A Writer’s Inspiration

Where do the ideas come from?

A whisper from your muse?

The deep wells of your mind?

The fogs in your surroundings?

Writers wonder these kinds of things–perhaps most often when they face a blank screen.

With my last project pretty well wrapped up it’s time for me to start a new book. I’ve had some ideas already. Took some notes. Worked out a potential storyline. Named some characters. I put all that away over the holidays and had other things to do. Now it’s time and procrastination begins.

How do I make the story live? Yesterday I spent all day renaming my protagonist’s little brother. I like the new name, and it stirred other thoughts. I began to envision scenes. Today I opened the window blinds and noticed the fog rising on the river, like dreams, like story. By afternoon a feeble sun broke through, and I grabbed a coat to head out for my walk.

So many ideas emerge on those walks. Fog still rising. Rolling down the river between the oak hills and timbered slopes. The story will come. I just have to let it in.

(Photos taken with my new iPhone on the family farm.)

150 Years!!

Martha’s Century Farm, whose story I told in my book A Place of Her Own, just hit the 150-year mark today.

On this day of April 24, 150 years ago, Martha A. Maupin purchased a farm on her own, according to the document filed in Douglas County, Oregon, from H. M. Martin To M. A. Maupin, which reads in part:

This Indenture made the 24~ day of April 1868 between Howard M. Martin & his wife Margaret Jane Martin of Elkton precinct, Douglas County, State of Oregon, of the first part and Martha Ann Maupin of the said County and State of the Second part Witnesseth that the party of the first part for and in Consideration of the sum of One thousand dollars lawful money of the United States to them in hand paid at or about the unsealing and delivery of these presents by the party of the second part, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged have bargained sold transferred and Conveyed & by these presents do transfer and convey unto the party of the second part her heirs and assigns, forever, all the following described premises to wit Donation Land Claim No. 46 beginning at . . . containing 320 acres more or less situated in the above County and State To have and to hold . . .

A copy from the first page shows the flowery handwriting of the day (I did my best to transcribe that and took a bit from the second page).

As told in the book, this purchase was no small matter for a woman in 1868. Martha had lost her husband a year and a half before and either could not or would not depend any longer on the aid of family and friends. She chose to make a home for her children and herself. However, she didn’t have the $1,000 she needed to buy this property. A man in nearby Scottsburg had the money to loan her, but he would not negotiate with a woman. Her son Cap, thirteen years old, had to negotiate for the money, but he was too young to own the property. It became her farm, owned by her alone, 320 acres along the Umpqua River.

Now, 150 years later, it has become mine, the second woman in the family to own and operate it. I’ve had it for about 10 years now.

In 1968 the property qualified as an Oregon Century Farm, having been in the family for 100 years. Now it has been in the family for 150 years and will qualify as a Sesquicentennial Farm.

A big day for Martha’s farm. I’d like to think she would be pleased.

For more of Martha’s story, you might want to check out the book, if you haven’t already. You can ask for it at your local bookstore or see the sidebar for more options.

Preserving Martha’s Farm

kellogg-fire-robin-photoRobin Loznak Photo

A fierce hot August led to brittle dry hills where my great-great-grandmother Martha Maupin bought her own farm almost 150 years ago. On a neighboring hill an unknown spark lit the tinder yesterday, and flames soon swept across 60 acres less than a mile from the edge of the property–about a mile and a half from my house on this family farm.

My kids and I happened to be in Eugene, Oregon, where my grandson Alex Loznak is one of 21 plaintiffs who are suing the government to demand effective action to combat climate change. In his speech on the federal courthouse steps after the hearing Alex said, in part:

Today my great-great-great-great grandmother’s legacy is threatened by the changing climate, by droughts and fires and heatwaves that threaten to undo all of the work my family has put into our land. So I’m standing here to demand that our federal government act with the same courage and vision that my ancestor Martha employed, and preserve our planet just as my family has preserved our farm. [My bold]

alex-at-sept-hearing-robinRobin Loznak Photo

Later in the afternoon we were sitting outside a restaurant near the courthouse with other supporters of this case when my son-in-law Robin, who took these pictures, noticed a story on his cell that there was a fire on Highway 138 close to the family farm. He and my daughter Carisa had to take Alex to the airport to go back to New York where he’s a student at Columbia University, and I headed for home, not knowing what I would find.

On the long drive from Eugene I easily imagined many scenarios and contemplated what I would retrieve from my house if I was able to reach it. What was important? My computer which has all my work on it. My daughter’s films and puppets. Not much else. Our work.

As many of you know, Martha’s story was the subject of my book A Place of Her Own. This is the ancestor Alex is talking about, and it’s her farm, now mine, that stands so close to the reported wildfire. She purchased this in 1868 after her husband was killed and she needed a way to care for her family. It’s the Martha A. Maupin Century Farm, one of the few Century Farms in Oregon named for a woman. If I can hang on another year and a half it will be a Sesquicentennial Farm. But what if flames ravaged its resources?

kellogg-fire-robin-2Robin Loznak Photo

As I approached the roadblock at the Kellogg bridge, my breath nearly stopped. Lines of flame rose on the peaks straight ahead and far to my left. I learned firefighters had put out the fire on my side of the highway, and it had spread westerly. They let me head for home. I watched the scene from my kids’ house and then my own as the sky grew dark. A stunning view. Helicopters poured water from the Umpqua River and air tankers dumped fire retardant. Late that night the billowing flames had been reduced to twinkling embers, like golden stars dropped from the sky. I went to bed and slept.

Thanks to the fine work of the brave firefighters of the Douglas Forest Protective Association and other local responders the fire has been contained. I woke to quiet. Thin smoke drifted above a darker swath on the hillside.

My grandson’s words echoed. “Droughts and fires and heatwaves . . .”

Now, in the afternoon, a helicopter flies by on its way to the site. Smoke still rises. The throb of helicopters continues. I remain watchful.

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Christmas With Elk

Merry Christmas, everyone. I had such a good response to my last post with elk pictures, I decided to share the treat I relished on this foggy Christmas Eve Day morning, when my elk friends returned. They came back to the pond and then moseyed up, almost to my front deck. These photos are all taken out my front windows–with a special focus on the big dad. He looked around, as you can see, but didn’t seem too concerned, finally hopped over the fence and enjoyed a moment beneath the spreading oaks. Wishing you all the best in this holiday season and the coming new year!! 🙂

Now, without more comment, the elk:

869.elk.off.porch
878.elk.dad
880.elk.feeding

881.elk.looks.up

882.elk.looks.back

888.elk.over.fence

890.elk.under.tree

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Calf Time

2015 CalvesOne of the delights of living on the farm is to step out on your porch and say hello to friendly ones like these. They think they’re grazing. I see it more as mowing. In any case there’s a lot of soft munching. Sit quietly a moment and you hear the constant crunch, crunch. Some gentle breathing. The occasional lowing. Happy cows are such pleasant animals to have around. Calm. Alert. Curious.

Ed Cooley, who pastures these cows on my farm, moves them regularly from one cordoned off piece of pasture to the next. They’ve been in a distant field for a while, so we’ve missed seeing the babies. Now that the grass is turning dry he has moved them to the pasture around the house for fire control. So we will not only feel safer,we’ll have the pleasure of getting up close and personal with these cute critters for a time.

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Hazelnuts

That’s our newest crop on the farm and this is what it’s all about. Hazelnuts! Tasty, crunchy filberts! The fruits of our labors. nuts 2We planted 700 of these babies. And that in itself was a big job. Our first challenge was to square a section of the field, then stake out the rows before digging a lot of holes and planting the nursery stock. (More on that nursery stock here.) The trees are little more than long, spindly twigs when you get them, with a wisp of roots along a J root where they’ve been cut from the mother tree. After planting in the winter months, you wait until spring to see a bushy tuft of green at the end of that spindly twig.hazelnut orchard

They’re about three and four years old now, most of them. We planted half one year and half the next.

Our biggest jobs now are watering and flailing.

My son-in-law Robin Loznak does the flailing, which is a serious form of mowing. The flail, drawn behind a tractor, cuts and chops the grass and weeds close to the ground.

And in the summer I water. We haven’t been able to put in a water system yet, so I’m the water system. We have a waterline that feeds out to the edge of the new orchard. So from that I attach about 300 feet of garden hose, with which I can reach about half the orchard. Then I attach the hoses to a long plastic hose running down the center to get the rest.

robin's other officeIn previous years I’ve watered at least three times during the summer. But this year most of the trees are old enough that they don’t need watered as often–which is fortunate because it’s been a busy summer for me with all the book events. However, we do have a few new babies we planted last winter to fill gaps where we had a few losses, and we needed to add some more pollinizer varieties. Robin brought out the big guns to help out, using a spray tank behind the tractor to give those brand new trees some extra water. He calls this his “other office.” He took this photo of the tractor and tank with his cell phone. And in one of his other lives he’s the photographer who did the wonderful farm photos for my book.

It’s a pleasant field tonuts work in, with the river flowing alongside, the rapids whispering with a steady wash.

We won’t have enough of these nuts to harvest for another three or four years, but they’re scattered throughout the orchard, and we might find enough for some good munching.

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New Calves

single calfSpring means calving time at the farm. People have marked this season of rebirth since ancient times, and I feel it here. New life stirs everywhere. It pokes up from the ground, tips tree branches, buzzes in the air, and frolics across the grass. This little guy edges closer, wondering about me.

I have come to love walking among the cows in the open field at this time of year. Except for the old milk cow we had when I was a kid, I never experienced such gentle cows. These aren’t mine. I rent pasture to a neighbor, Ed Cooley, and he tends them with care.  He cordons off pasture and moves them almost daily, so he spends time with them, and they become gentle.

I can’t quite touch them. Some, especially the yearlings, will come within a foot or so of an outstretched hand, but if I try to get closer they back away. Still, they circle around me and most keep feeding, contented to have me wander among them. It’s the most peaceful feeling, as if they welcome me to share their contentment on this lovely pasture.

2calves&ma

And of course the calves delight me. I watch the mamas. They can get protective. Once a cow chased me after I passed her on a narrow road. Nothing gets your attention quite like the rumble of hoofbeats coming up behind you. Cows are really big. Somehow instinct prevailed and I leapt aside. She butted me with a glancing blow to the rear. If I hadn’t jumped I think she’d have knocked me down and maybe run over me. But she had warned me. They give signals. Heads low, snorts, ground pawing. That cow was having trouble giving birth to a calf and it didn’t go well for her. A rare case for Ed’s cows.

I pay due respect to the mamas, but now they just look at me, curious, perhaps watchful too in return. Maybe that’s part of the thrill. I know they don’t have to be friendly, but they’re welcoming me today, letting me enjoy their presence—and their incredibly cute babies—in peace.

In this season of rebirth, new life touches me with its endearing sweetness, but also with a sense of hope that echoes across time.

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The Tree Link

I’ve been busy watering baby hazelnut trees, our newest crop on Martha’s farm. The picture below shows part of the orchard, set in the lower field along the river, the timbered cliffs in the background. We’ve put in about 700 trees so far, which is about my limit for now, given our watering system. Our budget system. It involves a lot of hoses and me going from tree to tree.

tree link

A couple of years ago when we bought our first trees, I was in for a surprise.

I’d been working on Martha’s book, learning more about her history. She and her husband Garrett, my great-great-grandfather, came over the Oregon Trail in 1850 and settled on their Donation Land Claim in Lane County near what would later become Eugene, Oregon. But after several years troubles sent them south into the next county. They were still renting a place near Elkton in Douglas County when Garrett was killed and Martha made the decision to buy this farm that’s still in the family.

I had visited the Lane County property, imagined them there. Nice rich land.

One morning while at work on the first draft of Martha’s story I got a call from Dwayne Bush, a nurseryman in Eugene I’d called earlier, requesting our first hazelnut trees. He said he’d done his count and would have enough trees for us that year. We talked about when I might pick them up, and I told him I would need directions. “They’re at my River Road Farm,” he said. “Do you know Eugene at all?”

“A little.”

He said I would take River Road north from the Beltline, then turn right on East Beacon Drive. “It kind of curves around, then crosses Spring Creek . . .”

I visualized the map, the place, and felt a growing sense of familiarity. “I think I know exactly where you mean. I think my great-great grandparents owned a farm around there.”

“Really? What was their name?”

“Maupin.”

He recognized the name. “The Maupin DLC, isn’t it?”

I smiled. “Yes, it is. They had six hundred forty acres there.”

“Well, I own a hundred acres of it.”

I clutched the phone, beaming, and told him I was writing a book about them, that I’d just been writing the part where they lived on that farm.

So this nursery stock grown on Martha and Garrett’s Lane County farm came to be planted on Martha’s Douglas County farm. You couldn’t get away with writing fiction like that.

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