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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March Bullies its Way Out…

Tualco V. March

On this penultimate day of March the Valley has reverted to February. No tiptoeing out for 3/10, that’s for sure. It’s back to the wool cap and gloves. Two feet of snow predicted for the mountain passes; frost forecast for the Valley tonight. The gloves are a blessing for two reasons: warmth, for one, and in this flood-prone Valley, flood control. My nose flows freely in the cold, breezy air and I wipe my right  glove across it often. I feel like Michael J. Pollard, the runty little airplane mechanic in the film The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, who appears to have a case of congenital sniffles.

Tony Broer must have read yesterday’s post. Today he has lifted the center bay door, exposing the nose of  the RV he wishes to sell. He has taped a “For Sale” sign to the hood, a slight improvement in salesmanship but not all that effective. Tony, you need to wheel ‘er out in the driveway for display. Passersby will note the sign but then will be long past the prize.Sneak peekOn the walk home, a bit of irony on this atavistic day: I see my first Turkey buzzard (Cathartes aura) of the year, another sign of spring in the Valley.  Spring’s harbinger to me is the violet-green swallow; however, in Hinckley, Ohio, the spring omen is the Turkey buzzard. I’m not sure what this event implies about Ohio. Draw your own conclusions, but spring is officially ushered in by the buzzards’ appearance in Hinckley. The buzzard is a carcass feeder. Its bald head and neck are evolution’s prophylatic protection against disease, for a feathered neck and head would be a haven for bacteria for a bird who buries its head into the decomp of a carcass. (Note: Katharsis, to cleanse or purge, in Greek is the Genus designation for the buzzard. ) Disregard the vulture as a “filthy bird.” It is one of Mother Nature’s recyclers, turning death into life once again, purging or cleansing the earth of dead flesh. Cathartes aura is a marvel to watch in flight. I dare you to observe a single wing beat: the bird is the king of air currents, its feathered wingtips seek the Valley updrafts, and ever upwards the bird soars, effortless and graceful. I must admit, though, when a buzzard’s shadow passes over, you  shudder and step up your pace.

Years ago a little child disappeared from a Werkhoven family reunion. For two or three days sheriffs’ helicopters flew low over the river, searching for the little girl. Gladys and I were out in the Valley the next day. I noticed a half dozen grounded buzzards in Deck’s field behind their dairy complex, intent on something. Dark thoughts crossed my mind, “filthy thoughts,” thoughts I didn’t want to think. They turned out to be unfounded; the river claimed the little girl and the buzzards were denied. Another sad Valley chapter concluded.

Further up the road I find a four-leaf clover bonanza and come away with a half dozen—24—leaves worth of luck, so much Valley bounty I have to share it. I stop at Beebes’ corner greenhouse. Denise, cup of coffee in hand, and Deb Kyle are happy to see me. Deb Kyle, Gardener One nice four-leafer I give to Deb, who hurries to press it. Another I leave for you. Can you find it?One more is four

Monday, March 29, 2010

I’ll Go No More A’Rovin’…

End of the open road

Have a yearning for the open road? Travel the nation’s highways and byways? If so, Tony Broer has just the deal for you. It appears Tony and Sadie’s travelin’ days are behind them—snowbirds no more--and the big RV in the center bay of their garage is looking for a new home. Given the modest”For Sale” sign, I wonder how long it will take to empty that center bay? Someone needs to direct Tony to a more aggressive sales method. Isn’t there an “RV Trader” version of “Auto Trader?” As far as trying to sell via e-commerce, I suspect Tony lags a bit behind in that arena. Perhaps when the weather improves, he will move the goods to his driveway and let the big open roader advertise itself. Until then I hope these spring downpours won’t dissolve his particle board sign into sawdust mush.

The Cambodian flower farmer is continuing the daffodil harvest this morning. He cradles a huge bundle of cheerful blooms. I grind Gladys to a stop, take out my camera, and ask for a pose. Nothing doing; the gentleman is camera shy. I persist; he refuses, and I realize I am becoming a pest. These flower people are private folk and I’m a nosy intruder. I have to settle for a “still life” of the harvested flowers and decide I need to respect his space. From now on I’ll just offer a friendly wave and leave him to his work. I might be snoopy but I can take a hint. I do learn, however, that these daffodils are destined for Seattle’s Pike Place Market and from there to become spring color spots in the homes of spring-thirsty city folk. Pike Pl. Flowers

On the leg home I notice the little house north of Decks’ has a new metal roof. This little house is a carbon copy of Ed’s house. Both were built in the Valley at the same time, which according to Tony, was 1894. If you were to turn that house 90 degrees, it would look pretty much the same as Ed’s before the additions were appended. It’s a nice fix—and one that most likely will outlive the current owners.  New Roof Just one more photo and I’ll put this post to bed: a little more Valley luck. Can you find it?Hidden luck

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Tualco V. March

The second summer we lived in the Valley our home was broken into. I had gone to Snohomish for a few hours, returned early afternoon. The moment I entered the house, I knew something was amiss. The guest bedroom door was open, a door we always kept closed. I went on down the hall into our master bedroom. That room was a mess: drawers pulled out of cabinets, stuff strewn on the floor, all the bed sheets ripped from beneath the mattresses. At this point I felt a burst of panic, fear that someone was still in the house, afraid for my safety. Fortunately, the intruders had fled the scene. They had broken down the front door, boldly entering the house street side. I believe they were still in the house when I opened the garage door and my arrival had caused them to flee. I never saw who it was or how many, and it’s better that way.

Anyone who has experienced a home invasion knows the feeling of personal violation: low-lifes in your home space, rifling through your personal effects with crime-y hands, pulling and stripping away the very bedclothes that cover you and your wife each night. And they always take what you can’t replace. Rolls of coins they left untouched;  t.v.s, stereos, other electronics undisturbed. My grandfather’s railroad retirement watch and custom gold ring crafted in the shape of a belt buckle, the buckle made from an Alaskan gold nugget with a diamond stud in the middle: both gone along with a few prescription drugs. It is this feeling of breached security that sells home alarm systems, and while we explored that option, we never purchased one. As the incident and months distance themselves, you slowly regain your peace of mind. But never quite entirely.

Tomorrow morning an invasion of another sort will begin nearly at our doorstep. Subcontractors for WSDOT will be ripping up our driveway and the asphalt alongside the right-of-way. Thencroachinge asphalt saw has sliced down to roadbed along the project route along the fog line. Ugly machines of destruction lurk just next door.  

Logic tells you the right-of-way is state property: that is why you planted your hedge forty feet from the road’s cemachines of destructionnter line. However, I have maintained that little green space for years, mowed it, either cut the roadside weeds or applied herbicide to the shoulder.

I’ve sold honey from that right-of-way, too. A lot of it.When the fast food joints came to Monroe, I picked up and discarded their litter1979 T n T's house honey6 so I could mow. The rocks scattered there by Cadman’s gravel trucks I picked up and tossed away. Beer cans and bottles I carried off to our recycle bin. But for me—and no thanks to the DOT--this little greenbelt would be a tangled wilderness today. Hardly 4,000 square feet, I know, but after all those years of upkeep, one acquires of strong sense of ownership.

They claim that widening the road at the intersection of Tualco  and High Rock Roads will make the highway safer for traffic, lessen the chances for personal injury and fatality. I sincerely hope they are right. But tomorrow morning those hulking machines will roar to life and begin their ripping, tearing, and overall destruction of “our” right-0f-way; it will never  be the same again. How do I feel about this?? Let me tell you. I feel downright violated.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Bee-Happy, Bee Healthy Valley…

Tualco V. March

Note the dandelion-sprinkled roadside this March morning.  Like miniature suns they throng the shoulder, and do their part to stir the spirit of spring.

Years ago when Tony Broer built his new house up the road from the old place, I was impressed by his immaculate, well-clipped lawn. Weed-free it was, to a flaw, and I was “green”with envy. I commented on this verdant perfection one day when I saw Tony in his driveway, picked a spent dandelion and threatened to blow the airy seed in the direction of his blemish-free yard. Tony smiled and shook his fist at me in defiance.

The Valley dandelions are the honeybees’ pollen cache, and when I notice several well-dusted bees burrowing their heads deep into the blossoms, I wonder if they are workers from my own two colonies. And that ledandelion plundererads me to leave the road into the raspberry field behind the Streutker homestead to see if my bees have any competition.

Two years ago at the far end of this field I met a young man dressed in full beekeeping regalia. He had permission from the property owner to place three or four hives there. He introduced himself as “Thane.” Now I hardly ever forget a face, but names easily escape me. This young man’s name I will never forget: “Thane.” I have known Shanes, and Zanes and Blaines but never before a “Thane.” The etymology of “thane” is Old High German and the title given a Scottish feudal baron. I knew the name from Macbeth as part of a prophecy the three witches make as the play opens: “Thane of Cawdor,” they predict for Macbeth, who is already Thane of Glamis. When Cawdor is charged with high treason, the witches’ prophecy comes true. Lady MacBeth takes over from there. Thus begins the bloodletting….

Thane is a tall, good-looking young man, Josh Grobanish in manner with hair genes to match. When I alluded to Macbeth, he admitted that Shakespeare had indeed influenced his name. Thane was new to the craft of beekeeping and was conducting a spring examination of his colonies. He was disappointed to learn that all had died; not a one survived the winter. I was pretty sure I knew the cause, the same that had killed off my bees two winters in a row and currently plagues all beekeepers across the country.

For years keeping bees in the Valley was a pleasurable experience, an easygoing enterprise that was both fun and profitable. At one time I had sixty colonies. All that changed about fifteen years ago. I had four colonies then. They were gang-buster strong in September, but by the end of October all four were dead. The cause? The Varroa mite (Varroa destructor), a pernicious little arachnid solely parasitic to Apis mellifera, the common honeybee. Varroa had finally spread to Washington State. Now local apiculture had a real challenge facing it, a vicious pest so ugly it made a tick seem like a beauty queen. When my friend Floyd Preston saw the evil critter under a microscope, he had this reaction: “If they were the size of large dogs, we’d all be running for the hills!” Not only does the mite parasitize the honeybee, but it also spreads viruses that deform bees’ wings so they cannot fly. Varroa and these viruses are part of a perfect storm of stressors that manifests itself as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD): One minute you have bees, the next, whoops, you don’t.

I saw Thane the next spring at a local bee supply store in Snohomish. He had ordered a package of bees and was starting afresh. Last summer on the hottest day of the last half century (101 degrees), Thane stopped by the house to fill a jug of water for his thirsty hives. The honeybees roadside reminded me of Thane and his bees. I thought I’d check his hives to see how they fared the winter. I had already lost a hive early in February and hoped that Thane had not suffered the same fate. As I approached his four colonies, each stacked several supers high, I noticed activity around three. The fourth was a dead out. Two appeared to have weak flight; the third displayed a healthy field force. Some workers returning to the three hives had  pollen  loads, an indication each colony had a laying queen and was raising brood, a good sign now, but colonies experiencing CCD dwindle in the spring and are dead outs by summer. competition

The  Valley’s berry crop is dependent on bee pollination, and Beeboxalthough there is a healthy bumblebee population present in the Valley, honeybees are still essential to pollinate its crops. I have upped my bee ante by setting up an orchard mason bee nesting box and have two dozen dormant cocoons  waiting to emerge come warmer weather. Their cycle, though, will Mason cocoonsbe long past when my squash and cucumber plants need pollination services, and unless I want to brush pollinate each female blossom by hand, I need honeybees to work their magic.

It is a Brave New World in which modern beekeepers live, and through new methods, techniques, and modes of treatment we hope to save our bees. It would be a sad spring indeed if I couldn’t visit my own colony of bees and watch their determined flight to and from the hive. They are the pulse of spring, of Mother Nature, responsible for the bounty of the Valley.

I wonder if Thane knows the beekeeper’s creed: “Wait til next year!” Well, Thane, it is next year; it is spring; and we have new hope. Let’s do our work and keep the bees healthy and flying. (And if someone out there knows anyone else named Thane, I would certainly like to know about it.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Water Seeks its Own Level…

Tualco V. March


Today is one of those days full of surprises. Intermittent bursts of sunshine punctuated by a drizzle of rain, a day of fitful spring weather variety.

Dandelion globes smile at the sunbursts, scowl as clouds cover the sun. Spring Clouds

My walk in the Valley is pleasant, without incident to speak of, although there is a disappointing scarcity of four-leaf clovers. Just a bit too early for the clover patches to yield their luck. Today’s a routine stroll.  

I am almost to the “lost and ‘lorn” house by Christenson Rd. when my leisurely jaunt comes abruptly to an end. A little history now. This little house is a foreclosure victim and has been vacant for nearly four months. Some bank retained a mortgage broker to sell the house, but it was in such disrepair those efforts failed and were passed  along to a realtor, who was no more successful in moving the property. A few weeks ago a private party bought the house, hired subcontractors to renovate the little rambler, hoping to render the home marketable.

Our entire Valley is either flood plain or flood fringe and this little house and the property on which it is situated have been flood victims in the 100 year floods of 1990 and 2006. (Do the math on the interims.) In fact it has been waterfront property briefly a number of times.Footings wet '90  As the waters receded after one of the inundations, Alice Cabe, the neighbor in the yellow house on the property beyond, noticed a frantic splashing on the little deck off the back of the house. The activity was the desperate flailings of a beached salmon.flood '90 Waterfront Prop.

That wa


Water seeks its own level is a physics mandate expressed, perhaps, by Noah or Johnny Cash (“How High’s the Water, Mama…Six Feet High and Risin’”)and as I approach the house, a young fellow bursts through the door and sprints toward me. I immediately think an explosion is imminent, expect the house to erupt in a fireball, and whirl me catapulting over the horse barn. Frantically, the potential victim darts to the well house on the lawn and blurts to me breathlessly, “A faucet broke. I have to shut off the pump!” He reached in the well house, fumbled with something and shot back into the house. “Water seeks its own level, that’s for sure,” I thought. No matter what, that little house seemed prone to deluge, destined for inundation. Whether a river or a broken faucet, the house was a divining rod.Water seeks its level

I went to the door, called in, anxious to render what assistance I could. A voice directed me to turn on the outside faucet to help ease the pressure in the water lines. It was a simple directive, and I rushed to perform it. Then I hustled inside to check the results. The young man was standing on the newly installed hardwood floor in a rapidly expanding pool, water spraying everywhere through the fist he held clenched over the broken faucet. I ran to the garage, found a bucket and hurried it back to him. Back outside I discovered the exterior faucet had a hose and a spray nozzle attached. My opening the faucet had accomplished nothing. I quickly unscrewed the nozzle to allow the water to flow.

When I returned, the pressure had eased and a frantic effort to mop the new floor had begun. Unfortunately the subcontractor had to use his jacket as mop. For a fleeting moment I thought about offering my sweatshirt as extra absorbent but the drizzle outside brought me to my senses.

Finally the pool was reduced to large droplets there and about in the kitchen, and the young plumber, carpenter, cabinet installer hauled a large box fan from his truck to dry up the rest. The situation had stabilized and contractor Todd to pause long enough to pose for a photo.Contractor ToddThe sad little house has new paint, new roof and gutters, but it seems hydroponic, always destined to be a victim of water whether it be rising rivers or broken plumbing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dead Man’s Curve

(Dead Man’s Curve) is no place to play,

(Dead Man’s Curve) you’d best keep away.

(Dead Man’s Curve) I can hear ‘em say:

“Won’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve.”

Tualco Valley Jan and Dean, 1964


The swallows are back in the Valley to stay now. All morning I have watched  them glide and swoop, silhouetted against the piles of clouds on this twenty-second day of March. It will be two weeks tomorrow since my first sighting of the year. They are violet-greens, of course, and will share our Valley until the autumnal equinox at least.

If this post meanders, I apologize, but it seems to be a perfect candidate for digression. Yesterday we celebrated Kyle Roller’s thirteenth birthday. The Rollers were our neighbors a few years back. Kyle must have been four or five when parents Darren and Cory moved here and I have fond memories of that little guy. He would yell at me through the hedge. I couldn’t hear him because I habitually wear a headset, listening to the radio when I work about the place. One day Kyle said, “Terry! You could hear me better if you took your headset off!” In the days of my strawberry farmin,’ Kyle was my robin worrier, would stand for hours at the head of the rows scattering any redbreast that ventured into the patch. He was such a dedicated half-pint scarecrow, I would have to shoo him into the house at the end of the day. Kyle's 13thNow my little buddy is a teenager, and I pray he weathers his teenage years well.

Ah, teenagers…. The other day I was waiting in line at the grocery store. The woman behind me set her basket down on the conveyor and I couldn’t help but notice the plastic “No Trespassing” sign intermingled with her groceries. “Raccoons?” I asked. “No,” she replied,”Teenagers!” Apparently some neighborhood teens were wreaking havoc on and with her property.  She said she’d like to talk to their parents. I said I had taught school for thirty-one years and good luck with that—unless it was two weeks before graduation. I told her that they were still making teenagers; every year new ones joined the ranks. And now my little ex-neighbor was “ONE OF THEM.” I’ve always tried to validate the teenage years by observing: “If it weren’t for teenagers, what would we do with all the used cars?”

And I’m walking toward Swiss Hall when I hear the car, one of those little jobs so popular with TEENAGERS these days, a little street racer, low, red—at least where the primer didn’t show—passes me, negotiates the S turn corner, and farts its way south. No other verb quite suffices for the sounds these little racers emit from their oversized mufflers. I quickly realize this little roller skate is at best a racer “wannabe.” Something is loose in the transmission: one of the gears, I think, has come to pieces and is rattling around in the transmission casing. The squat “speedster” and its two riders head south toward the grange. My attention shifts to the tirewash at the corner and the possibility of coins. Then I hear the whine, as someone said, like a sewing machine stitching in overdrive. The car has turned around at Tualco Grange and is shifting its way toward the 90 degree turn in front of Swiss Hall. Immediately I decide to distance myself from the corner and despair of any coins that may have collected there.

Now this corner is a hard right angle. Even Gladys and I have to slow our torrid pace to negotiate the curve. But it is hardly a “Dead Man’s Curve” like the fatal corner referenced in the song lyrics of ‘60’s surfer boys Jan and Dean: in spite of the warning sign—“15 mph”--a negligent driver will not plunge off a cliff, disappear into an abyss, or explode in a metal crunching ball of fire. Instead, you’ll end up in the middle of a cornfield looking mighty foolish, stuck up to the fenders in Tualco Valley bottomland. At that corner Tony Broer’s raspberry rows were always shorter; Werkhovens’ corn butchered into a miniature corn maze; fenceposts and signs sheared off and splintered. Dead Man's CurveI hear the little red speedster rev up, its driver mixing gearshift and amygdala—the brain’s decision-maker-- and from the safety of Swiss Hall’s parking lot, I hear the little car rattle its way into the corner. It is brilliant daylight; the traffic sign signals “caution” but the little racer enters the corner at an excessive rate of speed, perhaps a speedy thirty-five mph. A spinout is imminent and sure enough, the little red car slides sideway, spins, corrects, and comes to a rest in the pasture just feet away from a post warning of underground cables.near miss The vehicle following has to slow to a stop and wait while the sheepish driver ahead grinds gears, backs onto the blacktop and continues farting along at a respectable—and legal—rate of speed. Even at that distance I can read the thoughts of the second vehicle’s driver: “Damn Teenagers!” Thoughts oftentimes pretty much my own.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Der Fruhling…

the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halve course yronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye

That slepen al the nyght with open ye

(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages…

Chaucer, Prologue to Canterbury Tales

It is not quite a pilgrimage Gladys and I are on this first day of Spring; we are both up to our same old tricks: checking the Valley’s business, as usual just being snoopy.

Spring has made a bold entrance, a record-breaking 71 degrees. As I coast along, I note the cottonwoods that dot the hills to the east, High Rock, the Cadman quarry and southward are greening up. Fuzzy clumps of yellow-green patchwork the slopes. I can almost smell the sticky ooze the cottonwoods exude. Soon I will have a chance to get up close and personal with Nature’s glue when I “go into the bees” to see what’s going on inside my beehives. The stuff of propolis, this sap is, and the bees use it liberally to seal hive lids and cracks, gluing tight all that’s loose, going about their business with this hermetic stuff. It is not against stings that I wear canvas gloves when I work the bees but to keep my fingers from sticking together, to avoid embarrassing stains on my hands. Later in May, these same groves of trees will issue the soft eiderdown  that is their namesake, the piles of which I will have to sweep from the garage for two or three weeks. 

The Cambodians are harvesting their daffodils, serving them up as vernal offerings to those who want to bring spring indoors: spring by proxy, I call it; the real spring is outdoors!daffodil harvestOn the homeward leg I stop and talk to Brett De Vries who is rehabilitating an old arbor on the Streutker homestead. He said he was too cheap to buy new lumber and is making do with the old, scraping off the old paint and repainting the pieces before he reinstalls them. Brett is an amiable young fellow, easy to talk to, and in my opinion quite savvy for a twenty-something. “Cheap” further endears him to me. Now “Cheap”I understand. However when it pertains to me,  I much prefer the more formal “frugal.” 

It is not to wish Brett a “Happy Vernal Equinox,” that I cease peddling and balance Gladys on her tentative kickstand: Brett has a new well cover. I noticed it the day before and the snoopy got the best of me. I want information. Perched above the well standpipe is an old cider press. It looked in excellent repair and seemed to me an item of value that should be stored tidily away out of the weather until apple harvest.

Years ago when Garth and Toni MaGee lived in the Valley, they would invite the neighbors to a cider squeezin.’ Garth had an excellent cider press he inherited from a friend’s estate. It was a motorized two barreler: while one barrel was being squeezed, the second was being filled at the chopper. Jim Cabe would contribute a bin of apples from a friend’s orchard up north. I would contribute the muscle to twist the screw and squeeze the juice from the pulp. In three hours we would have forty to fifty gallons of cider for ourselves and friends. It was a wonderful way to spend a nippy fall evening.

(Now cider press is a painful subject in this household. Three or four years ago at Christmas my wife gifted me with a fruit press. I have yet to use it and will not burden this post with the reasons why. It still resides in its original shipping box out in the shed, has yet to squeeze a drop of juice. Someday, though. Someday, I swear: “Let there be juice!”)

Brett and I walk over to the ol’ Cider Press. He had discovered this old constrictor languishing amid piles of tools and machinery in Jerald’s red barn. Although the press looked quite functional from the road, I discovered that the pulping spindle is almost impossible to turn. When it does, the shredding wheel shreds splinters from the wooden trough that receives the fruit. Without this apparatus the press is almost useless. And that’s why it adorns the well standpipe—yard art of sorts. Brett looked at the apple trees planted about in the yard. “It seemed to go with the theme,” he said. Orchard Feng Shui. A touch of genius—especially for a twenty-something!yard art

Note: This morning I awoke “…when there was nothing left of the Equinoxes, because the Precession had preceded according to precedent…” (Kipling’s Elephant’s Child). 6:30 a.m. It was dark, whereas last Sunday it was light at the same time. So much for the spring equinox. Daylight Savings Time, that blasphemer of the god Chronos.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Stand Up and Be Counted

Tualco Valley

The fog has burned off; the sun is out; it is a brisk morning. Gladys and I head down Valley. Shortly into the ride,I see a cyclist laboring towards us and I recognize my environmentally sensitive friend Nancy L. As we pass, I ask her which way she’s going, a ridiculous question now I think about it: she was going the opposite direction. We are both out for the exercise, serious business and no time to stop and chit chat. That’s what email is for. I continue on my way; she, hers.

Swiss Hall is undergoing a facelift: a new front porch. The old one had rotted off, I guess. I had talked to the carpenter the day before. It was a three day job, he said. I wanted to see how the job had progressed.Swiss Hall Facelift Nothing had changed. The carpenter was not present.

Almost to Andy Werkhoven’s house I hear a plaintive “Slow down” behind me. It is Nancy L trying her best to catch the speeding Gladys, who is in second gear, as always, and on cruise control. Now Nancy’s bike is too sleek and shiny to name. It has so many gear sprockets a Kenworth truck would be envious. With all those gears Nancy should be able to reach liftoff speed. I leave cruise control, coast, and allow her to catch up. We continue our ride to the south end of Sky Valley Driving range where Nancy has parked her car and plans to load her bike.

A county road crew is finishing up a four month paving project—a fifteen foot stretch of pavement to repair a sinkhole in the right hand lane. I offer a bit of friendly criticism: bring the patch up to road level. My superintending is interrupted by the arrival of a county truck filled with asphalt to fill the patch. Imagine, a county crew who can read my mind.

This road less traveled suddenly becomes congested when a blue Ford Taurus,  yellow light flashing from the roof, approaches the work site. It is our Valley mailman on his morning route. To my surprise, Nancy L frantically waves him to a stop. I’m wondering what issue she has with him: she has a post office box in town. (On the other hand, we have had problems with the neighbors’ mail being delivered to our mailbox, an oversight possibly caused by our two addresses having most of the same numbers, although not in the same order. We called the post office. The oversights stopped. )

No, Nancy’s issue is with the U.S. Postal Service in general and our carrier has to field her concern: the Parker household has not received its official 2010 Census. It should have arrived last week as did ours. No Census for the Parkers. Not even the formal letter sent a week earlier informing U.S. citizens they would receive the Census the following week. As I didn’t want to leave the county crew to their own devices, my attention was divided, so I’m not sure how the conversation went. There was considerable gesturing on the part of both parties; the blue rubber-gloved hand of the mailman appeared to be holding its own.

Good luck, Nancy L. Stand up and be counted. And even if the 2010 U.S. Census does not want you counted, in my book you count a lot.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sharin’ the Valley Green…



St. Patrick’s Day 2010




Where's the luck


I found my first four leaf clover of the year a few days ago. Can you find it, too?  (Photo blurry? Just pretend  you had a Guinness or two.) There’s more luck in the Valley than battered pennies. Clover patches grow prolific along Tualco Road. On my walks from now on this spring I will begin my goal of finding at least one four leaf clover per outing. I have no idea how much luck I pass on my walks. One statistic has it that for every one four leaf clover, there are 10,000 three’s There’s no slowing down to look for four leafs; the clover must announce itself as I pass by. Most times I am fooled by a couple of three leafers that have intertwined themselves and pose as a four leaf false alarm.

The traditional Irish “Shamrock” is a regular three leaf clover. It may have special powers on St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s the four leaf clover that I stoop to pluck the rest of the year.

I’ve often wondered how a four leaf comes to be. Did one of the three leaves split, round itself off into two leaves? Did that happen when some patches were visited by a mower? Is the four leafer a mutation of sorts, thus the 1 in 10,000 chance? Or, is there something else genetic going on? I tend to favor the genes explanation myself. Here’s why. It is not uncommon to find a few more four leaf clovers keeping the prominent one company. In fact the days I fail to locate a lucky clover, I visit a small clover patch that borders my garden. Every year that little patch sprouts many a four leaf; I can usually find one there without fail.

I carry my good luck home, put the slender stems in a glass of water overnight so the clover reconstitutes itself. The next day I take the clover, carefully position its leaves and press it  between the pages of two large books: A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English and The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. Each spring as I’m about to do now, I remove last year’s luck from these two tomes and put them in a plastic box for safekeeping. I like to share my luck with others and always insert a four leaf clover in each book I give as a gift. Here’s some luck I’ll share with you this Saint Patrick’s Day. 

Sharin' the luck

As I walk out in the Valley and back, I drag my surname along with me, and in this vale of Scandinavians, Dutch, and Germans I may seem right at home with the name“Johnson.” But let the truth be known:  my paternal Grandfather adopted the commonplace “Johnson” because he tired of his Slavic last name being the target of vulgar mispronunciations.  My paternal Grandmother, however, Mary Johnson (nee’ Egan) was Irish, Louisville, County Mayo, Northern Ireland. On St. Patrick’s Day my Irish prevails. And because I’m Irish, I can joke around with my Irish heritage and share two of my favorite Irish blessings:

“May you never live to see your wife a widow!”

Get down on your hands and knees and thank the Good Lord you’re still on your feet!”

As I head to the kitchen to prepare  corned beef and cabbage in honor of the day and chill a glass for my Guinness, I wish a Happy St. Pat’s Day to each and everyone. And to the memory of my little Irish Grandmother: Mary Egan of County Mayo, Rah jay Urt, The Grace of God be with you!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Black Valley Gold

 Tualco Valley

I’m out in the Valley early this morning on a soil emendation errand. I have always wanted an asparagus bed of my own here on our one slim acre in the Valley and have twenty asparagus crowns ready for planting, with twenty-five more on order. I called Andy Werkhoven yesterday evening, asking for permission to take a load of digester compost for my asparagus bed. The Werkhoven farm has installed an anaerobic digester at the old Honor Farm at the south end of the Valley. The digester processes all the organic effluence from the cows in their dairy herd and produces methane gas which in turn provides fuel to run a generator that sends electricity to Snohomish County PUD’s power grid. The end products are the compost, which is why I am here,   and the waste water, which is returned to Werkhovens’ cornfields.Draggin' the mud  

Andy said to come around 9:00 a.m., and I am already a half hour late arriving at the old farm outbuildings where I find a large pile of Black Gold just waiting to be loaded. The asparagus bed awaits, and I scoop shovelful after shovelful into the truck. Pile of compost black gold

A half hour’s effort yields a load of steaming compost, and I’m all set to transport. The morning is cool and the compost smokes in the bed of the truck. I hope all this fussing will pay off in an abundance of tasty green spears next summer.

truckload of compost

I return home where I immediately unload a half dozen liberal shovelsful of compost around my rhubarb plant. The short  raspberry row receives the same treatment.

Then to the asparagus bed. A three or four inch layer in bottom of the 8’ x 5’ raised bed should do the trick. The rest I spread on my tomato/pepper patch.

Thanks to the Werkhovens’ generosity, the family garden plot should yield a bounty of produce this summer. And when the asparagus patch is in full production, Andy and family better have their hollandaise and white sauce recipes handy when I drop by with a big mess of compost-powered stalks.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beware the Ides of March

Tualco Valley

Yes, today is the Ides of March. I expect a letter from former student Leasel Bueler sending me best wishes for the day. Years ago when I taught Sophomore English, we studied Julius Caesar in class. I offered my classes five points extra credit to the first student from each class to wish me a “Happy Ides of March.” Leasel still continues the tradition. Happy Ides to you, too, Leasel.

In the ancient Roman calendar the Ides fall on the 15 March, May, July and October. The other months the Ides fall on the thirteenth. Each month is marked by by another benchmark, the Nones, which fall nine calendar days before the Ides. The ancient Romans had a complicated calendar, encumbered even more by a superabundance of holidays (thus the expression: “A Roman Holiday.”) All we have to worry about with our modern New Millennium calendar is Leap Year, daylight savings time, and April 15.

Julius Caesar, on the other hand, had to worry about the soothsayer and the daggers of Brutus and Cassius and the other Senators. “Beware the Ides of March,” the soothsayer told Caesar, advice, history tells us, he failed to heed with dire consequences to his health.

It is with some trepidation on this day, the Ides of March, that I look out a bedroom window and notice flashing lights down at the intersection of Tualco Rd. and SR 203. “Beware the WSDOT” for the next four to six months. The left turn lane project is underway.

This morning I called the informational number on the many numerous garish orange signs posted along SR 203 (425-225-8700, if you are so inclined to have a conversation with a WSDOT project manager). I talked to Mr. Farshid Namiranian (does that sound Irish to you?) and will pass along this information pertinent to the Tulalco/203 left turn lane project. The project’s intent is to widen  SR 203 at that intersection to allow for left hand turn lanes. There will be no lane closures for shoulder work. Work on the road itself will involve lane closures from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 and then again from 9:00 p.m. until midnight.  These lane closures may involve pilot cars to  assist traffic through the construction zone. To help with drainage (??) DOT will construct a “Media Filter Drain” from the corner of Tualco south nearly to the first residential driveway. This drain is intended to direct excess water to the culvert centerpoint on the embankment. The shoulder will be extended and the embankment incline revamped to a 4” to 1” slope (a steeper pitch than the angle of repose; any careening vehicle will still crash through the paddock fencing). Thanks, by the way to Mr. Namiranian, who addressed all my questions and concerns in a friendly, professional way as best he could.

I do have concerns about this project, and at the risk of being a NIMBY, here they are. First, the local community has had no input on this project. Two years ago I talked to  project manager Manuel J. Quinteiro (does that sound Irish to you?) about a public meeting addressing the project. Manuel and three assistants were taking some measurements along the project route. Mr. Quinteiro carried the blueprints, an assistant held a clipboard, the third a can of day-glo orange spray paint, and the fourth at the ready to pick up any item should one of his fellows drop something. Manuel said there would be a meeting and that the citizens impacted would be informed. No meeting was ever held. Matt Beebe who owns the business on the N. corner of Tualco/203 called again recently and was told there would be no meeting; the project was planned and would soon be underway. What  input would I have given were a meeting held? My first point would have been that WSDOT could save the state considerable money if they lowered the speed limit to 45 mph from Ben Howard Road to the Cadman quarry, posted a sign reading “Left Turns Ahead” with a flashing caution light north of the intersection, and enforced the reduced speed limit along that stretch of highway. This fix is not that  unreasonable. From Ben Howard Road to Cadman, a 2.3 mile stretch of road, there are ten businesses that cause traffic to slow for those vehicles wishing to turn. In these days of distracted drivers, 55 mph in this stretch is part of the problem.

A second issue I would have mentioned concerns the hydraulics in the area: how will the new drainage system affect the flow of water during flood season. Mr. Quinteiro said the drain would need to contain a 100 year flood. I told him that unless they diked ten acres around the south-west corner of Tualco, their drain would have little effect and might even exacerbate flooding in the area. Via email I shared with Manuel photos I took during the 2006 flood. He said he would “pass them along to his manger [sic].”culvert w.viewculvert, nw.viewStreutkers '06N. HighRock R.,'06

One would hope that this project makes the intersection safer. I have concerns about the left turn lanes. Will there be a problem if  north  and south bound vehicles converge simultaneously in the turn lane? Will the traffic turning north from Tualco Rd. have to cross two lanes of traffic (if the south bound turners to N. High Rock Road congest the turn lane, especially during hours of peak traffic flow)? Nearly all the accidents occur in the afternoon and involve inattentive drivers at speeds in excess of 55 mph rear-ending vehicles turning left to High Rock. I can think of only two accidents involving northbound traffic at that intersection. Both happened last summer. One involved a car turning into the businesses at the latte/fruit stand site. The other involved a motorcyclist who tried to pass  on the right a pickup towing a boat  and got tangled up with the boat trailer.


One final comment before I close this post. June 30, 2008, there was a double fatality accident at the project intersection. The accident involved a motorcycle traveling south on the fog line at a high rate of speed. A vehicle driven by a teenage girl, who did not see the cycle, pulled out, and was T-boned by the cyclist. Neither driver survived the impact which was so violent it flipped her car. My comment: there’s no left turn lane configuration in the world that can prevent stupidity.Tualco 203 2 fatality

Update: The project preparations continued today. The subcontractor, CSI, laid a "compost sock" along the project route. I talked to Tom, a supervisor, about work hours. He pulled a three-ring binder from his pickup and thumbed through about 400 pages of project info. Sorry to say, those of us in the construction zone are back to sleepless nights. Here's the work schedule according to Thomas: Monday through Friday, day construction from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Second shift: 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., Monday through Thursday. Plan your trips to town accordingly.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Blow Winds and Crack your Cheeks...

Raved crazy old King Lear as he pranced about naked on the moors, baring his soul and skin to the "hurricanoes"(but then Lear had three daughters). This morning the wind whips across the Valley, lingering a bit on the hills to the west and then rushing full tilt across the flatlands. Ranting is on my mind, and I can rant as well as any crazy old King--and with only one daughter, too. But then just as a horse likes a good startle, I welcome a good rant.The DOT's turn lane project on SR 203 at Tualco and N. High Rock Roads, five years in the planning (or procrastinating) is underway. A couple of days ago we heard a gentle "tap, tapping" across the road, opened the shades and were blinded by a day-glo orange fence that stretches two or three hundred yards north along the shoulder of the east side of the highway, the harbinger of construction noise, road delays and general aggravation from now until October. This mockery to the eye (the color alone is enough to deter litter; couldn't they have used "camoflage" to accomplish the same objective?) is called a "silt fence" and purports to keep construction debris from sensitive areas (the slough east of the road is designated "wetlands," a word loaded with all sorts of environmental implications and impediments). I wonder at its effectiveness. This morning's gusts have blown down a couple sections already, and if the fence can't even keep out the Valley's zephyrs, it won't stand a chance against a chunk of asphalt.

Looks like, too, that construction may very well be round the clock. We could be sleepless in the Valley for eight months.You might want to call the number on the garish sign posted by the horse paddocks to see if you'll need earplugs and blinders to get some shut-eye come summer nights.

Road construction of any kind is so commonplace that it's hardly news, but when it occurs almost in your front yard and creates a disruption on par with the Great Valley Flood of '06, it warrants mention. Besides, for Gladys and me this highway project is certain to hinder access to the Valley. And it will be a frustration to the Valley folk who leave and return here during the day. This is big news. And I shall report it. Just don't expect a non-biased reporting. There's nothing objective about a rant.

(Note: maybe nocturnal peace and quiet will be ours after all. The sign above is NOT the one posted earlier in the week. I am certain it read "call about night work.")

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fickle March

The wind is blustery today in the Valley, and it's just as well that Gladys stayed behind in the garage. As I turn the corner heading south, February slaps me in the face. I'm glad I wore the wool cap and gloves on this jaunt. There will be no swallows today silhouetted against the banks of thick gray clouds. Smoke drifts from the chimney of the Streutker homestead. A woodfire day for sure.

In spite of the wintry weather birds abound in the Valley today, especially the robins. They are everywhere: in the trees, berry fields, pastures or en route to those places. Today Tualco Valley would be a delight for Rachel Carson: no Silent Spring here.

The corner at Swiss Hall has coughed up another penny: 1974, Denver mint. Traffic has abraded Abe's face considerably, heaping more insult upon J. W. Booth's injury. When you think about it, the Lincoln penny as a talisman of good luck seems a bit ironic. I wonder what Mary Todd Lincoln would have to say about that kind of luck? And I wonder what sort of luck today's find will bring me? Hopefully nothing as severe as Lincoln experienced at the performance of My American Cousin.

On the return route I see a northern harrier (Circus cyaneus). This time of year they frequent the Valley, flying up and down the rows of wrapped berry canes as if cruising the aisles of a supermarket looking for small birds, rodents, and frogs. Harriers are raptors termed "accipiters" and are characterized by their slim bodies, long, slender wings and tail. They are open ground and marshland fliers, gliding effortlessly low over the earth in search of prey. It's a delight to watch them float, using the air currents to move rapidly, covering large areas of ground with little wing movement. The British named their vertical thrust jet fighter, the AV-8A, after the harrier hawk because of its versatile flight capabilities. The Harrier Jump jet can take off and land vertically like a helicopter because of the vertical tilt function of its engines. The similarity ends there, of course; the northern harrier is a silent hunter powered not by jet engines but currents of air.

There is always something different in the Valley and today I notice Ed's new mailbox standard. It is a masterful blend of carpentry, geometry, and 6 x 6's. All it needs is a coat of paint.