I just got back from more adventures in the field. This time, it was a proposed aggregate mine in Yakima, Washington. Yakima is a shitty, shitty town. The first night after G arrived, we decided to try a Tuscan restaurant on Yakima Ave (the Main Street of Yakima). This place was to Italy what the Rheinlander is to Germany – garish and a gross (albeit hopefully unintentional) parody on a culture. The interior had been festooned with plaster-of-Paris false fronts that were intended to evoke dining al fresca on the streets of a Tuscan village. This wasn’t even the really the problem, though. The first red flag was that all of their servers are apparently 19 years old. None of them could recommend a wine, because they aren’t even old enough to drink. And they all just stood in the kitchen gossiping instead of doing their jobs, which angered me.
The second red flag was that there were no Tuscan items on the menu. The Tuscans have been nicknamed by their countrymen as ‘mangiafagioli’, or the bean-eaters, for their love of the canellini. It’s what they’re famous for. Not one item on the menu had beans. There were no cippoline onions, no bread salad, nothing Tuscan! They did, however, have taco pizza. WTF?! This also angered me. For $18-25/plate for an entree, I expect to see some fucking Tuscan food!
Okay, so we finally order, and I go for the halibut. Your choices for the sides are spaghetti or fettucini. I figure it’ll come just tossed in olive oil with maybe some herbs, so I decide on spaghetti to compliment the delicate texture of the fish. I get my meal and the spaghetti is covered in marinara! With halibut served with lemon pepper and white wine sauce??!! What the fuck were they thinking? If there even was any wine sauce it had been completely buried by the marinara that was so cloyingly sweet that it made my teeth hurt. It was as if these stupid motherfuckers spent a trip in the Tuscan region and decided, “Hey, why not open a restaurant? I know how to boil pasta!” They don’t even seem to know that ‘spaghetti’ is a pasta shape, and not “thin noodles covered in red sauce”. G’s fettucini came swimming in heavy alfredo sauce. If you’re going to try to charge big-city prices then you need to HIRE A FUCKING CHEF. The saddest part of the ordeal is that they seriously blew a great opportunity to showcase some of the Yakima Valley’s delicious wines. They just totally shit the bed on this one. I never thought I’d hear myself say it, but we should’ve just gone to the Olive Garden.
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Oh, so the field work wasn’t bad. The area where we were working is comprised of a complex of large ponds with adjacent emergent, scrub-shrub and forested wetlands, with little sloughs that flow between them. Beaver activity has created nice open marsh areas, and there were lots of great blue herons and great egrets flying and squawking about. Whenever I see those large wading birds I like to shake my fist and yell “Go back to the Pleistocene!” and that always make me chuckle because I am a nerd.
G and I decided that, due to the spatial scale of the site (~200 acres), we should split up and flag the wetland boundaries working in opposite directions. So I’m merrily flagging along, tying fluorescent pink tape to the willows and teasel, and I decide to take a look behind me to see if my line makes sense. Then I notice this huge herbaceous wetland on the opposite side of the willow thicket, and realize that I need to backtrack a bit to pull the adjacent wetlands into my wetland boundary. I see that the quickest way is to cut through a patch of young cottonwoods that were growing on top of a berm, so off I go, pushing my way through the brush.
I get to the other side, and sniff sniff …do you smell vinegar? Huh, that’s weird uh-oh wait I remember something about formicine ants on a David Attenborough show once… and I look down to see that I am COVERED in these frighteningly large, red and black ants.
They were practically turning themselves inside out trying to bite me and inject me with formic acid (which is similar to in molecular structure vinegar, or acetic acid). Fortunately, I was wearing so many layers that they couldn’t get to my skin, but they were moving fast so I whipped off my field vest and dropped it, then started stripping down and brushing them off as fast as I could. I get them off me and am shaking my hoodie to ensure that there will be no hitchhikers, and whew! I got them all off. Then I look at my hoodie and realize that I have been shaking it into a patch of devil’s beggar’s-tick (Bidens frondosa), a lovely herb common in wetlands that bears yellow flowers which mature into very spiny seeds. My jacket was now covered in tenacious burrs, and I am, once again, angered.
I spent nearly thirty minutes picking these things out of my jacket, still shaking from the ant experience, nervously glancing about to make sure they’re not marching back toward me. I decided that it would be best to keep moving, so I just double-checked my hoodie for ants, stuffed it into my vest and kept cruising through the brush. Then a rustling sound in the thatch, out bursts a rabbit and I almost dropped dead of a heart attack. I can’t remember the last time I had such a jarring experience in the field.
For the following three days, the work was pretty free from nature drama. I kept seeing those ants, which I realized were protecting their herds of aphids that feed on the sweet cambium of cottonwood saplings. On the second or third day, as I was tying a flag on one, I realized I had squished some aphids and when I turned to look at my flag it was literally writhing with furious ants. I just shuddered and kept moving.