The last time I wrote anything about where I was, Misty and I were happily in the middle of doing odd jobs at Feral Farm in Washington. We’re not there anymore; we like to stay at places for about a month and then move on to the next place with a lesson. But I wanted to mention something we learned from being there. After all this is a trip that’s all about learning, and although we’re mostly targeting ourselves at learning how to live off the land, a lot of the lessons we pick up will be useful for people who are planning to do nothing of the sort.
Misty got this hat, from our friend Willow. And somehow, it was never the same twice. Not all of Misty’s head gets cold at the same time, so they have to arrange it very particularly.
Lately I’ve been working on honing my writing. I aspire to say more with less. A casual sifting through the archives of this blog will show you that that hasn’t been my usual approach. But over the last few months, with the pace of my life slowed to a feral speed and only paper and pencil to draft with, the importance of paring down has finally begun to really impress itself on me.
A couple months ago on our last loop through Minneapolis, Misty and I went to the switchyard to find a freight west to the coast. If you find the right one and you’re stealthy enough during the crew changes, you can get a non-stop ride all the way to Seattle or Portland. That evening we walked back behind an industry building and snuck back behind some tanker cars parked off on a little spur, and ran into some other people.
(One of two new posts. See the other one.)
The very day after I wrote about trimming weed and mentioned we’d probably keep at it for another couple weeks, we got downsized. A deal fell through, and our grower couldn’t afford to keep feeding us. Things change fast in this game, and you have to be able to just deal. We decided we’d had a good run and made decent if modest earnings, and it’d be really nice to move on and see vistas a little grander than the fluorescent-lit, blackout-curtained little room where they’d had us trimming (while, in the next room, they listened to vapid gangster rap and Keeping Up with the Kardashians).
Weary, our brains boiled and our feet grilled over the long course of a late August day spent half riding across Montana and half standing on onramp blacktop, we climbed out of the latest car, thanked the folks who’d taken us here from Bozeman, and stumped with a hopeless feeling to this new onramp on the periphery of Billings in an evening nearly matured into night. I’d once considered Montana among my favorite states for hitchhiking, just huge empty plains where anyone driving is driving a hundred, two hundred miles and considers it just common courtesy to pick you up and take you along. But that day the state had turned on us and we’d never stood thumbing for any less than three hours at a stretch. We walked like wilted spinach.
There was an era, once, when you could strike out into the countryside in the fall without much more than a bindle full of clothes and find the means to pay your own way. Little farms all over the country needed help harvesting, and you could go help out in exchange for a hot meal, a place to sleep in the hayloft, and maybe a few dollars. I haven’t done the research to find out how easy it actually was for the old-time hoboes to find a place to do that, but however easy or hard it was to find a farm to work on then, I guarantee it’s harder now. Engineers have created a machine for practically every crop there is. Hoboes have been mechanized nearly out of existence. People who might have worked their ways around the country if it were a different time now hang out downtown and ask for spare change.