I’m in Bend, Oregon over the weekend, about three hours from Portland by car, with my friends Lucy and Mark Yerby. The drive is incredibly scenic, climbing the highway up Mt. Hood and down again, through a stunning gorge running through a local Indian reservation, and then out on flat near desert-like road for the balance of the journey. We’re still 4,000 feet above sea level and in the summer it’s hot during the day and cool in the evenings. Mark, a neurosurgeon, has owned a 20-acre horse ranch for nearly twenty years. The drive was absolutely gorgeous and I hope to take pictures of the more scenic areas on the way home tomorrow.
We arrived at about 10:30 pm and had a late supper at a local Mexican restaurant. A margarita and a shrimp salad were a wonderful restorative before heading to the house. Even in the dark, the ranch is set beautifully atop a short hill above the entrance to the property. Once outside, I let Beau roam about in the front yard. “Look up,” Lucy said. I was speechless as my eye was confronted by what seemed like hundreds of thousands of stars. I have never seen such an extraordinary light show as this—not in California, Massachusetts, New York, Buenos Aires, Europe, Mexico, Canada, or Puerto Rico. It was late, and we fell gratefully to sleep the minute we arrived.
Up at 7:30 am, I took Beau for a walk to meet the horses. About 100 feet from the corral, Beau became aware of a bunch of strange looking beasts and ran right over to investigate. There was a stand-off of staring between Beau and the horses. Beau flinched first, startling himself and the horses. Everyone became very quiet and then Beau moved down up the pasture to check out the barns. He walked along the stream with Beau remaining close, but sniffing everything. I don’t think he’s tasted this much freedom ever. We walked across pastures, admiring Lucy’s gardens, the pergola overlooking the paver-covered patio, and sat on a swing, taking in the amazing views of the surrounding mountains. This is as close to paradise as one can get. I thought you could only see this kind of sky and mountain and vast high plateau land in places like Santa Fe, and here it is just three hours from Portland.
Bend was booming before the real estate crash. Now its is suffering the reverses in the market with many houses forclosed, and people walking away from their mortgages. This was a second-home community of affluent Portlanders, and a popular retirement area. Lucy and Mark plan to retire here. It’s difficult to know if the area will recover from the financial collapse. It is close to skiing areas, and if the economy ever gets back on its feet, this area should recover. The good news is that a bunch of greedy developers has been run out of town, broke from the experience of trying to exploit the a rural area. Mark and Lucy became alarmed at the urban sprawl that was coming at their ranch like a tidal wave. The economic slow-down has fixed that problem.
We’re off to see a polo match this afternoon. Mark has a collection of polo horses. There are nine of these creatures living here (though one is too old to ride, and another horse is boarded). There’s a pony here, an aging buff-colored shaggy-coated lady named Jenny. Jenny came here free from another farm when they sold their land. She is in her retirement, gentle, and easy with the grandchildren who often visit. And there’s Dandy, a senior horse nearly 30 years old. She’s shaggy and a little unkempt looking, but she still has an elegant and aristocratic face with large, soulful eyes.
I’ve never seen a live polo match before. It’s fascinating to watch. Two teams of four horses and players thunder up and down a field the size of three football fields in search of a goal. I guess it’s something like soccer. It’s exciting and you can appreciate the skill of the players and the horses as well. It was beastly hot out (well into the 90s). We sat under an open tent and watched game. Not sure I’d be a life-long aficionado of the sport. It seems to lack strategy, though skill on a horse and the ability to hit the ball in the right direction are not to be taken lightly. Then I watch the game more closely and see the strategy between teams emerge. You have to be both brave and smart to play good polo.
We decided to barbecue on the patio—hamburgers, potato salad and a big green salad were on the menu. I put the potatoes on to boil and took Beau out for a walk. I had left him home because Frenchies don’t do well in extreme heat. He was his usual lively self. He ate his normal dinner before our walk. The burgers were on the grill, the table set, the final preparations being finalized when Beau staggered into the kitchen and collapsed. Alarmed I went to him and tried to put him on his feet. He seemed to have lost his ability to walk completely though he wasn’t in stress such as his breathing, which is one of the first signs of problems with Frenchies. Mark, who is a doctor, called his vet immediately and he couldn’t figure out what was wrong and urged us to take him to an emergency animal clinic nearby. In a panic, we whisked him to the clinic. We couldn’t figure out what has caused this and they grilled me on everything from the possibility of ingesting marijuana (no—there wasn’t any on the premises) to mushrooms growing on the ranch. He seemed stoned or drunk, but slept in my lap as we waited for the vet, snoring loudly. They kept him overnight and this morning when I called to check on him, the assistant told me he had completely recovered his motor responses and was lively and walking. He had thrown up, which may have been the result of his expelling whatever toxic substance he had ingested. He hadn’t eaten yet and we’re to call at lunch time to see how he’s doing. We have to head back to the city this afternoon and I expect him to be with us.
I turned into a puddle the minute I saw Beau in such distress. We get so attached to our pets and freak out whenever something is wrong with them. I cant’ wait to pick him up and get my lick.
There can be no more generous and fun and interesting weekend hosts than Lucy and Mark Yerby. Lucy won’t let you buy anything and is perfectly willing to stage an embarrassing scene in the supermarket until you put the wine bottle into her shopping cart. Mark, whose politics are as responsible and as liberal as his medical practice is a caring, can talk about a wide variety of interesting subjects from his polo ponies to the development of Bend as a place to live. The Yerby’s are relaxed and genial hosts. There’s no set schedule and one decision blends gently into the next in terms of what we will do. I can read, write this blog, eat a late breakfast or walk the ranches’ grounds—all at a leisurely pace.
Sunday morning, we’re all up and wondering how Beau is doing. Mark’s stepson, Tim is visiting and has brought his delightful wife, Becky and their very pretty five-year-old daughter, Lucy. She’s a little skittish around dogs, but takes to Beau well. I call the clinic and Beau is fine—almost as good as new. I can pick him up at 2 PM. But first there is a Polo match for which Mark will act as a referee, and then the long drive back to the city.
After an exciting match, won by the Washington team over their local Oregon opponents 6-4, we head out to collect Beau. The vet assistant hands me Beau who looks a little worse for the wear, but gives me a hopeful lick. In Mark’s truck, he sleeps very close to Lucy in the back seat, quiet as a church mouse. He appeared dazed to us just before we sat down to dinner on Saturday. Before Beau got sick, my contribution to that meal was a simple potato salad that my friend, the late music critic, Stephanie von Buchau gave to me some thirty years ago. During the hot summer months in New York I don’t like eating any salads with mayonnaise and Stephanie’s potato salad is the perfect summer dish, has only six ingredients: red bliss potatoes, sliced scallions, salt, pepper, olive oil and red wine vinegar. “Resist the urge to turn this salad into a ladies luncheon item,” she wrote me. No parsley, no olives, no hard-boiled eggs—not even chives. You’ll only spoil it.” Best of all you can leave it on a table for a long time and not worry that it will spoil. I’ve followed her advice ever since.
Red Bliss Potato Salad
2 pounds medium-sized Red Bliss potatoes, cut in half lengthwise, and cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
1 bunch scallions, cleaned and trimmed and sliced thinly (tops too)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Place the cut potatoes in a three-quart pot with a lid and cover with water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Turn down the fire and simmer gently for about 12 minutes or until the tip of a sharp knife inserts gently into the potatoes. Drain and run cold water over the cooked potatoes. Let them dry out a bit and place in a medium bowl. Add the sliced scallions, salt and pepper. Then pour the oil over the potatoes and then the red wine vinegar. Stir gently and thoroughly coat the potatoes. Taste and adjust seasonings according to taste. I’ve sometimes mixed the red wine vinegar with Sherry wine vinegar and like the combination. Serves about 6.