I was standing at the kitchen sink early Sunday morning, an altar of its own kind. Thoughts were flowing like Lewis Creek through my mind, beautiful Lewis Creek now flowing surely through its channel for the first time in years, as if it’s always been there and always will be. After thirty years of living in its watershed, I know it better now. It will disappear in a week, maybe two, depending on the next band of storms, and I will have to wait to see it again until fall or winter, this year or next, God willing etc.
The flows of Lewis Creek provide experiential meaning to the term “ephemeral stream,” which I learned at Berkeley. I learned a lot of words in Berkeley (and then Davis) that I moved here to learn the meaning of first-hand, like “Mediterranean climate” and “acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.” Probably the most important was the relationship between surface and groundwater, right up there next to the relationship between farm size and rural towns, and the resulting relationship between empire-sized absentee landholdings and the destruction of any real kind of democratic political life locally and in this state. I know what all of those things mean far better now than if I had stayed put in Davis.
These thoughts were flowing Sunday morning, swirling with thoughts of about the widespread depression I hear from my friends and sense the lurking presence of in my own life, magnified by so many elements of the news. These post-pandemic times are like coming out of a long, cold winter only to find that winter isn’t over yet, not done with us: evictions gathering steam, public poverty programs being cut, war zones and border conflicts exploding or waiting to, dysfunctional politics. Friends leaving, moving away. Friends dying.
As these thoughts moved downstream in my mind, they were joined by the lines of a poem I know almost by heart, like a memorized passage of Scripture coming to my rescue. The opening words floated by like leaves: “We thought / she’d lose her mind / when she dropped her baby / in the stubbled field . . .” “Oh,” I said to myself, “John Castine”—and then retrieved the poem from the file on my computer where it waits to be included in the book I’ve been compiling more than 30 years.
The poem is “Valley Planting” published in an early anthology of Valley writings called “Proud Harvest,” edited by Fresno County farm boy Art Cuelho in 1979. I’ve loved it for its clairvoyance since my eyes first found it on a page. Now I know it’s also the lovingkindness it portrays: “But with words and broths / we urged her on / to stride the Friant / winter cold and lean / against the wind /…” It is what some of us are doing on a daily basis, either formally in NGOs, war and earthquake relief efforts, pet shelters, food pantries and clothing closets, or just person-to-person, face-to-face with friends and strangers, sensing the needs of the times.
But it’s the last two lines that hold me close, keep me on track advocating for the small farmer in this industrialized, capitalized, insanity-based food system taking us over the brink. Castine’s brilliance shows here, his home-grown truth rising to the surface: “until spring planting / took her in.” Whenever I arrive here, in these last five words, I feel the eternal coming to the rescue from our fears of death. I feel my foot hungering for my garden shovel, wanting to turn over some dirt. And I also wonder how we will survive as a people with fewer and fewer of us engaged in that holy work, or even having a square foot of ground to call home.
Spring planting is where we’re at right now as a country. The fields are bare, the wind still bites cold, and there is no guarantee that the seeds will germinate, emerge as green shoots from the ground, or survive all the weeds and weather ahead. But it’s the work necessary for there to be a future of any kind at all, and it is done, as one Palestinian peacemaker said recently on NPR, not in hope, but in faith. May some kind of spring planting take us in.
Trudy Wischemann is a rural advocate who writes. You can send her your spring planting urges 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.