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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lost and ‘Lorn in the Valley…

A formation of trumpeters

Gladys and I took advantage of a lull in a mid-February reaffirmation of winter’s presence and wheeled into the Valley to check things out, take in the Valley air. Snow is predicted in the lowlands the end of the week. Today you can sense it in the air, smell it in the breeze, feel it on your face. I’m not fooled by the sky, those slim blue streaks like a child’s smeared finger painted heaven: it’s a February blue, cold-tinged, unrelenting—by no means the warmth of April’s.

As I approach the Werkhoven Dairy, I see a figure milling about in front of the Werkhoven Dairy sign (Werkhoven Dairy since 1959). I coast to a stop where a pacing Jim Werkhoven marks time. Now this is a rarity indeed: a Werkhoven in the flesh, standing there, vulnerable to the whims of The Ripple—a dairyman apparently at loose ends. As you can guess, the author and his ancient steed grind to a halt. Usually the Werkhoven crew whiz by headed to the next work venue. A quick wave of the hand, the flit of a smile, and they’re just a whirl of memory. I last talked to Jim Werkhoven in the fall during corn harvest ( see post “Wrestling with Mondamin, “ 10/22/2010). While rushing his pickup between cornfields—I could hear the slipstream of air as back noise when we talked by phone about the harvest—Jim and I had the longest conversation I’ve had to date with any of the Valley’s dairymen.

Now here’s Jim on foot and pacing about. The first words out of his mouth: “ I wish I could find one of these smart phones I was smarter than,” he laments. Jim has one of those new fangled phones ( the dairy biz gone hi-tech) you poke at for results—a far cry from the ones you slid your finger into and whirled it clockwise until you connected with the party to whom you wanted to speak. Immediately I gather that Jim must be lost. He’s standing in front of his dairy barns, but the fella is lost. Not until he pokes his GPS app, can he find himself. “Here I am,” he smiles, and shows me the screen. I see an icon of someone, apparently Jim, there in front of the milk house. “Hey,” I say, “Gladys and I are right here beside you. Where are we?” Jim shakes his head. “That thing’s just like my wife,” I say. “I’m used to being ignored, out of the picture, so there you go.” Actually Jim is bragging about the hi-tech functions of his touch-screen marvel. “Look at this,” he grins. “Here’s the dairy farm.” I peer down from some orbiting communications satellite and see the Valley, the fields. “It’s helpful when you want to direct someone to work  a specific piece of ground,” he claims.

The reason Jim’s milling about, the reason I find him somewhat stationary for a change, is he’s waiting for a ride, a pickup truck to take him somewhere on some errand, on some sort of farmin’ business. I tell him I’m surprised to find him here, not rushing to and fro from one end of the Valley to the other. “You know,” he says, “ I’m trying to back off a bit…even took a couple of days off last month.” I’m curious about his two day vacation. “Yeah, we went to Lake Chelan for a couple of days. The wives did some wine tasting. I watched, did a little book reading, and actually got eight hours of sleep one night for once in years.” Nice launch into my next question, one I’ve waited a long time to ask. “I’ve often thought it would be an experience to shadow you for a day,” I tell Jim. “What’s the typical day like here on the Werkhoven Dairy Farm?” “The alarm goes off about four-thirty,”is his first response. I tell Jim there’s nothing alarming about that hour of the day for me: in another, much younger life, I used to change waterlines in the orchards of Eastern Washington and the morning shift started at 4:30 a.m. I know all about stepping out into a chill, twilight world, surreal and fuzzy, a dream fog until that first glacial stream of Columbia River drenches your face and soaks your clothes. “What’s your first chore of the day?” Jim says he’s on the morning feed detail. “Then what?” I ask. “Breakfast,”laughs Jim. He takes his between 8:00 and 9:30, coordinates his bacon and eggs with checking emails, catching up on the never-ending mountains of paperwork, and checking the markets. “How about the end of the day? I ask. “When do you return to the home fires after a day’s work?”At six o’clock Jim tells me he shuts the doors on the work day and turns his back on the barns.Pouring PooDuring our entire conversation I had the feeling Jim had someplace to be, something else important to do. Idle blabbing with the Ripple was not the best use of his time. Gladys and I were circled a few times like we were a couple of sheep being herded back to the flock.

We chit-chat a while longer, talk about bio-diesel and its effects on the world food prices. Jim tells me that thirty per cent of the nation’s corn crop goes for animal feed, the rest for “green” fuels and products. We talk about federal subsidies, and the government’s preoccupation with energy independency. I change course and ask him about this year’s compost from the digester. “You’ll have to ask Andy,” Jim replies. “That’s his area of interest, I’m afraid.” I tell him I’ll give Andy a call, that I have high hopes for my rhubarb and vegetable garden this year.

It’s obvious Jim is anxious to do something, anything, so I thank him for taking the time to visit. He nods and says, “Yeah, I need to be doing something; I’m wasting time here.” Aren’t we all, Jim? Aren’t we all, I think! In fact Gladys and I are already a half hour overdue. Jim marches off toward the barns, leaving me to wonder just how much rest and relaxation he experienced in Chelan. Eight hours of sleep? Ha! I imagine at 4:30 a.m. the ruckus of ravenous cows pervaded Jim’s dreams, cows that were two hundred miles away. Cows that were hungry and lonesome for his company.

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