first winter

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After wonderful autumn rains there was a chill, and “wintry mix.” This diverse weather included sleet, freezing rain, graupel, freezing fog, hail, and even a light dusting of snow one shivery morning. The chill lasted a few weeks, and then…

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…it rained and rained and rained. We got over five inches in two days. The creek rose up in back of the house, surged over the landscape, and kept on rising. The picture above was taken during an early peak. One night it rose almost to the floorboards of the house. We had a few things to take care of that night, so we didn’t get many pictures.

Our plans for the property have always included moving the house up out of the flood zone. The flood of December, 2015 was just one more bit of evidence that we had made the right decision. Fortunately, the water stopped just short of causing any serious damage … this time.

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All that rain woke up the drainage ditch that runs along the driveway. With so much gushing water there was an obvious opening to do some creative creek-shaping. Cutting away and digging in various places gave the water a chance to shape the bed into a dramatic, varied run complete with waterfalls, rapids, deep pools, and shallow banks. Now we have a channel worthy of the name Willow Creek.

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We knew there was a spring under the big old willow tree, but it was not until after the flood that we found its exact location. It gushes up just under the edge of the branches, and streams into the lower ground under the tree. The water is cold, crystal clear, and oh-so-delicious.

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Willowspring evolution

When we first arrived at this property we had no idea what we would call it. The feature now called Willowspring was a big mass of green leaves at the bottom of the driveway, a huge old willow tree surrounded by weeds, fences, the driveway, a tall tree, a horse-shelter outbuilding, and a large pile of horse manure.

Here is how it looked on May 18 during a visit with our realtor, long before we moved in:

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The view above was taken from mid-meadow, looking northwest. Willowspring is the low, rounded mass of green at center right, just behind the horse turnout and the white shed.

Behind the shed, at the southern edge of the willow, at the base of the tall dark green tree was the manure pile. Here is how it looked on June 29, still three months before we moved in:

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The red wall on the right is the west side of the white shed seen in the previous photo. Branches and leaves of the willow reach over the wooden barrier in the back. Knowing the value of good poop, we asked the previous owners to save it for us and not cart it away. By the time we moved in on October 2, the pile had grown enormously:

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The shed at the right has been removed by the former owners. At the far right, one of Willowspring’s lowest branches broke off and died during the shed removal, turning its leaves white.

The driveway side of Willowspring is quite different. It’s as if the driveway sliced it right in half. Here are two views of the driveway side taken on October 13, before we had done anything significant to the willow:

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Not a lot happened to this area for some weeks after we arrived. The weather cooled and autumn came in. The willow yellowed and started dropping its leaves. By October 25 it looked like this on a misty morning:

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The willow and the riparian forest behind it have both developed a yellow tint. At the right, eight small pines infected with bark beetles show red branches that have died. At the base of the tall dark green tree on the left, the small gray rectangles are the wooden barriers holding the pile of horse manure. The lower meadow in the foreground is still enclosed in fences, but the fences enclosing the horse turnout have been removed.

Early November brought more cool weather and Willowspring dropped the rest of its leaves. I found Stella exploring the dense branches one day:

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Since we chose the name Willowspring for the property there has been a lot more attention to this area. Fences, trash, and weedy old plants have been cleared all around the margins. Some branches have been carefully removed for better artistic effect. Flat cut ends of some other branches have been attacked by clippers to leave behind a more natural, broken look. There are still a few fence posts and other items to remove, but Willowspring is now starting to show her true potential as a centerpiece for the landscape.

We look forward to watching as the willow tree comes through the winter and begins to awaken again in the spring.

A few more views as of December 1, 2015. The knee-high stump belonged to one of the pine trees infected with bark beetles. It will be cut down to the ground soon:

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welcome to Willowspring

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On October 2, 2015 we arrived in a secluded valley north of Corvallis, Oregon. Welcome to Willowspring, our home in the country.

Here is a picture of the property. It’s based on a view from some time in the spring of 2015. I have updated it in Photoshop to show the changes we have made so far, including removal of almost all fences. Many areas look quite different now, including the meadows which do not currently feature white flowers, and the marsh at the left (west) end, which is now mostly brown in its winter dormancy.

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Here is a version pointing out some of the features:

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It starts with a strip of mossy, sweet-smelling pine forest up by the road at the right (east) end. Down the slope from there are the upper, middle, and lower meadows (overgrazed for ten years by multiple horses), followed by the horse barn, house, and garden plus various other outbuildings. Several of those will be removed soon, including the massive horse barn and the icky old goat shed, long empty.

A seasonal creek runs along the driveway, then flows under it through a culvert into the deciduous riparian forest. At the bottom of the driveway is the namesake of the property, a huge old willow tree that drinks from a spring. The output of the spring also flows under the driveway and into the riparian forest.

The low, marshy end of the property features sedges and cattails, all the way down to the creek where a lot of trees have recently been killed by flooding when beavers created a dam downstream. The whole property is just under 5 acres. The exact size varies from year to year because the lower end is defined by the center of the creek, which moves almost every winter.

Here are some interesting views:

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Early morning from mid-meadow on November 2. The west ridge is in the sun but the meadow is still dewy and dark. The small orange dots are flags marking where we are creating paths. The fences in this view have since been removed. A bit of mist drifts across the tree tops in the distance.

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Looking up from mid-meadow there is a forest strip by the road, which runs across behind the trees. The driveway is off the left edge of the picture. A fence used to run across from the center left and back into the forest.

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A distinctive feature is Hanging Snag, a fallen but still living tree in the riparian forest. When we arrived its base was tangled in old fencing. It has since been freed of the wires, and now a path runs under it. It is a strong power spot.

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West from just behind the house. The goat shed and wooden poles will soon be removed, leaving a clear view of the marsh and the glorious dead trees beyond. At the far right is an old apple tree, its limbs covered with fuzzy lichen, its leaves fallen to the ground. It bears delicious, small, red apples, much loved by us and by the deer.

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Way down in the marsh beautiful snags rise from a nearly impassable jungle of reeds and bushes. There is more than an acre of fantastic scenery down here. Here are a few more views of this amazing jewel, these private Oregon wetlands.

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Cape Perpetua forest

Corvallis update: With almost all of the fences removed, pathways marked out and in daily use across meadows and through the forest, the hut tub now in good working order, compost enclosure nearing completion, guest bedrooms taking shape, and a clothes dryer repair person due in mere days, we are finally getting ahead of some of the most urgent issues. Priorities are shifting.

With this post, all of the pre-queued Eugene entries are up. Watch for the next post, direct to you from our new home just north of Corvallis, Oregon.

While we stayed in Eugene we took a trip out to the coast. After walking on the beach at Florence we drove north along 101. Bay Area friends might think of 101 as something a bit larger than the narrow, twisty, two-lane road we drove on, with cliffs to one side and deep, dark forest on the other.

We ended up at Cape Perpetua, where we walked in an old growth hemlock rain forest.

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heal-all

Corvallis update: November has brought a chill to the meadow, forest, and marsh, along with frequent rain. This morning it was 37° and clear as I walked on the newly marked foot paths across the soaking wet, dewy upper meadow. Down in the marsh the dewdrops on the grasses were frozen solid. When the night sky is clear, the coolest air sinks into the lowest part of the valley.

The transformation of the landscape has begun in earnest — many fences have been removed, vast amounts of plant debris have been extracted from various areas (and piled on a circular gravel area that used to be a horse turnout), and we are starting to come to terms with some much larger changes that we’ll need to make before next summer.

More on the ongoing changes soon, including lots of new pictures. After the next post this blog will finally shift into real time, with fresh material from our country home north of Corvallis.

Today we have another entry from our stay in Eugene:

This colorful, minty little herb is ubiquitous in lawns and meadows in Eugene. It is heal-all, AKA self-heal, Prunella vulgaris. It is edible as a salad plant or a potherb and also makes medicinal teas.

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