They finally opened the new bridge across the Muskatatuck river about a mile south of the Farmhouse. The first one, with wooden ties and steel arches, was known as Cavenaugh Bridge, the gateway to the legendary Kincaid Holler, land of outlaws. As a good little German Lutheran farmer boy I derived a particular thrill rumbling across those rickety ties on an open cab International 1066 tractor, pulling a disk while working for Grandpa and Uncle Huck, who had purchased the land known as Buffalo Bottoms back in the 1970s. They had hung a sign on the arches, "Cavenaugh Bridge 1889," and I always felt like I was crossing the river into another century.
The Kincaid clan has selectively logged about 80 square miles for more than two centuries, territory that borders the Amish settlements of New Philadelphia. The whole county is still somewhat immune to our current Zeitgheist. Some might say they live in the past, but the way I see it the Amish and outlaw hillbillies live in the present. They got solar panels on barn roofs. They grow their own shit. They even cook their own crank…
Meth hit the Holler like the Drug War in the 1990's. Prior to that the whole place was legit outlaw. They grew weed in the forests they logged, made moonshine out of corn they taxed from Huck and Grandpa's fields, and stared with wild eyes at the weird German Lutheran kid on the tractor with the haircut and seed corn baseball cap. I didn't smoke anything in those days. I drove through the Holler in awe en route to Buffalo Bottoms. These people were not civilized. They had not changed much since claiming the best ground in the state of Indiana even before it became a state. Before crank hit the scene, the LAW never ventured into Kincaid Holler, as the local sheriffs of both counties preferred to let those folks be. Of course the DEA didn't see things the same way, once meth labs started exploding where moonshine stills once burned.
Now most of the baddest of the bad are either behind bars or reformed, or else older and wiser. The place ain't so scary to outsiders. Nobody stares you down when you drive through. In fact quite a few retired couples have purchased a piece of paradise, built cabins, as the place has been famous for hunting and fishing since long before the French supposedly set up a trading post where the two rivers merge. I don't really think the French set anything up besides what you might call a shop in a pre-existing center of commerce. Somewhat magically our valley never succumbed to the fate of similar river mergers and ports like Louisville, St. Louis, and New Orleans, and has been more or less neglected by commercial society.
"Honk for Service," reads the sign beside our wagon loaded with vegetable starts, labeled, "Driftwood OrganiX."
"You know what people are gonna think," I told Jetta and Jaque Dawn when they first showed me their sign. "I mean we put on HoeFest. Might as well make another one, 'Cabbages $50 a head.'"
Maybe that's the crowd we're after. Retired biker couples stop in to purchase tomato plants, end up passing a joint or something. Prior to the opening of the new bridge our road boasted the same handfull of libertarian farmers in trucks or cars driving by every day at more or less exactly the same time. When the watermelon harvest starts I hear an 80 year-old guy go by every morning at 6:48 a.m. on a 4-wheeled ATV determined to drive tractor for the picking crew. Were it not for the closing of the Cavenaugh Bridge we never would have bought this place, but five years ago this little nook was more or less uninhabited. It still is uninhabited, relatively, considering that several hundred years ago about 20,000 Indians grew corn, beans, and squash on these soils, fished these rivers, hunted the forested hills. By some stroke of luck this place has not been totally raped by progress. It reminds me of Anderson Valley back in the early 1970's, before I was born. They never would have built a new bridge were it not for Uncle Huck. Both counties either side of the river considered it a blessing that the Kincaid Holler folk were stuck, but they had to listen to the millionaire Dutchie farmers who bought up Buffalo Bottoms like foreign invaders taking over. I always imagined it was actually Vietnam when they sent me out to work those valley fields.
Our dead end road has once again become an outlaw highway. Harley Davidsons roar past. "Our dogs are doomed. They're used to laying on the road waiting for somebody to drive by," I said.
"We should put up a sign at the end of the road, 'Speed Bumps Ahead’," said Jacque Dawn.
"After the first time they wouldn't be fooled."
"Maybe if you and Jetta went around naked people would slow down."
"We pretty much do already."
For the time being our Ford Ranger slows people down because it's parked at one end of our semicircle gravel drive as if poised to turn right on the county road. It's perched that way because on Saturday morning as Jetta and I were headed to the other farm to finally transplant watermelons I noticed the fuel gauge had gone to empty and I smelled gas simultaneously. "That's weird," I said, climbing out to inspect under the truck where I discovered gasoline running out the tank like water from a low pressure faucet wide open. Fortunately the truck did not explode in flames.
"We would have died if I lit that joint," said Jetta. "What do you call that? Poetic Justice?"
"I'm not sure if that qualifies."
"Oh yeah Spec MacQuayde is the judge, the ultimate authority on what qualifies as Poetic Justice."
"Well I'm just saying that the nightly news would have termed it a tragedy. Eccentric hippie farmer and his girlfriend go out in a bang after lighting a joint. Marijuana does kill."
"And his girlfriend? And? Thanks for the 'and.' So flattering to have an 'and' preceding my name."
Miraculously we got the watermelons transplanted that afternoon as the rain finally held off and Jacque Dawn showed up with her one-eyed chauffeur, Beez. He shuttled melon plants and workers back and forth while we slaved away for several hours, nesting the fragile seedlings in soil that had been hastilly worked. Watermelons need at least 3 years' rotation and I'd run out of ground, rented some pasture from a neighbor. The pasture sod had to be turned over with a 3 bottom plow I borrowed from Uncle Huck, who told me he had planted 50 acres of corn so far and was waiting for the rain to quit, had only until June 5 to sow the other 1500 acres or else it was too late for crop insurance. "I'm not even hooked to my planter yet."
Now it's Sunday night, and after five days without much rain, a high in the 90's, I just saw Huck's tractor go past for the first time since they opened the new bridge, headed no doubt for Buffalo Bottoms. Folks have been stopping at the farm all day, this being Memorial Day Weekend. Reluctantly we have ventured outside.
Jetta sports a black eye again after the party we attended in Kincaid Holler. Since our truck has pooped out we have been somewhat stranded on a desert island, and the guitar wizard Josh Lane and his girlfriend the cute blonde Jerusa showed up to somewhat kidnap us. Our friends Jessi and James were throwing a shindig in the Holler. I guess Jessi who is Hippie Mike's cousin wanted Josh and me to play at the kegger, but as I rode in the back seat Jetta kept talking over me. I don't care if my girlfriend bangs another dude but she better not talk over me. Words are all I got. But she was clearly on one, I could tell, and I already quivered with apprehension at the thought of partying with Jetta at Jessi's pad in the Holler. I intuited they were either gonna fight or fuck. Jessi is married now, though, so the former was more likely than the latter. When Jerusa pulled into that remote neck of the woods I decided to remain in her car, in the back seat, playing the banjo. They had home-reared lamb and rabbit slow-cooked on the grill, a keg of cheap beer, and kids running around everywhere. Jessi and James grew up in the Holler but got off crank decades ago and raised a family. James works at the WalMart distribution center in Seymour, where he's held down a steady job since the 1990's, driving his 1980 Ford Ranger 30 miles every morning. Jessi works at the Verona school. She's blonde, flirtatious, devoted to James, and reminds me of women I met in Mendo. I've had a vicarious crush on her for five years. Both Jessi and James repeatedly ventured to that black sedan to encourage me to come out and play.
"Just give me some time. I need a break from everyone."
As the sun set, Jerusa and Josh got into it, so she sped off in the black sedan, taking his amp and guitar. Josh and I had to join the party. Maybe we are destined to start a band, because now we literally had no choice but to play. He's beast on electric but his guitfiddle and amp were gone now, so he borrowed an acoustic from Jessi's relations who chipped in on mandolin, banjo, and guitar. We played "Piss Test" first just to get the crowd going. A couple more songs then we tried that one about the horse, "That Bucking Fitch," and Jetta had a whole bottle of homemade wine to herself and her girlfriend. Us guys got through two verses before wit went sideways and one dude decided to play the favorite, "Wagon Wheel" first composed by Bob Dylan, made famous by Old Crow Medicine Show, and then exploited by corporate country who hired Darius Rucker to do a bland version they could pimp on every jukebox in rural America. Wagon Wheel cheered up the crowd, but Jetta and Jessi were not going to endure the night without fighting, to the delight of the assembly, one of the hottest chick fights I've ever heard about. I never saw what happened, but I did hear her screaming, "Spec, HELP!" from the woods on the hill. Josh and I and some old Holler dudes kept playing bluegrass tunes. Some cat at the party drove her across the new bridge to our Farmhouse, and I wound up sleeping on Josh's Mom's sofa, in their living room in Verona, hearing the air conditioner whir absurdly all morning as we finally hit summer weather. I hate air conditioners. You spend all winter trying to stay warm, then the summer you want to get back to winter? I wore nothing but shorts and was speckled with glitter somehow from the party, shivering in spite of the muggy atmosphere outside, thinking, damn what a humdinger.