June 10, 2015
Survival: The first two days on the desert
The sun had been climbing it’s ladder into the soft sea of pink and violet that the June morning sky had painted not long before I gently hit the door to the trunk of my mom’s silver Jeta shut. The songbirds were delighting in the warm light being poured out about the countryside, ignoring my rude interruption, and carrying on with their praises.
The sweet corn, nearly six inches above the soil was filling the air with honey as light hit it, and the dew was glittering in the grass.
I took a second to enjoy my last moments in the Willamette Valley, and climbed inside the driver’s seat. Mom soon joined me with two thermoses of caramel ameretti tea, but I waited until we had pulled out of the driveway and long-since passed the sweet corn fields, savoring the taste as long as I could.
It was bittersweet, leaving home, and friends, and what most people call summer, but I had been secretly counting down to this day for months.
I was heading back to my six-generation family farm to spend the next four months working for my two big brothers. My family grows alfalfa hay and cattle in Fort Rock, Ore. My primary job on the farm is cooking for the work crew, but I also do the housekeeping, keep the yard up and do some tractor-driving here and there. This is my third summer working this job, so I knew what to expect.
This summer the work crew consists of my brothers Daniel, 22, and Andrew, 20, who run the farm, my cousin Samantha, 20, from Sweet Home, Darren Heller, 20, from Portland area, and Bill Linquest, 21, who manages the cattle.
Fort Rock is one of three tiny little towns in North Lake, a community about 80 miles South of Bend, supporting about 1,500 people in a 60 mile radius. The only town between Bend and Fort Rock is La Pine, which has a population of about 2,000, meaning the stores are few and limited. People from Fort Rock area go to Bend for just about all their shopping needs.
Last summer I fed 6 boys in their twenties, and I’ll tell you what, they went through a lot of food. Knowing that the only groceries in the house would be canned beans and boxed mac & cheese, we stopped in Bend to buy some actual food. I knew it was going to take a few days to figure out how much my new work crew would eat, but we stuffed the car completely full, and peering over boxes of tomatoes and a 25 pound sack of flour, headed for the farm, arriving about two hours later.
My oldest brother, Daniel, lives by himself in the farm house eight months out of the year, so you can imagine keeping the place tidy is not on the top of his priorities list...
When we first pulled in, the yard was dry and the grass came well up to my knees. The flowers I had planted last summer had been choked out with weeds and I could see where a winter storm had blown one of the trees my great-grandmother planted right into the yard, barely grazing the back porch.
As we were unloading the groceries I waited through a mass of dirty clothes, pots and pans, and anything else a 22-year-old bachelor brother might have laying about. By the time we had everything unloaded, I felt like a nap was well in order, but of course there was more on the agenda!
A few weeks ago I celebrated my sixteenth birthday. I had a year of driving under my belt and a cute red Ford Focus purchased, but there was one thing left: my drivers license!
Soon enough we were back on the road to my great-uncle Roger’s house in Lakeview, another two and a half hours from Fort Rock, to spend the night so I could take my driver’s test the next morning.
At 8:20 a.m. I pulled into the DMV, and by 10am, I was already halfway to the farm with my cheesy-grin printed on a little card. I passed the test! We got back to the farm, unloaded the last of my things, and mom headed back home to the Willamette Valley.
The smell of sweet corn was long gone, and in its place were the mysterious odors emanating from a half-eaten, mold-encrusted, pan of spaghetti that had been sitting there for who knows how long. Was it moving? I tried not to look too closely.
I spent the rest of the day getting the kitchen cleaned and organized. It turns out that the spaghetti-pan wasn't the only source of stench. When I reached under the sink for the garbage, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as a thick wave of that same fermented blend drifted around me like a cloud, accompanied by a musky presence of rat urine, followed by a few little pellets rolling out onto the floor.
I took a deep breath (through the mouth, through my shirt), and went straight for the bleach.
Once I felt like I had a sanitary(er) working space, I was able to get dinner going.
The crew came in for supper around eight, I washed up, and hit the hay by 10:30. I had survived my first day on the farm, and thoroughly enjoyed myself in doing so.
I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m., said my prayers, and excitedly welcomed the next day’s adventures to come. It felt good to be home.