I spent the first few weeks fully onboard with Trato Diablo Farms in late June. Plants were in their beds and we were commencing maintenance activities for the long summer months. From fixing those beds to fixing leaky irrigation lines, from pest control to weeding and mowing, we did everything on foot and with a staff of about ten. We stayed busy ten-hours a day, six days a week.
It wasn’t difficult work though. It was no more demanding and required no more skill than it took to manage my cabin and 15-acres in northwest Arkansas. The major difference was the scenery. The hemp farm in southern Oregon was on the western edge of the Rogue Valley. The 360-degree views of conifer-covered hills and snow-capped Mount McLoughlin were stunning.
There would be days when I’d be walking amongst the rows in the fields, inspecting the plants, checking the irrigation lines, and I would do this for hours and hours on end, for weeks on end, and I thought it was the greatest job in the world. I would be listening to audiobooks with my Beats by Dre headphones over my ears, wearing shorts and a tanktop, soaking in that Vitamin D, surrounded by stanky potent CBD flower with the resin soaking into my skin and sticking to my leg hairs, steeping in all those organic cannabinoids, happier than a cat in nip.
The days quickly settled into routine. Cornelius and I didn’t spend much time together. What time we did spend was on the clock. Sometimes after work I’d swing through the farmhouse and, if he answered the door, hang out for a bit and listen to him bitch about Dick before I eventually headed home.
Cornelius kept putting off my invites to come over to my place and finally meeting the family. Later he told me he thought it was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard, the fact that Chelsea – who has a Master’s Degree in Education – wasn’t going to get a job but stay home and homeschool our kids instead.
“What about socialization?” Cornelius said. “How are you going to teach the kids social skills if they don’t go to school?”
“Club soccer, Scouts, homeschool groups, just like anybody else, really,” I said.
Cornelius shook his head. “Homeschool kids are weird, dude. C’mon.”
“It’s not a cult, bro. We’re not teaching them some religious agenda. We’re teaching them to be independent thinkers. It’s our American right,” I said. “I’m surprised you have such a high opinion of the public education system. Like you’re some emblematic product of it, like it served you so well.” I was being facetious. I knew where Cornelius stood on his views regarding the education system in America. We discussed it at length in our late 20s, shortly after we read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. But, again, this was the New Cornelius.
As far as his education was concerned, Cornelius spent his early years in a private Catholic school in Merced, California. Later he transitioned to the public school system, eventually graduating from Merced High in 1992. He later went to Fresno State University graduating with a degree in Business in 2003.
I’m a product of the public education system, myself. Maybe that’s not surprising at this point in the story. Somehow I went to college and grad school. Nothing remarkable. I am a graduate of The Jack Kerouac School, I’ll say that.
But as it turns out, Cornelius just didn’t like kids. I guess I never knew that about him. Then again, this was the New Cornelius.
“I like the quiet,” he told me.
A lot had changed over the years.
The other thing that got in the way of Bro Time was Cornelius increasingly going to doctor’s appointments. He was starting to miss a lot of work. He wasn’t upfront with the details, but I knew something was up because he was traveling to clinics in Portland and somewhere in California and he’d be gone for days at a time. He’d ask me and Billy to feed his cats. I had no inclination he was dealing with something serious, though.
Meanwhile, Chels and the kids were getting settled into their new lives as Oregonians. They melted right in. Indy quickly made friends at junior high and Cooper and Aspen made instant friends with the neighbor kids, who were homeschooled as well. Chels quickly made friends with several moms within the thriving homeschool community in the area. It appeared she was taking Cooper and Aspen hiking every other day and on the other days they were outside at a park or nature center or doing something adventurous and educational.
It was truly the happiest we’d ever been. I was working in this crazy but interesting new industry and Chelsea was finally home full-time raising the family. We had forged ahead with our new lives and landed at the end of the continent, in beautiful Oregon. It was time to explore.
That’s exactly what we did on the weekends. Whether it was hiking, camping, paddling, biking, at rivers, lakes, beaches, or mountains, we were all up in it every single weekend that summer. We had a blast.
Work on the farm wasn’t much different. I even brought Indy and Cooper out to the nine-acres with me. They picked apples and pears from the trees by Billy’s trailer. They followed me down the rows and picked buckets of wild blackberries, raspberries and cherries that grew at the end of the field by the irrigation canal.
Shortly after the kids had their Daddy Work Days, Cornelius shot me a text.
Swing by the farmhouse afterwork.
I did so.
“So you brought Indy and Cooper out to the nine-acres?” Cornelius asked once I was inside, seated at his smoking table.
“Were they bored?”
“Just don’t bring them to the main farm,” he said. “OK?”
“OK,” I said. “What’s the big deal?”
“Dick wouldn’t like it,” he said.
“I actually cleared it with Dick already. He didn’t have a problem with it at all.”
“Really,” Cornelius said.
There was an awkward pause full of nasal breathing.
“You hungry? Wanna go to Shari’s?”
I loved Shari’s. It was one leg up from Denny’s, located by the interstate. But because the food was so fresh in the valley, the food at this greasy spoon was excellent. They had great pies, too, and most times I went there I’d take a fresh huckleberry pie home with me.
I shrugged, “Sure. Let me holler at Chelsea.”
I shot her a text and told her what’s up. It was a bit spontaneous and weird so I was curious as to what Cornelius had going on in his gray matter.
On the way to where the Porsche-uh was parked, Cornelius stopped in his tracks.
“Hold on, let me check something,” he said. “Follow me.”
He walked up and down a few rows near the side of the old red barn. At one point he turned around and as he was walking towards me, his profile illuminated with the orange glow of the setting sun, he yelled:
“LOOK WHAT I BUILT, NATE! I FUCKING BUILT THIS!”