Roots and Branches: Summertime, and plenty new under the sun

Summertime and the living is easy. That song was not written for those who must work outdoors for a living or indoors without any air conditioning. Even our farm families who favor a warm summer sun are wilting under its glare.

Perhaps it was the mediocre cherry harvest and the tedious sorting that has worn them down under the nonstop 90-degree days that just keep coming. It begins to take its toll on plant and animal alike. Global warming I leave to the climatologists, but local warming is undeniable according to the front porch thermometer. Fond memories of frosty fall mornings keep hope of a more forgiving season soon to come.

I awoke to a refreshingly cool breeze yesterday morning and had to slip outside before the sun rose to see if it was real or only a wishful dream teasing me out of a deep sleep. Barefoot I walked out into the early morning, my toes enjoying the coolness of the grass underfoot. Only a few short hours before I had been watering the flowers outside my door and could barely stand on the simmering sidewalk without blistering my flip-flop-covered soles.

Not a dream, but a real-life cool breeze brushed the sleep from my eyes and brought clarity of thought to a brain soggy from slumber. Perhaps the summer sizzle was rising out of the valley, urged east west by the infamous Gorge winds. No more fire blight burning through the orchards; no more forest fires turning towering firs into piles of ash; no more high-desert blazes threatening the homes and livestock of our native friends in Warm Springs and Toppenish.

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Co-worker Belinda Ballah seems to thrive in the hot summer sun. While I turn a puffy red and seek solace in the shade, she bakes a golden brown, seeking sunshine at every opportunity. She took on a huge project with muralist Allison Bell at the very start of our solar cooking season, offering art to over 300 K-5 students at Mid Valley summer school, and signage that reflects healthy choices for all who participate at the fair’s entertainment venue or use the west fields of Wy’east for soccer or Ultimate Frisbee.

With more than 60 4-by-8-foot plywood to seal, scribe, paint and reseal, the outdoor parking lot at Mid Valley Elementary became a sea of tables in the scorching sun. An eagle’s piercing eyes emerged from a hodgepodge of paint cans, making believers out of young and old alike, who had begun to feel the effects of that relentless summer sun.

Plain plywood panels transformed into a majestic mural of eagles and children soaring above the influence of drugs, joining together in service to others, in its creation as well as lifelong messaging.

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Adding another dimension to summer school was the EA project of Migumi Hosaka, who brought ballet to the middle valley, where poverty is prevalent but frequently unable to penetrate the soaring optimism of our Hispanic community. Where St. Francis House volunteers provide a safe haven, the school provides an optimum education, a health center will soon add wellness to the community repertoire of family reading nights at the school, Zumba dancing in the upstairs gymnasium, power trekking around a track that circles the ball fields, and learning English while filling bags of donated food.

The heartbeat of Odell pulsates at Mid Valley Community School. We watched a handful of kindergarten girls and a baker’s dozen of rambunctious Mexican boys showcase their ballet moves at summer school’s end this year. Who would think a lovely lithe teen with a love for ballet could coax pointed toes and leaps from a gangly group of little guys more accustomed to the frenzy of soccer? They pointed toes, leaped across the cafeteria and collapsed on the floor in laughter. The appreciative parents applauded the performance, chuckling amongst themselves as the 5- and 6-year-olds completed their routine with a most gracious ballet bow. Bello the ballerina was born.

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Students and families were treated to a table full of books that capped a full Sunday of work by Mid Valley staff in a steaming Salem warehouse sorting through thousands of books, choosing the best for each family. Ten-thousand books came back to Hood River in one sweat-soaked day, making lifelong readers of one and all.

Sixty-three Hispanic parents signed up for a drug prevention coalition that is meeting at Mid Valley each month. They are dreaming of joining forces with Gorge Grown Foods and Nuestra Comunidad Sana to develop a market in Odell, with crafts, fresh vegetables, perhaps a gazebo or “plaza” where families can gather, enjoy traditional music and dance and just maybe a ballerina or two may leap their way into our hearts.

There are visionaries in this community. From team Rawson and their stalwart volunteers at St. Francis House youth center; Dave Meriwether, who helped see through the health center projects in Cascade Locks and Mid Valley; Gale Arnold, who added an impromptu English class at the food bank which has transformed into GED classes at Community Education; Socci Galvez, who dreamed of a bilingual preschool that is now bursting at the seams; to Kim Yasui and sidekicks Eileen, Gabby, Sonja and Peggy, who make the impossible happen.

Thanks to Kim Yasui and Paul Lindberg, there will be after-school programming in the middle valley schools for the next five years with the award of a 21st century learning grant.

Hats off to all, and to the visionary who transformed so many lives in the sleepy little town of Odell, Dennis McCauley, a can-do guy who instilled the passion in student, staff and community best symbolized by the tiny painted house that sits across from the school and affectionately dubbed “The Little House That Could.” Perhaps it was McCauley’s training in the Sun School tradition that has made him so successful in transforming this community under our hot summer sun.

Mid Valley students, about 500 strong, 81 percent from monolingual Spanish-speaking homes, most of whom live in poverty, enter the school with the lowest ready-to-learn scores in the district, and exit at the top. They have learned how to dream, defy the odds and become doctors, health workers, teachers, administrators, nurses, engineers and some of the best mothers and fathers around. Shine on!

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On the flip side, summer is the season of weddings and bridal showers, babies and baby showers. Just no rain showers to be had in July, leaving the tree rows dusty and breeding mites as well. Grass and flowers, vegetables and fruit all need water to grow. So we are watering by hand. Fortunately the evenings are cooling, with a crisp breeze that relieves the relentless heat that seems to blanket the valley.

I was pleased to see several of the young ladies on the cherry line hold their heads and hands up high when I asked who had graduated this year from high school. Four were graduating and three were going on to community college or universities. That is great record that our educators can be proud of.

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