In parched, sun-baked California, buyer beware
by Stacey Warde
I bought a cheap pair of plastic sunglasses, made in China, at the Cayucos Super Market several days ago, a purchase I’ve come to regret.
In less than a week, they broke. Of course.
The white “Made in China” small print along the inside of the temple piece began to wear off in less than two days.
The frame cracked the next day and by the fourth day the flimsy dark plastic eyepiece fell out.
Not my best purchase.
I bought them becuase the sun bears down hard lately, harder than feels normal this early in the season, mid-April, and summer still officially two months away.
Pollens and dust from swirling, drying winds fill the air. Clouds of tiny bugs drift across the dusty ranch road. They fly into my eyes whenever I drive the quad to get to the orchards I tend as a farmhand. It’s annoying as hell, and hazardous to boot.
Additionally, my eyes have been light sensitive, they hurt and they’ve been watering. When I put on scratched-up safety goggles or get sun screen in my eyes, I can hardly see sometimes. A new pair of sunglasses seemed essential.
I might have known better. Buyer beware.
It feels like summer already. It’s so damned bright, and hot. We’ve had above-normal temperatures for weeks now, and little of the precipitation this parched country so desperately needs. The governor has put restrictions on water, demanding reductions in residential use.
Farmers and corporations, apparently, are not subject to the same restrictions. Blame and finger-pointing have begun in earnest; last week, it was Nestle® who was most at fault, and this week, environmentalists are to blame for the historic drought.
The dust on dirt ranch roads kicks up much more easily now, and hangs in the air longer, like a faded earthen curtain, blinding and choking, slowly drifting with the breeze, moisture and water obscured from sight and becoming more scarce.
Ticks and snakes have come out, predators and pests are more prevalent. The coyotes sneak closer to drink from the dwindling creek in front of my cabin. They nabbed a neighbor’s house cat recently.
I heard the shrill and sudden scream of the cat in its final desperate act of defiance. Wrong place, wrong time that night. Tooth and claw, foolish cat. The kill couldn’t have been very satisfying for the coyote. The cat was scrawny, no contender, and had snuck out of the house, where it was safe, and went down to the creek.
“That’s what they do,” a friend tells me of the coyotes, “they sit near the creek at night and wait for critters to come drink.”
The night cry spooked me. I thought a bobcat or young mountain lion had screamed. It pierced the night, fierce and defiant, even for a scrawny animal.
When I flashed my light across the creek, I saw the coyote chawing on the victim’s feline remains. I threw a rock at the prowler and it dashed off into the darkness with its prey.
My neighbor was grief-stricken. “She shouldn’t have gone out there,” she lamented. “She never had a chance.”
As water becomes more scarce, we’re likely to have more run-ins with predators risking rocks, ranch rifles and shotguns to get their food and drink.
Some say the unusual brightness and intense sunlight are evidence of global warming, or of fallout from the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, or of a government conspiracy to spread mind- and weather-altering chemicals in the sky. Whatever it is, it’s rough on the eyes.
Barely two days after buying my new sunglasses, I noticed the flimsy dark plastic lens on the left side popping off the rim.
“Good thing I got these for eight dollars instead of the fifteen they wanted on the sticker price,” I thought.
I had plowed through the pastic-wrapped, toy-like sunglasses on a bottom shelf near the handkerchiefs and beach items and over-the-counter medicines, eager to find a protective cover for my eyes.
“Oh, these’ll be OK, only four dollars.” My eyes, tired from age, and watering from excessive light, wind and dust, missed a digit on the price tag. The nice lady at the cash register, seeing my difficulty, offered them to me at the cut rate of only $7.99 instead of $14.99.
I knew better the moment I touched those shitty, toy-variety sunglasses, that they were worthless, absolutely worthless, and I bought them any way.
At first I got mad at the country of origin—there wasn’t any manufacturer’s label, just a price tag. “Fuck you, China, for your cheap consumer ‘goods!’” And: “Fuck me for being dumb enough to buy them!”
I’m working in the avocado orchard today, tending 1,300 or so trees, irrigating, pumping thousands of gallons of water, installing injectors with their chemical magic to keep dying trees in production, cutting out deadwood, and pulling up suckers and sprouted seeds.
It’s unseasonably hot and dry again. I’ve put on my new sunglasses, and that helps against the intense brightness of the sun.
We’re one of the lucky few growers in California. We still have water. This season’s crop of avocados looks promising and we expect a favorable yield, so long as the water supply holds out.
Just over the hill, however, barely a mile or so distant, a friend who also farms avocados has already heard the gut-wrenching sound of gurgling from one of his pumps, indicating that his water source is running low.
“It hurts like hell,” he says, “to watch what you’ve worked so hard for just wilt away. But what are you going to do? You can’t fight mother nature.”
Some growers have begun trucking in water but that’s an expense few can afford.
The green from what little rain we got this season has begun to fade and turn shades of yellow and brown; drying grasses appear the way they usually do at the beginning of summer.
The rolling golden hills of California…are not such a pretty sight right now. It’s going to be a long, hot summer.
Trees have been cut down, stumped and painted white. Pests have turned up, attacking weakened trees and fruit, and will continue to be an issue as water turns more scarce.
The great California drought of the new millenium put a significant stamp on this county’s agriculture in 2014, according to the ag department, reducing yields of avocados. The drier weather was good for strawberries, though, which topped even grapes as the highest yielding crop in a region that prides itself on wine.
The wine industry, meanwhile, continues to suck up the lion’s share of North County’s water. How much more water can be squeezed out of the ground is anyone’s guess but when it does finally run out, we’ll have plenty of wine to drink.
The world-class desal plant in Cambria is a last resort as a home water source but some people still complain about and fight it, arguing they’ll pay more for their water rather than contribute to farming water from the ocean or brackish ponds. But how much will they pay when traditional water sources run out?
“This is bad, really bad,” people keep saying.
Nonetheless, even with water restrictions and hills turning brown, residential landscapes, the little slices of heaven we create to insulate ourselves from the cruel world, manage to stay green. As long as water continues to pour out of the taps, homeowners seem to think, what’s to worry about?
In the Central Valley, meanwhile, the nation’s breadbasket, some water-starved growers have shut down operations and unemployment among farmhands has skyrocketed.
One of the benefits of working out here is the lack of distractions from meddlesome and self-important boobs whose only apparent goal in life is to make money, or sell something, regardless of its value.
Not to say there’s anything wrong with making money or selling goods and services but some people I know—and avoid—think only of turning a buck, would sell you a bucketful of dogshit if they could, and tell you what a great value you’re getting.
I despise those people, the crafty, who lack integrity, whose only motivation is to make a fast buck, the hosers and posers, the merchants of cheap and worthless goods, whose only real interest in you is how much money they can get out of you. I avoid them whenever possible. They’re scum.
Then, there’s my farmer friend whose wells are going dry, whose one great joy in life is to put food on people’s tables. He takes pride in growing quality organic produce, and is glad to provide something of value, something that actually improves the quality of people’s lives.
If more people thought the way he did, we might not be subject to cheap imitations and bogus, worthless consumer goods, with which this culture, thanks largely to slave-labor countries like China, more than eager to supply them, seems to have overrun itself.
While eating lunch in front of Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucos, friends of mine brought up the subject of U.S. indebtedness to China. [Disclosure: The smokehouse is a sponsor of The Rogue Voice.]
“What’s going to happen,” asks one, “when they finally decide to collect on their debt? Will the U.S. be able to pay? And, if not, what will China do, invade us?”
“I doubt it,” I say, “but if they do, the only thing that will save us will be places like this, places that haven’t succumbed to selling cheap and worthless goods.”
What drives this dependency on cheap goods? Low wages? A lackluster economy? The so-called recovery from the Crash of 2008, from which many still suffer, is being hailed as the “low-wage recovery,” meaning basically that jobs don’t pay enough for workers to survive.
There was a time when, perhaps a fool’s errand, I thought I could avoid buying anything made in China. That seems almost impossible now. §
Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.