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You can’t bear to listen for long,
it’s too intense.
- William Stafford, (“It’s Like This”)
Your card still marks the poem
in a book wrapped with ribbon
you gave me after a reading
half-dozen years ago in Elko –
kind-faced stranger saying
quietly, it was meant for me.
Page corners ruffled pink
with a wine stain, coffee
crescents on the cover
wipe off unlike the soil
of Dry Creek on each page
of Bill Stafford’s poetry.
The blade twists a little
yet, each time I open to
what may have been a random
bookmark, or a random poet
listening for that sound beyond
us all that makes us human –
but I think of you.
for Bonnie Pomeroy Stern
A child of the 50s and 60s, I hear the unique harmony of Don and Phil Everly complete this non-cowboy title from “Cathy’s Clown” – a personal parallel to Stafford’s intense state of vulnerability in “It’s Like This” from a dramatic, romantic era. Ever the teacher, reading Stafford continues to open doors to deeper levels of humanity.
Thank you Bonnie for the gesture that fits so well.
June 7, 2007
The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor
The State of California
State Capitol, First Floor FAX: (916) 445-4633
Sacramento, CA 95814
RE: Williamson Act Subvention Program
Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:
Since 1971, California’s Williamson Act has successfully encouraged the maintenance and preservation of agricultural and grazing lands at a nominal fee, a relatively inexpensive means to ensure productive quietude and open space for future generations. At a cost to the State of only $36/acre for grazing land since inception, no other Federal or State agency can claim to be as effective or efficient in the conservation of lands in their charge.
Furthermore, elimination of the subvention program will not only accelerate changes to the landscape of California, it will discourage the remaining agricultural producers who are generating income for the State and helping to feed the world. As a fifth generation cattleman in Tulare County, I consider the Williamson Act the single most important piece of legislation to date to preserve California landscapes for the long term. Any erosion of this Act will surely take agricultural lands out of the hands of the very people who have cared for them best.
It takes no genius to develop ground and increase the tax base, but it’s a lifetime challenge to keep ground productive into the future with the renewable resources of sunshine and rain. I urge you to honor the commitment and foresight of the Williamson Act that has kept California unique.
Very truly yours,
John C. Dofflemyer
Frankly, I’m neither proud nor concerned with this mediocre fax knowing it won’t be read, but rather measured or weighed against an opposing stack. I’m in there for about a quarter-ounce.
BACKGROUND: WILLIAMSON ACT
Currently covering nearly 40% of the private land in California, the Williamson Act contracts with landowners to keep land in agriculture for an annually renewing ten-year period. In exchange for the tax break to landowners, the State subvention program reimburses counties and municipalities $1/acre for non-prime and $5/acre for prime ag land. Originally, to take land out of the Williamson Act the landowner must file a request to withdraw from the contract 10 years before any land use changes. The Governor proposes not to honor the subvention program in his new budget. Failure of the State to participate puts the shortfall on counties and cities, and perhaps ultimately on farmers and ranchers.
Arguments criticizing abuses to the Act are well-documented and allegedly due to corruption and poor enforcement on the local level. Statistics in 1970 attributed 25% of the world's agricultural production to California. In the past decade, over 50,000 acres are taken out of agriculture in California annually.
7/26: I did get a reply back from the governor’s office, indirectly inferring that since the inception of the Williamson Act, California’s rural counties have experienced enough growth and development to fund the subvention program on their own. It is true that towns like Visalia have grown from 20,000 to over 100,000 people in the interim, yet Tulare County still cannot fund emergency medical service, adequate police protection or even maintenance of the roads despite a recent and local bond issue targeted for repairs.
The unfortunate scenario is that rural counties will do almost anything for growth to accomplish an increased tax base, postponing and subsidizing necessary infrastructure improvements until well after the fact. It is clear that Schwarzenegger’s plan is to borrow enough money through various bond issues to jump start California’s economy, hoping to pay back the money with increased jobs, taxes, etc. later. With the incentive to keep ground in farming, the Williamson Act doesn’t generate enough of either to fit his plan – but he seems to have one, which is more than I can say about his predecessors.
The ongoing transition of farm ground to development in the state is an undeniable trend as we evolve to a service and consumption-oriented economy, allocating our resources to less renewable endeavors to what appears to be higher yielding enterprises. To favor one-time extractions of value from land over the annual production of such basics as food with renewable resources seems fool-hearty to old ‘stick-in-the-mud’ economists like me. But what the hell do I know?
You may not remember
their proper names, but
in cool shade after adding
sweat and water to
seasons of the same soil,
you learn the talk of little birds
on oaks trees grazing
upside down – busy phoebes
feeding a nest of bugs, rock
wrens working at your feet
or the plain brown birds
preening in the garden shower.
None majestic – no fierce-some
standard legions muster ‘round –
yet hawks and ravens find
this “no fly-zone” enforced
by vigilant red-wing fighter pilots
and western flycatchers spurring
eight-second rides over treetops.
Nondescript and overlooked,
frail puffs of feathers most
big birds learn to respect.
6/3: This piece has undergone major edits each morning since posted, including a title change. I’m still not terribly pleased with it, though I still like the conceit and its application beyond the garden.
The opinions expressed in the Western Folklife Center's Deep West online journals are those of the online journal participants and not the Western Folklife Center. The Western Folklife Center does not moderate these journals and as such does not guarantee the veracity, reliability or completeness of any information provided in the journals or in any hyperlink appearing within them.