Sunday, August 31, 2008


Yesterday we had a front row seat for an honest-to-goodness cattle roundup. The field in front of our RV has been the pasture for 49 cow-calf pairs belonging to Brian, a local rancher. He leased the grazing land for three months from the wildlife area. The lease is up at the end of August.

When we learned we would be here when he moved the cattle, we knew we wanted to watch. Brian said they brought the cattle here by driving them down the road, but he thought they would take them back home by truck. However, about 1 pm yesterday the cowhands began arriving—10 men and women on horseback and one man on an ATV. Most of the horses were brought in by horse trailer. Two women rode their horses here.

When everyone was assembled and the route out of the field, through the wildlife area to the gate, then down the road was explained, they rode out across the field, driving the cows and calves around the back of the pond and toward an open spot in the fence. But nobody told the cows the fence was open, so they went right around the pond, back toward the open field. There were two cow dogs and I heard one of the men yelling to his dog, "back, back." The dog ran through the cows and attempted to turn the herd around.

Finally they got the cattle to stop and turn around. Once the cows realized the fence was open, they quickly left the field and were gone down the hill. They left so quickly, we decided to follow for awhile and see what happened next.

We caught up to them as they approached the wildlife area gate. There is a cattle guard on the road, but a large gate next to the road

was opened so the cows could go around. Most of them went the right way. However, some of Brian's calves ducked through the fence into the adjoining field where Larry has been grazing his cattle. We guess the calves saw those cows and grass and decided they liked it better there.

The cowhands stopped the herd on the road while Brian and another man went into Larry's herd to catch the calves. We have watched calf roping events at rodeos over the years and now we know the skills—picking up the calf and throwing it to the ground—used in the rodeo have practical value. Brian didn't rope the calves, but he did grab them by the legs and carry them, one at a time, out of the field—under the fence.

One calf decided it didn't want to leave our pasture and ran back up the road the way he had come. One woman on horseback and the man on the ATV—with some help from John—tried to stop the calf. However, it eluded all of them and returned to familiar ground. After the rest of the herd was settled in their new pasture, Brian and his wife returned, bringing their horses in the horse trailer. They rode into the field, looking for the calf. We didn't see the outcome, but they later drove off and haven't returned today, so they must have found the calf.

Herding cows is dusty work. And many of the cowhands weren't dressed like the cowboys of old. But it sure was exciting to watch the roundup and cattle drive. It was a first for us.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What a Great Day!

What a great day's work on Wednesday, our last day volunteering at White River Wildlife Area, Tygh Valley, Oregon. We both got practice in driving and using the fork lift.

First on the schedule was repositioning the large flower box near our host site. The large wooden box sat on three log slices. They had begun to settle into the dirt and rot, so the box was slowing tipping. Using the fork lift, John picked up one end of the box, then we removed two of the log slices and replaced them with large bricks. He then backed up, moved to the left and picked up the other end. Now the flower box again sits level and isn't in apparent danger of falling over.

Next we used the fork lift to move four large Oregon Cherry Producer orchard boxes. The 4 ft by 5 ft wooden boxes are lined with heavy plastic. We moved the boxes, one at a time, to an area behind the area headquarters where trash is burned and spare items are stored. They will be used to hold used wire—mainly from fences—until there is enough so the scrap metal dealer will come pick it up. We drilled six holes in the bottom of each box so they won't fill up with water when it rains or snows.

John had used the fork lift here once before. He is getting very experienced. Today was my first attempt. I was amazed at how easy it was to learn how to operate the machinery.

Josh, the area manager, has two rat terriers, Obie and Mandy. These two cute little dogs love to ride in the Polaris six-wheeler, no matter who is driving. Whenever they hear it start up, they run out to catch a ride.

When we stop for some reason, they may jump off and look for squirrels and diggers and mice, or they may sit there patiently, waiting for us to drive off again. What fun. They really seem to enjoy life here.

The day ended with a bar-b-cue for us, organized by the staff. It was good food, especially the homemade blackberry pie, made from berries that grow here in the wildlife area.

We have finished our two month commitment here, working three days each week. They ask that we work a total of 24 hours a week for our site—that means 12 hours each. The work has been interesting and we have developed new skills. It has been a real learning experience. We won't leave White River until Monday, when the Labor Day campers are headed back home.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

We'll Miss This Place

We are really going to miss this RV site at White River when we leave in a week. It has been the absolutely most wonderful place to stay we have ever been in. We will miss the privacy, the quiet, the cows in our front yard, and the birds. We have our own private laundry 100 yards or so away.

The cows have been a lot of fun to watch. There are still some small calves that run and jump in the field. At five or six in the morning we could hear the cows waking up and bawling. Sometimes one cow will start and soon others throughout the herd talk back. Once or twice a day they all parade from one part of the field to another.

Three times we have had cows on our side of the pasture fence. The first one finally found her way back in by herself. The second and third times John opened the gate and was able to herd the cow back. One day this week we walked around their pasture to explore the irrigation ditches out there. When the ditch water is running, the herd's owner comes several times a week to change the direction of the irrigation water so the field remains green and lush. We have never before understood how that works or appreciated the work it takes to make it happen.

We will miss our view of Mt. Hood. The mountain dominates the horizon throughout north central Oregon, much more than Pikes Peak does in Colorado.. It is only 11,239 ft high, but it towers over the surrounding mountains in the Cascade Range. It is beautiful.

The sunsets here are also spectacular.

We watched a family of California Quail start to learn about the world just outside our RV. All too soon, the babies were able to fly and the whole family moved away.

But it was fun to watch the little ones walk in single file and feed on whatever they found on the ground. Then they grew to where they could fly away, instead of running, when we walked outside. As we drive the nearby roads, we see other quail families crossing the road.

One of the nest boxes on a nearby tree hatched a family of Western Bluebirds. First we saw the mother and father flying in and out with food for the babies. It wasn't long before the babies were learning to fly. Bluebirds have a distinctive flight pattern, dipping down then flying up again. For a while all of the birds—six or more—flew in and out of the same nest box. We aren't sure if that family is still around, but we often see bluebirds in the surrounding trees.

We also have House Wrens, Savannah Sparrows, the Black Throated Gray Warbler, hummingbirds, a pair of American Goldfinches and Chickadees in our yard.

The weather here has been mostly mild and comfortable. Some days have been too hot, too cool, or too windy, but on the whole it has been very pleasant to sit outside and watch the wildlife and enjoy the quiet. The RV is small enough, we like being able to live outside as much as possible. At Gnat Creek, where we volunteered in May and June, it was usually too wet and/or too cold to sit outside. Here has been almost perfect.

On Labor Day we will be leaving, re-entering the world of commercial RV parks and other travelers. We have missed all of the summer family vacation time, but it will still be an adjustment to be close to other people and their RVs. However, we have volunteered for four straight months and it will be good to be back on the road.

By the way, we won't miss the diggers when we leave here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Running at the County Fair

Saturday we attended the Wasco County Fair in Tygh Valley. The highpoint of the morning was the run we competed in. We each won our division—5K for men and for women in the 60-69 year age group. Never mind we were the only people in that age group! One woman who is 72 competed in the 5K walk. Otherwise, we were the oldest people there. We had a great time. John ran his race in 30 minutes 26 seconds; I did mine in 35 minutes 38 seconds. This race was much better organized than the one we participated in during the Astoria Scandinavian Festival. And we each have a new shirt to show for our efforts. Thanks to our oldest granddaughter, Kylie, for getting me started in this.

In addition to running and walking divisions in the 3K, 5K and 10K divisions, there were also goat and canine divisions. Since this was at the county fair, the goat division really made sense.

We try to run (jog) three miles, three times a week, whether we are at the house in Colorado or on the road. I always seem to run faster on the track at the gym in Colorado. But I was really encouraged after Saturday's event. I was more relaxed and able to run a little faster than the past two times we have competed. I haven't figured out why I am uptight at a race. I don't care if I come in last, or even how fast I go. Just that I can do it. And Saturday it was much more comfortable than in the past. We'll have to find another one soon.

The Wasco County Fair is fun. There are 4H exhibits in livestock, cooking, crafts, etc.; adult crafts and fine arts and cooking exhibits, as well as commercial booths. This pig and her piglets were a treat to watch.

They have rodeos, a parade and a demolition derby. The fairgrounds include a large RV park and campground, so many people come and spend the weekend. We enjoy attending local and state fairs when we can. Last fall we were able to attend the Arizona State Fair. This is one way we are able to see how the locals live and enjoy life.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

AKA Diggers

We are surrounded by wheat fields and Oregon Oak Trees and marvelous views of Mt. Hood. But no description of this area is complete if you don't know about the California Ground Squirrels. They are everywhere. When I walk from our RV to the small building housing the clothes washer and dryer, these squirrels dart away from me. When I sit in the RV and look out the front door, I often see two or more running across the yard.

According to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mammals, these brownish squirrels with prominent buff flecks and rather bushy tail are between 14 and 19 ¾ inches long and weigh 9 7/8 to 26 ounces. They have one litter per year with 5 to 8 young, born in May. Their burrows with entrance mound and radiating pathways are 3 to 6 inches wide and 5 to 200 feet long.

Here they are very unpopular and everyone calls them diggers.. They eat flowers, dig holes everywhere—leaving mounds of dirt and undermining our RV site as well as the Quonset hut used to store grain and other supplies. They climb into the undercarriage of cars and trucks that aren't driven very often. One of the employees here, John, went out to his truck just before July 4 and it wouldn't start. He had to have a new wiring harness installed—cost $2500—because of the diggers.

When you look outside, you see activity everywhere, through the corner of your eye, on fences, trees and rocks, darting across the roads. The manager regularly goes out with his 22 rifle to thin the population.

This week, as we drove through the wildlife area with Aimee, the assistant manager, we passed four Asian men sitting next to their vehicles. Ed, another employee, stopped to talk to them. They had shot four of the diggers and cooked them over a propane stove. They were eating them for lunch. Quite a delicacy to them, apparently. It's not just down south in Louisiana and Alabama and Florida where squirrels are considered a real treat to eat.

They are very effective diggers. We have seen them move rocks 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter, searching for food. The ground is riddled with holes for their burrows. When we arrived, I thought they were cute. Since they are everywhere, they now give me the creeps. Not enough to shoot them, though. I do wish we had more hungry hawks in the vicinity, however.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Farmers grow lots of wheat, alfalfa, pears and cherries in North Central Oregon. We are enjoying the landscape and learning something about farm life. During our visit in Hood River we rode the Hood River Railroad which passed through the pear orchards. Three weeks ago we drove around the countryside, delighting at the beauty of the wheat fields.

Our work at the wildlife area has taught us a little about fertilizing and irrigating crops, in addition to cattle grazing. We have enjoyed watching the cows and calves in the field next to our RV space. Then last weekend we attended the 38th Annual Dufur Threshing Bee. Dufur is a town of about 600 people some 25 miles north of the wildlife area. The Threshing Bee includes a parade—20 minutes long—that included neat old cars, horses, ponies and antique tractors.

The centerpiece of the weekend is the exhibition of historic farming methods. We were able to see a steam-driven tractor

which is attached to a McCormick-Deering thresher with long belts that drive the threshing machinery

We watched horse-drawn plows with the farmer walking behind

and riding.

We also watched the grain being mowed with a horse-drawn harvester.

All of this is so new to me. I have driven down a high-speed highway watching modern harvest crews. But I have never seen any of these activities up close. What a treat! And I appreciate how the farmers share their history in Dufur.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

New Skills

We have learned so much this week! We have developed skills with equipment we have not used in the past. These experiences are what make volunteering such a rich experience.

On Monday we went with Aimee to divert more water down a ditch that feeds ponds in the south part of the wildlife area. Through the years we have seen farmers and ranchers using tarps to direct water into their fields. We were able to see how Aimee did that. There was a small pond created to allow water to go into the wildlife area's ditch when the ditch gate is opened. That pond wasn't sending enough water down the ditch, so Aimee cut a 2 x 6 board to the correct length and set it in a slot at the top of the pond dam.

She and John then put a tarp over that dam to keep the board in place. This created a deeper pond and the ditch volume increased significantly. Now we know how that is done.

Next we met Ed and the four of us set out to repair a gate and fence. We tore down the old poles and barbed wire fence and gate. While Ed stretched straight wire and barbed wire to build the fence on either side of the gate, John and Aimee rebuilt the gate with smooth wire.

We learned a little about stringing a fence. We also learned that smooth wire is used as the bottom wire on fences around the wildlife area to enable deer to safely go under the fence without cutting their ears. The upper strands are barbed wire to hopefully keep the cattle from going through or over the fence.

Our last task was to remove irrigation pipe from two alfalfa fields so the fields could be harvested. The large pipes—2 1/2 and 4 inches in diameter—are not difficult to separate and move. The hardest part was to find them in the three foot high alfalfa. Which, by the way, really smells good.

On Tuesday we assembled two sign boards like the one we installed two weeks ago. For me, especially, this was a great learning experience. For the first time I used a table saw,

a hand-held saw,

and a chisel.

I also got pretty good at inserting screws, using a variable-speed drill.

These experiences give us the confidence we need to build something on our own. We just have to decide what it will be before we return to our house in Colorado.

Today we learned to use a hand jack to remove large wooden poles from the ground. We pulled out the old sign at one of the wildlife area entrances so we can install the sign boards we built yesterday.

We are gaining more and more respect and understanding for the work farmers and ranchers do. It's a great experience.