The Rural Way
I worry though not about the way we look or talk, but rather about the use of the land. It no longer grows people, or produces for the nation a 5% minority of self-reliant, cranky and autonomous citizens, who do not worry much about things like tanning booths, plastic surgery, Botox, male jewelry, tattoos, rap music, waxed-off body hair, or social media. I think our impoverished society reflects that fact of agrarian loss, in the sense that never have so many had so much and complained that they had so little while being so dependent on government -- and yet they are so whiney and angry over their lack of independence. The entitlement state is the flame, the recipients the moths. The latter zero in on the glow and then, transfixed by the buzz, are consumed by acquiring what they were hypnotized by.
Out here is the antithesis of where I work in Silicon Valley. Each week I leave at sunbreak, and slowly enter a world of Pajama boys in BMWs and Lexuses, with $500 shades and rolling stops at intersections as they frown and speed off to the next deal. Somehow these techies assume voting for Barack Obama means that they are liberal. They are not. By proclaiming that they are progressive, they feel good about themselves and do not have to worry about why their janitorial staffs are not unionized, or why no one but they can buy a house, or why they oppose affordable housing construction along the 280 corridor, or why they fear the public schools as if they were the bubonic plague. Their businesses don’t create many jobs in the area; they don’t live among the Other; they seek to get out of paying income tax as they praise higher taxes; and they use money to ensure their own apartheid. And so they are “liberal.”
No wonder millionaires like Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer represent such a culture. How odd that the power, the water, the food, the lumber, and the minerals that fuel Silicon Valley all come from distant invisible people, the uncool who are overregulated, overtaxed, and over-blamed by those they never see.
Every six months or so I crawl under the house to check the wiring, plumbing, foundation, and assorted repair work. I did it last week. In the dirt is the weird detritus of 140 years: some square nails, a strange, ancient rusted pipe wrench, 1930s newspaper stuffed into some sort of mouse hole, penciled-in runes of weird numbers and notes scrawled on the redwood beams by some unknown carpenter, a fossilized carcass of a long dead cat, a few rat skulls and ribs. It is also sort of like archaeology, trying to sort out the layers of improvements per good farming years: the foundation raised on redwood beams after the boom of World War I, the metal conduit wiring installed in the 1940s when raisins were again high, the heating ducts put in during the brief boom of the early 1980s, and so on.
Is there a future to any of this?
To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on the meaning of future. None of my children will farm; even if they wanted to, the remnant 40 acres of the original 140 are too few to be viable. The local schools are poor, at least in statistical rankings. There are no pre-Stanford preschools out here. My great-grandparents and their parents got here before the schools; my grandfather graduated here in 1908, my mother in 1939, me in 1971, my children in the 1980s -- after that comes the end, I think, of the continuity.
Most of the area’s youth under 30 have long fled to L.A. or the Bay Area. They are sort of the bookends to illegal immigrants who left Oaxaca for places like Selma that they see as heaven in comparison with Mexico. The youth left Selma for tiny apartments in Westwood or Mountain View that they see as heaven compared with what they left.
The land left behind has soared in value, not because it is a necessarily desirable place to raise a family, but due to the fact that in a California of 39 million, in a third year of abject drought, and with the world in need of our state’s fruit, nuts, and fiber, there are not too many places left with such good loam soils, a long growing season, and a water table still about 50 feet.
What keeps a person sane when writing about the Chris Christie road show; the Benghazi, AP, NSA, and IRS scandals; the vast expansion in the government and its never-ending deficits; the insanity on campus; and the world of Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton?
The refuge of the rural world, and the remembrances of a wonderful world gone and now beneath our feet.
Yet I can hear them still.
(Artwork by Shutterstock.com.)