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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Three Penny Walk

Today in the Valley I'm afoot. The earlier spring-like weather has blown east, taking the sun with it. Storms track from the south-west in the Valley and are always preceded by wind, which given free rein across the acres of pasture and cornfield, makes you bend into your stride like an old man. For that reason I am am afoot. Gladys has been left behind in the garage. In strong headwinds she is a recalcitrant steed at best and peddling her down the valley today would be like riding a stationary bike.

As I pass the corner that hangs a sharp left in front of Swiss Hall, force of habit swings me off the straight track so I can cross the high side of the curve. I do this for good reason. This curve has the tendency to breed pennies. I find them in the tirewash created by centrifugal force as traffic negotiates the curve. And today, sure enough, I find a battered penny cast up in the detritus of sand and gravel. Whoa! Within a yard of the first, I find two more. "Find a penny, pick it up; find a penny, have good luck! I bend down and triple my luck. Where these pennies come from, why they end up here is a mystery. The reason, perhaps, is because people consider pennies a nuisance and just discard them. Dig them out of their pockets, scoop them up from the floormats and fling them out the window. I'm sure this must explain the thirty-four pennies I found east of here a few years back scattered along five feet of shoulder.

Annie Dillard, one of my two favorite Annie authors (Annie Proulx, the second), remarked in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: "It is dire poverty indeed where a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny." That man is not me, Annie. I'm your one-cent guy! "A penny saved is a penny earned, " the saying goes. A penny found and saved is a talisman.

The lowly penny is an endangered species, a serious conundrum to the U.S. Mint because it now costs 1.7 cents to produce a single penny. In fact the pre-1982 penny which contained ninety-five per cent copper was actually worth 2.5 cents due to the rise in precious metals (thus the rash of copper thievery in the past decade). The copper penny died in 1982. It was replaced by the "zinc" penny which is ninety-seven per cent of that metal. Still, public sentiment remains in favor of retaining the lowly one cent piece. Those last few of us stoopers, however, should realize if retrieval takes more than 6.15 seconds, our labor is worth less than the federal minimum wage. For those who wish to lighten their penny loads, the "need a penny, take a penny" cups in many stores is a good way to lose a penny weight. Coin repository kiosks may be the penny's saving grace, a way to convert penny change and other coins to cash. But this service exacts its own price; nearly ten cents on the dollar is what the machine charges you to shower coins down its throat in exchange for cash. (Bring your loose change by the house; for just five cents on the dollar, I'll willingly count and roll it for you. out!)

(NOTE: the above penny facts appeared in "Penny Dreadful," an article by David Owen in the March 31, 2008 issue of The New Yorker magazine, pp. 60-66.)

I have found other coins on my Valley walks, too: mostly nickels and dimes. I don't know why someone would discard either of these coins roadside, so accounting for their presence is an even greater puzzle. I once found a shiny quarter in the gravel at the stop sign posted where the Lower Loop road meets the upper, where Gladys and I turn and head for home. I still have the fifty cent piece I found in the Swiss Hall parking lot. It most likely was dislodged from someone's pocket when he fished out his car keys. A Kennedy half dollar, it was, minted in 1990 at the Denver Mint. (The fifty CENTer appears to have stepped aside for the quarter. When did you last receive a fifty cent piece as change?)

I return home with three battered pennies in my left pocket where I keep my "road kill" coinage separate from the spare change coinage in my right pocket. Once home, I'll plunk down the three newcomers on the heap of road kill coins (even some currency to cushion the fall) in my half gallon Mason jar. The "Road Kill" jar, I call it, is nearly full to the neck of lost or discarded coins I have collected over twenty years. Last summer I had a conversation about road kill coinage with Mr. A. J. Naff, a friend and my daughter's former classmate. It was then I realized that over the years I have developed a rather elaborate culture surrounding the art of road kill collection. I hope to share this culture in a future post. It should be worth a penny, at least.
I am almost home when I find another strange coin in front of the Cascade Meadows stable and horse barn. If there are any numismatists out there who can identify this coin, I would appreciate hearing from you. Doesn't look like anything I'd put in my road kill jar.

P.S. I am thankful for this post. It made me pull down my copy of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, reread sections of it, and remind me what a wonderful writer she is. I wish I had her gift of crafting thought and memory--the inner life--into words.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Troubled Bridge over Sloughy Water...

February 22

No sun today, but then we are on the cusp of the February and March. Gladys and I ride out under gray skies and thick clouds to watch our County taxes at work on Bridge 52. On the upper Loop road a second bridge crosses the slough where at that point is posted a sign that reads "Riley Slough: Fish Crossing." Strangely as the slough trickles south-west through the fields between the blackberry brambled banks, it meanders itself right into a new name at Bridge 52 where it becomes "Tualco Slough." What happened to the fish between the two bridges is anyone's guess.

I expect to have my looping route truncated at the north end of the bridge and intend to backtrack on the upper loop around to the other side. When I arrive, I find the road clogged by County equipment: two dump trucks, trailers loaded with heavy timbers, and a steam shovel. The county crew is hard at work on their mid-morning break. One county guy sits in his dump truck and chomps on a sandwich. He has left the truck idling to heat the cab so he can eat in comfort. At this point the only action I see is idling. I wheel Gladys up to the cab, and the driver cracks the window and tells me I can cross the bridge if I'm careful. I tell him, no, I was out for the exercise and planned to ride back all the way around to the south end of the bridge, and leave him to his sandwich and diesel exhaust.

A few minutes later I am back, this time on the south end of the bridge where two more County guys and a County gal have just finished their break and about to resume work. I talk to the gal, who seems apologetic about their inactivity. "Our supervisor didn't call us, so we went ahead and took our break," she says. At this point I think, somewhere else in County there's a guy sitting in a warm office, hot cup of coffee in hand, watching the clock, and when it's ten a.m., he radios his crews and tells 'em between sips: 'Break Time!'" And to think I taught school for thirty-one years when I could have had a job like that.

I thought I'd take the opportunity during this little segue between break and work, to act in behalf of my environmentally sensitive friend Nancy L. We had talked a few days earlier about the bridge closure, and she had asked me then if I had seen all the beer cans someone had tossed off the bridge onto the bank below. "Disgusting!"she said. I had not noticed the litter, of course, on account of my having to keep a tight rein on Gladys so that I wouldn't be thrown from the bridge myself; at this juncture I'm concentrating on the road, not looking at the scenery. Sure enough, the cans were there, nearly a dozen of them, twenty-four ounce green cans (they're green, Nancy L, at least they're green) of Mickey's Malt Liquor. Apparently some hearty tipplers of the 5.6% beverage had decided to make Riley Slough their personal repository. (And in this valley of Dutch/German farmers, not a Heiniken can among 'em. )I explained to the pony-tailed gal in the yellow hard hat that my friend was in the habit of walking this route, too, and collected discarded aluminum cans which she later exchanged for cash at the recycler's, which she later gave in exchange for hay for her horse Ginger. I said she'd be doing my friend a favor by fetching up those cans. She said she didn't think she was about to, but there was pause enough in her answer for me to think that for a brief moment she was weighing priorities: bridge repair or litter patrol. For all I know, perhaps during her afternoon break she clambered down the bank and collected the cans--with her supervisor's permission, of course.

And the bike path?? When I asked the county guy who so graciously took time from his work to pose for a photo if a bike path was in the blueprints, he said: "Bike path? I thought this was a bike path!"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Busted Bridges and Broken Covenants

February 20

The false spring continues, not all that atypical for this time of year: lulled into false security, into a false garden frame of mind. Set out the plants and blammo, March comes in like a lion and teaches us all the same lesson we didn't learn last year.

I see the Valley folk have been busy with their lawn mowers--you covenant breakers, you know who you are: it's still February, for land's sake! Tony Broer, you dragged the vintage Snapper out of hibernation,and clipped the lawn. Have your forgotten the March covenant? March,at least, before you break your lawn maintenance fast. Even the Decks have mowed their lawn, an unusual switch of priority from the demands of their dairy operations. Take your Christmas lights down first, please. The Andy Werkhoven lawn trimmed like a golf course, the grass clippings already stewing in the digester, I imagine. Once my old neighbor Darren Roller moved south, I thought the days of landscape maintenance competition were over. In the days of Roller I hardly had time for the muffler to cool on my rig before he was out, just like the post office, come rain, hail, sleet, any snow less than two inches, every ten days. I could mark it on the calendar. Come on, neighbors, it's just a false spring.

I stop at Werkhovens' calf barn to snap a candid photo of the calves. A black car whizzes by, and I recognize one of our two valley Grammas (there may be more; if so, they are low profile grammas). Gramma Snow is on a mission someplace. She usually waves, but today she seems particularly focused. I am surprised to see her stop down the road, open the rear door, and gesture in a rather demonstrative fashion at a dog. The dog appears to know her. Wherever there is a Gramma Snow and dog scenario, I am immediately interested. A few years back, Gramma accidentally struck a dog out in the Valley, and concerned about its welfare, turned around, drove back and struck the dog a second time, with tragic results. This dog , I see, is her Springer Spaniel, Barney (II or perhaps Barney III?), who has obviously strayed his boundaries. He hops in the car. Gramma turns around and whizzes back the way she came, leaving me to wonder if her mission was dog retrieval or just random. Still, no wave.

I continue south and notice an orange flag waving atop an orange sign announcing a road closure. I'm quite sure what this is all about. The "rude bridge that arches the flood (Riley Slough)," is about to receive some much warranted attention. Gladys, my vintage Columbia bicycle, is always looking for an opportunity to throw me and Bridge 52 is a prime spot for this to happen. For months I have had to search for some last remaining strip of asphalt abutting the bridge deck to ramp me on to the bridge. A small strip still exists on the eastside of the bridge, which I traverse diagonally to the west side, where another small strip transitions me to the road. Time for a new deck on the Tualco Slough Bridge. Gladys is flighty enough ("Gladys," she's a female, after all....) without enlisting the help of a bridge to buck me off. No lower Loop Road next week. Wonder if the County will add a bike path??

One more stop on the way home--a photo to share. It is a fickle sun that attracts the cats at Decks, a feline false spring. Can you find the cats?? (There are five.)

Time to hurry back. I have to mow the lawn.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Valley attribute

Before I proceed any further with this enterprise, project--or folly--of mine, an attribute is in order. Back in 1969 when I was about to put the final touches on my undergraduate degree from Central Washington State College (yes, it was just a college in those days, the residual of the old "normal" school, which trained students to be elementary school teachers), I had a poem published in Central's literary magazine, the 1969 edition. It was not much of a poem, nor I a poet, but its publication was motivation enough for me to purchase a few copies of Inscape, the slender little book in which my poem appeared: a couple for me; the others for gifts and, of course, bragging rights. On page 43 was a little twelve line, free verse poem by Ramona Fae Rache. The poem was entitled "Thinning Apples," and it spoke of a horticultural chore that made both Ramona and me immediately--by way of experience--kindred spirits. The poem resonated with me then and forty-one years later resonates still, for I, too, had climbed a white ladder up into the apple leaves, thinned to six or eight inches, broke the triples, threw the little green apples over my shoulder so they wouldn't bruise those left for the crop, and saw the valley below and a cobalt river ripple gently in the summer morning's gentle breeze.

By way of a Thank-you to Ramona Fae Rache for my Blog's title, I've included her poem in this post:

Thinning Apples

Valley ripple by me
Shades of green and apple dew
I listen to the dove's last call
Face east to the mountains.
Up there I see the canyon dumps
wheaties grow wild
Tar -and -gravel cuspidores
and Grandma.
Seven o'clock the whistle blows,
June drop's falling fast.
I turn and climb to young bird's nests
and thin.

O, Ramona Rae: classmate, kindred poet and thinner of young apples, many seasons of little green apples have passed. Where have all the years gone? Wherever you are, I hope the years have been kind to you.

(Note: "June drop"--an apple tree's method of self-thinning by which it aborts certain of its fruit.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Creeping spring

I've been a resident of Tualco Valley for thirty-five years. Friends have been married out here
in the Valley. In 1990 friends were flooded out in the Valley. Years ago I broke my ankle on a pre-dawn jog in the Valley. And the Valley has been the scene of a tragic, accidental hunting death. The Tualco Valley is where I regularly walk (and bike), and for a retired English teacher, a place to reflect, a source of inspiration and random reverie. A valley of farms and farming, Tualco has its daily stories to tell if you look closely and keep your wits about you. The purpose of The Valley Ripple is to show that there are stories in the commonplace and to share these stories, my discoveries and musings with you. Welcome to The Valley Ripple and my first post.

February 18

It is sunny midday in the Valley. Gladys and I have waited for the morning's dense fog to burn away. The fog this time of year is the tug-the-wool-cap over the ears, wool gloves kind of fog.

Spring is stealthily afoot in the Valley. Riding the outward leg, heading south, I notice some recently plowed cornfields. "Spring Turning," they call it, which calls to mind Grant Wood's ("American Gothic") painting of that title, the winter-packed soil, turned up to the sun, furrows fresh and loose. "In the spring, you get new hope," our ex-dairy farmer neighbor once said, a comment that easily could be the creed of the Valley farmers.

Earlier I passed a clump of pussywillow, fresh catkins furring the twigs and branches. Two years ago I started a cuttting from the bush and it is growing well on the property.
As I ride by the slough south of Frohnings' farm, I hear the serenade of a flock of red-wing blackbirds, a sign of spring for sure. And the Cambodians are out this morning,working in their flower fields. I can see the rows of daffodils greening up, some buds visible. Once in bloom they will be gathered and sold, spring cheer for city folk and those without gardens.

On the homeward leg I pass Decks' old house, abandoned for years, but this morning I notice some squatters have moved in--or rather "on": half a dozen cats, a variety of shapes and colors, grooming and sunning themselves on the porch overhang. Cats, too, know when spring is just around the corner.

It's a good day to do some spring turning of my own in the backyard garden plot.