Week 6-  October 3 Week: Volcanoes and Vineyards

We arrived in Benton City, in SE Washington after a beautiful drive from Glacier along Clark’s Fork River (a main thoroughfare for Lewis and Clark), through Northern Idaho, and down the eastern side of Washington.  We were welcomed into Washington by the worst fuel prices we have seen so far, $2.40 per gallon.  (I looked up fuel prices on E-Trucker.com and Washington has the dubious distinction of having the most costly fuel in the country.)  We have seen fuel range from $1.69 to $2.40 so far! 

We met up with the Mike and Chick Meek family from our school.  Mike is also following a dream.  Four or five years ago he bought a neglected orchard/vineyard here and periodically takes time from his work in retailing management at home to come here at key times during the growing season.  He has been working hard to refurbish the property and make it into a viable operation where the family will eventually move when the kids are older.  (Both are originally from Washington.)  The whole family came out this week to help with the grape harvest.  Their daughter Amanda is in Leah’s class, and son Andy is in Jenna’s so the kids were ecstatic to have playmates. 

Sunday, everyone got the lay of the land.  The kids learned to drive the Gator, a six wheel utility ATV that was one of the highlights for all of the kids, especially Nate.  Blowing gophers was also a highlight for all of the boys and dads.  I was trained to use the “Rodenator Pro”, an appliance that blends propane and oxygen to generate explosive shockwaves that kill the gophers in their tunnels.  (The gophers damage the root systems of the cherry trees.) 

We also met the Mendosa family, the full time managers of the farm.  They also have three kids and an assortment of dogs which added to the fun for our kids.  We were impressed by their hard working and disciplined family. 

We helped harvest grapes on Monday.  As we cut the bulging bunches from the vine, it was easier to visualize the vineyard-related parables that Jesus so often taught.  Also, showing the kids hard work is always a good teaching opportunity.  Later in the afternoon we followed a shipment of our grapes to the Willowcrest Winery that processes them for Mike.  I especially enjoyed talking to one of the winemakers, John Gabriel about the surprisingly complex process.  Management of pH and sugar levels, fermentation, and so many other subtleties that all can affect flavor, is fascinating for a chemical engineer… a bit less so for his family...  John had been a chef many years then recently finished schooling in winemaking with the hopes of someday starting his own winery and restaurant.  

It has been good to be planted for schooling each morning.  We lived near science history in the making this week, in spitting distance (in volcano terms) of Mount St. Helens.  When it blew in 1980, this area received a deep coating of ash!  We kept a good eye on the VolcanoCam, a web cam that transmits photos every five minutes.  We are close enough (over one hundred miles) that if anything big happens, that we would consider jumping in the car to get a look at it.   

In the evening, Mike set up a grape stomping party to make one batch of wine traditionally.  The kids had a ball with it, though it became work after a while… 

Wednesday, I tied in the boys’ love of driving the Gator with making maps.  Nate, Andy, and Jenna had been driving the Gator around the property, so I had them try to draw what they had seen into a map.  We then all drove around the property to see how close they got!  Leah got to help Amanda with her cellular biology project of making a cake and decorating it to look like a cell. 

It was hard to say goodbye to the clear eastern Washington weather and freedom of the farm on Thursday to head toward rainy Seattle.  It turned out to be a great travel day as we headed to the Seattle area.  Amanda and Andy traveled with us as we headed to their grandparents’ home north of Seattle.   

On the way. we got a great view of St Helens in the distance from the freeway.  We could even see some whispy steam and ash at the top!  After all of the volcano news this week, everyone ran to the windows of the RV as the mountain came into sight.  We will probably visit one of the visitor centers from the west side when we head down the west coast late next week.   

We also viewed a video on scientific learnings that have come from St. Helens that blow away the old geology (millions of years) theories that we have been hearing in the National Parks about canyon development.  The massive mudslides and changes in Spirit Lake at Mt St. Helens have made stratified canyons in a matter of days that traditionally would have been touted as being millions of years old!  Also in Yellowstone, there are petrified forests that are taught as being different layers of forests millions of years old.  The thousands of logs that were blown into Spirit Lake during St. Helen’s destruction are forming similar formations in a matter of years!  Again, a good lesson for the kids to look carefully for truth in a culture biased against God. 

We made it to the Seattle area late afternoon, in time to stop by Microsoft in Redmond.  They have an interesting little museum on the campus.  I was definitely starting to feel like a relic as the display cases showed the punch cards, the first version of DOS, Compaq’s first luggable computer, and other “old” things that I have used in college or during my career at General Mills. 

We are staying north of Seattle in the driveway of Chick Meek’s parents.  While Mike finishes up more work at the vineyard, the rest of their family is all together here.  We have met both sets of Mike and Chick’s parents between our times at the vineyard and here in Marysville, and we have been royally welcomed.  You couldn’t meet nicer folks! 

Seattle also welcomed us in style Friday morning. with low clouds and rain.  The kids are learning first-hand the effects that mountains and altitude have on climate.  Our only touring event for the day was an indoor tour of the Boeing plant where 747-400’s are manufactured.  The main assembly plant is the biggest building, by volume, on earth.  Funny how education seems to work, our best learning of the day took place during a great family discussion as we sat at a “Taco Time” for a late lunch. 

At this point in the journal, I feel compelled to interject a disclaimer.  If the accounts of our adventure sound like the family always works like clockwork, I am mistakenly writing fiction rather than a journal.  We have plenty of examples of “growth opportunities”, some dealt with better than others...  I am realizing though, that one of the main things we may be learning is how to keep working and problem solving together, and not giving up. 

Our Saturday was a true tourist type day.  We drove into Seattle to visit some of the essentials like the waterfront by trolley, Pike Place and the Science Museum.  Our biggest accomplishments of the day were getting the grouchy trolley lady to smile and getting each kid to at least touch his lips to clam chowder!  The day in Seattle ended with the sun coming out for sunset views of the area from the Space Needle. 

Saturday night at Grandpa Sonny and Grandma Leah's house was bittersweet, as the Meeks would be going back to Minneapolis the next day.  The lack of kids is definitely the most difficult aspect of the trip for our three.