Overheard at Plainview

By Elinor Markgraf

It was a couple of years ago that I pulled into Plainview's parking lot and saw two distraught women. The hood of their car was up and steam was pouring out - a common sight at Plainview in August. I asked if there was anything I could do and they told me, "no, help is on the way."

I went on about the business that a summer evening trip to Plainview Grocery entails. A joke for David, cigarettes for me, day-glo popsicles for the kids and mechanical advice from Dexter. Meanwhile, five or six other people stopped to ask the women if they needed any help.

"What a nice place!," said the women to each other.

"What nice people! This is incredible! What's the name of this area? It's so pretty up here, too!"

I felt icy fingers clutch at my heart when I heard their words. The last thing I wanted was for word to get out that this is a nice community. I thought about Oregon and California and Tom McCall and said to myself, "There goes the neighborhood."

And we are nice up here. Sometimes all that stands between us and disaster is the generosity and kindnesses of our neighbors. There's always someone to call on when we're snowed in and need to get someone to the hospital. When the cows get loose and are rampaging up the valley, my neighbors pitch in to help round them up. When something needs butchering, there are hands ready to cut and wrap.

I cherish my neighbors-they are more valuable than diamonds. And it isn't for any high-fallutin' ideals of brotherhood. I need them. I don't pull broken down cars off the Pass or give stranger's rides, or get out of bed for a traffic accident because I'm a nice guy. I'm not. I'm a very selfish guy - but someday, that might be me.

That, and I hate dead bodies on Cornelius Pass. There have been quite enough of those, thanks.

No one can deny that things are changing up here-and changing fast. The reasons we chose to live here are in danger of disappearing as fast as the trees can be cut down. We only have to take a drive on 185th. Wasn't there a farmhouse here? Weren't those wheat fields? Wasn't it just a week ago that someone replaced productive farmland with hundreds of houses? Dream houses, painted gray and beige-earth tones, to compensate for the real earth they've supplanted, and trimmed in teal and raspberry.

Colors that I don't like much anymore.

Am I just a fool to have tears spring to my eyes when I see yet another clear-cut begin?

It's not just the beauty of the land that is being taken from us. The people are changing as well. The very fact that we have so much room to breathe out here makes it possible for us to nurture tolerance. Kindness toward strangers and neighbors is a direct result of that tolerance.

Sometimes, I have hope that we can ride the wave of clearcuts, builders, and developers, and still retain the character of the place we love. But other times, I am bitter and angry. Four of my favorite people just received 30 days notice to vacate the premises. The bulldozers will start next week.

"What a great view! Of course we'll have to open that up a bit," the real estate agent said brightly.

"Yeah, and cut down the last stand of fir trees on the ridge. The better to see the clear-cuts with." said my friend.  "Why, my dear, we aren't going to rape the land. We're going to make it better," answered the agent.

It's a new one on me. I didn't know you could improve on God's handiwork.

Did I mention the agent's patronizing sneer?

There was a dramatic shift in the character of my own little Falkenberg neighborhood a couple of years ago. In the space of a year, four out of seven dwellings changed hands. Suddenly, I was an old timer and there were all these new guys on the block. I was one of the few who knew about the more exciting events and characters of our neighborhood's history.

Nobody knew Phil, or the night he had too much fun and drove off the bridge. Or Jack, who'd go naked when it was hot... and boy, did the trucks on the Pass honk when he went to check the mail. Or the way his wife would holler at him, "put some clothes on, for crying out loud, you're going to cause an accident." Or the big flood that carried half a cord of Cat's firewood down McCarthy Creek. Nobody even sees the ghosts anymore. They seem to have moved on, too.

I miss my old neighbors. But what really saddens me is that sometimes, is seems, I don't have new neighbors .... now I just have four people who live by me.

A while back one of our volunteer firemen was over by Cedar Mill and drove past an elderly gentleman who had tipped his tractor into a ditch. Our hero stopped to help the guy out. It took quite a bit of time and quite a few cuss words (always a good measure of the difficulty of the job!). When they finally got the tractor up and rolling, the old guy tried to pay his rescuer.

"Put your wallet away. I was just being neighborly."

"You know, young man, I was out here quite a while before you stopped and helped me. Years ago a neighbor would have stopped right away. Now the cars just drive on past you. I guess people just aren't neighbors anymore:'

"Aw, that's not true. You still have as many neighbors as you always did--there are just a lot more people in between them now."

I don't begrudge having new neighbors. I welcome them.

It's the people in between that I'm not crazy about.
RR Summer 94

Copyright © 2010 Elinor Markgraf