Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cold and Frosty Mornings

The first time I ever came to Oregon was in April 1987. I was a flat-lander from the midwest.
My husband and I had three little kids and we came out to visit their grandparents and aunt and uncles.

We were quite in awe of Oregon in all it's springtime glory. The orchard blossoms were radiant in the warm sunshine and we thought it was the most beautiful place on earth.

Something very strange happened on one of the first mornings of our visit.
As I was sleeping soundly in my mother's spare room I had a strange noise invading my dreams. I couldn't wake up or shake it off. The noise just continued insistently droning on and on.

It sounded like a helicopter, a really large helicopter, like one of those Knighthawk things the military uses. And it was hovering over my parent's house. Right over my bedroom. Right outside my window. Hovering. It's blades beating the air so close to my bed. Droning on and on and on. And on.

Someone tell them to move out! Fly away! I'm trying to sleep!

Oh here! You can hear it for yourself! You can hear the sounds of the night helicopter that hovered over my bed in 1987. It still hovers over my bed today. Every April and May the helicopter comes back to drone outside my window while I sleep fitfully, waiting for dawn to completely light the sky and send the helicopters away.

When I woke that first morning in 1987 after the helicopter ruined my pre-dawn sleep, I went to my dad and said,

"Why? why? why was there a helicopter hovering over the house this morning?

Was it a search and rescue mission? Was there a small child lost in the orchard??

Was it surveillance? Is there going to be a raid??? Why didn't it go away??"

Dad said, "What?"

"Oh that! That was just the fans."

??????? Fans ??????

"Yeah, the fans the orchardists use on frosty mornings to protect the blossoms."

I had spent my entire life in the midwest and had never heard of any such thing as giant, gargantuan, fans that protect orchards on frosty mornings.

Now that I have lived here fifteen years I know very well what they are. There are hundreds maybe thousands of them in this valley. No one escapes the sound of their beating blades in the spring. You don't have to be in the middle of an orchard, like my parent's house was, to hear the fans in the dark before dawn. Recently when I was lying awake listening to the fans, I thought how many, many other people in my mountain community were doing the same thing. Of course we get used to them. But still, the first spring morning that the sky is clear of rain clouds and the frost threatens to burn the blossoms and ruin the crop, the fans come on. It's as much a part of life as the early morning twittering of spring birds.

The fans run on propane-fueled Chevy V-8 engines.
250 horsepower running full-throttle.

The purpose of the fans is to move the air, to keep the cold air from settling. They take the warmer upper layers of air to keep the frost off the blossoms.

Every orchard has numerous fans. So even if you aren't very near an orchard, you will still hear the collective chorus of them vibrating in the early morning.

This is their sound from a distance. Still loud.

Another thing used in the orchards on cold mornings is smudge pots.

The fuel oil burning smudge pots are placed at intervals in the orchard and lit when the temperature gets low. I have not seen these lit very many times because I do not have my eyelids open at the time of day they are lit. But I did see them during that first visit when I was craning my neck out the window of my parent's spare room, trying to locate the helicopter. Instead I saw the orange glow of many little fires all through the orchard.

I think I went back to bed and put the pillow over my head in terror.

There are a few different styles of smudge pot.

They don't use matches to light those babies.

So the next time you buy a domestically grown apple or pear and wonder why the price is what it is...think of this:

The farmer that grew that fruit may have spent $10,000 to $20,000 on a single night keeping the frost off the blossom that grew into that fruit.


  1. "The fans run on propane-fueled Chevy V-8 engines. 250 horsepower running full-throttle."For a minute there, my eyes glazed over and you almost lost me... :-D

    So, did you actually peel your eyelids long enough to take those videos before sunrise, or did you bribe Dad?

    Nice pics, though! That might be all I get to see of the blossoms...

  2. I knew the surprise ending when I started reading.

    I always liked the fans. High school mornings, it usually meant it was chilly outside, which meant my room was disgustingly freezing, which meant it was really warm under my mom-made comforter- and I like that feeling. And the sound of the fans in the early morning hours, before dad dragged me out of bed by my (oh so long) hair (that I really miss), was kinda soothing.

  3. Krisin-- I'm thinkin' you didn't find it quite so "soothing" at the time. It's like Ghost-- in hind sight, you only remember the good stuff.

  4. They use the same fans here in FL on the orange trees. The smudge pots here garner them a fine but I've seen them say heck to the fine cause without the smudge pots there would be no harvest. But when I first heard the fan I thought it was an irrigation pump. I think it is because the fans are farther apart here. Plus they are not run only early in the morning usually they come on around Midnight and then by daybreak the danger usually is past. Although a hard freeze will have water running too.


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