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The powerful bittersweet hop

hop-tree

Near the Roney Ranch riverbank is the hop-tree. I tried to walk close to the river's edge to pick some hops but I was afraid I might fall in. Can't swim.
Photo by Oscar Roloff.

Oscar Roloff by Oscar Roloff
Each fall along the Snoqualmie River, especially at Duvall, there are some old trees seeking to survive. In October, some aged hop plants come alive and try to swallow the aged trees. The battle lasts until the "hops" come alive, then fade.
   Years ago, the Valley was dotted with hop fields. It was about the late 1930s, David Harder recalled, when Yakima won out as a more suitable hop area and hops here dried up.
   A few plants survived and still hang along the river bank here and there in the Valley, strangling trees each fall.

At Yakima
   In October of 1937, I went to a huge hop field in Yakima to seek a job while awaiting Navy call. A fellow there asked, "Can you run a grocery store?" I replied "Yes," but stopped there.
   I'd been offered a job at a grocery store before, and the first day, the owner said, "When you sell things to weigh on a scale, put up a finger 'unseen' on the scale so I can make more money." That night, I quit.
   This fellow in Yakima said, "I have a truck here converted into a grocery store, and tomorrow a native group is arriving from Canada to pick hops. They arrive in trucks and live in tents. I'll give you a price list of everything and return to my store in Yakima City," he informed me and left, telling me to live in the grocery truck.
   Soon I lost the list and didn't know what to charge. I'd pick a figure out of the air. I'd get curses and stares from the buyers who annually came to pick hops there. I was never really very sharp on figures and costs. The mutterings and curses bothered me, but I shrugged it off.
   When picking ended, the man came out, looked at my bulging bag of money and shouted, "My goodness! This is more than I made in five years. What happened? I said nothing. The Navy called me.

Three weeks later
   I received a phone call from my Pa.
   "Son," he said. "The hop man is going to shoot you. The natives never made a cent. They had to borrow gas money to get home and they said they'd never come back again and see to it that no one else came down," my Pa said. "The hop fellow said if he ever saw you again, he'd pull a bead on you. I suggest you don't come home for awhile."
   The story of my life. Always someone pulling a bead on me. Ten years later, I returned to Yakima in the middle of the night. The hop field was now Yakima airport and the man had died.