Wild Plum County
A gloomy, fruity Fringe Allegory
Wild plums from Stringer’s wonderful orchard (link)
Once upon a time, when I was just a wee fringeling, I lived where wild plum grew. It wasn’t a tree; suckers grew up everywhere and it was a proper little thicket of thin, thorny stems. It produced not yellow fruit, as some wild plums do, but a purple fruit that turned almost brown when it was ripe. It was the essence of plum, tart, rich in flavor, plentiful. When it was in bloom, insects of every sort came to pollinate the cloud of white blossoms it made, and when it was in fruit little birds learned to avoid the long thorns and peck at the fruit.
Over the course of several years the plums had plentiful seasons, and seasons of late frost or days of rain. Once, some clean up resulted in a fire burning one side. One dry year resulted in a die back from the edges. Still, that tough little community of plum cousins survived. It was resilient and flexible as well as thorny.
Here’s our drought: since the loss of the dairies, the decline and death of timber, increases in every cost from gas to food and decreases in every pocketbook, and plummeting house values, our little county has been dying of lack of life giving money. Laws, regulations and taxes have gutted our ability to survive on our own, and the collapse of the economy has made it difficult to survive within the system. Folks, we’re in a tough spot.
The economy is not going to suddenly turn around. If we could jump start a biomass industry in the county, some parts of our little thicket might be saved, but until then, there is no rain in sight. It is very unlikely that any big corporation is going to choose our little county for a giant job creator, and if it did, most of us probably wouldn’t qualify for a job there. Loyalton might be saved, for example, but Loyaltonians might die back to make room for people with better education. There is probably no magic wand which will cure our ills, particularly when the larger towns around us aren’t doing that well, either. With rent so low in the city, for example, and gas so high, it no longer pays to live in Sierra County and commute out.
Some of our trunks are going to have to die back.
Funding for schools is going to dry up. We’ve been living like dependents of the state for a long time, but the state is broke. Loyalton High School, at least, is going to have to go. The elementary school, maybe not.
There were school meetings recently; the Prospect wasn’t able to cover them, but from all reports, they were not very impressive, in the sense that, not only were there no answers, the hard questions weren’t even asked.
Stan Hardeman, to his credit, has been warning the community for some time that without Rural Schools funds it would be hard to keep the doors open. People think of education as a right, but they should think of schools as a business. Schools make money from kids sitting in desks. That money isn’t enough, though, to keep buildings up and stay abreast of generally increasing regulations on schools. Governor Brown intends to turn even more of the services available to children over to the schools. Funding comes, but typically not enough.
What would happen if Loyalton High were closed and kids sent to Portola? Portola would have a better football team.
Proponents of this idea point out that there is an economy of scale to having all the kinds of things kids need, like computers. There are currently 117 students at Loyalton High; it isn’t clear if the High School in Portola could absorb them, or transfer students west of Portola to Quincy to make room. Likewise, there are 52 middle school students, and 184 elementary students.
The bus trip to Portola would be long for some kids, but shorter for others. There would be increased opportunity for sports and hopefully, better technology. Maybe some teachers from our district could be hired to improve student to teacher ratios.
It is also possible that “charter schools” would work. These smaller, more flexible schools see students once or twice a month, and large facilities aren’t necessary. This might be the only way children could attend school in Sierraville again.
No one wants to see the schools disappear; the Prospect has spoken in favor of local schools and against moving kids out of county to go to school. But, if Rural Schools isn’t passed again, our schools will deteriorate even more, and that is not a service to our kids.
Likewise, maybe it’s time to re-examine Loyalton as an incorporated city. There are rumors of a law which would require towns to have at least 1000 people to be incorporated. In many ways, Loyalton is not independent but functions as a quasi special district of the county. In past discussions, Tim Beals, Director of Public Works said that the county would actually lose grant funds if Loyalton loses its standing as an incorporated town (one with its own governing body) but no one seems to have done an thorough survey to see if the county, over all, would gain or lose with an unincorporated Loyalton.
Like the wild plum, we have to let some of our stems dry out for awhile, so the heart can stay strong. Some feel that if we lose these things, our schools, our only incorporated town, we won’t get them back again. Chances are, though, we are going to lose them anyway. Let’s choose what goes, and what stays to hold the green roots, so we can spring back again when the flood of better times arrives.