It is summer 2003. I am sitting at my desk in my office in my laboratory in Davis, CA working on a computer program when my wife Laurie calls on the phone from Oregon. She has spent the morning on a tour with a realtor in Yamhill County. ‘I just saw a piece of property. It’s really pretty, but it’s way bigger and way more money than we have been talking about. 80 acres’, she says. ‘Do you want to see it when you come up on Thursday?’ ‘Sure’, I reply cheerily, but kind of half-listening.
We have been looking at rural property in the Willamette Valley, Oregon for a few years now. It’s nothing serious, just kind of a fun diversion for the two of us when we go up to visit Laurie’s folks in Salem. Grammy and Grandpa Bob keep an eye on our four kids while we sneak out for a ‘date’ and muse about moving away from it all someday. The kids know what we are doing, and they are actually OK with the concept of moving ‘someday’. But we don’t bring them on these little excursions. No need to subject them to an emotional roller-coaster while we search in vain for ‘the grail’. Besides, we don’t need any additional opinions.
The Willamette Valley is where Laurie grew up, and I know she loves this area. I admit it is very pretty, but I grew up in Sonoma County wine country. Its rolling hills dotted with majestic oaks and slopes adorned in golden, dried grasses waving under blue summer skies is my idea of paradise. Fortunately for me, we haven’t found any property in Oregon that wasn’t ‘weird’ in some way. There was the forested property on a north sloping hill where we would never have any direct sunshine. There was the 5-acre Christmas tree farm with an odd house. We have never had to seriously consider giving up good jobs and our comfortable life in a friendly, safe town where all our friends live.
It’s three days later and we have a morning appointment to see the ‘way too big, way more money’ property. Laurie and I are in a white Chevy Suburban driven by Dave the Realtor and we have just pulled onto a gravel road with a closed black metal gate. The gate is sturdy and utilitarian except for some decorative metal dogwood flowers that are part of the design. My mental ‘weird list’ gets its first entry. But weird is good. Weird means we don’t have to move. There is a short length of white vinyl fencing next to the weird gate. There is nothing written on the fence but to me it might as well say ‘I’m cheap And fake.’ In front of the vinyl fence, an 8 foot tall sign tells us where we are. The top of the sign is a tasteful wood carving of a sunburst and fir trees and the words ‘PAL Ranch’. Below that, in large black and white letters: “PEOPLE, ANIMALS, LOVE”. The line below that, in equally large letters: ‘BULLS, HEIFERS, SEMEN’.
I am feeling relieved that we will not be moving from Davis any time soon and we haven’t even gotten through the front gate yet. Dave punches in the gate code, the flowery gate opens, and we proceed up the gently sloping road. In a hundred yards, the view expands. Rolling hills rise to our right and left, covered with golden-dry grasses. And scattered majestically on the slopes are the biggest oak trees I have ever seen. Two days later, we have a picnic under the prettiest oak. All six of us.