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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Too Much Ado About Dogs…

Valley cornThe Valley is full of wind today, so instead of listening to Gladys complain the entire route as she hauls me around the Loop, I decide to leave her behind and head out on foot.

The walk was brisk, definitely fallish, cornfields tasseled out, bowing to the breeze. Clouds packed the sky, bullying the blue with gray and white, insinuating their imminent dominance over the Valley. It felt good to be afoot again. A change of pace—from slow to slower. Seems a good fit for today.

Last December I wrote a post about the excess of dogs at the John Deck dairy (“Hounded in the Valley…” 12/15) and a second post thanking John for taking care of the problem (“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” 2/9/2011). Just recently I noticed two glaring “Beware of Dog” signs posted on the chain link fence by the new inhabitants of the house on the east corner above Swiss Hall. For two or three weeks the signs have all appeared to be bluster. As of my return walk today, that has all changed.

We each have our phobias. My sister has an irrational fear of bees. My son-in-law fears flying. With my wife, as you know, it’s spiders. Most people have a fear of snakes. Women fear mice and rats. Usually these fears are imprinted on us in childhood, seared into our emotional consciousness; they scarify us for life.

Now I’m a fairly large fellow. (Gladys would testify to that, even protest I’m a bit too large for her liking.) But I am a “magnacaninophobe”; I have an irrational fear of large dogs. When I was a child growing up in a peaceful little neighborhood in Wenatchee, Mom took me for an outing one day, a leisurely walk down Washington Street. Suddenly out of nowhere, either from the porch of the house we were passing or around the side of it bounded a huge German Shepherd. Suddenly I was face-to-face, eye-to-eye, toes-to-paws with big ears, big nose…and a mouthful of teeth that would have put the Big Bad Wolf to shame. (Whoaaaaa! Rinty!) And as if this weren’t trauma enough, it was all punctuated by a deep, rumbling bark that to my tender ears seemed to say: “You are about to die!” It was my first encounter with primeval animal anger, and I remember the incident vividly. To this day I can’t see a German Shepherd without a rush of post traumatic stress.

And that’s why today, whenever I hear the rumbling bark of a big dog, every sense is on alert, every nerve fueled by an adrenalin rush. I felt it again today as I passed by that house with the new “Beware of Dog” signs. I discover, too, the signs are misleading. Both should read: “Beware of DogS” The canine voices from the yard were the full-throated barkings of Big Dogs. Sure enough, both rushed to the fence as I passed by: two large, Great Danish dogs with big, pointy ears. “Why, why?” I thought. “Why not the little yelping bedroom slipper dogs that used to greet me as I passed by? Why not the hoarse croaking of the little beagle hound that took their place? Why not a little, short- legged Welsh Corgi like Ziggy who lives in the house on the corner of Sargent Road? Why two huge dogs, each of which could leap the Great Wall of China, let alone the insignificant four foot fence that “contains” them?” And what kind of person owns animals that warrant “Beware of Dog” signs? All this I wonder as I tremble my way home, the Danes’ throaty bellows echoing behind me as far as Ed’s place.

I go to the Valley to seek peace; it’s an opportunity to reflect, a time to muse and rummage through the dormant thoughts that surface, a time to process those thoughts. Big dogs that bark and bellow shatter the moment, are flashbacks to the big dog issues of my youth. It’s difficult to find peace in the Valley when you have to tote a canister of pepper spray with you whenever you visit.

“Beware of Dog.”  I wonder, “What kind of neighbor posts a sign like that?”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Valley of Spiders…

A noiseless, patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surroundings,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

                                          Walt WhitmanSky spinner

It is “in your face” season in the Valley. Out the door into a face full of filament. Duck between two fuschia baskets and webs grab your skin. A many-legged thing trickles down your arm, lowers itself to the ground and scurries off. Out in the bean patch step between two poles and you are clawing at your face, your glasses laced with threads that cling to the lenses, your ears. Between any two upright objects a doily of web sways in the breeze. It is spider season and the spinners have cast their sky nets, fishing for delicacies of the insect world. These days it seems the entire world is one wide web.

Casting forth

It’s nothing new, you know. This epidemic of spiders happens every year. If you have been observant over the days of summer, you may have noticed here and there a knot of exploding infant spiders, just a prelude of webs to come, a pulsing knot of tiny yellow “spinners” (as Shakespeare called them). Now they abound in web, body, and spirit.

Apparently in this spider season there’s enough dismay out there to prompt the media into arachnid coverage. The other day my radio station featured a special segment with UW’s spider man who volunteered some sage information about the annual spider phenomenon. “This is the time of year the males are on the move, looking for love,” the spider man said. Yes, it’s mating season for male arachnids. That had me wondering about spider webwork: I thought only the females spun webs, their way of trapping the nourishment necessary for producing those fiber balls flush with next year’s spider generation. The Ripple’s research department discovered that males, too, spin webs—not for an easy meal, but to attract female spinners. They secrete their unique reproductive juices on their webs, and females who venture there find themselves with spider. Better watch your step, ladies, and tread lightly. Spider man continued on about spider control. “There are indoor spiders and outdoor spiders,” he added. “Those arachniphobiacs who wish to rid their house of spiders are quick to call exterminators and have them spray the OUTSIDE of their homes. Doesn’t do a thing for the household, indoor spiders. Waste of time and money,” according to spider man.spider netting

Although my wife would disagree, these plump web weavers are a minor cloying annoyance and pose a far greater threat to flying insects than they do us. (Excepting the time one crawled into my mother-in-law’s ear in the middle of the night and caused a ruckus that roused the entire household. Fortunately the little intruder found little there of interest and exited of its own accord, preempting a trip to the ER and ending the midnight crisis.) My little hive of carniolan bees might disagree as I have noted the swaddled mummies of several little ladies woven in effigy into nearby webs.

Dewy web

If there are any Little Miss Muffets in the Valley, they have little to fear from our fall variety of garden spiders, and while I agree these hefty arachnids, their grasping legs and swollen abdomens are a bit repulsive, unless you are a fly, bee, (or other spider), our Valley spinners are as harmless as the household cat. Venomous spiders like the Brown Recluse, commonly known as the “Fiddleback” spider because of the violin-shaped markings on its back, are not indigenous to our Valley. Their bites can cause considerable harm; in some instances dermonecrosis: the deterioration of flesh spreading outward from the bite.

The black widow spider inhabits the drier environs east  of the mountains. Years ago one of them stowed away on a beehive that had summered in my bee yard in eastern Washington. One morning I opened the door of my bee shed to find the doorway webbed and myself face to face with a shiny black bug sporting a red hour glass for a belly button. Now I’m a country boy, born and raised in “Widder” country and calling 911 or an exterminator never occurred to me. I corralled the “timely” spider in a quart mason jar. We named her Lucretia after the notorious Borgia female who reputedly poisoned those who got in her way.We fed Lucretia on grasshoppers we caught and she flourished until the first frost nipped her chow line in the bud. I’ve had a number of pets over the years, and Lucretia required the least care of the lot them.What a tangled web

Aside from Little Miss Muffet’s spider, there are other arachnids of literary note. E. B. White’s philosopher spider Charlotte, of Charlotte’s Web immediately comes to mind. And then there’s the spider whose persistent efforts to affix its web to ceiling beams inspired Scotland’s Sir Robert the Bruce to mount yet another campaign against the English to secure his right to the Scottish throne. And what about the itsy, bitsy spider that walked up the waterspout? That little nursery song fairly well sums up a spider’s persistence.

I am busy with the stuff

of enchantment and the materials

of fairyland my works

transcend utility

I am the artistmore webbing

a creator and a demi god

it is ridiculous to suppose

that I should be denied

the food I need in order to create


           A Spider and a Fly

          Don Marquis

I came upon some fascinating information the other day, news that seems especially pertinent to a Valley full of spiders and cows. The U.S. Army has teamed up with a Montreal biotech company (Nexia BioSteel) to create the first man-made spider silk using mammal cell cultures of a cow. And why does Man want to become Spiderman? Spider filament of the type orb webbing spiders spin to make the draglines, the radiating spokes of their webs, is five times as strong by weight as steel. These threads are so sturdy they can stop in mid-flight a bee flying at twenty miles an hour. While Nexia is interested in practical, non bellicose uses for the synthetic webbing, such as stronger fishing lines and medical sutures, the U.S. Army, of course, has other designs on the webs: a stronger, lighter soft body armor for the troops. It plans to combine the stronger fibers with Kevlar to create a safer, more efficient product for soldiers on the ground.


It’s all very complicated, but somehow Nexia has discovered an anatomical similarity between the spider’s silk gland and cow and goat mammary glands. So why all this cutting edge genetic engineering? Why not recruit spiders to spin the genuine article? Spiders are fiercely territorial, apparently, making spider farms an economic impossibility. (Silk production, on the other hand, experiences no such difficulties to overcome: a cocoon is not very territorial.)

Will you walk into my parlor,” said the spider to the fly.

“ ‘Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you did spy;…”

                                                Mary Howitt

I’m wondering if this new research has potential for the Werkhoven Dairy. A year ago the Werkhovens expanded their dairy operations to include an anaerobic digester: first milk and now electricity as well. With all those high efficiency mammary glands in their herd, they might consider branching out even more—or “webbing” out I guess that would be.

Now my wife would be a staunch opponent of more web production here in the Valley. This time of year it’s, “ I can’t stand it any longer. I’m going to get some spray and get rid of these spiders!” Or, “That does it; I’m getting a bug bomb and setting it off in the house!” Yes, there’s no fiercer spider fighter than the wife. I’m a more peaceful coexistence sort of guy—short of one poking around in my aural canal—and gently corral and usher them outside. That goes for those big wolf spiders, too, the ones that scurry across the carpet like a fair sized mouse. But when a house spider and my wife cross paths, it’s one squashed bug quickly succeeded with dire threats of pesticide. In fact in the memorial letter our estate lawyer suggested we each write, I set down my wish that the dear wife’s epitaph read: She hated spiders.”   Perhaps I need to remind her of some parting words from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”webbed

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Not a Good Sign…

Waning AugustIn my other life when I struggled with the task of transforming high school sophomores into literate, critically thinking, socially productive young adults, I drilled into them the concept that language was a great impression maker. “Whenever you use language publicly,” I would preach, “you are making an impression; people judge you by how you speak, what you say, how you say and write it.” I believed it then and eleven years after bidding farewell to sophomores and the teaching profession, I believe it yet.These tenets of communication, as readers of this blog know, have carried over to the practically perfect standards of journalism practiced here by The Ripple. While one would hardly consider The Ripple’s contents high style, it has dedicated itself to certain standards of journalistic hygiene. In a Valley with so much manure about, this is not always easy to do.

Yes, the printed word, how its used, is quite telling. The other day in Fred Meyers I noticed an adult male in his forties wandering around the store wearing a T-shirt with a message that read: “I’m not a gynecologist, but I’ll take a look.”Here’s my impression of that gentleman: if he’d been one of my sophomores, he would have been wearing that shirt inside out during the school day. Didn’t he have a mother in his life? A day or so later I read a vanity license plate with this message: “Uppity.” Just the person who would breeze through a four-way stop or cut you off on the freeway.

Yesterday I noticed  two new signs in the Valley. The first, while not exactly a sign, was at the old Victorian home that used to be the residence of the Aldens. The place has been vacant for months, but lately I’ve noticed the lawn has been mowed. Yesterday I spied a child’s bicycle and other toys indicating the presence of children—always a very good sign.

The second sign was actually two, a message in duplicate on the corners of the fence next to the driveway of the home formerly owned by our friends Garth and Tony MaGee. Magees’ successors had been foreclosed upon, and the house, like Aldens’ place, also had been vacant for months. I happened by just when a realtor was removing the realty sign. He told me the place had been sold, but he had no idea when the sale would be finalized and the home occupied again. That was weeks ago. But moving day must be imminent for the new neighbors because glaring at me from the corners of the fence were these two signs: SignsNow if you were driving the Valley welcome wagon, which of the new neighbors would you most want to welcome to your Valley neighborhood? 

(FYI: On the radio a few years back, I was listening to a legal program when the subject of hostile, dangerous dogs came up. The lawyer hosting the show gave this advice: “If you own an animal that has the potential to harm a fellow human being, should litigation involving that animal come to trial, there’s no better way to incriminate yourself than to post a sign announcing to the world you own a dangerous animal.” 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Spilling the Beans About Beans…

lean green beans

I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted.

***                ***

What shall I learn of beans, or beans of me?

H.D. Thoreau, Walden

The morning mist seeped through the vegetable fields just south of the Lower Loop Bridge. Hooded, ghostly figures backlit by the morning sun, moved purposely along the rows of beans, field workers harvesting the pods.

I noticed string beans dangling in quite a few places in the Valley: Tony Broers has a dozen poles; the Ed Broers a hundred foot row; there’s a raised bed of bush beans at the Jim Werkhovens. So if you don’t mind, string along with me a bit in this bean season.

My dad’s boss used to say around planting time “If everyone planted two rows of beans, there’d be no starvation in this world.” He’s right, you know—and I think the same logic would apply if one planted just one row of pole beans. I don’t think there’s a single garden vegetable—apologies to zucchini-- that explodes with such bounty as a bean plant, be it bush or pole. A bean plant is indeed a “Giving Bush.”

Literature’s great celebration of beans occurs in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. In his record of the grand experiment in economy and simplicity on the shores of Walden Pond Thoreau devotes an entire chapter (“The Bean-field”) to the cultivation of beans. (Allowing schoolchildren studying Walden to combine in playful crudity Thoreau, his beans and their amazing gastrointestinal effects, with that famous line from Emerson’s “The Concord Hymn”: “The shot heard round the world,”by replacing the word “shot” by a more vulgar schoolyard four letter word.)

H.D. prepared two and a half acres for cultivation and planted most of the ground in beans (“I was determined to know beans,” Henry said.) of the “small common white bush variety,” his crop, therefore, dry, shelling beans. He laid out his beans in rows fifteen rods long (approximately 250 foot rows), three feet eighteen inches between each, by his estimation seven miles of beans. Now that’s one long row to hoe. And hoe he did, from five a.m. until noon daily, attacking weedy intruders in this way: “…have at him, chop him up, turn his roots upward to the sun, don’t let him have one fibre in the shade, if you do he’ll turn himself t’other side up and be as green as a leek in two days.”

In the same meticulous way he lived his life, Thoreau recorded every aspect of his bean experiment. His harvest: twelve bushels of beans (48 pecks: 8 quarts per peck) which translates into 384 quarts—that’s a lot of beans; his capital outlay for seed $3.12 1/2; his profit from the sale of 9 bushels, 12 quarts (after losing about a quarter acre of crop to woodchucks), $16.94. H.D. then admits he exchanged his beans for rice and continued to say the intent of  the entire bean business was “…for the sake of tropes and expression, to serve a parable-maker one day.”Seven hours a day hoeing seven miles of beans and then shelling out 384 quarts of common white beans seems like an excessive amount of work just to yield a metaphor, analogy or parable, but far be it from me to say the world’s most famous transcendentalist was full of beans….

As is my own garden these days. To date I have canned thirty-three and a half pints of beans. I have taken two five gallon buckets to the Sky Valley Foodbank (not much of a farmer if you can’t grow extra to share), yet the vines continue to produce a prodigious amount of beans. Beans to shareOddly enough, blue jays are in part to blame for this year’s bean bounty. Not wanting to feed those blue rascals newly sprouted corn all summer, I gave up my corn fritters for a row of bush beans in their stead. When my pole lima beans failed to germinate because of the cool, damp spring, I planted Blue Lake pole beans around their bean poles. One row of bush beans plus nine hills of pole beans makes me wonder about the phrase “Doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.” If that idiom were around in Thoreau’s time, I’m sure he’d scratch his transcendental head over that one, too. One hill of beans (like one zucchini bush) would feed a family of four just fine during garden season.

So aside from hauling buckets to the food bank, how does one deal with such a copious amount of beans? Remember Forrest Gump’s friend Bubba and his multitude uses of shrimp? Here’s the bean rendition: snapped beans, French-cut beans, steamed beans, grilled beans, broiled beans, fried beans and baked beans;  canned beans, frozen beans, dried beans and shelled beans.beans by the pint And when the pods swell their bellies, shell out the fat beans, cut a slab of good bacon into chunks, mix together a couple jars of homemade tomato sauce, some molasses or brown sugar, a bit of liquid smoke, boil the works for an hour, bake it for three more and you have barbecued baked beans and the satisfaction that very little produce went to waste.French style beans

The nice thing about bush beans is they yield an early crop and give you a head start on fall garden cleanup. Pole beans come on later but produce until they’re nipped by frost. As if I didn’t have beans enough this year, I planted a row of shell beans called “Yin and Yang,” so named because their black and white markings are similar to the black and white teardrop symbol from Taoism: most beans have a dot of black in the white and a dot of white in the black. yin and yang beansCan’t wait to see how these little orientals taste simmered for a couple hours with a good, old western hambone.

The variety of ways to “lay by” beans helps utilize their vast yield: canned beans on the shelf; beans blanched and frozen in the freezer. A gallon of fresh green string beans snapped and dehydrated will fill a half-pint zip-loc bag. Throw a pinch or two from your bean pouch into a pot of vegetable soup and when the shriveled splinters reconstitute, you have the equivalent of a pint of canned beans swimming around among the other vegetables. Leather beansAnd string beans can be strung and dried that way, too. The Mother Earth News years ago featured “leather britches,” green beans strung on strings necklace-like, then hung up and dried. Though hardly high fashion, I suppose folks could hang the britches around their necks and have food wherever they went, a necklace against starvation.

That’s what I’ve learned about beans. What the beans learned about me, excepting I’m their weed control advocate, I have no idea. A transcendentalist I’m not. Just one more thing about beans. If you have an aversion to visiting relatives around holiday time, prepare that green bean, cream of mushroom soup, Chinese noodle casserole for your contribution to the holiday feast. You won’t be invited back.Scarlet runner beans

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Snakin’ It’s Way Out of the Valley…

Slitherin' away

So often we feel ourselves under the shadow, thumb, of  government bureaucracy. Federal and state agencies oftentimes stonewall progress or complicate our lives with regulations, hogtie our plans, goals—dreams in red tape. Whenever I butt heads with “Them,” I think of Dickens’ Office of Circumlocution in his novel Little Dorrit. The O of C was a government monolith whose sole function was to thwart citizens who wanted something done by telling them how things ought not to be done.

The Ripple’s last post lamented a troublesome compost sock, the remaining vestige of last year’s turn lane project, that has snaked along our hedge out front. I have worked around this bulky tube all summer, fighting the weeds that sprung up behind it, in front, and through the thing. Although its stuffing was supposed to be fully compostable, I discovered much of the contents to be otherwise. I had hoped to slit the netting and spread the compost along the base of the hedge but found it so full of shredded plastics and rocks that spreading the stuff would have littered the right-of-way with an unsightly mess.

In an email last Friday I shared my problem with WSDOT’s Lorena Eng who superintended the 203 project. Ms. Eng replied that she would have the sock removed and disposed of in a responsible way,that she had been led to believe its contents were “fully compostable” (“—maybe in 200 years,” she added after viewing a photo of wheelbarrow full of the stuff). The Ripple is pleased to inform you Ms. Eng is as good as her word.

Yesterday around 013:00 a white DOT pickup truck, caution lights flashing, stopped on the shoulder out front. I went to investigate and found two orange-vests wrestling the heavy sock out of its lair. Mike and Ed, two of DOT’s finest, bisected the big constrictor with an ax and proceeded to coil the tail section in the bed of the truck.Snake wrestlin' They backed the truck into our driveway and went to work on the head section of the beast, coiling it next to its tail. A mere twenty minutes it took for Mike and Ed to remove the sock, neatly rake smooth the channel that was its resting place, and sweep the leftovers from our driveway. They even carted off the wheelbarrow full of compost I had gathered as show and tell for Ms. Eng. Sock gone. Problem solved.

“You can’t fight City Hall,” the old dictum states. But I say don’t give up the good fight. Write a letter, make a phone call, speak up until someone hears you. Shout, if you must. But do so tactfully. A bit of humor won’t hurt, either. Sock it to ‘em, but state your case with good old commonsense: that’s guaranteed to take any bureaucrat by surprise.Snaked away

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Ripple Pulls a Few Strings…

Waning August

For a good five months last year we lived adjacent to a construction zone while the DOT and their cronies worked to squeeze a left hand turn lane into the middle of SR 203. There was far too much activity out in front of our house those days. Construction trucks, clanking machines and shouting workers descended upon our otherwise relatively quiet (true, we live on a State Highway) household (“Encroachment,” 3/28/’10) and held us hostage for the spring and summer.

The turn lane project was not unexpected; in fact it had begun five years earlier when the initial surveys left green paint sprayed on our driveway. From time to time we would receive a letter from WSDOT informing us about the impending project and how it might impact us. (Our mailbox, for instance, would be moved and repositioned on a “breakaway” stanchion.) As the project drew closer, stakes with pink flags sprouted on the right-of-way. A drilling rig plumbed for ground water. With each new activity we became more apprehensive about what would happen out front, how much right-of-way--which we have mowed and maintained for thirty-five years--would become new shoulder and road surface. How would the wider roadway impact egress from our driveway to the highway? Would the shared turn lane create a “suicide” lane when north and southbound traffic merged to the center for their turns? So many questions, and whenever I saw someone fussing about in front of the house carrying an official-looking clipboard, I would prod him for more information. One project manager, Manuel Quintem, told me there would be a public meeting and we would receive a letter informing us of the time and location.

No letter ever came. No questions were ever asked. None were ever answered. Then came the excavators. They ditched the entire right-of-way in front of Cascade Meadows’ horse barn, put in a French drain and a culvert extension. (I was relieved to find the drain would not impact our right-of-way.) How would the new drain affect the hydraulics of the next Valley flood? Who knew! Still no answers. In exasperation I sent an email to Senator Val Stevens posing my questions, sharing my concerns about the project’s final impact on the citizens affected by the SR 203/Tualco Rd./N. High Rock Rd. turn lane project. I told Senator Stevens that the locals most impacted by the project had had no input, had been told we would and that was the upshot of it all. Yes, The Ripple squeaked its way right to the top. Senator Stevens emailed back, informed me she had passed along my email to WSDOT and I could expect an answer within the week. Yeah, sure….

But I did hear. I had pulled the right string. An email from Ms. Lorena Eng, Project Manager, and not just any project manager either, but the Mother Superior of project managers, addressed my concerns, and while I was not entirely satisfied with her answers, at least someone had listened to me and responded. I rolled up my strings and put them away for safekeeping should the occasion arise for me to pull them again. When our mailbox remained high and dry and empty after the new road surface was striped and I tired of playing daily games of mail tag, I unraveled Ms. Eng’s string once more. That tug brought a crew of four later the same morning and after a veritable comedy of errors, our forlorn mailbox was poised to accept the next day’s mail (Send Us a Letter; Better Yet, Make that a Check, 7/23/2010).

This week out came Ms. Eng’s string again. The turn lane project is nearing its first anniversary, and I’m happy to say the new “shared” turn lane appears to be working: not a single rear-ender to my knowledge since the striping and signage were completed. Other than Gladys and I have a slimmer, more precarious shoulder to negotiate—and while the French drain has yet to be tested—I’ve been served up crow and have to say the turn lane intersection is a much safer place today. Our right-of-way, however, still has that ugly compost tube snaking along in front of the hedge.Unsightly sock Last fall I took an ax to the portion of the tube that had jumped our driveway and coiled around the mailbox. I chopped it into sections and thinking it would make good mulch, dumped the tube’s contents under our fir trees. Now this meshed sock of compost, laid there to protect adjacent property from construction effluence, was supposed to be compostable, “green,” environmentally-correct—a friendly sponge to sop up toxic materials. Imagine my surprise when I spread its contents under the trees and found a mulch of considerable non-biodegradable stuff: shards of plastic shopping bags, milk jugs and their lids, thick splinters of PVC and assorted other non-compostable stuff, rocks included. When I stepped back and looked under the trees, it appeared someone had spread their garbage there.Toxic trashNow I have enough problems collecting and disposing of fast food trash tossed on the right-of-way and didn’t need more unsightly litter from that untidy compost sack drifting about like thistledown.

“Dear Ms. Eng,” I began, and not wanting to sock it to her right from the onset, went on to praise the turn lane project and applaud DOT’s efforts to make SR 203 a safer place for those who wish to turn. “But wait…there’s just one issue, and a minor one at that… about that compost tube that is still squatting in front of our hedge like a well-fed anaconda….” I go on to explain to Ms. Eng what you already know. “Do you suppose,” I plead, “that little white DOT dump truck with the empty bed, the one that sashays aimlessly up and down the road,  yellow caution lights twirling away, might stop, pick up the sock and haul it away?" Por Favor?”

At this point I have to digress, which as you know is quite often the case with The Ripple. We have had, at best, an adversarial relationship with WSDOT the years we’ve fronted SR. 203. When we first built our house, we experienced frequent visits from a squad of orange-vests, demanding we comply with WSDOT’s code for installing a driveway. (Something about drain tiles…but there’s no ditch, sillies, nothing to drain or drain into…no matter, it’s drain tiles or else…the else being a very nasty, condescending official letter from WSDOT threatening to tear up the portion of our driveway that crossed DOT’s right-of-way and allowed us taxpayers access to a public highway paid for, incidentally, by our taxpayer dollars unless we complied with code….)

One Labor Day weekend years later I was selling honey in front of the house when I was accosted by another DOT thug, flaunting his orange vest like it was a badge belonging to a Federal law enforcement agency—and pulling down overtime, holiday pay, to boot. He swaggered up and shared this bit of official bluster with me: “You can’t sell things on DOT’s right-of-way. Creates a distraction.” I share with His Excellency that I had been selling honey on that very spot for years, had maintained the right-of-way on which we stood even longer than that. “If you continue to sell here,” he threatens, “We’ll (taking liberty with the royal “we”) fence the property!”To which I replied with all the sarcasm I could muster: “If DOT is as serious with its threats as it is at maintaining its right-of-ways, then I’ll take that as a sign the bad place is about to freeze over.” With that the orange-vest climbed into his truck and drove away (slowly, of course—holiday pay, remember).

Now back to Ms. Eng and that toxic sock constricting our hedgerow for nearly a year. Mind you I have not heard from her since the mailbox issue, but within an hour of my request, she replies and I quote her here: “Dear Mr. Johnson, I’ll get someone to remove and dispose of the sock. I also thought they were fully compostable--maybe in 200 years! Thanks, Lorena.” Her reply warms me all over, and I bask in the glow of understanding that if you pull the right strings, not only will a government official listen to you, but extend a helping hand as well. What a kinder and gentler WSDOT we have these days, thanks to Lorena.

“Bless you, Ms. Eng,” I email her back, “Bless you!” To which she promptly answers, “Hopefully no one will consider it an endangered species before we remove it!”

Ah, and a government official with a sense of humor! A rare find indeed!

Still, there’s that snake in the grass out front. Nothing funny about that…. Nothing funny at all.