My wife Julia and I live with our two little kids on our farm in the countryside that lies between Watsonville and Corralitos. This was once apple country, with orchards covering the hills. As the economy has changed, the landscape has also changed; apples have given way to bush berries, strawberries, cut flowers, and now, increasingly, houses.
My own family came to this property around the turn of the century to grow apricots and apples. They worked hard but the soil just wasn't deep enough to support orchard crops. My grandfather eventually cleared most of the fruit trees and pastured sheep on the land. Where beds of Provençal lavender now sweetly line the slope in front of our home, my grandpa's Suffolk ram "Big Mister" would stand and glare balefully through the fence. When I was young, my grandmother would always remind me to cross Big Mister's pasture with caution or he would "get me." Even if he was just a big stinky macho sheep with greasy wool and yellow eyes, he made farm life exciting for a little boy.
Farm life wasn't exciting for my father. He studied hard in school and made every effort to get off the farm and never go back. When the orchard could no longer make money, my grandparents went to work laboring on other farms and dairies around the state. Every row of beans my father hoed, every pound of peppers he picked, just made him study harder. And he was successful, becoming a professor of botany for the University of California.
As a kid, I began making noise about growing up to work on ranches. My father regarded this development as the reemergence of an unfortunate recessive trait. "If you go to work on a ranch," he'd tell me, "you will never make any money. You will grow old and broken looking at the wrong end of a cow. If you want the outdoor life so badly, why don't you study law, and after a few years of working in a clean office you can buy a ranch." Of course I didn't listen to him. My head was hard and, at the time, my hind end was pretty hard too.
I got some work on cattle ranches. Bouncing around on horses as we gathered cattle took a toll on the seat of my pants over time, so I went to the university to study range management. But range management courses turned out to be all about bulldozing sagebrush to make room for irrigated pasture. That didn't sound like life on the Ponderosa to me. It turns out you have to study chemistry to pass range management courses because as a range manager you need to know what type of herbicides to prescribe for different problems in your irrigated pasture. Not only was I uncomfortable with the idea of using herbicides, I was too lazy or stupid to pass the chemistry courses. So I studied philosophy instead.
Philosophy is great food for the mind, but it doesn't do much for the belly. And, as a number of great philosophers have pointed out, the well being of the mind is connected by the spine to the well being of the belly. How philosophy was going to put the dinner on the table at the end of a long day of thinking was as mysterious to me as any random page out of Hegel or Heidegger. Since I've always taken my belly more seriously than somebody else's philosophy, it was time to look for a job. The only local employer hiring philosophers turned out to be an organic garden. I picked my row and began hoeing alongside the Mexicans, Mixteca Indians, Guatemalans, Rastafarians and dead heads that made up the crew.