In Memory of Albert Pontarolo

“It was a time of timber and toil…with men as tough as their ax handles…and more mountains in every direction…that I would ever see again.”

-Norman Maclean- 

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Albert Pontarolo was born June 1, 1922 and passed away in peace surrounded by his family around 9:30pm on July 21, 2014.  He was 92 years of age.

As a young man his days were spent shoving coal for the Northern Pacific Railroad. As a railroad fireman he would shovel coal 16 hours a day and cool off with a swim across the Columbia river. Needless to say he was a man of unknown strength, with hands like a catchers mitt and a grip that of a bench vise.

As tensions grew in Europe Albert Pontarolo enlisted in the Navy and spent his time at Midway and Guam as a mechanic and seamen. Although he spoke little of his encounters at war, like most of his generation, it was clear that he made and lost friends who molded him into the man, father, husband, and grandfather be soon became. Upon his return from WWII Albert met and married Alice Fazzari in 1946 who he cherished for 67 years until his death. Albert and Alice had two sons and three daughters, raising them on a small farm in Walla Walla, Washington.

After returning from war he briefly returned to the railroad but ultimately found himself behind the bar with his brother-in-law, Arturo Fazzari, serving cold beers and 30 cent salami sandwiches to local patrons. Albert was consigliere to Art Fazzari and The McFeely Tavern – ‘the biggest little tavern in town’ for over 50 years. He stayed involved with the McFeely but ultimately he returned to his true vocation, being a railroad man.

After working as a fireman, brakemen and passing his railroad engineer test, Albert, rode the rails in the Pacific Northwest as an engineer until his retirement.  Always a tinkerer and mechanic he devoted his retirement to repairing anything that needed fixing and helped run the McFeely.  Albert, like many men of his generation, lived by the simple code, ‘don’t be afraid to get started’. Tearing into motors, radios, building homes, plowing fields, picking onions, and cracking walnuts with his bare hands, my Grandpa was a goddamn man.

He defined brawn and grit, but I could always see a tear well in his eye as I left after my frequent visits.

Albert Pontarolo 

June 1, 1922 thru July 21, 2014 

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The Next Chapter

“All change, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

-Anatole France-

After four years at Cheney Farms it is time to pass the baton.  It has been a great run and I am so pleased to know that Douglas LaBar of the Mason Jar (http://themasonjar101.com) in Cheney, Washington will continue the tradition of farm to table sustainability as well as cultivating the Slow Food movement in Eastern Washington. Thus with a bittersweet good-bye from the Farm life I have taken residence in a single room and will follow my heart to the next chapter in the book of life.

A special grazie mille to Mike Pontarolo for all his hard work at Cheney Farms over the past four years.  I know this sale saddens him more than me, but there will be another Farm in my future where he can toil away in the soil, cultivating what Mother Earth provides. Thus it is fitting to release the farm on May Day, a celebration of Spring.

Thank you to all those who contributed to the Farm over the years: pasta dinners, Wednesday night volleyball, sausage making, basil harvest, canning;  these memories will always be cherished.

Dare Greatly,

Nick Pontarolo

 

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Ski Boots On the Ground: Afghanistan

* Recent Spokesman Review Article regarding the Trip after posting the following story on Cheney Farms*

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2014/apr/15/ski-afghanistan-cheney-resident-hopes-to-inspire/

 

The wheels touched down at Kabul International Airport and the raspy voiced pilot announced that we had all safely arrived in Afghanistan, current time 1:15pm. He reiterated the obligatory “please stay in your seat until the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off” but he must have been speaking a dead language.  It impacted no one. Everyone unbuckled and milled about the cabin collecting their military issue rucksacks or tattered parcels wrapped in bed sheets, secured with hemp rope, as the plane taxied to the shelled Kabul Airport. All were either elated to arrive home or devastated to be returning to duty.

Arriving in Kabul for many Afghan people is a return home from a long journey on business, to see family in Pakistan or Iran, or a homecoming from near exile due to the turbulent political and violent conflicts that have mired Afghanistan for decades. For westerners it is another unwanted tour of duty, high paying security contractor job, or middle aged adventure seeker, seeking to make a change in the war zone through one of the copious NGO’s and government agencies established to stabilize this amazing land and its diverse and kind population.

For me, when Emirates 640 landed at 1:15pm I took the first breath of semi-fresh, stress free air is far too long.  I had arrived at a destination I had been dreaming about for years. My best friend had been living in Kabul and Kandahar the past 5 years working numerous jobs for NGO’s and government agencies.  We had long talked about me visiting and skiing the north central region of the country called Bamiyan but it had never come to fruition until flight 640 landed.

With ski boots on the ground we were off for another adventure that would reinforce a bond between friends that is so rare in a world of social media, cell phones, text messages, and Skype.  We; friends, neighbors, hooligans since the 4th grade, ski buddies since 49 Degrees North had $49 season passes, hell we both received our first passport stamps years ago on the same day, and here we were, once again, on deck to see what the world had to offer us and what we could give in return.

Although it would take pages, maybe a book, at the very least a photo essay, and for the corporate type, an elaborate PowerPoint with Fiji water and gluten free muffins to explain what I saw, felt, and experienced in Afghanistan.  But I am resolute in saying Afghanistan, its people; the Pashtun, Hazara, Tajik, Uzbek, the expats, and so many others are kind, giving, fun, and full of grit.

I will return to Afghanistan for it was the best adventure I have ever been a part of and possibly the best month of my life.  I am a better person for the experience and a more compassionate individual for continuing to seek how we, humans, fit together on these floating tectonic plates that make up planet Earth.

So in the words of Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off I leave you with this:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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Bamiyan: Sar-e-Qol-e-Chapadara