“Your job is to find what the world is
trying to be.” - William Stafford (“Vocation”)
Condensed in time, a disheveled classroom rich
with history’s track of an urgent occupation
to hold ground on the far edge of the New World
that armies and armadas could not maintain
without the religion of freedom promising space
to everyman that has not changed. Jeffers’ horseman
on a far coastal ridge above a highway widened
now. Steinbeck’s ghosts walking the furrows
under sprawling railroad towns trying to become
one long city growing into and away from itself
at once – half-afraid to leave the heart of it
and half-happy with an old hope gone sour.
In early March, we plan the summer garden,
rotate onions and tomatoes, savor the first spears
of asparagus to break a fresh layer of manure,
raw like epicureans as we place our present
in this canyon in perspective, mending fences
and tending what we can within them.
Local weathermen have begun to apologize for the weather, raining every weekend and all but half-a-dozen days this March. But not having a job with weekends-off in forty years, I don’t feel the frustration of the workaday world. To the contrary, I love the gray days, especially the nasty, rainy ones that keep folks at home and off the road along the creek as opportunities for quiet thought.
At a recent Public Forum we attended, projections for 4 million more people in the San Joaquin Valley, from Modesto to Bakersfield, by 2050 was disheartening – the equivalent of ten more Fresnos, or forty-four more Visalias in as many years. I won’t be here then, but to continue to witness the conversion of farmland and rural communities for the same suburban template affronts common sense in the richest agricultural region of the world.
Pre-Anglo occupation, natives referred to this area as the “Valley of a Thousand Smokes” for its stagnant air, trapped oftentimes for weeks and months between storms and extreme weather changes. Air quality here is currently the worst in the nation.
Water has always been an issue in California, and though the conversion from crops to people is relatively equal, the cones of depression in the water tables beneath Valley cities widens with continuous pumping as opposed to agriculture’s part-time demand of 4-6 months each year.
And lastly, that hands-on satisfaction and our sense of self-sufficiency will be lost – an antiquated concept that carries no weight, no value and no meaning to the short-term beneficiaries of building cities.
Grazing cattle in a semi-arid region, I can only recall a couple of years of too much moisture – floods that were so exciting, so awe-inspiring to see, but also assuring as everyone came together to deal with the disaster. Most of us know where to get a dozer, a helicopter, a boat, a winch or a chain saw, and who has first aid supplies and medical expertise. It is a magic sense of teamwork and inter-dependence, a bond rooted in experience passed one generation and neighbor to another. We know what we have is rare and special without speaking of it, yet everyone’s effort [in the canyon] to maintain it is obvious.
Identifying the forces that undermine our way of life is fruitless and trying to tie the inevitable changes to a political philosophy or party is like trying to blame the crop for poor agricultural practices. Instead, I think we need to identify and inspect what gives us pleasure, what makes us happy as the drivers for “what the world is trying to be.”