Dateline: the tiny town of Oakland, Oregon, a few weeks ago. I was pointing at a spot on the map, the ones explorers like best, you know, the ones where just an arrow leads off the grid and names something that lies beyond the edge.
“Well, I haven’t ever heard of that,” the shopkeep said, “but I definitely have heard of Mildred Kanipe park.”
In the odd hopeful spark in her eye, I knew there was something cool in them thar hills.
And yes, in an old Oregon homestead-turned-county park that was saved by local citizens, it’s peacocks in the hills. And pastures. And barns…
Peacocks! There, perched on the woodshed. And there, strutting down the slope from the cow pasture. And there, a single Narcissus admiring himself in the pond. And there in the oak trees, calling out in mournful tones. And there, roosting on some old farm equipment, startling you when you step into the quiet light of the dim barn.
For nearby Flannery O’Connor fans celebrating her birthday, born on this day in 1925, a visit to the farm might be a chance to pay tribute to the writer’s famous peacocks, including the recently departed Manley Pointer, who did not disappoint. RIP.
Even for this jaded traveler, the 1,100-acre Mildred Kanipe Memorial Park is fascinating. Just an hour from Eugene, it has a day use area next to the crumbling Century Farm house where Mildred Kanipe (1907-83) herself lived from birth to death, ranching and maintaining her livestock — and peacocks.
A half-dozen or so crumbling old barns and agricultural structures and a rural one-room school house listed on the National Register of Places are also on the property, among hiking and equestrian trails and a camping area now being developed. The school house, hidden in the trees above, dates from around 1910, when the area was known as the English Settlement.
The farm house itself was built for the original Land Claim in the 1860s, and most recently made the 2015 list of Most Endangered Places in Oregon. Fundraising for renovation is underway.
For now, we can go around the back of the house near the stream, and spy in to enjoy the uncanny little original two rooms with peeling striped, tree-topped wallpaper, and the crumbling kitchen addition with almost-bright yellow and aquamarine paint and a sink and cupboard set from around 1960, when they added running water and electricity. There was never a need for an indoor toilet, though.
As I peered in the windows, a peacock settled down on the fence just beyond the window, perfectly framed.
Mildred Kanipe ran a dairy for just less than a decade in the 1940s. Otherwise, she logged and farmed and ranched and tended the orchard, the remnants of which you can see. Among 25 or so extant varieties of pomes, there are apples: a ‘Transparent’, a ‘Spitzenberg,’ a ‘Gravenstein,’ a ‘Black Ben’ from Arkansas, a couple of ‘Fall Pippins’, a ‘Graves Golden,’ redolent of coriander, a ‘King David,’ a ‘Stayman,’ an ‘Ortley,’ also known as a ‘White Detroit’, and a ‘Gloria Mundi.’
In this glorious world, Mildred Kanipe, the “Belle of Oakland,” did not let anything stop her. She bought her first couple hundred acres of land when she was 18 and wore overalls. When she’d find random livestock wandering alongside the road, she’d throw it in her truck and keep it. On the internet, there’s an account of her laying irrigation pipe by the light of the moon, since it was shiny metal and therefore possible to see at night. That way, she could fell lumber and herd cows during the day and not waste time.
Ever feel like you’ve been bitchslapped from the grave by a pioneer woman who did more in a single day than you’ve done all month, who then stuck a peacock feather in her cap and called you macaroni? Get to work, girl!
Yeah, me neither.