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Monday, November 24, 2014

A Valley Patriarch Passes…

Berryman BroersA dreary day in the Valley as I walk along amid a spattering of rain. “I see the coffee gang is holding court at the Broers’ watering hole this morning,” I think as I note several cars in their driveway. More than usual this morning, it seems….

The last few years I’ve been slightly envious of Tony’s coffee gang, ever hopeful that one day as I pass, the front door will swing open and the Lord of the Manor will invite me in for some morning banter and a cup of good homebrewed coffee. But it never happened. Nor will it today. Nor will it ever.

On the return leg in the drizzling  rain I approach Tony’s driveway just in time to see Ed’s gray SUV back out onto the highway. I wait as he jockeys into the lane and am surprised as the window slides down. The first words out of my mouth are, “How’s your dad?” I’m not sure why I asked the question…perhaps the fact there were more cars than usual for morning coffee …or maybe because it’s been awhile since I’ve seen his dad. Ed’s reply stunned me: “Dad died yesterday.” Just as I suspected: too many cars for a friendly coffee session….

It is not my place to discuss the particulars of Tony’s passing. I know he had been suffering from failing health for sometime. Let me just say that old age crept up on him, as it will us all, and tripped him up. This will be a lonelier place without Tony. He was a good friend and neighbor to the Valley, to me, to us all.

I can’t remember when Tony and I first met, but it was in the days when he was the Valley’s Berry King. A neighbor once told me Tony had tried his hand at the dairy business, but his efforts met with minimal success. With the cultivation of berries, however, he found his calling; raspberries, strawberries, thornless blackberries, all flourished under his care. Marion berries even, in spite of Tony’s condemnation of their thorniness: “I hate those bastards!” he would chuckle.

Berries. Tony’s raising them made it seem the easiest thing in the world. His luscious strawberries the size of golf balls inspired me to try my hand at strawberry cultivation. And it was Tony I turned to for advice…and plants. The plants, I recall, were left over from a spring planting in one of his berry fields, a hundred or so of them. I carted the lot home, tilled up a patch of garden, and set to work planting them. In those days all that divided our property and the West Valley were pasture and two or three broken down fences.

I was down on my knees, troweling holes in a crooked row, stuffing each with a node of strawberry when a pair of boots hove into view. I looked up from my labors to discover Tony standing over me, smiling away at my efforts. “Here, let me show you a trick,” he said as he demonstrated how to boot stomp each plant into the hole. “Use a sharp stob to poke your holes, set the plant and stomp it in,” he said, “Spares you from crawling around in the dirt and saves time.” Sound advice from a good neighbor who had walked a  good quarter mile of pasture and crossed a couple fences just to share it.

I discovered raising strawberries was hard work, more effort than I was willing to exert, and after a couple of seasons of dirtied, sore hands from weeding, I tilled the patch under in disgust and planted a less demanding crop. Hard work and strawberry farming went hand in hand, but not my hands. Not so with Tony. His berries thrived because of his work ethic. I recall sitting by the woodstove one cold, blustery day in February with the spit of snow in the wind. Out across the Valley a lone figure braved the elements. Immediately I knew who it was …Tony, hoe in action, out in his strawberries, getting the upper hand on the weeds of spring…. Hard work; Tony welcomed it.

Years ago Tony left his prim, white farmhouse and stately barn and moved up the road. There he built a new residence, neat and trim, painted it a “spring” Valley green, and set about landscaping his yard. The new lawn, like everything else Tony planted (his berry rows looked like each had been laid out with a surveyor’s transit and plumb line), would have been the envy of any golf course or ball field greens keeper. I coveted his lawn. Not a sunny head of dandelion or hummock of mole mound to be seen. One spring day I was out for my walk and noticed Tony puttering about his yard. On a devilish whim I plucked the stem of a dandelion gone to seed, and as soon as he saw me, I pretended to blow the seeds in the direction of that immaculate lawn and for my teasing received a fist shake tempered by a smile and that delightful twinkle of his eye. Tony in the Fall

In all the years we’ve lived in the Valley, I only received one Christmas card from Tony and it was because of his lawn. I knew, as I’m sure he did, that when one shares a valley with a nation of moles, it was just a matter of time before one leaves the reservation, crosses the road and makes itself at home tunneling and mounding your yard. I’d ask him about his lawn and why it remained mole-free. “I don’t need any of those devils,” was all he’d reply. But no Valley lawn, Tony’s included, can escape molestation. Early December—the lawn was only a year or two old—I strolled by Tony’s place and noticed—with a bit of glee, I shamefully admit—a half dozen fresh mole mounds sprouting like acne from the green sward of that pristine lawn. “How to rub it in?” I wondered, and given the season, I thought I’d reward Tony’s moles with a little holiday installation (“From the Archives…A Christmas Card from the Valley,” 12/24/2010). A visit to the local craft store netted me a miniature Christmas tree, ornaments and all. Early the next morning before daybreak I hoofed it to Tony’s yard, placed the decoration smack dab in the middle of the encroaching mounds, and staked it firmly in the ground. In the mail a couple days later I received a Christmas card from Tony Broers. Below the card’s sentiment Tony (his eyes a’ twinkle, I’m sure) had written: “Even the moles seem to be enjoying the season!”   

This past spring Tony and  I had a seed exchange. Last year we’d talked about our gardens (he’d downsized to a raised bed out back for beans and asparagus) and the talk had turned to sweet peas. “I always intend to plant some but it never seems to happen,” Tony told me. “No excuse this year,” I thought and last March stopped by some sweet pea seed for which Tony traded seed from his favorite beans. His sweet peas were the first to bloom in the Valley this summer, twining there by his front porch for me to enjoy as I walked by. Tony even shared a first bouquet with me: a solitary fragrant blossom plucked from his little pea patch.

The first seventeen rows of thornless blackberries (of those #%&* marion berries he’d had enough ) have been Tony’s jurisdiction since their planting. Always the first rows each fall to be pruned and tidily wrapped with Tony’s inimitable skill, each row fastidiously twisted like a woven basket, the unruly canes now stand in need of attention. For one who often walks and bikes in the Valley, those unkempt rows were a sign that something was amiss…and this morning came Ed’s sad news, a  shock, certainly, but not without premonition….

And so The Ripple is saddened to report the sobering news, the passing of a Valley patriarch, one time Berry King, friend and good neighbor. As I walk or pedal Gladys from now on, each visit  to the Valley will seem a bit more forlorn, the memories keener—of Tony in his yard, tending to his berries, pedaling his “retro” bicycle down the road to Ed’s to deliver the paper—fond recollections of a man who not only loved this Valley but through his hard work and skill made his mark upon it. The Valley will miss him.

Summer attire


Tony Broers—July 13, 1928—November 23, 2014

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Ripple Signs Off…

catkins of springI left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me I had several more lives to live, and could not spare anymore time on that one.

H.D. Thoreau, Walden


Pussy willows are budding in the Valley again. Four years ago on this date pussy willows ushered in the first post of The Valley Ripple. It seems appropriate, then, for The Ripple to exit four years from that day in pussy willow time. Effective this post The Valley Ripple is on indefinite hiatus.

This farewell post is The Ripple’s three hundredth: 300 posts to cover four years in the life of the Tualco Valley. When I posted my first post February 19, 2010, I had no idea what I was in for. I knew very little about blogging or the work that went into creating a satisfactory post. I was entirely unprepared for the amount of time it takes to compose a post. I won’t belabor the process but suffice it to say, a post does not just roll off one’s fingertips. Blogging, I soon discovered, is a time intensive activity. Not only must the writer take an idea in its “raw” form and round it out, but then there’s the formatting of images, which after they’re taken, must be transferred from camera to computer and then inserted into the post. This is not a complaint, but an explanation, rather, of part of the process. For me, though, I would be denying the truth if I didn’t admit that writing The Ripple was not only a gratifying task, but great fun, as well.

So why stop the presses, you ask? The time element certainly, but to some degree this blogger experienced “performance anxiety,” too: you feel compelled to create regular posts (I tried for at least one a week), and posts you could take pride in, also. But the main reason—and I refer to this post’s opening quote from Thoreau’s Walden—I have other “lives to live,” other writing projects I want to move on to. In short, I have reached my destination and it’s time to plan a new trip. For four years now I’ve been the Valley’s online advocate. It’s time to move on.

But before The Ripple goes silent, let me share some observations about my blogging experience. Writing is a mental activity, and The Ripple allowed me the luxury of playing around with words, stringing them together in sentences, revising those words, moving text around to where it best fit. down valleyThe Oxford English Dictionary, that grand experiment in lexicology, bulges with 600,000 entries. What a challenge it was to cull from that vast sea of words all but the thousand or so I needed for each post. Truth be told, The Ripple forced me to park myself in front of the computer and just plain write.

Each post was an adventure: even though I had an idea or item of news at the outset, I was never quite sure where it would lead me. More often than not, where I ended up was a complete surprise. A post takes on a life of its own: you follow its lead, are bewildered often at the journey, but when it ends…oh, so satisfying!

300 posts. Knowing I have a penchant for the verbose, I’ve wondered just how many words comprised The Ripple over the last four years. To rein in my wordiness, I often checked the “word count” function of my blog program. (A writer once explained why it took him longer to write a book than planned. His reason? Deciding which words to leave out.) In spite of all the editing and revising that went into each post, try as I might, I always seemed to add words to the total. I was aware some posts droned on interminably, but let me give you some perspective on word count. Three hundred posts at, say, an average of a thousand words per post (some longer, some shorter): apply a bit of simple math and that gives The Ripple a word count of three hundred thousand and some odd (yes, in some cases, “odd”) words. Round it up to 310,000 just to be generous. 310,000 words for four years worth of blogging. That’s a whole lot of reading material, you say. Here’s the perspective: Count Leo Tolstoy’s four volume (plus Epilogue) epic novel War and Peace contains, depending on who’s counting, between 500,000 to 600,000 words in English translation (and Sonja Tolstoy hand copied the manuscript seven times—there’s true love for you). At least The Ripple had pictures! February day

On a more serious note, one more observation. Under the veneer of Valley civility I’ve discovered there are frictions, small ones, a slight grazing of elbows. And this is my only comment: we can and need to be better neighbors here in the Valley.

Even a blog must have its acknowledgements. Not only did blogging give me a good mental workout, it also provided considerable open-air exercise several times a week, either on foot or chugging through the Valley on my faithful vintage 1976  Tourist II Columbia three-speed bike, Gladys. And thanks to Gladys, too. Without her help I would not have been able to gather the news from all four corners of the Valley.

Thanks to The Ripple, I was able to meet new neighbors and become better acquainted with the old. Also, the constant search for news brought me in contact with many colorful non-residents who visit the Valley for all sorts of reasons. I thank them for their interest and the variety they gave my posts.

Those who followed The Ripple faithfully, read, shared information and commented on the posts, I thank you, too, for your involvement and encouragement. The Ripple was all the better for them.

And last of all, thanks to the Tualco Valley. For the editor, it has been and will continue to be a place of inspiration, a place for reflection, a place of quiet wonder.Valley east

Tualco has its routines and they will continue. But the Valley is not static: there is always something new, something unique, something of interest. And ideas and musings seem to jump out at you. And I’ll continue to have my eyes on the Valley; any news will be added to the archives. But for now, a long rest and pleasant dreams to The Ripple…and neighbors, when we pass each other in the Valley, let’s keep exchanging those smiles and friendly waves, for neighbors we are and neighbors we’ll continue to be….Feb 19

The Editor

(Let The Ripple correct an egregious oversight. As is often the case in the Academy Awards where the recipients thank all those without whose assistance they would never have reached the pinnacle of achievement represented by the golden icon they hoisted triumphant as they left the stage, some essential personage, (most often a spouse), is shamefully omitted from their glowing acknowledgements. While The Ripple was never in the running for the Edward R. Murrow Award for Journalism, nonetheless it owes a debt of gratitude to those who tirelessly worked behind the scenes whenever research was asked of them. Thus, with the sincerest of apologies, the editor wants to recognize its faithful and devoted research staff for the many long hours it spent to insure The Ripple got it right.

The Editor (crestfallen)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Food for Thought: The Selective Pantry…

Food for thoughtMid-February. The garden is dormant, a shriveled ghost of  summer past. But the gardener himself doesn’t have to lie fallow. He can allow his thoughts to roam. Aside from the pile of seed catalogues that fuel my garden thoughts these days is a book I stumbled upon recently, a most thought-provoking book that has me thinking seriously about the relationship between my garden and me, its produce, and the global food supply chain.

People come up with a variety of  hair-brained schemes to prove something either to themselves or others. There’s the woman who vowed to live off Starbuck’s food for a year; some weirdo determined to seclude himself in his apartment for 365 days and let the internet provide his every need; and then there’s Jared and his Subway sandwich regimen to remain thin and svelte. Barbara Kingsolver, her husband and two daughters resolved to unlink themselves from the corporate food chain for one year and consume only locally grown produce and meats. Kingsolver then chronicled their experiment in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. A small farm in Virginia was the Kingsolvers’ laboratory, as was the farm community in which they lived. Granted such an experiment would be impractical to impossible for most American families who have neither the space, time, or knowhow to grow their own food. Granted, too, that the hectic pace of a day spent getting and spending allows little time for leisurely reading. And that’s a shame; food, it’s acquisition, preparation, and consumption are a necessary part of our daily lives. It would serve our families better if we all gave some serious thought to the relationship between our health and the food we eat. Reading Kingsolver’s book has given me a bounty of food for thought about food.

When I considered conducting a similar experiment to Kingsolver’s here on our property, I quickly dismissed it as infeasible. (Kingsolver herself found it impossible to begin the experiment at the first of the year; not much going on in a Virginia garden in January, so she started their comestible year in April.) Among the myriad of startling food facts in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, however, was one posed by Kingsolver’s husband Steven L. Hopp in the first of his several sidebar essays. According to Hopp: “If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels.” Although Hopp doesn’t cite his source of information, I have no reason to doubt the fact: the book’s final pages provide a hefty list of references.

Just one meal a week “(any meal),” I thought, as I looked out at a garden that looks pretty much the same as a Virginia garden must look this time of year and nearly dismissed the idea. But the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became. “Any meal” once a week…could be as simple as a breakfast of a couple of poached eggs from friends who tend a flock of “free range” hens ($3.00 a dozen for large brown eggs so fresh you could slap them) and a bowl of home grown, canned fruit. But what about a main meal, a complete dinner, for instance? That wasn’t going to happen this time of year. The wife and I decided to compromise. After giving it some thought, we concluded for each evening meal at least one item would be produce either home canned or frozen from our garden. To the pantry or freezer we’d go for canned green beans or corn, frozen peas, canned tomatoes (dried tomatoes for the salad), frozen squash, a pot of shell beans…. One meal last week came very close to the mark: stuffed bell peppers, the frozen half shells from the summer’s pepper crop, the meat component (local hamburger from Kelso’s) seasoned with garden garlic and onions. A baked potato freshly dug from an overwintered hill. When you considered the ingredients in the tomato sauce, all of which were home grown, you could pretty much thank the garden for the entire meal.

While browsing Freddie’s produce section the other day, I noticed plump red raspberries glowing like rubies in their cozy, plastic clamshells. I thought about my own raspberry canes now desolate of leaves, buds at least a month away from swelling, and I recalled another fact from Kingsolver’s book: for every calorie in perishable produce (the raspberries), eight-seven fuel calories were required to bring those “out of season” berries from California to New York. To everything there is a season but not to the corporate food industry. Commercial jet aircraft have trumped “in season” produce. Regardless of which hemisphere is in bloom and producing, these days it matters not that the other isn’t: in twenty-four air hours you can add to your local shopping cart a container of fruit grown thousands of miles away. (And if your own rose garden is covered in two feet of snow, not a problem. Take down and dust off your Waterford crystal vase.You can easily fill and arrange it with a dozen fragrant tea roses picked the day before somewhere in Australia.)Consider this...

Buying local, Kingsolver’s maintains, stresses the concept of “neighborliness,” the idea that concern for your neighbor is on par with the same concern you give your own family. As a local food producer, you would not sell your neighbors what you yourself would not put on the table for your own dinner.

I can’t remember the last time I purchased a container of canned vegetables, and although our home canned produce lacks the variety one can find in the canned goods section of the local grocery store, when I go to the pantry to select a pint jar of green beans or corn, I know exactly what I’m getting: no labels necessary to inform me where the produce came from, what was done to grow and preserve it, what additives the contents were bathed in. As I open a quart jar of transparent applesauce, I can look out the window and see the tree that produced the fruit and excepting the fact the sauce contains just enough cane sugar to take the edge off the tartness, I’m guaranteed what I’m ladling into my yogurt is local and organic. Sure, there might be a few apple maggots blended in. So what. They’re my apple maggots, aren’t they? And they’re local, right? You can’t get much more organic than that.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Valley Drift…Or Poo Poo Number Two…

poosprayDisclosure: this property may experience sudden smells…

I came home from work one afternoon; mid-spring, I think it was, cool enough, I remember, to be wearing a wool sweater—my school clothes. As I stepped out of the car, I was nearly poleaxed by a pungent odor that instantly brought tears to my eyes. We’d lived on our slim acre for two or three years at most, were newcomers adjusting to the Valley. Obviously more adjustment was needed. I opened the garage door, quickly closed it, and went inside to dry my eyes. Somewhere nearby I heard the rumble of an engine. A farm tractor was cruising the pasture west of the property. Hitched to the machine was a large tank bouncing along on balloon tires. From the rear of the tank waves of green liquid gushed and spewed over the pasture. Curious to learn what the commotion and stench was all about, I marched out to investigate. When I returned to the house, I brought more along with me than a satisfied curiosity. Wool, I discovered with dismay, had a memory of its own; the fibers of my sweater had recorded the backyard smell and I now wore a “hair shirt” of stench. No amount of cleaning could entirely remove the smell, and the sweater went out with the trash…it was one of my favorite sweaters, too.

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A manure musing….During his stint as our thirty-third president, Harry S. Truman was once criticized for using the term “manure” during a press conference. Afterwards, a member of the press approached Bess Truman and asked her if maybe she could speak to her husband about his use of the word. Bess replied, “It took me years  just to get him to say that.”

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March. Several years later. Early spring. My school clothes are permanently retired and I’m afoot in the Valley. A fair breeze, the prevailing wind coursing from the southwest, leans against me and as I round the corner above Swiss Hall, my nose detects the signature aroma, a manure sprinkler at work. And sure enough, there the contraption is, spraying away in the field east of the Hall.Green mist I have had a fair amount of experience with rotating sprinklers and know that avoiding a cold splash in the face requires timing: wait until the stream passes and then while it’s on the backswing, quickly make your move. With the exception of size and what it’s spraying, the manure sprinkler operates much the same way as the rotating lawn sprinkler, and this one was a good hundred yards out in the pasture. I paused my walk, marked time while I waited for the arc to swing 180 degrees opposite my route. When the sprinkler nozzle shot a straight stream to the south, I judged it was safe to continue walking. But I failed to consider three variables: the first was the speed at which the sprinkler rotated; the second, the distance I had to walk to stay dry and out of harm’s way; the third, the Valley drift: windage, in other words, the deflection of an object (or liquid) on account of the wind. Watch OutJust as the stream swung parallel to my walk, a gust of  Valley March wind caught it. Suddenly the world took on a green hue. But I wasn’t wearing Ray-Bans. The lenses of my glasses misted over. I felt a sudden dampness on the windward side of my face. Shades of green, I thought as my nostrils began to quiver, I’ve been misted, a victim of the Valley drift. That was it. My walk was done. I headed home to shower. I was careful not to lick my lips.

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Same subject…different stench. March, it seems, is manure month. March back with me three years ago. Gladys and I were homeward bound and battling a headwind (we always battle headwinds in the Valley).  We were huffing along up the straight stretch toward the Grange. As we came upon Willie Green’s driveway, a horrific smell almost bowled us over. Smelling salts would have drowned in that stench.”For land’s sake! What can that be?” I wondered. For a moment I thought I was going to be sick. “It’s a body,” I thought,” someone died here or was murdered and dumped.” I was just about to dismount and investigate the roadside brush when I noticed a long mound of something by the driveway. More manure it turned out—this time chicken by-product. I have yet to smell anything as caustic as chicken manure. Someone must have filed a complaint with the odor police because in years since, the pile has been tarped over.

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In the days before the Werkhovens installed the Qualco anaerobic digester, before the dairy by-product was piped from the barns across the Valley, I would pull on my barn boots, hop in the truck and make my annual manure pilgrimage to the big green mountain of organic heaped up beneath the separator. It was good exercise loading a couple of truck loads of the stuff by shovel and pitchfork (a bit less work offloading it at the garden site) and after the first few shovels full, I got used to the smell. Pouring PooI would try to find a bit of high ground for my work site so as not to have to slosh around in the green puddles that filtrated from the pile. Periodically, I would hear a rush of liquid, like someone flushing a huge toilet, and turn to watch a wave of green pour from the stalls and cascade into a cement flume where it flowed into a collecting pond.

On one poo-gathering occasion I had scarcely begun forking when I heard the familiar flush. This time, however, something went awry. Instead of gushing into the flume and flowing to the pond, the flume filled, then overflowed. Suddenly there was a tsunami of green headed my way. The only high ground was the pile of manure before me and I clambered up into it while the green tide swirled around the base of the heap and eddied around the truck. I waited until most of the liquid backdrained, climbed down into the substantial pool remaining and finished my loading, meanwhile keeping a close eye on my boot tops. For the next several days every time I approached my truck, memory would revisit that  fragrant experience.

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More poopourri. The other day I read that poet Maxine Kumin passed away, age 88. I had never heard of Maxine, nor did I know she was the Library of Congress’s poet laureate for the years 1981-1982. My ignorance stems from the fact I don’t read much poetry and as far as U.S. poets laureate are concerned, why should I know their names when only a handful of U.S. presidents come to mind, namely those who manned our Ship of State during my lifetime. Maxine has made a cameo appearance in this post not because of her laureateness but because, inspired by the daily cleaning of her horse stalls, she wrote a poem about manure (“The Excrement Poem”), not a poem to be pooh-poohed like some vulgar limerick scribed on a bathroom wall (as one might expect from the subject matter) but a bona fide poem: six quatrains, twenty-four lines, of unrhymed verse on the subject of excrement….

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One April day years ago—on the garden’s behalf--I was addressing Werkhovens’ big pile of green gold when a pair of duck hunters passed by returning from the day’s hunt. Noting my labors, one of them called out: “Say, do you use that on your strawberries?” I assumed by his query I was talking to a fellow gardener. “Well,” I replied, “I don’t grow strawberries anymore, but when I did, I certainly used it.” A broad smile and then: “I use sugar on mine.” I was left speechless, standing there in my barn boots with a silly grin on my face. I had certainly stepped right into it that time, hadn’t I? You know, I’ll bet the fellow had waited patiently all his life for the opportunity I’d just given him. And he was no spring chicken, either.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Valley Drift…

Smell of poo in the morning

City lady on her first visit to a farm:

“My! What’s that smell?”

Farmer: “That’s fertilizer.”

City lady: “For land’s sake!”

Farmer: “Yes.”

The Ripple should have written about this subject years ago. The reason this post has been so long in coming is the editor couldn’t decide on an appropriate title. Possibilities were: “The Valley of Sudden Smells”and “The Smell of Poo in the Morning.” Or excuse the foul pun: “Excrementary, my Dear Watson, Excrementary.” Others I ruled out for fear of plagiarism: Denise Beebe’s “It’s the Smell of Money,’ and Jim Werkhoven’s quip aired on The Washington State Dairy Commission ad, “Come on in…You Might Wanna Wipe Your Feet.” I’m sure Jim holds the copyright on that one. For reasons to be explained later, I finally decided on the above title.

When conditions are just right—your nose will tell you—the Valley air is fraught with bovine perfume. Sometimes the smell is strong; sometimes it presents only a whiff; always it is pungent, but regardless of the potency, you know it’s country you’re smelling, part of the package you’ve bought into in order to escape big city pollution. Despite its pungency, the smell is wholesome, I daresay, an odor I much prefer to the fumes that waft from the town’s sewage treatment plant on a hot August day.

As efficient producers as they are of steaks and milk, cows, whether beef or dairy, excel equally as producers of manure. With free range beef cattle this by-product is distributed and disposed of  naturally, dispersed over broad expanses of range land where it decomposes and returns to the soil. At a large scale dairy operation, however, large numbers of cows are contained in a small area, especially at milking time;  free range dispersal of by-product is no longer a practical part of the equation, so dairies employ other methods to accommodate and dispose of large quantities of “green gold.” A government directive, one among many the government requires of the dairy industry, is one that mandates a certain ratio between the size of the herd and the acreage necessary to accommodate the tons of manure the herd produces: not enough acreage; too many cows…a mandate for hip high barn boots.

In the early days, manure that accumulated from the overwintered cattle was shoveled from the stalls and scooped into large piles.For land's sake One of the routine farm chores of early spring was to remove these mountainous heaps of dung, fork the contents onto a cart or wagon and transport the by-product to the fields and pasturelands where it was offloaded and spread manually. As farms became mechanized, tractors with front end buckets scooped the manure into a mechanical spreader which flung the excess about on the pastures and hayfields where it decomposed and emended the soil.

The modern dairy separates the by-product into liquids and solids by means of a special separating system. The liquid is pumped and piped into manure ponds; the solids cast about the silage fields by a spreading machine. When the holding pond brimmed with poo, the contents would then be pumped into a liquid spreader which was driven around the fields spewing the verdant rain in its tracks.

Nothing quite makes their presence known, however, than the huge water cannons dairies use to drain their manure ponds. “Poo-Poo” sprinklers, we call them.Poo Poo Sprinkler Your nose tells you there’s a poo-poo in operation long before you see the contraption perched in the middle of a field arcing a chartreuse stream of poo nearly thirty feet high and a hundred feet long through the Valley air. A series of underground pipelines carry the effluence from pond to field. Hydrants sprout at intervals along the lines and four inch diameter python-like hoses connect to them. Through these conduits the Valley green courses to the poo-poo cannon whose muzzle jets it onto the cropland. Powered by hydraulic pressure, this crusty piece of field artillery can service a full circle of land while crawling forward, unspooling its umbilical hose as it goes.Poo Poo hose

“Manure….” In those bygone years when I was subjected to daily doses of sophomores, I would teach them the value of understanding affixes as a way to attack unfamiliar words and sharpen their vocabulary building skills. Take manus, for instance: from the Latin word for “hand”; thus, MANUfacture, make products by hand; MANUscript, text written by hand; MANUal, done or held by the hand; MANUre…something you want to keep OFF your hands….

What about the “Valley Drift, then?”In the post that follows my experiences with it…up close and personal….

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Five Penny Post…

Jefferson nickelThe nickel is the ugly duckling of all U.S. small change. A nickel lies in the palm of your hand as dull and burdensome as a stone. Nickels minted after 1945 contain only forty-three cents’ worth of metal (25% copper; the balance, nickel), yet weigh nearly as much as a quarter (5 grams), twice as heavy as pennies and dimes. Unlike the shiny penny or the dime, the “liveliest of coins,” according to Truman Capote, “the one that really jingles,” a nickel is much the same in appearance and value as the steel slugs punched from  the electrical boxes we kids used to find in housing projects. Endangered--as is the shiny penny--the nickel costs the U.S. mint nearly twice as much to mint as it is worth (9.41 cents per coin as of this post).

Some time ago on my Valley walk I found a Jefferson nickel. I looked down and there in the mud and gravel opposite Swiss Hall was the august and stoic profile of our 3rd President, the squire of Monticello, gazing up at me from the shoulder of the road. Readers of The Ripple know I am always on the lookout for dropped coins (“The Principled Science of Roadkill, 11/15/2012). In terms of simple math, finding a nickel is fivefold times better than finding a penny. I lifted my latest roadkill coin from the mud, wiped it off on my pants, and looked it over. The nickel bore the mint date of 1961. When I find a coin with an ancient mint mark, I think back on that year and try to recall what was going on in my life at the time. Hmmmm…1961. I was a junior in high school, borderline failing chemistry, consequence of misplaced priorities, which as I look back on those days, concerned chemistry of another kind: finding a date for the weekend (Wait a minute, perhaps that was biology? No, I took that my sophomore year). 1961…fifty-three years old. I wonder how many times that nickel had changed hands? How many pockets, purses, cash registers had it visited before it ended up here in the mud opposite Swiss Hall…? 

In the summer of 2007 my environmentally-sensitive friend Nancy L found an 1897 nickel  in the vicinity of Johnny Deck’s mailbox.1897 nickel obverse The nickel belonged to the Liberty head or “V”series, coins minted between the years 1883-1913. The obverse face featured the head of Lady Liberty; the reverse a “V” for the Roman numeral “5.” I wonder what was going on in Nancy L’s life the year that nickel was minted? Whatever it was, she wasn’t willing to share.

Liberty nickel, reverse

When I encounter a nickel of any kind, be it a road find or in a handful of change, it’s not without a slight sense of foreboding…or maybe a touch of sadness. Several years back I read a slim, little book by the Southern writer Eudora Welty. The book, One Writer’s Beginnings, is Welty’s memoir about the early life experiences that influenced her literary career. I read her book long ago and don’t remember much about the it, but the little I do recall comes to mind whenever I happen upon a nickel.

When Eudora was a child, her mother gave her daughter permission to open the bottom drawer of her chest of drawers where she kept certain boxed treasures. The child was allowed to remove “…a switch of her [mother’s] own chestnut-colored hair, kept in a heavy bright braid that coiled around like a snake in a cardboard box.” Eudora would hang the braid from a doorknob, unbraid it, and comb it out. “It satisfied the Rapunzel in me,” explained the author.

One day while at play in the drawer, Welty found a small white cardboard box the size of those that enclosed her mother’s engraved calling cards. Succumbing to curiosity, Eudora opened the miniature box and to her delight discovered two nickels. She scooped them up and took her discovery to her mother for permission to take them out and spend them. “No!” her mother exclaimed. The startled and confused child begged, and when her request was denied, burst into tears. Her mother regained her composure, the author recalled, wrapped her arms about her little girl and explained:

“…that I had had a little brother who had come before I did and who had died as a baby before I was born. And the two nickels I wanted to claim as my find were his. They had lain on his eyelids for reasons untold and unimaginable.”

Five grams apiece each nickel weighed. A mere trifling weight, true. But added to the weight of a mother’s broken heart, what a ponderous burden indeed….

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Twelfth Man Comes to the Valley…

Valley supportThis should come as no surprise. Football is a tradition in the Valley. The Ripple reminds its readers that right here in Tualco a hard fought contest played out two years ago last New Year’s Day (“Are you ready for some football: From The Ripple’s Sports Page,” 1/3/2012). The first annual Valley Pasture Bowl pitted Teams Blue and Yellow, both of the semi-semi Pro league, against each other in a championship game played on real turf, the gridiron trimmed and fertilized in the off season by five beef cattle. If truth be told, better make that half a game. Come half time most players were on the injured/disabled/played out list and unanimously elected to sit out the second half indoors huddled up, no doubt, in front of the big screen t.v. , reduced to mere spectators of the sport. The Ripple, in attendance to gather the news, was ecstatic with their decision; January 1st was a chilly day and because the story had moved indoors, Gladys and I lost no time seeking  indoor shelter and warmth ourselves…she in the garage…me by the woodstove.

Today a light breeze leaned against me on my Valley walk. As I approached the Van Hulles’ residence, something caught my eye: a large flag swung from a 2 x 4 flag staff nailed to Tony’s greenhouse. As the breeze caught the cloth, the flag fluttered and billowed. The bold number 12 stood out against a field of blue. I smiled as I watched the familiar ensign rise and fall. Yes, Tualco is ready and waiting for more football. As the hours wind down to kick off time, it appears the spirit of the Twelfth Man is alive and well right here in our Valley. And this time the game won’t be played in a pasture. Let’s hope it won’t quit at halftime either.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Arms and the Boy: From the Archives…

potential slingThe other day I bundled myself up and headed out for a Valley walk. Gladys stayed behind in the garage. The last time we ventured out together, I thought my face was going to freeze, strange because Gladys hardly moves fast enough to stir up a breeze. On the return leg I paused beside the willow tree whose scion I used to start our backyard pussy willow bush (now a small tree) to see if the rising sap had encouraged the birth of any furry kittens. Nothing to report yet; spring is still underground somewhere. Something else, though, caught my attention: a branch that forked nicely into the perfect slingshot crotch. That got me to thinking about primitive weaponry and my boyhood days growing up in the wilds of Douglas County.

The school bus had hardly dropped us off for summer vacation until our thoughts turned to summer armament. We were at that stage of juvenile male development that teetered between cap pistols and squirt guns to more serious weaponry. Those were the days of the Wild West: a boy needed to be prepared for a random encounter with some varmint, a rattlesnake, say, or a rabid coyote. You didn’t dare face summer without a single-shot slingshot holstered in the back pocket of your levis, so off we went to the nearby riverbank and the willow covert in search of  the perfect slingshot crotch. Each potential candidate received 360 degree close scrutiny…not easy to do in the thick brush and clutter of the thicket. One candidate after the other was rejected until finally…there it was; it beckoned to you like you were water and it were a witching wand. Leaving enough handle for a boyish grip, we’d hack through the branch with our Boy Scout knives, do the same with the two tines of the fork, and head home with our prizes.bean flip crotch

While the peeled crotch was drying, we went in search of sling material. The camp mechanic was certain to know the whereabouts of a castoff inner tube. We were ever hopeful the throwaway would be red rubber, the liveliest of all rubber tubes. Most of the time we had to settle for black tubes. Then it was a matter of finding the snappiest of these; some rubber, when stretched, was simply dead and wouldn’t do. When we found a functional tube, we’d scissor from it two strips of equal length, fourteen to sixteen inches long and a half to three-quarter’s inch wide. After carving a small notch in both tips of the fork, we’d lash a strip of rubber to each tip. The loose ends we’d bind to a patch cut from an old pair of jeans (or piece of leather cut from the tongue of an old shoe), a receptacle for whichever projectile we chose. During the course of a day’s play, we were ever vigilant for suitable ammo—round and smooth pebbles, marble-sized (there was always the kid who used his spring marble winnings as missiles…that was NOT this kid).a weapon just waiting to happen

It was an armed camp we  lived in during the summer. Regardless of  the threat, we were ready for it, armed to the teeth with a sling made from a willow fork, an old inner tube and a pocketful of rocks. If the threat were the size of a barn door, it stood a good chance of being pelted by a stone (a fifty gallon oil drum beyond the range of twenty paces needn’t worry about being dented). I can’t ever recall doing much damage with my “bean flip”…. Birds smaller than a peacock were safe, although I did wreak considerable destruction on the mud nests the cliff swallows built under the eaves of the packing shed….

Of course those were the days before mandatory background checks…but we did have to clear our pockets and check our weapons at the front door before we could take our places at the dinner table for the evening meal. primitive weaponry

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Just Whittlin’ the Time Away…

potential monkeys


Isn’t life wonderful

Isn’t life gay

Isn’t life the perfect thing

To pass the time away

     Mason Williams

I’m not a project man. Let that be known from the start. I’m envious of those who are. An acquaintance of mine reroofed an entire barn over the course of a summer. A former Valley neighbor built a gazebo one summer, an outdoor brick barbeque the next. Jim Cabe built an impressive two story shop and went on to construct a quaint garden shed for Alice. My brother singled handedly built a pole shed on his forty acres down in Orting, then a work shed, and is now remodeling a house on the property. Six years total it took me to build a grape arbor, woodshed, and simple carport—approximately two years per project. Thirty-eight years on the place and yet no garden shed. A dollhouse I started when my daughter was eight or nine (she’s now thirty-four) still sits unfinished in the shed, a tenement for mice, and now a longstanding family joke. The fact I have a grandson relieves what little pressure I ever felt to complete the project. No, I guess I’m what you’d call a putterer; in fact, my brothers have fashioned the word into a nickname for me.

Years ago I was thumbing through a book on American folk art. Among the photos of cornhusk dolls, hand woven baskets, willow whistles, wooden bowls, quilts and other backwoods objects d’art I discovered a small, but fascinating piece of whittling: a monkey carved from the pit of a peach. From time to time I thought about that peach pit monkey, especially during canning season when I’d remove the skins and pits from the boxful of peaches I was preparing to preserve and told myself, “One day I’m going to whittle me a peach pit monkey.” So I started saving peach pits, the large ones from late season peaches, ran them through the dishwasher, and stored them on the mantel behind the woodstove to dry.

Those were the days before there was a computer in our household; I couldn’t remember where I’d seen the picture of the carved pit. Al Gore had yet to invent the internet; You Tube did not exist: I had no access to instructional videos on peach pit carving. monkey backsideBut I did know what a monkey looked like…and I had plenty of raw material from which to draw. My Old Timer jackknife, the only thing I’ve ever won in my life--a punchboard prize from my tavern days of long ago—had been around many a block of wood. I honed it razor sharp, selected a promising pit from my inventory, and began my monkey business.

Aside from the fact you’re carving away with a very sharp tool in and around your fingertips (as a precaution I carried a band-aid in my wallet) on a small object, a peach pit isn’t a bad carving medium. The pit has no grain, so you don’t have to worry about gouging or splintering your project. If you are so inclined to monkey around a bit, here are some tips for the wannabe pit carver: choose a nice, plump pit, one that’s not too deeply scoured. If the pit is too  deeply“pitted,” the wood  may not be thick enough to fashion the legs without their splitting. ppm schematicI first use a red pencil to sketch out the head and legs. Once the limbs are roughed out, it’s a matter of whittling through to the center of the pit. Then flip the pit over and repeat the procedure on the reverse side. The most challenging steps in the process are cutting away the wood between the arms and head and between the hind legs and the tail. Take care to leave just enough tail material for a stub between the monkey’s front paws.

The nice thing about peach pit art is it’s conveniently portable: pit, jackknife, and whetstone take up little space in your pocket. portable projectThen in those unproductive idle moments…when the wife is shopping for shoes or purses…when you’re sitting in a “much ado about nothing” faculty meeting, slip the project out of your pocket and begin whittling discretely away. A peach pit carving session produces little “sawdust”; that which is generated is easily brushed away. No piles of shavings with this project.

To date I have notched seven pit monkeys. My first attempt bears a striking resemblance to E.T., the Extraterrestrial, but now that I think about it, E.T. did have a certain simian look about him. ppm front viewFor weeks I carried the finished product  in my pocket, occasionally pressing it between fingers and palm to finish the wood with the oil from my hand. After browsing through several antique stores, I finally found a suitable bell jar to display my “first born.”


1st ppm

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a project man. But I am a putterer,  and so in peach pit art I decided to render the classic monkey trio: “Hear no evil; speak no evil; see no evil” at the rate of one per year. Each of the three senses had its special challenges, but now all three rest tail first on a miniature log in a bell jar built for three.hear, speak, see no evil

If you yearn to be a true peach pit artist, here’s a word to the wise: serious whittlers of folk art shun power tools; Dremel power units are off limits. If  the project’s not whittled with a jackknife (won or purchased…makes no difference), it hardly qualifies as “folk art,” in my opinion. Peach pit carving, I admit, is intricate work, an exercise in patience and digital dexterity (not to mention potential bloodshed), but turning the center of a peach into a tail-grasping monkey isn’t really all that difficult. All you have to do is carve away the part of the pit that doesn’t look like a monkey.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Charitable Signs in the Valley…

tongue in cheekThe sarcastic content of a statement will be dependent upon the context in which it appears.


J.D. Campbell, “Investigating Components of Sarcastic Comments”

The broader the divide between youth and maturity, the more difficult it becomes for one to understand the other. The generation gap I’ve heard it called. For reasons not understood by the elder generation, some members of the younger have strange ways of making their mark upon the world: with cans of spray paint, say, or in the case of the Valley, using lawns, cornfields, pastures, or grassy rights-of-way as canvases for their vehicles’ tire tracks. These turf terrorists then return to their rutted installations and with misdirected pride think, “There, I’ve made my mark. What a mess. And I caused every bit of it.”

One of these hooligans made his mark on Beebe Corner the other day. According to an eyewitness, the four-wheeled instrument of destruction turned left off the main highway and spun into the grassy area while trying to avoid a car stopped at the stop sign. That corner puddles during heavy rains, turns the space into a marsh. The driver, who had to be going too fast to turn safely, suddenly found his car mired in the soft turf and in trying to extricate his rig, reduced the spot to muddy trenches. A plow couldn’t have made deeper furrows. The driver has yet to return to smooth out the mess—or, as far as I know, to apologize for creating it. off roading

Just last week I noticed a “Thank-you!” sign posted amid the destruction. The sentiment confused me. Years ago on a regular basis turf terrorists chewed up our right-of-way, making it tough going for the lawnmower. I would replace the divots. A couple days later the wheel ruts would be back again. The scenario went on for some time. Frustrating…. But did I think about posting a thank-you sign to reward the scoundrels for their off road excursions? Quite the contrary. Each time I surveyed the damage and set about repairing it, a Mark Twain quote came to mind. A horse dealer once sold Twain a poor piece of horseflesh, prompting the humorist to say: “I told myself if the fellow suddenly were to die, I’d cancel all previous engagements in order to attend his funeral.” A thank-you? Those wheel ruts elicited murderous thoughts every time I saw them. Revenge was what I wanted; expressing gratitude was the farthest thing from my mind.

When nocturnal terrorists churned up Tony Broers’ lawn, did Tony hustle right out there and post a sign showing his appreciation? Can’t recall seeing one. And when the inevitable swath through their cornfield appears in the morning light (an annual occurrence, a turf terrorist tradition, it seems), do the Werkhovens hustle out there and erect a large yellow Smiley Face in the mowed down strip? I must have missed that one. When a sod saboteur tore a path through The Barrell Man’s yard, did he post a “Much Obliged” message next to his“Barrell’s ten dollars” sign? If so, someone must have stolen it.

“Revenge, the world’s worst cause,” said King Arthur in the Broadway musical Camelot. Apparently that’s the  kind of charity we have here in the Valley—a “Thank-you” in exchange for carnage done. Matt Beebe is a better man than I—a “turn your cheek” sort of guy.  And Matt? An exclamation mark, even. Nothing quite communicates sincerity like an exclamation mark!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Keep Your Eye on the Pie…

Pictorial programs“…and pies by the half-dozen: rhubarb in spring; apple much of the year; pumpkin and mince; strawberry briefly and blueberry always (from canning); pies on the table three times a day.”

                                                                  Life Work

               Donald Hall

When New Year’s rolled around last year, I resolved NOT to resolve (12/31/2012), the rationale being if one has a goal, it doesn’t matter what day of the year he sets out to achieve it; start whenever…results are what matter. But this New Year I solemnly resolve to take advantage of any slice of free pie that comes my way.

That opportunity happened last month. December 12th, as a matter of fact, when The Ripple attended the pie social hosted by The Snohomish Conservation District at the Tualco Grange. The evening was to be a sociable one, locals chatting about their property concerns over pie.

The evening began with great promise. As I walked in the door of the auditorium, the first things that caught my eye were a coffee urn and an assortment of pies, many I noticed with some anxiety were already missing a slice or two. As I jockeyed for position in the pie line, Brett de Vries walked up, greeted me with a smile,  a handshake, and thanked me for coming, then introduced me as “…he writes for the Nexus” to a young lady serving up pie. “You can have my piece,” Brett offered (generosity had something to do with pie crust and glutens, I gathered). Apple pie. Rhubarb pie. Marionberry pie. It’s not often I have a chance at marionberry, so I pointed my paper plate in that direction (besides, I had that second slice in reserve, didn’t I?).

Cup of coffee in one hand, plate of pie in the other, I looked over the society gathered there in the presence of pie and noticed a few familiar faces: Dale Reiner, Andy Werkhoven, Gramma Snow and Sandy Frohning were those I knew. A few others I had seen somewhere before but could not recall their names. I was halfway into my pie when one of the hosts called us to attention and requested we take a seat. I chose one between Andy and Dale, thinking I’d get a story from their bantering back and forth. That was not to happen. The lady took up a position before the rows of chairs and introduced herself. “Ah, ha,” I thought, noticing an intimidating projection screen, “looks like my pie won’t exactly be free, thinking about those mailers I receive periodically, the ones where you and a companion are baited with a gourmet meal AFTER you listen to a sales pitch, of course. After we socialites settled down, the presenter thanked us for coming and explained the purpose of the evening. “I thought it was about pie,” one fellow blurted, prompting a ripple a laughter from the audience.discussion group one

In all fairness to the Conservation District, their presentation was not pie enticed extortion but a public service function: how the property owners in attendance could take advantage of government programs set up to protect and preserve their farmland and at the same time be paid to participate. The presentation’s focus was on the Tualco Valley because of its flood plain status. Organizations like the American Farmland Trust work with farmers and developers to mitigate the effects of development on farmland in the Pacific Northwest. AFT’s goal is “a no-net-loss of farmland in Washington.” Other programs featured, along with their guidelines and funding rates were: Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Snohomish Conservation District (SCD: participates in fully funded grant projects). The CREP program requires enrollees to sign a ten-fifteen year contract for which they will receive a $100/acre signing bonus, $200/450 per acre annual rental payment, and 100% funding for fencing, plantings, and funds to maintain a thirty-five foot buffer zone along watercourses.

A seasoned veteran of the government vs. the landowner wars (“I’m eighty-seven years old and have seen it all”), an old logger of the whistle punk/choker setting generation raised the question of funding, wondered if the government was paying landowners for the buffer zone acreage and whether it could come up with the money for remuneration. In deference to age, wisdom and experience, the presenter allowed the old logger to share a personal run-in with government regulations. On a piece of timbered property there was a quantity of blow-down timber he wanted to harvest, he said. The old gentleman contacted the DNR, (I believe that’s the agency), told them what he wanted to do and that he could access the timber by using an old logging road. Not until he upgraded the road, the DNR told him. $70,000 later after he had installed the “required” culverts (did he say “fifty?”), he was finally able to access his timber legally…testimony to the stringent regulations now in place to “protect” the environment.

After thanking the old sage for sharing, the presenter tactfully addressed Dale Reiner. “You’ve participated in the CREPS program, haven’t you, Dale?” Dale testified he had and that he wholeheartedly approved of it. “It’s nice to get that check at the end of the year,” Dale remarked. “You can use it to buy that new piece of farm machinery you need.” At this point I became the middleman buffer as Andy chuckled and leaned in to say: “I wish I had a nickel for every plastic sleeve (protective collars for young buffer zone plantings washed away by river flooding) I’ve run across.”Group 2

On to the next stage of the agenda—group discussion. We counted off by threes to form three groups, each with its own facilitator. Because I sat between Andy and Dale (a “one” and a “three”), I took my place with the number two group. Our facilitator kept the group on task, moved us through the group agenda while allowing members the chance to share personal experiences and property issues along the way (one member was concerned about flood mitigation; part of his property is now an island in the Sky River). Gramma Snow’s issue was Riley Slough, a watercourse that flowed through her property. “My kids and grandkids used to catch fish in the slough,” she stated. Now, she complained, Riley was merely a trickle on her property. Gramma wondered if the slough could be dredged and scoured out to allow water flow again. “Just wait a few months,” I laughed, “Beavers are working hard downstream. Before you know it, you’ll have ponds full of fish. Besides, Gramma, if you ask for government assistance, are you prepared to foot the bill for all those culverts?"Andy and Sandy 

(My slice of marionberry pie, by the way? I asked the young server if it came from her kitchen. “From Haggens,”she smiled, leaving me to suspect this was the first time ever store bought pie was served at the Tualco Grange.)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

“What I Hate to Do is Skin a Hog”…

winter in the ValleyA chore I’ve never had to do, but I can’t imagine there could be anything pleasant about removing the skin from a hog--especially if you’re the hog. Before you think I’m leading you down the salted path to pork rinds and Monday Night Football, let me warn you from the outset: this post has nothing to do with animal husbandry or abatoirs, but diminished auditory capability instead .

Ever so long ago, it seems, we were apartment dwellers. One of the many apartments we rented was a three room dwelling (living room/bedroom—a Murphy bed swung out of the closet-- kitchen and bath) in a four story brick building on Seattle’s Dexter Avenue north. The apartment managers, the Andersons, were an amiable pair, transplants from coal mining country of Appalachia and quickly took a liking to the young couple who lived on the third floor above. Mrs. Anderson, a portly lady who always wore flip-flog sandals (the poor woman was plagued by bunions) did the managing while her husband Rodney performed such household chores as watching t.v., drinking beer, and pointing out to the Missus the indiscretions their wire-haired terrier Snoopy had left scattered on the ancient carpet. Rodney, a wizened old galoot with a snowy white flattop haircut, was  worn to skin and bones by years of toiling for black gold in the coal mines of the east coast. No more than a stick figure, he very likely tipped the scales at a weight equal to a chunk of dry firewood. Rodney’s gums were bereft of dentition except for one snaggletooth that protruded from his lower jaw like the one stump remaining in a logged off clear cut. And  the little man, bless his soul, was as deaf as a post. Mrs. Anderson (“Twinkletoes,” our term of endearment for her—out of earshot, of course) communicated with her husband by screaming. “FATHER!” She’d shrill out…and he’d  laugh and cackle “Ohoooooooh!”

During one visit with the Andersons we discussed how out of whack the tradition of camping out had become, that “roughing it” no longer seemed the point of experiencing the wilderness; the modern camper hauled the comforts of home with him to the campsite. At this point in the conversation, Rodney brightened and blurted out: “Well, what I hate to do is skin a hog.” Stunned by the remark, all the three of us could do was stare at Rodney in disbelief. Mrs. A. recovered first: “FATHER, WE’RE TALKING ABOUT CAMPING!” “Ohoooooooh!” A slow grin of embarrassment worked its way around that solitary tooth and spread across the old gent’s face. To this day in our household whenever someone abruptly changes the tack of a conversation, we echo Rodney’s bizarre response: “Well, what I hate to do is skin a hog.”

The day after Christmas I was walking past Swiss Hall when Jim Werkhoven pulled alongside. I asked him if his family had a good Christmas. They did, he said. While we were talking, I noticed a plastic gadget fastened to the front of his shirt. “Get some new electronics for Christmas?” I asked. Jim explained that his hearing wasn’t what it used to be and that he’d purchased some auditory assistance to correct the problem. “While I was at it,” Jim nodded toward his shirtfront, “I got this bluetooth attachment that amplifies my phone signal so I can hear the caller better.” He looked at me and laughed. “It even has a mute function.” At that precise moment Jim received a call and put me on hold for a few minutes. While I was waiting for the call to end, I pondered Jim’s hearing issues and thought about that noisy farm machinery he’s been around all these years… and the lowing of hungry dairy cows… and sharing a household with four girls….

My wife tells me I have hearing issues myself. I have to admit that conversation sent my way from the port side arrives muffled in cotton and has for some time now; more often I find myself asking people to repeat themselves. The problem is people just won’t speak up, I tell myself.“You need to do something about your hearing,” my wife frequently complains. My retort,“If it’s important enough to be said, it’s worth repeating, isn’t it?” “Just what did I say then?” is usually the question that follows. When I answer, more and more often it seems,  my responses bewilder her…almost as if I’d said something weird like…well, “What I hate to do is skin a hog.”

One of these days maybe I’ll look into purchasing some electronic assistance for my compromised left ear; it doesn’t appear folks are willing to speak up in my presence. If I do, for sure I‘ll have to have an accessory with a mute function, like Jim’s. There are times when it would come in really handy.