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My Life In Mendonesia

Watermelons are setting fruit as temperatures finally climb into the lower nineties. This year I planted a new hybrid seedless variety from Johnny’s Select Seeds out of Maine, the seedless Moon & Stars. I hope they turn out sweet. The Moon & Stars watermelon carries a gene that somehow causes yellow splotches on both the leaves and the otherwise dark green fruit, hence the name. In the summer of 2002, my first season gardening in Boonville, I attempted to create a seedless Moon & Stars, using the tetraploid heirloom resembling the old sugar baby, crossing it with Moon & Stars. The tetraploid sugar baby is a freak of nature, with twice the chromosomes of normal watermelons, so when crossed with a normal watermelon strain, the next generation is sterile, like sensimilla. It’s not genetically modified or anything. It’s more like when you cross a donkey and a horse and get a mule.

My efforts to grow watermelons in Boonville turned futile early, as the persistent fog and the “Boonville Breeze” rendered the summer more conducive for crops like broccoli and carrots. Watermelons barely ripened in the hottest of years. One reason I returned to the sandy river valley in southern Indiana—probably the main reason, is my only goal in life was always to be a watermelon farmer. I’d honestly rather plant and cultivate watermelons than marijuana.

Though I moved back to Indiana some four years ago, I still feel like I’m living at the old Boont Berry Farm in Mendo. Took a poll the other morning, with half a dozen folks in my living room emerging from another night of music and debauchery, and nearly everyone except Jetta had been to Willits, Boonville, Garberville, and most other towns in Mendonesia. One side effect of the famed trimmer scene in Northern California seems to be that young folks all over the country have experienced life on a pot farm with hippie babes going around naked all summer, a reality I grew accustomed to though not so much at the Boont Berry Farm as on a commune I previously farmed north of Ukiah. The farm in Boonville was public most of the time, not to mention extremely windy and without a real swimming hole, so nudity never proliferated there. However it lies right across the creek from the Boonville Fairgrounds, where not only the Beer Festival, but the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, as well as other fests — once upon a time the Wild Iris Folk Festival — took place.

The Wild Iris Folk Festival originally attracted me to Boonville. I was a young hippie-looking dude growing watermelons on Round Mountain Ranch north of Ukiah when Linda McClure of the Mendocino Environmental Center offered me and my first Ex a job tabling for Earth First! at the folk festival. That meant we got in for free. Of course tabling at such an event turned out to be preaching to the converted, so we mostly just enjoyed the music, but at the end of Sunday’s lineup, as we dined on spaghetti and Boonville beer in the mess hall, I learned that the crew needed a hand dismantling the straw bale backdrop to the stage. After a few years haggling over petty issues on a commune, I had more fun stacking straw bales on Bill Meyers’ truck than I’d enjoyed at acid orgies, even, and fell in love with the community spirit. I’d rather drink beer and toss bales any day.

Now I’ve got a house full of hippies and other helpful types who don’t really care about organic farming, but they’ll help out for a couple hours a day because they want to be part of the “HoeFest” committee. We held a minor music festival under that name at the farm last September, and the idea caught fire, so this year on the weekend of July 11 to the 13th, we’ve got about fifteen bands playing in what is still my carrot field. The carrots should be done by the first week in July.

I wake up every day in a cold sweat.

”Relax,” says Jetta.

”Easy for you to say.”

We did get past the part about introducing HoeFest to my folks. Mom and Dad stopped by recently for a visit, finally meeting Jetta for the first time.

”You could introduce me as your girlfriend,” she said.

”I’m pretty sure they’ll figure it out.”

”It’s so awesome to have a boyfriend who’s embarassed of me.”

”I’m not embarassed. I just don’t want to push the point with my mom.”

Jetta is a little more than half my age, and people at the farmers’ market up in Bloomington frequently ask if she’s my daughter. My mom is a retired Lutheran schoolteacher. I never would have thought they’d get along, but maybe it was the goat tethered to a leash following her on their first introduction, or her two year-old son that melted the ice somewhat. They hit it off. I’m 41 years old, and finally my mom seems to be diplomatic towards the girl I’m with. I believe in world peace again.

Introducing the music festival scared me. First of all, my dad decided to keep last year’s Hoefest secret from my mom, so things were possibly going to be awkward for him. But we couldn’t hide it. Posters are up all over town. At least two local newspapers, as well as two locally-programmed radio stations, are going to be promoting and present at the event. “Ten Dollars off admission price if you bring a hoe,” we advertise. The fest will mix old-timing, ex-farmers from our county with the festy, Mendo-versed, professional party kids.

I will be featuring revolutionary hoes designed by Elliot Coleman, available through Johnny’s Select Seeds, as well as doing a photo op with all the farmers and their hoes.

Later today the festy folks, my son, Jetta, and I will venture out to a sweet corn field to do some hoeing. Few people these days know how to use a hoe, and I feel obligated to demonstrate.

”The only thing I was ever good at was hoeing,” I told my parents.

My mom may have agreed with that, even if she didn’t get the pun. I didn’t ask if she got it, when I gave them a Hoefest poster with all the bands listed on it. I do recall, though, one summer evening as a teenager when I faltered on the pitcher’s mound in the late innings against the nearby town of Medora that we routinely clobbered, and I couldn’t get the last out. They rallied, and we lost. (Sound familiar, Giants fans?)

”But how many boys can say they were out hoeing all day, before they played baseball?” she asked, attempting to console me.


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