The watermelons are ripening almost on time in spite of the unusually cold and wet spring that delayed planting by a month, thanks to a July that saw no more than half an inch or so of rain depending on location, nighttime lows barely dipping to 80° Fahrenheit. The unique sands of this river valley heat to approximately the temperature of coals perfect for barbecuing ribs, killing off fungus and creating a microclimate that raises sugar levels, speeding the growth rate as well.
Nearly every morning I am awakened at dawn by a few shotgun rounds, by the sound of it, as my neighbor blasts away at the crows that flock to these parts annually. My neighbor is one of the last remaining traditional watermelon growers, the markets having been swallowed up by big players like Grizzly and Bambi, Kroger and WalMart. His fields are fertilized by pig shit from the hogs on his farm, swine that are not his own. Hardly anyone owns the pigs in their confinement houses ever since about the year 2000 when the market suspiciously dove to around ten cents per pound, driving all the small players out of business. Now those who feed hogs do so on contract, basically employees of Tyson.
“You really only smell the shit two days a year,” my neighbor nervously said when our dogs were getting acquainted out in his melon field a few days after I'd been fired from Grizzly and Bambi's mega melon plantation. “Just when we're cleaning out — ”
“Yeah,” I agreed, only to cut the crap. The odor doesn't bother me too much because I don't have a girlfriend around to complain about shit, but the truth is you can smell the confined hogs about two times every day, especially since the prevailing winds come from the southwest and our farm is due northeast of the hog facilities. This might be one reason the MacQuayde family was able to purchase this old homestead so cheap. Besides, guys with smelly hog operations make good neighbors, because as long as we don't complain about the incessant reek we're doing them a huge favor. I was paying him the visit because I knew my blue heeler bitch had been paying visits to the graveyard where all the sickened confinement hogs are buried, and just wanted to let him know that I knew, to prevent her from being shot. All was well, especially since he heard I'd been fired from Grizzly and Bambi's which turned out to be a step up in the eyes of this community.
I rarely saw a single crow all spring, but as soon as the watermelons approached ripe, it seems that every crow this side of the Ohio converged on us. All the growers who remain after the conquest of global corporations use different strategies for combating the raucous fowl. Grizzly and Bambi, who plant more acres of melons than the other handful of family farmers combined, probably approach the crows with the same strategy they apply to weeds and soil management: none, then claiming all the losses for insurance or subsidized USDA bail-outs — nobody is sure but everyone suspects. So they do the smaller growers an indirect favor by letting the crows have orgies in their weedy jungles. A few of my neighbors park tractors in conspicuous viewpoints of their fields, also stringing lines from poles that dangle aluminum pie pans. My most immediate neighbor chooses one old method of shooting crows periodically throughout the day and dangling the dead birds from posts like Jesus and the other protesters and miscellaneous sorry sons of bitches in Roman times, with limited success as far as I can see because I suspect that crows, like people, are actually glad to see their old buddies strung up dead on the cross, and they take macabre pleasure in partying down under their dead bodies. Think about how sales of Nirvana albums spiked after Kurt Cobain shot himself, or the recent surge in popularity of Amy Winehouse who I'd never heard of prior to her jumping on the sweet chariot ride.
Speaking of swing low, sweet chariot, my son and I were somewhat astounded on Sunday morning when a 1929 era, open-cockpit, cloth-winged airplane landed on the lane that borders our farm with the next. The adjacent fields where the sand ends and the river bottoms begin were actually a landing strip for training pilots during the second world war, and the crazy bastard who landed here actually flew in the airforce during the sixties before settling down to become an elementary school science teacher in Northern Indiana. “Duck” Beamer, his unoffical name is, possibly on account of his habit of flying that little plane under freeway overpasses. He and his wife raised two boys on homegrown, organic vegetables, goats' milk, and meat all through the seventies, and I actually met his son, Don, up in Carlotta (Humboldt County) during the Headwaters redwood forest protests of 1996. More on that next time.
“Cheated death once again,” said Duck after taking me up for a terrifying spin in the old plane.
Missed church, but had one hell of an excuse.