Something Permanent

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Local writer of the column 'Notes From Home'

It’s been another week of tugged heart strings for me, maybe also for you. I guess it’s good to know we have them.

I found myself caught off-guard at Save Mart the other night, resenting the changes that have occurred there in the last couple of years since that company was bought out by some nonlocal corporation. Missing are the red plastic hand baskets, the weekly flyers with real coupons, and red-aproned clerks I recognize, replaced by digital coupons and black-shirted young people who come and go, recognizing nobody, just doin’ their jobs. I reexamined my reasons for moving to this small town 30 years ago, one of the most important being greater stability in the everyday scheme of things, clearly a misperception on my part. But I know I am not alone in my desire for greater stability, a slower rate of change.

“Something Permanent” is the title of a book by Cynthia Rylant (1994) containing poems she wrote to the Depression era photographs of Walker Evans. It is a small volume, which is good because much more would be too much for the average heart to take. Each precious Evans photo is a symphony to normal life in that time, mostly in rural America, mostly in the humid South and East. Each poem is written to give voice to the people living in that time, a time before the gasoline-powered tractor and automobile accelerated the dislocation of Americans in every direction.

The book’s title shows up near the end of a poem called simply “Mule,” set opposite a head shot of one in full harness. “He loved her,” the poem begins, “though he never let on, / and not just because having her / raised him up the social ladder / a notch.”

“No,” it continues, “because she had a hell of a / sense of humor / and seemed to enjoy his company / more than most.” Then we get the full blast:

“He knew better than to get attached / to a mule, / because one season of bad crops / and he’d be back to / pushing the plow himself, / selling her for beans and lard and / trying to forget he’d almost / turned her into something permanent. / A friend.”

This poem tells me, and maybe you, that then, as now, there was recognition of both the need for something permanent and the unlikelihood of it, at least for some people. That doesn’t change the desire for stability; perhaps it amplifies it. Perhaps it brings into focus the need.

Stability is what is at stake in the ongoing groundwater management plan-making process statewide. Our aquifers, the last-ditch reservoirs of water for every single person in the state, have been tapped beyond reason, beyond recharge-ability in some places, and the most successful overtappers are also the most successful manipulators of government and the courts. Agriculture itself is not to blame, any more than food consumers are (i.e., all of us.) But those who are fearless in making empires from the hoarding of resources and the production of food are destabilizing every attempt to make agriculture sustainable.

We all would be better off if our agriculture became something permanent.

Trudy Wischemann is a writer with a marginal appetite. You can send her your reassurances that food will always be available for everyone 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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