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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?

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