When I topped off my gas tank at Fred Meyers on my way out of town, August 29, around 0900, I thought I might have to buck a mighty wind all the way to Everett but that was not the case. Better if rain would fall but alas even though I smelled it in the air the night before the only sign was dust drops on my windshield the next morning and I dutifully cleaned them off at the gas pump. For the first thirty miles I shook my head sadly at the parched look of my rolling hills, cheat grass brown from senescence. Reliable sources tell me big horned sheep have been seen on the higher hills between Benton City and Prosser and when I find out what time of year that might be I will park by the road and wait to see one.
For many miles Interstate 82 sort of followed the Yakima River as did the railroads, sometimes a different line on opposite sides of the river. Water going past Wishram is lifted from the river into irrigation canals for the farms down river. The Columbia basin farms relied on that source until the more prosperous corporations drilled into the aquifer for a well in the center of each large crop circle. The hills along this part of the highway had no level space large enough to establish such irrigation nor in fact, space enough to warrant a field of any type.
Those were just some of the thoughts leaping across my synapses as the wheels of my Hyundai thrummed along the cement highway. Cement sung under my wheels. Smooth fresh laid tarmac made no sound at all. There are so many objects going by that it would be helpful to have a tape recorder taking notes for me to remember the details. Odors give away the presence of onions and cattle yards but the scent of bright flowers of goldenrod, tansy, green rabbit brush and Canada thistle go undetected.
The highway itself is fascinating. Humans are great engineers and history tells us about the fabulous roads built by Romans centuries past. Curves and slopes of the roadbed must be planned for the vehicles expected and the maximum speed of each. I remember when traveling US-30 in hilly Kentucky and Virginia I wondered enough to look at the history. I discovered the slopes of the first roads used by horse drawn buggies and carts were planned with gentle curves to slow the vehicle and prevent it from running into the rear of the team. The one horse vehicle my mother drove to visit the neighbors around the Svea farm had shafts from the buggy to the horse collar and prevented any such problem. I recall Prince had difficulty in backing up with those shafts.
A wagon is a four wheel vehicle with the tongue directly connected to the front wheels. This means that the wagon turns when the team is directed to turn. The double tree connecting to the collars on each horse and the wagon tongue are all parts that work together to pull loads. My “wagon” is used for unusual loads. Case in point: Friday I loaded four stuffed animals in various positions. A good sized beaver chipping at a tree stump, a coyote stalking unseen prey, a raccoon with a clam in its front paws, and an otter with a fish in its mouth.
These critters are seen often around the McNary NWR but never in association with one another, certainly never nose to tail in the same habitat. The otter and beaver live in fresh water, the otter housed in the bank and the beaver in a self made lodge of plants but if they pass one another in their everyday activities they would not even nod a “howdy do.” Both animals often put their noses up and their bodies on the surface of the water while swimming and can be seen if one watches along the rivers. The coyote passes through the refuge daily but never close to the water nor at the same time of day where the raccoon is wandering around. Tracks of these critters show up within the native plants, obviously fussy about the hours they keep because they are never seen by humans. Perhaps specifically to avoid people and maybe each other. I doubt they would come close enough to each other to snarl unless threatened. Animals are smart that way, they flee in the face of the slightest threat.
Highways do not simply go up and down or around the hills. Frequently the highways cut right through a hill to make an easier access. However that creates a gash. I once saw a deer posed on one side of the gash and I imagined the animal clearly thinking, “What happened to my trail? Even with a running start I’m not going to make it to the other side.” I often wonder if the critter gave up its journey or if it calmly walked a long way down to the road and faced the perilous crossing between the noisy machines speeding on the highway.
I am an inveterate driver and take to the highways, or byways, with the least little prompting. Car designs and colors have changed dramatically since I first encouraged my children to identify the name and manufacturers as a game when we took long trips to Yellowstone or Glacier National Park. I am unable to keep abreast of the various models from Toyota, Ford, and others. More often I am content with noting the variety of license plates and laugh at the ingenuity of the vanity plates passing by.
Finishing pens where young animals are well fed before being sent off to the butchery for dissection and placement in the refrigerated cases for sale, are not as frequent as in the past. Perhaps the awareness of heart disease prompted the decline in beef sales. Still, beef is an important source of protein in human diets.
Horses frequent the pastures along the route in irrigated areas. I think those animals are kept for pleasure, these days, not for pulling vehicles nor are they ever used for food except in dire emergencies as with Lewis & Clark making a trail over the Continental Divide when they had nothing else to eat. When I was a kid, a team pulled cultivators, mowers, and wagons for haying and threshing grain. A steam tractor furnished the power to run the thresher but many loads of grain bundles had to be brought to the machine by wagons, pulled by plodding draft horses, directed by experienced farmers. Working in proximity of noisy engines required well trained teams and careful drivers.
I am reminded of the drives taken when my kids were little and a game came in handy to prevent disagreements in the back seat. Kids counted horses but Dad insisted the white ones could not be counted as horses at all because they were Shreens. Perhaps Michael and Nancy accepted that when they were very little, but they matured quickly. Their skepticism has served them well to this day in other matters.