Monday, June 19, 2017

The Grand Gallivant: Life at Willow Creek Nursery

Our house is just to the left of this photo

Once again I find myself caught up in the moment and not writing. This is the point of such immersive travel experiences, of course, but it’s not very good for the blog. So today I’ve determined to sit down and actually write about what we’ve been doing the past week!

Our journey to Willow Creek Nursery took us down dirt roads, around buttes, and into the beginnings of a canyon surrounded by hills (with their bluish sagebrush, yellowish new growth, and pinkish clay soil beneath the creamy blue sky, the hills are quite a rainbow of color). Billy and Kate live on five acres in a little “subdivision” of houses clustered around the road, and their acreage is covered in blue spruce, curly willow, and a host of other trees that they’ve grown to sell, sometimes in neat grid rows, sometimes scattered around the open lawn. A row of beehives are tucked away in the back, and if you hop the barbed wire fence and walk through a muddy field that was recently flooded, you’ll find Willow Creek rushing along.

Buttercup Mountain, as seen from the field behind their house

From the moment we met Billy and Kate, we loved them, and they seem the kind to love pretty much anyone they meet. They recently celebrated 11 years of marriage and have the kind of friendly familiarity that comes with the years, but they’re also as madly in love as newlyweds, which is adorable. Our first night they offered us beer, showed us around the property, and got us set up in the modular home adjacent to their house (it used to belong to Billy’s brother before he moved back east). We have a bedroom, a living room, a fully-stocked kitchen and a patio all to ourselves! They left some eggs from their chickens on the counter, along with some fresh oregano and two items that they sell: local honey and bee pollen.

Billy and Kate sat with us and drank beer the first night and we chatted about this n’ that. Billy gave us a piece of advice that’s stuck with me: “Remember to look up,” he said. “You never know what you’re gonna see around here, so don’t get too focused on your work— look up.”

Me with a weedwhacker. Power tools are cool.
That was the beginning of our first lovely week (we’re here for another week, then heading back to Portland). Within a couple days we settled into a routine: we wake up around 8:30 or 9, which allows us plenty of time to make breakfast for the day. We cook it, but Kate and Billy supply all the ingredients. For instance, last Friday I grabbed some bacon that they had cured and smoked themselves, eggs from their chickens, and Idaho potatoes, then fried all three in bacon grease! We washed it down with coffee (for Zach) and a glass of orange juice sprinkled with bee pollen (me). Talk about delicious!

Work begins at 10, and so far we’ve done a variety of jobs, from seed-planting and weed-whacking to hauling logs and rototilling the garden to washing out bottles so they could bottle up a batch of homemade wine. I’ve learned to drive both a riding lawn mower and a four-wheeler, and have so far managed to only run into a tree once. 

Whereas the last farm involved a lot of reading and thinking, here I find myself living in the moment a lot more: mowing and weed-whacking are fairly right-brained activities because of the constant spacial thinking, so I have a hard time holding a coherent thought when I’m focused on trying not to cut down anything that’s not supposed to be cut down. The work here is so meditative that time seems to cease; I’m always shocked when 4:00 hits and I realize that I’ve been pruning or weeding for three hours without feeling that time had passed. Through it all, I try to remember to look up, and have been rewarded with the sight of western tanagers flitting through the trees, swallows wheeling overhead, or clouds drifting over the peak of the snow-streaked Buttercup Mountain in the distance.

In the evenings, we cool off in myriad ways: taking walks, exploring the creek, surfing the web as usual, watching movies, playing an instrument they’re loaning us called a hangpan, or challenging each other to games of darts (which we’re slowly improving on). 

A short walk down the road takes us to this view.

Then it’s time for the highlight of the day: dinner. Kate was a professional chef for many years, and it shows— every single thing she makes is exquisite: grilled salmon with rice and Mediterranean salad; roast chicken with stuffing, cranberry sauce and butternut squash; venison-stuffed peppers with seasoned pinto beans; pizza topped with ham, onions, red peppers, fennel, and banana slices... We eat huge portions slowly, always accompanied by homemade wine, and talk for an hour or more, enjoying excellent food and excellent company.

On the weekend we had two days off, and we got to do some exploring in the area, but that’s another post unto itself. In short, we’re having a fantastic time here: learning, working, being inspired. I can’t wait to see what this week will bring!


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