Archive for the ‘Oregon’ Category

Schmidt Winery Lounging on the terrace of Schmidt Family Vineyards, in southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley, I’m sipping a light Sauvignon blanc and wondering why I haven’t been here long before now. The wine is delightful, the landscape idyllic, the winemakers friendly and hospitable. The Schmidts’ winery is only one of dozens in the valleys of southern Oregon: the Rogue, Applegate, Umpqua and Illinois, which have so many microclimates they can grow both warm and cool climate grape varieties. Pinot noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay are the main wines produced. I’m feeling lucky to be here on a sunny afternoon, under a blue sky, gazing at acres of vineyards stretching over the hills while I sample a few vintages.

Judy and Cal Schmidt, who bought an old ranch 13 years ago, Cal Schmidthave been incredibly busy, not only growing grapes and making wines, but putting in flower and herb Schmidtgardens, a picturesque pond, tree-shaded lawns, and a terrace where visitors can enjoy pizzas and antipasti along with their wine tastings. Their place is often used for weddings and concerts.

Winery-hopping is easy with Wine Hopper Tours—I can sip IMG_7681with no concern about driving and soak up the beautiful scenery, gliding by streams, vineyards, and forested hills in a plush Mercedes van. Plus I get the benefit of loads of information from Scott, the driver, about the local wineries, climate, topography, and soils. Also snacks and a nice lunch. This is touring in style.

IMG_7668The first official winery in southern Oregon opened in 1873, when settler Peter Britt opened Valley View Winery. The wine industry limped along (and closed completely during Prohibition) until 1968, when an experimental vineyard revealed the not-so-big surprise that this really was a great place for growing wine grapes. My tour includes a stop at Valley View, so of course I lift a glass and toast Mr. Britt with a sip of nicely dry Merlot.IMG_7679 Troon is another historic winery in Applegate Valley and offers weekend entertainment and a bistro menu of local foods, as well as tastings of their signature Zinfandels and blends. At Serra winery, a lavender-lined driveway leads up a hillside to a terrace overlooking broad valley and mountain views. This is a peaceful spot for IMG_7644enjoying Serra’s pleasant patio wine, “Serendipity,” a blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot blanc. And I’m quite ready for lunch, which Scott serves with a flourish.

Is it the wine I’ve been imbibing or the water’s sparkle that sends me splashing into the cool, clear stream? It feels great on bare feet. This is at Red Lily winery, a pretty spot on a hill above a IMG_7656tributary of the Applegate River. It has an expanse of lawn and a sandy beach with picnic tables set up for visitors. In the snazzy tasting room, I can’t pass up a sample of their earthy Tempranillo.

That’s enough wine for one day, but there’s no IMG_7631doubt I’ll be back, maybe for “Fall Uncorked,” when most Applegate Valley wineries hold a big November celebration of the grape harvest. Or—a romantic notion—take Wine Hopper’s summertime Twilight Wine Float on the Rogue River.


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IMG_7475  She doesn’t look   all that scary, does she, with that calm, resigned face? But she’s a grizzly bear, and I’m standing only three feet away.  It doesn’t seem right to be this close to a big, furry creature with sharp claws and teeth. Unnatural. Primal instinct screams run.  I linger, though, safe on my side of the fence, and tell her I’m sorry she can’t live in the wild where she belongs. Like many of the other animals and birds at Wildlife Images in southern Oregon, she’s not equipped to survive on her own.  This is a place for injured or orphaned creatures to be cared for by experts until they can be released or, if that’s not possible, kept in surroundings that mimic their natural homes.

Wildlife Images, which opened in the 1970s and became a non-profit in 1981, has a mission: Educate, Involve, and Inspire.  The director, staff and more than 80 well-trained volunteers run education programs as well as care for injured or disabled animals and birds–about 1000 a year. Some were orphaned or caught in traps. The mountain lion was a “pet” whose tendons were cut so he couldn’t extend his claws, which means he’s not able to capture food or defend himself. If they’re too disabled to be released after rehabilitation, they stay on as permanent residents. That’s why visitors like me get to see them up close. Wildlife Images is open to visitors 362 days a year for guided tours (you can’t wander around on your own).

Everybody has a name. Niles and Daphne are sandhill cranes, Miss Jefferson is a 9-pound bald eagle, Cocoro is a Eurasian eagle owl, Jack and Jill are falcons. Carson is a beautiful gray fox and IMG_7459Defiance a proud American bald eagle. There are wolves, bobcats and several bears. At each stop along the path, I learn something new.  Who’s the fastest creature in the world? The peregrine falcon—it can dive at 242 miles per hour. How strong is the golden eagle? Its talons have 750 pounds of pressure and can kill a wolf. What’s the only canine that climbs trees? The gray fox. What does it cost to keep a bald eagle? $200 a month: 4,000 pounds of dog food, fresh rats, vaccinations, permits and more. 

IMG_7485 The 24-acre rehab center/sanctuary by the Rogue River, 12 miles west of Grants Pass, was founded by David Siddon in the 1970s and opened as a nonprofit in 1981.  It’s now run by the founder’s son Dave, who says he’s committed to continuing his dad’s dream of rescuing wildlife and educating people IMG_7452about it.  Wildlife Images is supported by admission fees, grants, fundraisers and donations. It has an interpretive center, a pavilion for public events, a Birds of Prey building, and a gift shop.

I’m interested in all of it, but the grizzly bear has me enthralled. Her name is Yak and she came from Alaska. As we watch each other I think of  bear power in story and symbol, from Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, to cave bears and shamans. After a few silent minutes she hauls herself up and shambles off, and I can see that Yak, even now, carries the memory of that power. 


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IMG_7721 I generally don’t care to eat mold, but Rogue River Blue has changed my attitude. The delicate veins of blue molds running through this blue cheese add a tang to the firm, buttery, incredibly flavorful cheese, a perfect contrast, and I’m happy to taste it any time I get the chance. Today it’s in the maker’s facility, Rogue Creamery, in Central Point. IMG_7722This small southern Oregon town, just west of the I-5 freeway–four miles from Medford, 218 miles south of Portland–has attracted artisans who craft top-quality, handmade products. Cheese is one of them, and I’m watching the experts at work through large windows at Rogue Creamery. Turning rich, local milk into award-winning, internationally acclaimed cheese takes care and time, up to five years, manager Craig Nelson says. Here’s how the website describes part of the process: “After draining in their hoops, wheels are dry salted, pierced, and dipped in wax before the bulk of their aging to prevent mold growth on rind. At the end of their maturation, wax is removed and the wheels are wrapped in foil.” The blue cheese is aged for at least 90 days.

Rogue Creamery has been in business for 80 years and crafts several other cheeses, the best being cheddar and their signature blue. I’m also trying something different: classic hand-milled cheddar combined with Rogue Ales’ Chocolate Stout. The beer is melded with the curd, then hand-dipped and pressed into blocks for aging. Along with the cheddar, I get hints of chocolate and coffee from the stout, a nice blend. Another produced here is TouVelle, which the makers call a workhorse in the kitchen because it’s semi-hard, mild yet flavorful, and melts evenly. In the gift shop I, along with a lot of other visitors, browse among the locally produced jams, sauces, pastas and breads and pick up a nifty chiller bag that will keep cheese purchases cool.

Ledger David Winery  Next door is Ledger David Winery. In what was once a 1950s garage and is now a small, elegant, light-filled tasting room, I can taste fine wines paired with, what else, Rogue Creamery cheeses. Owners David Traul and Lena Varner produce several varietals, including Chenin Blanc, malvasia Bianca, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo. My favorite is their unique, award-winning red blend labeled Orion’s Nebula. It’s more than 50% Cabernet Franc and has an intriguing mixture of flavors: cherry, vanilla, cinnamon, and more. Ledger David wines come from grapes grown in their 15-acre vineyard in nearby Talent.

The next shop in the developing Artisans Corridor is Lillie Belle Farms, and that means Chocolate with a capital C.  Jeff Shepherd began selling IMG_7749truffles at local farmer’s markets ten years ago, naming them after his wife, Belle, and daughter, Lillie. Everything was (and is) handmade with high-quality ingredients, some from his own organic farm. The business grew, word spread, and today Lillie Belle Farms has a staff of twelve and sells more than 20,000 pounds of chocolate products a year, worldwide. In 2009, Jeff was chosen by Dessert Professional magazine as one of the top ten chocolatiers in the U.S.


One of the best things about the place is its festive atmosphere. It’s fun to walk in the door, sniff mouth-watering aromas, and survey the bon-bons, ganaches, caramels, truffles and chocolate bars. Glass cases hold spicy cayenne caramels, blue cheese truffles, chocolate-covered bacon, and chocolate fortune cookies. Anejo candies contain tequila, lime and salt. It’s mighty hard to choose from these offbeat delights. One bar’s name is also a playful warning: “Do Not Eat This Chocolate,” and one taste tells you why. The chilies in this one are some of the world’s hottest peppers. It’s hot! “I warned you,” Jeff says with a grin.

Artisans Corridor is a great southern Oregon stop off the freeway now, and with changes and additions underway, it’s only going to get even better.

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IMG_7708  I’ve reviewed hundreds of bed-and-breakfast inns for guidebooks, and by now it takes me maybe two minutes to tell if I’ve found a good one. As I walk in the door of The White House Bed and Breakfast, in Medford, Oregon, I know immediately it rates high on the list. kathy rulonKathy Rulon greets weary travelers with a smile, shows us to our spacious upstairs room, explains how things work, and points out a box of cards with breakfast menu choices (nice idea!). Then she leaves us alone in our haven of quiet, saying “I’ll be in the kitchen or garden if you need me.” Kathy is a former flight attendant, and she knows how to take care of people without any annoying hovering. Her relaxed, friendly style makes guests feel immediately at home, and this, plus nice accommodations with thoughtful touches, are to me the ingredients of a perfect bed-and-breakfast inn.  Reasonable rates help, too.

The White House B&B is a two-story, columned home on a residential hillside lane in East Medford. It’s white, of course, and has a veranda complete with inviting rocker. Our room is lounge area Whiite house suite actually a suite stretching across the   house front to back, with windows  overlooking the tree-shaded street and large garden.  The queen-sized bed is comfortable and the light-filled bathroom spotless. And there’s plenty of space to put our stuff, which inevitably gets scattered around. Down the hall is another bedroom that sleeps two, but it’s used only if a group is traveling together, so we have the entire floor to ourselves.

Asked for a dinner recommendation, our hostess is happy to oblige. We choose Porters, a century-old train station restored as a patio, porterspopular restaurant.  It has both  historic charm and an excellent menu of American classic dishes, emphasizing local foods: wild mushrooms, herbs, cheeses, Northwest seafood and wines, Oregon poultry and lamb. We dine at an outdoor patio table, with train tracks on the other side of the vine-covered fence, and couldn’t be more content.

In the morning, Kathie has breakfast on the table at the time requested. We have the granola/fruit/yogurt parfait and a IMG_7620spinach-mushroom omelet, only part of a small feast that includes whole cooked pears, fresh coffee cake and preserves, juice, coffee and teas. It’s all delicious. (Kathy’s secret to a perfect  non-rubbery omelet: cook it more slowly than you think you should.) Her most requested dish is the Dutch Baby, a baked pancake cooked at high heat in a heavy cast iron pan so it crawls up the sides. Kathy fills it with blueberries and gives it a sprinkle of powdered sugar. IMG_7705

Search as I might, I can’t find a thing to complain about, so I’ll end with the recipe that made Kathy a finalist in a Best Breakfast contest by BedandBreakfast.com. It’s easy to prepare if you roast the sweet potatoes and yams the night before, which I did.  Also, I skipped the eggs and it was uniquely tasty anyway, a good, hearty brunch dish.

Sweet Potato Hash on Beet Greens with Bacon Brittle (serves 4)

2 sweet potatoes

2 yams

1 onion

4 scallions

1 bunch beet greens

4 strips bacon

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons brown sugar

8 eggs

Roast sweet potatoes and yams.  Cool, peel, and cube.

Sliver onion and sauté with potatoes and yam in olive oil.

Cut stems from beet greens; sauté greens lightly in olive oil.

Fry bacon, drain off most of fat, and add syrup and brown sugar. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes. (Pinch of cayenne pepper here is optional.) Spread onto baking sheet to cool; then break into pieces.

Poach eggs.

Lay a bed of  the beet greens on each plate. Place a spoonful of potato/yam/scallion mixture on top. Sprinkle with bacon/sugar brittle and top with 2 poached eggs. Garnish with a scallion.



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IMG_7564  The glassblower faces an open, white-hot furnace, 2400 degrees Fahrenheit, the same temperature as the molten lava pouring out of Kilauea volcano at this moment. The heat is intense, from this and the room’s slightly cooler (900 degrees) ovens, as you’d expect in any glass forge. This one is the Glass Forge Gallery and Studio in Grants Pass, Oregon. It’s a warm summer day here in southern Oregon, but a breeze wafts through the large, warehouse-like studio, open to visitors who can watch the entire process. Inside the furnace, a ceramic crucible holds liquid glass–pure silica, I’m told, mined in Texas and mixed with 10% soda ash and lime.

The long hollow pole dips it into the hot pool in the furnace. Turning the pole constantly, the glassmaker pulls it out, spins it in a bowl of multi-colored glass bits, and carries it to a curved stand. He attaches a mouth tube to the pole, and now it’s my turn.IMG_7592 IMG_7566“Blow hard, as if you were blowing up a balloon,” he says. I blow, but nothing much happens. “Harder.” I puff my cheeks and blow, and the glass, which will drip and ooze if it’s not continually turned, begins to fill with air and round into a ball. “Now softer.” I blow more gently, and the ball grows bigger. The expert knows exactly when to nip the ball closed, make a swirl at the top, and set it to cool. I, with considerable help, have just made a beautiful, colorful ornament.  In sixteen hours it will be completely cool and ready to handle. The folks at the Glass Forge will mail it to me.

Hundreds of hand-blown glass items, from simple balls like mine to elaborate lamps, IMG_7571chandeliers, curved vases and art pieces, are created in the forge by a co-op of glass artists.  Most have been here awhile, and everyone bears a few burn scars despite the protective shields. The shop, a showcase of their artworks, is open every day but Sunday. If you want the fun of blowing your own glass art–and I can testify that it is fun–come on a weekday (except for 3 weeks in August, when the place is closed for cleaning). At this writing it costs $15 to make an ornament and $20 for a more complicated piece. IMG_7837

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Labor Day weekend and a girl’s fancy turns to……pork ribs. And not just pork ribs, how about perfectly tart cole slaw, corn bread and honey, baked beans, grilled vegetables and peach pies with lattice tops–pies so full of farmer’s market Sweet Sue’s that you strain to carry the dish? Now we’re talking.

I’ve been a rib lover since I was three years old. Despite my allegiance to more healthful foods, I crave ribs at least once a year. It is my tried and true comfort food. I know good ribs from mediocre. According to my dad, I loved ribs so much that my folks put me in the bathtub to eat them. You could say I really got into the experience. Sauce in my hair, sauce on my face, ears, clothes….apparently the bathtub was the only alternative until I was old enough to clean myself up.

So when I planned a summer party with ribs on the menu, I had to suss out the best that Portland had to offer. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. The catering department of an outfit in town (who shall remain nameless) was doing everything else right, but their ribs were definitely second rate: heck, they weren’t even ribs! They were little hors d’ oeuvresy things: baked in the oven instead of smoked, smothered in a sticky sweet sauce and over seasoned.  And where was the delectable meat falling off the bone? Bird bones was more like it. It was time to find a smoked rib purist, somebody steeped in the culinary art form.

On the trail of the holy grail of summer, we started out with the farmer’s market. The verdict: ribs done in a real smoker? Yes. Local meat? Surprisingly, no, and with a rub that was too aggressive for my taste. Also the meat was dry. After that we checked out the online reviews and tried three other well-known places in town. All disappointing. A great spot in NE didn’t deliver or do large orders, so that was a no go. Time was running out.

Then we discovered SlabTown Ribs and BBQ, a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint at 2606 NW Vaughn. Hard to miss it —the smoker out front is the size of a rail car and just as grungy, the way a smoker ought to be. Inside you can check out the awards and trophies lining the walls while you figure out whether to go with the brisket, the pork ribs or something else on the menu. And sauces?

The staff will offer you one of three sauces: Kansas City Classic, Texas Hot, or Carolina Style Mustard, but like me, you may figure out that the meat is so fall-off-the-bone tender and the flavor so succulently smoky, that you don’t even need the sauce.

The morning after the garden party, I came downstairs to raid the refrigerator still wearing my white cotton nightgown. What is better than ribs and peach pie for breakfast? Only roasted turkey, gravy, and stuffing sandwiches the morning after Thanksgiving has the same cachet.

 I pigged out. I gobbled up three ribs and two pieces of peach pie before feeling completely decadent and satisfied. Then I noticed the fallout: my perfect glossy red manicure covered over with sauce, sauce on my chin, cheeks, and unfortunately, all over my white cotton nighty. I looked like an extra from Dracula.

It occurred to me to call Dad to tell him about the successful party, but should I tell him about the fiasco unleashed all over my face and nightgown? Besides I already knew the answer. He’d just say: Susie, my girl, why didn’t you have your breakfast in the bathtub?

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Rose Festival City FairHere at the Portland Rose Festival City Fair (in former years, “Fun Center”), I’m sloshing through a lot of mud, thanks to more rain than anyone needs to start a summer. Good thing I wore grubby shoes. The sun is shining, though, off and on, and folks are having a great time on wild rides, eating heart attack foods (fried ice cream, corndogs, deep-fried candy bars and cookies–and what are funnel cakes, anyway?) and shooting baskets for prizes. Jamie, age 15, and I wander through, soaking it in. JamieShe throws darts at balloons and wins stuffed animals and a picture, but loses at getting rubber rings over bottles. When I ask the guy behind the counter if anyone ever wins this game, he says two players have. Definitely not good odds.

City Fair covers a huge area at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, by the Willamette. Tents cover some stalls, but rides like the Sea Dragon, the Starship, and of course the ferris wheel, are open to the sky. ferris wheelVendors hawk their wares. a guitarist plays on the outdoor stage, riders scream as they hurtle through the air and turn upside-down.  What’s not to like? The KATU-TV website has several comments about “weirdos” who come to the fair. That’s offensive and not what I’m seeing. Granted, it’s not an upscale crowd. But there’s great diversity and many families, ordinary folks having fun in a festive, friendly, carnival atmosphere.

Jamie and I check out the games, rides and vendors, and by far our favorite is snakethe exhibit of exotic animals. There are iguanas, an albino Burmese python, other snakes large and small, a huge Sulcata tortoise, a bobcat, a serval, and a big, gorgeous tiger. iguanaThese creatures couldn’t survive in the wild, where they belong, because they’ve been (mostly) illegally kept as “pets.” At one cage people stand in line waiting their turn to get inside, where they can play with an 8-week-old Bengal tiger. Such a cute kitty! Who will soon grow to 700 magnificent, dangerous pounds.  The animals belong to “Walk on the Wild Side,” a non-profit corporation that aims to care for displaced exotic species and increase interest in preserving their diversity.

City Fair is open these dates and hours:  June 2 & 3, 3 pm-11 pm.  June 4 & 5, 11 am-11 pm.  June 9 & 10, 3 pm-11 pm.  June 11 & 12, 11 am- 11 pm. The cost to enter is $5; children 6 and under are free. Entrance is free June 9-12 to active members of the military, vets and reservists, with one guest. You can enter as many days as you wish if you buy a $5 souvenir pin, available at Fred Meyer, Dennis’ 7 Dees garden centers, the Rose Festival Store in Washington Park, and Rose Festival office on Naito Parkway.

Bring cash and don’t wear high heels.

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All Spice Deli, PortlandFarina used to mean Cream of Wheat to me. That was before tasting Farina Cake at All Spice Deli, in downtown Portland. The sweet, grainy cake, topped with an almond, is a lot more appealing than the cereal I loathed. Still, my favorite is baklava. The light pastry, layered on chopped nuts and dusted with chopped pistachios, is flaky, honey-sweet and messy. Don’t try eating it while driving.

As usual, I’m putting dessert first. Back to the lunch itself. Lebanese food is prepared in the deli kitchen from scratch, in small batches with fresh ingredients. Everything on my Lebanese foodtray, chosen from the display case, is loaded with flavor: creamy baba gannouj, sprinkled with the beet-red powder of summac berries; tabouli; rich hummus; and dolmathes, filled grape leaves with cucumber sauce. Also a dish of dandelion leaves on spicy rice with lentils. This entire meal, which includes pita bread and hot lentil soup with Swiss chard, comes to $15 for two of us. (My daughter and I are shopping today and need sustenance.) There are plenty of leftovers for tonight’s dinner.

Eddie Attrash, All Spice DeliThe deli’s owner, Eddie Attrash, came to Portland from Lebanon in 1970. He goes back to visit fairly often, but he’s busy here with two businesses–he also owns a service station–and family. He opened All Spice in late 2010 because he loves to cook for people. “It is my yoga, my passion,” he says. His enthusiasm shows in the quality of everything I’ve tasted, and there’s much more. For $5 you can buy garlic chicken or beef tongue panini, gyros, kabobs, and other sandwiches. Lunch and dinner plates, $7, are generous servings of roasted lamb, eggplant and beef casserole, kafta meatballs, and curried chickenand veggies. I’ll try one of thos next time. I hear the lamb is tender and perfectly done.

All Spice Deli is small and plain, with only a few tables. Customers stream in to order takeout, because the neighborhood has discovered the place.  The deli is at 911 SW 10th Ave., Portland, Oregon 97205.  503-222-1255.  Hours are Mon-Fri 11 am-8 pm and Saturday noon to 5.

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winter ridge oregonSummer Lake, Oregon, has magic on the wing. All four of us feel it, winding through the Wildlife Area at the north end of the lake. It’s the sense of wonder that comes with being this close to hundreds of wild birds as they stop here on their long trip north. Binoculars in hand, driving over 8 miles of dikes, John and I and our friends John and Susan search the water and clusters of grasses and reeds, looking for the flash of a wing.

“Two Sandhill Cranes! Over there, in the tall grass.” There they are,sandhill cranes huge birds with red hats and fluffy tail feathers. Suddenly one hops into the air and spreads his wings wide, an 80-inch wingspan. He does it again, and again, while the other watches. We’re witnessing a mating dance, and it’s an amazing spectacle. The female doesn’t seem as impressed as we are. She turns and pecks at the grass, ignoring him. Maybe she’s being coy. Eventually the two of them amble away from the gawkers and we continue along the gravel dike road, eyes peeled.

There are 18,000 acres of open water, marsh and meadow in the northwest corner of Oregon’s Great Basin drainage, 100 miles southeast of Bend. Summer Lake Wildlife Area was established in 1944, the first wetland wildlife area in Oregon, at the foot of snow-dusted Winter Ridge. Some 280 bird species have been spotted, along with 40 types of animals, from marmots and squirrels to weasels and bobcats.

snow geese“Snow geese!” Heads swivel, binocs adjust.  A flock of the big white geese with black wingtips rises from a pond and settles again. Further on, we see dozens more. Also Great Egrets, Blue-winged Teals, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and Barn Swallows. Gorgeous white pelicans, mallards, cute little black coots with white bills, seagulls–a long way from the sea–and another thrill, Trumpeter Swans. Bird song everywhere, and more geese, white against the gray, cloudy sky.

Finally we head across the road to The Lodge at Summer Lake. lodge at summer lakeThis community gathering place offers a little of everything–motel-style rooms (quite comfortable), cabins, a restaurant, and a gift shop. The people are friendly and the food is hearty, country-style, and excellent, all made from scratch: homemade soups, salads, tender filet mignon, hamburgers, and herbed chicken that comes with chunky mashed potatoes and a pool of melted butter. Desserts include Annie Oakley Peach Pie, Billy the Kid Fudge Brownie Sundae, and Wyatt Earp Apple Pie. I can vouch for the peach pie; it’s flaky, fruity and delicious. The owners, Jan and Gil Foust and Marie and Gary Brain, know how to take care of their customers.

This area is full of interesting geological formations, caves, petroglyphs and fort rockhot springs.  One is Fort Rock, where we hike around the enormous, curving wall of jagged rock rising from the flat high desert, and ponder the people who lived here when it was an island in a shallow sea. Sandals made of sagebrush, found in a nearby cave, date back more than 9,000 years. And I thought my shoes were old.

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Swan Island dahlia farm, oregonSeptember is casting its slant light, some days are still bright and some are wet and steely gray; but before autumn blankets the ground with leaves, try not to miss the fields of sturdy and magnificent color at the Swan Island Dahlia farm in Canby, Oregon. It’s a great tonic for the fall and winter ahead.

I went to the Annual Dahlia Festival on its last day, September 6th. It was a brilliant day and the fields were filled with people strolling, laughing at dahlia names (Hissy Fitz, Rock Star, Mango Madness…) and admiring the immense variety. Families brought picnic lunches and sat alongside the fields, and the staff was busy taking orders for shipment in the spring. Although the festival is over, you can still visit the fields through September: seven days a week from 8 am to 6 pm. Fresh-cut flowers are always available, so you can take huge bouquets to fill your home and give away to friends. Swan Island currently has 40 acres in cultivation with more than 350 varieties of dahlias. This family-owned and operated business is now the country’s largest dahlia grower.

I came late to dahlias. Maybe it was the prim little Pom Pon varieties in pastel colors that fooled me, but that was before I understood Pacific Northwest gardening. I wasFreedom fighter dahlia, swan island dahlias, oregon slow to understand what it would mean in late October or even November, to have a big, assertive, and showy flower willing to bloom boldly in the fading light. When the chickadees were pecking out the last of the seeds of the drooping sunflowers, when all the color was draining meekly out of my perennial beds, the dahlias–tropical in origin and sassy in spirit–would stand against the gray and bloom big until one freezing day, when they would suddenly turn to black, messy rags and be gone.

But until that one day in late autumn, a dahlia will give you its all. And that is something.

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