This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. Water. Seems like there’s always too much or too little. In the Ozarks that can be true from one patch of grass to the next. Somewhere back in the long ago I remember a Disney cartoon in which Donald Duck was flying an old open cockpit biplane, hiring out to farmers to “seed” the clouds to make it rain. I have no recollection of the overall plot, if there was one. The part I remember is how he managed to make it rain exactly in the right place. The image in my mind is of a wooden perimeter fence around a pasture, and he was able to make the raindrops that landed on the fence, near the middle of the board, have one flat side, so that the rain only went where it was intended.
It’s not quite that bad, but the folks over on 63 got a nice little shower yesterday, and I got a couple of small round muddy spots in the dust on my windshield. In the Ozarks, when they say scattered showers, they mean scattered. A look on the radar this morning told me several people will be getting some rain today, but unless something drastic happens, none of them will be me. So, if my garden and my vacationing houseplants are going to get any water today, it will be delivered not by providence, but by hose.
The outdoors today reminds me of a period in my life when I was deciding between a job offer and a travel opportunity, just before I made the most impractical choice possible, and I was staying with friends in the Livermore valley in California. For those who’ve not been there, it’s just east of the coastal range at a level with Berkeley, Oakland and the San Francisco Bay. San Francisco was where the job offer was coming from. But I was footloose, at loose ends, and reluctant to go back to the City and all its distractions. These friends were out in the country, in the wide-open spaces, albeit vast agricultural acreage and nowhere near anything one might call wilderness. Well, I mean, you could see the mountains, but much closer, just down the road, in fact, was the famous Lawrence Livermore Laboratories where nuclear energy research has been conducted for more than 60 years. It’s so famous it even had a new chemical element named after it. Livermorium, it was called. But I digress.
It was summer in those fields, and the climate, if not the humidity level, was much like the Ozarks in August. Hot, dry, dusty, dangerous to the delicate and infirm. The difference was that at 4 p.m. every day there was a shift in the upper atmosphere and a phenomenon known as the on-shore winds began. The wind came straight from the ocean, hit the hot air mass of the central valley and the temperature dropped from the 100-110° range to the eighties and sometimes down into the 70s. Every single day. So, all one had to do was make it to 4 o’clock. How you did that, out in the vast flatness of the agro-valley, was to go and hang out next to the irrigation pump. My friends, you see, had dropped out of the corporate world when he developed heart problems from the stress of his job. Imagine if you will, the job called Expediter at a place called Lockheed, where the expediter was responsible for seeing that every single bolt, screw and thousands of other parts to build an aircraft was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Of course, you’d develop heart problems.
So, they quit, found a job caretaking a 300-acre farm that they then leased to freelance farmers needing to grow a quick 300 acres of summer squash, or tomatoes or you name it. They made a living by him making art and her selling it, I helped in the shop and every day after lunch we met at the pump, turned it on and sat in the cool spray and talked philosophy. At the end of the days I had to consider the job offer, no matter how many lanes of how many freeways that connected that valley to the bay area, there was no way in the world I was gonna take that job. I packed my essentials and my dog in my 1961 Plymouth Valiant, Named Edith. And with some guidance from my engineer friend, I changed the brake pads and spray-painted over the political bumper stickers and headed east, over the Sierra Nevada, toward the Ozarks. I didn’t stop until I got to Vermont, where I discovered my talents and the employment opportunities weren’t really a good fit. Some factory work and an engine overhaul later, I got headed back toward the other coast. In both directions, though, I lingered in the Ozarks, visiting family, taking in the summer air, marveling that, barring the humidity and the fact there were things called seasons, it was just like California. Of course, California has seasons too. They’re called Rain and No rain. But no matter how the Ozarks, or I, managed to change over the years, the Ozarks never became anything but home.
Since I finally moved home for good, about 40 years ago, I’ve listened many times to the tales of people who’ve come to the Ozarks from other climes, drawn, they say, by something inexplicable, some fey magic that, once, encountered, won’t let them go. I think that’s probably true. We joke with visiting friends from away that they should monitor their visits carefully. When they ask why, a chorus of Ozarkers will say “On the third visit you bring the U-Haul.” It’s a little bit true.
And it is truly inexplicable, given the bad press that naturally comes from a variety of unfortunate attitudes, circumstances and choices. The Ozarks can be called a lot of things, some good, some bad. But it can’t be called safe for everyone. As a wise friend of mine says, “Nobody is entirely flawless. Everybody has warts of some kind.”
That’s us. We have our difficulties, our differences, our version of that reputed Irish Alzheimer’s in which we forget everything but our enemies. Drawing off that rumored Native American story about everyone having two warring wolves inside them, and the one that wins is the one you feed – I would say instead that in the dry but humid heat of an Ozarks summer, nothing grows unless you water it. That’s where I’m going right now, to water my garden, in hopes of a good, nourishing and plentiful harvest. This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. Out, standing in her field.