The Incredible Shrinking American
by Bruce Patterson, June 22, 2016
The great beauty of old Anderson Valley was how farming, ranching, logging, hunting and fishing were a part of everybody’s upbringings. The original settlers not only grew extended families, they had lifelong friends and neighbors (and enemies). They shared in an ancient way of life that was passed from father-to-son and mother-to-daughter. They fine-tuned their lifeways, vocabularies and senses of humor to the terrain, resources, climate and seasons. Anderson Valley was also like a coal town back East in that it took a good deal of anonymous outside Capital to get finished coal aboard railroad cars and giant redwoods aboard clipper ships. As Katy Tahja illustrates in her books, California’s Redwood Belt (like Appalachia’s Coal Belt) was an industrial landscape.
Whether logging or mining, the labor was hard, dangerous, creative and cheap. Talking Union could get you fired and blacklisted; staying in the woods or the hollers past your welcome could get an “outside agitator” either crippled or disappeared (forested mountains are very good for disappearing outsiders, troublemakers and other undesirables).
The men did the hardest physical work and the women did most all of the rest. The women found time to tend to backyard orchards, the animals and vegetable gardens, and the porches of backwoods cabins—came to be that every grassy opening hosted at least cabin surrounded by a curtain of towering trees—got decorated with potted plants and rocking chairs, their interiors brightened by homemade doilies, lace curtains, quilts, etc.
And what’s most remarkable is, with both men and women being about as close to “rugged individualists” as this country has ever produced, how much they got done in terms of building communities. They gave future generations Hendy Woods and other parks, the schools and churches. They organized town elections and had town deputies and judges, homegrown teachers, builders, barbers and what all. They also welcomed most anybody having the right skin tone and willing to get with the program and make themselves useful.
Anderson Valley’s pioneers were typical of the Anglo Americans who came out West during the half century before the American Civil War (1861-65). The Civil War that was our young, wanabe Republic’s Great Schism and blood feud; the gaping wound not yet healed, the aching phantom limb that tears at what’s left of the American heart.
Yet when, in 1805, Lewis and Clark were floating down the upper Missouri River returning from the Pacific Ocean, they met bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young American pilgrims paddling Indian canoes upstream. Peace with the natives was still possible and officially desirable, and these bold, peach-faced adventurers were being followed by a flotilla of others whose numbers would grow with the rumors until, beginning in 1843 after the “discovery” of Wyoming’s South Pass became common knowledge, the trickle became a flood.
The particulars of Anderson Valley’s Anglo-American settlement were played out in dozens of places west of the Pacific Crest, especially in California after the discovery of the Mother Lode in 1848. I was born almost exactly 101 years after the Man Who Couldn’t Hold His Tongue caught sight of finger-sized golden nuggets resting among the rounded creek rocks winking at him under the icy sparkling waters of what would become—naturally—the American River (No Mexicans need apply). Yet California’s Euro-American history begins in 1542: 44 years after Columbus’ maiden voyage and the start of the Post-Columbian Era. The first Euro-American record of what would become my old neighborhood in Los Angeles, the Arroyo Seco, was written in 1763. El Pueblo de Los Angeles was established in 1777. The first permanent church was completed in 1783.
Like everybody else who settled in the Redwood Belt, Anderson Valley’s pioneers enjoyed a number of advantages: the richest softwood forestlands on earth, for one (RIP). They also had bountiful waters, access to the coast, a temperate climate and, because of their isolation and the rugged, chaotic terrain, common people used to, when need be, working together. The isolation (and cohesion) lasted at least until the Golden Gate Bridge opened during the now extinct (redacted?) New Deal back in 1937.
In 1974, I wound up in Anderson Valley by accident. No way did I think I’d stay 40 days and nights, much less 40 years. I’d just gotten settled in the loft of a barn outside Healdsburg, I met a woman at a party, we rubbed bellies and, next thing I know, I’ve traded in my old foxhole dreams for off-the-grid communal hillbilly hippy dreams (My hillbilly dreams started when I was a post-toddler tent camping in Yosemite Valley). Next thing I know, I’m a husband, a lumberjack and a pappy. Yet, simultaneously, I’m still an alienated ex-GI bar-hopper, pool shooter and, if the whiskey lands right, a prankster and provocateur. The 101 Freeway hadn’t yet arrived in Cloverdale, and it was still a little logging town with plenty of young boomer/redneck saloons watched over by a handful of easygoing, glad-to-me-cha kinda city policemen.
But now my out-of-the-loop big city ass is also devouring books while hunkered down under the shade of granddaddy trees or in bed and by the light of kerosene lamps. Now I’m hooting with the barn owls and barking back at the yapping young buck gray foxes. Now I’m eating bok choy, tofu and soy, bulger, granola and, as reckless holiday splurges, organic vege-burgers. Yet, on the bright side, I did conscientiously and successfully object to ever using chop sticks.
Since my mom was a ward of the state when Ronald Reagan became California’s kindly Marine Drill Instructor for out-of-order college kids and rioting jigaboos, and two-term Governor for the established and respectable (read pale-faced, male and bucks-up), I wasn’t happy when he got promoted to a two-term US President and Central America’s Commander-in-Chief (Reagan also taught those Lebanese, Iranian and Palestinian “terrorists” a lesson they won’t forget). Can’t say it elevated my opinion of my fellow Friends, Mary-Cans and Countrymen, neither. In fact, the more I was learning about the real American past, the happier I was that, as a 2nd. Generation American, I could brag that none of my blood kin had anything to with the USA’s 19th Century versions of Slavery, Fratricide and Genocide. Before 1903, you can’t blame any of my blood kin for any of the USA’s violent attacks on our neighbors to the north and the south, our attacks here in the furthest reaches of the New World, way back in the Old World and on some of the “primitive” island chains in between.
Although, I must confess, my direct ancestors and I have been on this continent plenty long enough to have helped enable that serial child molester Mr. Jim Crow, LLC, not to mention the infinite indulgence we’ve shown for our multiple surrogate war’s outrageously corrupt—and obscenely lucrative—Black Markets (Ever hear of Afghani heroin showing up on your street corner? No? Gee, that’s weird.)
I can’t acquiesce to the stinginess, meanness and contempt we as a society have shown the weakest among us, nor abide the misery we systematically inflict on each other with our counterfeit versions of National Destiny, war, piety, politics and religion. And, at this pivotal moment, I know that the very last thing we the people need is a fraudulent “populist movement” made up of uber-Nationalistic, mystic militarist “white-skinned” gun cultists masquerading as the sole selfless lovers of God and Country. Last thing we need is to be led by “Great Men” who see God and Country as two chaste and angelic young lovers peeking over the American Constitution’s Wall of Separation and seeing the Garden of Eden up for rent with no money down and their names engraved on the front gate.
The truth is that a large percentage of these officially licensed Men of the Cloth are Biblical frauds, rank sinners and proud tax cheats. And yet, to accentuate the positive, where oh where would American Literature, Theater and Cinema be without the weasely likes of them?
Few indeed of these “religious entrepreneurs” have faithfully honored their social contract under the Constitution to, in exchange for escaping a citizen’s duty to pay taxes, stay out of partisan politics. Yet today a whole Noah’s Arc full of these Born Again Holy Men have not only broken their promise, they’ve steadfastly refused to stop trying through any means necessary to impose their versions of “God’s Law” on our Secular Humanist Society whether we like it or not. One of their latest witch hunts being designed to hound Planned Parenthood into oblivion and to help keep poor young American women barefoot and pregnant, their children hungry and hanging rags.
When in the palaces of DC’s anointed ones the totally discredited medieval notion of the Sovereignty of the Single Sperm inspires an entire reactionary political party to do their best to revoke the Constitutional Rights of half the population, you’d think they’d inspire some fierce opposition. Listen carefully to their “Pro-Life” tirades and study their social agenda and you realize they’ve had their heads shoved so far up their prudish asses that for four decades they’ve been talking out of their hearing aids.
American laws are civil and not ecclesiastical, God damn it all to Hell. I can’t be prosecuted and tossed into the gulag for having just used the Lord’s name in vain and, if God has a problem with it, for Him my office is always open. Get real: we Americans never have stood on “Biblical Law” unless it was in the name of Slavery, Patriarchy, War, Manifest Destiny and Usury. When was the last time you watched a woman getting burnt at the library’s flagpole or some sinful little guilty girl getting stoned to death at a church picnic? Did you hear about the ancient, wheelchair-bound old Hoosier tee toddler that got himself shot and killed six times for winning his church’s Bingo Tournament three times in a row?
Real Americans want the fruits of the promises made in the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. American patriotism is as simple as the Oath to uphold the Constitution that anybody who has ever been a soldier or a public servant has supposedly solemnly sworn.
Our revolutionary founders overthrew the centuries-old rule of the Church State as personified by King, Queen, Field Marshall and Holy Emperor. Our founding fathers and mothers were branded as traitors to God and King for asserting publicly and unequivocally that no man, clan, cult, church or country speaks for God. And would-be God Kings and National Saviors? Let them burn in Hell if there be such a place. Those two assertions are so elemental to who we are as Americans that sometimes I wonder how so many of us seem to have forgetten or maybe never learned in the first place. We live in a secular and formally equalitarian society, and the Bill of Rights was written in plain American using carefully chosen words. So where’s the problem?
(Next: Operation Wetback)