For weather fans, this summer the globe over seems to be one to remember. I'm never quite sure, though, reading about monsoon floods in Iowa or Asia whether the catastrophes are that far out of the box for what might be expected. I know that in Iowa, as well as much of the Sacramento Valley of this state, entire subdivisions and small towns have sprung up on bottomland that every old-timer knows is bound to flood eventually. In the real estate boom of the last decade, we had the proverbial Florida swampland scenario all over the country.
“Those barns are all going to turn into boats,” said a good friend of my family's of the two story houses without basements that were going up on land in northeast Nebraska that he knew from 90 years of duck and pheasant hunting was bound to flood eventually. He called the houses “barns” because they were essentially barns in the minds of the old timers. In that part of Nebraska, what with the blustery north winds of the winter, the blazing summers, the threat of tornadoes, it was unthinkable to build a house with no basement, just as it was out of the question to plant a neighborhood in the swampy bottoms next to a river.
It was also unthinkable to take out a loan for half a million dollars for a two bedroom house on two acres. “Unfortunately we bought in 2007,” said a visitor to the farm on Friday afternoon. The gentleman and his son, both Anderson Valley residents, were interested in purchasing a milk cow.
I'm reluctantly asking $900 each for the mature milkers, three quarters of what I'd have to pay for a low-end cow from a dairy. Mostly I want to be sure they're going to be milked, and no major dairy is going to purchase a six year-old with no statistics from a yahoo like me. Milk cows, these days, rack up stat sheets just like major league baseball players, and if you visited a dairy the farmer could print out her career production records--gallons per day, percent cream, somatic cell count, etc. “She comes in with about seven gallons when she freshens, then after a few months goes down to four (two gallons, twice a day),” I told the men.
They were planning to milk by hand. These fellows grew up in southern Mexico and have the forearms and experience. When yankee homesteaders inquire about milk cows I have to advise them to purchase a little vacuum pump and milking machine, or else just leave the calf on the teat so there isn't so much milk to squeeze out. These men clearly knew what they were getting into as they inspected udders and teats. “We have an acre with tall grass, so we're thinking maybe save some money. We have to do something. We paid $570,000 for the house, now it's worth half that much and we can't refinance,” said the older man, shaking his head.
Economic figures stagger my noodle, these days, and I prefer not to contemplate the road ahead. Saturday morning I was sipping coffee with a couple locals, one who owns his own logging truck, the other a woman who works for the county.
“I just took my second pay cut of the season,” said the truck driver. “It's getting to the point where I'm not sure I'm making money on a run.”
“They're cutting ten percent off our pay,” said the county worker. “That's on top of the furloughs.”
I hated to say so, but this is just the beginning. “Welcome to the third world,” I said. At such a time, when millionaires are flocking to the remote hills and setting up for armageddon, maybe purchasing milk cows to go with their chickens and emergency propane reserve tanks, the last thing I expected to be doing was selling off the herd. “Cattle” is the root of “capital,” as the “stock” market is a descendent of what real wealth once constituted. The economy of the last century enjoyed by folks in parts of North America and Europe was an aberration, and in the decades to come I am certain wealth will once again be determined by productive capacity. It goes against my religion to exchange a productive milk cow for cold cash, especially for three quarters of her market value. It makes no sense. But I'm grateful at this time to have real stock to liquidate. “Everything must go.”
It could be worse. Now that I'm no longer milking cows twice a day, no longer farming, I'm discovering what other people in these parts were up to all these years. Saturday night was the first in nearly a decade that I brought a sleeping bag along to an all-night party somewhere up at the highest altitude around the Valley, neighborhood of 3,000 feet. It was a real opportunity to hobnob, rub elbows, dip shrimp in cocktail sauce. Bands were playing, people dancing all night. Unfortunately I ate part of an oatmeal marijuana cookie that someone offered before dinner.
You could really taste the herb, so I turned to the young woman who was standing beside me, offered her half of it. “It's really strong,” I said. “This stuff really knocks me out.”
“I already had one,” she said, and gobbled the rest, now crumbs in my hand.
So much for hobnobbing. I was entranced, mesmerized by the orange sun setting over the waves of fog, the blanket erasing all the bustle of nine years' scratching out a living on the valley floor, but was for the most part incapable of returning conversation the rest of the night, grateful that a band was playing. A woman about my age belted out the lyrics to old Grateful Dead covers, doing justice where it had always been lacking when Jerry was with us and trudging with that flat voice. I really liked this woman's style, and darned if she didn't come sit next to me when her set was done.
“You sing uh, good,” I said. Those weren't the words I intended. Waxing poetic was beyond my vocabulary at that point, but maybe she was on something even better than pot cookies because she stared back into my eyes for what seemed an eternity, though it may have only been a few seconds of rapture.
Maybe some tequila will loosen my tongue, I thought, slowly getting up to more or less dance to the bar, while the singer was called back on stage by a subsequent band. That sort of party stuff went on until way past my bedtime, when I thought I'd amble over to the female vocalist and--and I wasn't sure what, maybe see if she wanted to accompany me to the sleeping bag.
“Hey,” she said. “What's up?”
“I uh, have a sleeping bag, and—” I gazed into her eyes, feeling the intimacy, an arm around her shoulder.
“Uh,” there were about a million words coming to surface, possibly in at least six different languages, but you ought to try sometime to utter a million syllables simultaneously. I should have just started barking. Finally I gave it up and staggered out to to my friend's truck, where my sleeping bag was crunched up in the back, and dragged it to a bumpy spot under an immense live oak. Before I knew it the sun was coming up over the ocean of fog, over the distant mountains of Covelo, and it appeared as if the water had risen 1000 feet.