My dad is my hero. Always has been. I’m very lucky to be able to say that.
He’s always been adventurous and brave—launching off cliffs in a hang-glider, sailing out to sea, or skiing down Mt. Baker in his youth. In 2006, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He had spent his life doing laborious jobs and living a highly-active lifestyle—jumping from business ventures like fishing boat captain to oyster farmer on the Oregon Coast. When the days work was done, he would load up a hang-glider and drive a few miles down the coast to Cape Kiwanda or Cape Lookout, and launch into the skies.
The disease only took a few short years before it began to limit his mobility, and he gave up his glider. Still, he contracted with Pacific Seafood to provide support to their business, as well as clearing out a property he had purchased in Sand Lake, OR while his health was relatively good. The property had been overrun with blackberry bushes, but using large tractors and other tools, he, along with Brenda, his girlfriend at the time, cleared out nearly all of it and shaped the property he always wanted—one that was rich in natural diversity, and attracted wildlife.
When they got married, it was on the same property that they had built together.
In the early days, he sought out medical treatments and doctors across the country, often very expensive procedures. At one point, he had tried a stent procedure to increase blood-flow through his arteries, but it only forestalled the progression of MS.
He lived in a small manufactured house that he, with his wife , refurbished over the years and made it their home. On the walls, paintings and family photographs, as well as friends. A single trophy of a 15-point deer hunt hung on the wall—he’d gave up hunting some time during my teenage years and, as he would say, only shoot animals with a camera. He treated the property in Sand Lake as a wildlife preserve, with 15 acres of the 20 acres to be donated to The Nature Conservancy of Oregon in his will.
There, geese migrate annually and land in the pond. Deer graze on grass in the lawn, sometimes coming close to the house for an apple—or eating away at blueberry bushes.
Each night, he would listen for the coyotes.
Not wanting to use a walker, he would use ski poles (a remnant from his skiing days) as a method to get around while the use of his legs deteriorated. He always had said he was too young to be using a walker.
As time went on, and the disease progressed, he was forced to use a motorized scooter to get around, though he treats it more like an ATV than a mobility tool—often getting stuck in the mud or tipped over.
In 2017, after my grandfather passed away, he and his wife purchased a property out in Eastern Oregon, by Elgin—A 100-acre hay farm with a large ranch house that offered the space he needed. The property also allowed him and Brenda to collect yearly income from the hay, hiring out thatchers and balers to do the manual labor work, and the heavy equipment needed.
During the summer months, when the hay is ready to be harvested, tractors and trucks come down the gravel path. The avid businessman, he negotiates contracts through phone and email. Its a good season this year, he says—hoping that the quicklime they laid out last year yielded larger results. The farm produces about 200 tons of hay per year, most of which gets sold and used by farmers and ranchers to feed horses and cattle.
An old set of scythes, used by the first owners sits beneath two trees in front of the ranch house—relics of a bygone era of farming. In the distance, Tevra, an 18-year old recent-graduate of the nearby High School pilots the large mower/tractor through the fields. Conditions need to be right for several days before the hay-making process can start. Moisture can ruin a perfectly good crop—as can waiting too long in the season to begin cutting.
Once cut, the hay stays in the field for several days to dry out before baling, and eventual sale of the hay.
My dad watches from his scooter. Everything is in motion for a successful harvest this year. The balers and the thatchers take their cut of the sales, and the rest goes back into paying taxes on the property, as well as general upkeep and livelihood of my dad and Brenda. Its a retirement, but a busy one.
Out there, the coyotes howl every night. Elk and deer trample through the grasslands. A small pond holds bullfrogs the size of tennis balls, and the golden glow of the sun setting over hay fields signal a time for rest. The Milky Way rises bright and vibrant over the horizon.
My dad is my hero—as is Brenda, who has been one of the best mothers I could have hoped for—a heroic woman with strength, loyalty, and tremendous willpower who has taken care of my dad these past 18 years, and stood by his side as his partner and friend through all his trials.