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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Valley Ripple…Teetering on Syndication?…

The NexusThe other day I found a small bundle of newspapers on the front porch and discovered we have a new paperboy…news to me because we don’t  subscribe to a newspaper. This is how it all came about. Last December just before Christmas we answered a knock at the door and opened to Brett and Megan de Vries bearing a thoughtful plate of high caloric Christmas greetings. After the exchange of season’s best wishes, in the brief conversation that followed, Brett asked me if  The Ripple might consider contributing to the Nexus, the Snohomish County Conservation District’s quarterly newsletter. I’ll not swear to it, but I think Brett’s invitation had much to do with the professional and thorough coverage The Ripple gave to the Valley’s first annual (and to date, the only) Pasture Bowl back on New Year’s Day, 2012,  at Tualco Field (“Are you Ready for Some Football…From The Ripple’s Sports Page, 1/3/12 ”). “If you think The Ripple’s musings and digressions might be of interest to your readers,” I replied, knowing full well The Ripple’s tendency to wander down wordy back roads, “I would be glad to contribute a post or two,” and that’s where we left it.

On 13 February I received a follow-up email from Mr. de Vries, reminding me of our earlier conversation. In my response I told him I was still interested in doing some writing for the Nexus but wondered if perhaps the two styles and journalistic missions might be incompatible. I had scanned the articles in a couple back editions and their format appeared to be purely straightforward and informational. Brett said he realized that but thought The Ripple’s style might add more of a personal, lighter touch, complementing the newsletter’s “straight news.”

Lois Ruskell of the Snohomish Conservation District sent me an inquiry on the subject: would I consider contributing to the Nexus? I shared with Lois the same concerns I shared with Brett and asked her if she’d read any of The Ripple’s material to see if  the posts might be a suitable fit for the Nexus. “You know”--my response by email-- “The Ripple takes a whimsical slant on the news.” Her reply: “We love ‘whimsical!’” “If you feel comfortable with that,” I tell Lois, “you have The Ripple’s permission to subject your readers to as much whimsy as you feel they can tolerate,” Well ahead of the newsletter’s March fifteenth deadline, I posted “Grounds for Your Garden…Giving Back to the Soil,”3/6/2013. A few days later Lois emailed a request for two or three images from the post and these I supplied.

That’s the story behind the stack of newsletters on my front porch: several copies of the Spring, 2013, edition of the Nexus. I thumbed through a copy and on page six I found, following a polite introduction to The Ripple and its editor, the “ground breaking” Grounds for Your Garden post. Not just on page six, either, but ALL of page six. The post appeared to be reprinted verbatim from The Ripple’s pages,which because of their penchant for the verbose, explains the one entire page of copy. The whimsy? As far as I could tell, all of it survived.The Ripple's page

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Good Earth…

litter... and it hurtsThe decade of the 1960s was a turbulent time. I remember those years as some of  the most worrisome of my life. Viet Nam. The draft. Body counts on the nightly news. A human being executed before one’s very eyes…during mid-supper…during mid-bite. Demonstrations shut down I-5 during rush hour. October 9, 1970, a group calling themselves the “Quarter Moon Tribe of Woodstock Nation” claimed responsibility for bombing the UW’s Clark Hall which housed the Naval ROTC program. If you were a college student those days, it was a difficult time to focus on your studies. There is divisiveness in the country today, certainly, but it pales in comparison to the ideological divide of the tumultuous 1960s.

It was during the ‘60s the “Woodstock Generation” realized the power of protest, that youthful voices raised in communal concert were not only heard but listened to. There were “be-ins,” “sit-ins,” to counter the home soil “establishment,” the “military-industrial complex,” corporations like the DOW Chemical Company that saw the Viet Nam “police action” as an opportunity to turn huge corporate profits. DOW’s defoliant “Agent Orange” not only wrought environmental havoc on the jungles of Viet Nam but also caused multiple ailments among those who came in contact with the company’s lethal cocktail.

What tipped the scales and started the Nation on the long road to healing, (a journey that continues still), happened May 4, 1970, at Kent State University, where a protest that pitted young Americans against young Americans turned deadly: young college students vs. young National Guardsmen--college students 0--National Guard 4. I was a first year teacher at the time and though the little town in which I taught was worlds away from Kent State (and just about everything else back then), to this day I remember the horrific event in vivid detail.

Little Winthrop, Washington, portal to the North Cascades Wilderness Area, end of the road (except for Mazama to the north, hardly more than a zip code). Those were the pre-North Cascades Highway days. The nearest hospital and movie theatre were sixty-five miles away regardless if you went east or south. North Cascades Wilderness areaI’m not sure who learned more that year, my students or this fledgling educator. Protest and cultural change reached even our remote outpost. One family involved the ACLU in the Winthrop School District’s dress code. (In this ultra-conservative community even the length of my sideburns was controversial and school staff were reminded that district dress codes applied to them as well.)

April 22, 1970: the first Earth Day. A “teach-in,” it was called, a term with a much more positive spin than the other “ins” of protest. To celebrate this day of homage to the environment, classes at Winthrop High were cancelled but school remained in session.Pasayten Wilderness Students rotated through workshops—mini-seminars—conducted by community members who were in some capacity “superintendents” of the environment. If memory serves, students attended a half dozen of these during the day. A senior smoke jumper representing the U.S. Forest Service conducted one session, talked about the techniques of wildfire suppression. A well known local naturalist conducted another. By the end of the day both staff and students had added two new words to their vocabulary: ecology and ecosystem. I can’t think of a more perfect setting to usher in the very first Earth Day than the beautiful and pristine ecosystem that surrounds Winthrop, Washington.Hart's Pass

Today is Earth Day. The occasion may not show on your calendar (it’s not on ours) but nonetheless across the country environmental awareness will be observed this day in a number of ways, some in our Nation’s public schools, I’m sure. Back in those days of protest, of rising social consciousness, and caught up in the spirit of the times, I wrote the following poem. It was not a good poem ( nor was I a good poet)  and it was written a long time ago. I share it now because  this Earth Day, 2013 , my sentiments remain the same:

                                            God created

                             a place close likened

                                        unto heaven

                             which was called Earth

                                       and let it

                             to a creature of wonder

                                    called Man

                         who replenished it with millions

                                   likened unto himself

                         and subdued it

           with beer cans and DDT and sixteen lane freeways…

                        and jeopardized his cleaning deposit.

Concerning the earth, the land, and respect for it, I recall a passage from Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop and paraphrase it here: “The native people move through the land and leave no trace upon it.”  Today, Earth Day 2013, let us reflect on the environment, our place and role in it, and consider how we can be more in tune with our ecosystems and the Earth, think about the chemicals we spread on our lawns, gardens, and fields and what impact they may have on our water supply and overall good health. And as consumers, for today at least, let us reflect on how we dispose of our excesses, be vigilant  that our castoffs end up in the appropriate landfill or recycling facility. This Earth Day as we go about our daily routines, let us tread a bit more gently, watch where we step and how.trash

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Divide, Divide…or Be Conquered…

division...not simple“You better divide that!”Nancy L, my environmentally-sensitive friend told me as she waggled her forefinger at my rhubarb plant. Her advice came across more as an order than a recommendation. I suppose her tone of command stemmed from the fact she had given me the same advice last year and I had shrugged it off. According to Nancy L, when a rhubarb plant sprouts flower spikes and blooms, it’s time to separate it.

I  guess I should have been a better custodian of my rhubarb because it’s Nancy L I have to thank for that humongous clump of root and foliage she’s pointing at. A half dozen years ago I applied some “hot” compost to my rhubarb and fried the invincible mound of stalks and leaves (A Rhubarb over Rhubarb, 7/1/2010). In two weeks the leaves turned pink, then red, and finally melted away altogether, leaving a hole in the ground that resembled the Roswell Crater…on a lesser scale, of course. I stood on the lip of the crater that used to be my rhubarb, stared at the void in disbelief and thought: “No summer pies, either rhubarb or strawberry-rhubarb, no rhubarb sauce with ice cream, no rhubarb-strawberry preserves…no flavorful astringent rhubarb stalks to pucker my mouth on a hot summer day. “I’ll bring you a start from my plant,”Nancy L assured me. She did and after I shoveled out the old grave and refilled it with fresh, new “cool” compost, I planted Nancy L’s gift…yes, the very one she’s waving her finger at now. “So you think it’s about time to divide that thing?”I tease. Nancy L gave me an “I told you so” scowl and as she walked away, exclaimed,  “You’ll need an ax!”ax work

An ax?  Did I hear her say “an ax?” Certainly Nancy L wasn’t serious.  I planned a bit of simple division, that’s all, not an execution and headed to the garage for the shovel. I returned to the base of operations and dug an eighteen inch deep moat around the root until it perched there like a miniature medieval castle with knobby rhizomes for turrets, the newly unfurling leaves bobbing like flags, and went to the house for lunch.

Years ago I had the idea our place needed some horseradish, so I picked up a starter root at a local nursery and planted it next to our well standpipe. In just two years that single root grew into a patch of thick green leaves, each with roots of  its own. Thinking a good thrashing would kill the thing, I ran the tiller through the patch. Big mistake there: each chopped chunk became a new plant, multiplied like  the severed rays of a starfish, and by that fall I had enough product to supply horseradish for every prime rib roast in the Valley. Next spring I took a shovel to the patch, dug out all the small roots and bagged them for the trash. The taproot, however, was a monstrous thing, like a gigantic dandelion root. Three feet down I dug and still the root was a full inch in diameter. I chased after it for another couple of feet but could see the root of the problem was well on its way to China. I gave in, hoping the earth would swallow it up. (If you are a fan of horseradish, and purchase a jar of spread, for the sake of curiosity you might check the label to see if its contents were “packaged in China.”) At this point, here’s a gardening tip: if you’d like to have fresh horseradish from your backyard garden, I suggest you corral the root with a good, strong container. Better yet: the best container to use is one full of creamed horseradish from your local grocery. So it’s horseradish baggage I pack with me as I head back out to lay siege to “Castle Perilous,” that ominous mound of rhubarb root.the root of the problem

Seasoned rhubarb wrestlers advise you to take the new divisions from the edges of the root and discard the woodier center. As rhubarb division was unfamiliar territory for me, I decide to take their advice and chip away at the perimeter. The aggregate looked pretty much the same, so tentatively I direct the shovel at a peripheral sprouting clump. To my surprise, the rhubarb deflects the blade, repels it, and the shovel glances off the woody surface as if it had struck a boulder. I redirect my angle of attack from another quarter, but each time the results are the same… the shovel ricochets off the root. I’m sure I’m imagining things but after several futile attempts, I thought I heard the clump laugh; at this point I’m the object  of rhubarb ridicule. “An ax,” I thought…”didn’t someone mention an ax?” I set the shovel aside and headed for the woodshed.rhubarb pit

With ax in hand I decide to use the“tough love” approach on that stubborn chunk of tuber. The clump I chop my way through is about two feet across and nearly that deep in the soil. Disregarding individual nodes and clefts, I slice off slab after slab, separating what look to be healthy replants and pile them on the lip of the trench. Further ax work shaves off the woody pulp which I also heap around the hole. Two hours later I have the wheelbarrow heaped with chunks of rhubarb and now the additional  problem of how to dispose of them. the roots runneth over“FREE” always seems to work, and I consider wheeling the load to the right-of-way and setting a “FREE rhubarb” sign next to it (worked fine when I last divided my iris).

Looking back on the experience, I recall tree stumps that were easier to extract. After the pit was “sanitized,” I filled it half full of compost, shoveled in some garden soil, and replanted the spot with a new plant. Then either in a moment of muddled thought or overwhelmed by excess rhubarb, I planted five more plants. Yes, now I have six plants… and two or three years down the road six times more work ahead. But I have a sharp ax… a chainsaw…and I could always rent a stump starts


Planting more work

(Note: my wheelbarrow is empty.The next day I visited the Valley where I found Paul Bischoff tending his vegetable farm. “Need some rhubarb?” I asked hopefully. Paul did indeed. That afternoon he relieved me of the excess, and now they’re his problem.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Peeping Frog…

Zinnia frogWe had a peeping Tom out back several years ago. When you move to the country onto one slim acre, you don’t think much about being peeped at. Isn’t that the sort of thing that happens mainly in town where the houses crowd together and those of the peeping persuasion have a good deal more subject matter to peep at? We assumed what little peeping that might occur from outside in the dark would be done by four-legged critters on their nocturnal rounds and happened to cast a random glance or two at the lighted household as they loped or sidled by.

Our peeper was a spring peeper and his peeping might have continued undetected had I not discovered a “trail” of evidence in the freshly tilled garden the next day. I had gone out that morning to check the garden’s progress when I noticed footprints in the newly turned earth. The shoe prints were accompanied by dog tracks (a clue that narrowed the suspects considerably). I backtracked the trail to the edge of the property until I lost it in the grass. Whoever it was had come from the west…and now I was sure I knew who owned the shoes that made those imprints. As if this weren’t disturbing enough, the ground where the night watcher had stood was compacted; he had been there long enough for his shifting stance to pack the soil. A small mound of what I first thought were coffee grounds turned out to be expectorated  “chew”; whoever the peeper, he was leisurely enjoying some nicotine stimulation while watching our movements inside the house. When I stood on the packed ground that morning and faced the house to see how much a peeper could see from this prospect, I shuddered: the plate glass windows, the dining room glass sliding door and kitchen window were in full view; in the dark anything and anyone illuminated from within would be clearly visible.

Being spied upon raises an interesting question: which is creepier, catching a peeper in the act and running him off? Or discovering the next day that you and your movements were being clandestinely ogled, leaving you to wonder just what activities you were performing for your audience and how long you had been entertaining him. Knowing someone was out there in the darkness of a country night, standing a scant fifty feet away, watching your every movement as you went about your evening routine, seemed plenty creepy to us. We were careful to pull the shades at dusk from that time on. I’m certain I knew who “Tom” was but couldn’t prove it and for this reason did not call the authorities. Things have a way of resolving themselves, this time in the form of a falling out between the man and his landlord. The evicted Mr. Peeper left the Valley to spy on others elsewhere and took his best friend with him.

Brekekekex koax koax! a fairly true rendering of the racket that disturbed my reading one afternoon last fall. The rasping sound was so clear and close I first thought it might be coming from inside the house. I crept to the rear deck sliding door, but before I could ease the slider open, the noise abruptly stopped. After I stood motionless for a moment or two, the creaky brekekekex koax koax resumed. The sound was so close it seemed to be coming from beneath my feet and I nearly jumped back in fright. A check of the doorjamb and the backsides of a couple indoor plants failed to locate the noisemaker. Whenever I would move, the noise would cease, but as soon as I paused a few seconds, the hoarse refrain resumed. This seems an appropriate time to attribute the source for my phonetic rendering of the sound to classical Greek comedy: Aristophanes’ play Frogs in which frogs play the part of the chorus. What I have included here is the English translation of the frog actors’ repetitive refrain, and although I’m not sure of the original Greek, the noise I heard that afternoon could have been one of the cast rehearsing for the role. Of course I recognized the sound as soon as I heard it, but it was the proximity of the creature that startled me. Although I searched the immediate area thoroughly, I never did locate the little croaker.

From time to time throughout the fall the little chorister would break into song from somewhere on the deck—never from quite the same place—but always from the deck. For that reason, in a flash of brilliant inspiration, my wife named the little fellow “Deckster.” And thus it was Deckster became a part of the fabric of fall.Deckster

The Pacific Chorus frog, an apt name for Deckster and his kin, happens to be our official Washington State frog. Most are small enough to squat on a two-bit piece (one I discovered on an okra leaf could have perched upon a Jefferson nickel and still not smothered our third president). We seem to have an abundance of chorus frogs here on the place and it’s always a delight to discover one. I’ve relocated several to the hedge borders whenever they’re threatened by the tiller or mower.They spring out of the grass, leaves or weeds, and I have to stop the machinery to rescue them. I suspect the little amphibians are capable of protective coloration and like chameleons have camouflage capability.color change

The little fellows show up in the most unlikely places. You’ll be out and about the place doing this and that, and all of a sudden you’ll see something out of place, take a second look—what’s wrong with this picture—and you’ll be face to face with a Pacific Chorus frog. He may be green; he may be brown; he may be mottled; but he’s always a surprise.Cuke croaker









Hangin' out









Peeking frog









hose frog








Fall gave way to winter, and Deckster’s brekekekek koax koax went on hiatus (or dormant). A few weeks ago, prompted by the entire cast of frogs chorusing from Old Barn Pond across the road, Deckster began his spring rehearsals. I used to think he and his relatives were “rain frogs”; their brekekeking presaged impending rain (like singing in the showers), but in our drippy Valley, I hold little store in amphibian prognostication: Deckster would sound off whenever he brimmed with song.

The other night I was typing away on the computer when all of a sudden I felt I was being watched, spied upon, peeped at. I glanced over my shoulder at the sliding door and saw the belly of a frog glued against the glass like a decal. Deckster had clambered halfway up the glass and stuck there to get a better view of the household activities. I don’t know how long he’d been watching; I don’t know what he saw from his vantage point; and I don’t much care. There’s nothing goes on this household I’d be afraid to put on display for a frog.Peeping frog

Monday, April 8, 2013

Oh, Where, Oh, Where Has that Little Stand Gone…

I B's footprintOh, where, oh, where can it be? The Valley is going to have a harder time waking up these days. Last Saturday I headed for town and lo and behold, there at the intersection of Tualco and 203, the corner was bare. The little business known as Island Blends was gone, disappeared, vanished. The trade winds must have spirited it away to parts unknown…the Bermuda Triangle, perhaps. Nothing remains but a drain pipe or two, some footings, a faded sign and a bewildered little palm tree, suddenly orphaned, left to fend for itself among the ghosts of Carolyn Peters’ corner menagerie. The little stand has disappeared faster than you can order: “A tall, white chocolate mocha, non-fat, extra hot,  no whip…Please!”

The Ripple has its investigative staff working around the clock gathering the particulars, but as of this posting, where the little blue stand went, when, and most puzzling of all, why, remain shrouded in mystery. We all know what happened to Ms. Peters’ little egg/flower stand: a green Honda Civic took it out a few years back, sliced the walls right out from under the roof. A wrecking ball couldn’t have done a more efficient job. Who was behind the wheel of that little, green machete is yet a mystery, too. What happened to the stand, though, was obvious.

Responding to a query from The Ripple’s research department, landlord Matt Beebe in an email reply shared little more than what the The Ripple already knew: the stand was gone. Yes, the vacant corner had pretty much confirmed that fact. Matt was already moving on with plans for the future, hoping to keep the Valley’s caffeine drought as brief as possible. The Ripple invokes journalistic privilege and shares Beebe’s business model for Island Blends’ replacement. His intent “is to provide local community commuters with a drive-up coffee stand next to a walk-in farmstand on the best corner site for access parking this side of Monroe in the farmland. I want to see more picnic tables and umbrellas,” Matt continued, “for people to sit down awhile and enjoy the afternoon there in the summer with their families with fresh fruit from the farmstand and cold drinks from the coffeestand as there are not too many places left anymore in the farmland areas for people to go and enjoy the local farm products.” (Oh, and by the way, the stand will be “family friendly”; bikini baristas need not apply…runs up the utility bill, for one thing.) And while The Ripple is still puzzled as to the why of the “just up and left” Island Blends stand, the business model Mr. Beebe put forward seems sound enough. However, Gladys and I  might suggest that on a hot summer’s day a good hotdog loaded with everything (yes, that includes sauerkraut) would complement that cool, refreshing drink.

I suppose I should have been a better Island Blends patron. I could count on ten fingers the number of coffees I purchased during the brief time Mike ran the business and probably have a couple digits to spare. I for one will miss the little blue hut. Island Blends added a bit of “funkiness” to the corner if one can apply such a term to its Hawaiian theme. My nickname  for the proprietor was “The Ukulele Man,” as I frequently found him strumming away on that instrument between customers as if he were Don Ho. I’ll miss his colorful Hawaiian shirts and shell necklaces—as close to the “Islands” as our Valley will ever get (excepting flood season). What most impressed me about Mike was his creative marketing and entrepreneurship. I once told my wife that if it would stand still long enough, Mike could sell it. In addition to his featured beverages he peddled everything from sea salt to honey to pepper spray. When Gladys and I passed by, we would frequently see him puttering here and there about the place making improvements, adding gutters, a coat of paint complete with a gentle surf lapping at the foundations. Mike’s little mustard-yellow hotdog cart was an extension of his personality, I always thought. (I must confess I couldn’t count on both hands the hotdogs, loaded up with the works, I purchased those sunny weekends when Mike rolled out his little“sunshine”cart.) When our old refrigerator passed away, he offered to loan us one of his small units until we were back in business, and when our brand new replacement malfunctioned, Mike kept us supplied with bags of ice while we waited for a technician to get the thing running again.

News keeps breaking as I’m writing this post. I contacted a longtime customer of Island Blends and he said he purchased his morning coffee on the way to work last Friday and when he returned that evening the stand was gone. “Mike never said a thing about it when he served my drink,” he exclaimed. “The stand is gone and I bought a pre-paid card, too!” (Rumor has it the stand has washed aground [ no pun intended] behind one of the buildings at the Creasy Log Homes site. Thus the mystery deepens and The Ripple is following the story closely….)

In the dark Valley mornings I’ll miss the stand’s cheery little neon sign flashing “OPEN,” announcing that the coffee is hot, inviting Valley coffee lovers to drive on in and be served. In the meantime as far as Island Blends little business is concerned, the Valley wishes it a  fond farewell and “Aloha…” for the time being, at least.Sign of times gone by

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Rite of Spring in the Valley: From the Archives…

tools of spring and summerHardly a week and a half ago I posted about the fickle month of March, the changeable weather: sunbreaks one day, snow the next. Since that posting the March lion has retreated to his den and in his stead lamb-like spring has moved into the Valley. Our nesting pair of tree swallows came gliding in March twenty-fifth, checking  out their familiar summer accommodations. Three days later I was tilling in the garden and glanced up to see a flight of four buzzards wheeling against a backdrop of blue. The old saying has it that one swallow does not make a spring and perhaps it’s up to the blossoming lilacs to seal the deal, but in all the years I’ve been visiting the Valley I saw a sign of spring I’ve never seen here before.

“You throw like a girl!” I shout as Gladys and I wheel by the little house with the green metal roof, the one that’s a twin of Tony Broers’ old homestead. Two men, an older and a younger—father and son, perhaps—on this cloudless day are playing catch in the yard, tossing a softball back and forth. “That’s what I keep telling him,” the younger catcher laughs as he drops the ball. I felt like chiding him with: “You catch like a girl, too!” But I didn’t. Such sentiments are shared only among men, of course: if you’ve ever seen the Husky girls’ fast pitch softball team in action, “You throw like a girl” would not be a taunt but be a supreme compliment.

Baseball…the American Pastime, or so they say. Baseball…it used to be a passion in our household. T-ball, Boys’ and Girls’ Club league, Girl’s fast pitch Little League, Middle School Varsity, High School J.V., with a fast pitch clinic mixed in there somewhere. There were baseball card collections, season tickets to the Everett Aqua-Sox,  evening Mariners game on the radio.

What’s not to like about baseball? It’s a simple game: you throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball, but baseball is also a game of strategy, a Rubik’s Cube of variables, a chess match on a diamond playing field. In baseball three simple things can happen: you can win; you can lose; or it can rain. It is a sport where all comers can play, regardless of skill level. You don’t have to be a seven footer to participate; you don’t have be an incredible hulk programmed to bulldoze another player. The best whoever played the game failed to hit the ball two-thirds of the time. Baseball is a sport where a game’s outcome may hang on a single pitch, a single swing of the bat, a single error. After each pitch it’s “a whole new ballgame”: the strategy changes with the pitch count, with each new batter (or pitcher), with each runner who reaches base and with each base he’s reached. In theory a baseball hit between the foul lines could sail on forever fair; and a game could last forever (the longest game? Thirty-three innings between the Triple A Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings, April 18-19, 1981. Sox win 3-2). The game invites interactivity: a fan who scores a game has a pitch by pitch account of the contest, becomes a statistician while at the same time keeping a watchful eye on any foul balls that may sail his way. And the best thing about baseball? It ushers in spring and the lazy days of summer.

The best sports literature by far, fiction and non, is baseball literature. This is not editorial opinion; it’s a fact. And the best sports literary characters, fiction and non are baseball characters. Some of the best writing, journalistic and “creative” concerns the subject of baseball. Just one example: in The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway’s old Cuban fisherman Santiago is following the “Great DiMaggio’s” baseball season (longest hitting streak, 56 games, 1941; the record still stands). Canadian author W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe which translated into the quintessential baseball movie The Field of Dreams (1989) inspired our family to take a baseball pilgrimage of a thousand miles to a cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa, a cornfield that miraculously sprouted a baseball diamond replete with field lights.Field of dreams Don Lansing’s farm became a  movie set and there, surrounded by cornfields with knee high corn, we performed the rituals of the game: played catch, shagged flies, ran the bases… the daughter disappeared into the corn rows (thanks to the fade function on the video cam)….

Early the next day we returned to the field for“extra innings.” The evening before we had met owner Lansing,  had him autograph a baseball (purchased at a Wal-Mart in Miles City, Montana), and bought a few souvenirs at his little stand. FOD sourvenirDon told us he had to hide the bases before dark so they wouldn’t be taken as souvenirs (signs directing sightseers to the field kept disappearing, too, had to be replaced constantly). He showed us where he kept the bases hidden until the next day and said we were welcome to put them out if we were the first visitors the next morning. We were…and we did. For our family the Field of Dreams was a shrine of sorts and we left Dyersville with a renewed faith in “The Church of Baseball.”awaiting the game...

Things change; life moves on; old passions wane, and new ones take their place. While the game itself remained—and still does—a constant, baseball’s appeal, at least for me, deteriorated. The game became all about money, and greed tainted the sport; players trolled both leagues for the highest salaries. Each season a fan had to build a new loyalty base to an unfamiliar team roster, acquaint himself with players who were complete strangers. baseball memoriesThe sport became more about landing an inflated contract than executing a perfect double play. Salary competition in the off season was keener than on the field of play. The players’ quest for huge salaries led to the 1994-‘95 strike which shorted the season by eighty-six games, leaving us ardent fans bereft of playoffs and the 1994 World Series. Then came the issue of “chemically encouraged” players and players who adamantly disavowed such encouragement. Time-honored records in the sport were shattered and the public’s trust along with them. All this and then the daughter’s moving away and starting a life of her own led to my estrangement from baseball.

In those days during baseball season the daughter and I had a pre-supper ritual. We’d grab our ball gloves and a softball and head for the front yard. After several warm up throws we would pace off sixty feet or so between us. “Ready?” I’d ask. She’d nod and I would begin the silent count: twenty throws back and forth without a “passed ball.” Twenty consecutive catches for each of us. Just a simple catch, it would seem, but time and again one of us would drop the ball, throw wide, sending one or the other into foul territory to retrieve it. Countless times during those evening catches I’d reach a seventeen, eighteen, nineteen count even and then the ball, as if it had a mind of its own, would sail beyond one of our gloves and the count had to be reset. Two, sometimes three times we were warned: “Your dinner’s getting cold!”  But we never left the yard until at last I yelled, “Twenty!” Then tired but exhilarated, we’d slip off our gloves and head inside to dinner. When I think back on those front yard catches I’m reminded of the poet Donald Hall’s book Fathers Playing Catch with Sons,  how just throwing a baseball around can strengthen the bonds between parent and child and etch those special moments into the memory of each .  

In the movie The Field of Dreams, after that magical cornfield  conjures up his father (“If you build it, he will come”), Ray Kinsella asks him, “Dad, would you like to have a catch?”  His father turns to his son and a smile plays across his face as he replies, “I’d like that.” At that moment—perhaps it only came from me— in that dark theatre, I thought I heard a communal sob issue from the men in the audience. I do know my vision suddenly blurred and I couldn’t read the credits. As the audience filed out silently, we men avoided making eye contact with each other and not a one turned to another and said, “You cry like a girl.”Iowa's field of dreams