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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Valley Teetering…

Summer breathes its last...

On the brink of Fall. You wake up one morning in mid August and summer is gone. Just that fast. During the night it fled the Valley under cover of darkness. This morning the Valley, as if in lament, sighs mist and fog. Summer is dead and you smell it in the air—the stench of fall, the reek of all those unfinished projects, chores, and intentions left unfulfilled. This summer, what there was of it, is spent. You’ve heard of summer vacation? Well, this year it took one.

The Valley birds sense it, too. Just yesterday a flock of Canadian geese clamored over, drifting lazily southward. Their cries were tentative, tinged with uncertainty: something urged them into flight. Today the flight is aimless, but they are restless waterfowl. I believe these small flocks are locals and don’t migrate, don’t seek the upper atmosphere jet streams that allow them to “draft” south, seeking those warmer climes. These are not the skeins of geese of my childhood, large bands of fifty or more whose migratory “V’s” were nearly invisible against the gray autumn clouds, their presence sometimes detected only by a faint clamor of purpose. I call these local bands commuter geese. They fly from cornfield to cornfield, from one lakeside park to the next; ample forage for a “staycation”here; no need to head down south for greener pastures .

The jays are jabbering, too, those cocky corvids. Their jawboning is another sign summer is out of season. I’m not totally conversant in Jayspeak, but I know what’s  going on in their clever little birdbrains. The topic of the day: hazelnuts, this year’s crop, which is ripe for harvest.hazelnuts for the pickin' Theirs is a stealthy thievery: they stalk their prey as if it were about to flee at any moment. Flitting silently from tree to tree, branch to branch, they skulk around like burglars until they spy an unsuspecting nut. And then it’s attack with a vengeance. Snatch it from the stem and dart off to some large branch against which they whack open the shell and devour the meat.

nut picker

Our steel-blue critters are Stellar’s jays, not the American Blue Jay which resides east of the Rockies. But a jay is a jay, its persona defined by its jaunty topnotch in much the same way as cartoon character Woody Woodpecker’s flaming red tuft of feathers crowns a devil-may-care sauciness. A jay is a curious bird. And I’m a curious bird, too. Answer me this, you birders out there: “How is it a jay knows a nut contains no meat?” Walk about under any hazelnut tree after the jays have had their way with it. You will find several whole nuts lying about and wonder “How did those rascals overlook these?” But pick up any one of those leftovers, crack it open, and you’ll find nothing but air. “How do it know?” I wonder. There are those who think animals live just in the moment, for the moment. I don’t believe this at all about jays. They plan for the future. They must. How else to account for all the hazelnut saplings that sprout up in cultivated hedges. The same goes for the walnut trees that suddenly appear on the edge of things. Once I found a walnut in the fresh dirt of a mole mound. Surely you don’t think a mole planted it there! (Squirrels are more short-sighted; they bury nuts for later use, although I’m sure they don’t retrieve all they bury.) Seems like every spring I have to make the rounds of the property, pull up and destroy the random orchards and future harvests that no longer will be around to fill the craw of some forward thinking jay. And if jays do plan ahead, they need to heed this warning: better lay by all the hazelnuts you can, you pesky squawkers; this year you’ll be lucky to find a half dozen walnuts on the big walnut tree out back.

The swallows are making the most of these shorter days, too, feasting heartily on the Valley insects. (I’ve heard a single swallow consumes upwards of two hundred bugs a day.) They know they need to “bulk up” for their long flight south. This year’s fledglings, sensing their parents’ urgency,  join them in the hunt. Soon they’ll congregate on the power lines, adults and young alike, gathering forces for their departure; one day, like summer, they’ll be gone.

My bees, whose short lives are governed by the god Helios, the sun of summer and the long hours of sunlight, in a subtle way announce a change of season, as well. The fruit has set on the blackberries, leaving the bees to forage at random: on garden flowers, field dandelions and flowering weeds, broccoli florets—desperate for anything in bloom from which to glean a drop of nectar, a grain of pollen. I look at their hives and know what’s going on within. What with the shorter hours of daylight,  brood production has slacked, the colony’s trimming their population to winter’s leanness, a balance between numbers and stores. And those freeloaders, the drones, don’t know it but their days are few and numbered. But this dearth of nectar is a boon for the garden and the winter’s pantry. There’s scarcely a cucumber, squash, or pumpkin blossom that isn’t being, hasn’t been, visited by a bee, a sure guarantee for winter pickles, squash soup, golden pumpkin pie.

Day laborer

A final sign of summer’s departure is the appearance on the place of the Woodland Skipper butterfly (Ochlodes sylvanoides). These fiery little dervishes whirligig  everywhere, nectaring among the zinnias, sampling the lobelia, sunning themselves wherever, flitting at will fearlessly about. A reaffirmation second only to the “Back to School” sales was this sprightly little butterfly’s  “in your face” flaunting that you’d soon be marching back to the classroom to battle with yet another year’s crop of sophomores: that you’d have to head for the closet, snag an idled tie, and practice how to retie it. I’m a great fancier of butterflies, have a growing collection of Washington State’s finest, but the sight of that little orange vagabond always filled me with dread. Now that those days are behind me, all I have to fear from these busy little insects is the winter that’s just around the corner.

 Skippers of Fall

 Bee skipper

Just a brief return to the subject of jays before I sign off. If you want to learn more about avian audacity, a jay’s facility for language, its penchant for gossip—and love of nuts--I suggest you read Mark Twain’s delightful short story “What Stumped the Bluejays.” I’ve included the link for you if you want to take the time. If not, I’ll leave you with a quote from the story, an observation of Twain’s that in my opinion is of universal and timeless import: “A jay hasn’t any more principle than a Congressman.” Makes me wonder just what sort of outrage a jay once perpetrated against the irascible Mr. Twain. Might have been nothing more than yammering about fall.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Off With Their Heads in the Valley…

Heads up

To my knowledge there’s no Teutonic ancestry in my lineage, unless a band of lusty Germanic crusaders en route to the Crusades made a brief stopover in Ireland. When my pre-college aptitude tests were analyzed, the results revealed I had an affinity for Germanic languages (in the adjacent column, “spatial cognition,” where a numerical score should appear, were only the words “Ha! Ha! Ha!”).

Strange, I thought, since I knew no German. (I did know a German, though (two Germans, to be sure): Mr. Bill Gebhardt, our camp mechanic, but what I acquired from him was an affinity for bees and beekeeping; what I learned about his wife Marie was to stay out of the Gebhardts’ small apple orchard on hot days because as rumor had it, she puttered about the place in her bra.) Dad took German in college, but it seemed unlikely a college German class could have wormed its way into his DNA and trickled down into mine. What I’m doing here is trying to understand  my love of making sauerkraut ( G.  sauer: sour; kraut: cabbage): I’m afraid my Irish heritage can lay claim to cabbage only. (Later in my college days, I learned English was a “Germanic” Language. “Well, ok,” I thought, “ I can navigate around fairly reasonably in that medium.”)

I do love sauerkraut—and not just because I learned years ago that a can of sauerkraut juice can purge a balky intestinal tract far more effectively than a quart of Sunkist prune juice. I love the process of sauerkraut, love to grow the cabbage, delight in the beheading of it, relish the hours it takes to shred and pack twenty pounds of cabbage into a three gallon crock. I love both the journey and destination, which begins by tamping a shiny black seed into potting soil and delivers me at last in the land of Reuben sandwiches.

My sauerkraut journey begins in March when I plant my cabbage seed in seedling pots. This year’s seed was a Christmas gift from brother Kevin who has just begun his second year of sauerkraut internship. When their secondary leaves form, I drench theAt the start thirsty seedlings in fish fertilizer and set them out in the  company of the sweet peas. Fast forward beyond the weeding, the pest control, and watering to the day of beheading, which this year was  August 12, last Thursday,.

Armed with a machete, the executioner marches out into the cabbage patch and steels himself for the first swift decapitation. It’s heads up for me and heads off for the cabbage. Cabbage RowYears of experience tell me I need 6-8 heads for twenty pounds of ‘kraut. This year, whether it was the cool spring or variety of cabbage, the heads are denser than in the past. I whack five heads from their stems, trim off the wormhole-riddled outer leaves, and haul the green noggins to the house.                        Twenty Pounds

I wash the cabbages and begin the process. My environmentally-sensitive friend has come through for me again. It’s Nancy L’s kitchen scale I use to weigh out five pounds of cabbage at a time. With a sharp chef’s knife I slice the five pounds as thinly as possible into a stainless steel bowl, add the proper ratio of salt (pickling salt, mind you) to cabbage: 3 Tbsp. per five pounds,  sprinkle the salt evenly on the heap of cabbage, and  mix the contents thoroughly. For fifteen minutes I allow the salt to draw the water from the cabbage, creating the brine essential for the fermenting process.     

Five pounds sliced

Two handfuls at a time I transfer the dripping cabbage from bowl to crock and use my fist to pack the cabbage tightly. sliced and saltedI repeat this procedure three more times until I’ve compressed twenty pounds of wilted cabbage firmly in the 3 gallon crock.To prevent airborne contaminates, I tamp a muslin kitchen towel tightly against the edges of the crock, place a special china plate (a perfect fit for the diameter) on the cloth, and weight it with a two pound granite river cobble. Out in the garage it goes where it will stay until the brine is absorbed, the fermentation complete, and ‘kraut vintage 2010 is ready to bottle.


Twenty pounds crocked


While I await the finished product, I’ll share a recipe with you, one that combines both my aptitude for things Germanic (my muttersprache, English) and my Irish lineage* (paternal grandmother Mary Egan, The Old Sod, County Mayo):

Reuben Chowder

3 cups milk

1  10 3/4 oz. can condensed cream of celery soup

1/2 cup shredded process Swiss cheese (2 oz.)

1  16-oz can of sauerkraut, drained and snipped [“Snipped?” Couldn’t tell you why]

*                       *                    *                *

3 Tbsp. butter or margarine [margarine??], softened

4-6 slices rye bread

1 tsp caraway seed

*                      *                      *                 *

*1 12-oz. can corned beef, chilled and diced

In a sauce pan stir milk into celery soup and shredded cheese. Add sauerkraut and simmer for fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, spread the butter or margarine over both sides of the rye bread into triangles; place on baking sheet. Toast in 300 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Add diced corned beef to soup. Heat about 10 minutes or till heated through. Serve toast triangles with soup. Makes 4-6 servings.

Note: If homemade sauerkraut is not used, chowder may have a strong flavor of supermarket shelves.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Well-Preserved from the Valley…

Pickle me thrice

Yesterday the author returned to the classroom for the first time in ten years. No chalkboards here. No first of the period roll taking. And I did not have to give a single assignment. And better yet, did not have to correct any.

 Pare a peel

I brought some of the Valley with me for show-and-tell: all local produce I had dried, jammed, pickled or frozen. In fact that was pretty much The Valley, pickledthe title of my presentation at the Pacific Culinary Studio in Everett: “All Dried Up, Jammed, Pickled and Frozen.” No sophomores in this classroom; just four attentive adults who were interested in the “laying  by” of local fruits and vegetables.Attentive class

Instead of a piece of chalk in one hand and a book in the other, I wielded a vegetable peeler and top-of-the-line kitchen knife. The Culinary Studio features a marvelous demonstration kitchen and is well-stocked with the culinary accoutrements that would make any chef feel at ease. For audience optimum viewing every movement I made, clumsy or otherwise, was reflected by an overhead mirror and and aired on a closed circuit t.v. 

Closed circuit





Reflects well on me

While the class munched on dried zucchini slices, tomatoes and apples, I proceeded with my presentation. And for the next three hours I felt like PBS’s George Ray, without a moustache, of course, and doing the actual work instead of standing by snatching up the food as it arrived hot from the stove.

Mine was a live performance, a first time run through with no rehearsal: no script to follow; no editing of mishaps or inept fumblings. My tutorials included drying apples, freezing blueberries, and pickliDrying applesng beets (2 jars, pint and one halfs; my fingertips this morning are still a blushing pink) and a pint jar of gourmet sweet cucumber pickles (from immature gherkins picked  fresh from the vine that morning). I capped off the performance by sharing my experiences preparing jams and jellies, gave a short explanation of my homemade preserves: pepper and quince jelly, quince-apple marmalade, and cooked strawberry jam. 

Blueberries to freeze

In the last few minutes we moved from show and tell to show and tell and taste when the class sampled my jalapeno pepper jelly spread on crackers and cream cheese. (Sorry, class, I forgot to share the refrigerator pickled beets, just plain didn’t set them out.)

From my days in the classroom I learned that “To teach is to learn twice.” It was true then and certainly held true yesterday. I learned that every man needs an island, a cooking island, that is. I nearly learned NOT to leave the heavy handle of a sauce pot over an ignited gas burner (thanks to my observant wife Trecia. Because of her vigilance the class was most certainly spared an expletive undeleted in this live performance). I learned “it’s as easy as cooking with gas” ain’t all that easy. And I learned, sadly, there’s even less hair on my head than I had thought.

Bald spot

Before I exit this post I would like to extend a few thank-yous. A well-deserved thanks to Lindalee McCandlis for her fine facility and allowing me the opportunity to share my love of home canning and food preservation with others. Thanks, too, to my wife--and partner in food preservation--Trecia for helping me prepare for the class and keep my wits about me during the session


And class, thanks for your patience and attention for a session that went longer than scheduled. A good class you were too. Not a single time-out issued. Not one hour of detention assigned.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Got Old Tractor…?

Big Valley Doin's

The morning mist lifts from the Valley, unfolding like a down comforter into a sky that spurns clouds. Out for an early ride in the cool air, Gladys and I glide into the driveway at the Frohning Family Farm where we thrill to the sound of a mandolin pickin’ its way through that old Bluegrass classic “Salty Dog Blues.” A fiddle and guitar blend in and if Gladys had feet, she’d be stomping her brogans to that good ol’ country music.

A voice croons, “Let me be your Salty Dog or I won’t be your man at all…” from a loudspeaker on a pole. It is August and we are here early on this first of the three-day annual Valley extravaganza that does homage to that indispensable helpmate on the American farm, the tractor.Puller of yesteryear And if you have ever owned a tractor, driven a tractor, or ridden one, you need to visit the Frohning Farm sometime between now and Sunday.




Sporting new paint jobs, their Armor-All-ed big tread tires glint in the morning sun. You have to squint to look at them. Every make and model of vintage “puller” is on display. You got your McCormicks, you got your Fords, your Massey Fergusons, your Olivers. I see a couple old Cases. A few shiny International Harvesters have made their appearance. As always, there’s an Age and beautyimpressive contingent of the old “Poppin’ Johnnies,” lined up and gleaming in their Sunday go-to meetin’ John Deere green.

I wander between the rows of old timers and then I see her, a vintage gun metal gray Ferguson and suddenly I’m back in the apple orchard of my youth, sitting on that spring seat, puzzling over how I’m going to get that big right tire  off the tongue of the orchard trailer I’ve backed up on. I’ve got the Ferguson at right angles to the tongue, backed up against it and I’m stuck. And man, is this young country boy ever embarrassed! So there I sit idling in neutral until one of my co-workers, an old tractor man, frees the two of us.Old FergieYes, it was “Old Fergie” that ushered me into the world of motor vehicles. This reliable gray machine, with her four-speed trannie,  taught me clutch technique: “let her out slowly, while givin’  ‘er the gas” with the old hand throttle. And after a few weeks of her gentle understanding, I learned to shift smoothly from one gear to the next and reverse any orchard trailer with the best of ‘em.The gray ghost Yes, time rolled back…. I was proud to pose Gladys by my old, gray friend.



  Two vintage ridesI wasn’t the only one waxing nostalgic this morning. I run into Trouble # One and his sidekick Trouble #two, those Rollers, Darren and son Jesse. Both have just finished pounding back their five dollar breakfasts. Roller has brought his pride and joy, a 1966 Jacobson riding lawnmower, the exact model that in his youth fueled his love for trimming the green. “Born to Mow” is that man’s motto. And there she sits this early morning, all tricked out in orange glory, her chrome wheel covers a’ glint with delight at that prize ribbon dangling from her engine cowling.

 A couple of mowin' foolsRoller's orange babe






Over the three day affair, which features several tractor-related events including a grand parade of these old classics, spectators can experience an old-fashioned threshing bee, a throw-back to the days that pre-date our modern grain combines when reapers first cut the grain, then gathered it into shocks and hauled it to a steam-powered thresher, which then separated grain from chaff.


Craft booths and other curiosities complement the show. If you want to bring a curio Saw blade arthome, I suggest you stop by the saw blade art booth where old saw blades are turned into works of farm-related artwork.  As you saunter about, though, be careful.  I spied a sprightly old couple in a vintage jalopy motoring around the grounds. At their age I have my doubts they should be behind the wheel. Besides, these two seniors seemed more interested in each other than watching the road. Senior drivers Keep your mind on your drivin'

Be sure to bring the kiddos, too. They’ll love the hayrides, toy pedal tractors, coloring contest, and petting zoo. Let them become tractor men themselves at the photo board.

A country boy






An old hayseedAnd no one need go hungry, either. Not with the five dollar breakfasts and other food venues to choose from. 



5 dollar breakfast

If you have a hankerin’ for some good ol’down on the farm fun, take a jaunt to the Frohning Farm this weekend. Enjoy this wonderful event in our spectacular Valley. Weather’s great. Come, take a look see, listen to a little Bluegrass (if you can hear it above the pop, pop, poppin’ of those old farm classics). But unless you’re a young ‘un under twelve, better come flush with cash.Admit one rich personGladys and I just flashed our press passes, however, and entered free of charge. What’s not to enjoy about that!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Taste of a Poem

watermelon pickles

You can grow a lot of crops in the Valley but watermelon isn’t one of them. Cucumbers, their kissin’ cousins, do well. Season’s too cool and short for melon production; even if the gardener’s lucky, tomatoes end up fifty-fifty red and green at season’s end. Explains all the recipe books on the many ways to cook, can, and preserve green tomatoes. Watermelon thrives in climes of hot days and warm nights. Here in the Valley a melon crop could only come from an artificially enhanced climate: green house, that is to say. If it can’t grow in the backyard garden, it has low priority in this household (this year I wrote off okra as a lost cause). However because of a poem I read years ago, I have been long intrigued by a watermelon by-product. The subject and sentiment of that poem inspired me to don a kitchen apron and launch myself into a recipe that would result in a batch of watermelon pickles.

John Tobias’s“Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity,”is a seasonal lament, a longing for summer, for those lazy hot months, represented in his poem by the hallmark fruit of the season—when “watermelons ruled.” “Reflections…” evokes not only summer but summers long since fled, “when unicorns were still possible;” the summers of six cents a pound watermelon, family picnics when we spat or tiddly-winked black seeds from thumb and forefinger. Our chins, those days, were none the worse for being sweetness-stained from the cold juice; our backs youth-resilient to the bent postures we assumed to deflect the flow of liquid from clothing or bare chest, allowing it to dribble to the ground in thick drops. You knew what flesh was prime and plumbed the pink depths until you reached the core, the heart, where the sweetness dwelt. Remember the paper plates with the teeth gnawed leavings, the green crescent rinds, their inner curves a blushing pink. These we discarded in trash cans, the rinds sometimes pitched into nearby weeds where ants soon peppered them. Could one pack that much memory in a jar of pickled rinds, I wondered? I thought I’d give it a try.

Like anything else homemade, I found time was the ingredient most required here; there’s no microwave swiftness possible in preparing a batch of watermelon pickle. I began by removing the flesh from one medium-sized watermelon (on sale at Freddie’s but not at the six cents a pound we paid in the 1950’s), set it aside for “future use,” and then set about paring the skin from the rind. Next, I chopped the peeled rind into one inch chunks (12 cups required; I used it all). Then I prepared an ice water salt brine in which I steeped the rind for eight hours. After the eight hour brine bath, I rinsed the rind thoroughly in cold water and prepared the pickling brine: sugar, white vinegar, a spice packet of cloves and allspice (whole), which I brought to a boil and then poured over the watermelon rind. Added one whole lemon, thinly sliced  to the mix and steeped for another eight hours. (In the the meantime I needed a good night’s rest.)

The next day I placed brine, spice packet, lemon and product into a large kettle, brought the mixture to a boil, reduced the heat and let the whole business simmer for another hour. The end was in sight now. I ladled the hot pickles into wide-mouthed pint jars, popped a whole stick of cinnamon in each jar and processed the seven pints in a steam canner for fifteen minutes. And though I was considerably older than when I started, the end result looked quite appealing.


finished pickles





Double pickle

Now the jars sit in the dark in the garage pantry, waiting until some snowbound January evening, when the nights are long and cold and the winter tiresome. Then in the warmth of the woodstove’s glow, I will open a jar of watermelon pickle and discover if:

The summer which maybe never was

Has been captured and preserved

And when we unscrew the lid

And slice off a piece

And let it linger on our tongue;

Unicorns become possible again.”

And if Tobias’s claim proves true, I’m sure I’ll find a friend I can gift with my watermelon pickle, brush aside the misery of winter, cast off the dreariness of spring, and bring a burst of summer rushing to the tongue.

Pickle trio

Monday, August 2, 2010

Up to Your Boot Tops in….in the Valley

plumber Andy


The other day Gladys and I were meandering through  the Valley and happened upon a little excavating project on the lower Loop road. At the end of a ditch dug by a backhoe machine, down in a hole, shovel in hand, was Andy Werkhoven and associate. They were puttering (or puddling) around in a pool of …well, let’s just say a pungent, green liquid. The digester feedline had stopped up, backed up, clogged up by the solid wastes from the dairy. No supply to the digester, no methane by-product; no methane, no fuel for the generator; no generator, no electricity surging onto the power grid.

“What’s going on here?” I ask Andy. He gestures with an arm that sports a green ring nearly up to his elbow. “We’ve had a little blockage,” he smiles. ( Ah, ha, a constipated poo poo line!) I notice a bilge pump is hard at work keeping the bilious liquid from flowing into their boots. No need to stain your socks, if you can avoid it. He’s in the process of installing a valve that would serve to purge further blockages by using a high-pressure water stream. I have my doubts, but Andy’s sure it will work.

I ask Andy if I could digitally record a man at work in a pool of bovine waste. “Am I going to be on the internet?” he asks. “Most likely,” I reply. He smiles and continues wrestling with the 6” supply line. “You want people to know what a….business dairy farmin’ is?” Andy laughed. “Actually,” I replied-- Werkhoven Dairythough any walk or ride by the dairy barns pretty much high-profiled the presence of Andy’s barnyard vulgarism—“I try to run a clean blog. I’m afraid I’d have to call forth a euphemism for such a colorful term.” My comment opens the door for Andy to relate the oft-told anecdote about President Harry S. Truman. Apparently Truman came under fire by some prudes who complained about the President’s persistent use of the word “manure.” Wife Bess came to his defense and told the group, “You ought to thank me: it took  forty years for me to get him to say that!”

Andy’s story reminded me of my days in the classroom, teaching sophomores Latin and Greek roots, prefixes and suffixes as a way to unlock the meaning of an unfamiliar word. “Man, “manu,”I told them is a  Latin root (fem.) for hand and proceeded to give examples, “manufacture: to make something by hand; “manual labor”: to use one’s hands in work; “manuscript” a document written by hand. “Manure.” (I had their attention now.) “Something you don’t want to get on your hands!”

As I note the green hue nearly up to Andy’s elbows, I hearkened back to the days of yore when I, too, stood in a liquid-filled hole, shovel in hand, wrangling with a drainpipe. I related this story in my memoir Growing up Riparian: A Columbia River Boyhood. That day I worked in a different medium than Andy, but the tint was much the same. I had been assigned the job of freeing a blockage in a 4” galvanized pipe, part of a drainage system that drained runoff irrigation water away from a section of orchard. If the system failed, the trees would die from overwatering. I ran a plumber’s snake down the pipe until it was stopped by the obstruction. Marking the free end of the snake first, I pulled out the remainder, stretched it out on the ground above the pipe’s path, determined at what location I needed to dig the hole to access the blockage.

I dug the hole and used a cold chisel to split open the pipe. At this point the backed up water quickly filled the hole, and I was suddenly working in water shoulder deep. I peeled back the metal far enough so I could reach into the pipe to feel for the blockage. I groped around and soon found the obstruction. My hand closed around a cluster of teeth and a small skull.  I quickly withdrew my hand in alarm. Then I realized what was blocking the pipe. A skunk had crawled into the pipe opening, tried to pass through,  and in its attempt got stuck and perished. My job was to remove the carcass. As soon as I realized the skunk posed no further danger, I proceeded to dislodge it. The head was firmly lodged and would not budge. I moved down the pipe to the skunk’s posterior, hoping to free it from that direction, a breech extraction. My hand closed on the tail. I tugged. In early stages of decomposition, the skunk’s flesh gave way; the tail slipped off in my hand. At that instant the musk glands ruptured and immediately a putrid liquid rose to the surface of the water, coating my arms a green much the same hue as that coating Andy’s today-- accompanied, of course, by a more potent smell so strong I nearly lost consciousness. Pulling on the tail like a rope, I was finally able to wiggle the corpse free of its watery grave and the water flowed through once again. A couple of hours in the river and two bars of soap later, I was finally allowed in the house for dinner.

I had been wanting to talk to theMuckin' it out Werkhovens about the new system they had in place to convert dairy cow by-product into electricity. That’s why Andy was now laboring in the hole: to clear the supply line and restore the flow of organic to the anaerobic digester at the old Honor Farm. “Andy,” I said, “I’ve had some questions I wanted to ask you about your digester system, but every time I see you, you’re rushing here, rushing there, always on your way somewhere to do something. Just a wave as you fly by.”


Up to their knees in it

He stopped for a moment (or  just shifted position, maybe?) and said, “You know, you’re right. I was out in the field the other day and saw Mt. Rainier. I told myself, ‘This is such a beautiful Valley, I need to stop and smell the roses once in a while.” I looked at the green tint on Andy’s arms, breathed in the Valley’s aroma up close and personal, and thought: “Perhaps that cliche’s not the appropriate context for your present labors, Andy; a florist’s van full of Mr. Lincoln roses could pull up right now and be totally cancelled out.” But again, maybe after a day of wading in cow “manure” that’s what a dairyman needs. I didn’t tell Andy he needs to be careful about pausing a moment to reflect on the beauty, the purple mountain’s majesty of Mt. Rainier. I did that last Sunday and it bought me a whole lot of trouble.