Search This Blog

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.

Print this post

No comments:

Post a Comment