Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Crinkly? Really?

Carolyn J. Rose

Recently Mike and I were privileged to spend 24 hours with our five-year-old friend Tristan Stone.

That’s when we discovered that we’re crinkly.

Like most kids, Tristan sometimes seems older and sometimes younger than his age. He sleeps with a stuffed lamb and needs a little help brushing his teeth. Later he reminds Mike to wash his hands and tells us we should drink plenty of fluids before we go to the pool.

That’s where we found out we’re crinkly.

Tristan informed us he could swim by himself all over the pool. Visualizing his parents drawing and quartering me if anything happened, I made the case for staying in the shallow end. I made another case for one of us being by his side at all times, claiming the lifeguards would throw us out if we weren’t.

Tristan agreed, but told me he wouldn’t need me because he was a better swimmer. “I’m young and like a monkey and my skin is smooth. You might sink because you’re all crinkly.”


“Yeah.” He pointed. “Especially around your eyes.”

I refrained from the snappy comebacks I employed when I was a kid, world-class insults like: “Your mother wears combat boots.” or “Your father voted for Nixon.” I also refrained from sticking out my tongue because that would only create more crinkles.

After all, Tristan was just stating the obvious. Like it or not, I’m 67. And I’m crinkly.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Quake, the Coyote, and Other Concerns

Carolyn J. Rose

 The Cascadia Subduction Zone has been quiet lately—too quiet. Scientists worry that the tectonic plates under the Pacific Ocean are locked up and will unlock not with a series of relatively small quakes, but with one massive temblor. A recent report suggested that I should be worried too, so I added the subduction zone to my sweat-it list.

But I put it near the bottom. There’s nothing I can do about the movement of those plates. I can’t prevent or ameliorate what’s to come. If the plates rip loose like a giant zipper, much of the Pacific Northwest will shake, rattle, shatter, collapse, burn, or be inundated by a tsunami.

If I obsess about when that will happen and where I’ll be and whether I’ll survive, I’ll lose a lot of sleep and gain a lot of weight. (Yes, I’m a stress eater.) What I can do is prepare for that day—stockpile supplies, stash cash, make plans for rendezvous points, and study up on first aid.

What I can also do is focus on smaller and more immediate dangers. For example, the coyote roaming my neighborhood.

Recently, in broad daylight, I spotted him (or maybe her) peering through the fence at my dogs. He didn’t hustle away when I shouted, but slowly slunk off. A day or so later a neighbor opened his back door to find a coyote a few feet away. And my husband spotted one trotting across a main street. These guys are getting bold and will likely grow even bolder as winter progresses.

But I can do something about the coyotes. I can take steps to take my yard off the top of their list of potential places to dine—turn on more lights, never let the dogs out unless I’m with them, watch for digging around the fence, make sure there’s nothing a carnivore would like in the compost.

I’ll also network with neighbors to keep up on coyote sightings. Getting to know the folks around me might serve me well when those tectonic plates unlock, the big quake comes, and we have to depend on each other until outside help arrives.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Okay, So I Changed My Mind!!!

Carolyn J. Rose

  “I’d love to see a condor in the wild,” I said as Mike clicked on an Earthflight program we’d recorded and saved for a day we wanted a little education with our entertainment.

The photography was stunning and the bird-cam view of the Andes was amazing. But twenty minutes later, I amended my statement to, “I’d love to see a condor soaring. At a distance.”
 Viewed from afar as they ride the thermals, they appear powerful and majestic. Close up, it’s clear these birds are oversized vultures—hunch-shouldered, bald-headed, carrion-devouring vultures that have trouble getting off the ground with a full crop.

This wasn’t the first distance/close-up disenchantment episode in my life. In fact, if I’d kept track of such episodes, this one would have been assigned a number somewhere in the thousands. There have been dresses that looked terrific on display but not on me, shoes that tortured my feet, cars that broke down on a monthly basis, meals where eating the napkin would have been a wiser—and tastier—choice, dates that . . .

Well, let’s not go there. There point is there can be a big gap between a “romanticized” image and reality. A little research and a closer look can’t hurt. And changing your mind—and your bucket list—is okay.

So, I won’t be saving up for a trip to South America—at least not a trip with the specific goal of getting close to a condor.

But penguins—black, white, and jaunty—I’d love to get close to a bunch of penguins.

Or would I?

Monday, October 6, 2014


By Michael A. Nettleton 

When I retired from a forty-three year broadcasting career back in 2010 I had a vision of what post-work life would be like. Sleeping in until say seven-thirty or eight. Sitting on the couch with my feet up, reading or clicking through the cable channels. Playing golf every other day or so.
          “Not so fast, Buster!” Although my wife never actually said these words, their aura hung in the air from the day I hung up the headphones and filed for Social Security.

It turns out that I’m kind of a pain in the patoot to have hanging out around the house all day. Go figure. Plus, penciling out the budget, it turns out I couldn’t afford to play golf three or four times a week without sacrificing some other luxury from our budget. Like, say, food, gasoline, new socks and dog toys.
          Fair enough. I’d pursue a part-time job. After all I was qualified to…to… Well, what exactly what was I qualified to do?
          I spent forty-three years talking into various and sundry microphones in cities in the western half of the United States. I also spun, what were quaintly known as “records:” discs made out of vinyl that emitted obnoxious rock and roll music when spun under a needle that followed the grooves along a counter-clockwise path. I’m not sure, to this day, how that worked. A form of magic, I think.
          Once I discovered people would pay me to talk, I left college to pursue the life of a gypsy disc-jockey. In the early nineties I drifted into what one of my listeners called “argument radio,” where I spent my time bloviating and being bloviated to. I logged sixteen years at KEX radio in Portland to finish things up, mostly enjoying myself until Clear Channel Broadcasting, otherwise known as “The Evil Empire,” sucked all the fun out of the business.
          For two years after pulling the pin on radio, I tutored and mentored high school kids in the AVID program, which works to give young people with college aspirations and potential, but life obstacles, a leg-up to reach their goals of higher education. I figured I was well qualified to talk to kids about college, since I’d spent 5 years at Southern Oregon College and left with 180 credits and only a passing grade in Econ 201 between me and status as a full-fledged Junior.
          Which brings us to the library. I’ve always loved libraries. I got my first library card when I was six. A lifelong bookworm, I’ve spent many enjoyable hours cruising up and down the shelves of small town and big city libraries looking for reading matter and even, occasionally, searching the card catalogue for material for something I was researching.
          Remember card catalogues? See, there was this filing cabinet that…I can hear you saying to yourself: Could this dork be any more of a dinosaur? Vinyl records. Card catalogues. What’s next? Buggy whips? Corsets?
          Anyway, I figured this would be the perfect part time job for me. How hard could it be? I’d check out books, guide people to the relevant section to fulfill their needs and occasionally shush a patron using his or her outside voice. Piece of cake.
          “Not so fast, Buster.” Turns out there’s more to this librarian thing these days than meets the eye.
          Upon interviewing for and being awarded a position with the Battle Ground Community library, I soon found myself (as they say in the South), “Up to my pooter in alligators.”

 In the past two months, I’ve learned about bins, boxes, weeds, holds, transits, interlibrary loans and, yes, The Dewey Decimal System. I’ve sorted and shelved fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, easy readers, large print, DVD’s and audio books. I’ve gaped at enough lurid covers of the bodice-ripper romance paperbacks to give me cold sweats and palpitations. Julie and Harriet introduced me to the Yacolt library, unique in its use of the honor system and the jail cells in the lobby.
          Thanks to the patience, kindness and guidance of my bosses Kim and Julianne and my generous co-workers, I can now help a “tweenie” girl find “The Babysitter’s Club” books without having a panic attack and screaming “Help! Stat!” at the top of my lungs. I can guide an anxious young mother and her twitching two-year old to the shelf where “I’m a Potty Pirate” awaits their perusal.
          In a way, my instincts were right. My job at the Battle Ground Library is a good fit. I love books. I like being around people who love books. I enjoy helping people find the material they need to enrich their lives and accomplish their goals.
          A handful of impressions from my almost two months in Battle Ground. The shy and wide-eyed high school sophomore girl, shuffling her feet back and forth as she submits her entry in a writing contest sponsored by the library. The grateful smile and thank you from the young mother I’d guided to the shelves that held the do-it-yourself home design books. She and her husband had saved the money to buy land—and were dreaming of building their own first home. The older woman, an avid mystery fan who allowed as how she’d try a couple of the authors I recommended, but would have “harsh words” for me if she didn’t like them. Said with a wry smile, the threat didn’t trouble me much. The eight-year old who got her first library card and beamed with pride when she checked out an armload of books and thanked me on her way out with her mother.
          Two memories will stay with me for a long time. A ten-year old boy with glasses drooping down his nose, wandering the aisles of the juvenile section, toting as many books as his chubby little arms would hold. I had no doubt he would read them all. He triggered a flashback that catapulted me back in time more than half a century. He was me at about nine or ten, struggling up the hill to my house with an armload of magic from my small town library. Seven books, the limit per visit, to be devoured over the next week or two. I watched the boy stagger out to the parking lot with his books and couldn’t wipe the grin off my face for the next hour or so.
          Finally, there was the little girl, maybe five or six, who found me shelving books in the kid’s section one day. With big-eyed solemnity she handed me a Video Play-away and said, almost apologetically: “I decided I didn’t want to watch this.”
          “Thank you,” I told her. “I’ll make sure it gets back where it belongs.”
          She beamed back at me and gestured with a tiny hand. “C’mon.” She said. “I’ll show you where it goes.”

          Lots of people have “shown me where it goes.” And with a lot more hard work and just “doing” it, I have hopes of becoming a competent Public Service Assistant 2 at the Battle Ground library. For a writer and semi-professional people watcher like me, it’s the perfect part-time retirement job.
          Meanwhile, in my free time, I think I’ll flop on the couch and read or channel surf. My wife comes down the hall, takes one look at me and the thought bubble appears over her head.
          “Not so fast, Buster!”

If you'd like to learn more about our terrific libraries in Clark County and the environs, go to www.fvrl.org

Monday, September 15, 2014


By Michael A. Nettleton

 We’re always looking at ways we can make government more efficient and use our tax dollars more wisely. Here’s an idea whose time has come. Let’s retire the penny from our range of currency. Here’s a snippet from About dot com.
Approximate Current Cost of Minting Various U.S. Coins
  • Penny - 1.26 cents
  • Nickel - 7.7 cents
  • Dime - 4 cents
  • Quarter - 10 cents
  • Dollar (Coins) - 16 cents
Yep, it costs more to make pennies than their actual value as money. The same is true of nickels, but one thing at a time. This is mostly due to the cost of the material. Pennies are currently comprised of zinc, primarily. Prior to 1982 they were largely copper. There’s a move afoot to make them out of steel, but the U.S. Mint opposes it. So do I. Let’s just 86 them.

I was at the supermarket the other day and some variety of beefsteak was being flogged at $4.00 a pound. Good. Finally some honest pricing. No more pricing it at $3.99 in the belief that we’ll say “Oh, geez, that’s a much better value than the stuff they’re selling for $4.00 pound. 

Another ridiculous argument is that we need the pennies to accurately calculate our taxes. Horse-hockey. Let’s just round up or down to the nearest nickel. Anything that comes out at $.02 or less gets rounded down, anything that’s $.03 or more gets rounded up. Simple. As the British say, “Bob’s your uncle.” 

Finally, to dispel one more specious argument I’m sure someone will bring up. “Pennies are valuable to teach children the value of money.” I gauren-blanking-tee you that if you present a penny to any child old enough to realize it doesn’t belong in his or her mouth they’ll stare at it slack-jawed and make one of those “awwwww Mom,” noises. 

Let’s set a date, get people to round up their pennies and cash them in. (Once again, rounding up or down as we compensate them.) Give advertisers time to remove any ridiculous $_____99 references from their pitches. Crank the gas pump amounts up another 1/100th of a turn and make petrol $4.00 (or $5 or $6, gulp) a gallon and let the chips fall where they may. 

Let’s start giving people a nickel for their thoughts. It's worth every penny.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mike and Carolyn Take to the High Seas

Mike and Carolyn aboard the Titanic

Actually our home-away-from-home on the water was the Holland America Liner the ms Maasdam. 

After seven days of big fun, followed by one day of airline travel Hell, we’re back from our vacation: a cruise through New England, the Maritime Provinces and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Ports of call included Bar Harbor, Maine, Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Montreal.

Still trying to get used to terrain that doesn’t roll and shift under our feet, we’re also trying to sort out the experiences, sights, sounds and impressions we gained from our shipboard and excursion experience. Here are a few.

  • A cruise is the perfect way to unwind and withdraw from the stress of work-a-day or even day-to-day life. There are no chores to perform, no critical decisions to make and no real obligation to do anything besides gratify your immediate needs. In my thirty plus years with Carolyn, I’ve never seen her so relaxed and content. Which brings me to:

  • Food.  Creative, flavorful and abundant. Holy Gorgeioski is there a lot of it. I saw people with plates piled high from the mind-boggling buffet at the Lido restaurant who will probably move up two pant sizes upon their return home. If you’re predisposed to gluttony, this is Nirvana. We tried to control ourselves but still probably put on a pound or two. Back to the gym and a diet of cereal and celery for a while.
Pastry sculpture from the shipboard chefs.                               

  • The shore excursions were fun and interesting. From seeing humpback whales up close to a scenic bus tour of Prince Edward Island’s lighthouses, they made the “away” time from our stateroom fun and educational

Puffin on his way to an important engagement 



  • We met a lot of great people from all over the planet; some were experienced “cruisers” and others, like us were experiencing life on the open water for the first time. Of course, there were also the boors, who rarely smiled, pushed their way to the front of the buffet line and verbally abused the hard-working service people who continued to smile and try to be helpful no matter what the ugly Americans, Canadians, Aussies, Germans or Japanese subjected them to. The lesson learned is that there are whiners, complainers and self-centered sociopaths no matter where you are. The trick is learning to ignore them and not allow them to spoil your fun.

We can’t say enough about the mostly Indonesian and Filipino crew who made our time on the Maasdam unforgettable. They work insanely long hours, for minimal pay and are highly attuned to anticipating your needs. They smile constantly, remember your name despite the fact there are 1200 plus guests on the ship and never complain. Suli, who bussed tables and brought refills of coffee, iced tea and water to our table had an infectious giggle that seemed to reflect genuine joy. Asep and Frevian who spiffed up our stateroom twice a day left us creative gifts such as the towel-art you see here: 

The colorful towel peacock

Sting-Ray ala towel

 Our waiter in the Ocean Lounge (whose name, unfortunately escapes what’s left of my mind) always had a smile, a laugh and shipboard news to share with us. The lovely Filipino lady who made my morning white chocolate mocha started my brew before I even got to the counter. It’s impossible to overstate how important these people are to making your cruise a treasured memory. If you take a cruise, be sure to thank them and tip a little extra beyond the obligatory service charge that’s a part of your shipboard bill. They earn it and many of them are sending money home to support family in their part of the world.

Finally, a word about the last day. Part of it is my own fault for trying to save a buck on air travel. I booked a trip with too many stops, too many possibilities for aggravation and too many tight connections. Next time I’ll pay the extra bucks for a non-stop flight. We were tired, got consistently wrong information from the airline personnel we encountered, had to endure people carrying on loud conversations in French over the top of us and a flood of airline announcements in a language we couldn’t comprehend. Too often we found ourselves jogging through airport terminals. Plus, the airline lost our suitcase. It’s expected back sometime in the next couple of days.  Midway through the ordeal, I feared that if one more airline clerk greeted Carolyn with a sullen “Bonjour” they’d find themselves on the tiles with her forearm at their throat. She was, as the Queen is known to say, “not amused.” It took fifteen minutes of face licking from her faithful dogs and a good night’s sleep in her own bed to return her to her old cheerful self.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Going Gray III

By Carolyn J. Rose

The long journey into gray is nearly over.

A year ago I sucked it up and made the decision to stop coloring my hair.

The first few months—and inches—were the hardest, especially since I decided to let go and let it grow without benefit of rinses to cover the roots during the process.

Every time I looked in the mirror I had second thoughts. Every time I caught women at the pool staring, I waffled. Several times I almost dialed the salon to beg my hairdresser for forgiveness and plead for her to take me back.

But then came the day when the last bit of color was out of my bangs and I spotted a swath of silvery gray. I tell myself it adds character. And, let’s be brutally honest, it will ensure that I get a senior discount if I don’t happen to have my driver’s license as proof of age.

Friday, July 11, 2014


By Mike Nettleton 


Now that Main Street Marijuana has opened for business in the uptown village area of Vancouver, WA, the widespread panic among those who fear we’re all on the path to becoming drug-addled zombies has begun. Their contention is that legalization will lead to America’s yoot turning on in ever larger numbers and that legions of formerly frightened non-users will now smoke their brains out and file for welfare money to keep themselves stocked in marijuana brownies and cheap red wine.

Let’s get real for a moment. For those of you who think law enforcement should be slapping those who use THC to alter their state of consciousness into jail and throwing away the keys, let’s review some facts.
  • The war on drugs has been a hideously expensive, paranoia-driven, delusional failure. Illegal drugs are less expensive and easier to obtain than at any time in history. Despite more than a trillion dollars spent fighting the war, according to the UNODC, illegal drugs are used by an estimated 270 million people worldwide and organized crime profits from a trade with an estimated turnover of over $330 billion a year – the world’s largest illegal commodity market. At least with legalization, some of that fountain of money can be siphoned toward treatment and education.

  • Our kids already use marijuana. In fact its very illegitimacy, its outlaw vibe probably contributes to many kids trying it. Kids rebel. That’s what raging hormones and peer pressure will cause. If there’s any viable strategy to keep kids away from pot, it has to center on realistic drug education and an emphasis on the very real negative impact of the drug on people’s lives. Plus, we should be more concerned about the number one drug abused by our kids, alcohol.

  • Students of human nature will note that just because it can now be bought legally, doesn’t mean thousands of otherwise straight people are going to light up and stay high all of the time. Whether you recognize them or not, there are a large number of hard-working, respectable, stable people of all ages, living within walking distance of your home, who smoke pot occasionally for the same reason you have a cocktail or two after work. They’re not hugger-muggers, biker mommas or chainsaw slayers, they’re your neighbors. They’ll probably continue to roll their own, post legalization. Those who enjoy the cocktail hour probably won’t. The desire to smoke or not to smoke has no relationship to the drug’s legality or illegality.

So what am I saying here? That we should let the druggies run wild? That drugs are a good and beneficial thing to our society? That we should throw a Cheech and Chong film festival at the Kiggins theatre, wallowing in a cloud of green smoke and calling each other “Dude?” 

Nope. Let’s be clear. Drugs are a bad thing. Period. Our society might be much better off without any and all mind altering substances including: marijuana, strawberry margaritas, double-caff-non-fat soy macchiatos, new age music, methamphetamine, gun-worship, tobacco, Zumba and extremist religion. Those who use one or more of those substances probably look down their noses at the total losers who use the others. But the fact of the matter is; that (or those) ship(s) have long since sailed. People always have and always will look for a way to escape the hum-drum realities of their existence and to blunt their fear of the unknown.

So, with legalization a reality (at least here in Washington State), is there a sane way to approach legalized marijuana? Here are a few ideas.

  • Make the penalties for misbehavior while screwed up on drugs stiff. Driving under the influence, endangering other human beings and selling to minors should all carry stiff fines and/or jail time.
  • Let employers terminate employees who habitually show up at work stoned. There’s nothing more irritating than having your own work load double because some bozo decided to smoke up the roaches in his car ash tray before clocking in. Plus, if there’s any machinery involved, the potential for injury is multiplied.
  • Make treatment for drug dependency easy to find and enroll in, fully covered by any and all insurance and encouraged by signage at any business that sells drugs and/or paraphernalia of any kind. (Including prescription drug stores and liquor stores).
  • Emphasize in our educational materials that legal does not equal smart. There are plenty of compelling reasons not to smoke pot including loss of productivity, decay of relationships, and negative impact on your health. Use the same strategies to discourage alcohol and tobacco abuse. Fact-based strategies are much more effective than hysteria and fear-mongering.

What seems to me the smartest way to handle this situation is signing a treaty ending the war on drugs but launching a new, rational, war on stupidity. It should be much less expensive and easier to win.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bus Ride Back In Time

Carolyn J. Rose

 In early June I went along on a school field trip to a camp up the Washougal River Road. As the crow flies, the trip wasn’t a long one. As the crow rides a school bus, the trip seemed endless.

The road twisted, turned, and doubled back, threading its way into the hills. Signs warned of slide areas and the pavement dipped and rose like swells out on the open ocean. The bus rocked along, windows rattling, students jouncing and swaying with each bump or turn.

By the time we reached the camp, my head ached and my stomach roiled. I felt as if I’d been sucked into a cosmic wormhole and carried back more than 50 years to the bus rides of my youth in the Catskill Mountains.

I didn’t measure the distance from my home in Bearsville to Onteora Central High School in miles, but rather in landmarks. There was where Eddie got on while his mother stood in the doorway watching. There the road curved along a stream and crossed a narrow bridge with chuckholes at the end. There was the spot where the bus slid into a ditch one snowy day and the older boys were allowed to have all the fun and push us out.

Tedious and nauseating as the ride to school was, what I truly dreaded was arriving at that long brick building and beginning another day of what I thought of as drudgery verging on torture. But I really dreaded the days when we arrived to find the principal and assistant principal waiting with stopwatches and clipboards.

That meant a fire drill.

A two-door drill or a front-door drill wasn’t bad. I generally sat up front and could get off without being shoved down the steps.

Back-door drills, however, were something out of my nightmares. The back door was high. An ankle-snapping height. And there was no time to cut that distance by squatting or sitting, no time to turn and lower myself.

When the principal clicked his stopwatch, the older boys swung the door wide, leaped to the ground, spun about, and reached for the next kids in line. They gripped our arms and yanked us from the bus, flinging us through the air. The unforgiving asphalt rose to meet us.

For them, it was a competition. Could they empty their bus faster than the others? And, of course, speed was important. Never mind skinned knees and twisted ankles, if there was an actual fire, their technique would get us out alive.

But back then, I never thought of it that way. Back then I was more frightened of the drill than the fire. The drill, after all, wasn’t merely a possibility. It was inevitable. It would happen. And unlike fire, there was nothing I could do to prevent it.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Another One Bites The Dust

Mike Nettleton

 My neighborhood video rental store has closed its doors. After 30 plus years of being the gathering place for movie lovers of all ages, Video Connections has fallen victim to the realities of today’s marketplace.  Between on-line streaming, Red Box and other methods of having movies delivered at the push of a button, the brick and mortar business model is galloping toward obsolescence.

I hate the idea that I’ve become one of those dinosaurs constantly lamenting “the good old days.” Because, face it, they weren’t always that good. Vietnam sucked. So did the brown acid, the Nixon years, runaway inflation, trickle down economics and disco. I just couldn’t pull off the open front shirt and gold chain look. Face it, my Boogie Oogie Oogie just couldn’t Boogie no more.

Without a doubt, technology has enriched our lives. Because of developments in medicine, people are surviving with afflictions that used to mean a rapid death sentence. Thanks to lasers, computers and a talented surgeon, my cataracts were sucked out and replaced by acrylic lenses. How very Bionic Man, right? But, fact is,  I’m 20/20 without glasses or contact lenses for the first time since elementary school.  Shopping online is convenient, habit forming and helps stretch our budgets. You can text people all over the world and never worry about spelling words correctly. It’s a beautiful thing. You can listen to a steady diet of your favorite music on the internet and not have to put up with the mindless blather from a local deejay.

Problem is, I used to be a local deejay. And mindless blather was my singular talent. And the movie lovers who ran that video store will have to find something else to do after being made obsolete. Your neighborhood bookstore is about to go the way of the buggy whip, typewriter and whale bone corset. The nice lady with the beehive hairdo who used to scan your groceries and call you “hon” joins the rest of the people squeezed out of the job market by our quest to minimize our face-to-face contact with other human beings.

Maybe it is a sign of creeping geezerdom, but I’ll miss talking movies with my friends at Video Connections. I’ll miss catching up on the neighborhood gossip with the grocery clerk or buying books from the dollar table outside the bookstore. I’ll even miss yelling “get a clue you hoser,” at the radio when the deejay talks over the vocal of one of my favorite songs.

I feel like what we’re gaining in convenience, speed and efficiency is inversely proportional to what we’re losing in our ongoing battle to remain human and real. Face-to-face contact is becoming rarer—conversation without keyboarding a lost art. And I can’t help feeling a bit sad about the whole thing.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Corn Star

Carolyn J. Rose 

 When sweet corn season comes around, I think of my father. He loved fresh-from-the-garden corn, especially corn from his own garden. And he went to incredible lengths in order to sink his teeth into kernels slathered with butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

The yearly struggle to triumph over dry spells, disease, weeds, marauding crows, and determined raccoons began in the heart of winter with the arrival of the seed catalogs. He’d page through them, searching for the old and familiar varieties, and for the latest hybrids that claimed to hold that just-picked sweetness a little longer.

Spring can be fickle in the Catskill Mountains, toying with gardeners, teasing them with mild days followed by snow or hail or plunging temperatures. But, finally, the time would come to hook the plow to the tractor. He’d turn the rocky soil, cart off large stones worked up by the frost, harrow what he’d plowed, cart off more stones, then spread fertilizer and lime from huge brown paper bags. He did that with his bare hands. Having survived World War II and the perils of flying a supply route from India to China, he wasn’t worried about a few chemicals.

Level land was at a premium on his acreage, so it wasn’t a huge field—at least not by the standards of the Midwest, where corn is serious business. He’d stake out rows, carve furrows and, when the leaves on a white oak were the size of squirrels’ ears, space out the seeds and cover them with just the right amount of soil.

In a few days, he’d pace the rows in search of the first pale green sprout. That became an evening ritual, walking the rows, checking progress, planting a second wave, yanking out weeds.
By the time school was out, the weeds were ferocious, and my brother and I were tasked with crawling among the young plants and pulling them out. The best time, according to my father, was early in the morning while the dew was on the ground and the weeds came up easily, root and all.

For me, there was no “best” time to weed. There was only the wrong time—and the wrong time was any time, but especially early on a summer day. Only the threat of allowance withheld got me out of bed and into the corn.

By August, the ears were fat and the tassels turning brown. The corn was nearly ready to pick. And the raccoons knew it. Night after night they came, climbing the stalks, tearing off the husks, dining on milky raw corn.

Day after day my father plotted ways to halt their forays into the field. On visits to the general store/post office he commiserated with other gardeners and came home with fresh ideas.

He mixed hot pepper with lard and painted it on the ears. That night the raccoons ate more.

He hung aluminum pie pans from the stalks hoping the clatter would deter the masked marauders. Apparently it was music to their ears.

He ran a string of extension cords and set a strong light in the center of the field. The light shone through my bedroom window and cast shadows of cornstalks on the wall above my bed. One night the shadow of a raccoon appeared and I ran to alert my father. He seized his rifle, raced to the edge of the field, and fired. The raccoons escaped unscathed.

The next night, they returned, but I slept through their shadow show. Finally, by offering financial incentives, he enlisted us to sleep in the field. We, in turn, recruited friends and, armed with a battery-operated radio, soft drinks, snacks, sleeping bags, and canvas tarps, set up camp.

The raccoons stayed away.

What I remember most about those summer nights is going to sleep damp from the dew and waking up to find some manner of bug crawling on me.

What I remember most about summer dinners is the taste of sweet corn just out of the garden and the fleeting feeling that it was all worth it.