Llano was like a love affair. At first very aspect was fresh, exciting, enrapturing, all consuming. But in time, as the passion wears off, there is the gradual accommodation to the flaws in everything we love. I’d rigged up a hand pump and a long hose to the acequia, so we could pump the water for cooking and washing, but it needed constant repairs and didn’t work at all once the ground froze. Crossing the acequia to use the outhouse still seemed acceptable, but breaking ice in winter and bringing in multiple buckets of water every day did not. We wanted running water.
There was a local well digger in Peñasco who dug most of the wells in Llano, but I couldn’t get a commitment from him. He didn’t particularly like new comers and he had plenty of business, so I kept getting pushed off. Perhaps I didn’t offer him enough money. By this time relations with the neighbor who gave us drinking water were so bad, that getting the water from him was a daily humiliation, as he played his endless power games. “If you don’t do ‘whatever’ I won’t let you have any drinking water.”
When I read an ad in the Taos newspaper that a well digger was offering terrific deals on digging wells, I went for it. He was a rigger from Oklahoma and we settled for a guaranteed price … just about all the money I had left. I paid half up front and he went to work. There are two methods of drilling wells – a corkscrew that pulls out the soil and a rammer that hammers into the ground and pulls out a core of earth. What neither the Oklahoma rigger nor I knew was that a rammer wouldn’t work in the rocky sub-soil of the raised Llano. He couldn’t get through the rocks to the water. The head kept twisting when it ran into a boulder whereas the corkscrew loosened the rocks, even large one, and pushed them aside or pulled them out.
I should have figured this out, but he was confident that another try would do it and he kept working. It went on for almost a week and then one morning he was gone. I imagine he was as desperate as I was and half the money was better than none. I ended up with a big hole next to the house, no running water, and was the laughing-stock of the valley. I was too broke to start another well.
That June, I went out to the barn to do the morning milking. Then I went to check on the Banty hen and her chicks, the first we had successfully hatched on the farm from our own eggs. I found them bloody and half eaten on the soft, clean straw of the goat barn, killed by a raccoon or a skunk.
It was a normal rural set back, but a wave of hopelessness swept over me when I carried them outside. The barn was already too small. The back field of corn, beans, and oats had not germinated well, because we’d planted too deep in a dry year. Everything was unfinished or yet to be begun. The three room adobe house needed a new coat of mud plaster. The outhouse was full and I needed to dig a new hole before the ground froze. Fencing needed repairs around the 8 acres we owned. I needed wood for winter. Manure still had to be hauled for the vegetable garden.
Most troubling, we were far from self-sufficient and needed money for gasoline for the truck, medical supplies, supplemental feed for the animals and food for ourselves. I had to face what should have been obvious, 8 acres of Llano land would never generate a surplus. A friend down the road and along the Rio Grande in Dixon, with fertile land a couple of thousand feet lower than Llano, ran a small truck farm. He’d gone to the U.S. Agricultural School in Davis, apprenticed on a California farm, worked with a tractor and irrigation pipes, used chemical fertilizer and got a lot of free labor. He made about $3,000 a year.
Others schemes to make money. If a good goat gives a gallon of milk a day for 10 months, we should be able to sell the milk or cheese at about $2.00 a gallon. Each goat would birth two kids a year for $20 each, earning about $80. Ten good milkers could give you an income of almost $3,000 a year. Ah, how marvelous is theory! We’d need at lest three acres under intense cultivation to feed the goats, a giant leap forward from the present garden plot of 30 X 100 feet, a half-acre of alfalfa and some oats. And then, no goat we’d owned had ever given a gallon of milk for a full 10 months. Nor had we ever been able to sell milk or cheese, except for food stamps, which we didn’t need.
Another thought was raising Agora goats for their wool and weaving vests to sell. But at 2 1/2 pounds of wool per goat, and five pounds of wool needed per vest with a selling price of about $30 a vest, we’d have to process some two hundred goats a year, feed them, sheer them, card and spin the wool and then weave the stuff into cloth to make to make clothes for about $4,000 a year.
The first doubts began to creep in. My father-in-law had given us a subscription to the Sunday New York Times. I sometimes, on long winter nights, found myself thinking about my old friends: Dick Elman had published a new novel; Dale Minor had become chief writer for Walter Cronkite; John Leonard was off to The New York Times Bookj Review. What was I doing?