Farm to table on the old Barlow Trail
By Gary Lewis
"Cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, spinach, onions, garlic, peppers." Rodney Smith stopped and swept the tree line with his binocular.
"The owner has two restaurants here in the Portland area and seven in California. It's a farm-to-table concept. They grow it here and serve it in the restaurants."
Farm to table, except for what the deer and elk get.
There were deer tracks in the fresh tilled furrows.
My daughter Mikayla and I had Willamette Unit deer tags and we'd waited for this last week in December to hunt.
We eased through the fence, out of the farm into the forest.
Ancient cedars and huge firs and maples towered over us, their limbs and trunks draped with moss.
There is not much public land in the cracks and crevices in the Willamette Unit, but there is wildness.
"No one hunts here," Rodney whispered. "Except me."
Sword ferns feathered the edges of the plateau and clung to the cliffs that broke to the creek hundreds of feet below.
From the top of the cliff we glassed game trails and bedding areas a third of the way down the slopes. When nothing showed, we picked our way down a muddy deer trail and began to still-hunt, our faces into the wind.
While we waited for something to move, in this game of cat-and-mouse, we leaned against trees, many that came of age when the Barlow wagon trail was a superhighway.
Deer tracks and droppings. Fresh deer beds on a quilt of maple leaves. Huge boulders with three inches of spongy verdure.
The trail narrowed and my attention began to focus. This was a game trail we were on. We had 45 minutes before dark. Deer should be on the move. Rodney stopped and glassed ahead. Some sixth sense told me there would be a deer in that spot. As Rodney's binos came down, mine came up, and just at that moment, a deer raised its head.
This would be Mikayla's shot if we could get to a rest and help her spot the animal. It would be a long shot, difficult, with only the animal's neck exposed above the ferns.
Together, Rod and Mikayla eased ahead to a moss-covered rock the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Now the deer, a blacktail, was in the trail, broadside, and now Mikayla had her thumb on the safety. A hundred yards, perhaps a bit more.
She had left her binocular at home and hadn't had the advantage of spotting the animal. Now she struggled to pick it up in the scope and as she did so, the deer turned, bounded over a log and streaked into the brush from whence it came.
We had hunted this ancient forest like the farmer pioneers that crossed over Mount Hood on the Barlow on their way to new lives in places like Oregon City and Foster and a rough and tumble place they called Stumptown. Sometimes in a spot like that a glimpse of the south end of a north-bound doe is reward enough for hunting well.
We pulled our way up the cliff, grabbing tree root handholds, and branches or handfuls of fern stalks. And out of breath on top we looked across a meadow carved out of primeval forest by one of those near forgotten pioneers. Next spring the gardens will show green again and the deer and the elk will glide out of the canyon to take their tax.
If we hunt those forgotten cracks and crevices again, maybe next time it will be farm to butcher to table. For now, I think we'll have to settle for extra helpings of vegetables.