Preserverance In The Green Idyll

Ron Halvorson

© Copyright 2024 by Ron Halvorson

Image by Veronica Bosley from Pixabay
Image by Veronica Bosley from Pixabay

   This job didn't take talent, or brains.  Hell, a monkey could be trained to water plants.  What it did take was the will to persevere against never ending adversity.  Simple folks working in a simple economy: seeds, shovels, dirt, sun, water.  

     “Oh Lord, there she is again!,”  huffed clueless Pa.  She was a mean, old 600 pound sow, with no friends in the world—animal or human.  Feral pigs were common in that riverside country of scrub, trees, and grasslands.  Pig packs roamed  for miles, and solitary adults would sometimes decide to stay in wet places—like our garden.  So the heifer was wallowing that bright, sunny day, its pointy stub pig feet straight up, rolling grandly in the stinky irrigation water oozing from our pots.  We had created the perfect mudhole habitat for this grotesque beast.  

     Ha-rumph!  Ha-rumph!  It was a warning grunt, as the pig spied Ma glaring sheepishly from the buckets on the other side of the patch.  She melted slowly into the cover of the blooming Ishen trees.

     “It's snorting at you, Ma,” observed Pa, trying not to sound nervous.

     Then the gnarly sow spotted both of the invaders.  Ma and Pa crawled like scared puppies, as the monster levitated its hulking form to its feet, kicking up a cloud of dust.  It pawed at the ground in a grunting, drunken rage.  She cocked her fat pig snout in obtuse angles.  Surely this was the hog's last warning before the charge, thought the retreating Pa.

     Lady luck smiled upon the farming couple once again.  As they struggled through the muddy morass, the hateful sow just stared sullenly, and returned to its digging, wallowing destruction.  Ma and Pa scrambled to the camouflaged opening of the secret trail.  Here in the enchanted  world of native grape, wild roses, and shiny manzanita, they often romped with their little kids.  The rogue cops in  helicopters couldn't spot them here, and neither could that menacing pig.  They were safe, for now.

      Pa met Ma's hopeful azure gaze, giving him comfort.    Her eyes were  blue as the cobalt skyscape, mixed  with emerald  sunbeams refracting  shades of green in the vitreous water oases that sustained a toiling hillbilly family.     Pa scanned the watershed, looking for unknown dangers still to come. His wife laughed.  “Just another day in Paradise, huh?”

     “Yeah,” smiled Pa grimly, “or one day closer to Hell.”

     They watched the Frankenstein pig from various look-outs, as it tore up the land, digging up huge swaths of turf.  It ate garbage, worm castings, chicken shit, and lord knows, it was threatening the entire family. We felt like prey.   Our little black terrier was fearless,  holding the brute at bay,   just out of range of the lockjaw snout.  Pa and dog slept in the pick-up truck  by the gardens for weeks, as the vicious pig circled them, night after night.

      They both knew that growing was survival.  It was an ever evolving Shakespearean tragedy, as each season played out differently, with a whole new set of obstacles.  Ma and Pa came to expect the unexpected every year.  If you gave up mid-season even once, you were doomed to poverty. Living off the land was to love the land. Early horticulturists endured with collective noses to the grindstone, a lot of faith, and sometimes prayer.      The battle was finally won when the harvest moon rose on angel's wings  in the east, lonely coyotes yipped in the alpenglow dawn, and storm clouds marched black as ink on the ridgetop horizon.  Winter rains were coming.   Salmon swam to gravel redds.   Creeks begin to roar, pounding rhythms against the  sentinel rocks.  Waterfalls appeared,  artesian springs recharged.   Ma and Pa's  thirsty land  greened up in the cold, clear snowmelt.  The dope was finally hanging in the shed to dry.    Rest was  coming for the people of the land.       

     In the lower riparian gardens, gargantuan timber rattlers lurked.  Pa had no one to blame for this hazard but himself.  The Diamondbacks were attracted to his drip irrigation system.  It provided dark, dank places to cool off, and hide in the midsummer heat,along with openings in the canopy to warm up in the cold temperatures of dawn and dusk.  Green tree frogs became ubiquitous.  As the amphibians hunted insects, the writhing  reptiles engorged frogs.  When a viper caught a frog, Pa could hear the creature scream.  An eerie, rather disturbing high-pitched alien wail of pain, and surrender to oncoming death.  It took several minutes for the rattlesnake to finish the gruesome meal, as it stretched the rubbery tissue of the victim.  Pa often watched this macabre scene as he continued watering.  He felt like a voyeur, witnessing such violence, but at the same time it was hard to look away. There was something to be learned by watching the animal food chain in progress.  

    Though often unnerved by nature's brutality, Pa had a way of making danger his ally.  There were several close calls, but none of the family ever got bit by the dinosaur-sized rattlesnakes.  These snakes were deadly, but docile.   Rattlesnakes only attacked humans when cornered.  So Ma and Pa carried a stick, and always looked down, as they walked.  Pa pretended that the rattlesnakes provided some level of protection.  Maybe they only bit bad people, like the cops.  Maybe the cops had to think twice.  Maybe they were afraid to raid “Rattlesnake Gulch.”  Pa killed a few snakes with rocks and shovel, but for the most part, the family learned to live in harmony with the vipers.  Life was like that in the emerald forest of long ago.  Tread softly, and make a small footprint, lest you become the hunted.  They jumped over rattling serpents all the time.  Pa even pinned one under his boot one day in the pumphouse, as he walked carelessly in a stoned daze.  Lots of rattling, but no strikes.  Pa looked directly into the serpentine eyes of that six foot long, thick striped reptile, flitting tongue gauging his  whereabouts.  Then it slowly uncoiled, crawling gracefully through a hole in the shack.  This was a strange moment, because the Diamondback moved slowly, and Pa just stared.  Neither man nor poisonous snake was afraid.  The two of them just went on about their business.  Ma even took pictures of Diamondbacks crawling back at dusk to a den they made under the old house we were renting.  We also had bats roosting in our living quarters,  a polecat residing in the rafters, a yellowjacket nest in the old humidifier on the porch, and large Norwegian rats hopping around in the rickety bathroom.  Perseverance had many permutations.  

     They lived at a wild crossroads of uninhabited timber lands.  Lots of animals traveled this natural passageway.  Pa was scared of the night often, because he could hear the myriad animals moving about.  It was kind of creepy to be watched by invisible apparitions.  The human species are  at a  decided disadvantage in the darkness.  Sound moves through the ravines, bushes, and rivulets, in supernatural ways,once we are enveloped by the nocturnal world.  Pa would tremble, hearing the death scream of a deer, as the wandering mountain lion made a fresh kill.  The titanic cat was stalking him now, as it crashed through the bush behind his trailer.  Pa knew the nefarious stranger must have smelled his sausage boiling, his shithouse.  Perhaps the cat could also smell Pa's fear, just like an enraged junkyard dog can do.  Pa started pitching rocks toward the disturbance.  The cat was grunting, hissing, snarling.  Pa's flashlight beam caught its iridescent eyes, blazing bright.  He thought of William Blakes,”Tyger.”  Then the cat jumped again, taunting its prey.  Pa continued to pitch rocks, and wave his flashlight.  Why did he always wish for a gun at times like this, even though he had never before shot one in his life, let alone kill a mammal?  One more head-rattling scream, and the mountain lion at last charged onward through the wild lands.  Spared again.  200 miles for the predator to roam and hunt, yet it finds Pa's meager camp to haunt this night.  Had the beast grown tired of man's iron fist in the wilderness?  Was this revenge?  

     Pa knew it was just one more danger to be overcome, just part of the job.  Living alone in the woods was like that.  Fear would manifest, then disappear, then shockingly emerge again.  There was no mercy for the arrogant hunter, the exploiter, the killer.  Ma and Pa were none of those things.  They believed in co-existence.  And they also never quit.

     Mid-summer droughts often brought in marauding black bears, who would tear up our trailers, vehicles, and garbage cans in search of food and water.  Free range cattle from adjoining ranches crushed any vegetation or flowers in their wake. Ravenous deer feasted upon  unfenced plants.  Ma and Pa would find beautiful blooming females reduced to worthless sticks.  During the planting season, rats gnawed off the stalks of young starts.  Slugs and snails consumed young sprouts.   Sometimes the seeds didn't germinate, and you'd have to start all over. Sometimes plants died off with a wilting disease caused by unrelenting summer heatwaves.  People in the city would cynically call  prohibition pot farming “easy money.”  We in the business knew different.

Ron Halvorson is a heretofore unpublished freelance writer,  He has been published without pay in Mother Jones online, Twin Bill, Bardball, and writes free book reviews for EcoLit books. He is a retired special education public school teacher, and retired cannabis farmer from the era of probitition.  He lives in Brookings, Oregon. 

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