The frigid summer trough held steady over this valley as of the weekend, with my neighbors' crops of white corn from Michuacan barely busting out with tassles and silks at a time of August when the ears ought to be ripe for tomales. That white corn from way down south of the border is shivering like naked mermaids beached on an iceberg.
Meanwhile, Vicki Brock has been selling sweet corn at the Boonville farmers' market. “We got tired of buying the expensive hybrid seed, and a couple years ago just let a few ears grow out. We've planted the offspring for several generations, and it's still sweet.”
This year I'm a customer at the farmers' market. For the time being I've taken a vacation from farming, am selling off the herd of cows and the irrigation and other equipment, and trying to find a way to twiddle my thumbs without drinking too much coffee and beer. Saturday morning was the first in over three and a half years that I didn't milk the cows. I woke up at about six and laid there, listening to my blue heeler snore and the neighbors' chihuahua bark frantically at phantoms, watching the first rays catch the redwoods on the western side of the valley's rim at about 6:45. I tried to return to sleep, only managing to hallucinate for seconds on end until about 7:30 when I decided it was time to throw off the blankets, go into town for a cup of coffee. It was the first morning in years that I had to do without the fresh warm milk, sweet and still not separated that my amigos tell me is much better with a couple shots of alcohol.
“I'm done with stressing about the farm,” I'd told my first ex a few days earlier, when she'd dropped our thirteen year-old son off in Boonville. “It's such a relief not to care, anymore.”
“You still look like a farmer,” she said, “wearing overalls and that hat.”
“Well, you look like a nurse,” I told her. She did look like a nurse, which is now her profession. She was wearing these pink pants that were the same texture, it appeared, as scrubs, as was the flower print blouse.
“Mom is always buying these scrubs on-line when she's not at work,” my son told me, later. “She's always on-line when she's not working.”
A few minutes after my first ex had driven off, my second one showed up with the two youngest boys, and I climbed in the front seat. This was a historic moment for us, as we were going to spend the day together like a family for the first time since the lightning fires had struck in June of 2008 and we'd split. I had promised to behave. We were off for the Great Day in Elk.
“It's such a relief not to give a shit about the farm, anymore,” I told her. “Now I'm like totally available for the first time in nine years.”
Our seven year-old was determined to snag the one hundred dollar bill from the top of the legendary greased pole, but we showed up several hours before that contest was supposed to start, so the boys tossed darts at balloons while this hippie band calling themselves the “Symbiotics” (organized by a Navarro man named “Nature”) strummed Grateful Dead style and sang about Peace, Balance, and Tranquility from the main stage. I saw the second generation pot growers who are my age with gray streaks in their hair, now, and they asked me what the hell had happened at the farm, what I was going to do.
“We're really going to miss your milk,” said one woman.
“That Valley's changed a lot since you've been there,” her husband told me.
“I've only been there ten years,” I said. “I think the main changes occurred about 1987 or so, according to what I've heard.” I was referring to a conversation with an Anderson Valley ranching couple who said that until the late 1980s they'd been leasing square miles of land for their cows and sheep, until Joe Montana's signature had become so valuable that his financial advisors had ordered him to invest that table cash in some profitable real estate, connecting him with French grape growers who had zeroed in on Anderson Valley as the play of the game.
We all concluded that it wasn't Joe Montana's fault, that this overnight invasion of Anderson Valley was inevitable, and perhaps Montana was only the catalyst, but either way it stands now that big money grapes have grabbed most of the available farmland in the valley, and sharecropper cattle herders are a thing of the past. We're obsolete. Coupled with the recent, escalating influx of capitalist white boys with dreadlocks from places like New York and Michigan as well as the desperadoes from southern Mexico, multiplied somehow by the simultaneous housing boom that saw your good old forty acre piece of farmland go from forty grand when the back-to-landers landed in the 1970's to supposedly several million in the peak of 2008, yours truly has pretty well concluded that there's no way to make it as a farmer in this valley.
For years I looked forward to the time when marijuana was effectively legalized and its market value reduced, when the real estate bubble would burst and the bottom would fall out of the wine market, incorrectly guessing that in these times the people selling real food would stand tall. What I didn't figure in was that the people who'd been using their ballooning real estate values as “nest eggs” would freak out when the banks started calling them in on all the cream they'd been skimming over the decades of boom, that there would be no solution to their financial problems.
Thankfully the Blushin' Roulettes took the stage at the Great Day in Elk, the charming sweetie in tight, bell-bottomed blue jeans winning me over with her genuine smile and salty wit, making me forget the pickle jar we all seem to be crammed into. When she smiled at me I blushed and had to pull my hat down over my eyes.