“I saw your column ‘Lovingkindness’ last week,” a friend said, seeming a bit puzzled by it. His wife chimed “Whenever I see a dog on the side of the road, I say a prayer,” hearing the underlying current in the piece. I admitted my own surprise at what my fingers had typed.

Warning: this week is no better. I don’t have Peter Pan wandering through my mind to point to ideas still breathing. I have ghosts, and mere wisps of hope from their appearances. But they’re enough to commit to words.

Dorothea and Paul came to visit for a couple of days. A friend of a friend was giving a talk on Dorothea Lange’s most famous photograph, “Migrant Mother,” and I offered up some of what I know about that picture. Fifty years ago in Berkeley I worked with the elderly Paul Taylor and learned everything I could about federal reclamation law. But he was also his famous wife’s most ardent defender after her death. I caught his devotion, and she became my model for documenting our world in a way that could help people see for themselves what’s going on.

I had forgotten how much her working methods had shaped my own, and how her understanding of the purpose of documentary photography stirred me to follow. I’d also forgotten how discouraged I’d become about this work with the advent of digital images, which can be altered so easily. When Dorothea was working to bring the larger national truths of the Dust Bowl displacement using the scraps of intimate detail she could see and capture on film, you could still believe that what you saw in print was what she saw in real life. Now we have to be wary. 

Then I remembered the power of Don Bartletti’s recent border images, and the power of seeing what’s happening in Ukraine, and Turkey and Syria, of seeing what’s happening on the disappearing polar ice caps and in regions with drying-up rivers, and I regained some hope. Our eyes are still very much our monitors of truth, the portals for information we need. Photographs are still one important way we become aware.

Gentle, dedicated Merrill Goodall also stopped by, the Claremont professor who took to the streets in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s to tell us about the erosion of our democracy from the constitutionally-questionable existence of property-weighted voting in water districts. A bike accident took him physically out of the picture in 2002, but his words about the immorality of voting rights based on how much property you own are still ringing home. Environmental justice advocates have noticed, finally, one legal source of their problems. It is not too soon.

And then, near the end of the week, a whole choir of people began singing through my mind. Father Bill Wood, the Jesuit priest who’d stewarded the Catholic Rural Life conferences both for California and the nation (and who passed in 2014) was harmonizing with Walter Brueggemann, the land theologian, and agrarian leader Wendell Berry (who are still with us, praise YHWH) on one of Methodist minister John Pitney’s songs, “To Know the Dark” (which is actually one of Wendell’s poems). An author who is new to me, Ellen F. Davis, was clapping appreciatively in the front row because she’s been trying to bring these guys together for some time. Behind her were the citrus and rice growers I’ve loved, and tree fruit guys and their wives, the vineyardists and community garden advocates, the local businessmen—so many of whom we’ve lost not just decades ago but also recently, a long continuous stream of deaths. They were sitting there quietly muttering “What’s taken you so long?” to which I silently replied “Where were you when we needed you to speak up?”

Maybe it’s just February, and I’m unconsciously being stirred back to life after winter’s mental doldrums. But maybe I’m not the only one. Maybe something else is stirring to life, just in the nick of time. Maybe lovingkindness flows like sap. Maybe hope springs eternal—for real.

Trudy Wischemann is a rural advocate who writes. Send her your stirrings c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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