Saturday, June 5, 2010


Paul and I drove over to Eastern Washington Friday, staying the night in Ellensburg to take in the opening of a group show featuring two pieces by his friend Helen Gamble. One was composed of several hundred cardboard tags containing handwritten "memories of home", each by a different person. Many had been dipped in beeswax; all were strung from the ceiling on delicate wires:

This morning we got in the car and headed the thirty+ miles to Yakima, crossing the Umtanum Ridge Crest on I-82: scrubby sage on rolling hills as far as the eye could see. Driving through landscape such as this, devoid of trees, unpeopled, I always feel an unfurling of the heart, an opening out, a release. The muscled backbones of the hills stretch and elongate, as if the earth has engaged in yoga. I feel the connection of all living things, from a skeletonized leaf with visible remnants of its vascular system, to the hip-curves of every valley and the sinews of each basalt ridge. It's a little bit religious, I suppose, this experience, minus the dogma.

My brother and his wife retired in the middle of a Yakima apple orchard -- I can never remember exactly how many acres, but it's somewhere around sixteen, which is a paltry number, considering the size of many surrounding acreages, but to me it's sixteen perfect acres. We walked the rows while brother J., who bubbles with information, kept up a steady patter about frost, pollination, blossoms, smudge-pots, helicopters (whose downdrafts can help dry the water from cherries), apple varieties, hail damage, on and on.

Between the rows:

Walking the perimeter:

Retired smudge-pots:

Infant honey-crisps:

I intend to return at harvest-time, to attempt to fathom the weight of a single laden tree.


  1. Goodness knows what 'Smudge Pots' are??? But do get your cousin to put them indoors, they look like future antiques to me. Lamp bases perhaps!

  2. oh, i love this post...wonderful, tactile information about a landscape that i dont know. (i have a new friend in my life who grew up in Wash , and he talks about the woods, the mountains, and the desert of his home pores are alert to the smells, images, sounds of this enticing frontier!)

  3. Cro, smudge pots are an oil-burning device that were used to literally heat up the orchards when an early or late frost was feared.

    Susan, thank-you! Washington is a spectacularly beautiful place. In about an hour's drive one can travel from temperate rainforest (ferns growing high up in trees, moss everywhere) to the scrub sage desert. I've done this trip my whole life and the drama of it has yet to be anything less than thrilling.

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  5. It was nice and hot. I liked the feel of my skin baking.

  6. what a lovely post. i grew up around orchards: cherry,plum, apple. great places for children to play if they're not spraying!

  7. It was heartening to see grasses growing between the aisles of the apple trees. Were those white clover flowers or some other? More nectar sources for the bees, as well as the apple blossoms.

    Presumably the apple blossom period has already come and gone? Were there a lot of bees?

    Love, C.

  8. I love the 'smudge pots', too - and everything about this post, esp. the grand gesture in your concluding line, T!