Don Rogers: Home at the Grange
Nothing’s more Americana than country-folk music. Except for maybe the local Grange Hall.
Or, for that matter, where I live on what basically is a shelf above Deer Creek in western Nevada County. Here horses, cattle and the occasional goat have the run of front lawns. Not all front lawns — just enough to endear me to this wooly place beyond the fence around Lake Wildwood. Rough and Ready is a kind of anti-gated community.
State of Jefferson flags are not hard to find around here, though that sounds, well, maybe a bit organized. I think of my neighborhood as more independent than that, a neighborhood where I can’t actually see the neighbors, come to think of it.
It’s hot, dry, wheat-yellowed country right now. But the oak crowns and rounded hills soften the horizon, and the sunsets can be downright gauzy, especially with that dim orange globe these smoky evenings of late.
I need a riding mower to keep up with the lawn, parched and patchy as it is right now with my wife going all in with water conservation. A pervasive wilt is on the blackberries, the fruit racing headlong from plump to shriveled. It is different than our ski town decades, where keeping up with the snow shoveling was the big concern, that and the chance of pipes freezing.
I’m just trying to give you a sense of place here, where the dog networks from those hidden homes bark their news and geese converse amiably overhead while commuting between ponds. Who knew there was so much to say?
No horses or cattle in our yard, other than the occasional runaway, but plenty of deer come for the plums, the apples, the deer-proof greenery. We also see lots of turkeys, tomcats, and the occasional fox light-footing at the edges of the property. The less said the better about the baby rattlesnakes just born out back, the black widows in every nook, the scorpion that showed up atop our bed over the weekend.
Rough and Ready is home to washboard-fiddle bands, the best architecture devoted to the volunteer fire department, secessionist-minded curmudgeons and their more practical, wise wives, God love us all.
In other words, there’s perhaps no community better suited for a Grange.
WORKING THINGS OUT
I was a half hour late though right on time, if that makes any sense. That is, my invite said 5, but the meeting really began at 4:30. So much for slipping in inconspicuously.
But never mind that. As I walked in and found a seat, the secretary of the state Grange was explaining with great diplomatic restraint how the local Grange’s charter had been revoked but they could come back into the fold now that a decade-long schism within the organization had reached a conclusion through the courts. Or be sued for the building. Painful half-smiles all around.
There are details, nearly all of which escape me and hardly seem worth the effort of recounting, that led to this and other local Granges going rogue. Rough and Ready formed a Community Hall entity, even transferring the deed to the building at the heart of this to a paper tiger corporation, which the former members of the local Grange agreed couldn’t possibly stand up to litigation or its cost. The state organization had them over a barrel, in the vernacular.
But the state Grange wanted them back, enough so they’d waive all but the dues for last year and this year, at $30 a head annually, and help them re-establish themselves like nearly all the other local Granges that had seceded.
There would be advantages, grumpy as the erstwhile Grangers were about the whole thing. Help with grants and loans. They need improvements for the hall’s kitchen to get back to those community breakfasts when the pandemic finally relents, for one.
I can tell you the breakfasts alone are worth joining as a member, even if rural living today is not what it was before Americana became a nostalgic sentiment.
Rough and Ready today is a bedroom community, really. Most of us are busy and can drive anywhere in no time. Who has any left over to know the neighbors? I mean besides the distinctive voices among the dog network and stray horse come to visit?
Still, long-timers have known each other for decades and are welcoming to we newcomers, especially at community breakfasts. There’s this Alaskan, rough-hewn camaraderie vs. prissy suburban feel here. Neighbors savor their time together at Grange Hall gatherings maybe all the more for not living atop each other.
Bending to the inevitable, accepting what felt like a state yoke, didn’t come easy for the group of nearly 20 as they talked over the offer. But maybe they could influence the larger organization for good if they rejoined. Get the thing on track down the road. At least get the kitchen back up to snuff.
Meantime — whoa — an unmistakable sense of cooperation pervaded the hall. These weren’t rugged individualists each going their own hidebound way. No sir. This was the America that Alex de Tocqueville reported on so long ago. A community coming together for true common cause.
Now that’s Americana.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299
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