When I was a kid everybody had a burning barrel in the backyard to dispose of their garbage. Anything that wouldn’t burn had to be hauled to Prineville or Burns. We made that trip once a year and so did just about everyone else in Wilbur County except some of the farmers and ranchers who had their own personal dumpsites on what they referred to as “useless” property. Sometimes this was swamp, sometimes just rocky desert. A couple of years after I left home, someone alerted the Department of Environmental Quality that people were dumping and burying garbage all over the county. The DEQ made it very clear to Wilbur County that this would not be tolerated. Nor would indiscriminate outdoor burning. Wilbur County was given an ultimatum: Create a waste management plan and implement it within five years or the DEQ would fine the county out of existence.
The details are a little foggy to me, but from what I gather, Vernon Van Bibber hatched a scheme to get his hands on Bradford property. Apparantly, it didn’t matter to him that Lucinda Bradford (Bradley’s mother) was his cousin. I don’t think Vernon really wanted the land. He just wanted to take it away from the Bradfords. Arguing that the Bradford property was an ideal site for a landfill was actually quite reasonable given its location. The land wasn’t suitable for honeydew farming. It wasn’t good for grazing cattle. Bradford had one of the few remaining sheep operations in the county and it wasn’t sheep that supported the family. Shrewd investments in the stock market, in spite of the crash in the 1980s, kept the family out of debt. Sheep was more of a hobby and they specialized in black sheep for the high-end specialty yarn market.
Everybody knew that Bradley wouldn’t sell to the county and that he would fight the condemnation of his property. No one expected him to offer to operate the landfill. Vernon’s dream of dumping his garbage on Bradford land dissolved when he realized that would give Bradley Bradford access to every intimate scrap. I’ve heard people say that Vernon Van Bibber wouldn’t crap in a pot if a Bradford could get his hands on it. I’m pretty sure I know what that means though I’m not sure I can explain it. I first learned about Brad’s Pit from one of Mom’s letters. She just happened to mention that she and Dad had made a run out to Brad’s Pit with the garbage and saw a herd of deer on the way back. She didn’t give any background about the dump, who owned it or when it opened, nothing. Typical of Mom. She seems to believe that her context is your context and nothing needs to be expounded. Not only does she expect me to know what is on her mind, she thinks she knows what’s on mine. I could go on about that, but I won’t.
I pulled around the last winding curve, topping the rise of Bradford’s hill and settled my car into a space in front of the old Bradford farmhouse. The pits are behind the house, stretching away from it to the West. The older pits, the ones closest to the house, have been covered with soil and a few scrubby sagebrush have already taken root among the tumbleweeds, green this time of year. Even so the stink from the outer pits greeted me as soon as I got out of my car. Brad watched me from his porch rocking chair.