The greatest virtue of man is perhaps curiosity ~Anatole France~


Wisdom and Youth

"Mortality comes with the sad wisdom of age, when the sense of curiosity has withered."

-Graham Greene-

One year ago I stumbled upon this Afghan vendor in the Kabul market cooling his tea with a delicate breath. I reached for my camera only to be caught by his calm gaze and inquisitive eyes. I would like to think we were curious of the other.

As Graham Greene wisely stated, as long as we maintain a healthy, almost childish, curiosity of the world we maintain our youth. For when we quit being inquisitive and generally interested in what is happening around us, we forget why exactly we are here.


Dumptrucks and Bacon

Sometimes you will never know the the value of something until it becomes a memory. 

-Dr. Seuss

Wading through a sea of memories, photographer and friend Casey Garret Johnson (, came across this gem from Ketchikan, Alaska.

Captured in 35mm during a rare and well deserved break from the toils of cannery life we played amongst the machines left to be devoured by nature.

A few of the upsides of that summers manual labor; endless bacon in the canteen, lessons in Black Velvet, and the day this photo was taken.

Stay Curious  Photo by Casey Garret Johnson (



That was a Good Day


After near certain disaster on a patch of soggy leaves this past weekend and waking up to below freezing temperatures today I was inspired to tell this story.

If you have ever dumped a motorbike you know it can be a pants-shitting experience.

In July I was in the midst of attempting to ski 12 consecutive months on 12 different mountains and realized I was close to failure. Skis strapped to my backpack. Boots tucked in my saddle bag. I found myself riding, at speed, over a slash pile, completely lost, in the Selkirks of Northern Idaho looking for snow and a trailhead. Chasing the dirt and dodging the shrapnel of my more experienced partners, I knew I was pushing the limits of my skills. But July was month 9 of my 12 and I was not getting skunked, again, in my quest to ski-all-year.

As my front tire dug in I pulled the rip cord and thought to myself, 'i wonder if this is what an ejection seat feels like'. My ski tips hit first defusing a majority of the impact. Instinct kicked in and all I could do was flail my appendages. Landing on the dirt, shaken, bike sputtering, I looked for pooled blood and white meat. Nothing, not even a scratch or a dislocation. As I muscled the bike back to its merciless tires I rejoiced. Realizing I had lost precious ground to my two outlaw brethren I twisted the throttle and I am pretty sure closed my eyes in fear.

As I miraculously arrived at Mt. Roothaan trailhead I was greeted with high-fives, laughter, and warm coors light(s). I was not the only one to lose control on that poor excuse for a trail, but certainly the slowest to recover.  We spent the remainder of the day hiking the high country, baking in the July sun, and skiing pristine corn.

That was a good day.

Backyard Boondoggle: Hanford Nuclear Site


"There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a measurement.  If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery."

Enrico Fermi

It is safe to assume that most stories of adventure do not begin in row F of a burgandy motor coach, exception being the 1994 blockbuster 'Speed' starring Keeanu Reeves. That being said, envision a well worn charter bus, me comfortably sitting in the tattered seats of row F eating peanuts, and then add a steady stream of retirees shuffling down the aisle to take their seats. Note one in particular, he is wearing a baby blue 'I heart Hanford' hat clutching a walker*. This sets the stage for the latest Backyard Boondoggle: Hanford Nuclear Site.

Nuclear power conjures up visuals of Chernobyl, The Cold War, Homer Simpson, the grand finale of WWII, Oppenheimer, Los Alamos, Trinity, and on-and-on, but who really knows where it all started? Well the residents of Washington State and more specifically the Tri-Cities are all too aware.

The Hanford Nuclear Site is 586 square miles of scrub brush that at one time was booming, like 50,000 employees on-site building top secret shit booming. Based on a 1942 experiment conducted by Enrico Fermi under the bleachers at Stagg Field on the University of Chicago campus, which clearly showed that humans could create and control a nuclear chain reaction. This experiment paved the way for the 'acquisition' or 'condemnation by eminent domain' by the Department of Defense of the land now know as Hanford. This displaced numerous settlers and copious Native Americans and was ultimately the home to B Reactor as well as some dangerously poisonous deer, water fowl, and fish.

B Reactor was built in an impressive 11 months and was completed in late 1944. It was so top-secret no one knew what was being built on the property. Workers were constantly shuffled about the massive construction site to ensure the secrecy of the project. Even the Vice President of the United States of America, Harry S. Truman, was not privy to what was taking place at Hanford until he was appointed as President upon Roosevelt's untimely death in April of 1945, nearly a year after B Reactor went active.  It is believed that B Reactor was built without blue prints, it was purely based on sketches and a hypothesis. In theory the reactor would produce plutonium 239 by irradiating uranium 238 by placing large uranium rods into 2004 holes in the face of the massive reactor core. This would knock off extra neutrons and create uranium 239, the end product after decay being plutonium. The graphite core, massive water cooling system, and 9 boron control rods allowed for the reactor to work at a constant state of fission. Using a staggering 75,000 gallons of river water per minute to cool the reactor, B Reactor soon was the work horse in creating the plutonium used to create both test and war time nuclear bombs.  B Reactor was also the template to which the other reactors on the Hanford site were built.

Currently Hanford is run by the Department of Energy and is the home to a massive clean-up effort.  Employing thousands of people, Hanford is still creating nuclear power from one small reactor.  The other reactors on the property are either entombed to allow the radiation to dissipate or are being taken apart and buried.  Nuclear energy, although clean when running, is a disaster when decommissioned.  Much of the waste created in the early years of Hanford was buried in undisclosed locations, with those persons in the know long passed on.  Today, Hanford is a nuclear recycling center, housing all the cores from decommissioned military vessels. Each 'cask' or nuclear power plant is placed in rows after being barged from the ocean to the Hanford property. Like a graveyard, these casks, are the size of small buildings, patiently awaiting future burial or decontamination.

With a 2 billion dollar vitrification plant underway at Hanford, the Tri-cities region continues to flourish in the nuclear age.  Time will tell, however, at what cost...

But if you have an interest in history and want to take a bad-ass tour in the middle of the week of a former double top-secret nuclear power plant that once produced the fuel for nuclear weapons, B Reactor is the spot, and its FREE!

Learn more at:

*The guy with the walker and Hanford hat, he and his brother were both operators of B Reactor for decades...

In Memory of Albert Pontarolo

"It was a time of timber and toil…with men as tough as their ax handles…and more mountains in every direction…that I would ever see again."

-Norman Maclean- 

Scan 32

Albert Pontarolo was born June 1, 1922 and passed away in peace surrounded by his family around 9:30pm on July 21, 2014.  He was 92 years of age.

As a young man his days were spent shoving coal for the Northern Pacific Railroad. As a railroad fireman he would shovel coal 16 hours a day and cool off with a swim across the Columbia river. Needless to say he was a man of unknown strength, with hands like a catchers mitt and a grip that of a bench vise.

As tensions grew in Europe Albert Pontarolo enlisted in the Navy and spent his time at Midway and Guam as a mechanic and seamen. Although he spoke little of his encounters at war, like most of his generation, it was clear that he made and lost friends who molded him into the man, father, husband, and grandfather be soon became. Upon his return from WWII Albert met and married Alice Fazzari in 1946 who he cherished for 67 years until his death. Albert and Alice had two sons and three daughters, raising them on a small farm in Walla Walla, Washington.

After returning from war he briefly returned to the railroad but ultimately found himself behind the bar with his brother-in-law, Arturo Fazzari, serving cold beers and 30 cent salami sandwiches to local patrons. Albert was consigliere to Art Fazzari and The McFeely Tavern - 'the biggest little tavern in town' for over 50 years. He stayed involved with the McFeely but ultimately he returned to his true vocation, being a railroad man.

After working as a fireman, brakemen and passing his railroad engineer test, Albert, rode the rails in the Pacific Northwest as an engineer until his retirement.  Always a tinkerer and mechanic he devoted his retirement to repairing anything that needed fixing and helped run the McFeely.  Albert, like many men of his generation, lived by the simple code, 'don't be afraid to get started'. Tearing into motors, radios, building homes, plowing fields, picking onions, and cracking walnuts with his bare hands, my Grandpa was a goddamn man.

He defined brawn and grit, but I could always see a tear well in his eye as I left after my frequent visits.

Albert Pontarolo 

June 1, 1922 thru July 21, 2014 

Scan 38

The Next Chapter

"All change, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

-Anatole France-

After four years at Cheney Farms it is time to pass the baton.  It has been a great run and I am so pleased to know that Douglas LaBar of the Mason Jar ( in Cheney, Washington will continue the tradition of farm to table sustainability as well as cultivating the Slow Food movement in Eastern Washington. Thus with a bittersweet good-bye from the Farm life I have taken residence in a single room and will follow my heart to the next chapter in the book of life.

A special grazie mille to Mike Pontarolo for all his hard work at Cheney Farms over the past four years.  I know this sale saddens him more than me, but there will be another Farm in my future where he can toil away in the soil, cultivating what Mother Earth provides. Thus it is fitting to release the farm on May Day, a celebration of Spring.

Thank you to all those who contributed to the Farm over the years: pasta dinners, Wednesday night volleyball, sausage making, basil harvest, canning;  these memories will always be cherished.

Dare Greatly,

Nick Pontarolo



Ski Boots On the Ground: Afghanistan

The wheels touched down at Kabul International Airport and the raspy voiced pilot announced that we had all safely arrived in Afghanistan, current time 1:15pm. He reiterated the obligatory "please stay in your seat until the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off" but he must have been speaking a dead language.  It impacted no one. Everyone unbuckled and milled about the cabin collecting their military issue rucksacks or tattered parcels wrapped in bed sheets, secured with hemp rope, as the plane taxied to the shelled Kabul Airport. All were either elated to arrive home or devastated to be returning to duty.

Arriving in Kabul for many Afghan people is a return home from a long journey on business, to see family in Pakistan or Iran, or a homecoming from near exile due to the turbulent political and violent conflicts that have mired Afghanistan for decades. For westerners it is another unwanted tour of duty, high paying security contractor job, or middle aged adventure seeker, seeking to make a change in the war zone through one of the copious NGO's and government agencies established to stabilize this amazing land and its diverse and kind population.

For me, when Emirates 640 landed at 1:15pm I took the first breath of semi-fresh, stress free air is far too long.  I had arrived at a destination I had been dreaming about for years. My best friend had been living in Kabul and Kandahar the past 5 years working numerous jobs for NGO's and government agencies.  We had long talked about me visiting and skiing the north central region of the country called Bamiyan but it had never come to fruition until flight 640 landed.

With ski boots on the ground we were off for another adventure that would reinforce a bond between friends that is so rare in a world of social media, cell phones, text messages, and Skype.  We; friends, neighbors, hooligans since the 4th grade, ski buddies since 49 Degrees North had $49 season passes, hell we both received our first passport stamps years ago on the same day, and here we were, once again, on deck to see what the world had to offer us and what we could give in return.

Although it would take pages, maybe a book, at the very least a photo essay, and for the corporate type, an elaborate PowerPoint with Fiji water and gluten free muffins to explain what I saw, felt, and experienced in Afghanistan.  But I am resolute in saying Afghanistan, its people; the Pashtun, Hazara, Tajik, Uzbek, the expats, and so many others are kind, giving, fun, and full of grit.

I will return to Afghanistan for it was the best adventure I have ever been a part of and possibly the best month of my life.  I am a better person for the experience and a more compassionate individual for continuing to seek how we, humans, fit together on these floating tectonic plates that make up planet Earth.

So in the words of Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller's Day Off I leave you with this:

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."


Fuel for Life

"Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will, in the end, contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness."

-Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington (1787)-

The fall and winter lend themselves to reflection.  It is a time to review the previous year; the goals accomplished,  lessons learned, adventures achieved.  As I reflect upon the past year I am pleased with what has happened at Cheney Farms.  There has been the usual cast of characters, the occasional high caliber outlaw playfully pushing the limits of fun and good judgment, and of course the Technician tending to his crop.  Those who have spent time at the farm have witnessed the copious changes through the year, most notably my desire to transfer this precious soil to the next visionary.  As sad it may be to leave Cheney Farms I look forward to the next season, for whomever inherits this land and for however long they tend to the soil, they, like me, will be fueled for life. For tasting the sweetness of what is garnered by hand is much more replenishing than that which can be gleaned without.


Farm to Table

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” 

-Aldo Leopold-

One of the most gratifying parts of owning Cheney Farms is eating directly from the land, being truly sustainable.  A few days ago I had my family over for dinner to celebrate a birthday. As we gathered around the rough sawn farm table nestled between the apple and pear trees it became clear that I will surely miss this place and its nourishment.  Sweet corn, italian flat beans, pole beans, cherry tomatoes, pesto, table grapes, and cantaloupe from the farm filled our bellies that evening paired with choice beef,  risotto, and tight cabernet.

As the daylight faded into dusk we sat in the orchard enjoying the bounty of the farm knowing that community is built around a table full of food grown by ones' own hands. I am hopeful that whomever purchases Cheney Farms invites me to a dinner next harvest.

Genova Pesto World Championship

Most people aspire to be some sort of champion; a champion skier, soccer player, basketball star etc, but me, I aspire to be a world champion pesto maker. For years I have made pesto from fresh large leaf basil. From small black seeds the basil starts are nourished in the hothouse each March into healthy brilliant green stocks ready for harvest come August. Mostly this green gold is used to garnish pasta, salmon, fresh pizza pie, or chicken. I like to drizzle it upon crostini with mozzarella and tomatoes. And on occasion I will just take out a spoon and eat the pesto like ice cream because there is nothing better than the sweet bitter taste of first cold pressed oil mixed with pine nuts, basil, salt, lemon, and aged parmigiano reggiano.

In my pursuit to find the perfect ratio of pine nut to garlic, basil to oil, salt to fresh lemon juice I came across the Genova Pesto World Championships.

Seeing as the fertile ground of Cheney Farms garnered 5+ gallons worth of fresh basil pesto with much more still in the ground, I think I may have a shot training for the championship in years to come!

Photos from Pesto

Solstice Wedding

You know you live on a unique piece of land when a couple wants to get married in your backyard. In passing a year or so ago the fiancé of the keeper on my soccer team asked the following question; 'Would you mind if we got married next year under your willow tree and had the reception in your orchard?  I knew that Cheney Farms had at one time hosted a Lavender Festival and a few other gatherings but a wedding was a new venture. Without thinking or even contemplation I agreed.  What is more flattering than having a friend appreciate your home and property so much that they want to use it on the one day that is completely theirs?

So on June 22, 2013 Cheney Farms played host to 200+ guests, a live band (The Rub), and many amazing memories.

Congratulations to Jason and Melissa Denman - Married at Cheney Farms

Mike P. - 'The Technician'

On this Father Day, June 16, 2013, I would like to honor my Dad, Mike Pontarolo, without which Cheney Farms could not be possible. My Dad is a technician.  I was told these words by a friend some years ago in response to my Dad's attention to detail while wrapping hundreds of pounds of Pontarolo sausage.  Each package was labeled perfectly; date, variety, and recipient - repeat.  He would envelope each stack of sausage patties with the care and delicacy that one can only develop after years of work requiring fastidious scrutiny to detail.  As my friend whispered 'look at Mike, he is a technician with that wrapping' I realized that my Dad takes bundling sausage patties as serious as he takes gingerly holding a new born grandchild. He does not discriminate; he implicitly takes each and every task in life and completes it with perfection.

By day my Dad is an attorney, by night he is an unpaid hired man at Cheney Farms. Fueled by fresh pesto with vine ripened cherry tomatoes, copious amounts of fava beans, and the occasional Pepsi - with ice - my Dad has toiled and tinkered at the Farm for three years.  He has ever so patiently honed his skills as farmer, rekindling his roots of a Walla Walla farm boy. Born and raised on the loess soils of the Walla Walla Valley he picked onions from a young age. He once told me that if he had not fallen into the law he would have liked to have been a farmer.  Graduating from Walla Walla Sweets to cannery work, and eventually wheat, my Dad, beneath his olive skin, has a farmers blood. If you were to strip away the black suit and tie, quick wit, and unrelenting passion for his legal craft you would find a simple, happy man, in blue coveralls with dirt on his brow.

From the first days at Cheney Farms my Dad has dug his heels in each afternoon to muscle out the 'second shift' without question.  He seamlessly switches from teacher to pupil, from employer to the employee, from boss to friend without ever skipping a beat.

So maybe it is fitting that in 1910, in my hometown of Spokane, WA, at the local YMCA, Sonora Smart Dodd founded 'Fathers Day' so that 103 years later I could honor The Technician; for his work will never be out done nor under appreciated.

Happy Fathers Day.

3 is the Magic Number

School House Rock made '3' the most famous of all numbers - besides, maybe, 3.14.  Anyone who has seen '3 is a Magic Number' knows this to be true; 3 sides on a triangle, 3 wheels on a tricycle, 3 legs on a tripod... Today Cheney Farms celebrates the number 3 because 3 years ago today I purchased this piece of ground. Looking back I have no reservations about the purchase.  Sure, at times, it has been more than I could handle (alone), too far from town (but not really), a distraction (in the most positive sense) , but I never regret signing on the dotted line (ever).

The Farm, at its worst, has been hard work and at its best has given me a daily reminder of how lucky I am to have such an amazing and unique place to call home.

I never would have imagined that I would own a farm but here I am 3 years later with sweat on my brow and dirt on my hands thinking to myself that life has a way of giving us what we need, if we let it.


Slow Food Flip Book

The Slow Food movement was formed in Italy as a grassroots organization to combat the ever growing disconnect between people and their food.  It was a direct attack on the McDonalds being built in the Rome train station in 1986 and a reminder to the Italian people that their culinary and agricultural traditions must be preserved for future generations. Today Slow Food is expansive, present in 150 countries, and striving to educate people of the importance of what they put into their body. Branded by the slow snail, the Slow Food mantra of creating strong 'connections between plate, planet, people and culture'  has morphed beyond its original credo to protect our food system and to encourage a global right to good, nourishing food.

In the wake of the US Supreme Court's massive blunder yesterday in holding for Monsanto in a intellectual property seed saving case I felt it necessary to paint my own picture of Slow Food that no justice can touch and to encourage others to create their own 'slow food' experience.

To me Slow Food is just that, 'slow food' - friends, family, clinking glasses, laughter, conversation, good honest work for a mutual goal - delicious food that tells a story.

Take a moment to enjoy the wonderful photo flip book of the latest 'Slow Food Movement' at Cheney Farms; Sausage making 2013.

*Thank you to Christy Lukes for the wonderful photos and to the entire sausage making crew for continuing the tradition. Bevelo, Bevelo, Bevelo......

Earth Day

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds its attached to the rest of the world."

-John Muir-

As yet another Earth Day is here I give pause to be thankful for all that I have and all that comes from the Earth.

Although the Farm sits idle in the winter but for the small projects in the shop, Earth Day reminds me that the growing season is around the corner. Soon the orchard will be full of fruit with the reassuring sound of bees, buzzing, drunk on pollen.  The raised beds will be ripe with color and herbs. The willow bows will be draped over the lazy hammock.  Grapes will soon turn from green into purple, with the sweet scent of fermenting sugar. The fields will be draped with golden wheat, waving in the morning sun. And the rotational beds will be brimming with green beans, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, and basil while the sunflowers stand at attention and guard the harvest.

Ah the Spring is a special time, a time to rejoice and give thanks to Mother Earth.

Happy Earth Day 2013


Saddle Up

photo Every small town needs a great tavern and in my small town that tavern is called the Saddle Inn.  I use the term 'great' arbitrarily because your local dictates what is appropriate.  Take the Saddle Inn for example, the Saddle Inn, which is actually serves liquor, at one point stored the entire selection of booze in a milk crate. That is appropriate at the Saddle Inn, thus  a great tavern.  Ask the barkeep for a whisky, you get a whisky, no choices.  Although that has changed some in the past year or so, maybe two whisky choices, if you took one away no one would know or care.  Again, a great tavern.

When I first sauntered in the Saddle I was amazed at the canned beer selection; Oly, Rainer, Hamms, Busch Light tall cans, you name a canned beer from a bygone era they have it. To compliment the robust canned beer selection, the Saddle Inn has free popcorn, poker night, bingo, line dancing lesson, a legit stripper pole for the 'not so' faint of heart, and an impressive line up of yard games.

So if you are ever in the neighborhood of Four Lake, Washington I recommend you take a moment from the rat race and drop in to see what this great tavern has to offer. If you drop in on a Friday or Saturday you are guaranteed a genuine honky tonk.

I promise that the Saddle Inn's hospitable patrons rival that of Cheers and who knows you might even learn a thing or two on the dance floor!


Tractor Work

When I purchased Cheney Farms I was fortunate enough to acquire all the necessary farming tools, one of the most critical is a John Deere 420. The John Deere is a early 1980's, 20 HP, 2wd mule.  It has a 2 cylinder Onan power plant that produces all the necessary torque to operate the tiller, snowblower, blade, mower, and is an all-round solid tool. That is until recently.  She had run like a top and required little to no maintenance over the past two and a half years; a belt, oil change, fuel filter, adjustments, the usual.  After the first big dump of snow I was stoked to head out to the shop, pandora blasting, one piece insulated work suit, sorels, goggles, the works and to my chagrin the tractor stalled midway through plowing my drive.  Fearing the worst, blow head gasket, thrown rod, complete hydraulic failure, I towed the tractor into the shop to pin point the issue. After speaking with my local dealer at Pape Machinery in Four Lakes  and reviewing the poorly written manual, I determined that it might be possible that the starter had given up the ghost.  Pape quoted me $280, three times the cost of any normal car or tractor starter, but fortunately I found one on Ebay for $59.  I ordered the part and started to tear down the tractor.

Like the Father in A Christmas Story who asks his wife to time him while he changes a flat tire at night, at least until Ralphy drops an 'F' bomb, I too will time myself on occasion while changing common parts.   After replacing so many fuel pumps, starters, belts, rotator caps, struts, brakes..... in older American, German, English and Japanese cars I though that this American made John Deere starter would be a simple swap. Armed with the new starter, proper tools, official manual, and the professional advise of the John Deere service department I went to work.

I was told that I needed to remove just one engine mount to free the starter.  That is not the case.  As the pictures depict this was a complete tear down to the frame, removing the entire motor and drive shaft. Although she is back together and running well, I am amazed at the difficulty in replacing a part that is so crucial to operation and prone to failure.Needless to say I did not set any records but I did learn a great deal and had an opportunity to grease every zerk.

Ah farm life, nothing beats it.

The Passing of a Legend.

"Cultures grow on the vine of tradition"

Jonah Goldberg


Virgil Criscola was an impressive man.  He was a connoisseur of Walla Walla Sweet Onions, San Marzano tomatoes, dried salami, and he taught me and many others the intricacies of making traditional salsiccia italiana. Uncle Virgil was a technician in weights and measures; always being exact with his ingredients. He was detailed; his basement boasted spiral bound ledgers written in longhand, each one noting yields and sales transactions from his onion fields and roadside market.  He was a pioneer in making capocollo, dried salami, and fresh sausage alongside his friends and family in the Columbia Valley, and he was a steward of Italian heritage.

Uncle Virgil passed away at the ripe age of 88 on 12/21/2012.  He will be remembered this year at Cheney Farms as we take turns cranking the sausage press, sipping wine, and laughing at how magical the tradition of making sausage has become.  I guarantee there will be many toasts and I hope a few roasts to the man who made Abe Froman and Jimmy Dean look like a couple of hillbilly sausage makers.

May the cultural traditions that have been carried like a torch by so many continue through the vines of the Criscola, Pontarolo, Fazzari, Onley, Bloom, and Chase families.


(From the left) Kattie Ambrose, Tony Ambrose, Dorothy Criscola, and Virgil Criscola

In Memory Of:

Virgil Eugene Criscola (1924 - 2012)

Daniel Fox Onley (1944 - 2012)