“What a long, strange trip it’s been,” in the words of the Grateful Dead.
Twenty years ago the first Gopher Gulch column appeared. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday that I sat on the back steps and went into labor, eventually giving birth to a newspaper column that took on a life of its own. We’ve been meeting here on a “same time next week” basis through wars, tsunamis, five editors, three publishers and more social, political and economic crises than I can count.
And that’s just the public stuff. In our private lives, 20 years is huge. The column was new when JoAnn called me, hoping I could help her find goat milk for baby Zoee, who is now a lovely and accomplished young woman. I was a middle-age brush picker and market gardener. Now there are wrinkles and gray hair and I’ve traded my machete for a camera.
I’m frankly stunned that it’s lasted so long. What began as a simple garden column has wandered off into topics as varied as philosophy, ecology, magic and geriatrics. And this is how it happened.
It was January 1992, and I’d been caught in a county budget crunch. It was my first indication that loving your work and being good at it was no guarantee. Hurt and indignant, I went back to work in the woods, cold, wet and worried. Like the cougar whose tracks I followed, I was long in the tooth and too old for the life.
One day I sat on the back steps perusing the Triplicate, looking for a job. There weren’t any. I gazed out over the garden, which looked as pitiful as I felt.
“What this paper needs is a garden column,” I murmured aloud. The words just hung there, flashing neon in the air before me. That’s usually a pretty good indication that I should do something. After some thought I wrote four short essays, took my offerings to the editor and told him I thought a garden column would help sell papers. What’s more, I thought I could write one. He looked them over, talked to the publisher and called to say I was in.
That’s when I insisted on naming the column myself, since I didn’t want to get trapped by a name like, “Harvest Herbs,” or “Garden Gate.” I figured with a name like “Gopher Gulch,” there’d be limited opportunity to box me into a topic, and after my county employment I had an aversion to boxes.
Y’all are wonderful, tolerating my goofiness and laughing even when you know I’m two pickles shy of a sandwich. Often you write the column by asking questions and sending ideas. I’ve met most of my friends here and spend Tuesday mornings with some I haven’t met yet.
How much longer will it last? As long as you enjoy meeting here over Tuesday’s paper. So please pass the coffee, and I’ll see you same time next week.