Sounds of the season

Written by Katy Nesbitt/The Observer May 17, 2013 08:53 am
A friend of mine talks about the noise of farming outside his home office window in the summer. He says when he looks out onto a thousand acres of fields dotted with deer he thinks, “At least it’s not a housing development.”

I, too, am surrounded by agriculture and seasonal sounds of calving, weaning, and of course tractors harrowing, planting, spraying, swathers cutting hay and bailers picking it up off the floors of the fields. 

At my parents’ house I can hear helicopters, sirens, trains late at night, and car traffic — city noises.

There are long periods of quiet in the mid-valley, like now when all I can hear is some bird making a racket outside and the wasp buzzing around my head, but the idyllic, pastoral setting is a working setting, not just the scene of an impressionist painting.

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting family in their agricultural setting. My cousin and her family lives on an apple orchard in northern Washington. The first night her husband, Jess, asked me if I was a light sleeper. I said, well it all depends ... oh! Are you getting up early to spray? He said yes, but there was also the matter of the fans that run at night when it’s cold to keep the fragile blossoms and tiny fruit from freezing.

I went to sleep that night to the purr of the fan and awoke at the break of dawn before the spraying started. When it warmed up enough to treat the pear trees for a tiny, gnat-like bug called a pear psylla, Jess was dressed in a yellow haz-mat suit with a hood and ventilator. He looked like Homer Simpson during a nuclear meltdown.

I went into town for an espresso chased by their skinny puppy, diligently protecting his psylla-killing master.

The apple and pear trees were at the end of the blossoming season, so when the spraying is done  there’s plenty of time to fix sprinklers — in another month tending the 98-acre orchard will take the help of hired hands through November and the end of the harvest.

Luckily, I came to visit during this relatively slow time and we took a walk out to a row of pine trees that separate their property from another orchard to visit a family of great horned owls. One of the family cats patrolled the border, and the skinny puppy followed along looking to play.

That night I went to bed to another agricultural sound, one that I couldn’t discern, but sounded like a plane ...

The long drive home the next day wound through the Nez Perce Colville reservation, where Chief Joseph is memorialized with a pair of toilets and his grave decorated with plastic flowers. I wanted to bring him home with me by Grand Coulee Dam, along the Columbia River, through rimrock country and back into agriculture land — apples, pears, cherries, and grapes, and back to the mighty river.

By sunset I was back home, sipping one of the last bottles of our homemade apple cider and listening to the racket of Canada geese flying overhead.