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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Black is the New Green: From the Editor's Desk...

"A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" 

Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens

This is the time of the year I hire an extra security guard to stand watch over my wallet; it has come under siege from all quarters. The mailbox bulges with catalogs. Pages of glossy photographs push merchandise confirming white elephants are alive and well, no longer on the endangered species list. Sandwiched in between them are packets from one charity after another reminding me this is the season for giving--as if the needy were invisible the other ten months of the year--as if I could use all those address labels in two lifetimes....

At their posts, standing sentinel over the red tripods and kettles, Salvation Army surrogates halfheartedly shake loose a jingle or two out of their little bells, leveraging guilt to squeeze a few coins out of shoppers. Surrogates? Yes, General Booth's army has outsourced its bell ringers, gone secular in keeping with the spirit of getting and spending. No more that little dumpling of a Salvationist, ruddy cheeked, braving the cold, her uniform replete with bonnet, red shield and epaulletes. No longer does she swing her bell with cheerful resolve for hours on end, standing the while on those black regulation high heels fat as my wrist. Her replacement? Some fellow wearing an L.L. Bean jacket lounging in a folding chair, sipping a holiday cup of Starbucks which, by the way, he's holding in his bell ringing hand...a disingenuous "Merry Christmas" to you, too, sir. Enjoy your seasonal paycheck."

                       "The world is too much with us.
                        Getting and spending we lay waste our powers..."
                                              William Wordsworth

But there's nothing more insidious this time of year than the concept of "Black Friday," corporate retail's strong-arm campaign against the American consumer. Not only has Black Friday cast a pall over Thanksgiving, but it's nearly relegated the day of thanks (not unlike the marshmallow-topped yams) to the holiday back burner. Black Friday is an all out assault on our wallets, our bank accounts...our nest eggs. Now it's in your face Black Friday every calendar day post-Thanksgiving until after the Friday before Christmas. Car dealerships dangle "Black Friday" month in front of shoppers. Furniture stores, the big retailers, everyone with something to sell has hopped on the "Black Friday" bandwagon. Black Friday, I'm told, now begins on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It's "noir" Friday in your face (I have several containers of Black Friday honey if you're interested; it's Black Friday every day until the supply runs out).

The days of those two  magical wish books, Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck's winter catalogs are gone forever, swallowed up by the black hole known as Black Friday. We Americans have so much to be thankful for, and it's my hope we honor Thanksgiving in the spirit for which it was intended. So, readers, regardless of  this plague of blackness, The Ripple wishes you all a "Happy Thanksgiving." And if you do happen to fall into the Black Friday abyss and have any money left over for Cyber Monday, give thanks for that, too.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Down on the Frohning Farm...

I had occasion this past week to check out the effects of the Skykomish River's unwelcome visit at the Frohning Family Farm. Prompted by a call out from social media, I was on a meals on wheels type of errand: to deliver some baked chicken and potato salad to the cleanup crew and other volunteers who had pitchforked and shoveled themselves up an appetite at the farm. Because the southbound route to Frohning Road was accessible only by watercraft, I had to circle the Loop to the low road and even then had to creep north through two pools of residual floodwater. First, I'll relate how things went down and then share Matt Frohning's story of how the floodwaters came up.

I left the food with Sandy and Terri who directed me to the dairy barn where Matt was hard at work cleaning up the mess left behind by the bullying Sky. I'm no stranger to the Valley's dairy barns and knew enough to wear my barn boots for the on-site visit. So glad I did: the road to the barn was a quagmire, as you might suppose...and of not just mud, either. After all, the farm's a dairy, right? I headed to the barn, threading my way through the Frohnings' flock of free range chickens. A couple of roosters eyed The Ripple's credentials and cleared me to pass.

In the barn I found Cameron hard at work switching out the flood-soaked bedding one stall at a time."The cows were standing in two feet of water here in the barn," he told me. All waterlogged bedding had to be shoveled from each stall and replaced by fresh, dry wood shavings. Cameron was working on the second bay when I arrived. We had a brief conversation before Matt tractored in a hopper full of fresh shavings which he funneled into each one stall at a time. He emptied the hopper, throttled back the tractor, stopped to  tattle-tale on the Sky, and relate the rest of the story. The gist of our exchange follows:

"I went to bed at 8:30, hoping to get a good night's sleep, awoke at 11:30 and found the Sky knocking on our barn door. I called Jim Werkhoven to warn him the river was on the rampage, but no answer [Jim and Delores were at an industry meeting, high and dry in Minneapolis]. By 12:30 the water was up to the floorboards on the tractors and I moved them to higher ground. Fortunately the river crested, so I didn't have to move the herd to higher ground. I don't think I've ever seen the river come so fast," Farmer Frohning told me, "and from that direction." Not surprising because after each flood event, the river's hydraulics change. One has only to peer over the railings of the Lewis Street Bridge to see the mounding gravel bars that displace water and push floods to new levels in the Valley with each subsequent inundation.

At this point our conversation takes a strange twist, turns to last summer's drought, irrigation, water rights and such. Matt tells me the farm has water rights he never knew existed. This past week, however, it appears the Skykomish River owned the water rights and at Mother Nature's mandate, darn well exercised them. But I know and respect Matt Frohning and have this message for the Sky, other rivers and their floodwaters. Ebb and flow as you will. In Matt Frohning you've met your match. Rogue river, you'll learn not to trifle with the likes of dairyman Frohning. He's beaten you time and again. In the end he'll prevail.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Post Diluvium...

When I crossed the Lewis Street Bridge today, it was hard to imagine that just three short months ago bathers were wading the Sky from bank to bank. Looking down at the roiling, brown water of a river that day before yesterday scoffed at containment and even at this posting is yet lapping hungrily at its banks, made me wonder if I was the same person who shared his fear about the well running dry.

The sun came out today, a welcome change from overflowing gutters and ponding on the property where ponds have never been before. A good day to be afoot in the Valley and so out I went to see what had washed away or, as I discovered, was still awash. Floodwaters shimmered in the November sun. I noted the silt-laden vegetation marking high water marks...the familiar signs of Valley hydraulics in flood season.
The grass shouldering the road west of Swiss Hall was flattened, roots showing white in some places, victims of the flood currents rushing over the asphalt. What I first thought was roofing material from Swiss Hall turned out to be debris washed up on the roadway by the rampaging river. Further down the road receding flood waters had piled and dropped more detritus.

Sargeant Road is my routine turnaround spot, but I noticed the flashing lights of a Werkhoven bucket loader tiptoeing its way through a lake of floodwater pooled in the road in front of the silage bunkers. Parked up to its hubs was a tractor, hose trailing from a pump powered by the PTO. I thought I'd continue my exercise and inspect up close and personal the Sky's impact on the Valley's milk supply. I first noted the dairy's sand auger grounded and out of commission. Then the familiar figure of Andy Werkhoven skirted the dairy's new--and unwelcome--water feature. Most of my encounters with Andy find him up to the top of his barn boots in some sort of liquid...effluence from the dairy barns, for instance. Today it was the Sky's floodwater. Andy saw me working my camera, recording the waterlogged scene and yelled: "You can title that picture 'A Pain in the Ass.'"

Those are Andy's words, not mine. I'm just reporting the news....