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Dear Blog Readers,
The continuing saga of Joe’s Blogs has moved to BarrecaVineyards.com. The older blogs however will remain here.
Six months after the first of the year, the first fruit of the season comes in. We are talking about cherries here, unless you count Service Berries, which come in a week before that but don’t store very well because they are mostly seeds. I started picking cherries on July 4th and did something with cherries for the next 14 days straight, drying, freezing, making pies…
Of course that was not the only thing going on. I poured a concrete pad for a winery sign; created a Google map for pictures of the 1859-1882 Walla-Walla to Colville Wagon Road, the first wagon road in Washington State. This was my first income from a grant I helped write years ago. I explored for Beryl Crystals with the Rock Club. My daughter April and her family found a
house to live in just a few miles from where she was born after winning a job working as science teacher at Curlew School. Thunderstorms started the Carlton wildfire complex, the largest fire in
Washington State history. Smoke enveloped the area for days; and a friend of ours had her first baby. (So her first fruits were much more significant than ours.)
Four days after finishing with the cherries, I picked 60 lbs of apricots from some old trees that a neighbor and I had pruned two years ago. The blossoms froze last year, but this was a very good year. So for the the next 5 days I dried apricots and made a pie. Of course a lot of other things kept happening. I got my first order of 250 copies of the River Routes Tour, a self-guided tour down our side of Lake Roosevelt that I wrote many years ago and had very poor luck getting the Park Service Bureaucrats to carry in their visitor centers. (That was a first fruit really for that project.) During that same period, on July 25th, Cheryl, April
and grandson James Houston helped put up the Barreca Vineyards Winery sign. And another big
thunderstorm took out power to thousands of homes near Spokane. Luckily we were not among them.
This was the hottest July on record. Most days were over 90 degrees. Many were up to 104. Only a few were as low as 85. This is very good for wine grapes (as long as you have water), not so good for vineyard tours. Nevertheless, on July 29th in 103 degree mid-afternoon heat, we had our first vineyard tour and wine tasting at Barreca Vineyards and made the first (official) money from the winery.
There are 8 fires currently burning upwind from us. The sky is cloudy again. The moon and sun are nearly red. Luckily the fires are still many miles away but one dumped ashes on us last night. August is well under way but more about that next month. Meanwhile July was one to remember.
It’s been a month since our big hail storm and two months since my last blog. I almost titled this one “Too Busy to Blog”, which is basically true. But there is something captivating, heroic or at least interesting about recovering from difficulty, whereas just keeping on keeping on is boring. I suppose that is why almost all stories start out right away with some major problem cropping up in the first sentence, or why our systems go into full alert at a sliver or a bee sting and we ignore breathing, digesting and most other autonomic systems unless of course, something goes wrong with them. Well, our normal systems are up and running again. Neighbor Fred Esvelt dumped 30 yards of gravel on our driveway. Neighbor Jeff Herman came down with his tractor and smoothed it out. Neighbor Lora Lea Misterly replaced a lot of our tomatoes and then the tomatoes started to come back on their own. so now we have 25 tomato plants. Got to love those neighbors.
The grapes are finding their way again. Four new sets of leaves have come out since the June 3rd hail storm left ragged remnants of the old leaves. In some cases new canes started from a half dozen places where they had leaves left after their tips broke off. We got some “natural” thinning on the grape clusters and the rain and hail just about wiped out the normal scourge of leaf hoppers. So the vineyard is recovering.
This year’s cuttings are now all in bigger pots and they are happily nestled under the shade of the big elm tree. In a few more weeks I will set them out in full sun, but clustered together in trenches where their pots and roots can’t get too hot and dry out during the summer or too cold and freeze out during the winter. Two months ago I bought a 1998 Rav 4, an event posted on Facebook but not in this blog since there
was no June blog about May events. It’s been duly broken in with a couple of rock trips into the back country and one flat tire. It is now the go-to car for longer trips or just trips together since it has air conditioning. The 1969 VW bug has been put out to pasture, pretty much literally, but I have been helping it recover too from body rust and an old fender-bender. So what the heck has been keeping me so busy? Well, I updated and reprinted my five regular county road atlases, produced two custom emergency service truck books, redid the interactive farm map on this site and created a Google map of the 1858 – 1882 Walla-Walla to Colville Military Road with almost 100 pictures linked in. Throw in a few other custom custom maps and a 437-image annotated picture album of the Barreca Family from 1946 to 1957 and there has been no time to blog.
There has been time for a visit from my daughter April and grandson James Anthony Houston. She landed a job teaching science in Curlew, near where she grew up. She beat out her high school science teacher for the job. You’ve got to love that. Now she will live a little over an hour away from us, once she gets back from visiting the Houstons in Ohio and actually finds a place to live near Curlew. A couple other notes on recovery. The hail
storm flattened a nice crop of poppies Cheryl had planted in a 1/2 barrel out front. Now they have come back big-time. The new threat is that our cat, Gray-C, would like to set up a napping spot on/under them. But now Cheryl has installed some anti-cat-nap rocks there to protect an understory of later flowers. Also damaged by the storm was a sparrow’s nest in the vineyard. Recently I discovered that it had been rebuilt and had two chicks in it.
A more significant nest has been established in another row with a Cedar Wax Wing sitting on her eggs. I hope Gray-C does not find either one of those.
It’s a good thing that you can check out spelling on the Internet. I thought Shakespeare’s play was “Much Todo about Nothing” but it is “Much Ado about Nothing”. I have just been grinding away at my to-do lists so long, everything seems like either the past, present or future of a to-do list, including this blog, which is late though I did start it on time.
Basically it’s all about weather. Spring is taking its revenge on a long dreary winter – though definitely not as long and dreary here as in the mid-west. Everything is in bloom. The cherry and apricot trees, the pear and Service Berry trees, forsythia, tulips, daffodils… We are eating fresh again: asparagus, rhubarb, mushrooms… The grass is rising with each passing day and drowning us in a sea of green. I managed to revive the mower, the weed-whacker, the chain saw and the tiller. So the annual battle to manage the madness begins.
We also revived the VW Vanagan and have been out looking for morel mushrooms – with very minor luck. We are not the only ones who managed to get out and about. Daughter April, hubby, Tony and hilarious grandchild James Anthony came over on the first of April, two days before April’s birthday, 3 days before James’ first birthday and 3 weeks before Tony’s birthday. We had Mary Selecky over for dinner that night as another April baby (4/2/1947). So flowers are not the only thing that arrives in the spring.
James couldn’t stop laughing at how our dog, Gretchen chases her ball. And we couldn’t stop laughing along with him. Five days later, my cousin Chris Jones called and we caught up on a lot of family events – including the upcoming (2nd) wedding of his daughter Hannah. We are already planning on more visits from family this summer. But that is also the season of relentless gardening.
Cheryl has half a garden growing under lights in the house. I have my multitude of grape cuttings sprouting on the office floor. The canes are all pruned on the grape vines but from the look of it, there will be a whole lot of bud, leaf and bunch pruning necessary to keep the vines on track. I have begun bringing grape plants to the Farmer’s Market in Colville – (but technically that is a May event). I also managed to bottle the first batch of Barreca Vineyards-labelled wine, French Rocks Red. These 3 cases were basically Marechal Foch, a French Hybrid named after Marshall Ferdinand Foch, whose military genius saved the Alsace-lorraine region where this wine was developed from German control during World Wars I and II. This is just the beginning of bottling the 2011 wine. I have been waiting 2 years to bottle it. I used to wait just one year but these are better after being aged. There is a lot more to do there.
It all has to take a backseat however to a slew of small contracts for mapping. Fire districts want current maps for the fire season and economic development people want current tourist maps for the travel season. My stocks of regular county atlases are depleted and I need to replace them with updated editions. Even the ordering system on my website seems to have broken and needs to be replaced. Then there are a hundred or so trail maps due to be finished by the end of the
summer. I shouldn’t even be writing this blog. After all, it doesn’t pay. Spring and summer work is inescapable.
So are death and taxes. April was IRS tax and land tax month. I miss having that money but the saddest loss was Dee Hokom, who died suddenly from a heart attack while out walking with a friend. She was not a close friend of ours, but was a great person and important to the community. Colville made the national news last year when a couple of young eighth grade boys decided they were going to kill a girl in their class at school because she was “annoying”. They were found out before their plan succeeded. Obviously they had very messed up lives. Dee was the attorney for one of them and fought to
give him a future. Read her obituary for a look at a strong and caring woman.
The father of a young friend of ours died while walking with her on a Florida beach. She is tortured by the fact that she didn’t bring her cell phone with her to call for help. You can’t really just shake these things off, but you can go on.
I’ve probably gone on long enough – in this blog anyway. April was not all fun and games, but it brought a great deal of beauty, and the end of keeping the home fires burning for the winter. I hope you all have a fruitful summer. And if you are even thinking about visiting, call way ahead of time because believe me… We have a lot to do.
The Mud Underground
I learned a new word reading an article in Wired Magazine about how despite it’s innumerable problems, coal is our energy present and immediate future. MEGO is a journalist word that stands for “My Eyes Glaze Over”. It’s perfect for coal and this recent series of blogs on boring topics. Actually, coal fits well into this month’s topic, the Mud Underground. Now that the snow has melted and the mud has dried I’m noticing how much stuff is in the ground that we take for granted or just ignore.
I updated the “mud map” of Pend Oreille County this month.
“Mud Map” is an Australian term for local maps which years ago were drawn in the mud during the rainy season and that dried in place to show the way throughout the rest of the year. Pend Oreille County has a site were our rock club finds 500 million year old trilobites, who ruled the seas for eons. But we don’t think about them anymore. They are just there in the mud underground – now turned to slate.
There was no better place to think about what is underground than the annual Panorama Gem and Mineral Show on March 7th and 8th. which was a big success. The theme this year was “What’s
in a Rock?” There were some great display boxes. I put together one that showed the chemical formulas for minerals found around here along with a sample rock, a periodic table and a map to their locations. I’ve always thought it was cool to find iron, lead, molybdenum, uranium etc. in it’s native form. The ground is full of history. It’s a little distracting actually thinking about what’s in the road cuts you pass while driving. At least it’s not texting.
There was no rest after the Rock Show. The next weekend I gave a presentation at the local Home and Garden Show on grapes using slides from this year’s grape catalog. and a few long grape canes that I used to demonstrate how to prune. There’s a whole lot of pruning going on. While pruning I cut starts from the biggest and best grape canes of the varieties in the catalog.
This year I started them directly in 280 little pots that are heated from below on the floor of my office. Rooting is another underground activity that goes unnoticed. I used a potting mixture that contains biochar along with sand and aged manure. I first read about biochar as “Terra Preta” in the book 1491 about the Americas before Columbus. Archeologists found that huge civilizations with millions of people lived in what is now the Amazon jungle. The soil there is normally poor because nutrients are leached out by the torrential rains. But where the ancient peoples had slashed and burned the forest down to charcoal and then (crucially) extinguished the fires before they turned into ashes (maybe the rain helped this process) and the charcoal was buried in the soil, the charcoal held moisture and nutrients and supported micro-organisms that made it black and rich. Fruits and nuts from this “Terra Preta” – black earth – sustained these huge populations. A local lady, Gloria Flora (that’s her real name), founded the United States Biochar Initiative and was giving talks about “Terra Preta”; the value of
biochar for fertility and the carbon sequestration it provides; and how to make it. She has been giving talks on it locally and I attended one in the Cedonia Church basement down the highway from us. It’s not really that hard to make biochar. They prescribe mixing it with 10 parts manure or compost to one part biochar before applying it to your soil. So by the middle of the month I was making biochar in my own back yard and mixing it with the potting soil for my grape cuttings in the new old-fashioned way.
Beware the Ides of March. March 15th, the same day that I gave (incredibly) the most well-attended talk at the Home and Garden Show, I started reading Cruzin the Fossil Freeway by Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll. This book takes finding historical treasures underground to a whole new level. Many levels actually because it takes you on a trip through the West to sites in various “formations” which are layers of rock from times stretching back to the Cambrian era (-543 million years ago) and up to the Pleistocene, (- 1.8 MYA). It’s a very heavy duty book with thick pages illustrated with pictures by Ray Troll, the R Crumb of paleontology, and narrated by Kirk Johnson with thumbnail descriptions of fossil hunting sites, museums and small towms all over the eastern slope of the rockies. In the process it gives you a taste of the breathtaking scope of the many forms life has taken over the past 600 million years. I wasn’t that much into fossils before, but when you begin to fit them into this huge picture of prehistoric life, they become more than just keepsakes. Each one is another piece of the ancient puzzle of life. I see now that it is more important to add your treasures to the whole story than to keep them just for yourself. It adds to their individual importance and everyone’s understanding.
An old fellow who lives near Colville added to my understanding of where I live last week by giving me a picture of Rice, Washngton. it was taken at the “Harvest Home Festival” in Rice Washington on October 16th, 1914, a hundred years ago this fall. When I scanned it at high resolution, I found out that the drum in the picture read: “Rice Military Band, Rice Washington in the Upper Columbia Valley, Land of Plenty.” This picture was taken near the beginning of the first World War and 20 years before Grand Coulee Dam drowned the Upper Columbia Valley. It’s a great example of how treasures like the Land of Plenty can be under the muddy bottom of the lake in front of you or hidden in the detail of a photo and you just don’t see them.
And while we are talking about mud maps, Crusin’ the Fossile Freeway ends on a page with a picture of the Purgatoire sauropod trackway near LaJunta Colorado. It’s a mud map from 150 million years ago with footprints of huge vegetarian dinosaurs being followed by an carnivorous one. I suppose they also lived in a “Land of Plenty”. Who knows what tracks will be found in the virtual mud of the Internet a million years from now.
(It’s impossible to know if this blog will be one of those tracks, but it has accumulated 158 followers at last count. I’m not sure if you are all carnivorous or not, but I am curious about who reads this besides my die-hard friends and family and why. So drop me a note and I might even tailor the content to meet demand instead of just rambling on.)
This is going to be a short blog. Two reasons: One, I have been cleaning out my office in preparation for turning it into a wine tasting room as well as an office. Two, there has been way too much sports in the last few weeks. Events include the Australian Open tennis tournament, Superbowl with the Seattle Seahawks embarrassing the Denver Broncos, 43 to 8! And now the Olympics. I’m a little embarrassed myself to admit that I watch so much sports. Let’s face it though, all of these sports events will go down in history and be remembered for much longer than anything I do. They also take away a lot of time I would usually have for writing a blog.
With history in mind, I am cleaning out the office. This is another occupation that earns you absolutely no money, but becomes a kind of compulsive behavior that is hard to stop. I have a kind of triage going.
What to keep: Old photos – an unbelievable amount of old photos; some documents either legal or personal; original software that is still working, just in case another Vista-like operating system decides that anything not Microsoft is not worth keeping on my computer.
What to Toss: Old maps – even old newspapers are more valuable; Old projects – (While you are doing it a project may take up tons of time and you may be backing up often. When it is over you file it and forget it until the cleaning
compulsion hits.) Old technology. A lot of this goes to recycling and the manuals go to paper recycling.
What to ReUse: This is even better than most recycling but may be too much of a good thing. I now have more CD cases than I will every use. More manila file folders than is sane and more space to suck up with new junk for the next 20 years.
So my maxims for cleaning so far are:
- Save the stories from the Past and piece them together if you can.
- Pay attention to the Present by observing what you do and figuring out why.
- Create the Future as best you can given that it is unpredictable.
One more note… I have been reading a lot of law for the current chapter of my father’s biography. He was an attorney. Just about everything an attorney does, especially if it is contested before a judge, not only goes down in history but to a large extend determines the future. And I’ll bet most of them pay someone else to clean their office.
If you thought last month’s Repairs and Maintenance blog was boring, this one on Routine ought to be a real snoozer. It’s not that I go out of my way to write about dull things, but in a month full of seasonal events sometimes it is worth while to reflect on the background activity that makes up the bulk of our lives. Part of what brought me to this topic was an article in Parade Magazine.
It is about Olga Kotelko a 93 year old that still is a track star. It emphasizes healthy routines as a key to a long and happy life. Part of what prompted me to write about Routine is a new little exercise routine I have been doing for a couple months to strengthen my back after it went out on me just before the critical grape-picking season in October. My chiropractor suggested some “core exercises”, mostly a variety of leg lifts and some work with a “kettle ball”. Up to now, I have been a farm snob about exercise. I figured that if you got out there and did actual physical work a good deal of the day, that was all you needed. Taking time and money to work out seemed like an effete lifestyle thing for the wealthy and otherwise under-worked people.
Well I’ve had a change of heart on that way of thinking. Now that I have my repetitions up to decent levels, my lower back and the rest of my body in that general area is working better. On December 16th I helped load and did all the unloading of 8000 lbs of goat manure from the Quillisascut Cheese Company and Farm School. I can’t say that I was not a little tired and sore afterward, but my back was okay and would not have been otherwise. Now along with chopping firewood and leg lifts, I turn over a bit of the manure pile every morning.
Several people have encouraged me to get a tractor capable of hauling, tilling, loading, plowing snow etc. I may well do that some day, but I can do most of those things by hand. I’m still a bit of a farm snob about exercise, also a tight-wad.
Another point in the Olga article is that “habits-not cravings, as you might expect-” determine food choices. So there are lot of other areas worthy of good routines. I can’t say that I always eat right, always stand when I could while working or always refrain from watching easy-viewing TV shows. I could have much better routines and I’m working on that.
There is nothing like the Christmas season to make you eat too much, spend too much, worry a lot about how you look and generally get out of whatever routine, healthy or otherwise that you might have. We attended our share of parties, sent a lot of Christmas Newsletters and exchanged a number of gifts this year. It was good to think about people you care about but don’t contact often. Our regular Christmas Newsletter seemed to be especially well-received this year. It is a worthwhile annual routine.
I made a new goodie for the winter solstice bonfire at the Schotts, apple tarts with nuts and homemade raisins. I’ll have to do more of those. Cheryl made a new goodie for the annual Christmas Dinner with Mary Selecky, an easy-nonbake tiramisu. We have had it several times but it was new for that party. I have to say though that for shear showmanship, nothing outdid Charlie Schuerman’s Chocolate Mouse ( yes Mouse not Mousse) Cake. It consisted of a pretty regular holiday cake, probably purchased from a bakery, that looked at first like it was being eaten by a swarm of tiny mice. The mice turned out to be made by welding together a large Hershey’s Kiss and a maraschino cherry with a chocolate coating. They had almond slices for ears and the stem on the cherry served as a tail.
Also in the completely-outdone-and-shown-up department, we attended a Christmas Party at CR and Jane Conn’s. CR (don’t ask me what that stands for, he won’t say) inspired the concrete construction of our underground house. His is at least 5 or 6 times larger and completely finished. Jane decorated 4 different Christmas trees in the house each with its own theme. There were trees for red and white cloth Santa Clauses, visual puns (something like a miniature toilet + a deer + railroad track + a paddle = “John Deer Tractor”) and stuffed animals to name three.
In the decorate-your-truck division of the completely-outdone-and-shown-up department, we have the Colville Concrete truck for 2013. Mercifully, it didn’t have many flashing strings of lights. They were the standard for a house on the main street of Colville that was a sight to make eyes sore. I won’t include a picture. I still don’t know how they made strings of lights turn from red to green to yellow to blue and back to red. Don’t expect that to show up in our routine any time soon.
Our tree was much more modest but very classy. We bought it from a neighbor who has hundreds of Christmas trees growing on his property. Cheryl decorated it with lights – which you can see in the picture- and lots of very cute ornaments that she has collected over the years.
I hope you have a great 2014.
I noticed while working as an appraiser in the Assessor’s Office 18 years ago that you could pretty-much tell the age of a farm owner by the state of repair of the farm. Rural properties tend to go through a cycle. When new, new houses, barns, shops etc. are built year after year. This usually indicates a young family that is growing the enterprise along with the kids. As the kids grow up various outbuildings no longer fill their original purpose and often are used for storage. An old place usually has run-down buildings, old cars and equipment and maybe a house that is still holding together. This may be more than an analogy for a typical life. Heck, this is a typical life.
What happens is that you start out with a lot of vim and vigor creating one new venture after another. Some of those don’t pan out but pieces of them almost always remain. Even when they succeed, they need maintenance and repair. The more buildings, cars, web sites… you have, the more maintenance is involved. The same thing goes for your body, the more years you have on it, the more maintenance it needs. Eventually maintenance and repair are not going to be enough. Entropy is inevitable.
So, launching a new enterprise, a winery for instance, is fraught with difficulty. You have the regular chores: firewood, housecleaning, eating…and then the seasonal chores: picking up the bird nets, raking up grape leaves, digging in the potted plants, storing equipment for the winter, cleaning the chimney…plus new tasks in a chain reaction. Want to change the office building into a
tasting room, clean out 18 years of old files, old computer stuff, old software packages, old backup disks. Take stuff to recycle, stuff to the dump, start to sell stuff on eBay and you still have stuff to store. So you need to add more shelving in the storage shed and to do that you move stuff out to the cellar or under a tarp. And you need to list things on the Internet to sell and watch those.
The worst part is examining every item and doing triage throw out, recycle, sell, store. Actually that is four choices – quatrage? At any rate you end up digging through your whole life, mostly the stuff you wanted to just forget in a corner somewhere. As they say, getting old is not for sissies. The process is not just external. You have to rethink stuff, develop new patterns like daily core exercises, change the way you eat. And then when stuff goes really wrong, like your back is thrown out or a tooth breaks, you need to visit the doctors.
All this makes getting anything done, making money and keeping enough of it to handle maintenance and repair as well as developing new stuff even harder. It’s not exactly like sticking your finger in the dike, but more like sticking a cork in the dike and hoping it holds while you run around sticking corks in new holes in the dike.
Luckily we took a lot of breaks this month. Movies and a play, Captain Phillip, Mannheim Steamroller, A Fine and Pleasant Misery (Pat McManus), Catching Fire (Hunger Games). We also ate out and with friends. It was a lot of fun to see the Capitol Christmas tree in Colville. (The official site is: http://capitolchristmastree.com/) So it’s not all downhill although you might consider entertainment as
maintenance. You either keep maintaining and repairing or die. Today I just about got my desk cleaned off. Some day I’ll have the office cleaned out, my body cleaned out and my mind cleaned out. In the meantime, even when starting something new, it’s pretty-much all maintenance and repair.
Veterans Day ceremonies were held at the Stevens County Courthouse. The commissioners also took the occasion to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Stevens County. In conjunction with that they displayed a Stevens County Flag designed by former commissioner, John Hodde, that shows the current shape of Stevens County against a background of the original shape.