Saturday, September 9, 2017

Death Valley Days

Eastern side of the Evergreen State
            GRANDVIEW, WA – Being a careful learner of stuff, I have managed to make several observations that merit consideration for an episode on “Nova.” I’ve always wanted David Attenborough to read aloud something I wrote. Yes, Porky Pig might be more appropriate. Everybody wants to be a clown.
            My observations come right out of East Washington, which happens to be where I do most of my sitting. I’ve made no mystery of the fact that Kay and I are living in Washington, while our house in Conroe is being constructed. Considering the amount of rain Montgomery County has been getting, the estimated completion date is early 2019.
            Were the house being built across the street from here, rain would be no hindrance. Heavy smoke coming from forest fires in Canada would slow it down before rainfall would. Boy, Canada has taken a beating.
There are no forest fires in East Washington, because there are no forests. Weeds and grass we’ve got, and that stuff burns like, uh, dry weeds and grass. Which, oddly enough, brings us to the descriptive name of the state of Washington. It’s known as the Evergreen State, named by someone who has never been east of the mountains. Without an irrigation system, the entire eastern part of Washington would look like an episode from Death Valley Days. As is, only most of it looks that way.
Fortunately, there is an irrigation system provided in large part by a guy named Grand Coulee. I mean Calvin Coolidge, our 37th president. -- Wait a minute the spelling is all wrong. Give me a minute to check this out. Take a restroom break, unless you’re already there, in which case, try to remember why you’re there. – Ah, turns out Grand Coulee has nothing to do with Silent Cal. The name was actually derived from a French word meaning “dry streambed.” Or more appropriately, “Stream in need of a dam.”
            Three months ago, I would’ve lost in Final Jeopardy had Alex Trebek read -- “The Grand Coulee Dam is located in this state.” I had no idea that the dry streambed was actually the Columbia River. If you remove that dam, we’ve pretty much lost the irrigation system… and the nation has lost a bunch of its apples, cherries, peaches, sweet corn, raspberries… Hey, did you know that 90 percent of our nation’s red raspberries are grown in eastern Washington?
            But, let’s put aside the raspberries. I’m not crazy about ‘em, anyway. Let’s divert our attention to hops… or hop. Up until the time I entered this state, I had never seen a field of hop vines. I didn’t even know the plant was a vine.
            There are thousands of acres of hop vines in the Yakima Valley, where we now reside. Seventy-nine percent of this nation’s hop(s) is grown right here. Just down the road you can see acre upon acre of the weirdest array of vines in the entire Solar System, assuming we can rule out Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.
The aforementioned vines cling to a maze of twine configured by migrant workers. These men and women meticulously set up a grid of cord that runs across a massive area of plowed ground. The last part of the maze of cord is strung by two guys standing on a platform in the back of a flatbed truck.  As the truck travels slowly beneath the network of tautly strung cords, each man simultaneously tosses the ends of two cords over the line. Then, with the flick of a wrist, ties the ends of both strings to the cord. Without pausing, they reach behind and grab the ends of two more strings and do the same thing, all within in three seconds.
I beg you to Google “hops farming” and see these guys in action. We’re talking about a few talented workers who are essential to the growth of hops. No idea what they get paid, but it would take several planting seasons to train others to do what they do.
After all of that, I’ve got to tell you that I’m not a big fan of the hop. I hear it really stinks when it’s ripe. Because of all the rain in Conroe, I’ll likely be around during harvest season, and get to sniff the stink. I’m pretty sure that the smell is what got people to thinking about using it to make beer.
At Bill’s Berry Farm there are no bad smells, except those coming from the dairy farm next-door. A bunch of well-fed, confined cows can out-stink a field of ripe hops. I'd put money on it. But, the cows in no way curbed my enjoyment of Bill's Berry Farm. An absolutely fantastic place, on the other side of all the cows. See? Everyone wave at Julie. "Hi, Julie!"
            Julie is Bill’s wife. You ask me, she does most of the work, at least on the retail end of the farm. I’ve seen Bill once. I think he was smoking brisket. Smoking something. I should’ve saved more space for Bill and Julie, but we’ll have to catch them another time. It will be a fun write. Unfortunately, it would be inappropriate for Attenborough to read the article aloud. Elmer Fudd? Maybe.
            Until next week, try to stay dry. That’s a done deal up here in the eastern part of “The Evergreen State.”


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