Skip to content

Egg Ranch, continued

May 15, 2012

When I was quite young, there was a big ruckus in our driveway in the middle of the night. Headlights were flashing, horns were honking, engines were revved up. It was very spooky. The vehicles were familiar but all this noise and all the flashing lights weren’t. My dad went outside and talked to the drivers making all the noise. He came back into the house and had us our pull our pants and jackets over our pajamas. He was talking to my mom as he hustled us into the car. I really had no idea what he was talking about. It was stingingly cold outside. We didn’t even have time to rub the sleep out of our eyes. The car motored for just a little while then Pa pulled off the road and just went straight down a row of trees in the orchard. A good ways down, in the heart of the orchard, there were several small fires and a cluster of cars and pickup trucks, and silhouettes of people dashing about. Now we started waking up. What was going on?

.
We got to the cluster and Pop turned off the engine and jumped out and several of the guys outside started talking to him. He came back to the car and put some stuff in the trunk and then opened the back seat door and threw some oily rags onto the floor of the backseat just in front of us. Mom and Pop were silent. We just stared at the oily rags. Pop pulled the car a few hundred feet down the orchard row the got out again. The car became silent again but the headlights stayed on.
This was all very confusing and happening way too fast.

.

Years later I came to understand it; we were “smudging.” When you live in a farm community and a crop is facing ruination by an untimely frost, everyone is called out to “smudge;” that is create an artificial blanket of fog in an attempt to keep the ripening row crop or the orchard fruit from being killed by the threatening frost. It doesn’t always work, it’s like a “last ditch effort” that can really be quite effective if it is done in time.

.
The coldest time of night is usually the last hours before sunrise, like 3:00 a.m. on. All of my smudging has taken place in the very early, ultra critical morning hours when the frost is the coldest and most destructive.

.

The way it works is that you get cans of tar or used motor oil or even old style paint, like in the one gallon cans, and you wet, not soak, rags with oil or even wax or some such, and twist them pretty tight and you put them in the cans touching the flammable liquid and put a loose top on the rag/can thing. You light them and the goal is to get the can hot enough that it smolders (but it can’t catch fire) and heat the can contents to the point where they exude a bunch of fumes that just hang in the air, just to the tree tops. If you do it right, this keeps the frost out. And, it makes a hell of a mess. And, I’m dead sure the EPA would never let you do this nowadays, at least not like we did it back then.
Smudging was a stinky, dirty, unholy mess, but it saved the community. Whether you were a farmer or not, during a smudge, you were expected to help. Whether you were rich or poor, during a smudge, you were expected to help. Cops, firemen, hookers and hobos were all expected to help. Smudge, smudge, smudge, truly a community effort. And for a day or two afterwards, everyone was forgiven for catching up on sleep and scraping the tar off their faces and arms.

.

 

.

If the smudge failed, the local farmers could be put in debt for numerous years into the future. This was not a good thing for anyone in the neighborhood, except perhaps the real estate developers.

.

When I got older I once asked one of the farmers I knew really well, how bad it would really be if a smudge ever did fail. He beckoned me into his living room and pulled back the top of his ancient and huge roll top disk. He pulled out a large but narrow drawer set into the shelf work above the desk top. He removed a bunch of these ancient notebooks that had these dark blue covers. They were all folded one time, the fold parallel to the spine.
“These are records that go back more than 100 years.”

.
I didn’t touch them. I had come to suspect that these old timers kept such records but no one ever spoke openly about them. Just because of this silence I figured these were deep family secrets. I just held my breath. He randomly lifted up a few and opened them, “The point has never been to make money, the point is to keep the land, and then he corrected himself, “the land and the trees.”

.
He opened one of the blue books to a page near to the front. It was a series of intentional dots, to my astonishment it was a map of one of our orchards, tree by tree. This more than amazed me. There was never any mention or indication that these old guys kept such detailed records. I flashed on their bib overalls, greasy baseball caps and scruffy four day old beards. What a bunch of old connivers, they never let on. My respect for these crusty old landowners blew up a hundred fold. Wow!!

.
“If, after every five years, if we break even, we are doing OK. Some years we make a little profit, some years we go in the hole, but if we can maintain the balance over the long term, then we are successful. But, it doesn’t allow for many mistakes.

.
“Some years, it shows in here,” he says thumbing through some of these old notebooks, “the rains are late and the honey bees don’t regenerate in full force and the cots (apricots) didn’t get pollinated sufficiently. We have had crops drop to less than 50% of normal production. That is devastating. With our small profit margins, it could take ten years to pay off that loss. And, that is with interest, so you end up paying twice as much than you actually lost in the first place. If the prunes came into a late blossom and an early frost burns all the flowers, thus, all the fruit, and there is a decent potential we could never pay it back. We could have to sell a little of the land to plug that hole. That is the ultimate worst; selling the land. “

.
He talked on for a while but it grew into dusk and I left for dinner. He didn’t often return to this talk about finances but every now and then he would turn me on to a juicy little new secret. It was always fascinating how things worked. But one thing became very clear; even if they did have to borrow a few bucks to get through the end of prune season, the last season of every year, once they got payment for the last delivery, they paid the banks off as quickly as possible. These guys despised interest.

.

As I matured, I saw what a great practical demonstration the Long’s trip to Gilroy had been regarding this general attitude towards finances. Then it hit me, sort of like a moment of clarity — it’s about productivity, not simply profit. You can live on productivity, you can’t live on profit. But, profit can sometimes buy productivity.

.
The Longs investment in some new chickens eventually provided a significant increase in their income and they got some profit. They saved the modest profit until they could buy a bigger car to help raise productivity even more. But keeping the expansion modest and austere, they came out with even more productivity, a big go-cart for us. . . well, really, another work vehicle for their farm. Even with them, big profit wasn’t the goal, stability and security was.

.
As seldom as possible did any of these people borrow money or buy on credit. About the only thing they considered legit to borrow for was land, the dirt they worked. I came to start calling borrowing “living in the future.” I guess the way it seemed to me that to borrow money to buy a new car or television was unnecessary. Save the money and watch the old TV until you saved enough bucks to buy the new one. Just like the Longs did with the two Chevys. I never heard anyone ever mention the term “Stock Market” until I got to college, in the city.

.

When I got to college and they forced me to take an economics class, I got about two months into Malthusian perspectives and this incomprehensible theory and that one, I got all fed up. It all just seemed to be intentionally confusing the simple realities to justify spending money you didn’t have; to live today in comfort, counting on the wealth of tomorrow. Wealth wasn’t that important, productivity with quality was the real deal; make good stuff that will produce over the long haul, and go in peace.

.

 

In both “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “1984,” the faceless rulers of the malevolent dystopias ingrained over-consumption and wanton wastefulness into the these societies’ members, endless consumption to keep the wheels of production turning no matter the ultimate results, the final ruination of the wheels themselves: living in the future ended.

.

Our guys lived in the hear and now, pretty much, and us kids got a huge go-cart in the bargain for the five or six years, until we could buy our own cars, with cash.

.

.

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

One Comment
  1. Are you interested in blogging on Los Gatos Patch. Would love to run your posts. Email me at sheila.sanchez@patch.com, if you’re interested. Hope you are! Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: