Caught in an agrarian time warp -- Editor's opinion

(Note from L. Holmes: This is really good. Here it is; we should send it out to the rest of the world who missed it because they don't read the Blue Mt. Eagle. This is so true, it needs to be spread far and wide. Even 50 years ago, who would have imagined that these things -- and more -- could happen. Please forward on.)

December 4, 2002

By David Carkhuff


Blue Mountain Eagle

195 N. Canyon Blvd.

John Day, Oregon 97845

Recently, I climbed into my time machine to see what a past generation of farmers and ranchers would think about the priorities established in today's world. It was an interesting adventure.

. A century ago, farmers and ranchers in Grant County laughed at me when I warned them that the federal government would reintroduce wolves onto their livestock. They, of course, thought I was joking. I didn't press the issue.

. Rural folks also didn't believe me when I told them that, in spite of the prevalent philosophies of their age - the ultimate value of private property, the intrinsic right to individual ownership of land - their state government would lay claim to private property along rivers. (When I mentioned the statehood-era law that allowed such a seizure, they just shook their heads in dumbfoundment). As argument heated up, some of the citizens wondered if the state also would come into their homes and claim ownership to their legal property deeds. I tried to calm them down by pointing out that the process was peaceable, accomplished through the courts. They vowed to watch which candidates they sent to the bench. (I guess they didn't watch closely enough.)

. The group was astonished that I would disparage future generations with my insinuations that an urban majority would largely ignore their rural peers. An educated population, they argued, would not incite such resentment against the people that provided food for their tables. A couple of elected officials took me to the local schoolhouse, where they asked the schoolmaster to quote a then-familiar lesson. I believe the text came from James Madison: "It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part." They felt adequately forewarned and agreed that I must be mistaken in my depictions of the future.

. Outside again (it was late summer), the same group of farmers and ranchers began to grow restless when I tried to explain the 2002 Farm Bill. I probably could have left out the part about how their tax dollars someday would help pay for a six-year, $17 billion federal conservation program that encouraged citizens not to farm. I had to explain "billions," which caused a few to drift away. Then, a few lost their temper when I tried to convey the fact that Oregon would claim the highest hunger rate in the nation despite employing the best farming and ranching practices imaginable. The reasons were complicated, I tried to assure them. The crowd became impatient for an explanation. The simplest explanation I could offer is that cities would overtake and obliterate farmland. That's when the crowd agreed that I was crazy and went back to work.

I lingered there with a handful of elected officials (even back then, politicians liked to chew the fat). When I told the elected officials that Grant County's local economy would become so miserable that 40 percent of the people in Grant County would rely on public assistance, they were flabbergasted. (First, of course, I had to fully describe the concept of public assistance. The New Deal was difficult for them to accept, and a couple of them grandstanded for nearly an hour, orating against the evils of socialism. Then, it was back to the schoolhouse to hear a quote from "The Way To Wealth" by Benjamin Franklin: "We are taxed twice as much for our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly. ..."

I didn't question the merits of the schoolmaster's arguments. I just climbed back in my time machine. As I buckled myself in, one of the political leaders -- the mayor, I think -- asked what kind of political leaders Grant County would elect in the future. I just shook my head. I didn't have the heart to tell him about the 2002 governor's race.

Anyone with comments about "Editor's Opinion" may contact David Carkhuff by calling 575-0710 or by e-mail at