Notes from Home: Lightkeepers in Lame Duck Season
By Trudy Wischemann
Here we are, the morning after. The Babe made his successful journey from the womb to the World; the shards of wrapping paper are still lurking. The frankincense and myrrh have been set aside for safekeeping while Joseph and Mary try to figure out their next move; avid holiday shoppers are taking advantage of the post-Christmas sales.
But Christmas isn’t a one-day event, or even a season. It’s a new beginning, and it happens just as the days are getting imperceptibly longer, re-starting the cycle of growth in the dark. Lightkeepers are those who take the spark from the star and keep it burning in the meantime.
In Washington D.C., they’re just trying to finish up old business before the new session of Congress begins. Last week’s flurry of activity defied the notion of “lame ducks”: it was as if getting all their ducks in a row was a life-and-death matter. And it reminded me of another lame duck session 72 years ago when, on Dec. 26, 1946, the Arvin-Dinuba Study (the long-thought stillborn brain child of several Lightkeepers,) was published by a special Senate subcommittee, defying the odds and the large landowners of this valley.
Rereading the history of the study’s premature near-death and struggling birth reminded me that these are not the only turbulent times we have endured. A lot can happen in lame duck sessions because the politicians are aware, quite rightly, that we the people have become preoccupied with the holidays and will say “who cares? Who wants to think about politics? It’s Christmas, for heaven’s sake…”
In 1946, what hung in the balance was the small fact of who would get water from the federal Central Valley Project: the smaller-scale resident family farmers or the larger-scale absentee kings of agribusiness? And you know what happens when you try to say “no” to kings. They behead all the baby boys under the age of 2.
Well, that’s what the Arvin-Dinuba Study did: it said “No” to the large landowners’ claims that they deserved to be exempted from the anti-monopoly provisions of federal reclamation law. It said “No” to their claims that their success in business trickled down to the rest of the people surrounding them, their communities, their incomes, the stability of their economies and social life. It said “No” to their rights to be kings, in fact.
What it said “Yes” to was the fact that the economies and social life of our Valley towns are totally dependent on a smaller-scale, resident-owned farming population who, in good years and bad, bring their earnings into town to support the football team, the small church, the local hardware store and welding shops, the tire shops, the auto parts stores, and then stop off for a cup of coffee, if not also a piece of pie, at the local café. The pie comes in good years, but even in bad ones, when it’s only a cup of coffee, there’s a tip for the waitress. Because we all just work here, and we know each other.
So those of you who would like to do a little lame duck hunting this season for disrupting our Christmas festivities, remember to look before you shoot. It might be the Wise Men or the shepherds in disguise; there might be Lightkeepers holding the fort in the dark. There might even be some sparks to take up and keep brightly burning.