‘I went down Virginia, seeking shelter from the storm.’
Creedence Clearwater Revival
We rushed down to Virginia last week with the sound of an angel band playing in the background.
Mother was on her last breath…ready to give up the ghost at any minute.
But she surprised us again.
‘Am I dead yet?’ she asked, regaining consciousness.
‘No…not yet,’ we replied.
Not only was she not dead, she was also very much alive. Unable to move…breathing only with the help of an oxygen concentrator…and eating nothing but Jell-O, she was nevertheless sharp and irrepressibly pleasant.
So we go on with our lives…knowing the phone could ring at any minute.
Battle for Gualfin
Of course, the phone could ring for any of us at any time.
So could the bell toll for the stock market…or the economy…or anything.
Every person, every bull market, every boom, and every empire — we all live with a death sentence hanging over us. We just don’t know when it will be carried out.
And since we’re updating readers on personal matters, we will include a brief note from our ranch in Argentina.
There, the Battle for Gualfin has settled down.
As you will recall, some of the locals challenged our land title. They blocked our road. We called the police to re-establish order.
We bought the land from the previous owner…who had held it for about 60 years after buying it from the owner before him. For 300 years, the chain of title was unbroken.
But the originarios — the local indigenous people claiming title to our ranch — say it ought to be theirs, invoking some indigenous property rights that have never been clarified.
In broad theory, if their claim were accepted, all of America — north and south — would have to go back to the descendants of the natives who were there when Christopher Columbus arrived.
But now…both sides in the struggle have something more immediate and more dangerous to worry about: a common enemy more unforgiving than either the leftist originarios who want to take the land by political force or its legal owner, your editor, who — perhaps against his own interests — struggles to hold on to it.
Our mutual enemy is drought.
Last year, the ranch got only about 2.3 inches of rain.
This year, so far, we have gotten about four inches. And the rainy season is over. There is little likelihood of any further rain in the Calchaquí Valleys this year.
Cometh this word from our lawyer:
‘It’s not just us. The whole valley is nearly a disaster zone. We’re barely able to water the grapes. The wine will be good. [The quality tends to vary inversely with the amount of water available to the grapes…to a point.] But there won’t be much of it. And there is just not enough rain to sustain the cattle anywhere. We’ve already taken most of our cattle down lower in the valley where there was more grass. But even that is giving out. I don’t know what we will do for the rest of the year.’
The last major drought hit more than 30 years ago. Then, with nowhere to take the cows, and no way to get them there, more than 2,000 head died on our ranch.
Now we seem to be approaching another bovine holocaust.
We are headed down there at the end of next month. In the meantime, ojalá que llueva — we hope to God for a freak rainstorm.
Nature can be fearsome. Sometimes, it refuses to rain. Other times, it won’t stop.
A brother-in-law described a disaster in the Appalachians.
‘We were building a new church,’ he began in his soft southern accent while we were visiting Mother in Virginia.
‘We didn’t know how we could afford the big stained-glass window over the altar. But when we dedicated it to the victims of The Flood, the money just rolled in.’
In Nelson County, Virginia, ‘The Flood’ does not refer to the inundation in which Noah saved humanity.
It recalls the wall of water that came down the Tye, Rockfish, Hardware, and James rivers, washing away dozens of houses, cars, trees, and boulders…and swamping others under 20 feet of mud.
‘It was terrible,’ our brother-in-law, a retired preacher, continued. ‘It was Hurricane Camille. We knew it was going to rain. But we had no warning about what would happen.
‘When we dedicated the window, we had one of the survivors come and talk to the congregation. She described how she was in her house in the middle of the night when suddenly water came through the door.
‘It rose so fast that she and her daughter had no chance to get away. The last she saw of her daughter, who was 16 years old at the time, she was on top of a refrigerator that was floating in the living room.
‘The mother survived, she told us, by just floating on the tide of water down the river. She said she just put her faith in God…and said, “God, do with me what you want.” Then she grabbed hold of a tree and stayed there.
‘She was still up in the tree, naked — all of her clothes had been stripped away by the force of the water — when rescuers heard her calling the next day.
‘Other people weren’t so lucky. Her daughter’s body was never found.
‘And there was a blind boy who lived down in the little town. His father took him up the hill — it was the middle of the night — and told him to stay there holding on to a tree.
‘The father went back into town to try to help other people trapped in their houses. The boy survived. The father was never seen again.’
The eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains got 27 inches of rain on the night of 19 August, 1969. In all, some 150 people died.
For Markets and Money, Australia