Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Flight of the Owl

I got up before dawn this morning and drove four miles to the Conway Store because I was out of coffee, and on the way back to the farmhouse, an owl flew over the road, going home after a night’s hunt.

Owls fly so quietly in the darkness. But I am fairly glad to be a human being who gets his groceries at the store. If I had to fly around at night looking for mice to eat, I would starve. Then you have to eat the mice raw, fur, bones and all. I wouldn’t like it.

Speaking of groceries, I will be interviewing a local potato farmer on Monday for a story in the LaConner Weekly News. Skagit Red potatoes are the number one cash crop in these parts -- some 13,500 acres planted this year. We have a warehouse near our old farmhouse (one of several in the valley) which holds countless tons of red potatoes in a huge pile.

That’s why I live here. Sure the people are friendly and the scenery is beautiful, but I’m here because I’m close to the food. It’s the old Scarlett O’Hara instinct in me. “As God as my witness, I’ll never go hungry again.” Not with all those spuds just down the road.

That reminds me of one of the most important functions of the federal government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Conservatives object so strenuously to “government interference” and burdensome regulations and taxation and so forth.

I have seen some very conservative ranchers and farmers go on at length about this, like it was a matter of principle, and why can’t we just get the government off our backs?

But they change their tune when the farm bill comes up for a vote. All of a sudden agriculture becomes an essential industry that can’t be allowed to fail. Government money is not wasted on their livelihood.

I agree with that. Government support of agriculture has been highly effective over all. The evidence is our fertile fields and the abundance of low-cost food at our grocery stores. It works.

Now, these same conservative farmers and ranchers might consider that the government can provide some useful assistance to other occupations and other problems, don’t you think?

OFF THE ISLAND. I will be moving off Fir Island in a few weeks. I have been living in this beautiful old farmhouse for two years. The view from my window, across the fields to Mount Baker, is a daily inspiration, watching flocks of snow geese in the winter, and flocks of sparrows in the summer.

But it gets cold living in a house with wood heat, and I’m ready for a move into town, to civilization and central heating, where you just twist the dial on the thermostat and pay the bill every month.

Besides that, I feel like being more sociable. In a compact town like LaConner, you just walk to the grocery store or the post office and you see people you know, and there’s always someone to talk to, and generally we talk about the other people we live with -- not that I’m a gossip.

I will be engaged in a three-month house-sitting situation, which is a great opportunity to concentrate on the book I am writing. Having this low-cost housing plus an advance from the publisher will make it possible.

Speaking of the manuscript -- the working title is “Best of Frog Hospital” -- it will be edited. The publisher and I have agreed to find a good editor and get that thing done just right. This is very re-assuring, because a writer can look at a page of his own words and stare at that page for an hour and know that something just isn’t right, but he can’t quite put his finger on it.

But when a good editor comes along, he or she reads the page, identifies the problem, gets out the old red pencil, and tells you what to do. It’s a wonderful process, although it can be testy at times, because the writer often feels that his own formulations are almost sacred and perfect. When that happens a discussion may ensue between the writer and the editor and things get worked out. For the best, I hope.

LONG-TERM LEAVE FROM THE HOSPITAL. Besides moving off the island, I am taking a long-term leave from the hospital where I have worked the past two years. It is very stressful working on the medical unit in the midst of pain, suffering and death, and I’m not being dramatic in describing it that way because that’s just what goes on at the medical unit.

It’s stressful. Most of the full-time nurses and nursing aides are well under the age of fifty. When nurses get past fifty, they tend to work part-time or to find less stressful assignments

I’m 63, so I need a break. I had a talk about this with a retired doctor and he recommended a long-term break, until mid-January at the earliest. He said to take some long walks and spend time playing with children, and that is what I am doing.

I wish you and your family peace and prosperity and the very best of Thanksgiving.

GARBLED TRANSMISSION. Several readers reported receiving a garbled transmission of the text last time. Thank you for telling me this. I may have identified the problem.

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