Quite a few years ago, in the summer of 1984, I was living the hard core back-to-the-land Idaho panhandle hippie dream. Chopping wood and carrying water was the least of it. Two babies in cloth diapers. Scrubbing laundry on a board in a tub. Goats, two of them, to milk daily, and no refrigeration, so cheese, made from any milk we didn’t drink. A garden, of course, with vegetables to preserve in jars on a wood cookstove. Firewood to cut. Pickled eggs. Chickens, ducks, geese, cats, a dog, and one of those partners who is more like a third child than a second adult. He worked for an outfit out on the highway whose sign out front said “Swine Enterprises.” The pig farm.
One July afternoon a couple about our age came by the pig farm looking to buy a piglet to raise. They hailed from a region to the south called “the Palouse.” They came around to our house to visit after the pig transaction. They stayed for dinner. We played a little music. They had a friend with them, a little guy with a bushy black beard whom they introduced as Charlie Brown.
Well this Charlie Brown person checked out his surroundings and knew right off that it was my lucky day. He shuffled a chair to the corner of the summer kitchen that gave him a panoramic view of the house, garden and animal pens, then began a recitation of the adjustments that would improve my situation.
The fencing isn’t built right. I should be getting more milk from those goats. The orchard is in the wrong place. You can’t store your hay there. The firewood won’t cure by fall it it is stacked that way. That’s not a proper water dipper.
About the only thing I had working in my favor was wearing my shoes on the right feet.
I’ll never forget that guy, the angle of his body in the chair, the way his limbs flailed each time he got new idea. All you gotta do is this. All you gotta do is that. I remember being silently, politely incensed. The evening played out and we ended up becoming good friends with those folks, absent Charlie Brown, packing up our families and spending weekends camped out at one another’s houses.
A lot of people on the Palouse have Charlie Brown stories. Some say of him, “Oh, he was a lot different before the motorcycle accident.” I remember one evening beside a Palouse farmhouse in the rose light of an August evening, looking past his face and daydreaming across the wind-ripples in a wheatfield while he explained how he developed such an acuity at predicting earthquakes.
My favorite Charlie Brown story, though, is the one about how he taught me one of the most useful lessons of my life: All you gotta do is…. All you gotta do is.. Whenever anybody starts telling you something that starts out with All you gotta do is… already you can stop listening.