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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Beauty and the Beast…

Gladys and SnedleyEarlier this week I wheeled Gladys out for our morning cruise in the Valley. As we neared the intersection of Tualco and 203, suddenly there was an overabundance of traffic. A car and a pickup waiting to turn onto the highway; a gravel truck, a “pup” in tow, bearing down on us; a motorcycle turning onto Tualco. My priority, of course, was to keep Gladys out of the grill of that barreling rock truck. Since DOT completed the Tualco/High Rock/203 turn lane project last fall, Gladys and I have precious little shoulder room—and Gladys, bless her, has a tendency to wobble astray.

The truck roars by and I concentrate on the corner traffic. I make the right turn, narrowly missing the left-turning car and truck, and to avoid colliding with the turning motorcycle, I steer Gladys into the oncoming lane. Next thing I know it’s an“After you…No, after you” scenario with the biker. He’s astride a big, black goth-looking ‘cycle, like some machine out of a Batman movie. Its driver, a younger man with a friendly smile, (would that bicyclists smiled that way) and a courteous way about him, motions for me to cross over to his lane. “Shall we race?” he grins. At this challenge The Ripple is at a rare loss for words. Gladys and I racing a motorcycle! We’re hard pressed to pass one of the Spandex crowd! “If you can find a good, steep hill,” I blurt, “we’re on!” “Next time I’ll give you a head start,” the driver laughs. I look down at Gladys and over at the big machine idling alongside and think: “Head start? Give us at least twenty-four hours.” The driver and his ’cycle rumble off at a leisurely pace (strange to use the word “leisurely”in the same sentence with “motorcycle”). As the black machine passes, two things catch my eye: on the gleaming gas tank where I expect to see the familiar Harley Davidson logo is the name “Hell’s Demise”; the second is the “collector” designation on the license plate. Too late: Gladys and I can only watch a good story roll on down the road.

As we continue on, I feel a bit embarrassed by the name of my ride: “Gladys”vs. “Hell’s Demise”…and for a moment consider upgrading her name to something less Pollyanna-like, a touch of “bad girl”… “Blaze,” maybe, or “Foxy," but as we creak on down the road, I dismiss the idea. Gladys, I’m afraid, is a plain Jane; Gladys is, and always will be, just Gladys.

We cross the bridge by Kevin Olson’s place and there squatting in the shade is a big, black motorcycle. I recognize the chrome gear cover and realize I have caught up with my story. Just then the bike’s driver steps out from behind a parked truck. “How fortunate,” I think and squeal to a stop to inquire after “Hell’s Demise.” HD’s owner, a well-spoken fellow by the name of Eric Benshoof, asks the first question. “Let me guess: you want to know which is older, my bike or yours?” Once again The Ripple goes blank; I was prepared to advance my question which had to do with the “collector” printed on the license plate. But Eric’s question is a good one, and I realize I don’t know the answer. On Gladys’s profile (see “Roll on, Columbia, Roll on…,” March 2, 2010) I designated her as “vintage,” but what year I had no idea. I introduce Gladys and tell Eric I’m unsure of her age. “Gladys, meet “Snedley,” says Eric and points to his ‘cycle. I learn Snedley is a 1977 vintage Harley, a  classic “Hog.” We chat for a while about a number of things and I tell Eric about my blog. “Would you pose with Snedley?” I ask. Eric declines. “I couldn’t stand the fame,” he jokes, but he allows Gladys to pose alongside Snedley where she daintily perches next to that bad boy.

It is midday and warming up, so I say good-bye to Eric and Snedley and head for home. As I roll along, I wonder about Gladys: just how old a gal is she? When I reach home, I decide to do a little research. There are several models of the three-speed woman’s Columbia, but none seems to be related to Gladys. I scour her person for a VIN number or other means of identification, but other than the “Tourist 3” on her chain guard, I find nothing (other Columbia 3-speeds say “Columbia Tourist III” on the guard). I decide to contact the Columbia Manufacturing Company in Westfield, Massachusetts, the state and city of Gladys’s birth,

The bicycle manufacturer has a “contact us”button, so I email them as much of Gladys’s specs as I could gather and request any information they can give me about her. The next day I receive a response from Lisa who tells me, “Yes, Columbia did make the Tourist series of bikes in the ‘80’s but discontinued the line in 1991.” I’m not completely satisfied with her answer; Gladys just acts more senior than that. I reply to Lisa with a question about where I might find Gladys’s serial number and also attach a photo in hopes that might help. Again a response: “Look on the endplate where the frame attaches to the rear wheel.” I do and sure enough, though faint and hard to read, I make out the number “52450723.” Another email with Gladys’s VIN yields a brief, but specific answer. “Your bike was made in 1975,” Lisa informs me.

So now Gladys’s secret is out. She is the older woman in Snedley’s life. A little subtraction tells me my little 3-speed is thirty-six years old, but I’m sure if Gladys could talk, she’d say she’s not one day older than twenty-nine!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lusting in the Valley: Thou Shalt not Covet Anything Belonging to Another Man…

Coveted colorWhatever happened to the pioneer economy of barter and trade? I guess folding money, cash, coin, filthy lucre, came along and ran interference. And that’s too bad, I think. It’s a Wall Street bid and sell world now.

There was a time when goods and services of one could be traded for the goods and services of another. Last Christmas season a quart of Valley honey for the best Christmas tree we’ve had in years from Dale Reiner’s tree farm. This strawberry season the exchange of a quart of honey for a flat of strawberries from Broers’ Farms. A fair trade: both parties satisfied and smiling, settled up and even. (Although Brett de Vries doesn’t know it yet, there’s another jar of honey for him in exchange for a bag of those Gravenstein apples dappling the tree in his yard. I’m lusting after some Gravenstein applesauce; nothing brings the glory of summer to the palate more than sauce made from that apple.)

I thought I’d try the barter/trade approach with my dentist as payment for my last dental crown: “Would you take two gallons of Valley honey in trade for that porcelain cap?” I asked. My dentist, a younger man, much removed not only from the Valley, but the pioneer days of mutual exchange, and with substantial college loans to meet, I’m sure, gave me a Novocaine look that said: “If you hadn’t eaten all that honey in the first place, you wouldn’t need my services or that porcelain tooth now.”  “How about if I throw in a couple pairs of beeswax candles?” I venture. But it’s a dead end trade-off, I can tell. Dr. is all about mutual funds and porcelain futures.

My Valley route takes me by the dahlia fields tended by the Cambodian gentleman who has played bit roles in a few of The Ripple’s posts. One of the dahlias in particular turns my head whenever I pass the row. A delightful flower, this dahlia, of simple construction, not all poofy and petaled up like most of its fellows. Daisy-like, fiery orange, sturdy-stemmed, this is a blossom that dazzles. Two or three tubers would set my own dahlia patch ablaze. As more and more buds open and the fire spreads throughout his patch, my passion to possess just one plant increases. I’ve heard of orchid lust, and if there’s such a thing as dahlia lust, I certainly have it. I wonder if trade/barter economics will bring this little red-headed beauty to my dahlia patch and this is the tactic I plan to use the next time I see the little Cambodian among his flowers.

One day  around noon I see him crouched by the little shade he’s made to keep the freshly picked flowers from the sun. I stop, position Gladys on her kickstand, and approach him with a friendly “Good morning.” He returns my greeting. I see I have caught him during lunch time, apologize for the interruption. He nods and smiles. So far, so good, I think. Flowers for the market

It seems a natural thing, I guess, to take note of what others eat—especially when they’re doing it in front of you. Perhaps it was rude, but I couldn’t help stare at his unusual lunch fare and tried hard not to appear too curious as the little man chomped down on something that looked like a taco constructed from a tightly wrapped swath of yellowed cheesecloth. Before him, on a little warmer, was a pan full of rather large rib bones sharing the space with slices of what looked to me like cooked cucumber pickles. Every so often he would swish these around with a fork.

Wishing to disturb the gentleman as little as possible during mealtime, I proceed with my mission which is to see if there’s a possibility we could trade dahlia colors: some of my dahlias he didn’t have for some of his, especially that beautiful red dahlia I lust after.Pike Place Posies I ease into the request by asking about the buckets of flowers he has already picked. Those, he tells me, are headed to Seattle, to Pike Place Market. I point to the rows and rows of flowering dahlias and broach the possibility of a trade. “Sometime when you’re in the field,” I say, “I could bring by a bouquet of my dahlias and you could pick what colors you like, and we could trade tubers in the fall?” We’ve talked before, the flower man and I, and his English is fairly good. I’m sure he understands my request but to my surprise, he is immediately on the defensive. Nervously he shifts things around in his pickle bone stew, pauses, then shakes his head in the negative. “Are you sure?” I asked, hoping he’ll reconsider. (The man’s reluctance puzzles me). In halting English he tries to explain. I gather the flower man’s landlord doesn’t like strangers puttering about on his land. “You mean the guy in the green pick-up truck?” (I think that fellow has something to do with the hodgepodge of nursery stock across from Aldens’ old potato shed.) He nods vigorously. “Anyone else, ok. Not him,” meaning another landlord would be more tolerant. I’ve seen Mr. Green Truck around the Valley from time to time, patrolling his property like he’s a deputized member of the U.S. Border Patrol. Last spring in daffodil season he trolled by his field, giving close surveillance to some ne’er-do-well on a vintage Columbia bike who had the audacity to trespass in his field to photograph a row of blossoming jonquils.

So this trade appears to be a no-go, too; I have apparently lusted and lost. I’m just about to walk away and leave the flower man to sift through his remaining lunch when he turns and says: “You come by October when I dig. I give you two, three.”As he speaks, he looks over his shoulder as if he expects a green pickup truck at any moment to roll up the drive and an ominous driver wearing one-way sunshades, brandishing an assault rifle step out and ask to see our identification. “I’ll give you a jar of honey in trade,” I say and quickly head back to the road.Lilies in the Valley

It’s past my lunch time, but for some reason my stomach is queasily ambivalent about lunch. The queasiness quickly passes as I ride by Tropical Blends Espresso on the corner and see a big sign that reads “3 for $5 hotdogs!” Ah, hotdogs…good old American cuisine. I think my lunch will be an order of three ‘dogs with a full complement of condiments and a thick layer of sauerkraut. Sauerkraut? Wait a minute! That’s German, isn’t it?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Breakfast Conversation Among Antique Tractors…

It’s not bluegrass tunes that greet me this morning aspatriotic antique Gladys and I bounce along between these hulking field beasts of yesteryear at the 2011 Antique Tractor and Threshing Bee in the Valley, but the cheerful lyrics from “Oklahoma.” This day it’s a medley of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mooooorning” as I make my way through a pasture full of old machines out to pasture themselves. The lifting fog promises a beautiful day. Last year’s post ( “Got Old Tractor…?,” 8/13) gave center stage to the International Harvesters (“If it’s not red, leave it in the shed”), Farmalls, Massey Fergusons and John Deeres. This morning, though, I thought I’d talk to a few of the folks who’ve come to gawk at and appreciate a bit of mechanical nostalgia. But that can wait. Now it’s breakfast time.

I park Gladys behind the portable washing stations and head for “Elmer’s Kitchen” where a friendly lady takes my five dollars.Elmer's Crew “You’re not Elmer, are you?” I ask and at the same time realize this annual event commemorates the old Valley patriarch, Elmer Frohning. She smiles: “No, that would be very strange.” And it would be a surprise indeed to have Elmer serve me up breakfast as the old gentleman passed on years ago.

I’m handed a substantial plate of breakfast: a pile of scrambled eggs, three link sausages, two saucer-sized pancakes, and I pour myself a large cup of steaming coffee. Now this is just an observation, not a criticism, but what I’m served at the Grange pancake breakfasts would at best fill half the plate I set before me at the table this morning. Valley breakfast

Among those at the breakfast tables are Gramma Frohning, son Bert and David Flickner. Bert motions me to a chair, but before I settle in, I decide to record the Frohnings at breakfast. David sees the flash, knows he’s been digitized, and quickly asks: “Don’t you need some sort of release or permission for that photo?” Hey, Dave, it’s not like The Ripple is the paparrazi. A wise guy comment deserves a wise guy response. “Don’t worry, Dave, I’ll photo shop you out.”A Frohning breakfast (If it’s repartee you want, you’d be hard pressed to top The Ripple.) I seat myself next to Bert and am about to reach for the syrup, when a spirited little lady on my left stops me. She slides a big plate of butter my way. “You better butter those up before they get cold,” she says and I do. Before I can fall to, however, Bert brings me up to date on his latest news: a recent knee injury he’ll have MRI’d, his new diesel motorhome, and his fast-approaching retirement in March, and what he plans to do in retirement. Then the Frohnings and Dave rise in unison and wander off. I look down at my breakfast, now shivering on the plate, look up and discover I’m all alone at a very long table. One of the kitchen help is cleaning up behind me, swishing a damp cloth over syrup dribbles and pancake crumbs, readying the table for the next customers. She heads back to the kitchen, and as she passes, I complain,”No one wants to have breakfast with me!” As if she’s talking to a forlorn child, the lady replies,“I’ll have breakfast with you.” “There’s plenty of room,” I reply and and take a sip of coffee. At least it’s still warm.

I’m just slicing into my pancakes when someone sets a warm plate of breakfast next to me, slides out a chair, and sits. It’s the kitchen lady, true to her word. She introduces herself as Lynette and this is her second year volunteering in Elmer’s Kitchen. Lynette has a four and a half acre farm in Duvall and is in the market for a tractor. No antiques but a functioning machine to work her acreage. Our conversation turns out to be just what The Ripple is seeking. Breakfast with LynetteI explain my presence at this year’s Tractor Show, tell Lynette I rode my bike to the event. “You mean this kind of bike?”she says and twists her wrist as if she’s gunning a motorcycle. “Just my three-speed Columbia, Gladys,” I tell her. The conversation turns to ‘cycles, and I learn I am sharing breakfast with an ex-biker babe. “Ah!” says Lynette, “It’s like flying,”and lifts her arms like wings, sways a bit, as if she’s in a flight simulator. Her first motorcycle was a 1977 Triumph Bonneville 750; Lynette still has that cycle and plans to restore it. The Triumph was her only transportation when she was a college student. “I don’t ride anymore,” she informs me. “Too dangerous out there now.”

I learn some interesting facts from Lynette. For instance: Harley riders have great respect for the old Triumphs; the engine oil canister for her cycle is in the frame of the bike, circulates through it to lubricate the engine; she has been invited to Sturgis, South Dakota, the motorcycle Mecca of the world; she has yet to visit Sturgis; a single woman with all those testosterone- fueled Harley riders…I don’t think so; Lynette did drive her Triumph cross country to Michigan in 1986 to attend her brother’s wedding. Like so many others these days, Lynette is unemployed, laid off after eight years of work. She has an MBA, not an easy thing to market in today’s fragile economy.  Lynette certainly has some marketable skills: she has cooked professionally at hotels and restaurants in the area, the Issaquah Hilton, for one. Elmer has some real talent addressing the griddle again this year.

We pause our chatting to allow a big John Deere to pop-pop and chug past, a hay wagon filled with kids in tow. Lynette tells me how the farmers used to start their old diesel tractors in the days before igniters. She laughs, “They would charge the prime chamber with some chemical or liquid [kerosene, maybe?], toss in their partially smoked cigarette, and the resulting explosion started the diesel engine.” “Just like the old flintlock muskets,” I reply. Wonder how the non-smokers and chewers started their rigs? Flint and steel, maybe.

Lynette finishes her breakfast. “They’re probably wondering where I went,” she laughs. I thank her for sharing breakfast and conversation with me, shake her hand, and introduce myself and The Ripple. She tells me she has her own blog: “Little Cricket Chronicles,” a rather pleasing mouthful of alliteration, in my opinion. Then before I can ask her if she had any tattoos from her biker days, she heads back to the kitchen to resume her volunteering.

Outside I encounter a frenzied Gramma Snow. She has misplaced her raffle quilts and is interrogating the BBQ vendor in whose trailer she believes she stored them. I hope she finds them—I bought six raffle tickets for the iris quilt back in June.Got me covered After searching another trailer or two, Gramma locates her quilts; she had forgotten where she had stored the box. I carry the quilts to the Historical Society’s booth where Gramma gives me detailed instructions on how to hang them on the rack for display.

Off in the distance I see the Threshing Bee is thrashing away, belching straw and chaff into the Valley air like some antediluvian, long necked dinosaur. I wander down to watch the show.out with the chaff (2)The old Oliver thresher is a clanking box of spinning wheels, flopping belts and thundering body parts. I watch a couple of young men fork shocks of wheat into its hungry mouth. Old OllieNext to the thresher is a hopper, the receptacle for the separated wheat, and a trailer where an observer can watch the grain funnel into the bin. I climb up on the trailer alongside another onlooker and watch a meager trickle of grain slither down the chute.  I remark it must have taken a long time for that little spittle of kernels to yield that pile of wheat in the grain sack.Golden grain My companion tells me when a certain weight  collects in a bin, it tips and disgorges the grain in a stream. And sure enough, a couple minutes later an impressive gusher of wheat rattles down the chute and into the bag.Grain streamI leave the clamor of the threshing scene pondering the the words “vintage,” “classic,” and “antique.” Is there a distinction here?  Regardless, it’s been a morning filled with old stuff: old farm equipment, an old motorcycle, old gents wandering about in a haze of nostalgia, an old-fashioned country breakfast, and good old conversation.

I’m strolling back to Gladys (who in my absence has been schmoozing it up with a sleek little mountain bike) when next to a little tent I spy a piece of furniture that freezes me in my tracks. I admire its construction, the sturdy wooden frame—not a hint of plastic anywhere—hinged together with solid iron hardware. It is a veritable work of art. And cleverly designed, too, its owner tells me and demonstrates the furniture’s dual purpose. Release a couple wooden latches, flip the seat and chair, and suddenly, like those transformer toys, the base becomes a table.This antique has its own special provenance,too; it has done faithful duty for eight grandchildren. A price tag with “$60”written on it dangles from one arm. “Quite a bargain,” I think, “for this little beauty!”  

High Chair

Before I know it, I’m back with the truck and sixty dollars. Table ChairThe seller, a pleasant little grandmother whose own two grandchildren ate and played in that chair, is pleased I returned for it. And I can tell it’s not just about the money either.

On my way home, my purchase secured firmly in the truck bed, I’m bewildered by my whimsical purchase. What’s this? Ride out in the Valley to look at antique tractors and end up buying a vintage highchair? “It’s just too beautiful a piece of furniture and history to pass up,” I reason. And, besides, there just might be a use for it someday.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

One Man’s Weed is Another Man’s Soup…or Medicine…

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.

Doug Larson

P namuGladys and I rattled our way across the Lower Loop Bridge the other day. Up ahead I noticed a very small lady pulling weeds and thought, “Certainly Willie Green doesn’t expect that little woman to weed his acres and acres of produce!” I watched her pull a weed or two and was surprised to see her tuck them into a white trash bag. “And so tidy; not only pulling weeds but hauling them away, too!” I stopped and watched her slip one last handful into the trash bag and load it in the trunk of a silver Camry alongside two other bulging bags. I recognized those weeds; if you turn your back on your garden for a week, that very same weed will rule the rows. piglet weedRip them out, expose the roots: “Dry up and shrivel, you!” If you don’t pull them in their infant stage, in two weeks you’ll need a chainsaw to fell them.

Turns out this spry little lady of Asian persuasion was not pulling weeds but harvesting them. My journalistic curiosity kicked in and I asked her what she was harvesting. She turned, plucked a sprig from the trash bag and presented it for inspection: “P-dum-namu,” she said in that lilting oriental way (I render the word phonetically—and not well, I might add). “For salad?” I asked. She is puzzled. Communication has stalled.Big Pigweed “Salad. Salaaaad?” I repeat. Suddenly the light of understanding winked on: “No! No! Soup! Soup!”the weed picker exclaims. I ask her her name. “Meddy,” she tells me. “Meddy?” I say. “No…Meddy!"Ahhh! Now my own light bulb glows. “Mary?” “Yes! Yes! Meddy!” I ask permission to take a picture of her trunkful of weeds. She steps aside but I’m careful to include Mary in the shot. “You must have a large soup pot,” I laugh, point to the three bags of soup stock, and make a wide circle with my arms. “No! Freeze! Freeze! For one year,” she explains. I want to ask her more about the recipe. Does she include meat? If so, what kind? Fish? Pork? Chicken? Eggs, maybe? But our languages are worlds away…me, occidental…Mary, oriental, so I thank her for her time and pedal off.

The next day I stop to talk to another weed puller in Paul Bischoff’s vegetable patch. She is ripping P-dum-namu from the soil and casting it aside (“Wither, you…And die!”) “What is that stuff?” I asked. “Pigweed,”she informs me. I tell her she should locate Mary and enlist her help rooting out the pigweed. She says Mexicans use young pigweed like spinach. I inform her Mary harvested the plant for soup.

Back home I do a little research on pigweed and discover our local variety is Amaranthus retroflexus, common name “red pigweed.” A. retroflexus, according to the research, is an edible weed, and given this year’s deplorable garden season maybe I ought to be harvesting a little pigweed myself, although it seems a meager substitute for corn (pigweed fritters??).

I was surprised to learn our Valley is a treasure trove of edible weeds. A day or two later I happen upon another diminutive Asian lady at the intersection of Sargent Road and Tualco. Again I thought she was weeding. This time on the corner by Jim Werkhoven’s communal corn patch. Pigweed, though, was not her target weed; she was snipping and cutting vines from in and around small patches of pigweed. Some sort of succulent plant it was. Her basket bulged with the stuff. This plant, too,  The healing weedI recognized as another weed that has sprouted in abundance in our garden this year. Once again I forged ahead into the area of uncertain communication and inquired after the name of the plant.The Medicine Lady She stands and smiles and I notice she is rather nattily dressed for a weedpicker: “P-dum-sheh-buh’-dum.” “Tweedle-dum?” I venture. She frowns and shakes her head vigorously. I try time and again until she grins that I have it right. Ahh, another weed of the “P-dum” family I think. “For soup?” I asked, trying to appear knowledgeable. Her brow wrinkles in confusion; she struggles with her English lexicon. “No, no…medicine, medicine!” she exclaims. “Medicine?” I wonder for what ailment and point to my head (headache?). A shake of her head. I point to the stomach. No, it’s not about digestion. And apparently not for other specific body parts either. A few more hand gestures and head shakes later I’m led to understand the plant is used for “whatever ails you,” first dried, then powdered, and taken as a cure-all like castor oil or Grandma’s spring tonic. I say good-bye, ride off, repeating the unfamiliar phonetics so I’ll be able to render them in print: “P-dum-sheh-buh-dum, sheh-buh-dum…dum, dum, dum….”

At home The Ripple shoots off a quick email to the research department along with the following image.just another man's weed

My research team (daughter Marika) gets right on it, and soon I learn the intruder I’ve been pulling and casting aside in my garden is Portulaca olercea, common name purslane and is used as a form of leaf vegetable. Purslane also is included in the ancient Chinese pharmacopeia as a treatment for an assortment of ailments. Those of you who suffer from oral lichen planus (OLP) will be gratified to learn that consuming copious quantities of P. olercea radically reduces the effects of that condition. (For more information on ulcerative OLP, feel free to consult The Ripple’s research department.) You are welcome to gather all of both species of weeds you can find in my garden, by the way.

During those cold, dreary weeks of winter it is tradition in this household to have a weekend soup. “Saturday Soup,” we call it, a hearty concoction simmered for hours on the woodstove. I am always on the lookout for new soup recipes. As I look out at this year’s tomato patch and see the blighted vines and clusters of brown, rotting tomatoes, I think of the two Asian weed pickers and their harvest. Maybe they’re onto something after all. For a winter’s meal how does a steaming bowl of Pigweed soup accompanied by a purslane side salad sound to you? If served with plenty of homemade bread, it might just be fine.

Footnote: This morning I thought I’d check on Matt Higgins’ bees at Broers’ Farms. On my way out to the bee stand, I met Ginnifer B. She was hoeing pigweed from between the young strawberry vines in the new planting. I told her she was wasting  good food. She knew what I was talking about. “You know, we used to let people come in and pick the weeds, but the weed gatherers just snipped the stalks and left the roots. The roots would grow and be much harder to hoe out.” I know what she’s talking about. Pigweed roots have a life of their own; if you don’t pull the entire weed, the roots get such a purchase in the soil you practically need a backhoe to remove them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Doggone Nice of You, John…

Young corn

Today on the homeward leg of the daily grind, Gladys and I were  struggling along against a bullying headwind (seems like there’s always a headwind in the Valley). We labored past Johnny Deck’s farm and his electrified yard, a spot that in spite of the comforting three-strand fence always triggers my post traumatic stress anxiety and I flash back to last December when a hostile black lab treated my left ankle like it was a hambone. No dogs lazing about John’s lawn this morning. Sprinklers were spritzing the yard and a couple of fresh mole eruptions  were being irrigated, but not a hound in sight.

As we continue wobbling into the Valley breeze, I notice a John Deere four-wheeler rolling down the side road just north of the Grange. It slows, moves onto the Loop Road, and speeds toward me. Immediately I recognize the little 4x4 as the rig John Deck uses for his daily errands on the farm. Just as I was positioning my thumb on Gladys’s new red bell, intent on giving Johnny a hearty ting-a-ling, the little Deere stops abruptly, backs on up the road and onto the side road it had just left. At first I think John had forgotten his mail, is backing up to check the mailbox. “That can’t be,” I reason, knowing the box he passed belonged to his renter. Then I notice a substantial black and white hound loping along in the pasture alongside the road.

If you have followed this blog, you know about my issues with Johnny Deck’s pack of dogs (see posts “Hounded in the Valley,” 12/15/’10 and “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” 2/9/’11). As I roll closer to the bounding dog, I think of my canister of pepper spray gathering dust on the shelf back home, preempted by that three strand electric fence, and begin to feel very lonesome for it.

But my fears are unwarranted. Johnny stops his rig and shouts a command to the dog, which halts and then sprints to the 4x4. Another command and the dog leaps into the rig and John seats it next to the black lab riding beside him, making “riding shotgun” a two-barrel affair. Johnny smiles as I ride by. I give him a friendly, enthusiastic thumbs-up “thank-you.” He nods, smiles, and pats his new passenger.

So to a man and his dog from a man on his bike, thanks again, John, for making sure that never the twain shall meet.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Inflation Strikes the Valley…

Valley inflation

Beyond deciding what to do with the quarter I found in the parking lot, I don’t understand much about economics. The media of late has been raising the roof about “debt ceilings,” tossing about terms like “deficit” and “default.” Inflation. Deflation. Stagnation. Consternation…you’ve heard some of the same talk maybe? Something about the United States of America running out of money? Appears the Federal Reserve can no longer replace the ink cartridge at the U.S. Mint. Doesn’t the Fed have a hotline to Staples’ Easy Button or have the Easy folks discontinued that line of cartridge, too.

Now I’m no John Maynard Keynes but apparently this default thing has serious consequences should it occur. I guess China would have to consult all three credit reporting agencies for a credit check of our country (we are entitled to one free report a year, you know…save us taxpayers some money there) before they float Uncle Sam another loan. So what does all this mean to you and me? Just as our personal credit rating is affected when the personal check for our bills isn’t in the mail, so  is the Government’s. Risky loans mean higher interest rates. Higher interest rates can lead to INFLATION: we little people pay more for the money we borrow, and all we buy with it now costs more, too.

Now Fort Knox is a good distance from us here in Tualco. China much farther yet. But I’ll tell you, there’s some serious inflation taking place here in the Valley right under our very noses. Inflation in the commodities department. You think a barrel of oil is expensive these days, consider the price of an EMPTY barrel.

Gladys and I wheeled past the Barrell Man’s place the other day and noticed the barrell site was stocked—or stacked—with a new shipment of barrells. I thought of my rain barrell back home, half empty, a pessimist’s rain barrell, because of some holes rusted through the sides and was gratified to see this new shipment of metal drums. Bucks for barrell'sJust then I noticed the familiar price tag nailed to the pole. “What’s this!” I gasped. The zero in $10.00 was smudged out and replaced by a whopping big, black 5!Whoa!! $15 for a barrell? “This is an outrage!” I fumed.

Now as earlier stated, economics is not my strong suit, but I know a ten dollar to fifteen dollar increase is substantial. I work a little fifth grade math on this latest threat to my personal finances. Let’s see…percentages…just what did Miss Franz teach us now….hmmmm…. From ten dollars to fifteen bucks. Subtract the smaller from the larger=$5. Divide the difference by the original number “10”… 50%!! Wow! Even Payday Loans doesn’t charge that much interest! If I weren’t riding Gladys, I’d kick myself for not buying one of those ten dollar barrells when I had the chance! Now it’s fifty per cent more expensive to store rainwater.

Mine is all feigned umbrage, of course. Let the Barrell Man make hay while the sun shines (given this summer and his merchandise, there’s ever so much wrong with that cliché). Besides, one doesn’t have to have a degree in economics to understand the concept of the “law of supply and demand.” The last time I talked to Mr. Marty, he told me his metal drum source had  dried up (the Sky Valley Meadery in Sultan), and he was having difficulties stocking up on barrells. Apparently he has found a new supplier and plans to make the most of it should the metal barrell business go bust. Thus the 50 percent inflation on his wares.

When I purchased my last barrell from the Barrell Man, I asked him if he gave a senior discount. He looked at me like I had just landed in a flying saucer. After all, Mr. Marty will be ninety sometime this year, and senior discounts are as foreign to him as alien spacecraft. But I’ve been thinking…. That quarter I found in the parking lot? I’m wondering if the Barrell Man has a lay-a-way plan. Wouldn’t hurt to ask now, would it?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Princess and the Sweet Peas…

Sweet peas 2011

It’s sweet pea season again. The tomatoes have blight, the potatoes have wilted, the corn (no thanks to the jays) is just barely tickling my ankles on this second day of August. But the sweet peas bring it; they always have. It’s all about fragrance and sharing. Sudden smells? Sweet peas provide it. You’re puttering about in the garden on a warm afternoon and there’s a rush of olfactory stimulation that almost makes you dizzy. There’s no pea vine more worthy of cotton twine than sweet peas. You may plant corn. You may plant zucchini. Lettuce. Cucumbers. Tomatoes (I dare you). Beets. Carrots. Green beans. Cabbage ( this year’s sauerkraut, you know). All the backyard garden staples. But sweet peas…they are the aesthetic reward of the season.

One row of sweet peas will yield innumerable dainty bouquets, bouquets you need to share with special people. Of course you bring several bouquets into your home because you yourself are special people, aren’t you? I have my list of sweet pea recipients and make a point of delivering at least one bouquet a year to each. Share the fragrance; a little nosegay sweetness is always a welcome thing.

Last year the Ripple did a post about sweet peas (“A Sweet Pea Evening”). This year from just one row of the delicate flowers, there has been an abundance of bouquets and I have expanded my sweet pea clientele, or in some cases doubled their bouquets. My steady customers: Little Katie Cardinal, next door, Mrs. Larry at Courtesy Tire in town (two sweet bundles this year), the girls at Key Bank (two more bundles), Cindy next door, my environmentally-sensitive friend Nancy L picked a colorful bouquet. And the petite Phyllis Bickler of the Safeway deli has come away with two sweet pea bundles this summer. My wife has taken  a bouquet or two to her beauty shop in Snohomish. Weekend before last I transported a bouquet to my mom in Eastern Washington. With sweet peas--the more you pick, the more bouquets are available. Just that much more to fragrance to pass around.

This sweet pea season my list of recipients has grown. I shared a bouquet of our burgundy “bridal” flowers with Jennifer, the proprietor and chocolatier at “Sweet Indulgence.” Purple rainTwo years ago I ordered an array of dark sweetness delivered to my daughter’s bridal suite the night of her wedding. Although there was some confusion about the delivery date, the chocolates, amid sincere apologies, finally reached their destination. Apology accepted and reaffirmed last month with a regal bouquet of this year’s batch of burgundy wedding flowers. Come to think of it, that year I even took a bouquet of sweet pea fragrance to Marni at Monroe Floral, a special thanks for her help with our daughter’s wedding.

At this point in the season there are a slim few remaining bouquets. One I have reserved for the friendly lady who owns the jewelry store next to Safeway. She always greets me with a pleasant “hello” whenever we meet. Besides, I know she likes flowers because of the potted floral display she tends daily outside her shop.

One of the very first sweet pea bouquets I delivered was to the Jerald Streutker residence in the Valley. Since then I have made sure Tina Streutker receives at least one bouquet a summer. The Streukers no longer live in that tidy house on the corner. Their residence is in town now, Merrill Gardens senior living on Hospital Road. I delivered a bouquet there two weeks ago, and not wanting to drop by unannounced, left it at the receptionist’s desk. “She’ll know who it’s from, “I said.  Later that day there was a message on our answering machine, a “thank-you for the flowers” from Tina and an invitation to visit anytime.

Today, in keeping with tradition, I delivered a fresh bouquet to that same tidy house on the corner. Brett de Vries and Megan live there now. I rang the doorbell. Brett answered, invited me in. I said my errand was one of tradition, delivering sweet peas to the lady of the house, and handed the bunch to Megan, our Valley princess (England may have its Princess Kate, but our Valley has Megan). She posed for the Ripple in the photo below. And it’s up to you to decide which is sweeter—the bouquet of sweet peas or the one holding it?Sweet pea princess