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   Chapter 2 No.2

Two Years in Oregon By Wallis Nash Characters: 16046

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Where we live-?Snow-peaks and distant prospects-?Forest-fires-?The Coast Mountains and Mary's Peak-?Sunset in Oregon-?Farmhouses: the log-cabin, the box-house, the frame-house-?Dinner at the farm-?Slay and eat-?A rash chicken-?Bread-making by amateurs-?Thrift and unthrift-?Butter and cheese-?Products of the "range," farm, and garden-?Wheat-growing.

You might look the world over for a prettier spot than that on which this house stands. Just a mile from Corvallis, on a gently rounded knoll, we look eastward across the town, and the river, and the broad valley beyond, to the Cascade Mountains.

Their lowest range is about thirty miles off, and the rich flat valley between is hidden by the thick line of timber, generally fir, that fringes the farther side of the Willamette. Against the dark line of timber the spires of the churches and the cupola of the court-house stand out clear, and the gray and red shingled roofs of the houses in the town catch early rays of the rising sun.

The first to be lighted up are the great snow-peaks, ninety, seventy, and fifty miles off-a ghostly, pearly gray in the dim morning, while the lower ranges lie in shadow; but, as the sun rises in the heavens, these same lower ranges grow distinct in their broken outlines. The air is so clear that you see plainly the colors of the bare red rocks, and the heavy dark, fir-timber clothing their rugged sides. Ere the sun mounts high the valley often lies covered with a low-lying thin white mist, beyond and over which the mountains stand out clear.

For some weeks in the late summer heavy smoke-clouds from the many forest and clearing fires obscure all distant view. This last summer fires burned for at least fifty miles in length at close intervals of distance, and the dark gray pall overlay the mountains throughout. Behind the house, and in easy view from the windows on either side, are the Coast Mountains, or rather hills.

Mary's Peak rises over four thousand feet, and is snow-crowned for nine months in the year. The outlines of this range are far more gently rounded than the Cascades, and timber-covered to the top. Save for the solid line of the heavy timber, the outlines of the Coast Range constantly remind us of our own Dartmoor; and the illusion is strengthened by the dark-red soil where the plow has invaded the hills, yearly stealing nearer to their crowns. Mary's Peak itself is bare at the top for about a thousand acres, but the firs clothe its sides, and the air is so clear that, in spite of the seventeen miles' distance, their serrated shapes are plainly and individually visible as the sun sinks to rest behind the mountain.

SUNSET IN OREGON.Such sunsets as we have! Last night I was a mile or two on the other side of the river as night fell. Mount Hood was the first to blush, and then Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters in turn grew rosy red. From the valley I could not see the lower Cascades, but these snowy pyramids towered high into the sky. One little fleecy cloud here and there overhead caught the tinge, but the whole air on the eastern side was luminously pink. Turning westward, the pale-blue sky faded through the rainbow-green into the rich orange surrounding the departing sun; and the westward mountains stood solidly and clearly blue in massive lines.

One great peculiarity of the Oregon landscape, as distinguished from an English rather than a New England scene, is in the number of white farmhouses that catch the eye. We see many from our windows. I suppose it is that the roads are so bad in winter that the farmers must live on the farms, instead of in the English-village fashion. So it is that you may travel by railroad up and down this valley for two hundred miles between farmhouses every quarter or half mile all the way. Nearly every farmhouse has its orchard close by; but one big barn is all the out-buildings they boast, and farm-yard, in the English sense, one never sees.

Our own house is not a fair specimen, because of our large family and its corresponding habitation; but the regular farmhouse is by no means an uncomfortable abode.

There are three kinds: log-cabin, box-house, frame-house.

FARMHOUSES.The first, by far the most picturesque type, is fast becoming obsolete, and on most of the good farms, if not pulled down, is degraded into woodhouse or piggery. But to my eye there is something rarely comfortable in the low, solid, rugged walls of gray logs, with overhanging shingled roof; the open hearth, too, with its great smoldering back-log and wide chimney, invites you to sit down before it and rest. By the side of the fireplace, from two deers' horns fastened to the wall, hangs the owner's rifle-generally an old brown veteran-with bullet-pouch and powder-horn. Over the high mantel-shelf stands the ticking clock, suggesting "Sam Slick, the clock-maker." Curtained off from the main room, with its earthen or roughly-boarded floor, are the low bedsteads of the family, each covered with its patchwork quilt. A corner cupboard or two hold the family stock of cups and plates, and the smell of apples, from the adjoining apple-chamber, pervades the house.

Round the house is the home-field, generally the orchard, sown with timothy-grass, where range four or five young calves, and a sow or two, with their hungry, rooting youngsters. The barn, log-built also, stands near by, with two or three colts, or yearling cattle, grouped around. The spring of cold, clear water runs freely through the orchard, but ten yards from the house-door, hastening to the "creek," whose murmur is never absent, save in the few driest weeks of summertime.

Snake-fences, seven logs high, with top-rail and crossed binders to keep all steady, divide the farm from the road, and a litter of chips from the axe-hewed pile of firewood strew the ground between wood-pile and house. Here and there, even in the home-field, and nearly always in the more distant land, a big black stump disfigures the surface, and betrays the poverty or possibly the carelessness of the owner, who has carved his homestead from the brush.

But as the farmer prospers, be it ever so little, he hastens to pull down his log-cabin and to build his "box" or more expensive "frame" house. In each case the material is "lumber." By this is signified, be it known to the uninitiated, fir boards, one foot wide, sixteen feet long, and one inch thick.

The "box" house is built of boards set upright, and the cracks covered with strips of similar board, three inches wide.

The "frame" house is double throughout, the boards run lengthwise, and there is a covering outside of an outer skin of planking.

With the box or frame house comes the inevitable stove. The cooking and eating of the family go on in a lean-to room, and the living-room is furnished with some pretensions, always with a sewing-machine, and often with a parlor-organ or piano. Muslin curtains drape the windows; a bureau is generally present, and chromos, or very rough engravings, hang on the walls. The political tendencies of the owner betray themselves. General Grant, with tight-buttoned coat and close-cut beard, or President Lincoln and his family, show the Republican. Strangely enough, General Lee, with a genial smile on his attractive face, is affected by the Democrats. The followers of the greenback heresy delight in Brick Pomeroy, with clean-shaven, smug, and satisfied look.

DINNER AT THE FARM.It is not the fashion to carry provisions with you on journeys in Oregon. When meal-time draws near, and hotels are many miles away, you ride boldly up to the nearest farm, dismount, throw your horse's rein over the paling, and walk in. The lady of the house appears, from the cooking department at the rear, and you say: "Good-morning, madam; can I get dinner with you?" Unless there is grave reason to the contrary, she considers a moment, and then answers, "I guess so," with a hospitable smile. The next question is as to your horse, which one of the children leads i

nto the barn, and then fills out a goodly measure of oats, and crams the rack with hay from the pile filling the middle of the barn. While your hostess adds a little to the family meal, you turn over the newspapers in the sitting-room, generally finding a "Detroit Free Press," or a "Toledo Blade," or a New York "World" or "Tribune," or a San Francisco "Bulletin" or "Chronicle," besides the local weekly. If you want books, you must take to the "Pacific Coast Reader," the last school-book, which you are sure to find on the shelf; unless you chance on a "Universal History," or the "History of the Civil War," or the "Life of General Jackson," or the "Life of General Custer," or a collection of poetry in an expensive binding, all of which signify that the book-peddler has been paying a recent visit.

Then your hostess returns, saying, "Will you come and eat?" If you go into the back room-where, generally, the master of the house and you, the visitor, and perhaps a grown-up son, or a farming hand, sit down and dine, while the mistress and her daughter serve-you will not starve.

In front of you is a smoking dish of meat, either pork or mutton, salted, cut into square bits and fried; rarely beef, more often venison, or deer-meat, as it is called here. By it is piled up a dish of mashed potatoes, and a tureen of white, thick sauce. A glass dish of stewed apples, or apple-sauce, and one of preserved pears or peaches, and a smaller dish of blackberry or plum jam, complete the meal, with the constant coffee, and generally a big jug of milk. The bread is brought you in sets of hot, square rolls, fresh from the stove. It is not always that you can get cold bread, and a look of surprise always follows the request for it.

Generally, a good supply of white beans, boiled soft, and with a slice or two of bacon, is an important item. Apples, and the best of them, too, you can have for the asking-too common to be offered to you.

This régime applies to breakfast, dinner, and supper, with but slight variations. I forgot, though, the saucer of green, sharp, vinegary gherkins, which the Oregonians seem not to know how to do without, and also the honey, and trout, which are the frequent and welcome additions to the meal among the hills.

My wife and I dropped in once to a dinner of this kind. We were sitting, cooling ourselves on the veranda, watching some pretty, black Spanish chickens scratching among the scanty rose-bushes in front. The farmer's wife came quickly out and addressed me: "Have you got your revolver?" I stared for a moment, thinking of tramps, and bears, and I know not what. "I never carry one on horseback," I answered. "Oh," said she, "I would have had you shoot the head off one of them chickens, for I've got no fresh meat." Inwardly I congratulated ourselves that our dinner did not altogether depend on my skill with that common, but, to my mind, very unsatisfactory weapon.

One of my friends bought out an Oregonian farmer, and paid him for stock and lot, including some fine fowls. Dropping in to dinner two days afterward, he found a smoking chicken on the board. I suppose he eyed it askance, for the farmer observed: "That's one of your chickens I killed by accident. I saw some wild-geese feeding on the wheat, and fetched the rifle, and that there foolish rooster got right in the way of the bullet."

BREAD-MAKING BY AMATEURS.If any friends of yours think of coming out, send them to the school of cookery, I implore you. It is the greatest possible quandary to be in, to be set down with flour, water, and a tin of saleratus or baking-powder, and to have to make the bread or go without. Then, to convert chickens running about your house into food for man is not so easy as it looks; nor is cooking beans or potatoes a matter of pure instinct, I assure you. Shall I ever forget riding up at nearly three in the afternoon, to one of our Englishmen's farms, to find the proprietor standing, coat off and sleeves turned up, before a huge, round tin of white slush? When he saw me come in, he lifted out his hands and rubbed off the white dripping mess, saying: "I'll be hanged if I'll try any longer; since eleven o'clock have I been after this beastly bread! Can you make it? Is this stuff too thin or too thick, or what?" It is true that he makes fine bread now; but if you could but know the stages of slackness, heaviness, soddenness, flintiness, that he and his friends passed through, you would see that I was giving a useful hint, and one that applies to the feminine emigrant quite as much as to the masculine. Another thing strikes us out here, namely, the waste that pervades an average Oregon farmer's household. Does he kill a deer? He leaves the fore half of the creature, and all the internals, in the wood where he killed it, taking home only the hind-quarters and the hide. If he kills a hog, the head is thrown out, to be rolled round and gnawed at by the dogs; the same with a sheep or a calf.

Half of them will not even take the trouble to have butter, letting the calves get all the milk, but just a little for the meals. You rarely see eggs on the table, though there may be scores of hens about.

You will hardly believe that large quantities of butter and cheese are imported into this valley, both from California and from Washington Territory, and cheese even from the East, though there can not be a finer dairy country than this, if they would but look a little ahead and provide some green food for the cows for the interval between the hay-crop off the timothy-grass and the fresh growth of the same from the autumn rains.

It is still more inexcusable among the hills, where the grass keeps green all the year round. The exclusive devotion to wheat is what will very shortly and most surely impoverish the country; and therefore it is that, in the interests of Oregon, I am so anxious that many farmers should come here who are familiar with mixed farming, and will apply it to our deep, rich, stoneless soil, and will thus avert the inevitable consequences of wheat, wheat, wheat, continuously for fifteen, twenty, ay, and thirty years.

It is not that other crops and other pursuits do not answer here. Sheep, cattle, and horses thrive and multiply. Oregon valley wool ranks among the very best. The Angora goat takes to Western Oregon as if it were his native home, and produces yearly from three to four pounds of hair, worth from sixty to eighty cents a pound. Beans, peas, carrots, parsnips grow as I have never seen them elsewhere. Swedish turnips have succeeded well in this valley, and nearer the coast the white turnips I have seen nearly as big as your head, and good all through. I saw a large heap of potatoes the other day that averaged six inches long, and perfectly clean and free from all taint. Carrots we grew ourselves that weighed from one and a half to two pounds all round. Barley thrives splendidly, with a full, round, clear-skinned berry. Oats I need hardly mention, as the export of this cereal is very large, and the quality is undeniable.

The common red clover grows in a half-acre patch in my neighbor's field waist-high, and he cut it three times last year. We have the humble-bee (or, at any rate, a big fellow just like the English humble-bee-for I never handled one to examine it closely) to fertilize the clover. The white Dutch clover spreads wherever it gets a chance.

WHEAT-GROWING.But the temptation to grow wheat is very strong. It is the staple product of the State, and hardly ever fails in quality. The farmers understand it; their system of life is organized with a view to it. A thousand bushels of wheat in the warehouse is as good as money in the bank, and is in reality a substitute for it. There is a clear understanding of what it costs to plant, harvest, and warehouse, and it involves the lowest amount of trouble and anxiety.

Therefore, Oregon grows wheat, and will grow it; and men will grow nothing else until the consequences are brought home to them.

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