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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Boys at Play in the Valley…

model chopper

One weekend annually in mid-July the small town of Arlington holds a “fly-in,”its celebration of light plane avionics. For a few days prior, the Valley sky thrums with the engines of small aircraft, both vintage planes and the newest in the line of experimental flying machines: destination…the Arlington Airport. I thrill to the throaty drone of a radial engine overhead, the sound of that reliable piston power from the days of barnstorming, Amelia Earhart, the Boeing flying fortresses. And whenever I see these planes cruising northward, I think of my dad, the pilot—how those sounds would thrill him—how he could, and would, tell me about those planes, their engines, his experiences with them, being around and even piloting some of them.

When we were kids, before the days of video games and  the current electronic diversions that preoccupy today’s youth and keep them “connected” with their BFFs, we had our own model airplane club. And while RC (radio controlled) sophistication was a few years away, we went airborne with control line aircraft. Dad's AtomicMany of these  miniature airplanes we built from kits or just “winged” it with experimental aircraft of our own. Every Saturday we would pack up our Glo-fuel, a pungent mixture of methanol and caster oil, dry-cell batteries, spare glo-plugs, propellers, tissue paper and Duco-Cement and haul our miniature flying machines to the local aerodrome (the school’s football field) where we would set them on the tarmac (the cinder track) and struggle to launch our whimsical aircraft aloft.

Twin control lines operated the elevator rod which controlled the tail section elevators intended to direct the airflow across the tail section of the plane: control handle up, the model descended; down, the aircraft zoomed higher. In theory that’s the way the aerodynamics were supposed to work. The balsawood rudders of our little “heavier than air” craft were slightly offset to direct the nose of the model away from its center pivot (the “aviator”) and enable the craft to keep the control lines taut. Periodically we had to give the “joy stick” a good yank to keep the plane from auguring into the track. However, the inevitable would happen and after an hour or so we would scoop up all the pieces: splintered wings and tail sections, severed firewalls—engines still attached--and put them in a paper sack for transport to the repair shop. A week later after intense re-gluing and several layers of paint we would be back on the flight line with our patchwork aircraft.

I’ve never attended a single Arlington Fly-In, but I understand there’s a variety of aircraft on site to delight the would-be aviator or aviatrix. And aerial shows, too—acrobatics that oooh and ahhh the spectators. But I didn’t have to make the trip north to watch aircraft barnstorm around the sky, barrel rolling, tail spinning, loop-the-looping, flying upside down. The other day in the Valley I was spectator to an impromptu aerial display that kept me entertained for nearly a half hour.

I’m on my morning ride when I notice a black Dodge pick-up in the Swiss Hall parking lot. As I approach, I see a figure kneeling before what appears to be a toolbox in front of the truck. “Ah, mechanical problems,” I think…but no, there’s no tell-tale sign of mechanics gone awry under the hood: the truck’s is shut and locked. I slow a bit and am about to glide on by when I see the crouching figure is a young man tinkering with a model helicopter. fine tuningWell, boys will be be boys…and I’m instantly transfixed…and transported to those days of Glo-fuel and the smell of methanol in the morning.

I meet Phil who is fine- tuning the engine on his radio controlled helicopter, adjusting the fuel mixture, doing some carburetor tweaking and has come to the Valley to do some flight testing over the cornfields. I share some of my own model aircraft experiences from the old control line days. Phil’s toy is far more sophisticated than any we young aviators had. For one, the helicopter is not tethered to the pilot; rather, it’s tuned to radio signals, responds to electronic demands from a hand-held control box. Phil and chopper

Phil explains some of the ‘copter’s mechanics to me, the type of engine powering the craft, fuel mixture (hasn’t changed much, still ignited by a glo-plug), how the rotor blade is clutch-engaged, so the engine can run without the rotors turning. (Problematic adjusting carburetor and such with the rotors spinning.) Other hi-tech advancements, too: an electric pump to fill the fuel tank, a drill-like doohickey to start the engine (we spun the props digitally on our little engines, which often backfired, bruising and bloodying our knuckles after the hour’s flight time). I leave Phil in a cloud of Glo-fuel exhaust, continue my ride, hoping the ‘copter will be ready for flight testing by the time I complete my own Loop-the-Loop.

On my return I approach Decks’ cornfield and see blue smoke pooling in the air above the parking lot and know flight testing is in progress. I wheel around the Hall just in time to see the ‘copter, belching exhaust, slowly lift skyward, and for the next few minutes I have a front row seat for heliobatics.

lift off


airbornePhil tells me he’s a member of a local model helicopter club (Snohomish, I think). I’ve heard it said about helicopters that their design is so aerodynamically flawed the craft shouldn’t be able to stay in the air, but Phil’s does, and he reIn controlally puts the little bird through its paces. One moment it hovers ten feet above the ground; the next the craft jets upwards like a rocket fifty or sixty feet in the air. Then there’s a 360 degree roll. Back to a low hover and again jets aloft where Phil flips the ‘copter on its back, makes it hover inverted. “Wow! Can the real thing make that maneuver?” I asked in surprise. “No,” Phil answers, “but they can do rolls.” copterbatics

I ask Phil how much a model ‘copter like his costs and learn one can expect to pay around eight hundred dollars for the machine alone. And then there’s the control unit and the “support” paraphernalia. But there  are hobbies far more expensive, of course. The little ‘copter settles back to earth for refueling. (Tank capacity allows a seven to eight minute flight.) Phil is still not pleased with the carburation, fiddles a while over the hot carburetor, and the ‘copter zooms up for another test. I’ve been treated to quite a show of ‘copterbatics, thank Phil for performing for the press, and with the fumes of nostalgia echoing in my nose, I head on home.

Phil is not the only boy at play in the Valley. You may have noticed the practice track for RC race cars Shay Goodlund has built between his home and the new two-story house next door (yes, the one that’s slowly being swallowed up by its own landscaping).Practice courseThis hard packed configuration of humps and bumps,  corners and jumps that Shay built is where he tests the cars he races in contests around the west coast. Shay told me sponsors pay him to race their products, reward him for his skills on the model track; his expertise helps sell their products to other hobbyists. Chassis, engines, and tires are what Shay puts to the test. I asked him if the cars had product decals on them like the full-scale Indy and NASCAR racers have. He told me they do. “And tires?” I asked. “Those little cars actually wear out tires during a race?” Shay explained some model car contests use similar formats as Daytona or Indianapolis and like these events are endurance type races employing the same pit stop strategies for refueling and tire changes used at the big race tracks. Apparently interest in these model racers and racing them is on the increase. Shay puts the little racers through their paces from a control tower high enough to keep his car in sight regardless of its location on the course.Shay Goodlund Goodlund also has electric powered cars he uses to test the track itself and when the track’s  fine tuned, the gas powered cars go out on the course. (Much to his neighbors’ distress, I might add. Shay told me they have complained about his “play”sessions. I can’t imagine these little racers can generate nearly the decibels as the bellowing Harleys and shrieking “Crotchettes” that echo through the Valley on sunny days. Too much dust and noise, they claim.)

Farming, I know, is hard work and a whole lot of that goes on in the Valley. Farming means long hours and plenty of labor, a lot of it hard and unpleasant, just to bring food to America’s tables. Farming, no doubt about it, is a tough way to make a living. Just wanted you to know, though, that from time to time a little play goes on here, too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Seasons Come…Seasons Go…

Hopeful hay

But some seasons simply fail to show up at all. You know what season I’m talking about this year. It’s obvious summer is not going to make an appearance in our backyard, so this morning Gladys and I wheel out in the Valley to hunt it down. 

Strawberry season is dwindling and I notice Ed has top dressed the strawberry field where I picked this winter’s jam. The “Picked out today” sign announces the tail end of this year’s strawberries. Back up the road I noticed a family foraging for raspberries among the purple flowering weeds in the new raspberry field Ed planted last summer. In the thornless blackberries the canes not nipped by last November’s early frost show a blossom here and there: the promise of a berry or two here and there next month. And the robins are casting their critical eyes on the blueberries.

As we roll leisurely past the ghost of Alden Farms’ Sky River Driving Range, I notice one lone figure, white plastic bucket in hand, gathering or harvesting something from between the rows of young corn in the “fallow” field. No berries I know of there. “Between” the rows, I say; sweet corn is just the season’s mirage at this point, little more than a glint in the cornhusker’s eye. The harvester is intent on something, stoops, plucks an object from the soil, and deposits it in the bucket. Suddenly it registers: before the Aldens left, they must have seeded the old driving range with a new crop for this year’s harvest, and now the harvest is coming on. I, too, see the newly surfaced crop gleaming white from the tilled Valley soil. Some sort of fungus, I think, a plump button mushroom spawned from the teeming Valley soil.Button fungus

Looks to me like Kelly Bolles, the truffle king, might have some competition here. I decide to have a look myself, balance Gladys on the shoulder of the road, and shuffle out in the field to examine these strange fungi.Field  fungus 

Here and there a white orb announces itself; I see the field is polka-dotted with them. I look down the rows to where the man and his white bucket slowly move among the furrows. He is so serious about his labor I think he must know something I don’t. All of a sudden I get the urge to harvest a few of these shiny white globes myself before the gleaner takes the entire crop. Quickly I snatch up a half dozen mushrooms, pocket them, head back to Gladys, then home with the new produce rattling around in my pocket.New Crop of fungus balls

Back at the house I examine my own gleanings and find I have harvested three different varieties of mushroom. But why should I be surprised…the Aldens always planted several varieties of potatoes each season. Top Flite, Pinnacle, and Super Range were the varieties I had gathered. Driving range new crop

I should have taken the time to talk to the man with the bucket. There has to be some special way to prepare these solid mushrooms, and he most likely knew the secret recipe. Stewed, baked or “sliced?” I wondered. Looks like regardless of how you cook them, they’re bound to bend a fork.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What’s Croppin’ in the Valley…

Crop Mapping

It’s a nice summer morning. Gladys and I are leisurely wheeling along the Lower Loop Road. I notice an official looking SUV parked on the shoulder. We pass by a gentleman apparently doing official work in his portable office. He looks up as I pass. I smile and nod. Gladys sends a cheery ting-a-ling. He smiles, returns my nod and continues his business.

On up the road we go enjoying the refreshing cool of the morning. As we pedal along, I notice the trunk of Gramma Frohning’s Honda is open and brimming with petunias. Gramma's Planter boxNow I’ve seen creative planter boxes but never the trunk of a car as a floral destination (excepting, of course, our other Gramma, Gramma Snow and her rosebush in tow when she was giving one of her rosebushes, much to its surprise, a ride to town attached to the bumper of her black Mercury Sable). Gramma F. was puttering about, so I thought I’d stop and compliment her on her creative floral display. She laughed at the joke, and I let her get on with her transplanting.

I round the corner above Swiss Hall and there’s that white Blazer again, creeping along on the shoulder just opposite Broers’ Farms strawberry patch where it comes to rest. The same gentleman I saw earlier is entering information into a portable computer. The Ripple, as always, is curious. “Any news for me?” I say. The fellow looks up from his work, smiles, and says, “I know those are strawberries.” As do I, I tell him, and share that I should know: I picked berries myself in that same field last year. “The last time I was in the Valley,” he replies, “there weren’t berries here.”* I read the official message on the side of his vehicle: “WSDA Washington State Department of Agriculture.” Ah, another official government intrusion in the Valley, I think, and wander over to the side of the SUV. Unlike the County bridge inspectors I met last month, this gentleman is friendly and more than willing to talk about his mission. He presents an official card introducing “Mr. Rodney D. Baker, Crop Mapping, Western Washington Natural Resources Assessment Section.”Mr. Baker, I learn, is cruising the Valley, recording its crops and acreage in production. He is one of only two Department of Agriculture crop mappers: Western Washington his jurisdiction. Rodney’s Eastern Washington counterpart is responsible for mapping over three hundred different types of commercial crops in that part of the state. “Any commercial crop of two acres plus we map and record,” Rodney says. “What about my quince tree?” I ask. “If you have a two acre quince orchard,”he replies, “we’ll map and put it on record.”

I ask Mr. Baker if the Department records any of the exotic crops that are a recent phenomenon in our state’s National Forests. Rodney smiles; he understands my reference immediately, shakes his head. “Thank goodness the National Forests are not our responsibility,” he laughs, “but if the State designates medical marijuana as a legal commercial crop, we’ll map and record acreage and location.”Mention of  exotic agriculture prompts Baker to tell me about other experimental crops farmers are trying in our state. I learn one grower in Eastern Washington has planted ten acres of tobacco. A farmer in Skagit County is growing black tea. (“It grows well, belongs to the camellia family,” says Rodney.)

“What about the Sky River Driving Range?” I enquire, alluding to Alden Farms’ one time golf lawn. Rodney said it was commercial turf: mapped and recorded acreage. “What about now?”I asked, thinking about the farm auction, the empty Victorian house, the Aldens’ migration to Florida, and the plowed under turf of the driving range. The reply: “I’ve got it recorded as ‘fallow ground,’ now.”

I thank Mr. Baker for taking the time to share his mission in the Valley with me, tell him about the “shy” County bridge inspectors. Rodney says he’s more than willing to explain his presence to curious folks, talk about his job and what he’s up to in their area, says people are entitled to an explanation. When I ask if I could take his picture, though, Mr. Baker said he’d rather not pose and offered the white Explorer as his proxy. “It’s not at all about the publicity,” he explains: “In all honesty I just don’t take a good photograph.” “That makes two of us,” I laugh and tell him about the fellow who, when making a store purchase, was asked for some identification. The customer produced his driver’s license, and as he presented it for examination, said of his portrait photo: “I look like I’m dead, don’t I!” “Oh, no,” the clerk replied, “You’ll look a lot better than that when you’re dead!” Rodney chuckles, we say our good-byes, and I go on my way.

I know this might seem presumptuous of the Ripple; it’s not meant to be, but perhaps for the record the Department of Agriculture might like to know of Tualco Valley’s great truffle experiment ( “Trifling with Truffles…” May 29). And the Driving Range lying fallow? As of this post, there’s a new stand of corn where golf balls once sailed through the Valley air, bounced and skipped along the turf….

*After I parted with Mr. Baker, I stopped to chat a bit with Ginnifer Broers. As we were talking, the white Blazer crept passed, stopped a ways up the road. I shared with her the mission of the driver and his official white SUV. She shook her head and said she found it strange the Department of Agriculture didn’t know to the season just what crops were planted where and when.“What’s the point then of all that paperwork we’re required to file each year?” she wondered.” I think-- but don’t say it--Ginnifer, just one more example of the many mysteries that lie between “us and them.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Strange…Very Strange Indeed…

Light and shadow in the Valley

It was about a year ago I last saw my Valley acquaintance Sargent Bob. He and a friend pulled into my driveway in his little white Ford station wagon. Bob had come to retrieve his bicycle which I had locked away for safekeeping in my garage, along with his dented helmet and cracked water bottle. Just a few days before, Bob, my environmentally-sensitive friend Nancy L, and I nearly collided on the Lower Loop Road just off the Qualco digester site. I posted the details of this little run-in—or near “run down”-- in a July 26 post “No Crying on Bob’s Shoulder…Not for A While, Anyway…” Bob was wheeling along flat out, head down, straight at us, his course directed by the fog line. He saw us too late to swerve and fifteen minutes later I was hustling him off to the ER in Monroe where three hours later he had surgery to repair a badly broken collarbone.

I hadn’t seen Bob since the day he came to claim his bicycle. He seemed quite relieved to reconnect with his ride, and after he checked the bike carefully for damage, he collected his helmet and water bottle, and with the help of his friend, loaded it all in the back of the little white Ford, and drove off out of the Valley and for all I knew, out of my life.

Others have seen Bob since then. My environmentally-sensitive friend Nancy L noticed him on the High Bridge Road walking along as he used to do in the Valley. The husband of one of my wife’s clients met Bob a time or two when they were both out for walks. When Bob was asked why he wasn’t riding his bike these days, he replied, “I don’t do that anymore” but didn’t elaborate. I heard rumors that the Sarge still lived in his camper in the Three Rivers’ Mobile Home Park by the river under Highway 522. (Bob told me he had hoped to relocate to a better neighborhood by last September.)

Today, just after noon, I was returning from a walk in the Valley when I heard the tell-tale click and whirr of a bicycle behind me and looked to my right just as a cyclist whizzed by in the opposite lane. It was Bob. No doubt about it: except for the new helmet it was the Sarge clad in the same biking garb he was wearing when he came to rest in a cloud of dust and clatter of gravel on the shoulder of the Loop Road almost a year ago to this day. On up the road he flew, oblivious to the Good Samaritan who hauled him off to the hospital, stayed with him until surgery, returned to give him a ride home, drove to the trailer park the next day to follow up on his condition, and secured his bike and gear safely in the garage until he came for them…. He rounded the corner by Van Hulles and disappeared. “Strange,” I thought and was pondering the weirdness of it all when in the distance back around the same corner came another cyclist. Soon the rider was bearing down on me and by the color of his helmet, the form and attitude of his ride, I knew the returning cyclist was the Sarge: head down, focused, riding the fog line like it was a rail. Quickly I crossed to the opposite shoulder just he as sped by with a whoosh. Bob had given me, his onetime rescuer, the cold shoulder. Not even the courtesy of a nod. But why…? Didn’t recognize me? Hardly. We had always stopped and chatted when we met in the Valley. Once he had even recognized me in a bank parking lot, stopped, and visited a bit. Did my presence represent an unpleasant reminder of Bob’s very, very bad day? Late for an appointment? An important rendezvous, of some sort?  Maybe. Or perhaps Bob just plain didn’t see me. There certainly was precedent for that!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hoe! Hoe! Hoe!…

Summer attire

When the old dairy farmer  Herman Zylstra, our very good neighbor for seven years--he of the“In spring you get new hope”--made the obituary columns and was laid to rest in the wooden casket he crafted himself, family members asked me: “Are there any of Dad’s tools you would like?” They had been cleaning out Herman’s shop, downsizing and apportioning out the effects of Herman’s life. I didn’t even hesitate. “If it’s ok,” I requested, “I’d like Herman’s hoe.”

Herman had a little garden in his backyard. Just a few vegetables, tomatoes, some corn, the ubiquitous zucchini …. He kept his little plot weed free, using a special hoe he made himself. Herman brought with him into retirement, skills he learned while running his own dairy; he was an accomplished metal and wood worker. 
The hoe head he made from a steel plow disc.With a cutting torch Herman fashioned the disc into a triangle: one angle a long point, the other two less severe. He welded the axle to a sleeve he riveted to a wooden handle. The curvature of the disc rendered the working surface concave. It was a clever design for the backyard gardener. The long, narrow point was perfect for deftly flicking weeds from beneath the rows of vegetables without disturbing their roots.Herman's hoeThe shallow “v” was perfect for furrowing trenches to plant corn and potatoes; the shorter blade surface was ideal for more serious hoeing. In that one tool there were so many practical applications for garden maintenance. Gardener's helpmateThere is a belief among some cultures that the spirit of the creator is forever present in his art. Don’t know about that, but when I grasp Herman’s hoe I feel the old man, his presence, his skills—and I’m grateful for the years he was our good neighbor.

Tony Broers the other day was brandishing a hoe in his front yard flower patch, making the nasturtiums more comfortable, giving them some elbow room. He looked like he could use a break, so I stopped to talk. Tony took a final swipe at an intruder, turned and flipped up the hoe head for my inspection. “This is a Mormon hoe,” Tony informed me. Tony's Mormon hoeI looked at the hoe with a new perspective now. The head was different from any other hoe I’d seen, unique like Herman’s disc hoe. But just what made this special tool a “Mormon” hoe I wasn’t sure. I know the word “Mormon” elicits a variety of images and impressions depending on whom you ask, but the very first thought that crossed my mind was not the well-scrubbed white shirt, tie and dark-suited pair of young men who show up on your doorstep periodically, but what the hoe represented. A tool, a tool for work. Mormon technologyNow I’m not going to do any Bible thumping here—or as per the topic at hand “Book of Mormon” thumping. Those who follow the Ripple know its mission is to report and share the Valley news: any topic that smacks of politics is beyond the jurisdiction of this blog. The same holds true for topics religious. But one can’t help be impressed by The Mormon Church; in the short 181 years of Mormon existence, their industry and spiritual sense of purpose have produced an impressive number of accomplishments in the United States and worldwide. (Visit Temple Square in Salt Lake City and you’ll see what I mean.) I’m not sure if The Shakers, a religious sect now defunct, influenced the founders of Mormonism but the Shaker creed “Hands to work; hearts to God,” seems to be the Mormons’ as well.

“So, why is this a Mormon hoe?” I asked, and Tony tells me this story. East of Monroe years ago there was a raspberry farm operated by the Mormons. The berry crop came to Broers Farms for processing. The hoes were specially crafted by the Mormons to weed the raspberry rows. The hoe Tony showed me was such a hoe. “Ed may have one or two left over at the barn,” he said. 

A few days later I discuss the Mormon hoe with my Mormon friend Jim Tunnell, proprietor of the Beez Neez Apiary Supply in Snohomish. (Mormon founder Joseph Smith chose the honeybee, mentioned as deseret in the Book of Mormon, as a Mormon symbol because of the social insect’s industry and efforts to gather and store its food —Utah, remember is the “Beehive State.” No wonder, then, Jim has an affinity for the “busy bee”) Jim tells me he knew a Mormon Welfare Farm used to exist east of Monroe and explained the concept of Welfare Farms. These farms and food production sites make up a food network for the Church. Food from these locations is shipped to Bishops’ Storehouses in various wards throughout the country. Mormonism encourages “Provident Living” among its followers. Be “ants” and not “grasshoppers,” the Church advises; prepare for adversity: build up and lay away at least a three month supply of food. If a ward member loses his job or suffers some financial crisis, he has his food reserves to turn to; next his family; and finally as a last resort should these resources be exhausted, the Bishop will write him a food ticket which he can use at the Storehouse to provide food for his family and himself. In this way the Mormons provide a safety net for their own, strengthening the bonds of family, community and faith, and what’s not to admire about that?

Jim tells me more about this efficient and self-sufficient food network. Most of the labor is volunteer.Once or twice a year Mormon Brothers and Sisters are asked to spend a day or two working in the production centers. Jim has worked in a peanut butter factory in Texas and candled eggs on an egg farm in California.Handy hoe The Mormon hoe was used to weed raspberry canes for a berry crop destined to be jammed and jellied for the Mormon food network. (P and J sandwiches?? Mormonism…all religion aside: who the world over doesn’t relish a good old peanut butter and jelly sandwich?)

There are other hoes, of course. The old standard garden hoe for one.Your standard hoe When I was a young working stiff in the apple orchard, I wielded a grub hoe, a heavy-bladed tool meant to chop and clear the choking vegetation away from newly planted apple saplings. Spend nine hours on the business end of this hoe and your back will tell you stories in the middle of the night. Grub hoeSomeone invented the stirrup hoe which is more a blade than anything else, meant to slice through the stems of weeds. Dispense with this contraption. A timely gardening tip, now, from Herman the old hoe maker himself: drag an ordinary garden rake, tines upward, down the edge of each vegetable row. The newly sprouted weeds, yanked from their moorings, will curl up and shrivel. Use this method early and often—regardless of your tool of choice—and you’ll have an easier row to hoe.Stirrup hoe

No post or discussion on the subject of hoes would be complete without some cautionary advice: never lean your hoe with the blade facing out lest it become a weapon and in a flash throw your entire weight back in your face if you accidentally step on it. That old New England farmer-poet Robert Frost relates just such an incident in his poem “The Objection to Being Stepped On.” I doubt there’s a serious gardener in the land who hasn’t been stunned at least once by a blow to the head from a hoe or garden rake turned weapon.

Last summer the handle of Herman’s hoe, duct taped against a split in the wood, finally gave way. After the advisement and skill of three separate craftsmen, the old hoe and sleeve were removed from the original handle (so well-crafted it was) and a new handle attached. I honed all three edges razor sharp, painted the old blade a bright forest green, and finished the project just in time for Christmas.

“Tony,” I joked. “What would your wife say if you gave her a reconditioned hoe for a Christmas present?” Tony pondered that one for a moment, smiled, that devilish twinkle in his eye, and launched into a story about his two shotguns and how well his wife knew how to use them…. I guess a man should know better than to give his wife a gift that had a handle on it, shouldn’t he? Just glad I’m the only one who knows where the shotgun shells are cached.Now that's a Hoe!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Gladys Hits Overdrive on the 4th…

Patriotic garden

Independence Day, 2011. The 4th of July, the day folks get the most bang for their buck. A year ago today Gladys and I wheeled our way to the Werkhovens’ cornfields: Corn knee high by the 4th of July? We checked it out and the corn measured up. This morning we’re on the same mission. Corn went in the ground very late this year and I had my doubts. The corn has tried its best so far, but today the stalks come up short—as I suspected. Again, Gladys was the benchmark. Last year’s measurement: a good four or five inches above her axles; this year, not quite up to the hubs. It’s been that kind of year.Corn comes up shortOn down the road past the Werkhoven compound which again looks like a State Park campground this time of year. Folks easing into the holiday, sitting in lawn chairs, enjoying each other’s company and the nice weather. I stop for a Fourth of July visit with Kelly Bolles and Judy and their cat Mr. Johnny Cat, who except for a pink nose could be the spittin’ image of our own Mr. B. Bolles’ Organic Farms is in the flush of strawberry season. Kelly said it was a zoo around there last Friday. Judy shows me a photo of the line of berry pickers’ cars. There is strawberry frenzy in the Valley these days. Tualco strawberries…nothing sweeter. Between the Werkhovens and Bolles that stretch of the Valley looked like an auto sales lot.

We continue along the Lower Loop Road where I notice what looked at first like a waterfall cascading down the grassy bank below Steve Werkhoven’s house. Turned out to be a plastic waterfall, a homemade slip n’ slide made from a plastic silage wrap. And there was the water hose at its head.Silage slip 'n slide I remember how much fun our daughter, the cousins and neighbor kids had on our yard slip n’ slide—and that was on a level lawn, too.

Far up the road is another cyclist and  we are surprised to see we’re actually gaining ground on him! He’s the real thing, too: colors, spandex, helmet, gear sprockets galore, a bona fide Valley alien. The race is joined

I can feel Gladys’s pulse begin to quicken. There’s a dance or two left in the old gal yet! It’s the 4th of July and she’s up for an Independence Day race.

As the gap closes, Gladys reaches for her inner reserves, surges forward. I can feel my shirt flap in the breeze and my cap starts to lift on my head. The fence posts are just a blur now as we rocket along.Closin'the Gap

That red shirt is a target for Gladys and spurs her forward. She’s in the stretch and forgets all about second gear. Overdrive kicks in. The old wooden bridge is our finish line and Gladys stretches for all she’s worth. A final burst of speed and it’s all over. Gladys, the old filly thoroughbred, has placed in the money…and by at least a length and a half, too! No photo finish for our ride!Down the Stretch!“On your left!” I shout as we zip by. They are sweet, sweet words and even if I never say them again, I said them once. And Gladys heard me!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Case of Mistaken Identity in the Valley…

The Face of Milk

Today Gladys and I were wobbling along the Lower Loop Road preparing to lean into that hazardous “S” curve south of Andy’s house when a flashy red sedan pulled alongside. Two occupants, a driver and his passenger, had slowed for some reason. At first I thought they might have been clocking my speed to make sport of our slow-poking. It wouldn’t have been the first time Gladys and I had been taunted in the Valley. The passenger window slid down and the driver, a man in his late thirties, spoke across an attractive brunette. “Are you Jim?” he asked. Now there are times I forget where I’m going, times I’m not quite sure what I’m doing, times I’m not sure I’m coming or going, but thus far in my experience I have yet to forget my name. No, I had no problem answering that question.

And besides, do I look like a “Jim?” There’s only one Jim I know of in the Valley and he wears barn boots and a dairyman’s hat. Would a “Jim” be riding a girl’s three-speed bike in second gear around the Valley? Jim wouldn’t be out in the public’s eye wearing a tattered baseball cap, a t-shirt full of holes and short pants that yearned for a good laundering. If my mother had wanted my name to be Jim, she would have named me Jim instead of naming me after a comic strip character.“No,” I answered. “I’m not Jim.” (Thinking the while that I could easily be a “Jim” if it so pleased the lady). The driver smiled and said, “Sorry.” I smiled back and nodded. I could tell he was slightly embarrassed. Off the two sped. I saw them turn right onto Frohning Road. Maybe they would find Jim down there somewhere. I wonder what they wanted with Jim anyway? And what on earth possessed them to think I might be Jim?

This brief little encounter reminded me of a “Little Moron” joke, a species of humor popular a few decades ago: perhaps the prototype of “blonde” jokes. (Many Little Moron jokes are in poor taste, and Jim, being politically correct, wouldn’t tell one, I’m sure. But we’ve established I’m not Jim, so if there are any little morons reading this post, my apologies.)

Did you hear about the little moron baseball fan? He attended a ballgame, had a seat in the very first row. He no sooner sat down than somewhere behind him he heard someone shout: “Hey, George!” The little moron stood up, looked around, scanning the stands above. Nothing registered, so the little moron took his seat. He settled in but soon heard: “Hey, George!”somewhere above his row. Once again he stood up, looked around. Nothing. He sat down again. And again, emphatically this time, he heard: “HEY, GEORGE!!!). The little moron rose to his feet once more, turned and shouted in the direction of the voice: “MY NAME’S NOT GEORGE!!!”

And my name’s not “Jim,” either.