Milo Yield: Laugh Tracks in the Dust 7-29-13

It’s rare in a lifetime to gaze into the depths of Hell’s Canyon on the Idaho/Oregon border and also into The Grand Canyon in Arizona on back-to-back days, but that’s what happened to me recently on a little vacation ol’ Nevah and I took to Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Our traveling companions were our Missouri friends Canby and May Bea Handy.

As background, I worked in Pullman, Wash., in the early 1970s and I made friends there — some of whom I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years, and others in more than 40 years. When I moved back to Kansas those many long years ago, I told glowing stories about the massive and varied agriculture industry in Washington state and Canby, being an old farm boy himself, always said he’d like to take a personal look at that industry someday. Well, several months ago we decided to make that “someday” happen this summer — and so we headed to the Pacific Northwest.

In order to make our trip a good mixture between the mountains and the desert, both irrigated and dry, we flew to Boise, Idaho, rented a car for a week, and headed north along the Idaho/Oregon border, passing through McCall, New Meadows, Riggins and White Bird to our first overnight in Grangeville, Idaho. Not much ag to look at that first day, a little beef, but plenty of beautiful mountain and water scenery along the Payette and Salmon rivers. The early salmon run had just finished up on the Salmon.

Second day, we side-tripped east up the Selway River to view the beautiful Selway Falls, then backtracked west along the Clearwater River to Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkson, Wash. After seeing 40 years of progress there, we headed to the Yield’s old stomping grounds around Pullman, Wash., in the heart of the famous and agriculturally rich Palouse Hills and home of the Washington State University Cougars. Our hosts were former farmer friends Ray and Joanne Storyteller.

Ray took Canby and me on an evening tour of the growing crops in the Palouse. The wheat and barley were nearing harvest stage, but I wuz sure surprised that in the past 20 years garbanzo beans have supplanted green peas as an alternative crop. There were still some dry pea fields, but many more in “garbs.”

Over near the Idaho border north of Moscow we still found fields of lentils and just missed the upcoming Lentil Festival in Moscow, home of the University of Idaho Vandals. That evening we “supped” on the patio and savored Washington wine at the new WSU golf course clubhouse. My meal included some of the famous Cougar Gold cheddar cheese made at the university.

The next day our new host was Larry “Big Game” Hunter, who wuz our 12-year-old neighbor when we left Washington in 1973. Larry took us to revisit all my old hunting haunts in the breaks of the Snake River right above the Lower Granite Dam, which wuz still being built when I hunted chukar, huns, pheasants, dove, valley quail and whitetail and mule deer there. It brought back a flood of fond memories for me.

We also visited with Bob, Larry’s 88-year-old dad and one of my closest friends in the old days. Bob still has fire in his eyes and a sharp memory and a sharp tongue — just like in his younger years.

That evening, we got together with all our Pullman friends — Ray, Joanne, Bob, Larry, Anita (Larry’s wife) and Jesse (their son) for a great outing of fine food and finer reminiscing. Saying goodbye almost brought me to tears because I don’t know when or if we’ll ever get together again.

The next morning we headed north 30 miles to Steptoe Butte, a 2,500-foot prominence in the middle of the Palouse. From the summit, the patchwork view of those super productive agricultural hills is a treat for anyone who appreciates agriculture and the American farmer.

We then headed across the Washington “scablands,” a dry region of scant crops and vegetation on ancient exposed lava beds. We did stop at a couple of pothole lakes where ol’ Nevah and I used to tent-camp with our daughters. Nothing has changed much in 40 years in the scabland.

Our next destination wuz the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, a colossal 42-story concrete structure that backs up Lake Roosevelt, which provides all the irrigation water for the Columbia Basin Project in central Washington and generates immense amounts of hydro-electricity for the nation.

While there, we toured the interpretive center and got a good history lesson on the region and the Grand Coulee Dam. I’ll go into that next week when I continue this travelogue.


Until next week, I’ll close with these wise words of wisdom about the desert and irrigation. Some gal named Ella Maillart said, “I had to live in the desert before I could understand the full value of grass in a green ditch.” And Cathy McMorris said, “In the Pacific Northwest, we depend on our rivers and dams for energy, transportation, irrigation and recreation.”

Have a good ’un. ❖