‘If it weren’t for hot baths and whiskey I’d be a dead man’

– Oregon Rancher

It’s 6:15 AM, Civil Twilight, when I get into my work clothes; boots on, gloves on, Carhartt Jacket and ready myself for the eighteen degree temperature outside. I am the Fairy Godmother of hot water. The food is down and the water’s poured before a single orchard chicken is up or out – well except for Floppy (she’s not quite right). I’ve already been up for two hours; talked to a friend in South Carolina, made coffee, swept the kitchen floor, fed the girls Dora and Yoshi, wiped the counters, played a game of bobbin soccer with Dora and started the wood stove. It’s Eighteen degrees outside and fifty seven in the kitchen, not bad.

I refill the red teapot and set it on the stove to warm back up while I get Bitsy’s and Tiger’s breakfasts ready, stoke the stove and load a couple more logs in. When the water’s hot I head back outside to the wild chickens over in the gulag coop area and catch a glimpse of the sun cresting in the east. The chickens are waiting and look cold; some sitting on the ground while others mill about and they are very happy to see me out so early. With cold temps and frozen water this is how it will go for the next few months. No big deal.


I’ve got 22 individuals in this flock of varying ages; the newest golf ball hatched three weeks ago and caught me by surprise when he suddenly showed up as if out of nowhere, circling his mom and announcing his presence to the world. Welcome. I’m hoping he’s a she and we’ll find out as time goes by if I get my wish. The orchard flock is numbered 18 and I finally did manage to work out a crossbreeding success by introducing Red from the gulag flock to accomplish a little genetic variance. It took some work. Actually it took a lot of work for a suburban raised ninny like me but perseverance paid off. I enjoy having roosters and while I don’t enjoy killing the extra roosters I understand that this set-up is part of life. The head roosters I’ve selected are superior and do their jobs well; making more chickens, protecting the flock, managing conflict and handling the affairs of the flock so I don’t have to.

Looking Good! marigold, aloe, fig, citrus, red bud (Cercis canadensis), avocado, basil, echinacea, cactus, lemongrass…

Now it’s into the earth berm greenhouse where Bitsy lounges comfortably under her heat lamp and the hygrometer reads 55o and perfect humidity. Later on this morning the temps will rise to 78o inside with the help of the sun and no other energy input.  The tiny fan powered by the solar panel pulls the air from four 40’ underground air tubes and pushes it out the one solar chimney tube we’ve installed. Later, when we add the other three chimneys we won’t need the fan at all. With the doors closed and the sun heating the interior, the heat will rise and exit the solar chimneys and since the interior of the greenhouse is a vacuum, naturally the new air will be drawn in through the four underground tubes.

The plants like it. So does Bitsy.

Now that she’s no longer in the house, and lives in the greenhouse , it means that she’s warmer. 

I’ve been taking it easy the last three days after damn near hurting myself in the last ten. The fence around the Arbor is now permanent; 13 post holes dug & set (hand mixing concrete), 6’ x 8’ fence panels wrestled around and attached, two tons of pellets unloaded into the shop, Patio concrete bottle wall finished, 60 bales of clean straw stored in the silo, and two months of food stores put away on shelves. Actually I did hurt myself when a 4 x 4 I was setting for the patio fence cut loose and clocked me in the head. I was glad Will wasn’t there because I disturbed the silence with that one. You’d think I ‘d had enough with all that work but seeing the weather changes for this week meant that on Monday I had to use up the last 15 bags of concrete and mortar. Mixing six courses of 140 pound dry weight by shovel in the wheel barrel damn near killed me but we got it done.  I’m happy to report that by Monday afternoon I had used up those 10,000 pounds that came delivered on pallets back in May.

Next phase; clean off the bottles and apply sealant to the wall next spring. The circular window gets a hand woven willow wreath.

I had enough energy left over to take a hot shower, eat frittata, sleep for an hour, then get in the car and go see Nicole my ‘health care provider’ (massage) to take my body from car crash mode to a fender bender. Now I’ll rest. The season’s over.

Now we can settle into the traditional chop wood carry water rituals. The outdoor herculean acts are over, for now. We turn our attentions towards the interiors of the house and greenhouse. I’m about to harvest the second cutting of micro-greens, and looking forward to fresh lettuce.

Radish, Radicchio, Butterhead Lettuce, Romaine Lettuce, Carrot, Cabbage, Chia seeds

Eruption Romaine Lettuce & Divina Butterhead Lettuce from Uprising seeds

Dora has blown through two and a half months of her 30 day death sentence of August 24th and is still sliding on the kitchen floor like Jackie Robinson in the eight inning of the Brooklyn Dodgers playoffs and entertaining us with her impish antics and we couldn’t be more grateful. She’s on her umpteenth course of triple strength antibiotics; ten days on, four days off and so we go…

OMG! Get off the counter! Nah, she’s the exception right now given her situation. 

Yesterday was pretty easy. We blew out the drip irrigation water lines in expectation of the temps, hoofed the last subtropical plants into the greenhouse, culled the last of the above ground herbs & vegies, added clean dry straw to the coops, picked up around outside and chopped some wood. By 4:11 pm as the sun was setting I sat on the deck and watched two flocks of geese in V formation fly past, and thought of a dear friend flying back from her trip to Afghanistan.

Today I’ll go out and dig up the rest of the potatoes, parsnips, and dahlia bulbs and bring them inside. Tomorrow I’ll make bread in the morning – the only time I turn on the electric stove oven – and take advantage of the extra heat to help the warm the house.

In the room-that-has-no-name I’ve got parsley & red scarlet runners drying on one rack, soon to be joined by a second rack filled with mint, lemon balm, oregano, and tobacco.  It has no name because it’s weird, nice but weird, a holdover from the forty’s so it’s too small to be an actual dining room but sits between the boat galley sized kitchen and the hallway to the bedrooms and living room. Mostly I think it was designed with cats in mind – so they can play round robin in circles through the house all day.

Really, none of this is hard, only the shock of it when starting out six years ago with the future unknown and the place in a state of desperation – matched only by my own situation – but all that is fading now. Starting out my day here is no different (in some ways) then clocking into a restaurant job early in the morning and following the normal series of rituals to get the job done, only difference is;  I work for myself now and instead of earning a risible paycheck I’m building wealth.


‘you follow your heart or you follow the crowd’

– boss of the swamp