Does the word that just popped into your head show up here? Find out:

22 December, 2013

Backroads: Egg and I Road

At the intersection of a memory lane and a road not taken.

One day this Fall, as the leaves were changing color under clear blue skies, I drove out through the Chiumacum Valley, past he town of Center (location one of my favorite  government facility names, the Center Work Center), and up the west side the valley to look for archaeology. For my effort, I founf one abandoned house, rumored to be haunted, but that's another story.

Getting there requires a short jaunt on Egg and I Road. The Egg and I was a book by Betty MacDonald, who followed her new (and before long, former) husband on his cockamamie dream of leaving the city and starting a chicken farm. Hilarity ensued, as it often does in the memories of people who go through ordeals. According to an article at Historylink, Betty's sister had told a publisher that she was writing a humorous book, and so The Egg and I came to be to save sister Mary the embarrassment, along with the dedication "To my sister Mary, who has always believed I could do anything whe puts her mind to."

The book came out at the end of WWII, ideal timing for a funny book about anything but the war, and long enough after the Depression for its sorrowful depredations to fade under a patina of humor. By then, Betty had left the chicken farm and re-married (what became of her chicken-raising husband Robert Haskett at that point, I do not know; he was stabbed to death in 1951 by another woman's jilted husband). Millions of copies of the book sold, and it became a movie. The Ma and Pa Kettle characters from Betty's book spawned a whole series of movies.

In 1981, a road first built about a century earlier was officially named "Egg and I Road," memorializing the way to the chicken farm. It runs western slope of the western fork of Chimacum valley to Route 19 (aka Beaver Valley Road) on the east slope of the east valley. There are pastures and wooded slopes, but no chickens that I could see, and nary a porch-sittin' hillbilly to be seen.

The chicken farm that turned out to be so funny and lucrative is part of a larger story that didn't turn out so well (check out Richard White's "Land Use, Environment, and Social Change" for a more thorough telling). By the late 1920's the combination of railroad logging technology and a roaring economy had led to the clear-cutting of unprecedented swaths of land, which then seemed worthless. Attempts were made to present acres of stumps and now exposed and depleted forest soild as great opportunities for farming. Generally, people tried, failed, and left, because farming in glacial gravel full of stumps does not work so well. According to White, one of the few chances to make a go of it was to raise chickens, so at least Haskett was on the right track, even if it did not work out.

Not the barn, but a barn on Egg and I Road.

These days, the pastures around Egg and I Road feel idyllic. The  urban crow can be there in a 20-mile flight from the filthiest part of Seattle, but the Sound and the land's folds make it more remote. The presence of a quarter horse farm airport indicates that the neighborhood is not entirely safe from gentrification, but it looks like there are still regular people who live there. Between the Bremerton-Poulsbo sprawl and the long-urban Port Townsend entry to the Sound, the Egg and I's neighborhood is remote enough to retain its rural charm. It never was as isolated as the book made it sound, but it remains a back road.

No comments:

Post a Comment