Shifting Borders

The day I first met “Esmeralda,” she was in a tree, a worn cotton picking sack around her shoulder, picking pears on a 14-foot ladder. In my orchard.

I had never seen another woman in an orchard, besides the Lake and Mendocino County Farm Advisor, Rachel Elkins. When Esmeralda entered my life I realized that I had been living a dream, my struggles petty.

Esmeralda’s husband, Mauricio, worked for Mauricio’s relative, known as “El Guapo.”

It was a tight labor market that year and El Guapo held a contractor’s license. Still, we were not getting the pears picked fast enough.

It must have been a Saturday, because every weekday Esmeralda cleaned houses.

Esmeralda is excessively polite, to the point I am uncomfortable with it. If I visited her at her patched-together rental trailer in the northern shade of Mt. Konocti in the hard-scrabble seasonal rustic resort of Soda Bay, she insisted on feeding me and whichever child I had in tow. She seemed truly happy when we consented. She taught my children just how rich and exotically beautiful, how exquisitely delicious Mexican food can be.

But we had different lives. Her children went to school in one district, mine, living on the border, went to another.

Then one day, Ginny at the literacy coalition called me. I had often volunteered as a tutor. This time, Ginny called me to say she had a student who would be just perfect for me.

The Lake County Literacy Coalition’s mission is to teach people to read. In the absence of other programs, it often filled in those days, the 1990s, the roll of teaching immigrants to speak—and read—English.

Her name is “Esmeralda,” Ginny told me, and you are going to love her.

She was right.

Here was Esmeralda, back at my house, struggling to pronounce English words from my children’s early books. Soon Esmeralda moved on to INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) documents. I don’t think I really helped Esmeralda very much. She took it on herself. I told her to stop watching telenovelas, to watch American television. Stop using her children as translators, try to listen and speak for herself.

I don’t know how much Esmeralda followed my instructions. But I know Esmeralda’s efforts to thrive, not just survive, to actually live her life to its fullest, in the often racist community of Kelseyville California.

I was proud to be her friend. I don’t remember the date but it was the first mention of building a wall between Mexico and the U.S. that prompted me to remark to her—and to anyone else who would listen, ‘if this wall is built, it will soon serve only to keep gringos out of Mexico.’ The idea of reversing the rolls of our nationalities was funny then. It must have been decades ago.

Every year the Lake County Fair reserves a Sunday for Latino Day. Sunday is often the only day the masses of agricultural workers have off.

For most Americans, the work week is limited to five eight-hour days. In northern California the growing season—roughly March through October is precious work-time. Ag employers can pay up to 10 hours a day or 55 hours per week, without incurring overtime pay requirements.

So Sunday is the day you see the Mexican families stocking up for the week at the grocery store. And it is the day they can go to the fair.

This year lodged in my memory, I decided to go to the fair Sunday just for that reason. I loved seeing the Mexican familes enjoying themselves. But I was shocked and disappointed to encounter not one single Mexican family. Indeed, the fair seemed dead, gone, empty, vacia.

I stopped at the Sheriff’s booth—what is going on? I was told that INS had planned a raid and that word had gotten out. I questioned the officer. Is the sheriff, an elected official, required to cooperate with this federal activity? The man became nervous.

I don’t know exactly what I said, but it was something about how agriculture in this county, the largest business in the region, depended on the immigrant workers—that by cooperating with the federal action, the sheriff’s department would be violating the trust of its constituency. I met no argument.

Soon thereafter I told Esmeralda to have her kids memorize my phone number. If anything happened to her or to Mauricio, I would take care of them. If they cam home one day to find their parents gone, if they were one day lifted from their lives—for they had lived here 20 years—all would ultimately be fine. Just tell your kids that if that happens to call me and I will pick them up, wherever they are.

Esmeralda wiped her eyes and thanked me.

Fast forward 15 years.

The youngest among our collective children is a senior in high school, the eldest a recent B.A. cum laude recipient.

Today, the prospect of deportation is greater than ever.

So last week, eager to be of help, I asked Esmeralda over a glass of wine, if she remembered my comment about the wall. She did. That it would only prevent the gringos from going south. It begged my next question:

‘What will you do if you are deported?’

I had been wary about asking this question. I could only imagine the fear she lived with.

But I was wrong.

She shrugged.

“So they deport me to Mexico,” she said. “Fine … I would perhaps rather live in Mexico.”




Baby Blue Eyes

Saturday morning came early. It followed a rough week of paperwork, dishonest tenants, legal decisions, teetering hopes.

So when my dear henna-headed friend who I’ll call “Terre” texted her idea, I rolled back over onto my pillow. I would have to think about it.

The evidence shows she texted me at 8:34 a.m. and I answered at 8:36.


Terre works for a start-up that is bringing “screaming fast internet” to a rural county in northern California … in a county that would later that week be called the unhealthiest county in the state, despite having the cleanest air.

She’d had a stressful week too.

So breakfast at a working class small-town purple-boothed restaurant named after a large tree would be followed by a relaxed hike to check on the wildflowers.

I don’t think I have to say much more here. It took me a full two minutes to become cogent, assess my options and make a heartfelt, if not downright enthusiastic, decision.


The waitress said little and had to set her notepad down on the next table to take down our order. She had a broken wrist, according to Terre. How she knew this I didn’t ask.

The eggs were over easy, the homefries were hard to resist.

Then I saw the busboy.

“Jose,” I said, his quirky last name instantly rolling off my tongue even though if you’d asked me yesterday I doubt I could have come up with either. His eyes were familiar, his mannerisms I knew as well as my own. Jose was part of my family.

Jose is the eldest of four children raised by a single mom on thin wages in an agricultural area. My husband had been his big brother, back when Big Brothers and Sisters brought such kids and adults together. This was 25 years ago.

Jose went camping and rafting with us, sleeping under a tarp in the rain without complaint; he slurped up whatever we were serving for dinner with a huge smile and a thank you. He always took his plate to the sink. He was about 12.

I watched him cheerfully moving through the restaurant, back and forth with his charismatic grin. I noticed a huge vicious scar near his elbow and asked. Without pausing his work, he explained he had fallen through a roof—and had broken some ribs. I wanted to ask more but he was busy.

He has a life now.

Highland Springs Recreation Area, northern California

Going out to look for wildflowers suddenly seemed trite.

First we saw the shooting stars, my favorite flower.

Shooting Stars

I told Terre about Jose and how I’d watched Big Brothers and Sisters pairs work in the community garden we hosted on our 50-acre farm. We’d disced up a plot near the barn where “Bigs” would come with their “littles” and work weeding squash, tomatoes, pumpkins, onions. Each little would go home with a bag of groceries from the garden, the fruit of their labors. (Notice how I did not use the word “literally” in the prior sentence?)


Next we saw a flower I couldn’t identify, but Terre seemed pretty confident in naming it “nemophila.”

I told her about how the kids learned gardening skills but also took home something to make that single parent proud.

I remembered how my own son, aged 6, had learned to love radishes by planting some seeds and watching them grow. I did not tell my son that I preferred liquid shampoo on my salad to the pretty pink bulbs. His pride defined his taste.

As we explored rough raw hillside that would soon become unbearably hot—and remain so until late fall—I realized that it is up to me to take that power of suggestion and make it into something. Planting seeds isn’t enough.

What the heck is this?



Gunning for Reason

Just about everything has been said about guns in the past month.

Because everyone has an opinion.

Yup, I’m getting to mine. If I can just figger out what it is.


I am one of the few people in the middle of this. That is, not entirely decided. And you should be too.

Let me explain.

My friend, who we’ll call “Brooke,” lives in Montana. We grew up together in the Rattlesnake Valley north of Missoula. She fed her horse in the morning then got on the bus. I fed my horse in the morning then got on the bus. The same bus.

Her dad was a doctor and my dad was a university professor, but at the time, that didn’t matter. I really looked up to her because she knew how to handle a horse. She was a professional. A barrel rider, the real deal. When you talk about girls who are horse-crazy you are not talking about Brooke. Brooke went beyond horse crazy. She was part horse. When she rode she actually became part of the horse.

While I lugged every Bronte sister’s book through the halls of Lincoln school where we both attended first and second grade, she was probably lugging horse pellets, those mechanically condensed lumps of green alfalfa that horses would nuzzle right into your coat pocket for. Brooke smelled like horses. I probably smelled like books.

My pop, well, we called him “papa,” would go hunting every fall for elk, antelope, venison. That’s all we ate. I don’t remember ever having beef. So, yes, we had guns around. We lived at the end of a dirt road on a hillside. No one ever came to visit… except some of Papa’s grad students, who always showed up just before dinnertime. I can’t remember ever seeing his gun. Or guns. Yes, we had a black bear on the back porch once. And a couple times on the front porch. Although they never figured out the doorknobs, I’m sure it gave my mother some comfort to know we had a gun. But I never saw it used.

I don’t know about Brooke, because I never went to her house—only for 4-H meetings. I don’t know if she ate beef. It didn’t matter.


Fast forward 40 years and Brooke has two beautiful daughters I see on Facebook circling the barrels on what looks like an overgrown monster quarterhorse. Brooke sees my two boys, one on scholarship to music school the other directing his first full-length feature film.

Her daughters are growing up in northwestern Montana, mine grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C.

You heard it coming: these are very different places.

I am posting encouragement to the kids protesting the death machines that have killed their classmates.

Brooke is railing for second amendment rights.

Yes, we live in different worlds. But are these mutually exclusive?


We are the same people inside. But she is talking about a hunting rifle for food or perhaps a handgun to deter the unknown—whether mountain lion, bear or burglar. People in cities must fear only humans. I can attest that when you live in a place where no one will hear your gunshot, your fears are different.

Living in the D.C. area I concluded that my family is safer if only one person has a gun. Because if two people have guns, whoever shoots first wins. And someone is going to lose.

I imagine my greatest threat in the suburbs is a burglar—a home invasion robber at worst—who will probably carry a gun. In the calm of the not-actual-situation, I imagine myself holding my hands in the air while the burglar takes my scant jewelry or worse, my children’s report cards off the fridge. I know that I may want to have a handgun so somewhere in the house, locked up, I might just have one.

What today’s discussion, perpetuated by the Parkland survivors, is a different tool. A gun that is a machine designed to kill scores of people in seconds. This is entirely different than what you see on a rack across the rear window of a Montana pickup truck.

THAT is why we are arguing. We are talking about different things.

It’s not the same out there, people. When you don’t hear the bus going by, you don’t hear the sirens or the metro or the traffic or the airplanes. When all you hear is the wind, it is really easy to have fears. Whether those fears are real is irrelevant. What you want is a gun. A simple device that will put you in charge. It actually will help you sleep. Even if you never use it.

So the threat of losing that, or the threat of losing your status as a law-abiding citizen because it is so important to you … that is a huge deal.

Tell that to those brave kids from Florida who are telling the adults to act like grown-ups. To them, it is simple: Guns. Are. Bad.

So clearly, we need to draw a line here.

And let’s each of us think about it before we decide where we stand. Do we really want only certain people to have guns? Do we really want to allow anyone to buy any kind of gun? What exactly is a gun and how does it work?

I don’t know where the line is. But it is not a fine line. It is broad and easy to see.

Sure, people I respect – a marine who knows more about repeating rifles and how long it takes them to melt from firing repeatedly than I want to know; a teacher who is terrified at the mere picture of a gun‑- these are different people with different skillsets and different ideology. They are both my friends. They are both patriotic Americans. Neither wants to see children die. AND both are capable of higher reason.


Let’s just cool off and listen to each other.

Let’s think about what the insurance industry has done for car safety.

Let’s think about why people take guns to schools.

Let’s think about the role of government as a force for good—a road builder, a protector of the whole. Let’s just think this through a little more.




Deciding for Your Self

Somewhere in Nevada

Decision-making seems hard but it’s really not.

Once you decide that it is not.

The NOT making a decision is what makes things hard.

Like last week. I had to decide whether to sleep out under the stars or find a motel. And if the latter, a cheap motel it would be, for I was in that vast interior landscape Utah tries to hide‑-where franchises with standards cannot reap enough profit to risk it.

I was en route from California to Colorado, on a mission to visit my kid and relieve him of the basement and closet and kitchen cupboards-ful of mom junk I had ditched him with sometime last spring.

I was feeling emancipated. Free. I flapped my wings and flew across Nevada, listening to a random thumbdrive of music – that thumbdrive the Craigslist dude had thrown in with the title to the car.

I had flung myself to the winds of Nevada, through which I marveled at the spontaneous beauty of clouds condensing and falling to earth.


My favorite campsite or sketchy roadside motel?
This trip I was not trying to lose something, I was trying to find it.

I thought through the ex-boyfriends, the friends-who-are-women, my husband, my kids … would they ALL have chosen the motel? Well, maybe not my oldest son, no, not him.

And would I?

Roadscape: Utah

To me it was about the stars, about waking to hear an owl, to freeze my nose in the fresh chill of morning’s pure, cold air. Air that had been stirred only by the silent wings of that owl. And oh, did I mention the pure pure blue silent sky with stars?

I was traveling in an empty, nay, spacious Subaru, which, made of love or made of uninsulated metal car body it mattered not. My dog –and potential source of either warmth (camping option) or trouble (sneaking my dog into the only motel in town can be tricky) was safe in California in the care of loving cousins.

I was alone. It felt delicious.

And I had a moon roof through which to see the sky.

I turned off the big interstate onto the two-lane, (definitely qualifies as Blue Highway in William Leastheat Moon’s vocabulary,) road that would link me in about 30 miles to the dreaded I-70, my express route directly avoiding as much of gorgeous Utah as possible to Colorado. The upcoming turnoff would be my last chance.

My favorite campsite was approaching almost as quickly as darkness. What should I do?

I glanced at the thin gauge showing an outside temperature of 19 degrees. I had only my summer sleeping bag.

The road climbed gently. As it did so, even as the sun had long gone, my world got brighter.


Lots of snow actually.

I had no tent. I would sleep in the back of the Subaru. I would open the moonroof cover and look at the stars.

I squirmed in delight.

I glanced again at the thermometer: 17 degrees.


Even if it were the most run-down of hotels it would have a hot shower, I thought. And probably a coffee maker.

Soon the rectangular brown sign came into view, indicating the turnoff to my campground.

Somehow, my turn signal started blinking and the Subaru slowed. I turned onto the dirt road, snow on either side but very little on the road itself.

Hadn’t a friend who borrowed my car said that it drives itself?

Then the concerns arose as they always did here: Would the campground be full? Would I have to take one of the overflow sites among the neighbors’ cows? Who would be there? Children playing in the creek like last summer? Or more likely now, skiers? Hunters and guns? Corn-fed Midwesterners with children playing on i-pads in their camp chairs while dull music thumped from an RV?

Where the road turned south I also realized I had no stove so I would be eating what I had on the seat next to me—cheese, crackers, oranges. I looked at the pink horizon. That would be just fine.

Maybe the campground would be empty … maybe I could get my site –number 11–without worries and the morning light would bounce off the red walls onto the glimmering trees, warming me without need for coffee. Maybe the owl was still in residence.

I made the last turn, toward the west again. The road was really snowy now, with few tracks.

Then the impossible occurred. Bright reflective paint barred my way.

“Campground Closed.”

Shock then pure dismay filtered through the headlights. I must have sighed. I stared at the barrier, considered checking for a lock.

I glanced to my left and spotted a pristine, dark blue city car. Maybe a Honda Civic.

Someone else had met this horrible end also.

Clearly, someone must be in it. Trying to sleep … or something. It was early yet, 8 pm. Probably awake. If I were in that car, I would not be wanting company, I conjectured. In fact, what WAS that car doing there? I thought about where I’d go if I were traveling across the country in a stolen car—not a hotel.

I backed into the parking lot so as not to shine lights directly into the car.

I thought about who might realistically be in that car.

A woman, slightly worried about being alone? A bird nerd sleeping early to wake for the owl? A hunter who would rise early and drag in dead animals? Probably just college kids travelling cheap.

I slowly headed east. Sad, but still free.

I had made the decision to sleep out.

And in a way, the decision had made me.


The Dining Car Afar-The California Zephyr Part II

The train leaves at 4:25, very close to “on time.” Half an hour later a scratchy voice demands those people with five o’clock dinner reservations come to the dining car. Had my stepfather/personal train guide who I’ll call “Rick” (though his real name is Chas.,) told me to get a dinner reservation as soon as I got on the train? I couldn’t remember.

Figuring staff is busy, I wait until 5:30 to meander through the several cars to ask. At the dining car I am greeted by a very plump guy named Tom who asks “Do you want to eat now?” As he demands this, he looks over his shoulder then back at his lists.

I had hoped for an 8 p.m. slot and say so. Tom says I have no choice … and motions to an empty space at a table for four. I wonder how the foreign visitors ever figure out this system. Is it in fact a system?

Tom sits at one end of the car and plays with paper lists while a young athletic guy named James waits on the entire carful of tables.

My tablemates and I decide we should be sure to put our tips directly in James’ pocket. James explains later he normally has an assistant but today he is on his own. As a result he doesn’t get to our order for quite awhile and forgets to offer us dessert.

None of us has anywhere to go, being stuck on the train until Salt Lake City at least, so we just chat. As I contemplate the gross injustice of James’ situation—having to serve too many tables therefor serving them poorly therefor earning less in tips while working harder—the others at my table lose my interest.

The man in the corner facing me asserts that the woman seated across from me with lipstick-red hair looks like Barbra Streisand.

I agree.

Lipstick-hair, I learn, runs a sewing school out of her home in Las Vegas. She would be taking a bus from Salt Lake City—and 8-9 hour ride—once she gets off the train. Corner guy tells me what he does for a living –he is from South Dakota-and his livelihood seems unlikely. But I immediately forget what it is. Guy next to me is an insurance fraud investigator headed for Salt Lake City from his home in Milwaukee.

He orders seafood. South Dakota orders pesto tortellini as do I.

Lipstick-hair orders the expensive steak.

“How would you like that cooked?” James asks.

“Walking,” she replies, her clear eyes looking straight at the African American young man, who confirms it twice with a friendly laugh.



The steak, when it arrives has been briefly sizzled on each side and I see that it was probably cool in the middle. Lipstick hair reports it excellent. All three of my tablemates, none of whom knew each other, order lava cake. I do not, despite James’ best efforts. After he has delivered all the others their cupcake-like carmel-filled desserts, he returns with one for me, stating it is “on the house.”

I felt that he felt that I was uncomfortable, which I wasn’t. So I obligatorily eat half of it and slip a $2 bill in his pocket when I leave.


An hour later, as I am putting my seat back –to sleep– Lipstick Hair appears at my side. She shows me pictures of some of her sewing students. And pictures of her with her nude friend; Lipstick-hair is wearing a witch costume. Her friend is ‘dressed as a nudist.’

“I belong to a nudist group,” she explains.

She shows me her website and speaks about her sewing students—she teaches them how to use a machine in their first 3-hour $60 class–and how to make an apron.

I ask her advice on how to fix a hat I’d made someone for Christmas which seems too lumpy to give as a gift. I pull it out of my backpack. She suggests, in the now complete darkness, that I use yarn to stitch an accent around the edge.

She types in my phone number and texts me a hello, commenting that she felt we had a budding friendship. I thought of my few friends in Las Vegas, and how I still trip on the name because my family has always called it “Lost Wages.”

“I will tell my friend, Josianne, about you,” I said. “She lives there.”

Finally lipstick-hair returns to her seat and I wish her safe travels, announcing that I was trying to go to sleep and would miss her departure in a few hours.

A nudist who teaches people how to make clothes for a living, I reflect.

This is why I’m not a fiction writer. I couldn’t make this up.


Refrain Stays Mainly on the Train

Amtrak’s website is one of those glitchy, slow, government-like sites that seems to want to talk to your toaster rather than to you. So I felt proud when, via website, I succeeded in planning a trip to Sacramento, a one-way ticket from western Colorado aboard the California Zephyr. 

I would return driven by my son, aboard the faithful steed known here as “The Mothership,” an aging white Subaru.

Meantime, my truck, “The Ox,” would wait for me … with any luck in a free parking space in Grand Junction, Colorado, where I would board the Zephyr. offered no clues other than: “five overnight parking spaces have been designated at the station.” Where do I sign up? Do I have to pay a fee? How much? I wanted to leave my truck for six days. Would that be okay?

Kind travelers had posted on that a parking garage lurked nearby, administered by the city. But apparently the city didn’t fork over cash to Google so Google had not put a parking garage on its map.

Winging it, I arrived at the railroad station an hour before the train, and asked the nice lady with strangely beautiful reddish hair at the Amtrak counter, who we’ll call “Susan,” where I could park my car all week.

Susan found my name on her passenger list and jotted a note on a pink card for my dash and told me to park out front. I asked if I should park in the 2-hour parking zone. Let the record show, Susan stated and I quote, “anywhere is fine.”


My Tacoma is white—when it is clean, which it isn’t right now—and its camper lid is silver. I need someone to swap with. Someone who has a silver Tacoma with a white lid. I know, it’s silly. But I can’t help it–I’m always on the lookout for my truck’s antithesis. I imagine parking next to one when I find it. Just parking next to it to find out if anyone else shares my little OCD psychosis.

But right now, I’m happy with Susan’s authoritative word. No, it won’t get towed. But I’m from Washington D.C. where parking tickets seem attracted to whatever I’m driving … so I’m not entirely confident about this.

As I sit in the lobby of Grand Junction’s Amtrak station a man approaches, wearing the classic uniform of a train conductor — up to the signature hat. “Will you be traveling, m’am?” he asks. I nod and instinctively pull out my e-ticket, which I printed because every time I’ve ever NOT printed my e-ticket, I’ve arrived at the gate with a dead phone battery. He beeps it and scrawls some numbers on a blue card, telling me to get on car 510, which will be “just behind the observation car.”

When the train arrives I spot what must be the observation car and walk past it to car #610. I pause but keep going. I soon got to the end of the train. No cars are labeled “510.”

I ask two guys in Amtrak uniforms standing on the platform.

“This is 510,” they assert and gesture me aboard the car labeled “610.” I look again at the number, probably with some quizzicalness. Not making fives like they used to?

“No one’s changed the number,” one of them finally explains.

Like, why would they?

And with two of them standing there rocking back and forth on their heels, who else would need to be employed to accomplish this gargantuan task, should someone who doesn’t actually benefit from the exercise of walking the length of the train and back need to know?



Hello, My Name is ‘America …’

When you live in Washington D.C. you let your visiting friends decide where to go.
There’s just so much.
And somehow, they seem to know more about your town than you do. But yesterday when my friend “John,” –whom I know from several river trips out west—came to town and asked if I’d like to go to the AA museum, I was not instantly on board. Alcoholics Anonymous did not sound like a good time; I have issues with the religious element of the programs. But if someone wants to go to a museum about alcoholism, I’m game.
I was THRILLED to learn he meant the African American museum; I’ve been waiting for years for the line to get short enough. Currently it stretches to October.

But, John messaged me late at night, if I get up early enough (6:30 a.m.) I might score some “day of” tickets. I didn’t get the message until 8 a.m., which was too late. My friend, better informed than me always, suggested we try for the hourly standby ticks.

Did we feel we were entering a slave ship? No. We were entering an emotional time warp.
The only thing missing was the Kleenex. Seriously, they should just hand out packets of it at the door.

I’m not sure what made me want to weep more, the faces in the exhibits or the faces looking at the exhibits. Yes, the faces reflected in the glass tell the stories. Because as a Caucasian, I was outnumbered and I did not see any of my relatives in those images.

And what were those images?

People in 2015 linking arms to protect their neighborhoods in Maryland after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody; The Little Rock Nine—a few high school girls in cotton dresses, their backs to the camera, facing an all-white mob of high school students looking down at them from the front of their new school; a little girl, alone, innocent, darling … who apparently needed the protection of three large white men on her first day of school.

Then came the James Baldwin video. He is challenged by a young African American man—looked like a high school kid—who states that no black man will ever be president of this country. Baldwin calmly, confidently explains that yes, there will be a black president here, but that this will be a different country then. He then goes on to tell the group of kids there is no job they cannot do. Clearly, they would bear the responsibility to make that country they knew into the country that would elect a black president.

Mind boggling. They did it.

The sheer vision of these leaders, if not the courage, conviction, dedication, hope … all of which arose from those slave ships.


No wonder the benches out front were all filled.

I too found that I just had to sit down a minute and digest it all.

And when I did I found myself staring at postcards filled out by other visitors. Blank cards were available at the end of the table where museum-goers were writing on them and dropping them in a slot. A few had been placed under glass at the table where I had chosen to sit.

As I tried to sleep last night, I wondered at the power of the people, the power to progress as far as we have. And I realized, the African American museum and an Alcoholics Anonymous museum might be pretty similar. Instead of “Hello, my name is ______ and I am an alcoholic,” I heard the voices in the photographs saying “Hello, my name is America and I have a racism problem.”
It’s a first step.


Excusing excuses

First thing I learned about farming is there are no excuses.
Maybe it’s the only thing I really learned.
All the rest, just experiments really, produced no new wheel or mousetrap . . . or in my parallel universe, revision of manuscript. Edifying, perhaps, but measurable progress? Meh.
Today I looked at the riding mower in the garage where I’m housesitting and tried to pry the rubber cap off what I hoped protected some lug nuts to allow me to fix a flat tire the easy way. But it just wouldn’t come off. Like it was designed to not come off.
I contemplated the alternatives: I could maybe make a ramp and wench the whole damn ridiculous machine into my truck and take it to the tire place. Did the R and D department that came up with the riding mower intend to actually mow lawns . . . or just make spreading old men feel like they were doing something while sitting on their asses? Or just create service work for franchises?
My thoughts were heading south fast.
I sipped my strong coffee.
Maybe I could inflate it with a bicycle pump.
And finally: Maybe I don’t really have to mow the lawn; I don’t have any such contract saying I have to.
That, my intuition prodded me, was not a solution.
When I started farming I learned that not doing it –whatever the task–was never an option. Someway, somewhere, somehow, everything had to get done. Whether it was as minor as replacing a bent-on blade on some pruning shears or actually getting 240 acres of orchard mowed for discing before the soil dried up into concrete.
My uncle and mentor had his own version of what you’re thinking. Instead of “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he would say, in Spanish because those were the ears for whom the phrase was intended: “Si no hay solucion, no hay problema.” (If there is no solution, there is no problem.)
While you’re trying to figure that out, consider the joy of innovation. That’s where I think his head was going with that one. Innovate. Figure it out. Be as smart as you really are. I have faith in you.

Ok, you’re procrastinating.
I convince a friend to go to his ex’s house and pick up his mini-air compressor. Phhssst and the tire is round.
Next day, still round. Good to mow.
So I tackle the battery. Same friend has a home-sized trickle-charger. “Red goes on positive,” he opens the door again to inform me.
Really? I contemplate his comment. Should I ask him how to use toilet paper?
Probably not.
Eight hours later the mower starts up with a bang and a sigh … and I am that fat old man riding it around the sparsely parsleyed yard.
Then a revelation strikes me: This is hella fun!
I head diagonally toward the western fence. I whirl around an antler-scraped scrubby pine and aim toward a parallel point from where I started. From there it is anyone’s guess. I should cut as close to the boulders by the tulips as I can … but not head down the hill at an angle. By noon, most the yard is shorn. And I have forgotten my phone for HOURS.
Although no clear financial reward appears on my horizon, I have cut close not only all the weeds and grass on this half-acre meandering parcel, but I have trimmed short my own excuses. Now I really need to get to work, back to my desk.
Getting done something as ridiculous as mowing a lawn, or I ponder, writing a blog post, is no excuse.