A mostly full moon reflects off the floodwaters to the west of my bedroom window. It is quiet at the farmhouse, 2:36 a.m. The tom cat from our hay loft must have snuck in the back door when I was lugging firewood, because his whining just woke me up.
All my friends are staying in hotels in the flooded city of Louisville, Kentucky, because the "trashgrass" band, the Rumpke Mountain Boys, are playing a virtual all-nighter, but you know I got two heifers in the barn about to calf. Then there's the tomatoes, peppers, etc. in the greenhouse, with an overnight low about 28 according to my smart phone. These days I'm keeping a woodstove going out there at night, letting the main rooms of the house get cold unless Tracy spends the night.
"That space between the oven and refrigerator — that little gap where I stuck the broom? I know why it's there," she said yesterday morning as we sat at the round table in the dining room waiting for the school bus to stop out front and pick up the kid. "They used to make ovens a lot wider back in the '50's, and your refrigerator belongs right where it's at, see — in the space between those two sets of windows."
I was still waiting for my green tea to cool down.
She was sipping coffee. "It's so disgusting down there. I think maybe a combination of vinegar and bleach — I just can't stop thinking about how we need to pull the refrigerator and the stove out from the wall. I bet nobody's done that in five years."
"It's seven o'clock!" I said.
The kid was sitting on a stool at the much shorter table in the kitchen, staring at the digital clock on the oven. His grandmother had dropped him off at 6:42, en route to her factory job half an hour up the road in Seymour. She lives across the Musckatuck river, a mile to the south of our farm, in what is known locally as "Kincaid Holler," and has had custody of her grandchildren ever since their parents went to rehab. With the recent flooding at near record levels, the kid and his grandma had to barge out in the stormy winds at about 6:15 to use a john boat with an electric trolling motor to ferry across the waters to an impromptu dock on a little creek bridge, where they tied off, jumped in her minivan, and made their way to our farm. Now the kid was asleep at the table.
"It's seven!" I said, louder, getting up.
"Oh!" He grabbed his pack and raced out the front door, up the gravel driveway to the pines along the road. So close to the county line, he is the first on at about 7:03. School doesn't start until 8:30. After the gamut of classes, he gets dropped off at our farm about 4:08 in the afternoon, runs around gathering eggs, chasing chickens and bunnies, wolfing grilled cheese sandwiches until 5:36 when his grandma pulls in the drive on her way home from the factory. Until the floodwaters recede, this means they will be parking on the hill beside the little creek bridge where their johnboat is docked, finally returning from the day's adventure almost twelve hours after it began. All this for a day at work or school.
"Kind of feel sorry for the kid, having to go all the way to town just to sit through eight hours of bullshit, him only eight years old and hearing about all these damn school shootings. Maybe parents should quit sending their kids to school in the first place," I said.
"Maybe parents should BE THERE in the first place. Oh, you hippies and your crazy ideas. I do agree with you people about microwaves. I saw a baby cockroach on the counter. It's a good thing you got rid of that contraption. Microwaves are only good for three things: telling the time, heating a cup of coffee, and breeding cockroaches. Basically to me they are nothing more than expensive clocks."
Air brakes hissed. Lights flashed. Through the trees we could barely see the kid, but after crossing the river in the dark with his grandma, getting on the bus probably wasn't going to be a challenge for him.
"Anymore I don't see the point in going back to bed," I said. "It's pretty much daylight."
"What do you reckon the temperature is in the greenhouse?"
"Because your smart phone says it's 31? Why don't you check the thermometer by the kitchen window?"
Thirty years ago Tracy and I rode the bus to the same school in town where the kid was headed. She lived in the hills to the northwest, then, and still does. Lately she has been taking an interest in things like the kitchen cabinets at our farmhouse. They are homemade, and the bottom shelves pull out to make cleaning easy, which turned out to be a great thing since there were dried piles of catshit behind stacks of useless utensils and miscellaneous items accumulated by my son, his friends, me, and the host of travelers who'd occupied the house while I was away. There were cabinets full of outdated cereal that I didn't even know existed, crap I never would have wanted in the first place.
"Where did this come from?" asked Tracy.
"I don't know."
"I'm dumping it all in the compost. No wonder you have cockroaches!"
"What? I hope you don't think I'm trying to run your life."
"You're delving into matters that I might have overlooked indefinitely."
"That's a fancy way of saying you don't give a shit." Her coffee cup was empty, and she refilled it, started on the dishes, what few there were. "I'm not a genius, but I'm practical."
I don't dare leave too many dishes out, these days. Clearly Tracy'd had enough chit chat and was ready to tear into that kitchen. I took that as a cue that my words of wisdom probably weren't doing the world a hell of a lot of good at that moment, and maybe getting outside to see what there was to accomplish might be a better idea. The options were staggeringly endless upon stepping out what you might call the back door, though on this old farmhouse it is difficult to say which is the front door, which is the back. There's sort of one on all four sides. The door to what most people would call the back yard opens from a crossroads of stairs down from the kitchen and up from the basement, and is the most convenient for people who are going out to work. Lately we've been encouraging guests to use that one more frequently. There is a bristle mat on the sidewalk.
There is a dumpster parked in the driveway, a giant brown dumpster with white letters spelling "RUMPKE."
The thing is parked there indefinitely, since we are lucky enough to live within ten miles of one of the largest landfills in the region, and most of the people doing the shit work on the ground level there are locals.
I wasn't the least bit surprised last October, after a six month vacation in Mendo reuniting with my youngest two boys, to find a catastrophe at the farmhouse. The sump pump in the basement was broken, and the guy crashing with his pregnant girlfriend in a camper out back was using a shop vac to suck the bilge water, hefting that crap up the basement stairs to the convenient door that you can kick open from the outside. I made it that way several years back after it was damaged in a crude home invasion attempt. I figured it was better if when they kicked it nothing got broken, and now if you're carrying firewood down to the woodstove and wearing boots it's real easy to open. Our dog, Mack, who is part Newfoundland and has giant front paws, can use his intelligence and inertia to force it open if you don't slam it tight enough. That's how the tomcat sneaks in.
Before returning home from Cali, I'd already known the house was full of bedbugs, and that all the furniture, clothes, TV's, stereos, speakers, and other random crap would have been removed, in a giant pile out back. Basically I had abandoned the farm in January of the previous year because I couldn't handle another day without the company of my youngest two boys, who tend sheep on ranch near Sebastopol. Their mother has never felt inclined to send them out to our Hoosier farm, mostly because the connotations with Indiana these days are about as accurate as those about "Cali" are to people in the midwest. There are literally millions of different Indianas or Californias depending on where you are in what state. There are literally millions of people whacked out on crank, heroin, pills, booze, religion, etc. who can barely take care of themselves in the state they are in, let alone an old farmhouse that requires constant attention. The people who tried to watch the place while I was gone did the best they could, but nobody had ever taught them the basics, they finally assured me. They needed someone to instruct them, they said.
Nobody had taught them things like separating garbage from recycling, for instance. Or just thinking when you buy something, what will I be tossing in the old dumpster? Not much, if it's an apple. When this farmhouse was built, your apple core went to chickens, geese, horses, cows, sheep, or maybe at your brother's head when he wasn't looking. Your meat packaging consisted of feathers or leather, not plastic and styrofoam. Your water came from the kitchen sink, not a bottle.
When the air brakes hiss at 4:08 in the evenings, and I have to run from the greenhouse out back past the RUMPKE dumpster to wave to the driver, who waits until he sees somebody in this world full of cracked out adult children that reminds you more every day of a zombie apocalypse, I hand the kid a Bundy's feed sack, tell him to wander around the farm, pick up cans, oreo cookie containers, pizza boxes, used tampons, condoms. . .I don't expect him to get all of that shit. I don't want to make this situation sound unique for 2018. I have taken a train across the country and seen the way people in the "depressed" parts probably willfully toss trash as casually as cows squirt out piles of shit. I understand the depression part.
Today a girl maybe ten came out to the farm on her weekly visit with her dad, who is 35 and showed me the guitar he just got in a trade. He was on the phone with somebody so she ended up asking me if there was anything she could do.
I handed her a feed sack. "Walk around those woods, pick up anything you see that isn't brown. Time is of the essence. In a few weeks the ground will be covered by weeds, and we won't see the trash no more."
"How much do I get paid?"
"Ten dollars an hour."
She meandered around the woods for a while while her dad paced the farm and ranted like a bookie on his speaker phone.
I was actually screwing around, assembling the steel hoops for what they call a "high tunnel" greenhouse where I plan to grow grean beans and cantaloupe, and listening to the Real Sarahs live streaming on KZYX.org. They were doing "Headed for the Hills." I'm not a big fan of technology but have to admit it's amazing to be working on a farm in Indiana listening to live radio from Mendo.
Eventually the girl returned with the bag half full.
"There's got to be more trash out there," I said.
"Well, some of it was under fallen trees."
"I hear ya." I took her bag and started walking into this grove of elms where we plan to have goats and chickens fenced in a few weeks. There wasn't too much garbage, not to exaggerate, but those winds in the winter when the ground is bare will really strew it. It is painfully visible after the winter snows melt and the dead foliage is smashed on the soil. "We're putting goats in here soon, and they'll eat stuff like that," I said.
She held a dirty potato chip sack by the corner and dropped it in the feed bag. "I'm gonna be a rock star when I grow up, like my dad."
"You want to be a rock star? Hey, see that green thing?"
"Either I want to be a rock star or an actress."
"That bottle, there," I pointed to a smashed, plastic, mountain dew two liter that was perforated by dog teeth. "Goats will eat that. They'll eat anything."
"I can't decide if I'd rather be a singer or an actress. Guess I could be both."
The woods were fairly clean. I looked around the farm, wondering where the hell her dad was. "Let's go find your dad. Think we got all the trash."
"I think I'd rather be an actress, but I'm probably a better singer."
"You know, on that subject, let me plug this here smart phone into the amp." Our front room is all set up for live music. "You're gonna hear a friend of mine who is a professional singer. Her name is Sarah."
"Sarah? The one who sang with you?"
For better or worse, Sarah Songbird did participate on a recording project at Russian River Studios in Talmage with me last summer, mostly tunes based on life in rural Indiana. Basically I had taken advantage of our friendship and Sarah's musical connections to record. Being around professional musicians had convinced me that I am not one, that farming is where my creative spark belongs, one reason I decided to go back home. "Yeah. She sings with two other women. They are actually making it as pros. But you know how they got there?"
"Working. Not singing. They had real jobs. They did what they had to do when it wasn't fun. Like picking up trash."
"How long did I work?"
"It's hard to say. Let's see that Bundy's sack." Feed sacks work way better than trash bags for picking up garbage, I keep reminding people. The sack was on the back porch. You could hear the Real Sarahs on the powerful amp system Hippie Mike installed as we inspected the bag. They were pitching the upcoming tour in Oregon and Washington, talking with Jimmy Humble. "How about ten bucks and a few dozen eggs?"
We tossed the feed sack over the bold, white, RUMPKE letters, and returned through the back door to the kitchen where the spare refrigerator held about twenty dozen. Round these parts they go for only two bucks a dozen, or less, and you see the signs up and down the county roads. Up in Bloomington the Democrats and Republicans and rich hippies pay more than five at the farmers' markets, but this time of year it's not worth the drive.
"Five Ninety-Nine a dozen? Huh!" said Tracy on her first trip to Bloomingfoods, the original hippie co-op in Bloomington. "Who on earth would pay that much? These hippies act smart, but they're dumb. You can get them two bucks anywhere in Clearspring, the Holler. Well you know that. I'm not a genius. Just practical."
"I'm not making the rules. I'm just playing the game."
I usually start the frying pan about 11:30 a.m., after Tracy has gone home to her dogs and own farmhouse. It's nearly the same routine every day. Three eggs, plus whatever vegetables to throw in. Thanks to the Bloomington trip I had organic yukon gold potatoes, grown somewhere in the midwest. You can't get those in our county. I chopped them thin and stir-fried them in olive oil. They were crisp to perfection, with the diced garlic and green onion, when I thought it was the perfect time to add an egg.
The kid had run around the barn the night before, where two heifers are lounging, expecting to calf soon, and some stray hens lay eggs in random clumps of hay or straw. I guess he'd also climbed around in the loft, where eggs may have been laid without an expiration date labeled on them. A bunch of the eggs on the top of the basket were matted with dried yolk and manure, and I figured they were the ones he'd discovered.
Out of habit I grabbed the dirtiest ones and dropped them into the compost bucket, just to make sure.
They sunk in the combination of weirdly clumped chocolate soy milk, soggy fruit loops, and pro-biotic Kimpche juice, without cracking.
The next egg wasn't so dirty, so I gently tapped it on the rim of the skillet.
It exploded, sent a glob of green slime about the size of an iris flower that clung to the side of the refrigerator Tracy had just cleaned.
Another glob, equally as green and slimy, oozed down the front of the stove, between the control devices. Of course the rest had gathered in the space between the stove and refrigerator.
Hippie Mike was out in the shop, straightening up and organizing. He heard me hacking, saw me toss the skillet in the general direction of the dumpster, hitting it smack on the "U." "What the hell, Spec? You okay?"
"It was a teflon skillet — somebody — left here. I don't give a — " I had smelled rotten egg before, discovering them in sheds or the shop, but always in a ventillated place, outdoors. Nothing turns your gut like that stench. It floats heavilly in the atmosphere, like a cloud you don't detect in one breath and are immersed in the next, causing involuntary muscle reflexes. The visual effect of the green slime only amplifies the gag fit.
"Oh, man! Oh!" said Hippie. "It's in the kitchen?"
Two washcloths were sacrificed immediately. We opened the windows, turned on the fan. Luckily it was a warm day, and we had plenty vinegar, plus that dumpster.
That space between the refrigerator and stove got scrubbed real good.