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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….