Where There’s Smoke…

…well, there are no fires here.

When you live out west, the weather forecast can include information related to smoke. And that’s the situation this week, for good reason:

Forecast
This is not the kind of forecast I like to see.

The smoke drifted in yesterday morning, looking like a low thin cloud layer. Throughout the day, it thickened and settled into the valley I can see from my house.

Normal View
Smokey View
My normal view (top) includes glimpses of the North Cascades, at least 50 miles away. Add wildfire smoke and you get my view this morning (bottom), which is barely four miles.

As the northwest’s weather guru, Cliff Mass, blogged yesterday, the smoke is mostly from fires in British Columbia, which isn’t too far from here. There are two fires in northwestern Washington and I heard a rumor that there was one much closer at Blewett Pass, but have not been able to confirm that. Fortunately, they’re not here — although there’s plenty ready to burn if a spark or ember touched down.

Sunrises and sunsets have been minor events lately, with the sun looking like a Sunkist navel orange as it hovers on the horizon. It reminds me of the sunsets back in New York that I admired so much. I remember the one on July 10, 1983 that I drove down to the West End 2 parking lot at Jones Beach to photograph. An orange ball like the one in the sky here today sunk into the western horizon, silhouetting Manhattan skyscrapers in the distance. I got more than photos that day, but that’s a story not worth telling anymore.

Smokey Sunrise, Untouched
Here’s what the sun looked like about 1/2 hour after sunrise. This is an unedited (except for cropping) cell phone photo.

Oddly, back in those days I never realized that that orange ball sunset was caused by air pollution. Ick.

I was supposed to make a day trip by helicopter to visit a friend of mine out on Lopez Island today. It’s an 80-minute flight and I can land in my friend’s yard. I haven’t seen him in months and was really looking forward to it. But when I checked the weather this morning and discovered that the smoke was moving out his way, too, I had second thoughts. My email to him at 6 AM asking whether there was smoke and his response confirming there was was enough for me to change my plans and stay home. If it’s smokey here and smokey there then it’s likely to be smokey en route. And the last thing I wanted to do today was spend nearly 3 hours in a helicopter flying through smoke. (The journey is usually almost as good as what awaited at the destination.)

So I’m home for the day. I went out this morning to pick blueberries and glean rainier cherries with a friend. But we were back by 11. It’s hot and sticky out in the filtered sunlight, with a level of humidity I like to avoid. I’ll do some work in my garage with my new jumbo fan pointed at me. When I get tired of that, I’ll come back upstairs, take a shower, have a snack, and do things in air conditioned comfort.

Or take a nap.

But you can bet I won’t be outside, breathing the dirty air sent down from Canada.

A Personal Tune-Up

Two new routines in my life.

I turned 56 at the end of June. (Unlike other women, I don’t lie about my age.) And although I’m a lot more active than my mother (for example) was at my age, I’m not quite as active and fit as I’d like to be. To make matters worse, I’ve discovered that Mother Nature plays nasty little tricks on a person’s body as he or she ages.

While most people would take the attitude that it’s all part of aging and there’s nothing they can do about it, I’d rather not. So I’ve set August as the beginning of a personal tune-up period and have added two new routines to my life.

Feeling Better through Weight Loss

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that back in 2012 I lost 45 pounds or approximately 23% of my body weight. (I’ll let you do the math; and you never thought you’d use high school algebra, huh?) This huge weight loss coincided with the beginning of my crazy divorce and lots of folks assumed that stress from the divorce caused the weight loss. It didn’t — although I suspect it did help. I lost all that weight by getting on and sticking to Medifast, a diet plan that two friends had used to lose 80 and 70 pounds respectively. A friend who started at the same weight as me lost just as much as I did in about the same amount of time. Truth is, by the time I got home from my summer job to face the crazy that awaited me, I’d already dropped most that weight and I managed to keep most of it off for two years.

But as you might expect from going off a strict, unsustainable diet plan — I had no desire to eat that “food” for the rest of my life — the weight crept back on. Not all of it, thank heaven. But enough to make me feel the sluggishness and lack of motivation that I felt back in the final days of my ill-advised marriage. So I decided to do something about it.

The question was what to do? Sure — I could get back on Medifast and drop all that weight in another four months. But then I’d secure my seat on a dieting seesaw I never wanted to be on. I needed a more sustainable plan, something that would allow me to eat the food I wanted without counting calories or getting overly concerned about portions.

Enter Whole30

Long story short: six different friends raved to me about Whole30. It’s apparently been around for a while. It’s a version of a Paleo diet. Food is broken down into broad yes/no categories:

Yes No
Meats, fish, and eggs Dairy, including cheese (!)
Fruit Added sugar or sugar substitute
Vegetables (with some exceptions) Legumes
Nuts (with some exceptions) Grains, including whole grains and pasta
Natural fats Alcohol, including wine (!)

This isn’t everything you need to know, of course. But it is about 90% of what the plan entails.

It’s about your health, stupid.

I have no patience for overweight people who claim that they don’t care what other people think of them or that fat can be beautiful or that society places too strong an emphasis on perfect bodies and they don’t care. These people are missing the point.

I’m not saying we should all look like runway models. I’m saying that we should maintain healthy body weight. So many ailments can be avoided or even cured by weight loss. This isn’t bullshit hearsay — it’s the truth. Not only will you look better and feel better when you get down to a healthy weight, but you’ll be healthier and have a much better feeling of self-esteem. Take it from me: I’ve been there. Stop making excuses and start taking care of your health.

The idea is to stick to this plan exactly as written for 30 days (yes, it’s the 30 Day Challenge). The authors of the plan and the book that goes with it make all kinds of claims about how good you’ll feel at the end of that month. Some of them are admittedly outrageous — like claims to “cure” literally dozens of ailments related to “silent inflammation.” I don’t believe all that crap, although I do believe that symptoms of some ailments can be greatly reduced with a good diet and healthy weight. For example, I have had high blood pressure for years; it runs in my family. When I was very heavy, it took three meds to control it. When I lost all that weight, I got it under control with just one med — and that’s where I am today.

(I might also mention here that one of the reasons I was determined to lose all that weight back in 2012 is because my doctor told me I needed to start watching my sugar numbers. Type 2 diabetes also runs in my family and I didn’t want any part of that. My weight loss took the possibility of that off the table — no pun intended.)

Whole30 BookThe Whole30 book itself is pretty funny if you read it with a mind as cynical as mine. It’s all “rah-rah” and “you’ll hate us for this but” and other such nonsense meant to encourage weak people. The way I see it, if you want to see results, you have to stick to a plan that’ll work. No amount of coaxing is going to work on someone with no willpower.

The gimmick with the Whole30 Challenge is that for the 30 days you’re following the plan, you can’t cheat. Not even a tiny bit. If you have anything to eat that isn’t allowed, you have to start over. So yes, the 1/3 teaspoon (I measured it) of sugar and half ounce (estimated) of milk that I put into my 18 ounce cup of coffee (allowed) this morning is cheating and I’d have to start over tomorrow. That ain’t gonna happen. I was warned by my Medifast diet coach that coffee, milk, and sugar weren’t allowed on Medifast and I wouldn’t get results if I had them every morning. But I did and I still lost a shit-ton of weight.

And sure, you can throw my words about willpower above back in my face, but my morning coffee is something I’m not willing to give up for a week, let alone a month. I want to find a plan I can live with, not suffer through.

Not a Weight Loss Plan?

I should point out here that the Whole30 book claims it isn’t a weight loss diet plan. I honestly think they say that so you’re not disappointed when you don’t lose weight. But in the book, they say that you will lose weight as a side effect of getting all the bad food out of your system. And although they don’t have you counting calories, they do talk about portion sizes and having just three meals a day — or at least keeping three hours between smaller meals. And that sounds a lot like Medifast.

I guess it’s all the same no matter how different it is.

You Have to Like to Cook

One of the interesting aspects of Whole30 is that because you have no idea what they put in restaurant food, you can’t really eat in a restaurant. And because you’ll likely die of boredom eating plain salad and grilled meat all the time, they have lots of recipes in the book. (There are also a ton online. Want to make a pork dish? Google Whole30 pork recipe.) So you’ll theoretically do a lot of cooking at home. I like to cook so that’s okay with me.

The other day I made their Classic Chili recipe using some of the ground beef I already had in my freezer (from the 1/4 cow I bought last year) and vegetables right out of my garden. It was surprisingly delicious. It also made enough for me to freeze two portions so the next time I don’t feel like cooking, I can grab one out of the freezer, pop it in the microwave, and enjoy.

The book also has a ton of recipes for various sauces to spice up plainly prepared foods. I made an almond- and tomato-based “romesco sauce” yesterday to top garlic shrimp with zucchini noodles. The recipe made enough for several meals, so I used some this morning on an omelet I made with eggs from my chickens and onions, tomatoes, and peppers from my garden. It really did make breakfast more interesting.

Home Made Lara Bars
With no added sugar and simple, wholesome ingredients, you don’t need to be on a special diet plan to like these energy bars.

I also found a recipe online the other day for Whole30-compliant energy bars similar to the Larabars you might find in your supermarket or health food store. I made two versions: one with dates, coconut, dried cherries, almonds, and pepitas and the other with dates, coconut, dried apricots, almonds, and flax seeds. I put half in the fridge and used my vacuum sealer to seal and freeze the other half in individual bars. I’ve been eating them for dessert and will likely take them on hiking or day trips. They’re actually quite tasty.

So I guess that as long as I can continue to make interesting foods, I’ll have no trouble sticking with it. My 30 days started yesterday and I’ll go until month-end. I’ll likely blog some interesting things I discover along the way.

But I don’t actually expect Whole30 to be the reason I lose weight over the next few months. I’ll leave that to Invisalign.

Stopping Shifting Teeth

Here’s something I never knew about aging: your teeth shift.

I’ve always had very healthy teeth — only three cavities in my life so far. They were not, however, perfectly straight. When I was a kid, my parents actually debated me getting braces for an overbite and eventually decided that it wasn’t severe enough. (They were right about that.) My bottom teeth, however, have always been a bit crooked, with one of the front ones sitting at a 30° angle to the others. Fortunately, no one sees that when I smile since my front teeth steal the show. So although I was never happy about those bottom teeth, I never saw a need to fix them.

One of the happy side effects of my divorce is that I smile a lot more now. (It’s true! I’m a much happier person!) And about a year or two ago, I started to notice that in photos of me smiling, one of my front teeth seemed to be in the shadows. I realized, with a bit of horror, that it was starting to shift backwards in my mouth and it was affecting my smile.

Now I’m not raving beauty and I came to terms with that years and years ago. But I do look best when I’m smiling so I do it a lot. I found the thought of my smile getting ugly very hard to swallow.

Enter Invisalign

Invisalign is a program with dental “appliances” to straighten teeth. It’s extremely effective in cases where not much straightening is required — like in my mouth — and it’s popular with adults because it’s basically invisible to others. The patient starts with a set of clear plastic appliances that fit over his or her teeth and gently tug them toward the desired end position. Every 7 to 10 days, the appliance is replaced with a new one that continues the positioning. At the end of the program, the teeth should be in the desired end position.

My dentist showed me an animation of my teeth moving into the proper position over time. It was very cool. I’ll see if I can track down a sharable copy.

In my case, I’ll be using 20 sets of appliances. They started me yesterday with my first one. The worst part is the placement by the dentist of small upraised points on several teeth to hold the plastic braces in place. Then they snap in snugly and go to work. I can feel them pulling, but although I thought they’d keep me up, I slept like a log last night — nine full hours!

And yes, I do have to wear them night and day. You must wear them 20 to 22 hours a day for them to work.

I’ll wear these for 10 days, then switch. Then 10 days of that and a switch. Then I visit my dentist so he can see how things are going and get the next batch. I’m hoping that they’re going well enough to do a switch every 7 days instead of 10 to speed up the program.

The net results: I should have all my teeth — even the bottom ones I’d already decided I could live with crooked — straightened within about six months.

Of course, since my teeth will want to continue to shift as I continue to age, I’ll have to wear a retainer at night, likely for the rest of my life. Let’s hope I can live with that.

Invisalign and Weight Loss

Of course, I talked to a bunch of people about their Invisalign experience before plunking down a bunch of money to give it a try. (It ain’t cheap.) And one of the things that came up is the fact that you lose weight when you’re on Invisalign.

What?

Well, it actually makes perfect sense. You have to wear these things at least 20 hours a day and you can’t eat or drink anything other than water while you’re wearing them. Sure, they’re easy enough to take out, but if you take them out to eat, you need to brush your teeth and clean the plastic appliances before putting them back in. This is a huge pain in the ass. So, as a result, people wearing Invisalign appliances don’t do much snacking between meals. That means they lose weight.

So combine Whole30 with Invisalign and it would be a miracle if I didn’t lose weight.

Invisalign and White Teeth

I also expect that my teeth will be cleaner and whiter than they’ve ever been before.

Let’s face it: I hate brushing my teeth. I hate the flavor of toothpaste. (Peppermint has been known to make me nauseous.) When I eat a meal, I want the flavor of the meal to linger on my palate 20 or 30 minutes later, not the minty flavor of toothpaste. So I normally brush my teeth just once a day, and that’s usually right after showering. I do everything in my power to avoid brushing right before or after my morning coffee, which really is sacred to me.

But now I have to brush after every meal or snack. I brushed my teeth four times yesterday. I expect to brush at least five times today as I begin considering my mid-morning snack.

I use a whitening toothpaste. Brushing 4-5 times a day would have to result in whiter teeth, no?

So in six months, I can expect to have the straightest, whitest teeth I’ve ever had.

Is It Time for Your Tune Up?

Getting old sucks. (And don’t give me the tired old saw about it beating the alternative; there will come a point for many of us when the alternative is better.) But you don’t have to take things lying down. You can do what’s within your power or budget to make your life better as you age.

That’s what I’m doing. If you’re not, why not?

My Long, Dry Summer

Two very different summers.

Forgive me readers for I have sinned. It has been nearly three weeks since my last blog post.

All joking aside, I haven’t blogged for two reasons:

  • I’ve been very busy. Let’s face it, I’m usually a pretty busy person. If there isn’t something I have to do, I make something to do. (This is a throwback to my crazy divorce days when I was eager to find things to take my mind off my future wasband’s hurtful insanity.) I’m never at a loss for projects to keep me busy.
  • I haven’t been inspired. I need a reason to blog. An idea, a thought. Something I read online that I want to respond to. An interesting thing that happened to me. And this summer has been pretty dry in more ways than one.

So I guess you might consider this a blog post that, in part, explains why I haven’t been blogging. And it also fills you in on what I’ve been up to this dry, dry summer.

The Projects

I live on 10 acres of land on a shelf overlooking the Columbia River Valley. I absolutely love it here. I’ve got everything I’ve ever wanted in a home: space, views, privacy, and plenty of land to do whatever I like with. I bought the land back in 2013, the day after my divorce papers came through, and immediately started developing it for my home. The building began in 2014 and I completed my living space — well, enough to move in, anyway — in spring 2015.

My House
My home sits on a shelf overlooking the Columbia River Valley near Wenatchee, WA. (And yes, this is a drone photo.)

My home isn’t a typical stick-built house. It’s a “pole building” that’s primarily a 2800 square foot garage to store my vehicles and other stuff — which I admittedly have too much of — with a 1200 square foot finished living space on top. I was originally going to build a much smaller garage with a more modest living space and then build a house to go with it, but in the interest of saving time and money, I built just one big building and didn’t skimp on the amenities in my living space. It’s very comfortable for one or two people — although I admit I really do enjoy the utter freedom and flexibility of living alone so I’m unlikely to share my space anytime soon.

My Great Room
My great room, with windows overlooking that wonderful view.

I did much of the work on the living space myself and I haven’t quite finished. For example, I still have to finish the trim up on the loft and in my bedroom, I still have to finish some tile work around my shower stall, I still have to dress up the stairs a bit, and I really do want to tile the entrance hall. Recently, I decided that instead of using the loft as a guest bedroom, I wanted to move my desk up there and make it my office so I’ve got some furniture moving ahead of me. And yes, I’m still unpacking. I really did pack too much stuff from my old Arizona home.

Other than minor building-related projects, I have the usual chores related to owning a home: mowing the lawn, gardening, making repairs to things that break or just need attention. So far, everything I’ve needed fix has been something I can fix myself, so it’s just a matter of finding the problem, figuring out what needs to be done, and doing it. I have a lot of tools now — I actually have a whole workshop in my garage — so I seldom need to buy or borrow anything to get a job done.

Weed control is a serious concern here; the county requires us to control our noxious weeds. I’ve been at war with the kochia since my very first week as a landowner and I’m definitely winning. This year I’ve started working on the knapweed that seems to have begun appearing since the kochia has been killed off. I also identified and destroyed some tumbleweed, which I absolutely abhor since trying to deal with it at some northern Arizona vacation property years ago. The trick is to cut or pull out these weeds before they go to seed. This year, I also bought my third (and last) weed sprayer, a 15-gallon ATV-mounted tank with a DC pump. Yes, I use various chemicals to spray the weeds along my 1,000+ feet of road frontage and in my driveway. (Lecture me all you want about “natural” mixtures of salt and vinegar, but nothing works quite like Roundup or some of the specialized broadleaf killers they sell at the local farm supply store.)

The Big Projects

I do have two large self-inflicted projects, and they are related.

One is a platform for a 12 x 14 cabin tent that I’ll be setting up for “glamping.” I ordered the tent from the Colorado Yurt Company. Built to my specifications, it should arrive here on Wednesday. It’ll have canvas and screen sides so whoever is staying in it can configure it as they see fit — these days, I’d roll up the canvas on at least three sides and enjoy the views and airflow through the screen. It also has a 12 x 8 foot covered porch. Of course, all this has to be built on a custom platform, which I’ve constructed, with the assistance of two pilot friends, out near my lookout point bench. The whole thing is made from pressure-treated lumber with Trex decking. Assembled with screws, it can be disassembled and moved at any time. (This is actually a good thing since I’ve already decided I want to move it for next year.) It’ll be furnished with a queen bed, night tables, dresser, and table and chairs (on the deck). I can’t wait to sleep in it!

Tent Platform
Here’s the platform as it looked last week. The only thing left to do is lay the rest of the Trex and then put up the vertical supports.

My Portable Potty Building
Here’s my portable potty, under construction in my garage. One of the benefits of having a huge garage is being able to do projects like this in relative comfort.

Of course, the one thing the tent doesn’t come with is a bathroom. One option was renting a portable toilet — you know, those blue buildings you see at outdoor events. I’d rented one while my home was under construction — mostly for the builders, since I had my own bathroom in the RV I was living in at the time — and learned that if they give you a newish one and maintain it weekly, it isn’t nasty at all. But it does cost $90/month and I’d have to look at it all summer. And it isn’t quite the experience I want my guests to have. So I cooked up the idea of building a portable bathroom with an RV toilet and holding tank. I got the trailer kit at Harbor Freight, framed out the building on it, and bought a holding tank and RV toilet. I’m about 75% done at this point; I’ll do the plumbing this week, test it, and then put on the walls, door, and roof. I can then put it in position anywhere on my property when needed and tow it back to one of my RV dump ports when I need to. Over the winter, I can drain it and store it in my garage. This is a complex project — mostly because of the plumbing work involved — but I’m enjoying the challenge of making something I cooked up in my head become reality. (Like my home.)

Other Activities

I do occasionally find time to socialize with friends.

My Funny Little Boat
Here’s my funny little boat, parked at the dock near Pybus Market in downtown Wenatchee. (Every time I use the boat, I’m reminded of my wasband’s second divorce lawyer, who tried desperately in court to get me to admit that it was worth more than the $1,500 I’d paid for it. He even claimed my wasband would pay me $1,000 for it — which I accepted — but my wasband backed down; he obviously didn’t want it. It’s just an example of the divorce court antics, likely fueled by my wasband’s old whore, that I witnessed back in 2013. I wound up getting the boat in the divorce — it was mine, after all — without having to pay him a penny.)

I’ve had the boat out twice this summer so far. I have to admit that I was surprised that it started so easily on our first outing; I’m terrible about maintaining things I don’t use regularly and the battery was completely dead when I put the charger on it in June. Neither of our outings were interesting; in both cases, I was taking friends out for a ride. We did the usual: motor at full throttle — for a whopping 32 miles per hour — up the river to the Rocky Reach Dam and then drift back for a while on the current. It isn’t much of a boat, but it does get me out on the water and I really do enjoy that. I might take it out to other stretches of the river when cherry season ends and I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking it with me to Arizona this winter; I already bought the hitch extender I need to hook it up behind my truck with the camper on top. I’m really looking forward to getting it on the Colorado River and some of the Salt River lakes near Phoenix.

Packing Cherries
The cherry packing line at my friends’ orchard. It’s actually a lot of fun when you do it with friends and there’s some good music playing.

I also helped some friends pack rainier cherries earlier this month. They have two cherry orchards and have arranged to sell rainier cherries directly to a Seattle area supermarket chain. I worked with about a dozen people to sort and pack cherries over a two-day period. It was a paying job, but I took a 15-pound box of cherries instead of cash. I’ve got about a pound left.

Later that week, my cherry packing friends invited me to join them and and a big group of other friends to watch a production of The Sound of Music at Leavenworth Summer Theater. Not only was their future daughter-in-law playing the lead character, Maria, but it was her birthday. It was nice chatting with cast members after the show. And you really can’t beat a musical production nicely produced outdoors on a warm summer night.

I’ve also done a bit of entertaining, from having a few neighbors over for wine and homemade cheese on the deck to full-blown barbecues where I’ve made my famous smoked ribs. I really enjoy having people over to share my home with them.

The Animals

Of course, some of my time has been taken up with caring for my growing menagerie.

Penny turned 5 — can you believe it? — this year and has become quite the spoiled little mutt, going with me nearly every where I go. She loves to come with me in the helicopter but has learned that when I’m wearing my flight suit, it’s likely to be a very boring long ride over cherry trees so she stays clear when I put it on.

After losing my chickens twice to a neighborhood dog last year, I started a new flock of chickens in March with 18 chicks. I built them a big chicken coop and it has been working out very well. The chickens just started laying about two weeks ago; I’m now getting 6 eggs a day and expect that to go up to about 16. I’ll be selling off most of the hens as layers — there’s actually a decent market for that around here — and keep just 5 or 6. In the meantime, I bought eight more chicks to get them started before winter. My goal is to keep a young flock and keep selling off the layers before they’re a year old. I’ll always have fresh eggs and the money I get from hen sales will cover all my costs.

Solo the Cat
This is Solo, one of my three mousers-in-training.

I also added three kittens to my home. They are mousers-in-training and currently live in the garage. They’ll keep the mouse population down — it’s impossible to keep up in the garage and garden without resorting to poison — which, in turn, should keep the snake population down. (I had to kill a rattler the other day; my first kill since 2014.) I’ve had limited success with feral “barn cats” in the past, but Penny tends to annoy them to the point that they leave. I figured that raising kittens with Penny will prevent them from wanting to run off. It seems to be working so far; she plays with them quite often and one of them really seems to like it. But the youngest of the batch is probably going back to where I got her; she doesn’t seem to understand what the litter box is for and I’m tired of cleaning cat crap off the concrete floor.

And for the folks wondering about the winter when I’m away, the chickens and the cats will be fine. I have a good, reliable housesitter.

As for wildlife, with five hummingbird feeders hanging from my deck, I get lots of hummingbird activity. And the bighorn sheep, which came down from the cliffs daily late last summer, have just started appearing every few days. It’ll be interesting to see if they become a nuisance again.

The Weather

The weather this summer has been absolutely amazing. Day after day of blue skies and temperatures in the 80s and 90s. I don’t even think we topped 100°F this year. While that’s good for the folks who grow cherries and alfalfa or come to the area for vacation, it’s isn’t good for the helicopter pilots who live or travel here to dry cherries. And that would be me.

This Week's Weather
This is the upcoming forecast for Wenatchee per the National Weather Service. But it could be the forecast for nearly any week over the past month or so. No rain.

My main source of income these days is from my cherry drying work. (Don’t know what that is? Read this old blog post, which explains it. Or watch this video to see me in action.) My business has been growing steadily since around 2011. I now build a team of up to six pilots to cover the hundreds of acres of cherry orchards I have under contract.

This year, my season began on June 1 and will end on August 16. During that time, I’m pretty much stuck in this area, waiting for it to rain. The season got off to a promising start: my team, which consisted of just me and one other pilot in early June, flew a total of about 5 hours. But then the rest of the team began assembling and the skies dried up. None of us have flown in over a month.

Needless to say, my first-year pilots are pretty pissed off about that. But I warned them. When asked how many hours we could expect to fly, I told them the truth: 0 to 40. As I explained to them, if you can’t make it work financially with just the standby pay, you shouldn’t sign up. That might be all you get. And for two of the pilots who have come and gone so far, that’s exactly what they got: standby pay. And at this point, it looks like another two pilots will be in the same boat.

Fortunately for all of us, the standby pay isn’t too shabby. If you can keep your costs down, you can make good money. The smart folks who do this work with me treat their contracts as a sort of paid vacation. With perfect weather and no chance of rain, they can hike, go out on the water, fish, or do any number of local things while getting paid by the day to just hang around with a helicopter parked nearby. But when it rains, they’d better be at their helicopter with their phone handy and ready to fly.

What folks don’t seem to understand is that the weather here can change quickly. This is my tenth summer in the Wenatchee area and I’ve seen days like today where there isn’t any forecasted chance of rain, cloud up steadily. Soon there are isolated thunderstorms dumping rain on orchards. That’s why I can’t leave the area. Even with a forecast like the one shown above, I know that things can change. And I know that if I don’t have a helicopter over an orchard within 15 minutes of a call, I’m going to lose a client.

So yes, I take it very seriously.

I should mention that although this is my worst (so far) cherry drying season, last year was definitely my best. Although it didn’t rain much early in the season, by this time last year it was raining all day for several days in a row. We flew like crazy, sometimes drying the same orchard four or five times in a day. The growers were miserable and I could hear it in their voices when they called. We were doing our best with prompt responses and constant flying, but at a certain point even we couldn’t save the crop. A lot of cherries went unpicked.

But that’s the way it is in agriculture: you get good years and bad years. A good year in cherries is extremely profitable for growers — which is why they grow cherries. A bad year? Well that’s what insurance is for.

Water Tank
The Girl Scout motto is “Be Prepared” and I really do believe it’s a good idea.

Meanwhile, the dry weather this year has turned the area into a tinderbox. Dry lightning started a fire in the hills beyond the cliffs behind my house back in late June. Although there was no evacuation notice for my road, I admit I got a bit uneasy watching a pair of single engine air tankers on floats scoop up water down on the Columbia River and climb up to drop it just out of sight behind my home. Things got even scarier when they were joined by a pair of Hueys with buckets that dipped in my neighbor’s irrigation pond and climbed up right over my home. Not only did I test my fire suppression system, but I put my 425-gallon portable water tank on a utility trailer I have, filled it with water, and prepared to connect it to a pump and generator as my own private fire department. Then the wind shifted and the fire went elsewhere, burning thousands of acres before they finally put it out. The tank of water is still on the trailer, just in case I need it. I’d be pretty pissed off if a fire took out my new tent platform.

Vacation Plans

Fortunately, my season will end right before the eclipse. Like last year, I’ll have my camper on my truck, all packed and ready to go when that last day rolls along. Then I’ll be off for my first vacation.

This year, I’m heading south to a remote area of Oregon where I hope to watch the eclipse from the shores of a small lake. Then I’ll make a leisurely drive back home, stopping in Walla Walla for some wine tasting and Palouse Falls for some night photography. I’ll be back in Wenatchee in time for a charter flight booked months ago.

Other trips planned:

  • Five or so days with a friend at his place on Lopez Island. We’re still sitting on the fence on whether I should fly us out there in the helicopter or drive. (Guess which way I’m leaning?)
  • A weekend-long mushroom foray with the Puget Sound Mycological Society near Mount Rainier. I’ll be taking my camper this year so I can camp out in the national forest before or after the event. Or both.
  • A trip back east for the fall colors in Vermont, a visit with my brother in New Jersey, and a museum visit in Washington DC. This one is tentative; I’d really be cramming it in between charter flights and events and am not sure I want the stress of making such a long trip with so much on my plate at home.

Three Weeks Left

In the meantime, I’m stuck at home, keeping very busy, waiting for my season to end, praying for some rain. It doesn’t seem likely.

Anyone who thought I was nuts for leaving Arizona for “wet, wet Washington” should get an idea of the reality here: our summers can be even drier than Arizona’s.