, through the barnyard gate

So that’s my morning adventure, all told. The milk is tested by official inspectors and Rose has them test the first expression of it, rather than what comes after. That way, she says, the test is truly a good one. Everything about this operation seems to be carefully thought out; a good deal of attention is paid to making sure of the ultimate “rightness” of the milk. It’s a good combination, I thought. The same seems to hold true of the rest of the work – no fussiness but a good deal of care about the things that count.

So that was my morning and it’s only 8:04. Bella got into trouble again for chasing deer and was sent to the dog house where she was “gated”. Chasing deer seems to be a prime sin; when I asked Rose why, she said that if chasing were allowed not only might the dog get too far from home, but that she would invariably come to chasing fawns and finally injure one and perhaps get a taste for deer meat. That would be the end. Can’t have dogs who have that kind of interest in deer.

Now it’s 11:30. I went down to the house after breakfast and tidying to ask Rose if I could buy some milk; Of course, she said “of course” and then we chatted a bit.

She’s never had sheep or goats – Darrell said (when they got married) that she could have any kind of animal she wanted except sheep – which they both think are stupid – and goats, which like to climb on cars.


Luke, under his favorite juniper

I learned a bit more about the horses, particularly Luke. Darrell had a stallion, Cucaracha (Cuke), the father of Luke. Cuke lived to be 36 and since then, although Darrell will ride to do essential chores, he can’t find another horse that he feels about like he did about Cuke. Plus he has arthritis in his back and hip (and wrists) which almost certainly makes riding less fun.

We also discussed the hens, who are molting – an obvious condition, even to a city slicker. One at least is destined for the pot because she is laying eggs with very thin skins, so they break. This encourages eating of the eggs by her and others, which can lead to the chickens deciding to break open other eggs. Which means fewer eggs for Rose, who needs them for her Christmas cakes. So, unsentimental, chicken stew is coming up.

After getting more of the scuttlebutt on various animals, Rose sent me down to the house to wait while she finished up. I sat on the porch until I was chased off by mock fights between Brandy and Bella.


After lots of growling and mock biting on the porch, Bella ran figure 8s into the yard, back between bushes and around me and back to the porch where she and Brandy went into a heap of growling barking and rolling around again. This must have happened about 10 times, Bella each time taking a new and interesting run, at a really fast clip, tearing around the yard in figure 8s, and then back onto the porch where she pushed at Brandy until Brandy tussled with her. And then, as suddenly as it started, the mock battle was over.


The two of them wandered out into the yard, Rose came and gave me milk in a charming bottle, and I came home.

I’m sorting photos again. Last night the moon was freakishly red – fiery red as it rose. I can only see it between the trees until it moves higher into the sky (if I were a better human being, I’d walk up the hill at sunset and get the moon rise clear of the trees). And the brazen deer came trotting through next to the deck as usual. They click quietly, so if you aren’t paying attention, you miss them.


Moon, Deer, just barely able to get both in the lens

And now I shall off-load yesterday’s photos and sort them. I think I’ve gotten better with my camera as the week has gone on – more knowledgeable about where the light is and just what I want to photograph. But I won’t know for sure until I have time to look at them more fully. I have them sorted into categories; that helps me sort out the good from the bad.

6:01 PM,

I did some more photo sorting and then I heard Darrell out in the shop, so I went out and chatted him with him. I know more about him now — he’s 80 years old, as wry as we are about age and its disagreeable aspects. He was changing a transmission, on a 1960 Chevy, probably an Impala — the white one. He’s going to do some fine detailing on the (gorgeous) red one and sell it for something like $50,000. He doesn’t like his cars painted red, but customers do, he says. This week he moved everything out of one bay of the shop (including a non-working refrigerator that he said he didn’t know what to do with) so he could get the ’60 vehicle in. He started up the recreational vehicle, alongside the shop, to rev up its battery. And he played around with the truck in the shop, doing mysterious things. He has many projects going, all at once.


Darrell’s father was a garage mechanic and they didn’t get along, so he had his mother sign the papers to get him to Korea. The old story. He never finished high school, but before he could become an electrician, he had to take classes at Lane County Community College, where he liked the math but sweated a lot over it. He was married at the time with a couple of kids, most of whom have college degrees now. Clearly he was a successful businessman, running an electrical company with a crew of 15. That was the hardest part, he said, keeping his workers in work. He retired in, I think, 1979. He’s not much into animals – says (with a bit of a smile) that he gets impatient with them. When he’s trying to get some medicine into them they kick him and it makes him mad. Cars are his thing — I’m trying to get a handle on how many he has around, worked on or is working on. Rose has her ’55 Chevy that she drives to sell stuff at the farmers markets. There’s the truck in the shop. There are odd trucks that don’t look like they run. And then there are the other Chevys, like the ’37, to be fixed. And there’s the red 59 Chevy, the year you and were driving Chevy — clunkers.


The fanciest car on the ranch, a ’59 Chevrolet. Darrell doesn’t like red, but after he details this one, with exquisite care and an eye to what makes a difference to the aficionados, he’ll sell it.

Tomorrow Darrell and Rose are moving the ’37 Chevy to one of the stalls under the Arena for the winter. Apparently the car will actually move that far under its own power if a battery is jerry-rigged and a gas tank hung underneath the engine. Darrell showed it to me. I was impressed.


My favorite photo of Darrell

Darrell isn’t shy, just quiet. He’s got thoughtful blue eyes and a nice smile. And I suspect, although I don’t know, that he’s a stout conservative, although not much interested in politics in general. He is definitely a gun person (probably multiple guns) and that may be enough to make him vote conservative. But neither he nor Rose nor June have said anything remotely political, nor will we.

So after some photos and the chat with Darrell, I went back and cleaned up some bad paintings. Had to work on the porch because of the threatening weather which turned out to be rather pleasant. I put out some protection on the table and worked flat and was productive.


“The Barn Yard,” 12 x 16,” oil on Masonite 2016 , a “cleaned up” painting

It’s pattering rain on the roof of the porch of the big house, where I’ve moved to protect the computer. And now I’ll hang up. I may have to walk back to the bunk house with my computer wrapped in my hoodie. Ah well, I’m not made of sugar. And it’s not really cold, so a little rain will help my complexion.

monumentmountain12x16blog“Monument Mountain,” 12 x 16″, Oil on Masonite, 2016. Another cleaned up work

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The Last Homestead: Sept. 16

Friday, Sept 16, 2016, 11:15 AM.

I have had a busy morning thus far but am thinking of wending my way around the corner to nap. I would do it in an instant if it were warm in the bedroom. I could make it warm by turning on the heat, of course, but that might engender too much guilt.

I’m still working on getting the perfect photo of something that should be fairly simple. I took photos of the rising moon last night. It was so bright it made an extra green light on the sensor – I saw it when I took the photo and there it was, on the downloaded copy. Interesting. I deleted it because it was so strange, but it was still an interesting effect. However, I did get a couple other photos that I thought were fun.


Full moon from the bunk house porch — the green artifact is just barely noticeable at the edge of the moon

This morning at 8, I went off to watch and photograph Rose butchering. Oh my, she’s good. I took photos of a large carcass of elk and one of a deer, hanging or laying on a table with a small woman attacking them, expertly, with a knife. The knife looks harmless until it slices through the meat. Rose sharpens it every cut or so. She cuts the meat using her bare hands, which get quite, um, bloody, but she says she seldom cuts herself. The shop is cool but not cold. Darrell tells me that the meat hanging vault (with all its big hooks) is kept at 32.5 to 34 degrees, precisely. Rose has winches to move the meat around so she can handle it – she can only pick up 125 pounds or so now, although she used to do more!


 Rose at locker with hanging carcass

Rose can tell by the feel of meat whether it will make good steak or should be put into hamburger. She knows how to deal with the “blood spotting” – the places where the wound bleeds into the surrounding tissue. These spots need to be cut out because they make the meat taste “gamey”, a word I remember from my youth. I thought that what the animal fed caused the gamey taste but apparently not. She has a bucket for bad pieces, a white bin for hamburger, a long table on which she puts the roasts and steak meat, and a couple more containers for cube steak and stew meat. I watched her do a haunch and leg and then the central carcass; then I came back for tea and breakfast.


I thought I might be grossed out by the work, but actually I found it interesting. Rose is quite matter-of-fact, of course, but I wasn’t sure about my own head. But it was just meat like you get from the grocery store, in greater lots and quantities. Rose has strong opinions about some cuts and the cooking of them; for example, the neck, she says, makes a great crock pot stew. The neck is also a pain in the neck to debone (you can imagine), but most of the gentlemen and their wives, “the ladies”, don’t really know a lot about cooking well butchered meat. So she has to take the meat off the neck a tiny slice at a time and put it into the hamburger or stew meat container.

She’s punctilious about getting as much meat as possible from the carcass and doing it correctly. She takes orders from the hunter for the kinds of cuts that are wanted and then packages them appropriately into steaks and roasts and hamburger and sausage. She is least fond of the packaging work, which is tedious, and when she’s really busy, she has a friend who helps her.

She uses the offal (which actually refers to organs, not bad bits of meat as I had supposed) in her freezer and uses it in her EMT classes; the students get to see an actual heart, etc.  Sometimes she takes hearts to school biology classes in Spray and allows the students to dissect them. No waste.

And for all of this work she gets a couple hundred dollars per animal. The guide service costs a couple thousand and even shipping the meat can run $500 or more. So she’s the cheapest as well as perhaps the most craft-educated of the workers in the process.


Rose is understandably proud of the work she does, and she and Darrell have strong feelings about hunting animals. They both hunt deer for freezing, but they will only shoot them if they have a clean head or neck shot because anything else wastes meat. And as she put it, if you are going to shoot animals, you don’t want to waste their lives.

She likes most wild animals, but dislikes coyotes, because a pack once ate one of her newborn calves as well as the mother. The mother was incapacitated by the birth and couldn’t protect herself or her calf. So if Rose sees a coyote and has a gun, it’s a goner. She says she expects they have their place in the eco system, but she can’t stand them. She’s the same way about wasps and yellow jackets, and I think I agree with her there.

I didn’t take the nap that I was thinking of but rather went out for a walk with my small lens. And when I saw Darrell pushing around a hunk of cabinet around outside the shop, I asked if he minded if I photographed him.  He, smiling, said “Me?” So I did a batch of photos of him working.




 Darrell’s Shed and Workshop from the back– a treasure trove for the rural mechanic and farm maintenance person

And here I am again, at 3:15 PM, having eaten another fine dinner. I say dinner, even if it was cooked at noon, because as I have often shown elsewhere, I’m not very good at cooking supper after an exhausting day of watching others work and talking to pigs and whatnot. So today I decided to do a grand dinner after I finished up with the first stint of painting (which came after my session with Darrell.) I made myself a big tuna fish salad, using every veggie in the frig. In a moment of absent mindedness, I skimped on the onion. But aside from the paucity of onions it was splendid. Two boiled eggs, lots of celery, half a pepper, a fistful of onion, and the mayo that I opened up for the first time.  Crackers and the last corn on the cob from the Howe’s garden. I even shucked and cooked the corn which counts in my book as serious cooking.  It was heavenly. I topped it off with the next-to-last peach, which was cold and yummy and ripely perfect.  So I’m feeling topped up. Tonight I’ll microwave the rest of the beans and maybe leaven them with a few onions, just to make up for the loss at lunch. That’s what I did last night or the night before (I’ve lost track) and it’s a perfectly adequate evening comestible. This morning I had the traditional muesli/blueberry breakfast – had to give the piglets some furry blueberries but the remainder seemed fine.

I didn’t go back for more butchering or the wrapping of the cuts to be Fed Exed because I decided to set up my painting.

Which I did (paint the ponderosa, that is). This first draft looks good. (Note it’s now become “my” ponderosa). The sky takes up a big hunk of the painting (on the left side of both boards) which balances the tree. Alas, the sky is just not right. I could disguise some of its problems by putting in clouds, but that seems to me to be a cop-out – just a way to get around the sky problem without adding anything. But I’m working on it as a problem to be “sorted”, as Rose would say.

Then I worked a second draft of the tree, with some color. It’s coming along nicely, if I do say so myself. A couple of problems to iron out, of course. I will probably let the sky alone until I get back home. Right now I’m painting flat on the picnic table. Tomorrow I will probably set the boards up on the picnic table seat and lean them against the table top. My travel easel is too light for these boards — it wobbles and fusses and wants to fall over. But the picnic table is a pretty good substitute. It limits my working time, though, because I’m bending over to reach the surface to paint it. My back scolds me roundly if I don’t stop soon enough.

Ah, and one last note. It was warm enough today that I took off my turtle neck at 11. Practically steaming hot.


The Ponderosa on two panels, limned out in red, with its background mostly finished.

6:00 PM

After eating the rest of Rose’s corn this afternoon, she gave me more this evening. The cabbage definitely won’t get eaten.  Mona would like it, I think. And Mona gets the zucchini or at least she’ll tolerate it, much more so than the green pepper and the lemon. I didn’t see any remains of the pepper after the first day, but the lemon was still being pushed around the pig yard last time I looked.

So here I am, being circled by Bella, who really really needs a belly rub. I’m also being looked at by Brandy with her mournful eyes. When I walked up, Bella came to see me before Brandy even knew I was around. Brandy is slower than Bella, of course, and stouter, perhaps because she’s saving energy.

Well, nothing more to report. I’m going to walk up the lane this evening, with my camera as I have already done 10 times, just in case a photo op (more deer?) appears. I’m going to photograph Rose milking tomorrow at 6:30 AM, and tonight I must take a shower because I’m beginning to smell, even when the wind is blowing away from me. So off I go.

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The Last Homestead: Sept. 15

Thurs, September 15, 2016

It’s another bright morning on the Triple H Homestead Ranch, which this morning feels a bit tired. Or maybe I am – tired, that is. It’s probably because it’s quiet. Usually along with all the animals, I hear Darrell working in his shop — it’s close to the bunk house and he’s always got some project going there.


Darrell’s shop as seen from the stable

It’s 8:36 AM, and I have had one cup (middling size) of coffee and am finishing one cup (honking big) of tea. I have also done my morning duty of frightening or at least moving along the deer. I frighten them only accidentally, of course, when I walk up the lane or down to say hello to Mona. One june-rule (like always having your camera with you) is “don’t mess with the animals.” But it’s hard not to scare the deer — they are everywhere. I saw some in the cattle pen this morning, having a bit of salt from the lick.


Fawns in lane, waiting to be frightened

And last evening, when I was reading on the porch, I looked up and there, maybe 10 feet away in the grass just beyond the bunk house porch, were three deer, almost as startled as I was. They joined the herd in the fenced pasture beyond the grass, which set off Brandy and Bella into a cacophony of barking. The herd then got conflicted about whether to worry about me on the deck or the dogs in the back yard of the big house. At last they ambled off with studied nonchalance, and when they thought they were safe, they sailed over the fences, disappearing into various gullies and trees. I actually got some photos of them – it was dusk, but there was still enough light and a gorgeous almost full moon shining above them.


The deer, just barely visible, in the dark

This morning I went on my daily rounds, with my humongous cup of tea in hand. If camera rule #1 is that you can’t get a good photo if you don’t have your camera with you, Practical Experience #1 is that you can’t take both the big cup of tea and the camera as you make your morning rounds. Sure enough, with no camera, the brindle barn cat finally appeared and took up a seat beside Lefty, the black-cat-with-the-bad-eye. They were both posed on the stoop of the back room of the bunk house, which gets the earliest sun. The wood there must warm up early, and the bit of carpet is perfect for cat sitting. The two of them would have made a perfect photo, but alas – I had my cuppa tea instead.

That’s the first time I’ve seen brindle cat for any length of time. She is darkish, but mottled with lighter orangish fur. Whereas the black cat is friendly, the brindle cat has been pretty much unseen since I got here.


Brindle Cat, in the stable rafters, one morning when Rose was about to feed her.

This morning it’s relatively warm – vest and two other layers weather. So painting shall proceed anon. Maybe I’ll venture into the woods, too, in the middle of the day. I don’t think I can take another photo of deer – I already have more of them than of pigs – and pigs have been my favorite subjects. The piglets are impossible to compose properly because they don’t hold still – I don’t think I have a good picture out of the  60 or 70 that I’ve tried. They are not too difficult to actually catch in the lens — the fence is low – it’s just that they love running around and up and down the farrowing yard, chasing each other and rolling around in the dirt. The chickens are behind a tall fence and have to be photographed between the chicken wire, but I actually have a couple of good photos of one or two of them. Very photogenic creatures with all those nice feathers and colors. Unfortunately chickens are also boring as story material. The horses are easy to capture too, but rather banal; everyone has photos of big-eyed horses. The turkeys reside in their pens next to the chickens and are a bit more fun to photograph, although it still has to be done through the wire. But they do have magnificent heads.


Photogenic Chicken


Proud turkey

Well, I think I’ll have some breakfast. I’m well-fed, a bit like the deer. Or maybe Mona. Who loves corn husks, but not green peppers.

And now it’s 2 PM. I breakfasted on the muesli and blueberries and milk and yogurt and the rest of the pork chop. Being on the farm makes pork chops for breakfast quite proper. Then I went out up the lane and tried once again to get interesting photos of the horses. I am now into framing with trees, trying the old compositional tricks. I also am determined to deal with (i.e. try to get good photos of) the rest of the animals (again). horseswateringtrough2

Horses at watering trough with Luke on the left

I was walking back down the lane about 10 when Rose and Darrell returned. We exchanged greetings, and I felt my house sitting duty to be over. This is an absurd feeling, of course, since Brandy was a perfectly good sitter all along. No need for me.

Tomorrow I will follow Rose around in the butcher shop and take photos.

I painted over my badly painted boards to OK effect, and after a little lay-down, I shall go on with the big project. I won’t get to the big tree today, but I may finish off all the background. Time is getting short – I only have a few more days here.

6:07 PM

Well, here I am again. I’m definitely brain-dead — took my nap, got up, and did a good 2 1/2 hour session of painting outside in the sun. I have now laid the background for my tree and unless the sky really needs more work — oh these blasted huge eastern Oregon skies — I’ll start on the big tree tomorrow. I am pleased with the mountain and the middle ground with the distant trees. The ponderosa will fill 2/3 of the side-to-side picture plane, and the whole surface top to bottom, but because the tree branches are spaced far apart, the background, sky and butte, through the trees will be very viewable. Sigh. And good night.


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The Last Homestead: Sept. 14


Mona and piglets. The piglets are learning to eat grain

And now it’s 7:30 AM, on Wednesday, Sept 14.

36 degrees, but, without the wind, it doesn’t feel as cold as yesterday. Or perhaps my physical systems have given up hoping to be warm. I figured out the bedroom heater last night, but it made all kinds of stench (I had turned it on much too high), so I got up and turned it off and opened the window a bit.  That worked nicely. I didn’t freeze, or even have cold tootsies.

Going to bed at 8 means I turn off the light at 9 or 9:30 and so am ready to get up about 6. Of course, I don’t. I lie about in my warm bed for an hour or two until I need to use the facilities. This morning I actually got out of bed earlier that 8, but I haven’t heard Rose driving by to milk Heidi yet. I suspect I fell back to sleep at just the wrong time. The rooster, of course, is carrying on.


Sunrise from the bunk house

Rose and Darrell are going to Bend today. They won’t be back until at least tomorrow or maybe Friday. This means Brandy and I will have a chance to make up to each other again.

Today I shall continue with my painting. This morning I’m going to evaluate the landscape as well as the roughed-in ponderosa and move along.

Late afternoon:


And now it’s probably 3:30 or 4 PM. I’m sitting on the bunkhouse deck at the round table that overlooks the juniper tree. It is the pleasantest place to compute. Inside, the table isn’t quite the right height for the chair and besides, it’s inside, which is good for getting you out of the cold and for bathing but other than that, why would one be inside?  The weather has warmed up considerably – the sun is a delight, the wind not much of a nuisance, and the thermometer says it’s 66 degrees.


The bunk house porch with the juniper that hosted so many bird

Darrell and Rose are still gone, rounding up supplies – they hit the feed store, big-box grocery business, and other such places. Living so far from town, they lay in a lot of supplies at once. Rose and I agreed that Bend has changed far too much, and they actually prefer to go to Redmond, which retains a bit of the small town feel. But the big stores are in Bend. We also agreed that if we were in charge, things wouldn’t change so drastically.

The cows, who look so calm and bovine, got out again in the middle of the night last night and made a great ruckus, so Rose says. (I heard none of noise). Rose had to go out at 3:30 AM and get them back inside the fences. She says Red cow has figured out exactly where the lapses in hot-wired fences are. The hot fences cannot be continuous, and Red Cow is on to this, knowing where she can get through without getting fried. Red Cow was sold to a young couple down the road, and the Howes have been pasturing her, but Rose said she wrote an email to the new owners saying they had to come get Red Cow: “It wouldn’t do for her to lead all the others in these escapes!” (You have to hear this in a stern Brit accent).


Such innocence

So at 3:30 A.M. Rose put the cows back behind the fences and emailed the Red Cow’s owners. Then, being Rose, she didn’t go back to bed, but made some more cakes, wrapped some soap, and so forth. She couldn’t get to the cheese making, so she went out and let Heidi in with the calf so the little one could cuddle and feed a bit in her preferred Mum way. That’s why I didn’t hear the little four-wheeler this morning – no human milking needed. Bella is in the dog house – the real one – while the people are gone. Brandy is outside, but when I went down to check out the kitchen garden, she couldn’t be bothered to do more than raise her head and look at me with one eye.

Time is strange when there’s nothing but painting, walking, talking to the animals, and sleeping to do. It goes on and on and on – and then when I sit down to write to you, it suddenly speeds up. It’s like an erratic Amtrak. And then there’s Luke, who has gotten off the train.lukefacetotree

Oh yes, the painting. Sigh. I misjudged the composition and had to paint titanium white over about half the painting on both big boards. Titanium is notoriously slow to dry, and I didn’t dare use much of my nice drying medium because it thins the paint and thus the underpainting shows through. It’s been sitting in the sun since about 11 (it didn’t get warm enough to paint until 10) but is still quite tacky. So, the paintings are sitting in the sun, I started another quick-read novel, and then spent most of the rest of the day lying about reading or sitting about, sleeping or moseying about the ranch, thinking nothing at all.animalnewspiglets

Animal news: the piglets are only 2 1/2 weeks old and due to be castrated soon. Mona the Mum has decided it’s possible I could be a source of food, but she’s quite disgusted when I turn out not to be. Pigs are very like humans. They like their feed and the people who deal it out to them. Chickens, on the other hand, are dumb (although they seem to know when feeding time comes). The horses are totally indifferent and scarcely bother to turn their heads when I walk up the lane. Nothing much has to be done for them during this time of the year, so far as I can see. They just munch away, moving into the shade when it gets warm.horsesalllandscape

OK, I’m going to hoist myself over to the main house and send this along. Then I will get my behind in gear and walk some and then, if there’s any light left, maybe I’ll clean up a painting or two. Or maybe I’ll just go back to my novel. D & R will be back tomorrow, so I want to save something to look industrious with. I think there’s a great view that I might be able to photograph from back of Darrell’s workshop.


Later on Wed, Sep 14 — 4:35 PM

Hi hi, love. This is my backyard/big house note. Brandy didn’t say a word the evening when I retrieved the folding table and plastic chair to write on. After I write, I’m going for a walk, and then perhaps do a bit of editing of bad paintings.

I certainly haven’t been hungry. I had a frittata (leftover potatoes, onions, pepper and an egg) for breakfast and microwave popcorn for lunch. Perhaps I’ll have the rest of the pork chop for dinner along with a potato and some cabbage. I’m not making great inroads on the cabbage. It may be that Mona will inherit the second one. The fruit is holding up nicely, and I’m getting additions from Rose’s grapevine. I also ate the corn on the cob Rose gave me. I don’t know if Mona eats cobs or not. She’s not fond of lemons, so who knows.

I think I saw two ravens, up by the road today at the end of the lane. That cheered me up (along with the wickedness of popcorn for lunch and a high enough temperature that I could divest myself of my vest). Very important items in the day of the lonesome ranch guest.


 Not ravens, but hawks, caught as they soared on the air currents on a warm afternoon.

And so, off I go, to take a nice long walk to deal with the popcorn, which is sulking in my stomach. Does popcorn sulk?

hugs and kisses from me and an eye raise from Brandy.

PS — Oh my! A Fed Ex person just came with a package. I was a bit confused because no stranger had come down the lane since I have been at the ranch.  And Brandy didn’t look like she was going to allow any unknown person to approach the house. She stood, on the alert at the front of the porch with hackles a bit raised. She gave one warning bark and a low grumbling growl. I was clueless – didn’t even think to get the package from the driver in the truck — all I could think of was Brandy protecting the homestead and attacking the driver. The driver did not get out; smart person. At first I told Brandy to “Go Home” (this is the command that Rose told me to use at the bunk house if the dogs got in the way). Brandy just looked at me in disgust. She was already home. Then, inspired, with a louder, more severe (more Roselike voice) I told her to “Lay Down!” The voice I used is what I think of as “my mother’s voice.” It just came out automatically, without me thinking of anything but how to control the dog and protect the carrier. But much to my surprise (and satisfaction), when I told Brandy to lie down, she did. Whew! But I was pleased. It showed that Brandy had come to trust me, and that I could, even in a stupid moment, come up with some kind of appropriate way of discussing the situation with her. And I just now realized that I’ve confused “lay/lie”, but Brandy ignored my ignorance.

Signing off after the evening’s excitement –me


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