A Single Morning
Updated: Feb 4, 2019
My grandfather had aspirations of becoming an artist when he was a young man. The desire was postponed when World War I diverted him. He trained for the fight in Europe. Another young infantryman ready to slip into the deadly trenches.
Fortunately, the war ended before he had to fight. Ira Hetrick became a farmer in Wilder, Idaho after the war. With a couple of mules (Pete and Blister) and horses (Jude and Molly), he provided for his young family. When my grandfather purchased his first tractor, he left it to his sons to learn the new equipment and he primarily kept working with mules and horses. My father tells of a parcel they rented that was on a steep incline. He said my grandfather was very good at creatively applying the right amount of water without washing the soil away. It makes me think of his artistry. In fact, running a farm requires a great deal of creativity and ingenuity.
When a new irrigation project brought water from the Owyhee River to undeveloped land in the heights above Homedale, Idaho my grandfather filed for a homestead and started another farm in the late 1920's. The dust bowl would soon arrive, the great depression loomed, foreshadowing World War II.
The homestead act was: "Signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862, the Homestead Act encouraged Western migration by providing settlers 160 acres of public land. In exchange, homesteaders paid a small filing fee and were required to complete five years of continuous residence before receiving ownership of the land. After six months of residency, homesteaders also had the option of purchasing the land from the government for $1.25 per acre. The Homestead Act led to the distribution of 80 million acres of public land by 1900."
Owyhee water project: "In August 1927, the US Congress authorized the building of a dam in the canyon of the Owyhee River. Construction of the dam began in 1928 to provide water for irrigation projects. It was built on a foundation of massive rhyolite, massive pitchstone, and associated unmassive pitchstone agglomerate geologic formations adjacent to the Owyhee Mountains. A project of the Bureau of Reclamation, they hired General Construction Company from Seattle to build the dam."
Because he was a veteran my grandfather was granted a first choice of the newly opened land. He chose an oddly shaped section on the Idaho Oregon border, because the parcel was larger. My father and his brother grew up in this environment. Working several parcels as they helped clear and develop the new homestead. My uncle remembered seeing dirty broken people arriving from the dust bowl, looking for work. Jobs were scarce as the depression began. My grandfather raised seeds of all sorts (lettuce, parsnips, carrot, etc.). Seeds are a difficult thing to grow and require a level of artistry and finesse. In one of the toughest era's in American history, my grandfather and his sons created jobs. My dad and uncle both remember German P.O.W.'s working the fields as soldiers stood guard during World War II. They provided precious seeds, when food was scarce. My grandfather was an artist. His canvas was soil and against a historical background of despair he created something beautiful.
In the early 1950's my dad, his brother and brother-in-law filed a desert land entry in Northern Nevada. The filing was with the department of the Bureau of Land Management. "On March 3, 1877, the Desert Land Act was passed by Congress to encourage and promote the economic development of the arid and semiarid public lands of the Western United States. Through the Act, individuals may apply for a desert-land entry to reclaim, irrigate, and cultivate arid and semiarid public lands." In 1955 they were granted the rights to develop land in the high desert of northern Nevada. The land was covered with sagebrush and had no water, no roads or other infrastructure. They dug the first well themselves, it was problematic (they were farmers not well diggers), but they eventually succeeded.
Before my father was 30 he harvested the first crop, with his brother. I entered this story, when I was born, in 1960. Orovada, Nevada is 40 miles north of Winnemucca and 30 miles from the Oregon border at the foot of Santa Rosa Mountains. My older brother currently runs the farm. It was a great place to be a kid.
Early one hazy morning I was up before dawn. I was around 12 or 13-years-old. I walked along a ditch bank focused on siphon tubes, draped along the ground. Suddenly a small, but brilliant, light lay across the dirt in front of me. It was striking. Then I looked to my right at the Santa Rosas and saw the most brilliant sunrise. The mountains, in knifed silhouette, held a portion of the emerging sun. There were no clouds, only long rays for miles around me. It was quiet. Alone, I stood in awe. A spectacular new morning. It was moments like this that inspired me to become an artist. A desire to capture and share something no one else has seen.
I've had the good fortune to spend most of my adult career as a professional graphic designer and photographer. I know that these opportunities came to me on the shoulders of the generations before me. Men and women who sacrificed. They worked hard and smart. They developed land that provides food to this day.
The bulldozer above is one that my father and his brother purchased to clear sagebrush and fill in washes. It was used during the World War II era to make roads. The letters on the side "WPA" stand for Works Progress Administration and represent a government program. "The Works Progress Administration (WPA; renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration) was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of people to carry out public-works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads." I captured this photograph as I prepared to spend the day running combines with my father.
My father will turn 90 this year, but ran a combine until he was 85. For the past 4 seasons, I've left my home in Southern California to go back to the family farm and run a combine, so my father doesn't feel like he has to. It's hard work, but it is nice to get back to the atmosphere that inspired me as a young boy.
Last fall, I hopped out of the combine and grabbed this shot. I can't help but think what sort of artist my grandfather might have become, but I look back at his life and his legacy and think, he navigated life artfully and afforded me the chance to pursue that dream. I am very grateful.