Optimism Inc.: Serendipity on the Farm

Victor Davis Hanson // Private Papers

Yesterday I walked around the old perimeter of our home, 135-acre farm (all but 40 acres has been sold off and almost all relatives moved away). The almonds were in deep green-leaf, post-bloom glory (No one would believe by August, the now clean orchard will be dusty, faded and exhausted, long pregnant with 3,000 lbs. of almonds to the acre, and in need of immediate harvest and relief). 

Two red-tail hawks—the nth generation of hawks that were always in the sky during my six decades on the same-old, same-old walk—were circling, one quite low, eager to tip a familiar wing to us.

A boring coyote pack was doing their tired, same-old, same-old victimization schtick: a smaller one fake limps around to show off his “injuries”—just out of reach of our 4 dogs. The latter mindlessly go crazy and think they can chase it down. It suddenly “heals” and proves faster in retreat, and? 

Presto, out of nowhere appear 3 big coyotes, and our 4 summer-soldier and sunshine-patriot dogs streak back in shame and fear—ready to replay the entire script tomorrow. 

I heard the staccato of .223 automatic weapon fire from one of the nearby farmhouses, now a daily event. For some reason, after the past summer of rioting, most of these rural farmhouse residents, for the most part now renters, and predominately first or second-generation from Mexico, seem to target practice nonstop. I don’t think the riots and destruction are coming out here, but if they ever did, I imagine there is a veritable army of AR-15 shooters apparently ready for any confrontation. My worry, of course, is that, while a relatively small caliber, the .223 can travel with lethality at least 3/4s of a mile and still hit you—and occasionally I can hear rounds hit things in the orchard. 

The walk was stunning as always, and even the resident two great-horned-owls, in a huge nest in a dead cottonwood tree, stayed put—as our loud canine (3 Queensland-heelers (“Spot”, “Spike” “Sport), 1 half-lab, half-who knows what? (Gracie)) entourage passed beneath. The owls seem far tougher than the red-tails, and about 2 years ago kicked them out of their nest, took it over, and forced the hawks to nest one tree over.

“Nothing has changed in a world where everything has changed.” 

In curiosity, I searched the web for red-tail/great-horned owl fights (knowing someone on the planet would have posted something so bizarre), and the resulting videos confirmed that the owl can usually win the fight—maybe thicker feathers, a bigger brain, and longer wingspan can beat a sharper beak and a higher-altitude ceiling?

Take this scene. Forget about the world just a mile on its perimeters. And my grandfather (1890-1976), the third who lived in the house here, would have felt it was still 1910. Nothing has changed in a world where everything has changed. 

Today we drove up to the central Sierra to 7,000 feet. Even with the World War I Verdun landscape, left after the horrific Creek Fire of September to October of 2020, the last snows (we are in a drought), the view of Kaiser Peak in the distance, and the beauty of the drive made a wonderful Easter morning (2 hrs. up, 2 back).

Huntington Lake area remains mostly just as I first remember it in 1959 at 6. Despite the host of California problems and incompetencies that spill over to the Sierra, today Nature won, and seemed to say, “Silly humans. Even in your decadence and stupidity you cannot alter me: your crime, your fire, your ignorance—they mean nothing to me, who outlasts you all”. 

One strange thing I always appreciate are the Jeepsters and 4-wheel-drivers, evident as soon as the snow begins to melt, on their way up to even higher, or far more remote country.

I study their jeeps, their winches, rugged tires, all sorts of extra gas cans, spares, boxes, etc. Almost all are middle-aged males, sometimes driving alone. So what drives a man on Easter, to take off alone in his 4-wheel-drive, open-air Jeep, fitted with grub and contingencies for every conceivable human and animal threat (I won’t speculate on what sort of arms are likely tucked in or hidden under the seats etc.), to take on an old logging road off the main highways? I suppose they are headed to some isolated spot around 8,000 feet, and plan to camp out for a night or so. Whatever the impulse, I admire it. The more that we retain such iconoclasts, the better the country.

“The nation was built by them, and without them we do not have a prayer.”

You all know these types. They come equipped for every eventuality. A fallen tree, a rock, a hole in the road—they have the skills and tools to deal with them all.

I had two wonderful farm neighbors like that. Their shops were like a US military supply depot—every part, every machine, every tool ready for use. If I needed advice on a shot house air-conditioner, a bad tractor transmission, an underpowered PTO, a leaky hydraulic coupling, advice on the best shotgun load, consultation of Massey vs John Deere vs Case vs Ford vineyard tractors, the house pump sputtering—anything imaginable—I’d just call or drive over. If I could not follow their instructions to the letter, they came in person.

George S. Patton talked about such men. One reason he believed his armored corps would beat the Germans was not necessarily the superiority of the Sherman (though underrated in truth) or the M-1, but because American men loved machines, knew how to fix them, and felt mechanics were noble, not something for the lower classes. A Tiger or Panther might blow apart a Sherman, but not when there were 10 expertly maintained Shermans cruising through France for every unreliable or out-of-commission Panther and Tiger,  whose engines and transmissions needed experts to repair or replace. 

My worry about the next generation? Many. But one is that we are losing the versatile, autonomous, jack-of-all-trades young man, who has the confidence and skill to go it alone under any possible contingency and welcomes rather than fears adversities. God, I wish we had more such folk. The nation was built by them, and without them we do not have a prayer. A Happy Easter to them all!

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42 thoughts on “Optimism Inc.: Serendipity on the Farm”

  1. Loved this post. I am a 1937 vintage, graduate of the US Naval Academy,too bad not when you were there. Also learned enough practical knowledge to be comfortable in most situations

  2. Just Beautiful. If only, during this Pandemic, it might have (may have!) opened parents to see that schools aren’t so perfect. Maybe teaching at home, and teaching such things as you mentioned, along with growing our own food, balancing a check book, building and repairing, etc. I hope there are people like that. And I hope it continues on. Happy Easter.

  3. Sir, I truly admire and appreciate every article, video, and podcast you produce. And this one is an excellent example. When next you find yourself in the greater Washington DC area, my wife and I would be honored to treat you to lunch.

    All the Best, and Keep Fighting the Good Fight!

    Chris Cloud
    Marshall VA

  4. Thank you, Dr. Hanson. What a wonderful telling of your walk on the farm. I grew up on a farm in southeast Iowa. My great grandparents bought 80 acres in Cedar County in 1911. The house they built in 1914 is the one I lived in. I have so many good memories from those days. -Kim

  5. Betsy Connell

    I agree with you…but just have to share . I live in Kansas and I have 3 sons ( and 5 daughters)who are mechanical…and creative. They can fix anything! I know they are teaching their sons too. My daughters can fix things also…. so there are a few out there!!!!

  6. I could fix anything but my wife destroyed my spirit on the matter by scattering my tools everywhere on our three acres. I have no leverage because she is after all, the Supreme Commander. When I worked at JPL I could without difficulty get people who borrowed my tools to clean them and put them back in good order after borrowing them.

  7. Suzanne Purdy

    What a beautiful piece! Your narrative of California beauty and forever, unchanging life on
    your farm is so nostalgic that I feel I am there myself. I am taken there with you and appreciate how somethings never change while at the same time require an appreciative overseer.
    Thank you, Victor.
    Suzanne Ewart Purdy

  8. One of your very best. Touching the earth, hands with dirt under fingernails, tools that are used with love. Sweet stuff.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your walk, Victor – what a beautiful place to grow-up and make your home. You are so right – this land will outlast us all.

    My grandpa could fix anything – he was a brake man on an aircraft carrier and then on automobiles for the rest of his life. He hailed from the farmlands of southern Missouri near the Ozarks and truly valued the life he’d found in sunny Southern California in the late 30’s. If you needed to build or fix anything, you could likely find the needed parts in his garage, in an array of glass baby food jars racked above his workbench. Broken washers or sprinkler issues never phased him. He paid cash for each new Oldsmobile he purchased and kept my grandma equipped with the latest appliances for the home. Their backyard was filled with apples, oranges, peaches, and plums, as well as a full vegetable garden behind the garage. My grandma pickled, jammed and canned all of the bounty. Theirs was a different world.

    I firmly believe that a refocus on the skills, drive, and guts of those who built this country will sustain us and make us stronger as we return to the founders’ original vision for our country.

  10. Joannie Dailey

    Fantastic article ❣️ Our oldest son just made the 20 year mark as an FC Chief in the USN, the spring prior to 9/11. Our youngest, also enlisted that spring, but sadly succumbed to melanoma in 2009, while attempting to graduate from ODU after his enlistment. Marine brats, they both learned to adapt and change along our many moves, & I was somehow comforted when 9/11 occurred that they were where they needed to be… serving our great nation. Moving on, our oldest married a lovely, practical, diligent & talented young lady from Oakhurst, CA who also owned a duplex about 5 miles from Bass Lake on the side of a mountain. Fast forward 10+ years & our kids invited us to live on one side, & Heather and our 2 grandsons will move in on the other side this summer. Geoff will join us when the Frank E Petersen Destroyer( being built in Pascagoula) is commissioned & home ported in Pearl.Her father has built another home nearby and has a cabin in Sierra Nat’l forest with a spectacular view of Mt. Madeira. We know the men you speak of… only their gear includes tracked Generals, snowmobiles, shovels, etc. They can fix anything… clogged leech lines, broken pumps or pipes, dig out a General stuck on a log, or drain a snowmobile mistakenly filled with shellac instead of gas ( red cans only) by a young pup in a half hour. Their language can be salty and colorful, but they get the job done. It is quite an honor to live among them. It is them and their welcoming, warm families, not the politics or taxes of CA , that enticed my Marine and I to move here. We left our home of 30 years near DC to move here in January & pinch ourselves daily at our good fortune. There is hope, there are these capable hard working workers still at hand here. Thank you for your lovely, poignant article. I can see why you are one of my Marine’s favorite authors.

  11. John Manspeaker

    Superb piece, in a style (I’m ashamed to admit) I didn’t expect. NR’s loss could be Country Living’s gain.

  12. I’m one such person. Far removed from city life. The problems of the world are only on my TV. I had to post this though. The ATF has informed my county they will no longer help them in investigations because we are a 2a sanctuary county. Not that we need them, but still, it’s an insult. They’ll need us eventually. This new administration, whoever is running it is going to ruin this country. The cities will go first. Property around here is hard to find as city dwellers are grabbing up everything on the market. My grandfather bulldozed the roads to get in here…on the river. It is heaven on earth. Enjoy your city perks, you can have them. Good luck.

  13. Stephen Gohmann

    Sir: I’ve followed your writings, interviews, pod casts for many years and wish to thank you for your clarity of thought, your intellect and for having the courage of your convictions. The article above I consider to be among the best I’ve read. I have no clue of your religious beliefs or affiliations but feel whatever they may or may not be, your life’s work is worthy of the passage from Mathew 25:21 – “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Best to you.

  14. Mark E Dapier

    great review of our times. I know of which you speak. I became an eagle scout in the 60’s and was trained by many men like you describe. I don’t know if we make them anymore. All that men to day are trained to use is their thumbs on the I Phone. ( oh not to nit pick professor but I doubt the gunfire you hear is from “automatic” rifles. AR 15s are SEMI AUTOMATIC just like a little .22 Marlin plunking rifle. Don’t let the lefties hear the word “automatic”).

    Keep up the good work

  15. Carolee Wilson

    Thank you for sharing this picture of peace. My Dad was one of those people you talked about. He was worth a 100 of the offspring of today. Not only did I love him dearly, I am so proud to have known him. He always gave me something to strive for. At 85 (a year before he died) he was still tinkering in his garage with his little make shift inventions. He used to send us on errands for gadgets that didn’t exist. When I would return empty handed, exclaiming that it was a wild goose hunt, he would say ” Someone needs to invent that”. He was a good man. He knew the importance of being a responsible citizen. He was father of sorts to a number of fatherless boys in our neighbourhood. He was quite simply a good man.

  16. Ronald Barton

    Professor Hanson,
    I love your description of a great part of the country. It seems idyllic…if we can just keep it that way.
    I have one question/criticism:
    “I heard the staccato of .223 automatic weapon fire…”
    Unless they converted the usual AR15 back to true automatic fire, and have a federal license, this is probably in error. Most, if not all, AR15’s sold today are only semi-automatic fire and are therefore not “assault” weapons.
    Don’t feel bad, Mr. Biden doesn’t know an AR15 from deep center field. BTW, AR does NOT stand for ‘automatic rifle” but for ArmaLite rifle, the company who first developed it for the military.
    Best wishes,
    RB

  17. I’m 74 years old and married to a 78 year old..“kinda guy” you referenced ..He considers it a challenge if a tree limb breaks off or a fence falls down ..last week the pool sweep was not working correctly..with a smile..he concluded..”I’ve got this”..It was out of necessity these skills were learned..Sadly, the younger generation has neither the time or the know how for such tasks..Thx for you’re commentary!

  18. Beautifully expressed—readers are with you on your walk and your drive. Yes, I too hope there are many autonomous jacks-of-all-trades in our country. We desperately need these individuals. My father was a stone mason, an uncle ran an independent business maintaining the heavy drilling equipment on oil leases, my grandfather was an entrepreneur who farmed while running a country store. All of these men repaired their own trucks, automobiles and farm machinery, constructed their own homes, stores and maintenance buildings, were comfortable in nature, and loved their families and their communities. I admired their courage, intelligence, strength, wisdom, and humor. They are all gone now. Hopefully their independent spirit does live on in individuals, like you, who reject and rise above the pitiful generations this country has recently spawned, because these independent ones keep our country running and, when the evil and the ignorant push it toward the edge of the cliff, have always been the ones to save it.

  19. Dear Dr. Hansen. I enjoy all your posts and have seen you in person at Gatestone. I am replying to your previous post on education and the fact that schools have not been in session. I too have a special needs grandson. This past year, with class for him on Zoom (a complete painful joke), has been a disaster for him and his immediate family. My heart is broken for them and him. I have recently returned from Israel. Special needs classes are considered absolutely critical and school has been available for these kids throughout. I can’t believe what is happening here! We are so alienated from caring for each other and for the greater community. So few people have the courage to speak out, so thank you.
    Lolly Bak

  20. This was a very nostalgic piece and brought back a flood of memories. Many of us do miss what I refer to as the 20th Century Renaissance man or woman who was never daunted by the challenges presented during his or her life. My Dad was one of those men. Thankfully my brother and I were brought up sharing his passion for knowledge and practical skills. At 71, I can still many of our home repairs and improvements. My husband also knows how to fix things. Completing college was only the formal beginning of our lifelong pursuit of learning.

    One of my favorite people was Winston Churchill whose speeches to the citizens of Britain during WWII inspired them to deal with the many hardships of the War. Like Winston, I shall never surrender my soul to anyone or anything. My soul will remain mine until God decides to take it. The DEMS will not have it in spite of their very obvious plans to replace our form of government with Socialism. I only hope and pray that other Patriots will prevail as we are facing a time of great social upheaval.

    Thank you for your writing and your pursuit of the truth.

  21. Bill Peerenboom

    We would love to have you come back to the NAVAL ACADEMY in the Class of 1957 Char in Naval Heritage for the 2022-2023 Academic Year.

  22. T.K. Oberholtzer

    Dr. Hanson,
    Thank you for the “Serendipity on the Farm.” You and I have been “sidekicks” for many years.
    Your column is prescient for our coming generation. I am a seminary prof. and pastor and see many ancient parallels in the Hebrew Nation that were loud claxons of impending danger. Specifically, the Exodus Generation, who were remained when those 20 years and older perished in the wilderness. As you know, that younger generation went into the land under Joshua and his “sidekick” Caleb, aka. The Dog! Within that one generation (c. 40 years) in the Period of the Judges, the scribe notes, “…in those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” How could this new generation, now in the place of blessing, the land, having seen the power and presence of God in the Exodus miracles forget Him?
    Lesson: Every generation must figure out its theology! (God is still sovereign in the midst of our choices.)

  23. Victor,
    Thank you for capturing, so well, the essence of what makes the United States of America the great country it is today. Film, TV show, or internet streamed entertainment with dystopian themes always seem to have that go-to-character that is prepared for and can respond to any crisis, repair any essential equipment, or conduct the most daring of rescues. Yet ironically, in the real world these characters are overlooked, shunned, or considered eccentric. This seems apparent in our current generation of political leadership. Most are not masters of debate, negotiation, comprise, i.e. the cohesive problem solvers. They are the dissenters, deceivers, persuaders, and divisive problem solvers. I do ask myself, is that any different than the past?

  24. There may still be more of that type than elsewhere. I once met a Spanish engineer. He did not know how to put a drill bit into a drill chuck. He’d never used a drill of any kind. One thing though, he was keen to learn when the occasion arose,

  25. Thank you for a respite from whack-a-mole executive orders and Biden-ignored human trafficing/sexual abuse/security danger on the border.
    I walk for about 1 1/2 hours every dya. The trees, sky, flowers help calm the soul. Your column added to the needed peace. Thank you.

  26. Dan Richardson

    Victor is a Grand Gentleman. Not many left. Even fewer are following!

    At 82 I can relate to his words placed smoothly and forcibly so others can grasp.

    Save Our Republic,

    DanR

  27. Thank you so much for the beautiful article! So true! God bless these kind of men in our country and may he raise up more of them for our country! God bless you for sharing your wisdom, common sense and love for this country and all these important founding principles for America! Your voice is important and appreciated!

  28. I have been a fan for some time but was especially moved in all sorts of ways by this piece. First of all I was jealous–jealous that someone could have lived in the same house and on the same land as ones forebears, see the same sights, smell the same smells and do some of the same work. Such a thing is completely unknown to me because I am the son of Holocaust survivors and naturally the lives of my family, what few there remain of us, has been completely deracinated. I once considered buying a farm in western Ontario and starting a school there where the students would partake of agricultural labor while studying a classical curriculum. It was a real beauty, had originally been homsteaded by Scottish immigrants who had cleared the land and built a brick farmhouse in classic Ontario farmhouse style with bricks they had cast and fired themselves out of clay found on the land. It had a huge post and beam barn with a stone foundation and the owner told me it had originally been closer to the house but had to be moved because back in the day there was feuding between Protestants and Catholics who were in the habit of burning down each others barns and the family was afraid that if the barn was set ablaze the house might go down with it. The farmer was in his 80s and too old to keep going and none of his kids were willing to take over.. Given my plans he was eager to sell to me and wanted to stick around in the nearby village that was named after his family and come over from time to time to teach the students farming but for various reasons I wasn’t up to the task and let the deal go. I’ve had a fair bit of higher education in elite schools but coming from a working class family (my father was a tailor) I was imbued with the spirit of self-sufficiency and picked up a lot of skills along the way though nothing like what the men had who are described in the article. One thing I can say though is part of that spirit comes not only for a lust for independence but from being poor and not wanting to pay someone for doing something one could do oneself. The spirit of conservation, particularly recycling, is often born of poverty. The other day when a neighbor came over to marvel at a job I was doing around the house that he himself did not feel up to doing I recounted and anecdote from my senior year at the U of Chicago where I was an undergraduate. One day I came across the former President, George Beadle, a Nobel laureate who had decided to settle in Hyde Park after his retirement. I saw him carrying a bag of concrete-stone mix in front of his house and asked him what he was doing. He said he was pouring a walk in front of his house. I asked why he was doing it himself and he replied “Why should I pay someone to do something I can do myself?” I love that spirit and wish I saw more of it. It is the spirit that built America and also Canada where I live.

  29. The corporations will be hiring foreigners in the next 4 years. High school graduates will not be hired.
    They had better learn to fix cars and remodel homes if they want employment. And so, maybe the
    practical male will not die out, because that’s the only employment available in socialist America.

  30. Gay Anne Donahue

    Thank you so much for the wonderful Easter message. It was so good to read something so heartwarming to celebrate Easter. Please write some more messages like that along with the political ones.
    Bless you Mr Hanson

  31. Dear Dr. Hanson,

    Your description of “the versatile, autonomous, jack-of-all-trades young man, who has the confidence and skill to go it alone under any possible contingency and welcomes rather than fears adversities” reminds me of my father and my two grandfathers.

    They were all farmers and knew how to repair anything — their tractors, plows, discs, harvesters, trailers, hay balers, seeding equipment and any number of other machines.

    They all had strong middle-class, salt-of-the-earth values transmitted to them through both their Southern agrarian parents and their churches. None of them ever accepted a dime from the federal government, even during the depths of the Depression. They had their families and their farmland (sometimes owned, sometimes rented, sometimes sharecropped). They made do with what they had, always feeding the many Depression-era vagrants who wandered by their farms needing something to eat.

    I so agree with you that our world needs many more of those men today, and that it may not survive because so many Americans have largely lost the appreciation and the valuing of self-sufficiency, instead thinking that it’s normal to be dependent upon somebody or something for all our needs.

    Thanks for reminding me what great stock I come from; those men were the best of the best.

  32. Great reflections Victor, down under life was similar in my boyhood, minus easy access to firearms. Most houses had a workshop and we fixed and changed our bikes and fiddled with our cars and generally fixed things. We roamed our urban neighbourhoods, learning much in the process. Today’s generation is brought up in homes with no room for a garage, with bikes so cheap it is not worth making them yourselves, with cars that are so sophisticated that you can’t tinker with them. Why wander the neighbourhood when you live a virtual life with a computer game? I feel my experiences made for a better life and skill set.

  33. Nice remembrances Dr. Hanson. Your sentence evokes a memory – “Their shops were like a US military supply depot”: Do you recall the Army Navy stores? They were are much fun as a good old hardware store, maybe more fun. I recall buying many items, and one in particular, a leather bomber jacket lined with sheep’s wool – toasty warm. I grew up in the 40s – 50s in Eastern PA; they were good old days. Good neighbors.

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