Shortly after we were settled in our geodesic dome on our 120 acres of land in the North Cascades, we awoke to the sounds of large animals right outside our door. Wiping the sleep from our eyes, the “landers” as the rest of the commune back in San Francisco called us, went to the triangular windows and peered out across thistle and yarrow to that vibrantly green plot of land which would provide us with enough food to make it through the winter. We went into tribal warfare mode as we watched a hundred cows eating everything in their path, including our most cherished and important effort, the garden!
We had worked so hard to turn this barely fertile land into a flourishing one, tending the garden every day with great care, fertilizing it with the chicken shit for which we traded garlic, weeding it constantly, and most importantly, talking to the vegetables with love and singing to them in harmony. Often we had dinner right in the middle of the garden surrounded by its luxuriance. If you are going to go raw, then there is no better place to dine than in the midst of organic snow peas, carrots, lettuce, string beans, tomatoes, corn and other tender fruits of our beloved plants, almost ready to be harvested.
Forcing our feet into shoes, flip-flops, and sandals, we grabbled brooms, axes, shovels… anything we could find… and rushed outside screaming at the top of our lungs, waving our weapons, rushing the herd with defiant howls and war whoops.
A few cows turned their heads to look at us, and then turned away continuing to mulch our veggies into cud. Oh, the humanity! This was both a physical and emotional injury and humiliating as well since the few cows that took any notice simply mooed at us.
It wasn’t until Psylvia smacked one in the rear that any movement took place. Chuck grabbed a tie-dyed sheet and started waving it up and down as he approached the cattle. Surprisingly, that worked. So we all grabbed colorful towels and sheets and whatever we could find and formed a semicircle behind Psylvia and Chuck. The wall of colorful fabrics approaching from behind must have scared them. They picked up their gait and began to leave the area, heading toward Elbow Coulee. That’s where those right wing survivalists lived. The herd belonged to them.
The cows left behind a large rectangular plot that didn’t look all that different from the surrounding thistle and yarrow. All the poor plants were bent, broken, trampled, or eaten. It was a sad day. A whole season’s hard work turned back into dusty, rocky land by the short incursion of bovine beasts.
The Richards brothers were not the friendliest neighbors. In fact, we avoided them at all costs. They were never without a gun or rifle at the ready. We approached their homestead in our jeep, not the quietest of vehicles. When we reached their gate, three pit bulls were already attacking the fence. We just idled there debating whether to open the gate and proceed or not. We didn’t have to make a decision. The brothers came into view, each wielding a rifle. As they got larger, we got more nervous. Mikey stood up in the jeep just as the brothers reached the gate.
“What do you fuckin’ hippies want?” said the eldest brother. No “hellos,” no “good mornings,” no pleasantries whatsoever. Just the simplest and most oft used phrase for newcomers to the valley like us. We were used to it. We had wanted to go where no hippie had gone before, and we succeeded by buying land in one of the most redneck parts of the state. Now it was time to pay the piper.
Mikey explained what had happened. He told them that our entire crop of vegetables had been destroyed by their cows and the growing season was just about up and what were we going to do now? He asked very nicely if they could please keep their cattle on their own land. The older brother just said, “Fuck off,” and walked away.
The younger brother let his rifle come to rest on the fence pointing in our general direction if not specifically at any one of us. Needless to say, we disliked confrontation, but really felt we deserved some kind of restitution, restitution we were hesitant to ask for while looking down the barrel of a gun. The younger brother laughed at us and said it was obvious we knew nothing about laws regarding the grazing of cattle.
“This here is a free-range state. Most of the country is. You know what that means?” Our blank looks gave him the answer. “It means that cattle can graze anywhere they want to. Period! If you don’t want our cows on your land, it’s up to you to fence them out… not for us to fence them in! It’s called ‘eminent domain’ so you can all just shove it!” He stepped back a few feet and kept his rifle at the ready waiting for us to turn around and leave… which we did.
Eminent Domain: the principle upon which rests the rationale for our government seizing or using private land. Some examples are the building of roads and bridges, government buildings, levees, dams and anything to do with national security. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution established the principle of eminent domain, though most often its implementation has been left to the states or even local municipalities.
It is also the principle upon which rests the right of cattle ranchers to enjoy “free range” rather than having to erect a fence around their ranches. But this has always confused me because the principle of eminent domain requires two things: that the land seized or used will be for the public good and that a “just” compensation must be paid for the appropriation of any land taken from a citizen.
Can one argue that letting a rancher’s cows graze on another’s land is for the public good or for their benefit? The local Grange explained that the grazing of cows on any unfenced land is in the public’s interest because the rancher is providing food. That may well be, but the “food” is not free, will not be shared among affected landowners, and certainly does not serve the interests of annoyingly fanatic vegetarians like we were! Between the “food” derived from these unrestrained fat cows lies one minor missing detail… the profit made from the cattle goes into the pockets of the rancher, not the public… and certainly not us! The use of eminent domain in this example is, to my mind, unconstitutional.
In another part of the country, we have two brothers very similar to the self-serving, inconsiderate neighbors who let their cattle tread on our land in the North Cascades. They are the Koch brothers and they have a very fat cow in the form of oil. They think they can use eminent domain to let that cow graze wherever it wants, especially on Native American land. Along with Shell, Chevron, BP, and others, they would like to send this very fat cow called the Alberta tar sands oil, to “graze” through a pipeline called the XL Keystone. This pipeline will bisect our country from the Canadian border in Alberta to New Orleans, where it will be shipped all over the world.
Where is the public good? A few hundred temporary jobs, followed by a handful of permanent ones? Endangering the environment and the largest aquifer in the Midwest? Pumping the most dirty oil found anywhere in the world only to accommodate huge corporations? I find no public good in this enterprise. I find only a lot of money going to the owners of the fatted cow which does not need to get fatter… not at the expense of our health and planet… not at a time when we have just signed an accord with the Chinese to lower carbon emissions… not at a time when the price of oil is decreasing and we are almost oil independent as it is… and certainly not at a time when fossil fuel use should be coming to an end while we focus our time, money and energy on renewable fuels.
I have been a lover of Canada since the Vietnam War. Whenever I get the chance, I ask if a nice Canadian couple would like to adopt me. At least I used to. I thought Canadians were always a polite, considerate, and reasonable people. But now I am dismayed at how discourteous Canada’s corporations have been to American citizens. They want to send their oil through the middle of our country for the benefit of themselves. They want us to invoke eminent domain for private good, not public. And they never even offered us free gas! How impolite! How un-Canadian! If there is dissent coming from Canadian activists, you’d better yell louder because I can’t hear you!
I am thankful that our Senate voted NO to the XL Keystone pipeline, though they only stopped it by one vote. It is bound to come up again as soon as the new Congress is sworn in at which time it will pass. If President Obama does not veto it, it will chip away at the little hope I have left that we can ever get this country moving in the right direction.
I am thoroughly disgusted by those Democrats who voted YES to the pipeline just in hopes of salvaging one (Mary Landrieu’s) Senate seat. Once again, Congress put politics ahead of the public good. Congress seems concerned only with those actions that benefit the private sector, the billionaires, and the mega-corporations. If oil pipelines can “graze” with impunity over our lands, much like the free-range cattle of the North Cascades, then we are in trouble. If it is up to the individual to protect his or her land from wandering cattle by erecting fences, then it is time to put up barriers to the XL pipeline at every possible point and in every conceivable way… legislatively and physically.
The Unapologetic Hippie
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