October 29, 2015

WWOOF 8: Zillah

Welcome to wine country!  My next farm was a vineyard in Zillah, Washington.  I loved it there.  The hosts were Paul and Barbara and their two dogs, Marshall and Diggily, and they lived in a little ranch house surrounded by vineyards and orchards and fields.  I feel like there's not much to say about Zillah because everything was so normal there.  This is your life, this is your life on a vineyard.  I didn't have any huge adventures, but everything we did was like a tiny adventure.  Paul and I stripped the grapevines of the bird netting, him driving a tractor backwards and me riding on a platform and pulling the netting through a giraffe-ish tube into a barrel.  I stood in a huge bin of squashed grapes and dumped them into a press and we drank some of the wine that dripped out the bottom, even though my feet had been in it (wine kills all human pathogens (I hope this is true (my feet were clean))).  I helped out in the tasting room on a busy day, flirting with the customers and clearing the tiny plates of food morsels Paul and Barbara used to explain how your wine plays with your meal.  Barbara and I went for walks through the neighbors' orchards with the dogs all dashing delighted through the apple trees.  The three of us ate dinner together every night, and Paul would find some wine to pair with it.  I learned that I like polenta but that I still don't like mushrooms, no matter how hard I try.  I drank lazy sangria made from red wine and Sprite.  I mowed a lawn for the first time in ten years.  I picked a million bazillion tomatoes.  We slept.  We woke.  We worked.  We ate.  That's how it was.  Let's see some pictures!
Right, so first was Spokane, where I stopped between Plummer and Zillah.  Spokane for me was mostly a park and an Apple store, because my iPhone was acting up and I just so happened to bring it in eight days before the warranty ended.  Hooray new iPhone for me!  Here are the photos of the more interesting bits of the day.
He didn't do it.

The coolest thing about Spokane, that I saw anyway, was that in the middle of this big old city was a huge park with rivers and waterfalls and lots of green grass and even a gondola ride that was unfortunately closed for maintenance.  Good job on the nature front, Spokane!

Here we go.  VINO.  Lots of it.  This wasn't taken on my farm but on a neighbor farm where we went to use their press.

Foot wine.  Ya welcome.

Miss Piggy, who Bixby thought about a good while before deciding he didn't like her.

Zillah was a pretty gorgeous place, and it definitely didn't hold back on its sunsets.

Kids are the best, and kids of winos?  Even better.

Bee friends!

I tried to explore Yakima but it was really boring and I wound up visiting a gas station shaped like a tea kettle.  Central Washington, y'all.

Oh man!  The apples.  The apples were fantastic.  There were lots of neighboring orchards, and what I learned is that in big scale orchards, they leave a lot of fruit behind.  If they think it won't sell, it's not worth it to present it to the middleman.  So apples with sunspots or bruises or lumps or, you know, whatever, were left behind on the trees, and I ate them gleefully.  Once you rubbed the pesticides off, they were incredible.  Jazz apples, pink ladies, fujis, I don't even know, but gooosh, they were good.

Oh, and Bixby made possibly his very best friend.  Marshall was a rottweiler-shepherd mix, and they palled around the vineyards all week.  I know Bixby was sad to leave him.


Smush-face lovey dork.

Oh, and the tomatoes.  I spent many, many hours cutting back tomato vines and putting the ripe ones into bins, which turned into four pots of sauce.  At least.  I ate some of the smaller ones straight off the vine, and let me tell you, if you've never had an absolutely brand new cherry tomato - I won't say you haven't lived, but I will emphatically tell you to try one.

There you go - Zillah!  Great time, great wine.  Adios, amigos!  Next up, Seattle.

October 22, 2015

WWOOF 7: Plummer

Plummer feels like it happened a million years ago and also yesterday.  Isn't that how traveling is?  I remember so much stuff with so much clarity, but so much has happened since I was there.  And what a weird little blip on my life radar.  I went to a rodeo and ate dinner alone in my room most nights and accidentally murdered a bird and danced and danced and danced.  To be perfectly honest, I'm glad I'm not there anymore.

Here goes.

I left Bozeman when all the aspens were bright yellow.  We did three big mountain passes that day, and let me tell you, George Weasley the Hyundai Elantra was not pleased.  On my way in, I stopped in Wallace, where I nearly got run over and found a gas station with two toilets in the same single-person restroom, and Couer D’Alene, a beautiful lakeside town with pristine green lawns and a park in which dogs weren’t allowed to be on the grass (yeah right, said Bixby).  We ate eleven dollar nachos and walked on the longest floating boardwalk in the world, which was pretty long, and I had Bixby sit in a gigantic chair.  Look how small he is!
Plummer had an actual town hub, or at least a street with stores on it, which was a step closer to civilization than Allen.  When I drove up, I could see a thin woman with long blonde hair in the yard.  She went inside before I parked, and when I knocked on the front door no one answered.  It wasn’t until I went around back and yelled hello that she came out.  “Stuart and Caroline are in Spokane,” she said when I’d explained what I was doing there.  “They didn’t tell me a WWOOFer was coming today, but you know, they say they’re coming and never show up.”  This was May, the intern.  She showed me the spare room, which was spacious and had closet space but smelled an awful lot like cat pee, and put blankets on the bed while I gathered my things from the car.  I met Stuart later, and he was incredibly kind and welcoming and told me that if I wanted to get stoned, I could just let him know.  I didn’t meet Caroline until the next morning, because she had gone straight to her bed when she and Stuart got in.  He told me she had bone marrow cancer.
“Do you want to meet my wife?” he called to me while I was getting breakfast together.
“Yeah!” I said and trotted into their room.  He made the introductions, and then there was a pause.
“I told her about the bone marrow.”
There was another pause.
“Well,” he said, “if you want to eat your breakfast...” and I said, “Sure!” and trotted back off, feeling awful. 
“It’s easier if they know,” I heard him say.
The next morning, Stuart drove me and May and Ollie the dog around the property.  We went up near a neighbor’s house, where a couple of seventy-year-old meth addicts lived until the government seized it and sold it to some people who were operating a horse clinic.  Stuart led us up a path in the woods to where a man with a chainsaw was cutting down fir and cedar trees.  The dirt was soft and the air smelled like Christmastime.  They talked about the price of lumber (going down, which is bad for the people logging it) and then Stuart led us back to the truck, showed us where the creek ran in the spring, showed us how to tell if a tree was dead even if it looked alive.  We drove back to the house just as Stuart's mechanic friend Bob showed up, which was lucky, because I promptly realized I had a flat tire.  Bob swapped it out for the spare, and May and I drove into town, to a little auto mechanic named after the highway it sat on.  They patched it right up for $15, and George Weasley was back in business.
On Wednesday, May and I tidied the greenhouse, stacking buckets, organizing trays, rolling crumpled sheets of plastic into neat cylinders and putting them on the shelves.  It wasn’t glamorous farm work - I mean, none of it is, but it wasn’t the romantic idea of farm work, but it was important, and it was satisfying.  It’s nice to take something cluttered and make it clean.  Little did I know, that was about the extent of the work I was to do that week.  We cleaned up outside the greenhouse too, which took all of half an hour.  I guess I could have taken the initiative and made a project for myself to do, but what? and why? and how?  Rest was good, I guess.  Balance is better.
Oh, and we did do the farmers market.  Plummer has this itty bitty farmers market every Thursday during the summer, and this was its very last bonus market.  Bix and I got there early, before any of the other vendors, and helped the guy managing the thing set up canopies and tables.  The other vendors started trickling in.  I met an older couple with apples and pears, a woman with boxes of eggs, and another woman with a slew of young boys and baked goods.  May and Stuart showed up with the produce and we spread it out on our table: garlic, cucumbers, zucchini, jellies, bags of herbs and greens.  We stood there for three hours, me grinning and chatting and y'alling up a storm, while incredibly introverted May looked dazed, giving information on the produce whenever someone asked.  We stood there for three hours, and we made a grand total of $34.  May told me I was good luck, that it was the most she'd made there.  And that's May - she didn't mind, she didn't care at all about making money, and she was in fact going to give the leftovers to the chickens when we got home, she just wanted to provide people with fresh, organic produce.  She was one of the best-hearted people I've ever met.
The rodeo!  The rodeo was one of the best parts of Idaho.  I'd found it early in the week, rodeo finals at Couer D'Alene's fairgrounds.  I put on my new dress and cowboy boots, a little worried that the people there would think I was mocking them or something, but they didn't.  They were ALL wearing cowboy boots, but I'd evidently missed the Levis memo.  I sat beside a woman who explained the rules of the different activities to me: in this part they throw the calves on the ground, in this part the have to go around the barrels, in this part they try not to get bucked off a horse.  Very strange, very dangerous.  But after the rodeo, there was a rodeo dance, and oh man.  I'm a sucker for a good dance, and this was definitely a good one.  Everyone got out there in their Levis and I asked strangers to twirl me, and they knew how (mostly).  I left late at night but still before it ended, said goodbye to the empty arena.  If I ever go back to a rodeo, I can honestly say, "This ain't my first."
I did the Tinder tour guide thing again, but only once.  Tinder Chris Idaho, not to be confused with Tinder Chris Pennsylvania (hi!) suggested we go to Moscow, which I jumped at because one of my favorite bloggers lives there and I was fangirling a little bit.  I got there half an hour before we’d planned to meet and explored Main Street, which took all of twenty minutes.  It’s an adorable little town with lots of restaurants and antique stores.  There’s a community theater group currently doing Steel Magnolias and they've got Christmas lights on the trees.  Most of the shops were closed, but the bookstore wasn’t, so of course I went in and of course I went out with a book.  Tinder Chris Idaho and I met at a pizza place called Maialuna.  It was adorable, a big outdoor patio decked out with twinkle lights and a sprawling indoors dimly lit with high ceilings.  The menu was dense and had confusing toppings: golden raisins soaked in balsamic vinaigrette, candied hazelnuts, capers.  We ate all of the things I just listed, I had a glass of wine that tasted like grape juice, it was good.  So, Tinder Chris Idaho is a PhD candidate for biology, and he was really into birds.  Like, REALLY into birds.  He’d gone to Bolivia to study parrots and developed an app to help kids learn different birds and had a tattoo of a bird across his shoulders.  He was intelligent and interesting, but long story short, I wound up turning him down and he sulked like there was no tomorrow.  I drove off in my little Hyundai through the night, Orion gleaming down at me, and it somehow seemed fitting, albeit tragic, when an enormous gray bird suddenly rose up from beside the road and crashed into the hood of my car.  Bye, Tinder Chris Idaho.
My absolute favorite part of the week was the apple party.  May and I were the first ones to show up to the party, and the four grubby boys gave us a tour of the property.  They started us with the pond (puddle) they made themselves by building a dam, and then showed us the larger puddle that fed it, populated by tiny red worms.  They demonstrated how stomping at the edge of the pond made the worms scurry into the underwater sludge.  “Lucas fell in!” they crowed, and Lucas proudly admitted to it.  Next up was the chickens and the roosters, and they told us all about how a bear had dragged a rooster three miles up the mountain, and how a raccoon had been skulking around the chickens and their dad had shot it clean between the eyes.  The bullet went out of its head behind its ear.  They told us how you could climb the rooster shed, but probably shouldn’t because a lot of the roof was rotten.  They showed us the three story tree house and the log you had to scootch across on your butt to get to the crow’s nest and the place where they played bar with bottles they’d found in the junk pile.  They showed us the junk pile too, which didn’t look like much but there was evidently tons of stuff buried under the pine needles.  They took us to a thing, I don’t know what it was but it looked like an accident waiting to happen.  It was sort of these big metal tracks with the skeleton of a cart on it that rolled back and forth, and for some reason there was a gigantic rusty circular blade that really spun.  They showed us their rope swing and explained that they would climb onto the hood of their dad’s pickup and jump off, and that’s how Phillip broke his arm.  They showed us Phillip’s machete too, the one he had bought himself for twenty-four dollars.  They were just so earnest about it all, these were the best things they had and they were sharing them with us.  It was the best tour I have ever been given.  
And then we made cider!  It was the same exact process as Minnesota, altering a step or two, but we gathered the apples and washed them and chucked them into the apple smasher and collected the juice and poured it into old milk jugs.  I spent a lot of time with the oldest kid, Jenny, who was sixteen and absolutely wonderful.  We strained the cider and laughed about the little kids and the cider process and the possibility of chucking apple guts onto passersby.  These kids, man!  This family is raising some really great kids!  And there were a couple of babies floating around, so I got to get some quality baby holding time in, and I tell you what, those babies had chins to write home about.  Three-year-old Simon and I bonded (“Do you know who I am?” “Yes, you’re Simon, do you know who I am?” “Uh-huh, do you know who I am?” and again and again).  I shared my chex mix with baby Conrad and made awkward eye contact with one of the cousins and got sized up by some other cousins who looked tough and mostly hung out in the back of a pickup truck, and then everybody drew names for Christmas presents.  The house smelled like chili and mulled cider and everybody loved everybody and it was just so wonderful to be in the midst of such a happy, rowdy, functional, loving group of people.

And the cider was delicious.
I finally made it out to Heyburn State Park on my last day there.  We walked the bridge, which was awesome.  You park a little ways off and follow a paved path towards the water and there are these little houses on the water – no, I mean ON the water, literally, they’ve got jetskis parked next to them and stuff – and birds and we saw a drowned portapotty, and then we turned around once we’d gotten to the other side of the lake and walked back.  We did Plummer Creek Trail, which is where I found out that if I see very large wildlife in the woods that suddenly starts moving I do nothing useful but instead yell, “Whoa!  WHOA!” but luckily it was just a deer that dashed off and piqued the heck out of Bixby’s curiosity.  Then we went to Plummer Point, where I let Bix off leash and he acted like a real lab and ran off into the water for sticks and then ignored me completely when I tried to work on his recall.  No bueno, dog.  
That about covers Plummer!  I left with a lot more awareness about squash and a repaired arrow necklace and a half gallon of apple cider.  Next up, vino.  Cheers!