Music and Farm, The Cycle of Life

Rick and Lavinia Ross Farm & Music Newsletter for November 2017

Our feature photo this month is from early morning on November 18th.  A frosty 30 degrees greeted us at daybreak under mostly clear skies that day, dawn’s colors captured on the underside of the few clouds out and about at that hour.

Our feature photo. Dawn on November 18th, cold and colorful.

A lonely row of cotton candy pink altocumulus clouds was sighted in the west, perfectly aligned as if they were there solely to witness the arrival of the new day.

A row of little altocumulus clouds in the west, out observing the morning’s light show and beautifully reflecting dawn’s colors. Click on any photo in this post to enlarge.

Nature puts on a brief but intense show; the price of admission is free to those able and willing to attend.

Dawn’s saturated colors on November 7th.

November 7th. Roughly the same scene as the previous photo, a short time later. Color changes quickly.

News from the farm

The harvest is in; garden, orchard and vineyard finished for the season. A few late season apples still cling to trees, and are still quite good, enhanced by a little frost.

Early morning on November 4th, a view of the southeast hills framed by apple trees. The jagged line of conifers loom above the silver-grey mists in the low areas.

It has been a good year; I have been slowly able to do more. Two test fermentations of pinot noir rosé wine as well as two test runs of whole berry, stainless steel fermented pinot noir wine were made from grapes from our own vineyard, a tribute to the value of insect netting which not only keeps out birds, but also yellow jacket wasps. The quality of life here is measured in what we can eat and drink from what we produce, the natural beauty that surrounds us, and most importantly, the love of home, each other, and our animal companions.  Life is not always easy, but it is good, and sustains us.

Rick and Lucio cat.

I look forward to the long dark of winter, though. Like the orchard and vineyard, I feel the need to slow down, to withdraw to my roots, and recover from the physiological debt of the year’s fast pace.  It is a time for peace, a quieting of the mind so that creativity may flow again.  A friend once described peace as “a place of one’s own to listen to the wind”.  We know we are there when we arrive, but often lose the track to that elusive but vast internal space, the Outback of the Mind,  where the wind tarries a while to speak of where it has been, and where it is going.

Mare’s tails, windswept cirrus clouds at dawn on November 19th.

News from the Cats of Salmon Brook Farms

Resident Feline Correspondent Mr. Nano, always watchful!

Resident Feline Correspondent Miss Wynken, deliberating liberating Rick’s buckwheat pancakes. She insisted it would make a good report in the fine dining section. Rick thought otherwise, and Mr. Nano agreed.

Resident Feline Correspondent Mr. Nano has contacted the Sicilian Feline Correspondents Desk for a report on the olive harvest at the House of 40 Paws.  Without further do, Mr. Nano will turn this section of the newsletter over to Sicilian Feline Correspondent Lucky of the House of 40 Paws.

A venerable old olive tree at The House of 40 Paws olive farm, Sicily. Photo credit M.G.

The weather here in Sicily has been exceptional, with temperatures in the low 60s, perfect for olive harvesting. Rain occurring a few days before the scheduled harvest date threatened to take us off schedule, but the reappearance of sun dried trees and olives sufficiently enough to make the harvest possible.

A view of the countryside from The House of 40 Paws. Photo credit M.G.

I attempted to recruit our other correspondents to help with the harvest. We are seven in total, and many paws can make quick work. This proved to be an exercise in herding cats.

The Sicilian Feline Correspondents Desk. Photo credit M.G.

Correspondent Simona was missing from the initial meeting, leaving Dexter to try to convince her that harvesting olives would be in her best interest.

Photo credit M.G.

Only Dexter and YouTube showed up to listen to the requirements of olive harvesting. NewDude remained on the terrace, keeping a safe distance from any work.

Photo credit M.G.

Another correspondent, Lulu, decided staying home and enjoying pizza was much more to his liking.

Photo credit M.G.

Ranger finally convinced YouTube that laying in the sun on the terrace would be more far more exciting than working,

Photo credit M.G.

and were soon joined by correspondents NewDude and Dexter.

Photo credit M.G.

Although I am blind, I was the only correspondent still willing and available to climb trees and assist.

Correspondent Lucky, who is blind but not disabled! Photo credit M.G.

It took four people 40 work hours to harvest all forty of the trees. As the trees were raked, the olives cascaded on to the waiting nets below.

Worker at the House of 40 Paws olive farm, harvesting olives with a rake. Photo credit M.G.

The olives are then gathered up and placed into totes, loaded onto the tractor and hauled to a waiting vehicle. The Almond Brothers, correspondents NewDude and YouTube, were found basking on the car, waiting to help load olives.

Photo credit M.G.

Photo credit M.G.

Olives were safely delivered to the the olive milling plant, or Oleficio, for processing. They are transferred into large totes, weighed and then emptied onto a grate to eliminate some of the leaves. From there, they travel up the conveyor belt for the first step, which is to clean the olives by removing stems, leaves, debris and dirt.

Photo credit M.G.

Photo credit M.G.

Olives are ground and then go into a horizontal trough with spiral mixing blades where they remain for about 45 minutes.

Photo credit M.G.

The paste then passes through a traditional centrifuge, which is a three phase process.  Olive paste is spun in a horizontal drum; the heavier flesh and pits go to the outside, while water and oil are tapped off separately from the center.

Photo credit M.G.

We started with 7.8 quintale of olives, or 780 kilos, (1,716 lbs) and came home with 140 liters of fresh oil, a good harvest in spite of not having all our feline workers available.  They are strongly encouraged to participate next year.  Their help will be most welcome.

Correspondent Lucky resting after a hard day of harvesting olives. Photo credit M.G

Sicilian Feline Correspondent Lucky, reporting from The House of 40 Paws.

Thank you, Correspondent Lucky!

Music news (schedule posted on the Performance Schedule page)

Saddle up a trusty vehicle, head up over the Cascades and on to the gorge where the olive-brown velvety hills of Washington come down to drink from the mighty Columbia River on sculpted lion’s paws.  Head across the river, through eastern Washington and on to Spokane.  This was my first year back at the Spokane Fall Folk Festival since 2011, having taken on elder care, and then recovery from elder care during the intervening years.  I completely burned out in 2015 during the last year Rick’s mother was alive and with us, trying to work part-time, play music and provide round the clock care, resulting in my taking 2016 off entirely to recover my health.  This has been a year of slowly regaining my sea legs as a performer.

View from the top of the Cascade pass. Snow!

Mount Washington at the left.

Looking back at The Three Sisters mountains.

Breakfast at the Black Bear Diner.

I took no pictures from the festival itself, as I forgot to bring the camera along to the community college where it was held.

Closer to the river on the return trip. The hills of Washington look like olive-brown velvet lion’s paws from across the river.

Another view of the Columbia taken from the car.

The patterns in the rock wall face are quite impressive.

A rainbow greeted us when we returned home.

For those readers who are new or catching up, the Salmon Brook Farms YouTube channel now has content, and our first Tiny Farm Concerts one song music video was posted at the end of March. I am 14 years older and a good bit more grey since my first and only CD was released back in 2003, but still in the saddle. It has been an interesting ride, with more to come! Do keep an eye on more content appearing from time to time, now that the harvest season has passed.

For those who have missed previous posts and wish to view the channel content, here are links to the previous two videos.

The Orchard, our distributor, has placed some of our music from the Keepsake CD on YouTube. Anyone wishing to see the entire track listing and stories behind the songs should visit my personal page under MUSIC in the menu at the top of this post. Depending on what country you live in, the music placed on YouTube by The Orchard may be blocked. Readers can also access some songs from the CD via the old IUMA archive site. See

In the meantime, in your area, wherever you may be, please do all you can to help keep your own local music alive. Go out and see someone you don’t know, host a house concert, download songs or buy CDs. Or even just stop for a minute to hear someone at a Farmers’ Market. Live, local musicians provide a wealth of talent most people will never hear about in this age of iPods, Internet and TV.

Bookings and home-grown produce:
Lavinia and Rick Ross
Salmon Brook Records / Salmon Brook Farms

Dawn glowing beyond the mists on November 29, 2017. The anticipation of a new day, and what it may bring. Live each one as if it were the last.

Music and Farm

Rick and Lavinia Ross Farm & Music Newsletter for April 2014

News from the farm:

We are entering the budbreak time of year on our little farm in the Cascade foothills, and are “watching the grass grow” as the trees and vines prepare to bud out.  Where we are, that old expression takes on a whole new meaning.  As one enters Linn County, on Interstate 5 there is a large road sign that says “Welcome to Linn County – Grass Seed Capital of the World”.  They are not kidding.  There are many large grass seed farms here, representing over half of the use of cropland in the Willamette Valley.

Back in our native New England, grass was fairly easy to control with edging and weeding, and winter helped keep it in check.  Here?  It needs a whip and chair, and a lot of work to keep it back from where it is not wanted.  Mowing starts in late winter on drier days, and will stop for a while when the skies clear, and the grass turns brown as the hot and rainless summer takes over.  Garden maintenance will keep us busy, and the local markets will be full of fresh produce.  One of our local farmers, who is also a science fiction fan, had a matted print of Gourdzilla proudly displayed on her table at market last year.  Anyone who has ever grown zucchini, and discovered it is very prolific and can be hard to even give away, might enjoy this print by Alan Beck:

It also reflects how I view my own ability to keep the grass here under control. Totally inadequate, and keeps me running…

So what else is new here this month?  If you have ever seen any episodes of Ray Bradbury Theater, you may recall the intro where Bradbury is seated at his typewriter in his office, surrounded by all kinds of interesting objects collected during his life.  He scans the room, looking for something to catch his eye, and his imagination, and then begins to type.   Here on Salmon Brook Farm, between the all too numerous gopher mounds, assorted critters wandering through, family, friends and travels, I can find plenty of material to get a newsletter started.  The newsletter itself has changed radically over the years.  Its roots started in Connecticut, beginning with just a brief list of gigs, and later grew into to sporadic reports on the list of upcoming gigs, and what was in season on our farm here in Oregon.  I took over writing them in 2007 when Rick tired of the task.  The content and scope continued to change as I worked at finding a way to verbally paint in email what we saw, and what life out here was like to people back east.  It finally became a blog in 2013 when Rick retired from playing music, and I tired of keeping an email list.  With some encouraging feedback on content from readers of the email newsletters, I dove into the murky, unknown realm of blogging, figuring this might be a good place to archive the writings, and readers beyond the realm of the old mailing list could help themselves.  A few photos would augment the archives, filling in the cracks.  Old Klaatu had passed away in May of 2013, and I wanted to tell the story of this unusual feline that wandered into our lives, a memorial of sorts to that wild, elusive spirit of his.  Thus was born in June of 2013.  It is still evolving, a work in progress.  Learning as I go!  Writing, or even playing music, for me is like working with a unruly or skittish horse – sometimes rears, bucks or outright throws me, sometimes stops dead in front of a gate and I go sailing head over heels, reins still in hand, crashing on the other side – but it is always an interesting ride of discovery.  When the two finally do manage to work together, the ride is smooth and synchronous.  Horse and rider both feel the rhythmic connectivity, understand each other, and move as one over the terrain.  I feel nothing but joy.

So, while things are budding out and getting underway this month, we will emerge from our Gopher Hole of tales from about the farm, and tell the story of a goat.  Not just any goat, but one that could have come straight from the imagination of Ray Bradbury or Rod Serling.  We encountered this very unusual animal during one of our travels up to Washington in 2005.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the story of Thelonious Goat.


Saddle up a trusty vehicle and go north up the Willamette Valley to Portland, Oregon.  Turn east along the Columbia River, where  the vegetation transitions from the lush greens, and lichen dripping Ent-like trees of home into much drier grasslands and sagebrush of land in the rainshadow of the Cascades.  Sculpted by the Great Missoula Floods, the region bakes in summer and freezes hard in winter.  From Route 84 on the Oregon side, the hillsides over in Washington appear to have a strange velvety texture, and look like giant tan-colored lion paws where they come down to meet the mighty Columbia as it rolls on by.  Cross the river around Hermiston and head on up to the Tri-Cities area, or perhaps further on to Spokane and points east.

We were staying with a very gracious couple that put us up during the Tumbleweed Music Festival in Richland, Washington that particular weekend.  The four of us were sitting on the front porch in late afternoon, enjoying good company and conversation, when we heard the sound of hooves coming up the driveway from the road below.  Much to everyone’s surprise, a lone billy goat appeared.  He appeared to be familiar with the place, like he owned it, coming right up onto the porch!  Our hosts were perplexed, never having seen this goat before, and not knowing of any farms with such animals in the immediate area.  His lower jaw appeared to be deformed, or had been broken at some point and healed in a strange position.  The jaw, coupled with his wild-eyed goaty stare, gave our horned visitor a slightly demented look that was both alarming and endearing to behold.   Being an intact male, he stank, adding the dimension of ripe male goat odor to his persona.  He laid down by my feet, like a dog, joining the group as if he had stopped by for afternoon tea with friends.  Not wanting to keep referring to our strange, stinky visitor as “The Goat”, I thought he should have a proper name for the evening. “Thelonious” came to mind, and it stuck.  Strangely enough, the goat responded to it as if it were his own name.  Our hosts’ full-grown Airedale Terrier was not pleased, however, at the goat’s intrusion onto his property, and rushed at Thelonious, barking furiously.  Undeterred, the goat calmly leveled an evil-eye at his assailant, backed up a few steps, and gave the dog a swift ramming with his horns.  This sent the Airedale packing behind his owners chair, whimpering curses from a safe position.  Goat “1”, Airedale “0”, Thelonious settled back into a comfortable position and rejoined the party.


After a bit, our hosts took us on a tour of their property, thinking the uninvited horned guest might leave of his own accord.  Instead, the goat joined us for the tour, sticking close to me.   We all went in for dinner after the tour, leaving Thelonious to his own devices on the porch for the evening.  Our mysterious visitor was gone by morning, disappearing into the night without a trace.  Why he came to visit us, and where he came from will forever remain unknown.  In mind’s eye, however, I picture his departure ending like a Twilight Zone episode:

“The day, with all it strange events, has ended.  The house is now dark, the inhabitants sleeping.  Outside, an unusual goat quietly scans the heavens, perhaps looking for a sign among the myriad stars that span the sky.  A light breeze stirs the darkness, and a thick mist slowly creeps into the lower end of the driveway, down past the gate posts through which he had arrived earlier that day.  Nostrils quivering, his ears turn in the direction of a voice.  A voice calling from somewhere beyond sight, from somewhere beyond the writhing fog.  Eager with anticipation, he rises, disappearing into the beckoning misty tendrils that await him.  He has answered a call to return home.   A call that could only have come from…the Twilight Zone.”

Music news (schedule posted on the Performance Schedule page):

I’ve continued to expand and rearrange the sub-pages under music.  The full listing of songs on the CD, the stories behind why some were written, or chosen to cover, are now there.  Help yourself!

In your area, wherever you may be, please do all you can to help keep your own local music alive. Go out and see someone you don’t know, host a house concert, download songs or buy CDs. Or even just stop for a minute to hear someone at a Farmers’ Market. Live, local musicians provide a wealth of talent most people will never hear about in this age of iPods, Internet and TV.

Bookings and home-grown produce:
Lavinia and Rick Ross
Salmon Brook Records / Salmon Brook Farms