The Drake Magazine, Spring '17
Ron Johnstad’s obituary covered the bases but left out a few important details. “There were few better than Ron with a gun or fly rod,” wrote the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. It was true, but written from a distant office, likely in the wee hours by an overworked journalist who never thought the dead would be her beat. Almost certainly, the writer never got the first-hand pleasure of Johnstad’s unorthodox war against Yellowstone River whitefish.
Certain sounds remind me of Ron. The arhythmic rattling of his John Deere mower, faithful transport between his Paradise Valley home and the shore of the Yellowstone, about 200 yards away. The subtle slurp of a Montana bonefish taking one of his bizarre, homespun fly pattens. And, later, the rhythmic whoosh of an oxygen tank, which followed him around his deck as he told stories and looked knowingly towards the river. The tank didn’t so much interrupt as keep time as he talked about singing in the Norseman Quartet, playing college football, growing up in Wisconsin, the many merits of his wife, Mary Ellen, and whitefish; which in their best incarnation, ought to be smoked.
Johnstad’s casts were short and sloppy and the shadow he threw nearly forded the river. Surely, the cutthroat had fled long ago, if not for the loudness of his voice than for the ruckus his three golden retrievers amassed chasing killdeer along the bank. Yet, every summer evening, under the idyllic purple-grey light of dusk that’s bright enough to tie a #14, but nothing smaller, the pile of whitefish behind him grew to impressive heights.
“Just making more room for trout,” he would say, removing a tussled fly from another whitefish’s vacuum cleaner of a mouth. Just before dark, as larger fish began to slap the surface behind big boulders and the forked tip of Emigrant Peak was barely a silhouette, he would fumble through his fly box for his favorite creation.
The wine industry draws all types, from burnt-out pharmaceutical reps to engineers to musicians. For many, the pathway arrives in the form of an unforgettable glass of wine, often enjoyed abroad. For Kort Clayton, the connection to wine was forged by the wings of a well-trained bird of prey.
Clayton is part of the small and intriguing community otherwise known as falconry. His Portland-based business, Integrated Avian Solutions, trains raptors to scare off so-called “nuisance birds.” A day on the job could see Clayton anywhere from a waste facility looking to rid the premises of seagulls to a downtown business district looking to fend off thousands of crows.
The growth of Willamette Valley wine and its longstanding battle with grape-loving birds is an obvious target for the business. His current team of five falcons was subjected to a training program not entirely unlike that for most pets. Trust is established between bird and man and positive behavior — namely the raptor’s instinctive ability to chase smaller birds — is rewarded with food.
The birds are naturally afraid of humans but Clayton is able to overcome that gradually. Once a bird is feeding from the glove, it is taught incrementally to step up to the glove and ultimately fly from growing distances to the glove. “Within a month or two, they are flying free, following us around the vineyard and sometimes soaring and chasing birds for an hour or more,” Clayton says.
Vineyard and winery dogs work hard. Their day-to-day operations include everything from slaloming through vines and greeting new vehicles in tasting room parking lots to munching on discarded grapes from the sorting table and riding shotgun in a forklift during harvest. It’s a mostly open-air lifestyle reminding us that Oregon wine is mostly farming and, while rife with quality, shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The vineyard dog is the industry’s loyal mascot, becoming so synonymous with the trade that a vineyard without one can seem: empty.
Great fruit and craft beer may help make good wine, as countless winemakers remark, but these stereotypes are so often rehashed while patting Fido on the head. That’s about when wine country’s best friend wanders off to charm a customer into signing up for the wine club, before pawing at the door to make his ritualistic vineyard rounds.
Anam Cara Cellars
Buck and Missy enjoy the good life at Anam Cara Cellars’ Nicholas Vineyard in Newberg, where Nick and Sheila Nicholas planted the former nut and fruit orchard to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Longing for the pointers of his youth, Nick found Buck on Craigslist, the product of a champion hunter mom who had “Chehalem” in her show name. The energetic dog will shadow the tractor for some six miles when mulching. Missy, according to Sheila, is the brains in the family and a rescue to boot. The two dogs add another dimension to Anam Cara’s Celtic translation of “friend of my soul.” She says, “At nine years old, they’re beginning to creak a little, but remain loyal and very, very dear to us. Both Buck and Missy are aging gracefully, living in wine dog nirvana.”