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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Keep Movin’ in the Valley…

Ranier in Sept

The Valley is a lonelier place these waning days of September. The swallows have fled south. The barn swallows are the laggards, last to leave, but they are gone, too.  I miss their sky frolic. I try to think of an appropriate collective noun for a skyful of swallows: a “Swoop” of swallows? A “glide” of swallows? A “felicity” of swallows…? But mostly, I suppose, their departure is a symbolic loss: the loss of a season, those long days of light and warmth—the weather of shorts, sandals, and tee-shirts. It is a weighty symbolism that presages months of dreary weather—dark and gloom—floods and storms. And of course there’s the underlying uneasiness that when next the swallows visit the Valley, months will have passed, a new year of uncertainty will have arrived; time irretrievable, forever lost. 

Starlings rule the Valley now. A collective noun for them? A “blight” of starlings? A “scourge?” A “plague?” The Valley throngs with this troublesome avian. As I ride by the cornfields adjacent Frohning Road, I startle clouds of them skyward (a “Startle” of starlings?) These swirling flocks are the hearty descendents of the sixty original European stock released in New York’s Central Park in 1890, brought to the continent by the Acclimation Society of North America whose bird-brained member Eugene Schieffelin reputedly sought to introduce all the birds referenced in Shakespeare’s plays to the New World. (“Starling” appears only once in Shakespeare: Henry IV, Part I, I, iii, ll. 224-6 :

“I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak/

Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him/

to keep his anger in motion.”

Seems a grave injustice to visit such an avian epidemic on a young Nation for a one-time reference in thirty-seven full length plays, don’t you think? And what’s in the name, anyway? Star+ling—“young star”— what a misnomer for such a dowdy, drab little feathered pest.)

Truth or not, this highly adaptable and prolific bird quickly bullied its way trans continent. I received an email bulletin from Walt Werkhoven  a few days ago informing me that the annual corn harvest will occur within the next two weeks.Starling Repast I notice the starlings have been conducting an aggressive corn harvest of their own, and as the throngs take flight, I wondered how much crop will be left in two weeks.

Even though  sunshine bathes the Valley, my thoughts are under a cloud this morning as I pedal along. They roost sinisterly in the dead cottonwood tree on the banks of Riley Slough by the Lower Loop Bridge. My dark thoughts have transmigrated into buzzards, it seems, eleven of them (might just as well have been thirteen).Buzzard Count  How apt, I think: symbolism on the march here in the Valley. Vulture thoughts to shade what should be a grateful spirit—one more day of sun before winter’s “discontent.”



Buzzard game plan

Their hulking bodies seem to say,“Don’t linger long. Keep moving; time’s a’wasting; and Time will waste you, too.” I have never seen them here before. I wonder, “Do they know something I don’t?” Some begin to shuffle on theirBuzzard Roost perches: I have stopped long enough already and decide to move along before I’m shuffled upon. Buzzards: how much more foreboding than a congregation of swallows (a “Conspiracy” of vultures; a “Wake” of buzzards…).

“Fall is a reckoning time of the year/When the stock of the summer is brought up to clear…” I once wrote, and I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “To a Young Child”:

Margaret, are you grieving

Over Goldengrove unleaving

Leaves, like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! As the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By & by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you will weep & know why.

Now no matter, child, the same.

Not mouth had, no nor mind expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It is the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

Cottonwood leaves flutter down, drift across the road—summer’s residue. As they swirl around me, I think of the lines: “as the heart grows older…the blight man was born for….” Old Capulet bemoaned his lost youth: “‘Tis gone, ‘tis gone, ‘tis gone”; summer ‘tis spent, too. Is it that what I grieve for? Or perhaps it’s just me I mourn?

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  1. I am a sister of Jim,Andy, and Walt Werkhoven and just heard about your blog. I have read the whole thing and enjoyed it immensely! Even though I lived in Tualco Valley for only about four years (my parents moved there when I started HS and then I went on to school and never moved back) I have been back often, especially between 2003 and 2008 when my Dad was alone and then during his final illness. My first job, besides work on our own farm, was for Tony Broers. I was a lousy berry picker so they soon had me babysitting their children and cooking for them during berry season.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. Thelma,
    I'm glad you enjoy my blog.Thanks for taking the time to read the posts. The Werkhoven dairy, of course, is definitely a part of the Valley action. I have been to and fro in Tualco since 1975 and the Valley has always entertained me one way or other. Also, I miss your dad's friendly waves, which he never failed to give whenever I passed him on my Valley visits. Re: berry picking. my experience was with U-Pick only. There's no way I could have made wages in the berry fields either. But then that was also the case when I was a kid picking apples and pears on an orchard in E. Wash. TJ