I was surprised to see that the apricots are blooming on the east hills of the lower Yakima Valley today. It’s early yet, and the bees haven’t returned from their duties in California. But soon, says an orchardist's wife I met, the bees will return. Actually, there are many already here, but we just want to be sure, she says.
“We’ve had first blooms as late as April and earlier than this. Everyone gets pretty excited, but it’s really fine.”
Apricots are usually the first to strut their stuff, with cherries close behind. Soon, the wind machines will roar through the cold spring nights. The wind on the trees will keep the frost from curling its icy tentacles around the tender blossoms.
Orchardists use sophisticated technology to keep their orchards safe, although some of the smaller orchardists still rely on smudge pots. During a cold snap a layer of smoke will cover the valley floor.
The valley depends on the orchardists and farmers to know what they are doing. Yakima County is 12th in farm production in the nation and is the lead producer in the production of apples, hops and mint. The Yakima Valley produces more than 1.2 billion dollars worth of 39 different agricultural commodities annually. That’s a lot of food from this small valley. The soil, fed by the Missoula floods 15 to 20 thousand years ago, is apparently the reason.
Down the hill from the blooming apricots, the Yakima River shimmers on its meander toward the Columbia River 60 miles to the south. The banks are brown yet, the tallest trees, (names yet to be discovered) in which the Great Blue Herons nest, and the willow and sumac, are not yet leafing out.
To the west, all the way past White Swan, Mt. Adams is the dramatic counterpoint to the valley floor, which is drab and almost—but not quite—uninteresting this time of year before everything bursts into bloom.
The mountain is a sacred mountain to the tribe. They call it Pahto in their native language. Later re-named for President Adams, it is the second highest mountain in Washington State.
There is a legend. Wy’east, (Mount Hood), south of Mount Adams in Oregon, and Pahto, (Mount Adams), were the sons of the Great Spirit. They competed for the love of La-wa-la-clough, Mount St. Helens. When Wy'east took La-wa-la-clough from Pahto, Pahto grieved and dropped his head in shame, which, according to the legend, explains Mt. Adams' flattened dome appearance. Since Ms. St. Helens blew her top, maybe she liked Pahto better. Unrequited love.