The Tule Fog



I was standing on the gravel driveway that separated the house from the pasture; if you could call it a pasture.  Leaning against the wooden fence, I peered out through the dense, dreary fog at the lone cow slowly moving her head over the ground, as if she was finding something to eat.  I was cold and shivering, so I pulled the collar of my jacket up around my neck, and put my hands under the opposite arm pits.  Why did I come out dressed like this?  Well, I won’t stay out long.

This was the notorious Tule fog for which this California valley was famous.  This great six- hundred mile long valley, usually described as two: The San Joaquin and the Sacramento, each named for their main rivers.  The Sacramento Valley in the North, widening as it approached the City of Sacramento some two-hundred miles southward, and the San Joaquin Valley, starting in the South near Bakersfield and meeting its complement at Sacramento.

Yes, this is the breadbasket of the World: cotton; corn; rice; peaches; olives; grapes; tomatoes; almonds, and most anything you can think of, nourished by these rivers from the snow pack in the Sierra to the east.  And yes, this is the month of January, the month of the Tule fog that closes down all agriculture, depresses the populace, piles up automobiles on the highways, confuses the legislature, and sends retired seniors to Florida.  Throughout this vast basin, wisps of moisture rise from the wet ground, the marshes, and the canals.  The air is still, the only movement is the rivers rushing to the Golden Gate.

I came out of the house for a smoke and to get away from the television. It’s been eighty years since I last visited the twenty acre farm of my grandparents here.  What fun it was then: the jumping in the hayloft; the walking behind my grandpa as the mule pulled his hand-held plow; the rabbit hunting; and the ten mile ride to town in the wagon for provisions.  Where is the windmill, the chickens, the wood pile, the out-house, the coal-oil lamp?  Of course, I knew it was gone, only the driveway’s location was familiar.  A nephew inherited the ranch, sold all, but a patch, to an agro-conglomerate, and built a small house for his and his wife’s retirement.  But I had to see it once more.

I continued to stare through the gloom. There was a faint outline of the opposite fence, and what looked like a watering trough off to the right. And I could just make out a passing car on the country road beyond.  I felt miserable, cold and damp, and I wondered what that cow was thinking.  Was she as depressed as I?  I thought “what a dumb cow”, and about that time she raised her head and stared at me.  Was she thinking “what a dumb man”?  While I review pieces of my life in my mind, and day-dream of doing great deeds, maybe she does the same.  That bull, with which she mated, oh yes, he was handsome and rough, and it was great while it lasted, even though he didn’t hang around to help raise the calf.  And the calf, learning to stand on its spindly legs, as she licked him clean.  Then there was the county fair where she won a blue ribbon. And, of course, the relief each evening, when she is milked, and given a dinner of hay.  Yes, she had lots to think about.

I was uncomfortable, and she was uncomfortable.  We had something in common.  I’d be leaving tomorrow, back to where the sun will shine, and she’ll be dreaming of the past, and of the future, to keep her mind off this damp, sparse, miserable, lonely pasture.  There’ll be another County Fair and she will win another ribbon, and a special certificate for her great milk production.  Yes, she will be famous, and stand with her head held high and people will Ooh! And Ah!   And the 4-H children will crowd around and stare at her.  She dreams on: she will do fabulous things; next year the State Fair, and bulls ogling her– and even someday, the world will see the great big headline in the newspapers: “Cow Jumps Over the Moon.”



George W. Parker

April 2010

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