Abundance, a May saunter
A rambling by J. Higgins-Rosebrook,
May 1999

14 May 99 -- a gorgeous day, early afternoon, temperatures in the mid 60s, slight easterly heady with warming evergreens, very patchy altocumulus fading into the clear blue.

A woman on a mission, I climb into the LMC snowcat and head out down the mountain into spring. The snow still is really deep up here and a bunny turning brown has danced back and forth all along the 105 road through the trees but when I get to the 41 road Y, it's shallow enough that an elk has come over and is headed down the 54. Maybe it came over Tacoma Pass. Usually, I take the first elk over Stampede as a certain harbinger of spring but today, I'm feeling flexible, I'll take this elk.

Just through the second curve of the next S, on the causeway, I pick up with very large canine tracks. There are cross country ski tracks as well but these tracks don't seem to be in synch with those. I get out and check. The air is green with new growth, the pungent smell of new alder shoots and the soft, healing fragrance of opening cottonwood leaves. Sure enough, the rear toe pad confirms wolf. Yay. Excited, I follow along, trying not to obscure either the elk or wolf trail with the 'cat tracks. Just as I round the curve nearest the waterfall and BN tunnel, huge cat tracks go up then come back down the little road to the falls. I've joined a parade. This is so cool. For the first time in my life, I keep diligently to the middle of the road.

Wolf tracks on the right, cat and elk tracks on the left and me in the middle, we process toward the flats. The tracks are so fresh, I hold my breath in anticipation. At Mosquito Creek, the wolf heads off on the road that goes downstream, the cat heads upstream and the elk continues on down the 54 road. (Last week, when I was walking down, I heard a large baby "mrowr, mrowr" up the creek a ways.) The elk tracks head downstream at the Iron Horse Trail into the beaver marshes at Sawmill Flats and I tootle on toward the garage at the freeway. The road is bare when I hit the pavement at the Lost Lake road, trilliums rampant in the tuff along the ditch. The Yakima River is full to bursting when I cross the bridge. I imagine it will run quite full until mid-summer because the big cracks in the dam that creates Lake Keechelus prohibit filling the lake this year.

At the garage, I pause again for a while. Wheels of raptors seemingly stacked by type spiral by turns toward the roadkill pile behind the gravel pit. I back the Subaru out, toss my bags in the trunk, back the snowcat in, lock up and hit the road. Finally, I have a vehicle I can afford to drive when and where I want. Finally, I have a car that will go when and where I want. Finally, I have a car with a tape deck so Roberta and I can belt out all the songs on First Take just as loud or as soft as we want and as often as we want.

Easton PO and lots of welcome mail from loving, generous friends. West Nelson Siding Road to South Cle Elum and Morning Mist Nursery for the first visit of the year with wonderful Yoko and her good man Doug. I buy a few things, including a dark red-leaved geranium in a three-inch pot. I choose one with a single long shoot that I break off to try to start at home.

Through Cle Elum for the obligatory stop at Jack and the Bean Shop for a tall double-iced mocha, split shot, whole milk, no whipped cream. Stop at the BP and fill up, hit the freeway and head east with the big trucks. Not too much traffic, everyone driving sanely, car running smoothly, everything green and growing, budding into bloom. Old men and children lined up at the U-fish on chairs and coolers, poles in hand, contentment in their eyes. Off I-90 at the Canyon Road Exit and through Thrall.

One day I will live in Thrall. Somewhere there -- Badger Pocket, maybe -- there is, or will be, a big old farmhouse with big porches, a couple fertile acres and a cottonwood grove that needs to be a tea room and herb garden with a seasonal gathering place for interesting ladies and a few good men.

When I return from far away and land at SeaTac and then head up I-5 and come around the curve and first see downtown Seattle, I sigh happily in recognition. But almost all my growing up was in the Yakima Valley. Entering the canyon always is a magical moment for me. It's all the profound emotions of coming home. I get an endorphine rush and anticipation is high as I pass the Thrall road and head southeast.

A bald eagle descends and lands on a flattened coyote and watches carefully as I pass the sign that tells me I'm entering the canyon. Eye contact with an eagle is mesmerizing. I want to stop and ask the way but I see the overfull river and know that she's settling for roadkill. It's appropriate that it's coyote.

In all my years of traveling the canyon it has never failed to affirm my faith in the reality of abundance. It teems with life in the middle of the high brushland steppe of the east slope of the Cascades. Lately though, there's a kind of life encroaching on my personal preserve that disturbs me greatly. People are moving in at this end of the canyon, cutting roads, planting vineyards, sinking wells and septic tanks, building monstrous houses. I know there's a clue or two in there to the huge washouts from the 4th of July storm last year. At the other end of the canyon, those two ski bums are dredging up something I can't figure out. I want to buy what's left of the canyon and give it to the Nature Conservancy.

Ah well, focus on the day. It's easy to convince myself that spring has waited for me this year until I was mobile again and could relax and enjoy the drive. For me, this is a female place. The hills roll in folds and tucks like the bronze belly of a very old woman who has birthed a world of generations. I stop at a pull off and watch the river ruffle the cattails and water grasses that grow below the railroad tracks.

Above the tracks, the misty green lawn of sage sprigs, pricked out here and there with balsam root in full yellow bloom and with almost purple bonnets of lupine, veils the bronze hills until the angle of vision blends the colors just before they meet the intense blue above the ridge. I get out the field glasses and look toward a big white dot followed by two little white dots but they disappear behind some bushes before I get there. The river rushes by, full and green now, no longer as brown as it was in its shallower reaches some miles back. The river chuckles and rustles, an occasional bird trills another whistles and then, song of songs, a redwing blackbird clasps a cattail and pours out its joy in the day. Swallows dart back and forth, a few cars go by, a breeze riffles the cottonwood leaves and the hot sun explodes the spicy aroma of pine.

I-82 goes the other side of the hills north of the canyon. Trucks and people in a hurry are welcome to that. It's an interesting drive in its way, lots of wildflowers and sage this time of year and some really interesting plate tectonics visible. There are no trucks on the canyon road and the 45 mph limit is really enforced. The road has been nicely resurfaced since the storm last year washed huge boulder flows across and into the river. The car sails along. George Dalares croons an old Greek song. Squaw Creek is no longer Squaw Creek. I don't catch the new name clearly -- Mnemna? Wonder if it is Yakama for woman. Good, whatever it is. Squaw is a Delaware word, I think. Probably named so originally for something that would embarrass the namer's descendants anyway. Squaw Creek Ranch hasn't changed names. Nothing to be done, I suppose.

Up out of the canyon, past Selah, through the newly finished interchange following the sign that says Naches and off at the Fruitvale Boulevard exit. Stop at the light. Shift gears -- in the car and my mind. Green light and turn right at Powerhouse Road and uphill at the first left to Scenic and turn right. Almost there. Another sense of homecoming. This stretch of road is etched in the back of my hand along with Interurban in Clearview and Zillah Drive and Sunset Highway through the Projects in Renton.

If lifeblood and ancestry are negotiable currency, I own this road as much as anyone and am as outraged as any by the obscenity of the feudal era demesne, planted in all its ostentation on the downhill side of the road and paid for by all that new asphalt on the Canyon Road.

Never mind that today, I'm heading down the road to the other slope. There it is, my destination behind that chain link fence. Open the gate, coast the car down the drive and climb out into the ever welcoming hug of Aunt Deb. Aunt Deb without Uncle Don. I've come to see to his garden for her. There are sacks and sacks of dahlias and irises and gladiolus that need to be in the ground and geranium starts that need to be potted and I promised to do that.

It's late in the year to be doing this but who had time before? Probably not much will flourish or flower this year but they need to be in the ground. I'll dig them up again this fall and get them back in the ground early next spring and they'll be OK.

Dinner, tears, conversation, tears, memories, hugs and kisses and a good night's rest and we're outside Saturday morning. We've assembled everything to be planted on the picnic tables on the front patio and I'm standing, spade in hand surveying the grand expanse of the yard, trying to bring to eye the garden the way Uncle Don liked it. It won't be exact but I'll do my best.

Wherever he was and whatever he was doing, Uncle Don was a man of the soil and this garden shows it. For more than 40 years, whether he was speaking with a presidential candidate, congressional representative, senator or sheriff; whether the conversation was foreign policy, English literature curriculum or migrant housing, this valley, its people and its earth were central to his agenda and this garden and the orchard that used to surround it its core.

The shovel in my hand needs an ode. Two generations of tall, strong men have pressed their powerful left foot down on it, pushed forward to the right and pulled straight back. Who can calculate how many hundreds of acres have been turned this way one shovelful at a time? How many irrigation trenches opened or closed? Hands, gloved and bared, have rubbed the ash wood handle to a light grey shot with burnished gold veins. After so many years of hard work, it's curved out and forward to the right. Was this the shovel I used in that first square of dirt Grandpa gave me for my flowers when I was 8 and we lived with him and Grandma? It was so tall and unwieldy then but I dug up that square and planted irises and pansies. The two men who have owned this shovel taught me a lot of what I know about preparing the soil for the seed. I have been lucky in my earth-knowing ancestry.

The spade isn't even pointed any more. In fact, it's more the shape of an apple but it knows this earth and the earth recognizes it. I push down with my right foot and the earth, if it notices the difference, doesn't seem to mind. It opens, separates, accepts, welcomes this bent and notched partner it has known all these years. The garden and the spade could do this without me, I suspect. It's a long familiar process for them. Insert spade, lift soil, turn it over and cut it in and loosen it up. Open a hole and put in the rhizome, corm or bulb. Cover it over properly and move on.

Well-tended soil is one of the most important assets any human can claim. This particular patch of soil is one of the two or three best I've ever worked. Mom's is better, but it's in western Washington and started out better -- not to downplay all the wisdom and skill and hard work she and Dad (and we) have put into it, of course. By contrast, my soil bereft mountaintop needs the skill and determination of a farmer off the western isles of Ireland or Scotland to make it a real garden.

Sunday morning, I finish off the last of the glads, clean the shovel and put everything away. Standing in the tool shed, surrounded by all the tools that were Grandpa's and Uncle Don's, I reminisce and watch the bee laze its way through the dust motes in the shaft of light from the door. I pick up an old limb saw and wiggle the blade and remember Grandpa one time replacing the wire that holds the tang in place. One by one, I pick up every tool I can reach and each sparks a memory of hot summer days, sweaty clothes, laughing cousins.

Well, there's still weather and I still work for the Weather Service, so I headed home shortly after noon. Stopped at the fruitstand just outside Selah for honey and grapes and asparagus. Asparagus is a thing with me. Growing up on the banks of the Roza Canal where wild asparagus grew thick, fat and rampant, I am spoiled. I cannot bring myself to buy, much less eat, that tired sprouted stuff that gets dragged here from wherever. I need nice tight spears of fat asparagus picked today or yesterday. If one can be an asparagus snob, that's me.

Driving back up the canyon, I thought about the toddler the river had taken home the day before. Rivers demand this kind of homage from time to time. This very river -- maybe right there -- took a dear friend of the family when I was a child. Pete Okubo, standing in his waders doing what he loved best, casting flies and he was gone. Another river, the Skykomish claimed my sister Patricia the week I got divorced. Lanne nearly drowned in the swimming pool the same week. And yet, water is my element. I must have it nearby, preferably in sight, always. I stopped at Umptanum and walked across the swaying footbridge over the cresting river and up the trail toward the old homestead a ways. I didn't go far, it was getting late in the afternoon and I needed to be here but my soul needed some time river-watching.

[ by J. Higgins-Rosebrook ]