Living on the Central Coast
His supporters say it was a “heart condition” but opposition politicians claimed that the late John Magafuli, then President of Tanzania, was being treated in Kenya for Covid 19 when he died last month. Mr. Magafuli’s death provoked more conversation on our farm than you might have expected, given that Tanzania is a long way away and there are plenty of people closer to home- and closer to us wherever they are- who have been affected by this disease. But Starr’s daughter, Yarrow, had been stationed in Tanzania as a Peace Corps volunteer until just before the pandemic started. Yarrow’s projects in Tanzania included helping HIV/AIDs survivors set up poultry projects for egg production so that they could help support themselves and their families. But the late Tanzanian president had a misunderstanding with a foreign NGO and chose to strike a politically expedient “Tanzanian First” stance by denying work visas to aid workers, effectively kicking all foreign aid organizations out of the country. At first, we were sad that Yarrow couldn’t stay in Africa until the end of her service term to see all of her projects through to successful completion. But the Covid 19 pandemic erupted almost immediately upon her return to the US from East Africa and our dismay turned to relief that she wasn’t stranded in Tanzania while a loud Covid-denying leader was in charge.
Yarrow and her friend, Trent, another Peace Corp veteran, showed up at our farm coincidentally just in time to get the Covid vaccination from the farm worker outreach program that was sponsored by the Farm Bureau/ Strawberry Commission. They’ve been helping us here since then and their efforts have been a “god/goddess-send.” Covid has been fatal to many small businesses, like some of the restaurant kitchens I used to serve, and it’s been difficult and awkward and stressful for most of the rest. For us, the dilemma has been that our packing shed and cooler and office are at our home. One of the most successful health protocols that a person can follow to minimize the spread of this highly infectious disease is to create a secure and virus-free place to retreat to. We decided that having workers show up at our home on a daily basis was not in our best interests–we’re 61 after all, the same age as President Magafuli was when he didn’t die from Covid. So Starr and I have been making up all the boxes ourselves, “sheltering in place,” you could say, and “working from home.” But those are heavy, wet boxes full of produce that we are schlepping, not weightless mouse clicks, so we’ve been feeling it. I’m not complaining. It is obvious to me that the ability for an average citizen here to enjoy or afford any degree of “social isolation” is entirely dependent on being affluent to some degree. Being stuck on a farm during a pandemic is a blessing, not a curse.
Covid isn’t anywhere near over, I know, but we had an almost normal day this past Sunday. Trent is from Florida and Yarrow had arrived from Colorado, so we wanted to show them a little bit of California besides the shed and field here at home. So we took them to Big Sur for a hike up Serra Hill in the Los Padres National Forest, just south of the Bixby Creek Bridge. It’s a beautiful drive any time of year, but we were treated to a gorgeous sunny spring day with green grass, wildflowers and wild strawberries. Heading south of Carmel I always make a game of calling out the names of the creeks to myself before I cross the bridges and culverts, just for fun; “Rio Carmelo, Wildcat, Malpaso, Garrapata, Rocky, Granite, Bixby, Little Sur, Big Sur….Bixby Creek has a fame all out of proportion to the amount of water it conveys to the Pacific due to the graceful and photogenic arch of the bridge that spans its gorge. But for me, especially now during this pandemic, it’s Garrapata Creek that means the most to me.
When I was kid I spent a lot of time with my neighbor, Jimmy, a cattle rancher in upper Carmel Valley. Jimmy was a real old-timer, and he’d had a job as a mule driver on the grading teams that carved Highway One down the Big Sur Coast back in the 1930s. But as a child he’d grown up in a fisherman’s shack just off Monterey’s Cannery Row. When the 1918 flu pandemic hit Monterey Jimmy’s mother feared for his life, so she dispatched him to live in a healthier atmosphere with his Uncle Harvey. Talk about “social isolation!” Uncle Harvey had a remote homestead/ranch way up Garrapata Creek, accessible only on foot or horseback. Harvey was a near hermit, just minding his own business and cattle, choosing only to work as a cowboy on neighboring ranches when he needed a little cash. Jimmy spent several years growing up there in the redwood forests of upper Garrapata and he had a lot of crazy stories to tell about his experiences. When the pandemic ended he returned to Monterey and got schooled, but it’s fair to say he got his education in the Santa Lucia Mountains. Standing on top of Serra Hill with Starr, Yarrow and Trent, and looking into the interior of the Little Sur backcountry, I was thinking about Jimmy and his stories with an understanding that I didn’t have when I was a kid and didn’t know the contours of a pandemic.
So where to go from here?
I don’t think anyone can really know what’s going to happen next. We’re still taking the pandemic seriously, but we’re also planting as though life will open up. Farming always demands lots of forethought, because crops take “real” time to germinate and grow. We’ve picked the first handful of artichokes and the sun will bring the crop on fast now. The first basil has sprouted in the greenhouse, the tomatoes will get planted out this week, and the potato crop is already a few inches high. The squash crop goes into the ground as soon as the field is worked up and the beans and corn follow as soon as the soil warms up. Thank you for your support; we appreciate it.
© 2021 Essay by Andy Griffin.
Photos by Starling Linden. Top photo is looking back at the Santa Lucia Mountains.