People like to think of vineyards as relaxing places. And mostly they are. But this time of year, grape farming can get pretty stressful. We awoke this morning to a foggy, frosty vineyard, which is scary considering how close we are to bud break. It was just 30F when we went out to feed the horses. Just a degree or two colder is enough to damage any green tissue on the vines.
When I checked the vines late yesterday, I noticed some of the buds are starting to show their colors. When they first open, the leaves of a grapevine are a vibrant lime green with some pinkish-tan hues around the edges. You can see those colors in this little bud, which means it’s ready to unfold.
The forecast calls for another warm afternoon in the 60s followed by a cold, clear night tonight. And so, we hold our collective breaths and hope the buds aren’t encouraged to open in the afternoon sun only to be bitten by another overnight frost.
Ever wonder why they’re called “Muck Boots?” Just look at the above picture and I think you’ll see why. There’s more than mud swirling around in that horse pasture soup!
Up until about ten days ago, things had been unusually dry on the farm for an Oregon winter. But now our winter rains have arrived! Check out this video Bob captured with his cell phone. The ground is so saturated that whenever it rains hard, the water gushes up out of the gopher holes in our pastures and vineyard. We’ve named these little gushers “Gopher Geysers.”
As you can see from the Gopher Geyser video (Part One of this post), it’s been raining hard for about a week-and-a-half straight. And the extended forecast calls for, you guessed it, more rain. Rather than complain about it, or post more disgusting pictures of pasture soup, I thought I’d share some of the amazing seasonal water features that appear on the farm with all that rain.
My favorite is the seasonal waterfall that flows out of the hillside just beyond the cow pasture. It’s the tiny, white streak in the middle of the hill in the first photo. The second picture gives you a closer look. This little waterfall only flows for a few weeks each year during the heaviest winter rains.
We never knew much about the land above the waterfall until Nathan’s family bought the hilltop this past summer. In the coming years they plan to put in a vineyard and an apple orchard. Bob wants to build a zipline between the top of the hill and our pasture so we can easily “commute” between the two vineyards.
We also have a temporary stream flowing through the low end of the cow pasture. The cows don’t mind and the Canada Geese love it! We usually get two pair that nest here each winter. The first pair has just arrived! They’ll get first dibs on the “grassy knoll” that forms in the exact same spot in the stream each year.
We’ve named the knoll “Goose Island,” and it is the choice nesting spot for our winter visitors. We’ll be watching is closely for goslings and I’ll try my best to get some pictures to post.
Every once in a while we get what’s known as a “sun break.” And they often come with rainbows!
I’ve run outside more than a few times thinking I could just walk up to the end of the rainbow, somewhere around Row 425 in the vineyard, and finally see what’s there. But the rainbows always seem to touch down just beyond the vines. From my pictures I can tell you it appears there is a pine tree, and not the fabled pot of gold, at the end of the rainbow. (Ah, but what’s under the pine tree?) 🙂
OK, one more picture of the muck and mud, just for fun. We get to slog through this every morning when we turn out the horses, and again each evening when we bring them in. Sometimes the horses stomp or prance and splatter the muck all over us. And if we don’t pay close attention to what we’re doing, the end of a lead rope might drag through the muck and then slap against us all the way to the barn.
Like Emma, we’re anxious for the rain to end. But we’re doing our best to appreciate all it brings to the farm while it lasts.
Three years ago, right now, I was spending my last day living in Colorado. It was time to move to the farm. We would leave before dawn the next morning, Bob and I each driving our own car and the dogs split between us. We were embarking on a grand adventure, heading west to start a new vineyard and a new life in Oregon. The photo at the top of this post is from the drive out. That’s our dog, Dodger, reflected in my rearview mirror.
As we loaded up, I was incredibly focused on what I was leaving behind. Top of the list was my career of 25 years and my paycheck. It was my identity, my security and my independence. Along with that there were my co-workers, the people I had become accustomed to seeing everyday. I was close with some, others not, but all were part of my landscape.
There was my home of seventeen years in Evergreen, a place I loved and still love deep in my bones. I think of Colorado the way some people think of their “homeland.” I feel comfortable there. Indigenous. I have no right to feel that way. I was born in DeKalb, Illinois. But Colorado feels hometown to me. I love the cool, crisp, dry air, the smell of pine, the exhilaration of open space and vast horizons, the sense of economic vitality, and the feeling of solid ground under my feet. I hate squishy ground.
There was my hillside, some might say my mountainside, where I hiked my dogs when I got home from work. Over the years, we had scattered the ashes of eight of our dearly departed dogs up there. I felt like I was abandoning them.
There was my hockey team, The Colorado Avalanche. Concerts at Red Rocks. My Pilates studio. My favorite rollerblading path. The steakhouse up the street. My dentist. The girl who did my hair.
And of course, all of my family. We are a complicated bunch but also incredibly close. Especially me and my sisters. And, my friends. People I have known since college. We didn’t see each other often, but I liked knowing we could.
Everyone I knew was excited for me. Who doesn’t dream of quitting their job, moving away, and starting a vineyard? Except I didn’t want to go. I was already “living the dream.” I was happy where I was.
I won’t lie. This has not been an easy transition for me. But three years later, I can honestly say that this is home. The farm. The vineyard. The little town of Elkton. Soggy, grey, wet Oregon and all its squishy ground. This is where I belong.
A lot of my comfort comes from knowing that the important things I feared I was leaving behind are still with me. I have spent more meaningful time with my family here on the farm than when we all lived close in Colorado. This is especially true of my nephews. All kids should get to grow up visiting a farm. I wouldn’t trade their experiences here for anything.
My friends are still my friends. Always have been. Always will be. (Thanks guys). I’m keeping up with my Pilates. I can watch my hockey games on Center Ice. Some TV work still comes my way (Thanks guys). I go back to Colorado to see my dentist.
But the thing that won me over more than anything was a conversation I had with a horse. Yes, a horse. They do talk if you listen. The horse that set me straight is Buck, the retired race horse that “came with the farm.” Both he and Luigi had been on their own for over a year by the time we showed up. They were being fed. But they craved human attention.
I spent my first year living here running back and forth between my old life in Colorado and the farm, trying to be both places at once. One day towards the end of 2011, when I went to the barn to say goodbye to Buck, he gave me a little snort of disgust and said “You know a horse is a relationship and if you keep leaving we’re not going to have one.”
That thought shot through me like a lightning bolt. He was right. By trying to be everywhere, I was no where, and worse, I was nobody to him. And what is true for Buck is also true for all horses. And dogs and cats and ducks and vines and donkeys and husbands, too. Having it all was risking it all.
The farm has been home ever since that conversation with Buck.
A lot happens in three years. It was my intention to start this blog right after we moved here to document and share our story as we lived the dream and started the vineyard. Funny thing though, it’s hard to document when you are learning and doing all at the same time. I feel as though both the vineyard and I are finally in a place where I can observe what is happening and share it in a meaningful way. I know who, what, and where I am now in a way that I didn’t when we arrived.
I hope with this post, and the posts at the top of the blog (Hooves, Paws, Peeps, Vines and Wines) I’ve laid out the back story up to this point so anyone interested can come along from here without feeling as though they’ve missed too much. I promise, there is plenty to come! There’s always something happening on a farm. All of my posts won’t be this long. And no, this won’t be one of those blogs where I go on about my inner struggles. This blog is about horses and dogs and grapes and wine and tractors and rain and mud and rainbows. But in the interest of honesty, I think I had to sort this out to get started.
Welcome to the farm. You’re gonna love it here.
Dispatches From Our Farm and Vineyard in Southern Oregon