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At The Not So Simple Fair

Saturday morning the baby awoke at about five o'clock, like usual. For a couple hours she fussed and had her diaper changed, nursed again, and went back to sleep. She and her mom, Jetta, slumbered until noon while I loaded the recycling barrels and three bags of mostly biodegradable diapers that had accumulated over the previous month into the back of my red Toyota Tacoma.

While the baby and her momma laid peacefully on the mattress, I paced the floor wondering what I had said in my turn at story-telling around the bonfire at the Not So Simple Living Festival, Boonville Fairgrounds, the previous night. I remembered Billy Owens sharing some recollections from a childhood in Oklahoma, ending with his patented train whistle. I remembered some of Boont Berry Kevin's zombie story. Not zombies, but zompires, a hybrid crossed with the vamps. Might be a movie script in that. I could picture Mr. Eleven doing his trademark schtick. I remembered talking to the emcee, Captain Rainbow, prior to dusk, and going over some of the ground rules.

"Oh yeah, you used that word a few years back at the Variety Show. This is a family venue."

I knew I'd told a story from back in the cow share days at what is now the Anderson Valley Community Farm across the creek from the fairgrounds, about the morning when my bull had pushed his way under the deer fence in the back and ventured up the hill on the neighbor's property. I still have nightmares about that bull, who was actually rounded up and locked in a trailer with the roping help of Bud and Vicki Johnson on Sunday afternoon of the first Not So Simple Living Festival, seven years ago. They'd hauled him off to the auction up in Orland. When they'd returned with the pay stubs, I'd learned he'd weighed more than a ton.

The ladies slept past noon. When they awoke, we had to drive up Mountain View to the Boonville transfer station to relieve ourselves of the recycling and the trash.

"You're going to Not So Simple?" asked Mike, the guy in charge as we completed our transaction. Thirteen bucks for a month's worth of diapers.

"How'd you know?"

"The rainbow bracelet. I would go if I didn't have to work."

I was in somewhat of a hurry because the baby started crying in the scorching cab, and no sooner had we passed the Owens ranch when I realized I'd forgotten the four plastic recycling barrels. After finding a place to turn around and repeat the previous mission, I became slightly agitated. I was excited because my youngest boys, now 11 and 14, were riding up from Bodega Bay to run around with their Anderson Valley gang for the weekend, so at least we would get a chance to hang out. They are the main reason I abandoned my Indiana farm.

For six years, understandably, their mother has refused to travel to the foothills of the Appalachians for a visit, and last winter I'd finally decided to take my chances on finding something to do out here, maybe only temporarilly. That said, my farm is now past the Parducci Winery north of Ukiah, though I currently rent a room in Philo, about forty-five minutes away. Meanwhile hippies back in Indiana are at the helm of the only property I actually own. They changed the name from "Driftwood OrganiX" to the "Driftwood Community Farm." It's all good, as they say. I'm not complaining, though the farmer inside me does not agree with a situation where going to the garden in the morning requires a forty-five minute commute, not so simple.

Cars lined both sides of Highway 128, downtown Boonville, and we parked in the blazing sun across from the tire shop. I crammed as many cold beers as possible in the bottom of the diaper bag where they'd be insulated, and we hiked to the redwood grove in the fairgrounds where people sat in clusters, some of them taking notes from experts in various fields of sustainable, rural living. A refreshing breeze billowed in from the coast.

The first thing to do was find something to eat, and we noticed the aroma of barbecue in that northwest breeze. There we discovered a whole pig on the grill, and Farmer John at the tables under the roof.

"We got started at four this morning," he said.

"Oh, man. You must be super busy right now." We talked for a minute about the old International 273 specialty cultivating tractor that sits at the Anderson Valley Community Farm in need of necessary but relatively simple repairs. Some of the implements that went with it are of interest to me again, as I am hoping to plant carrots next week at the Ukiah farm, and Farmer John has been using them. "I'll call you next week."

In search of substantial food, we were directed to the tables in front of the Apple Hall, where Cindy Wilder and friends were serving grub from Boont Berry, the General Store, and Mosswood. We purchased a chicken salad and turkey wrap, and migrated around the building, past the knife-sharpening lecture by Steven Edholm.

I noticed a U.S. bill on the asphalt near the kumquat tree. Since most of the folks at this festival were no doubt cashing in on the temporary windfall from corrupt international economies out of dire necessity, I figured it would be a Ben Franklin. I reached down and attempted to clutch it.

At first glance, I still thought it might be a $100, but it turned out to be only a George Washington, tied to a string. It turned out that my youngest son had dangled a one dollar bill at the end of about ten feet of cordage from a nearby workshop, invisible as fishing line in the bright sun. He and his friends had fastened it to the legs of the table under the receding shade.

We sat with them under the tree, enjoying lunch and evesdropping on the knife sharpening lecture. Every time another person approached, the boys grinned at each other in anticipation, but most of the adults walked by in happy apparrel, their eyes on something ahead, possibly the unigender restrooms. By now the breeze was picking up, and it was like fishing on the wrong side of the lake. The buck kept drifting back in our direction. The sun's relationship with us was heading west, the shade retreating, the asphalt heating up.

"Pretty sure only kids notice shit on the ground," I said, finishing the chicken salad. "Adults are focused on their destination."

"Shhh--" whispered a woman on a bench more nearby than I had realized. She was taking the demonstration on knife sharpening seriously. "I'm trying to hear this guy."

More adults walked past, ignoring the dollar bill. The shade vanished by the minute.

"I don't think it would even matter if you threw a hundred out there," I finally said. "At the gas stations in Ukiah they call the Ben Franklin a Mendo Food Stamp."


The next contestent turned out to be Captain Rainbow, who inadvertently got snagged in the cordage as he filled out paperwork at the end of the table. The coastal breeze had somehow circulated due to the configuration of the trees in the grove, or the livestock sheds. He literally and figuratively realized the cordage had tied his ankles. Fortunately one onlooker alerted him before the otherwise inevitable contact with asphalt. By the time he'd untangled the mystery, the boys were covering their mouths, suppressing laughter. They couldn't look at each other. Finally he discovered the buck, and they busted out. He turned candidly and pointed in our direction. "You guys!"

Once the laughter had subsided, I had to check in with Rainbow regarding the previous evening's storytelling. "Hey, man, I didn't say anything off-color, right?"

He slapped me on the back. "You did great, Spec, and were sailing smooth but then just blurted the F-word anyway. It's okay. Livened things up a little."

The evening potluck had been organized in such a way that you had to bring something that you'd prepared yourself, they told us, so I ended up driving to Boont Berry, picking up their last two seedless watermelons. The ones in my garden are a little late to say the least. I didn't even know this land was available until May. So I pulled the stickers off and figured nobody would care either way. Back at the festival I was directed to the food preparation station, where I sliced the melons and stuck them in a steel bowl provided for people like me. One of them was just perfectly over-ripe, deep red with quite a few black seeds. Seedless is a relative term. The other melon looked like it had been watered irregularly or else harvested too green, with white streaks in the flesh. I certainly didn't want to stick my name on them. The line stretched all the way to the gazebo by the time I brought the slices over to the table, where they said it didn't matter if I labeled them. Having fulfilled the requirement to enjoy the potluck, I borrowed a one dollar plate from my second Ex and heaped it with pork ribs, lamb stew, and curry sauce over rice.

Now it's Monday morning and I'm sitting in the cab of my truck at a laptop while sprinklers keep a steady rhythm on the field of watermelons and other cucurbits. Jetta and the baby are awakening as the first sun rays hit the sleeping bags where we spent the night on clay that turned out harder than I had predicted. The baby has a check-up appointment for ten in Ukiah, and the melons desperately need water, so here we are trying to live the simple life.

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