California’s Hydromania

A final reflection: The last thirty years saw the final destruction of the long-ailing California family farmer and his parochial world of agrarianism. The family farm was not a business, but a proverbial way of life that revolved around seasonal rhythms, local rural get-togethers, and a shame culture where farmers sought to raise kids that would not embarrass a 100-year family reputation. All that is over here, as their small tesserae are now recombined into larger mosaics of corporate farms. Economy of scale, mechanization, and efficiency leave no room for quaint ideas of raising kids to learn the value of hard, monotonous work, or to neither romanticize nor harm nature, or to remember to treat the rich and poor man the same, or to remember to match your lofty words with mundane deeds of living what you profess.

As I see the well rigs fly by, the for-sale signs spring up, and the investors scour the countryside, I think of all these small farms whose owners are now dead, whose children long ago moved away with the bad prices, and the now rougher rural communities (illegal immigration, meth labs, and the destruction of manufacturing jobs were not kind to rural California).

In this season of drought, when I see these old vineyards bulldozed out, their clapboard homes obliterated, the once uneven land reformed -- as the land produces as never before -- I think of their ghosts still. They were the Hazelhoffers,  Garabedians, and the Yamamotos and thousands like them, the moral universe of rough but good men and their axioms of “Treat me fair, and I’ll do the same,” “He kept his word,”  “The Smith kid was spoiled and no damn good,” and “Remember who you are and where you came from.”

Ave atque vale

vdh_grandfather_4-20-14-1 Frank Hanson, my grandfather, riding Paint, his horse, in Kingsburg, California, in 1959.