Heart Strings
By Trudy Wischemann
7:11 am,
October 27, 2023

Between the news of war and the realities of aging, my heart strings are being plucked hard right now. There’s something about learning the banjo, however, which makes that seem like a good thing.

Under steady encouragement from my teacher, I’m making progress. The map to “Cripple Creek” is complete, and now all I have to do to make that banjo fly down the road is practice, practice, practice. Because of those flying lessons, I’m also finding the banjo can sing. Three weeks ago, after some painful days for my aging mother and having my heart strings stretched near breaking, my teacher pulled out a beginner version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” for me to learn, as if he knew the trials we’d been through. He didn’t. But now that Appalachian balm is asserting itself on a daily basis.

Then there’s the grace behind “Baby Carrots.” A month ago I didn’t really know where Cuyama was. But I looked it up after I heard Rev. David Niu mention its name, plus the words “small farmers fighting big farmers,” barely audible under the din of music at the Livingston United Methodist Church’s luau on Sept. 9. David is superintendent of the UMC’s Central Valley district, as well as a former pastor in Livingston. He prayed with us as we closed down Lindsay’s UMC in January. He also listened to my heart’s land work for an hour afterward, and said, smiling as he left, “I look forward to working with you on this.” I have been singing the chord he plucked with that sentence ever since.

Two and a half weeks after the Livingston luau, I met Geoff Vanden Heuvel at the Kaweah GSA meeting, the man who wrote the excellent groundwater article for this column Oct. 4. His piece was picked up by Maven’s Notebook, always a great honor to have that water maven notice and post your work so the rest of the water world can see. Geoff sent me the link, and at the bottom of that day’s page was an article about the carrot boycott in Cuyama, which set off more chords twanging through my head. After checking the Stand With Cuyama web site, “Baby Carrots” was born, published here Oct. 11.

That piece had some weight to it, for others as well as myself. Of course, it started with a song, one of John Pitney’s that just happens to mention the industrialized version of baby carrots (“Are those little baby carrots earning frequent flyer miles? Do they look like sharpened pencils in your hand?”) A week later I was listening to the song, sort of by accident, and discovered there’s a banjo part in it. The idea that my heart knew why I needed to learn the banjo, even if my head hadn’t recognized it, made me cry.

I sent “Baby Carrots” around before publication to the folks in Cuyama and some coworkers here, with predictably variable responses. The Cuyama group posted it, one colleague vowed to drink absolutely no more Bolthouse carrot juice, while others started considering the implications. I also sent it to Rev. Niu and to almond farmer Jean Okuye in Livingston, the contact he gave me for support in this work. And it was his response, then hers, that jumpstarted the wild music again like banjos flying down the road. David wrote:

“Thank you so much for your excellent article. It is what the residents of Cuyama need. It is unfortunate that their struggle is like a tree that falls in the forest. People like you will help to amplify the crashing tree… They are discouraged but they are doing the best they can to fight these giants. Thank you very much for bringing Cuyama’s fight to the light.” 

It did my heart good to hear it’s what the residents of Cuyama need. But his image of the unheard tree crashing in the forest made me realize they are but one example of the destruction of rural people and their relationship to land ongoing throughout the world. I forwarded his message to Jean, and she simply replied: “David understands how the soul and soil are connected.”

Heart strings reverberating to the wild music: it doesn’t get any better than this.

Trudy Wischemann is a writer who can’t thank this newspaper enough for carrying her work. You can show your appreciation by subscribing. Send her your responses c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times.

About the Author

Trudy Wischemann
Local writer of the column ‘Notes From Home’