Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Beautiful Palouse Region

About 20 years ago, my husband and I lived in the Palouse area of Washington state. I have many wonderful memories of this season of our lives, and the scenery of the countryside evokes strong emotions in me to this day. I wrote this piece on one of those homesick days, to share my memories with a friend. Do an image search after you read this, and see how close your mental image is to some of the real thing.

I miss the rolling hills of the Palouse country. I enjoyed the pace and the common ground (pun intended) of a community with one main occupation to support. I liked the change of seasons -- not just the weather, but the activities and demands. The seasons flowed gently from one to the next, and it was good.

I never tired of driving through and looking at the Palouse hills. The roads wound gently between the hills, meandering in the general direction you wanted to go. The Palouse region of Washington is the only place on earth, I think, where wheat is grown on rolling hills. It requires special rigging on the tractors to be able to ride the hills and keep the implements down in the soil. The farmers drive the tractors around the hills, not straight over them, so the view from the air is almost a topographic-map design.

The furrows looked like plain brown corduroy, until the wheat started to grow. Winter wheat would sprout early and the fields would just barely begin to turn a little bit greenish. Then the wheat would get a little taller and you'd definitely see the green. When the grass was a few inches tall, the wind would make waves across the fields, up and down the hills. Then the stalks would get stronger and didn't wave, but grew taller and fuller.

Towards the end of summer, the wheat dried out and began to die. It was always good to see the change in color, because then we could start hoping for a good harvest.

The not-so-pretty time was right after harvest when the fields were all stubble and dirt clumped together. No more neat rows of corduroy, but chopped up rows interrupted by clods and upside-down stubble. Some fields would lie fallow over the winter, and they looked scruffy like that until they were plowed in the spring. But the fields that were planted with winter wheat were groomed and made into smooth brown corduroy again in the fall.

Snow added more interest to the patterns. A light snow would melt off the tops of the rows, while each little furrow-valley stayed white. Striped corduroy. When there was more snow, it covered everything with a winter white blanket, insulating the sprouts of winter wheat and protecting them. Eventually the snow would melt wherever the sun hit it all day, making random crescents of brown along the hills and curves.

The sidehills had strips where a hill crested too steeply to be able to plow it. The farmer would leave a little grass along the top of a hill, just below the acme, and it had a sort of eyebrow shape. Sometimes people would plant sunflowers in these, just for fun, but nothing invasive that would try to intrude in the wheat crop.

The Palouse is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It was my privilege to live there for a while.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

I have lived in the Palouse for 30 years. I am so sorry you had to leave! I was born and raised in Los Angeles, where all of my family still remains. I can hardly bear to visit there now, after living in a place like this.