Come visit Dayton (you’ll love it)

Late August/early September might be my favorite time of the year. The weather is as good as it gets all year, the tomatoes finally ripen, and people get out and really savor the waning days of summer. For me, the end of August signifies it is time to head back to my hometown of Dayton, Washington, to help out with wheat harvest. My family has a farm there, and returning to work for a few weeks is my way of staying connected with the family and the town where I grew up. In the last thirty-six years, I’ve missed just one harvest (and I didn’t like it). These days, I don’t usually work the whole thing, but I try to pitch in when I can. The hours are long, but it gives me an opportunity to work outside and enjoy the foothills of the Blue Mountains (see below).

A friend of mine starting a new photography business took the picture (click to enlarge). I’m driving the combine on the left. To see more of Nick’s work, visit

It is always fun to return to my roots, to see friends I’ve known forever, and visit with people from the community who played such an important role in making me who I am today. With a population around 2,500, Dayton is what many writers would call the idyllic small town (I just call it home). Tucked into the Touchet River Valley, the town is a jumping off point for a wide variety of outdoor recreation. Local motels fill up for hunting season (deer, elk, and pheasant hunting are most popular). Fishing for trout, steelhead, and salmon in the nearby Touchet, Toucannon, and Snake rivers also brings people to the area. During the winter, skiers carve up the crisp, dry powder at Ski Bluewood, a short drive up into the mountains. Dayton has a bustling downtown, with several shops, restaurants, a brew pubs, a brewery, two museums, and a few art galleries.

Farming is still the main industry in the county, and when wheat prices are good (and interest rates are low), the town economy seems to do well. Recently, wind power has become an important part of the economy. A few hundred wind turbines add to the county tax rolls and provide several good-paying jobs. In June, PGE announced it would build a large wind generation project—116 new turbines—just north of Dayton. Construction on the new project will start this month.

Tourism plays a significant role in the county economy too, and foodies can get their fix here. Dayton has a French restaurant, Patit Creek Restaurant, well-known throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Weinhard Café serves varied dishes created from local ingredients. An upscale chocolatier, Alexander’s Chocolate Classics, moved over from Washington’s West Side a couple years back. The Monteillet Fromagerie, a traditional French fromagerie, produces a variety of artisanal cheeses from the milk of its Alpine goats and East Freisan-Lacaune sheep. Some Portlanders may already be familiar with Pierre-Louis Monteillet, the owner, who can be found several Saturdays a year at the Portland Farmer’s Market at PSU, selling his cheeses from a booth toward the north end of the market. 

Besides wind power and French cheeses, Dayton has a couple other connections to Portland. Toward the end of the 19th century, Henry Weinhard’s nephew, Jacob, moved to Dayton from Portland to establish his own brewery. The brewery is no longer around, but the Weinhard name still resonates with Dayton’s residents. Two businesses, the Weinhard Hotel and the aforementioned café, bear the famous name.

One of the newer additions to Dayton is Mace Mead Works (mead is a type of wine made from honey). Reggie Mace*, the owner, would fit in well in Portland. Sporting a robust set of lamb chops and thick-rimmed glasses, he looks like a hipster from the Hawthorne District. In addition to his signature “dry mead”, Mace makes a couple different wines. He sells a lot of his mead in Portland (if I can catch up with him before I head back to Portland, I’ll do a more in-depth profile). He brings a little bit of Portland to Dayton, offering cured meats from Olympic Provisions.

To celebrate the town’s history and its food culture, Dayton is hosting the Heirloom Weekend, a celebration of food, wine, and local cuisine, from September 20th-22nd. The event includes wine and cheese tastings, garden tours, live music, and a special dining event at TamiJoy Farms.

If you’re looking for a new place to explore, Dayton’s diversity of food and drink makes it a great place to visit. I could go on and on about the town, but it’s better to see for yourself. An easy four-and-a-half-hour drive from Portland, come visit Dayton for an early fall getaway. You’ll be glad you did.


* Prior to opening his own business, Mace worked several years at Walla Walla Roastery, probably Walla Walla’s best coffee roaster. Coincidentally, Walla Walla Roastery’s owner, Thomas Reese, lived in Portland for a while during the 1980s, where he did a lot of skateboarding with Din Johnson, who owns Ristretto Roasters. Years later, both were surprised to find that the other had ended up going into the coffee business. 

Stepping back

Sometimes it is healthy to step back from your daily life and do something different for a while. I just made it back to Portland after a three-week workation in Eastern Washington, where I helped my family finish wheat harvest. Harvest is an annual ritual that helps me refresh my mind, as I work long hours in wide open spaces.

I love my hometown of Dayton (pop. 2,500). It is the archetypical small town. Founded in the second half of the 19th century, Dayton has a historic Main Street with a variety of shops, restaurants and a restored movie house that also hosts community theatrical productions. A mead works and a high-end chocolatier also recently opened there.

Even though I return there regularly, the first day or two on the ground is always a culture shock. Compared to Portland, everything is so…quiet. But that’s also one of the best parts about it.

One thing I would change about Dayton is the overall quality of coffee available. When I was home in May, I stopped in a café one afternoon to write. The cappuccino I ordered was, to put it bluntly, bad. I didn’t want to hurt the barista’s feelings, so I kept my mouth shut (probably a bad reason, but it was the rationalization I used). After all, I am just someone who writes about coffee, not an actual barista. Besides, it wasn’t her fault she didn’t know how to make good coffee. She had not been properly trained to do so. (Café owners, please train your baristas!)

This last visit, I didn’t make time to look for coffee. In fact, I barely even went into town. Instead, I spent most of the time in the cab of a John Deere combine, driving around in circles (insert metaphor for my life here), harvesting wheat, barley, canola and mustard. We had a good run—great weather and no major breakdowns—and at the end of my time, I felt I had helped them accomplish something. That always relaxes my mind, as do scenes like these:

Spring weather - invariably variable

One of the challenges of farming in the spring is definitely the weather. As I mentioned in the last post, this spring has been cold and wet, so everyone is behind with spring work.

A good word to describe the spring weather in Eastern Washington would be erratic, but that might be an understatement. As I was driving around on the tractor yesterday, the weather kept changing from sunny to cloudy to rainy to snowy. Yes, snowy.

The following set of photos give you an idea of how quickly the spring weather changes here. In the first, taken at 7am, you can see lots of blue skies and sunshine. It was cold and windy too—about 38 degrees (brrr). The turbines in the background were making plenty of electricity. From that time onward, new waves of weather repeatedly crashed down upon us.

Starting out nice

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Join Me for a No-Bonk Week

The New York Times had an article this week that talked about the benefits of exercising before breakfast. According to a study published by researchers in Belgium, exercising in a “fasted state” causes the body to burn more fat than it would if a person ate breakfast before working out. In some circles (especially biking and triathlon circles), this type of exercise is called “bonk training”. The goal is to lose weight and to accustom the muscles to get energy from fats stored in the body instead of always relying on carbohydrates. The author of the Times article implies that it might be possible to counter the effects of a high-calorie holiday diet by doing this type of training. It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure I would recommend it. There seems to be a lot of dangers associated with it if you overdo it.

Why am I writing about this? I’m not really worried about overeating during the holidays. The real reason is that my brother talked me into playing in an alumni basketball game on December 27th and I need to get into better shape before the game. I exercise fairly regularly, but want to increase my training this week so that I won’t embarrass myself.

What I plan to do is to go running first thing every day this week. Anyone want to train with me at 6am? Not literally with me, although you are welcome to come to Woodstock at oh-dark-thirty every day if you want. We can motivate each other. I’m not planning to exercise without eating anything (no bonking), but I could use some accountability. I hate to get up early, and it will help if you join me.

Here are the rules. You can train wherever you are, and it has to be for at least 30 minutes. The exercise should have lots of  motion. Stretching for 30 minutes doesn’t count—30 minutes of Zumba in your living room does. Sweat is good. We start at 6am PST (if there’s someone who has to get to work and needs to exercise earlier, let me know and I’ll match your time). Sign up below in the comment section and let me know how it goes (post your results or email me at I’ll give you a recap of how it went next week. Let’s get after it!

Naked Trees and New Perspectives

One of the best parts of late fall and winter is that the leaves fall off the trees. Yes, you read that right. I like it when the trees around town lose their leaves. I don’t really like tromping through piles of leaf mush, but that’s a minor inconvenience compared to the enjoyment I get from seeing the trees without their leaves.

This is because when the trees lose their leaves, you see a different side of them—they seem stronger, more graceful and wiry. You can see the skeletal beauty of the trees, their knotted branches twisting upward, stretching toward the sky. They have been hardened by the seasons and are prepared to withstand another winter of rain (or snow) and wind. They have a ruggedness that you just don’t see when all of their branches are hidden behind the leaves.

In addition, I like how the disappearance of the leaves opens things up. If you grew up in a part of the world where you could see for miles (as I did), sometimes you might feel trapped in places where the trees block all the views. When the leaves fall off the trees in late fall, the city opens up and you see things that you haven’t seen before or you see them from a different point of view.

That wasn't there before, was it?

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