The Last Homestead: Sept. 12

Monday, September 12, 2016

Good morning, love. It’s Monday, about 10:15, and I’m sitting in the bunk house, out of the wind. The sun is nice and toasty, but the wind is wickedly chilled. Must be coming off a snowy range somewhere.

The wind here reminds me of the wind on our knoll at home – out of proportion to the coziness of the warm grass. It makes me want to hunker down into that grass and turn into a small insect, something whose head doesn’t protrude very far out. Of course, that would ruin my view of the landscape, so I guess I’ll stick with human size.

This morning’s excitement looked like a change of plans in the Howe household. Yesterday Rose told me that she was going to spend the winter hunting down parts for the ’37 Chevy. But this morning, they drove off with it on the back of the trailer.

Either they found a part for it that is irresistible– or perhaps someone who saw it on Saturday matched their asking price. Whichever, I’m glad I got photos of it before it is gone. I grew fond of its funny shapes, even on the trailer bed.

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The 37 Chevy on its trailer with Monument Mountain in the background.

Today I woke up knowing what my big painting project will be. I spent the morning doing visual (and mental) research. It’s a fairly simple project but big, so requires planning and a lot of painting.

I’m going to paint one or more big boards using as a model the ponderosa  visible from the picnic table by the bunk house. Sticking near the bunk house has a couple of advantages –I won’t have to haul a honking big painting surface 3/4 mile up the lane (wet paint all over me and dust all over the birch board). And I can work hunkered down out of the wind. I can even use the picnic table as an easel. And I will be close to the bunk house and hot tea!

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The ponderosa that became the primary subject of the Big Painting

One or two big boards – that’s my plan for pretty much the rest of my stay here (only about seven or eight days more!) I’ve already done a 4 x 4”  study of the tree. I’ve started line drawings, to scale, on paper to get the composition right and am now adding enough detail to decide if I want to use one 30 x 40” board, vertical, or two boards, both vertical, making the tree more dramatic. I can also turn the boards horizontal – so the possibilities expand –30 x 40, 40 x 30, 30 x 80, or 40 x 60.  40″ x 60″ makes most sense when I get thinking about it, but thinking and looking at it are often two different things. Luckily, I have a sketch pad to try different compositions on; the pad is even the right scale, so I’m not having to do too much math.

Ok, I’m going back to my weak tea (hot!) and my sketching inside (tepid). I think I’ll have to close the window, which goes against all the rules of june. Bella has decided I’m definitely a friend, although the cat is rather indifferent. And Brandy continues to be firm about who’s who in our relationship. I rank pretty low, I fear, although I’m acceptable because Rose said so. Bella seems oblivious to all ranks and classes, being basically a nose-licking dog (although nose licking is definitely against the Rules of Rose which means that Bella mostly tries to abstain).

Two days ago I was roasting; today, I have three layers on and unless I’m moving around outside, I need my painting coat as well. Moving or sitting in the sun is delicious, but the wind chased me inside some time ago. It was cold even in the shelter of the porch. I thought it might be still and windless this sunny morning, but here it is, relentless, gusty, and cold.

Later – about 1:40 PM

More excitement here: After the Howes left again this morning with the old car, I did some composing on the board surface, wrote my email to you, and organized my photos, seeing some things that I need more photos of.  So off I went to find some suitable subjects in the late morning light.

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I was coming back down the lane, near the arena, when who should appear but the black calf.

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By the arena. Outside the fence. Bellowing for Ma. Oh my. I grabbed my camera. When I approached her, hoping to convince her to find her way back behind the fence, up the lane she went. Oh no. Bad, bad, bad. That would get her to the highway and who knew where she’d end up. Cars, trucks, speed – no, no, Black Calf.

But I couldn’t stop her, so I retreated to the bunk house, hoping she’d come back. I couldn’t see her from there but I didn’t hear her running any more. Finally, when I snuck back into sight, I saw she had come back to the arena. I peeked inside and there was Red Cow as well as Black Calf! So both were safe, at least for the nonce.

I thought about opening the pasture gate closest to the arena for the two of them to go back inside the fence, but feared spooking them again. I’m not exactly a trained cow herder. And, of course, I risked letting the other cows out (there were 4 or 5 a ways down the pasture). So I decided there was nothing to be done but go up the lane and take some more photos to calm my nerves. When I got back, the two of them were in the back yard of the Howes house, cropping the grass. I rolled my eyes at them, made a disgusted face at them, and came on back to the bunk house, where I ate lunch.

6:02 PM

I’m sitting in the Howe’s yard — they came home, bringing the Chevy with them, and then left again in the van, waving as they went by.

The wind has not stopped, although its fierceness has become merely nasty. I’m having trouble writing because Bella is rolling around with her feet in the air, kicking at the folding table. She wants her belly rubbed.  I hear Brandy, inside, whining. I think she was shut in, while Bella was allowed to run free – a change of roles.

Red Cow appears to be back behind fences, although I’m not sure where Black Calf is. Probably she’s safe inside the fence also. I’m much relieved. Such a day. I will have to go back to my warm bunk house quarters and put up my feet and ruminate on the excitements of the outback.

blackcalffencedBlack Calf, safely fenced, although the photo was taken at some other time than during the runaway crisis!

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The Last Homestead: Sept. 11

Sunday, September 11, 2016: some time in the AM, far too early

I have a thousand questions for Rose and Darrell, who arrived home about 6:30 last evening. I want to ask them about the land, about the animals, about their history here. There’s a really old washing machine sitting on the bunk house porch. At least I think it’s a washing machine. I want to know if that’s what it is and where it came from and how it works (or worked). There are all kinds of stuff like that around, bits of farm equipment that I vaguely recognize, and so forth. Some of it might actually be still in use.

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I’m getting a bit more acquainted with the space and the animals. Mona likes tomatoes and onions, but not parsley and lemons. The piglets are (still) very cute. It appears the animals are designated by their status as breeders or meat suppliers. The breeders get extra careful feeding and attention. They are more attuned to people. The meat suppliers (“intended for the freezer”) are also taken care of carefully but they aren’t as beloved as the ones who stick around for a longer time. I saw Rose feed the two pigs who are in an area by themselves. The biggest pig wanted desperately to get into the trough before Rose was finished filling it. Rose pushed her on the hind-end (firmly) and said something like “Around”. The pig, much to my astonishment, moved back behind Rose while she finished filling the food bin. Wow. Very impressive, although I’m not sure who I was more impressed by, Rose or the pig.

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The adolescent pig and his mother, eating fruit from the Thompson fruit farm. The Howes have two or three bins of nectarines, peaches, and plums, a wealth unimaginable to me. The pigs seem to like the fruits as much as I do – hmmmm.

I walked down into the east/southeast timber before breakfast this morning. Ponderosas and junipers dominate the woods, but there’s also another kind of fir tree. Something else to ask the Howes about.

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The track through the woods

Thus far, I go to bed at 8, get up at 6:30 with the cows, and am not too lonely. Every time I get lonely I inventory my options and find another thing that needs doing. It seems I have lots to do, although nothing requires being done except eating. Soon I will have to cook at least one of the pork chops that I bought from Rose – I wouldn’t dare let it go to waste. I ate soup last night; opening a can was all I could manage.

And now I must stop and go paint. Today I’m going to start a panorama using perhaps seven of the small 4 x 4” boards. I’ll be facing east to paint, right into the early sun, definitely the wrong direction, but because it’s a larger project, I need to at least start it there. Perhaps I can finish it with the sun in the west.

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The center four (out of seven) panels of the panorama.

Later –4:30 on 9/11/’17

After saying Rose was reserved, here she was this afternoon after they came home, wonderfully chatty, telling me about her plans for the 37 Chevy and offering me the use of the ’55 Chevy (or a truck and or a wheelbarrow) to get my painting stuff up the hill. The Howes drove down the lane by me as I was dragging my cart back to the bunk house, and I think they felt all the painting paraphernalia was a bit much to lug up the hill in the small cart.  And just a bit ago, Rose brought along 3 ears of corn for my dinner. I don’t think I’m going to starve.

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Another view of The 37 Chevy that Rose will spend the winter, under Darrell’s tutelage, fixing up. The interior is a mess, and the engine needs work (so I am told), but it’s definitely my kind of car. If I wanted a car. It’s sitting in big arena, which served as an equestrian training area as well as hosting a wedding — and is now a convenient space to put the old cars awaiting servicing.

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Rose’s ’55 Chevy, Nessie, that she drives to farmers’ markets where she sells her cheese and sausage and soap bars and cakes. With Darrell’s help, she turned this beauty into a useful tool (as well as a fun accessory).

I did paint _seven_ little 4 x 4s, a panorama as usual, and also took a pano with my camera, using the camera panorama setting. It was a 4-hour painting session with another hour getting up the hill, setting up, and then returning. Far more than I intended or normally do. But since there’s no FB or Jer to distract me………

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The seven little paintings which form a panorama, sitting on a woodpile on the back porch of the bunk house to dry

It was chilly today, although yesterday’s painting excursion was hot and sunny. Today, the wind was stout, gusting so it sounds like traffic. A strange sound, after being without wind for a couple of days. I had forgotten how quiet afternoons in the country can get. For the last couple of days, between 1 and 5 PM, in the heavy heat, everything went sleepy and still. But not today. Luckily I was working with the little boards that I can hold in my hand, so they didn’t turn into sails. I’m going to have to choose a calm day to work on the big painting surfaces; you remember, they are birch, bonded to 2-inch stretcher bars, and much heavier than canvas. Today the wind is so strong that the boards could have been picked up and flown across the meadow, clonking some poor deer in the head.

Speaking of deer, I frightened the herd from its nap time today.  All bounded off (deer seldom just flat-out run), except for two little ones, just past fawn stage, that got stuck behind a fence. The two of them tried again and again to bound over it, but kept bouncing into the wire and boing-ing back on the wrong side. I felt bad – they were spooked and wanted to get with their families (who waited on the other side of the lane, giving me the stink eye). After about 10 tries, with a lot of backing up and shaking of heads on the part of the little ones, I went on past them – watching them was too painful and I hoped that if they weren’t in such a panic, they might succeed. I heard a couple more boings and, then, nothing. Finally I looked back, and there they were, on the other side, looking quite calm.  I don’t know if they went over or under but great relief was felt all ‘round. The whole group bounded away into the woods, not waiting for my applause.

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Small deer fleeing

So that’s today’s excitement – Mona doesn’t like parsley, the corn is just coming on ripe, and the young’uns got safely over the fence. Also I took a nap after painting up a fury. I’m afraid you will have to bring me another pair of jeans – these were decent until today’s painting stint, but what with the wind and all, I smeared enough paint that these won’t be appropriate for travel.

I’m going to off-load my photos and then meander down to the house and send this along. After that I’ll make my pork chop and corn dinner. And so to bed. Ah, days in the country.

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The Last Homestead: Sept 10

Sat, September 10, 2016 at 2:15 PM

Hello hello,

It’s early afternoon here on the high ponderosa.  Rose and Darrell are still at the swap meet, the black barn cat cozied up to me, but I had to move her away to write this email more comfortably.  Brandy barked once and then came over to snuffle me; Bella is sadly resigned to her caged state. The chickens told me vociferously that they laid eggs and the cows told me insistently that they wanted hay. Mona and her piglets appreciated the carrot greens and cabbage leaves (the piglets were especially appreciative), but I saw no other pigs at all. And Mona was a bit irate that her big buckets were empty — she kept eyeing me and knocking them over. No sight of Red Cow.

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The noisy rooster and his pack of hens.

It’s a bit warmer today, although I must say that I haven’t been tempted to take off my turtle neck. Maybe if I walked briskly or sat in the sun, it would be different, but while sitting, the air is definitely cool. I took a bath and a shower this morning. Then I put my dirty turtle neck back on. I only brought two t-necks and one of them is for painting, or was, until it became the sole Homestead top. I’m saving the other to sit in the car with you on the drive back home. Who said I was not compassionate?

Speaking of which, I made tabouli — the compassionate part is that no one is around to note that I smell to high heaven of garlic and onion. It was pretty good, though, and I’m assuming that parsley stalks will be excellent for the piglets.

Last night’s excitement involved different strange noises, although a bit more distant than outside my door. As I was leaving the Howe’s house after writing to you, Brandy took up barking. She quieted down a bit when I went back and looked around to the south of the house. I saw nothing. I wasn’t about to venture down into the woods, so I reassured her that all was well and went over and made myself some dinner.  I went to bed as usual about 8, read and fell asleep, and woke up about midnight.  Brandy and Bella were carrying on, quite loud, quite insistent, quite non-stop. Bella’s bark is higher than Brandy’s and Brandy was growling as well as howling and barking in various tones and cadences. This went on for about an hour. I scuttled around from my bedroom to the bathroom off the living room to pee, came back, read the rest of my novel, and the noise was still going on at 3 AM. I closed the open window and muffled the noise, so fell asleep to the faint cacophony.  This morning it was all quiet.

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The “scary” woods

Rose once shot a cougar near the house, so my night alarm signals were up. However, it dawned on me that a) I wasn’t in danger and b) there was nothing I could do for the dogs or livestock if they were. Hence, sleep.

I took my shower before I went to check on the animals, hoping they hadn’t been mauled in the night. But all seemed well. I heard Brandy so I figured she was OK, which, when I got down to her place, indeed she was. Tired, I think, after a long night. She guarded the household well, although from what, I’m not sure — bear, cougar, coyote, big rat? Now she’s sleeping it off, first checking me out when I came to write to you. She reminds me of a security guard — friendly but watchful.

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The black barn cat spends a lot of time at the house and here she is again, sitting beside me purring and looking up. She has a bad eye and presumably lots of fleas. Rose tells me she is a good rodent catcher but has no taste for birds — something Rose (and I) approve of.

I’m going to paint later on today. Going up the lane with my cart to try for some of the big mountain formations.

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The Lane to Top Road, where I walked every day. And where I painted some days, too

Rose and Darrell said they would be back late, so maybe I’ll write again later. Or maybe I’ll make myself a pork chop and potatoes and have a feast.

The birds seem to love the back of the Howe’s house where I’m sitting to write. It’s a meadowy spot with overgrown flowers and grasses. They keep making noises and moving the brush so it crackles and hisses. I can’t see them but I can certainly hear them. I’m getting acquainted with the sounds here and am tuning in on the unusual ones. All the animals have their own particular noises — clanking of food buckets as well as mooing and cackling. There are machines — freezers mostly that sit off Darrell’s workshop — that go on and off. And of course the birds rustling and chucking and giggling.

birdheaven Bird Heaven, with clothes line to keep the wind company

I keep making notes to myself about things I want to tell you — and promptly forgetting what I’ve noted. I’m liking the isolation, broken mostly by my talking to the animals and myself. No one is around to hear, which makes me sing and talk in silly ways.

The rooster says hello. Brandy is asleep in the house (a back entry way is left open to shelter the domestic animals), and the black cat has wandered away after discovering I wasn’t going to lavish attention on her no matter how much she purred.  Maybe I’ll write again later this evening. It gets dark earlier, even though it’s only been a couple of days. On the other hand, morning seems to come early enough, so I’m not complaining.

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The Last Homestead: Sept. 9

Fri, September 9, 2016 at 6:38 PM,

Hello, hello,

I’m sitting in the Howe’s back yard with my laptop, commiserating with Bella, who is locked behind a gate in the dog run/dog house. She is not in the dog house, metaphorically speaking, but the Howes thought she would do better in her house and dog run while they are at the swap meet.  I feel sorry for her — she’s a very friendly sort and is sticking her nose out and scrabbling around in the hole where the gate closes, hoping to talk me into letting her out. Alas (or perhaps luckily) the gate hole is too small for her to wiggle through.

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Bella, fenced in

Brandy got almost put in the dog house this morning when she didn’t listen to Rose ordering “GO HOME.” We were outside the butcher shop, next to the meat smoking structure. Rose had to speak twice; then Brandy slunk off home, chastened. “Home” is just down the hill, at the woods edge, and is where the dogs are sent if they have gotten out of line. A worse punishment is to have to go into the dog house, (although Bella is there this evening for safety, not punishment.)

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The Last Homestead: Sept. 8

First evening email to Jer, after reading his report on his trip back to Portland:

Thursday, Sept 8, 2016

Yippee – you got home safely. I’m sitting in the Howe’s back yard with Bella, the young rottweiler, pacing beside me. You met her when you dropped me off – she’s the puppyish one, no dignity at all, and desperately wants to lick my nose. I had to use my pull-down-my-glasses voice to keep her from eating the computer. But I think I’ve got the right tone now; she lies down for at least 3 seconds at my command. Rose is trying to teach me, by example, the right tone of voice to control with the enthusiasms of Bella. I may or may not succeed in learning it.

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Bella, who really would like to lick my  nose

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The Last Homestead: The Adventure

The Last Homestead

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The entrance gate, at the top of the lane, to the Triple H Homestead Ranch.

“Most people have homes, but not everyone has a homestead: that means your family owns more than a house. The homestead often consists of a farmhouse and land devoted to crops or animals….”  vocabulary.com/dictionary/homestead

stableyardworkshop50percentThe stable and work/butcher shop

It was early September when Jer dropped me off at the Triple H Homestead Ranch. I don’t drive because of a chronic inner ear condition, so I was to stay, no means of transportation, at the Triple H for two weeks, painting and photographing. No drive-by sightseeing, no running out for a cauliflower for dinner, just eating, walking, photographing, and hopefully, painting. I lived in the bunk house, which consists of 3 bedrooms and a kitchen-living room area, all of which attach linearly to the stable.

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The Triple H Homestead Ranch: The Space, the Place

(Ed. Note: This is the first of 12 posts about a painting intensive I spent in September, 2016, in eastern Oregon, at the Triple H Homestead Ranch. Aside from introductory posts, the posts consist of edited emails I wrote to Jer and photos I took while I was at the Triple H. The emails date from September 8 through September 18, 2016.)

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The Last Homestead

It’s a piece of land, perhaps 400 acres, set in the stretch of mountains that roll diagonally from the upper eastern corner of Oregon to the central canyons of the John Day and Deschutes Rivers, east of the Cascade Mountains. Some of the hill country is rolling grassland, some ponderosa forest. This homestead, the Triple H Homestead Ranch, has a bit of it all – hay meadows and grasslands, springs and a bit of a stream, fading into juniper, pine, and ponderosa forest.

Around the Homestead are mountains, hills, and mesas, the old basalt remains of volcanoes that ran rampant 65 million years ago or so. Go north and you find the wheat lands of north central Oregon. South is the valley of the John Day River. The north fork of the John Day River forms a valley/canyon not far away, running through the little hamlet of Monument. The John Day is composed of many streams, the biggest ones named some form of “John Day” — North Fork of…, Middle Fork of…, South Fork of…, and Main Stem of…. There’s the town of John Day, the hamlet of Dayville, and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  It’s big country, with a matter-of-fact efficiency in its naming convention.

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Why a homestead instead of a ranch?

“Homestead,” to me means owner-built and occupied places, where the farmhouse and barns and outbuildings have hands-on structures, two-by-fours sawed by the owner. I think “homestead” has to include a home as well as land devoted to crops or animals; a place where the builder is also a worker and resident on the land.

There are not many of those hand-built, owner-worked structures left in the US. But the Triple H Homestead Ranch is definitely one of them.

The Triple H is really a stock farm. It doesn’t grow acres of wheat like they do further north, on the Columbia Plateau. And in spite of its name, it doesn’t have large herds grazing on thousand-acre ranches, like those found further south in Oregon.

However, what the Triple H has is an abundance and variety of animals, all individually cared for with homey expertise. Some of the animals make calves,  some make eggs, some make milk, and some make piglets. Any of these animals can end up sold, bred, or, as Rose, one of the owners, puts it, in the freezer.There’s the barn yard, efficiently arranged for the animals to be taken care of, a chicken coop, and a shed for small piglets to live with their moms. Also large browsing meadows, a stable for horses with the bed and breakfast rooms built along its sides (the “bunk house”), an arena, a mechanic’s workshop and butchering/smoking area, and a residence.

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Other business activities of the Homestead include Rose’s making of Christmas cakes, soaps, and cheese, sold at the farmers markets in the region; her steaks, roasts, and stew meat, available to guests at the bunk house (and sausages which can be shipped around the country); the custom butchering of elk and deer for hunters in the area; a small bed and breakfast venue advertised through VRBO; the reconditioning of old Chevrolets which are then used, swapped or sold; and a (now discontinued) equestrian camp, where children and adults came to learn riding skills. All these activities are carried out by the two owners of the Triple H,  Rose and Darrell Howe, who in 1994 were looking for a place to buy in eastern Oregon. They found this outback land, with no buildings except an old schoolhouse at the head of the lane. All the structures on the land were built by Rose and Darrell, with the help of Darrell’s grown children.

Darrell is the mechanic, the contractor and builder, and the fixer of everything. Rose is the animal husbander, the maker of soaps and cakes, the equine specialist, and the host for the B&B. They both work on the old cars, all Chevrolets, with an emphasis on the Impala.

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The meat smoking area and butcher shop were originally part of Darrell’s automotive and machinery workshop. After the workshop was built, Darrell partitioned it to make a separate space for Rose’s butchering. Darrell then added an open air shed on the other side of his workshop. He has enough indoor space that he can work on a vehicle or other mechanical necessities during bad weather. The open, roofed space off the workshop includes a variety of mechanical and engineering materials; Rose’s outdoor side has a smokehouse as well as other materials.

Darrell and Rose live in the log house a bit further down the lane, mostly out of sight of the bunk house and working areas of the ranch. In clear view from the porch of the bunk house is the barnyard, with its cows, chickens, pigs, and turkeys. On the other side of the lane from the bunk house/stable is the arena and open fields where the three horses and innumerable deer graze. At the head of the lane is the highway, Top Road, which with various names runs through the Blue Mountains to the Columbia Plateau, ultimately to the Columbia River. This is Oregon’s high country, part of its proud outback.

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That’s an overview.  The real stuff, for me, was looking and living for a tiny bit of time with this place, gazing across its big meadows and into the chicken coop, talking to its well-loved and kempt pigs and circling the large collection of mechanical and metal things.

Miscellaneous information: The Triple H Homestead has been in existence for 22 years. The horse named Luke, a Lineback Dun, is 36 years old. He stands with his nose against a tree. He does not respond to inquisitive humans. He is, as I like to say, slow, deep and connected. Ramona is the mama of the piglets. She rules the farrowing house and, just as they tell you, has a dainty way of moving her enormous bulk. The Howes spent about 1½ years in a small trailer on the property, then moved to the bunk house. Now they live in the log house, 2 bdrms, 1 bath –1300 square feet.

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