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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Look at the Demographic Future

This never was first class farming country

By Lois Barton

Posted on Feb 3, 2004

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"Walt's Place," a painting by Susan Applegate

The other day I drove down the back road to visit a friend who lives about six miles away. The winding road passes through a former farming community which has largely grown up to trees.

We've lived in this neighborhood for fifty years. When we came here much of the area had open fields only recently abandoned as active farm land. A few such fields were still cultivated or mowed for hay. Farm animals such as cattle, sheep and chickens dotted much of the landscape.

I passed two working farms along the road in that six miles. Most of the former open fields have grown up to trees, mostly Douglas fir, but also several varieties of deciduous trees. Several new paved roads take off into the woods on either side of the eighty-year-old route I traveled.

Through the trees there are glimpses of big, fancy upscale new residences, almost a shocking addition to this rolling foothill country where water is in short supply and wells have to go down several hundred feet. One wonders about the dependability of an underground water table in the expanded use represented by all these new homes.

It hasn't been many years since black bears were occasionally sighted in wooded areas. A cougar kill was discovered in the back pasture of our hundred acre ranch only recently abandoned by a cattle operation. Deer and wild turkeys are numerous.

Maybe fifteen years ago one of the first "bedroom community" developments here included homes with decks providing a view to the Cascade Mountains. Residents often brought windfall fruit from town in the fall to attract deer to their lawns where they could watch them. The deer, sensing their welcome, soon felt free to come up on those decks to forage potted flowers and strawberry barrels.

These new homes are largely built for and occupied by professional people who work in town. We old timers have developed a neighborhood telephone tree, in part as a fire defense network. It is basically useless through week days because there is no one home in at least 90% of the homes.

My reaction as I observed all the new developments was to recognize this local evidence of the impact of population growth. Scientists and ecologists warn us that our planet can support only so many people. The world population increases dramatically as the years go by. When will we recognize that we've reached a limit? What is happening in this community is not seriously problematic yet. Fire danger in wooded areas far from water and trained fire crews has been tragically demonstrated this year in Arizona and Colorado.

These people are in no way self-sufficient food wise, and probably in service areas as well. This never was first class farming country, having heavy clay soils, no irrigation potential. The demographic pattern of change is worth pondering. Poor farm families who usually had some cash income from other employment are being replaced by well paid professional people who have no economic dependence on the land.

In other parts of the world the population increase often finds expression in rural areas by agricultural farmers being obliged to divide their acreage among their sons, with the result that none of them have enough to provide for their necessities.

What the future holds is still obscure. In another fifty years, two generations down the road, will the local economy and natural resources in Lane County, Oregon, support the present trend in this particular foothill area?

Copyright © 2004 by Lois Barton

Now Available on Compact Disk:

Stories from The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte

Three and a half years of years Lois Barton's stories–so you can read them without going online!

Lois Barton's Selected Works
Volume I, Chanticleer's Tales
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84889 Harry Taylor Rd.

Eugene, OR 97405

Writer and historian
Lois Barton
Lois Barton is an 85 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Visit the Sunnyside of Spencer Butte Section in our new format for more of Lois' stories. See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife - The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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