Search This Blog

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.