Archive for August, 2009

Drive Along

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

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.

Great News

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

I am very pleased with my new oven, a counter top appliance by Rival. The old electric stove has been replaced by a more practical and energy efficient toaster/baker/cooker. The dear old faithful stove has no destination beyond the front porch at this time. Who will take it away? Where will it go? Does any one want it? These questions have yet to be answered. However, I am learning the scope of the new appliance. So far I know it makes great toast and crispy bacon. It is attractive, modern and as versatile as the old electric GE model that served this household for over twenty years. Yet it takes up less space by reposing on the top of a cabinet that has a drawer and shelves for storage. Therefore, my kitchen is less crowded with more floor space. I can assure you that Rival does not have the speed and ability to prepare some foods to my specifications and will not put my old Sharp microwave with the revolving turntable out of business. I do not embrace every new technology that comes along but for reasons of space and efficiency I simply had to have this one.

Fair to Middlin’

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

High Ho, I went to the fair — the Ben/Franklin County fair — tied up in this season’s theme: fun with the herd. I began with a ride on the local transit direct to the fairgrounds from the Richland bus origin. Just relax while the paid driver did the deed. A price did increase this year, now $1.75 but well worth the freedom of becoming a passenger with no parking worries and no anxiety at the steering wheel. My first obligation was to staff the County Democrats booth extolling the privileges of being on the liberal side of politics. There was much to be said about Obama, how he is saving the economy or trashing it depending on the attitude of those who stopped to praise or complain. Today was Kids Day so the main activity was to hand out stickers to those who could not even get their noses up to the counter top. Then I was relieved by others who would continue to do the same. And I was off to see the exhibits. Jellies, jams, quilts, drawing, writing, vegetables, seeds, rabbits, steers, goats, chickens, and all those healthy happy things pursued by girls and boys and homemakers and farmers for the past year. There were ribbons. Blue for first prize, red for second, white for third, purple for best of show, yellow for distinguished work, and several other colors for meritorious effort beyond the scope of the ordinary. Rather a nice cool day. Mountains of sawdust to keep the animal stalls clean, serious little folk scurrying around with shovels and water buckets to keep the animals well fed and content. Goats and pigs were in greater numbers than I remember in past years, certainly outnumbering chickens and rabbits and young steers. Not a horse to be seen, but the big equine event will be the rodeo with roping, bucking, and hogtying on Saturday opened by Miss Tri-Cities and her attendants. Instead of cheering that event from the grand stands I will be heading to Everett for a week with grand kids.

Wasps Galore

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Wasps are flourishing this summer, or is it that more are attracted to me? When I sweat in 80 F weather there is water enough on my skin to entice them for a closer look. However, they do not taste. If there is contact at all it is to deposit a stinger. I began this morning with the intent to cut back the overhanging branches that brushed on my roof. Apparently wasps like the safety of the corrugated roofing on the shop. They popped out all along the edge. One zapped me on the right arm just above my elbow. I gritted my teeth and proceeded to work. Then I go up on the roof of the house. The young English walnut tree by the back porch had offending branches. They had to go. The Douglas fir over by Lorraine’s was also struggling over my roof for its share of the sun. What I could reach got cut off. The older English walnut tree overhanging the front porch was reaching a long way beyond the gutter. Those branches I could reach also found their way into my yard debris can. While I was on the edge of the roof I cleaned the dirt and needles out of the gutter. Cleaned out the back porch gutter, too. Good job. Finally I got back on the ground. Wrestling with an eight-foot ladder was tremendous exercise. The printed notice on the side warns that the weight on the ladder should not exceed 200 pounds. I think the ladder weighs 200 pounds. Boy it sure felt that heavy. I had to get it out of the shop, then around the building, under the clothesline, up the back steps. That’s where I got up on the house roof. OK so back goes the ladder into the big door on the east side of the shop. Remember the full 4 x 8 sheets of ply wood on each side of the building that opened so Ron could run a long piece of lumber through his table saw? Well I store the ladders there — out of the way so to speak. The wimpy little six footer leans on the eight footer so it has to be lifted out first. Wow. Imagine what it takes just to do some simple yard work. I would be completely pleased if not for one last sting on the end of my nose. I grit my teeth behind my stiff upper lip and carry on.

Grounded

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Should it be so difficult to get into a routine? Camping out has its appeal. I drove about five hours to the Money Creek campground on Thursday, spent three nights in my lightweight sleeping bag in Tim’s tent, and drove the five hours back on Monday. I happen to enjoy driving, any time, any distance.

Did I have a minute after getting home to relax? Maybe a minute. I went to work on the photos I took to reduce the images to sizes for the web. I had 84 photos and combined some in panoramas and selected general ones for my camping article.

At camp,Tim heated water for coffee and oatmeal on his propane stove first thing when he got up. Then for more substantial meals he cooked pork chops, sauer kraut, and hamburger helper. We snacked on chips, carrots and nuts along with beer in the late afternoon while enjoying the fresh mountain air.

Two attractions of note along US-2 were Deception Falls and The Iron Goat Trail. The falls were close by the highway so we looked at that on Saturday. The forest floor is covered with fallen trees some with enormous diameters. They were sawn off in lengths and had lain since the first logging crews came through in the 1888s, well rotted and moss covered. We hiked there on wooden walkways with overlooks where we could view the Tye river. Up and down and back and forth in switchbacks, we watched the gurgling waters.

The Iron Goat Trail was something else. Where trains once thundered, volunteers have constructed an historic recreational trail through lovely forests of ferns, alders and evergreens. The trail measured 2.8 miles on the lower part and 3.2 miles on the upper part. The lower trail, besides the fact that it was shorter, was an easy walk on paved or wooden paths most of which were passable by wheelchair. The upper part was more challenging — over rocky areas. Side attractions brought us to the old Cascade tunnel and roadbeds in the state of collapse. Snowsheds prevent disasters from avalanches and some of that can be seen. After a disaster at Wellington in 1910 where nearly 100 lives were lost improvements were made and finally the new Cascade tunnel was completed in 1929. This eight mile tunnel is still in use today by the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad and Amtrak. That made the old grade obsolete and it was abandoned. The abandoned stretch comprises the Iron Goat Trail.

You can look up the history on google search and look at my camping documentary on sherer.org website.

Campfires are a must when I go camping. However the wood we bought from the camp host was not flame friendly. It made dandy smoke and finally on Sunday night we did get a real honest to goodness fire. Tim talked about his new home and suggested I look at my hot water heater as well as other things electrical. Too bad I looked at my kitchen.

My stove needed to be moved to meet city code so that is what I did today. No small undertaking. Now it is at the opposite end of the kitchen. Not all that impressive when stated in a short sentence but it took a bit of doing and tired me all over again. And it did succeed in getting me properly grounded.