In the NE corner of Oregon in Wallowa County lies a little visited wonder known as the Zumwalt Prairie. I recently returned from a five day writing workshop in this remote place and still memories swirl in my mind like the prairie wind.
This 330,000 acre bunchgrass prairie remains largely intact as the high elevation averaging 4,000 feet, poor soils, and harsh weather conditions made it unsuitable for the plow. This was a summering ground for the Nez Perce tribe before white settlers and broken treaties ultimately exiled them from their lands. This land is still home to a plethora of wildflowers, elk, deer, badgers, bird, and insect species, many of them threatened.
The Nature Conservancy owns and operates 36,000 acres of this land. It’s a nature preserve but part of its mission is to work with the local ranchers integrating them with their mission of conservation work which includes biological inventories, ecological monitoring and preserving biodiversity. It’s a partnership with conservation and private interests. Careful grazing management is part of the picture. The Nature Conservancy field station was a farmstead abandoned years ago as the harsh conditions of hot summers, frigid winters, poor soil, and remoteness made it too difficult to farm.
This year’s garlic harvest is in. It‘s always a bit of magic when the spade brings to light the seed I planted in the fall. From singular cloves come beautiful heads of garlic ready to enhance my cooking and that of others. Trim the stalks and brush their smooth skins – a ritual I never tire of. Then off to the racks of our root cellar (actually a former darkroom) where they will cure on racks. Typically the harvest will last until mid spring if stored correctly.
We use garlic liberally, often pressing an entire bulb and storing it in a container for use during the week. When I was a young cook I used to follow recipes that called for a clove or two of garlic. I could never taste the difference. If you want some pizzazz to your cuisine, be generous 5 or 6 depending on the size of your cloves. Trust your taste buds.
Over many years none of our acquaintances- even my closest friends have ever complained to me of garlic breath. A good tooth brushing will take care of that!
We were driving back from a blissful writing workshop up in a remote area in E. Oregon when we came back into cell service. I’ll never forget my friend, Linda saying “Oh my god- there’s this thing called a heat dome that’s moving into the Pacific NW. It’s going to get up to 116 degrees F!” Seriously I thought she was joking until she insisted it was true.
We live in a place where occasionally we will experience triple-digit temperatures in the low hundreds but not this. These are Death Valley or Phoenix temps.- not Oregon. Another blow- last year it was the forest fires and now in late June extreme heat. Add to that the pandemic, politics and it’s beyond cataclysmic.
My house has no AC. There have been few times we have needed it as it is well insulated. This time, however, since it only dropped into the high 80s at night the house would not cool off and remained at 89 degrees inside. This was intolerable- especially for me as I am highly sensitive to the heat and can get ill.
This morning there was an event in my garden- the garlic scapes were ready for harvest. What is a garlic scape? It is the flowering stalk that appears about 2 weeks or so in June before the garlic is mature enough to dig. It’s always a bit of a miracle to see it mature since I planted it way back in November. We ran out of our garlic about two months ago so it is exciting to know that soon we will have fresh garlic to enjoy.
This is where it gets a bit complicated. There are 2 types of garlic, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck garlic is the only type that produces scapes. They have, as the name implies, a long hard neck or stem. they have fewer cloves but the cloves are huge. Softneck garlic has soft stems. They are the type you see in braids. Their bulbs can get huge with more cloves but they are not as big as those of the hardneck. Generally, they don’t store for as long as hardneck either. They are impressive and make great gifts
I grow both kinds, Susanville, a softneck variety, and Musica, a hardneck variety. Any type you grow at home puts the tiny store-bought garlic from China to shame in terms of flavor and size. (Why we import that inferior garlic from China is a mystery to me!)
Garlic scapes have a mild garlic flavor. Tonight I will brush them with olive oil and place them on the grill with other vegetables to serve as a side dish. This is my favorite way to serve them. I also sauté them and add them to everything from eggs to stirfry. Look for them now at farmer’s markets and specialty grocery stores for a special treat.
In the 28 years I’ve lived in my home I’ve watched the surrounding hills logged acre by acre making way to vineyard land. I used to live out in the country. Now I say I live in the “wine country” to add a reference point to the location. To some this is no big deal, but for me losing our forests is a tragic loss of shady walks, natural habitat, and carbon storage. We shame the loss of tropical rainforests but turn a blind eye to the logging of our own temperate forests.
When this happens nothing is left for wildlife, no corridors for migrating birds for deer, or any of our native species to survive on. Where do all the creatures go that made those forests home? Most die. It’s all for human profit now. This collateral damage is met with barely a shrug. Add to that the recent catastrophic wildfires in Oregon have left thousands of acres of forest graveyards. I was heartsick on a recent camping trip to the Cascade Range where we drove through miles of blackened mountains, burnt towns, and majestic forests turned to black matchsticks. This was once verdant scenery. Rampant salvage logging is only making matters worse for long-term recovery.
I have written letters to editors, congresspeople, and blogged about the environmental issues at hand but reciprocity to nature is not a concept our culture embraces. It’s about profit. There is a total disconnect in our relationship to the earth and the long-term consequences of our consumerism. We take without giving back and that will be our ultimate demise. I’ve realized through all this the only real power we have is through our actions and not those of governments or corporations. This includes our own piece of ground.
So in an act of defiance, I am bringing nature home to my one little acre in Oregon. I am starting the slow process to convert my land into a tiny nature sanctuary by planting native plants and creating a wildlife friendly habitat. Until recently I landscaped my yard the way everybody does-by what would look nice. That meant planting common cultivars from Asia without a thought to what nutrition and cover they would provide to native species including pollinators, butterflies, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Will this make a difference? Well to me it does! To future furred and feathered visitors it will, and if enough other homeowners join in it will make a huge difference. All I know is that when we recently planted a big leaf maple in our yard and planted my overgrown planter barrel by the porch entrance with milkweed, and native wildflowers I felt empowered. If you would like to join me on my radical gardening journey, tune into my other blog, One Sweet Earth where I will be sharing my process bit by bit.
My Dublin Bay roses bloom every spring capturing my heart. This year they seem so profound that I had to write a poem about them. I dropped my shovel, and my pruners and ran inside to do just that so as not to loose my inspiration.
There is a place tucked in a red rock canyon in SW Utah where at any given time approximately 1,500 homeless dogs, horses, goats, pigs, bunnies, birds, and injured wildlife can live the rest of their days in peace and safety. Some might even find a forever home beyond its boundaries. Others may be released back to the wild. That place would be Best Friends Animal Sanctuary– probably the largest no-kill shelter of its kind in the world.
I would have never discovered this place had it not been for the suggestion of fellow blogger Pam of “I Choose This.” On a rainy day during a visit to Zion National Park in April, travel buddy Jean and I headed out of the park to explore the surrounding environs. After checking out the quaint town of Kanab and grabbing a cuppa, we drove the 7 miles to check out Best Friends. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to arrange a tour but we did enjoy their gift shop and learning about the place which occupies 3700. It’s a stunning setting.
Best Friends relies on an army of volunteers and donations to keep it running. There are clinics, comfortable housing for every type of animal on the premises. Their are also outreach facilities in Los Angleles and New York City. This organization was also instrumental in saving many lost animals during Hurricane Katrina.
The one area we could visit was Angels Rest, the final resting place for animals that had crossed the rainbow bridge either at the sanctuary or beyond Best Friends boundaries. I had seen a lot of magnificent scenery on this trip but this beautiful pet cemetery tugged on my heartstrings and made me tear up. Imagine a red mesa with acres of little memorials to animals that had been loved. Owners, for a donation had personalized their headstones with all kinds of messages and memorabilia like collars and toys. Then there the hundreds of memorial wind chimes lilting their soothing melodies on the desert breeze. The last area we saw was the bird cemetery with a multitude of tiny markers honoring their memory.
If you are in the area Best Friends is worth a visit and if you can’t make it in person, donate! It’s a good cause I hope to get back there someday for a tour.
On a side note, two days after I returned from Utah my sweet little twin nine-month-old kitten Zoey (ZoZo we affectionately called her) was hit by a car. Zoey was one of those once-in-a-lifetime kinds of kitties- a little four-legged sprite the used to follow me around the yard and entertain me with her antics with acrobatic finesse in trees and on the clothesline. Then there was the thundering around the house at night with her twin, Zander, and her obsidian black mom-cat, Zinnia. (See my post Zinnia’s Kittens) We were devestated. I thought I might honor her memory by purchasing and hanging a personalized wind chime at Angel’s Rest. Then I thought better of it. Zoey would prefer to have one hung right over her grave in the backyard. Now I have my own Angels Rest.
What is the metric of decision-making in our lives? What bearing do we follow? How do we hear our inner guidance among the cacophony of others? How does one approach risk? Navigating one’s life is tricky business.
Artist/author Elle Luna addresses this very topic in her recent book “The Crossroad of ShouldandMust, Find & Follow Your Passion.” I was listening to her interview on the Beyond podcast and perked up my ears. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone address this issue in such a concise way. Rather than head vs heart or gut vs brain she defines the quandry as what you SHOULD do VS what you MUST do. This could be as huge as choosing a profession to choosing to take a break and read for 30 minutes, or should I finish this blog post or go out and work in the garden? (I chose the former.)
I purchased the book and have been very pleased with both the content and its presentation, a mixture of type, Luna’s illustrations, handwritten text, and memorable quotes in a recycled tag board binding. It’s a quick reference to navigating the yearnings of one’s soul.
Age has made that process easier for me to distinguish between the voices of head and heart as I have the luxury of looking back over decades. Still, it is always nice to have a guidebook when you have lost your way. I’ve added it to my bookshelf alongside The Artist’s Way and Austin Kleon’s books. It’s worth a read- especially if you’re a creative type.
Check it out!
At the Crossroads
having tasted the straight, well-traveled road of should
It all started in early March during a phone call with my 40 years- long- time friend, Jean. It had been a particularly long winter for both of us. Add the cold at her home in Juneau, Alaska and she was really at her wit’s end. “I want to go to Zion National Park but nobody will go with me!” She wailed. I paused, thought for a short moment I found myself saying “I’ll go with you.” BAM!- 48 hours later we had the trip booked. April 25th we met in Las Vegas with thousands of other winter refugees looking for a break, picked up our rental car, and were off. (Hey- did you know that a Prius makes no noise when you start it up? We thought the darn thing was broken!)
Entering Zion is like entering the Yosemite of the Southwest. Replace the silver granite splendor of the Yosemite Valley with sandstone cliffs and spires of all hues of oranges and tan and you have the wonderland of Zion. It’s a hiker’s paradise and we took full advantage, even in the drizzle of the first day. Besides the glory of being out in such splendor, I found the cheery attitude of the other hikers equally wonderful. People were generally jazzed to be out of their Covid prisons.
The last time I was in Zion I was 10 years old on a camping trip with my family. The only memory I had of that trip was swinging my skinny legs in a cool river on a 100-degree day. That very river, the Virgin River was one of the first things we saw when entering the park. I found such nostalgia in walking along that river looking back at my childhood self-such a sweet memory.
We hiked almost all the trails in the valley that were open (several were closed due to rock falls). The most well-known and dangerous hike is Angels Landing, a 1500 foot huff up to the most iconic view in the park. The last quarter mile or so is a tedious climb where you have to hold onto chains to prevent falling to an early death (as 13 hikers have since 2000). In places, you are walking on a knife ridge only a few feet wide. Add to that there is the coordination of the masses of hikers that are going up and down on a one-way trail. Somehow the spirit of friendly cooperation prevailed and we got up and down with no incident. The view from the top was breathtaking. Looking down we spotted condors riding the thermals below.
We did take the second sprizzly day to explore beyond Zion canyon. Kolob, on the western side of the park, is higher in elevation and equally dazzling. We were warned, however, by park staff not to attempt the main hikes due to the muddy, slippery trails. Good advice. We hiked the ½ mile roundtrip from the viewpoint and it was like walking on toothpaste. In the afternoon we explored the quaint town of Kanab and environs and finally the impressive Best Friends animal Sanctuary- more on that in a later post. The return drive through the west canyon Drive was one of the most jaw-dropping gorgeous roads I’ve ever been on
On our final day, we hiked the Narrows, one of the most famous hikes in the world. You have to slog through the headwaters of the Virgin River. The river flows through a slot canyon of soaring sandstone walls, waterfalls, and hanging gardens. Since we were there relatively early in the year with the water being at times up to the waist and 42 degrees F we rented dry suit waders in town, special water shoes, and a stabilizing stick to prevent a dunking. At first, we were with quite a band of others but as we headed up the crowd thinned as we headed upstream. In all, we hiked about 8 miles in and out. It was at times quite a challenge pushing against the current and stumbling over a rocky bottom but hey, what an unforgettable experience!
Ironically the most challenging part of our Zion visit was navigating the Zion NP shuttle. During this time of Covid, they offer limited ridership for social distancing. You have to secure your tickets at 5 PM the night before from the Recreation.Gov app. There is about a 15-minute window before all the tickets are gone. This can be an extremely frustrating experience. If you are up in the park during this window with no cell or WIFI it’s even more hair-tearing. They do allow walk-ons after 2 PM. You do have the option of renting an electric bike beyond the park border in Springdale or securing a private shuttle but these options are expensive.
Despite the shuttle challenges and the surprising number of other visitors, we found Zion to be an amazing experience. It was a perfect week long escape after months of lockdown and so good for the soul to be among such grandeur.
It was great to get away, take some risks, and feel the pleasure of life again. Try it. The world is waiting for you.
I live ten minutes from Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey. The order of monks that reside there have been so gracious to share the trails of their large natural area with the public. It’s a treasure- one of the few places left closeby where one may take a quiet ramble in nature. I set off solo early in the morning for an Earth Day hike. It’s pleasant with friends but by oneself you have the opportunity to notice so much more and the birds and other wildlife are much more willing to present themselves.
The main Guadalupe Loop is a steep one- about 1.5 miles up. At the top of the mountain is a primitive shrine to Our Lady Of Guadalupe where visitors can meditate, admire the view, and leave offerings- Catholic or not. It’s the kind of a hike where you can leave with a storm in your brain and then come down with head full of sunshine.
It’s good to remember where we come from especially now- the earth needs our attention and love more than ever.