Plums, Tears, the Economy & Country Music

Tara’s coming over to the western side of the Cascades today to get supplies and rescue me from the maudlin moment I was having yesterday while making plum jam.

Contemplating Plums and Jam
Contemplating Plums and Jam

Since returning from Michigan, where I once again tuned into the rural heartbeat, I’ve felt lost in translation. Do you have any idea what’s going on in the rural heartland of this country? The economy has devastated it.

More than half of my life was spent in rural culture (except for early adulthood where I had my fling with L.A., San Francisco and Seattle), so my values are rooted in country/frontier life.  But I’ve lived (mostly) in Bellingham for 23 years now and have been inculcated into a comfort level that is both alluring and precarious.

Bellingham is small by city standards.  It is very progressive in its social and economic politics. BALLE — the Business Alliance of Local Living Economics, a nationwide network of 75 organizations working toward sustainable local economies, is moving its national headquarters here and has appointed Michelle Long, co-founder and director of Sustainable Connections, one of BALLE’s most successful community networks, as Executive Director.  Michelle and her husband Derek have worked tirelessly for the past 8 years to encourage local businesses to work together toward sustaining a healthy local economy. God knows we needed it.  Bellingham is the last largest economic center on Interstate 5 before the Canadian border and we are influenced by the Canadian economy, the migration of larger employers to elsewhere and a growing populace.  Sustainable Connections is helping people understand something that rural folks have always known…when you buy from each other, the money stays in local circulation.  They’ve encouraged consumers to think local/buy local, and for everyone to join in breathing new life into our local and regional farms.

This city is also the birthplace of 4th Corner Exchange, a sustainable community currency (trade) network dedicated to the active trading of Life Dollars rather than wallet dollars. The network is made up of people from all walks of life offering services in exchange for other services, using Life Dollars or Sound Dollars as currency.

Upper Michigan, meanwhile, is dying on the vine.  Schools and mills and nursing homes are closing, the tax base is shrinking and the cost of fuel is over the moon, unreachable for thousands of people who are making hard choices between things like heating their houses this winter and eating, or buying medications and putting gas in the car.  Rural America has been hit so damn hard by this twisted economy that it’s staggering.  Surreal, actually, to someone from the coast.  At least we have opportunity here, precarious as it may be.  I couldn’t help but count my blessings.

So what’s with the maudlin moment?  Well, I put on some country music while making plum jam (plums ala Hannah’s heavily-laden, South Whidbey Island sugar plum trees) and sang my way through canning with Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, John Denver, Crystal Gayle and Allison Krauss.  By mid-afternoon, I was crying real tears over lost loves, the good ole’ days picking lowbush cranberries in the blue-sky wilderness of Alaska, driving hay trucks through fields with only the magpies to keep me company, and laying my head against the ruminating belly of my goats as I milked on mid-winter evenings with the smell of goat in my nose and the sound of grain-chewing in my ears.  Allison’s song, “Simple Love” sent me through years of relationships that never turned out as I thought they would, and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” assured me that I was damn lucky they didn’t.

Tara called just as I’d added the pectin to the rolling boil of ruby red plum goop, so we couldn’t talk long.  She’d been working on her truck and was getting ready to head over here to bring her cousin to the airport. She heard the music and my tone, and zeroed right in on the headspace.

“Yeah, well, I quit listening to that stuff when we were working on changing up our life scripts years ago, remember?  I figured if I keep lolling around in the ‘somebody done somebody wrong’ energy, I would just perpetuate that as the way life is…and it isn’t… if you intend it to be otherwise.”  She was right of course. Intention is a big part of reality.

I was reminded of why I quit listening to that music in the first place.  It made me ache.  It made me feel alive and victimized at the same time; it reminded me of all my losses and reinforced that I’d always need a man to be whole, whether he was an asshole or a saint. It was poetic mother’s milk as I grew through my formative years, and as such, I loved it then and love it now.  But the story’s all wrong for me.

When John Denver sings “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” I’m right there, heading back to what I love.  And I’m also right here, in Bellingham, on a city lot, dense with gardens and fruit trees and more tomatoes than I ever thought possible.  I yearn for open spaces as my neighbor on one side cranks up his lawn edger that screams when the blade hits the sidewalk, and the neighbor on the other side starts his lawn mower.

I turn on the hot running water to de-goop my hands, shut the noise out with my back door, and decide to make a quickie run to the grocery store, 5 minutes away.  This is an edge.  I’m living on it.  I just don’t know what frontier it is.

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3 thoughts on “Plums, Tears, the Economy & Country Music”

  1. And I with you. It’s exhilarating out here; scary sometimes. But the way I have it figured is that it keeps me alive and paying attention. I wouldn’t want to be here though if I couldn’t get my coordinates from other soul companions. I need you all to help decipher the layers of reality I muck through every day. Hugs…and thanks for writing. Libby

  2. Libby,

    I was right there in the kitchen with you, swallowing back tears, breathing in a plummy scent, tuning out the screaching machines.

    Closing nursing homes. Living far away from everything and not being able to afford the gasoline.

    It is all so much. Isn’t it?

    But then…friends, like Tara…and I bet those people in Michigan have community like most of us could only dream of.

    You can’t make it on a frontier by yourself.

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