But even then there was a hint of something in the air. An ominous hint of impending prosperity.
At that time - it is embarrassing to think about now - the farmer drove around in a vintage black Jaguar, having just gotten a job in what would later be known as the Internet bubble. Nobody knew it was a bubble then. So everyone bought vintage black Jaguars to drive around in.
But one day out of the blue, in spite of the vintage black Jaguar, the farmer drove to Tenino, a little bend in the road outside Olympia, to look at a litter of border collie puppies. "Just to look."
The puppies were all in a pen, and some children were 'playing' with them - poking them with a stick through the slats of the pen. Several of the puppies seemed to like this kind of fun, and they seethed around in a mass, following, on the inside, as the children ran around the outside of the pen. One very beautiful puppy did not follow the children; instead she observed them, watchfully, and moved neatly and efficiently in such a manner as to remain as far away from them as possible at all times.
The farmer bought this puppy, and named her Spenny.
Not long afterward, as the puppy looked with a pained expression at the farmer from the passenger seat of the black Jaguar, the farmer bought a thing they used to call a newspaper, and looked through it at these things they used to call classified ads, and found and bought a 1978 F-150, battered even then. The puppy was extremely pleased. This was the type of vehicle a border collie could be seen in in public.
Not long after that someone looked at the farmer and the puppy riding around in the truck and said, "well, you have a farm dog, and you have a farm truck, now all you need is a farm."
And so then the farmer bought a farm, and gradually became a sort of inept but oddly persistent farmer, and stayed on the farm when the Internet bubble burst, and bought a pair of LaManchas to eat some of the brush growing in the pastures, and then bought a little white Nigerian Dwarf goat named Baby Belle, driving in the F-150 to Eastern Washington to pick her up, with the border collie riding shotgun, watchful as ever, occasionally even standing up on the seat with her chin balanced on the dashboard and the tip of her nose against the windshield, the better to see every inch of the world passing by.
Time passed, many years, and the puppy grew old and frail. She began to fail badly, and was weaker every day. But she was watchful as ever, faithful as ever, keenly intelligent as ever, always looking to the farmer for a sign. The farmer would not, could not, let her go. Because it was spring, and turning to summer, the most beautiful time of the year. Because she might miss one more beautiful day. So Spenny watched and waited, as usual, for the farmer to figure out something Spenny already knew.
Would any day ever be beautiful enough to be Spenny's last day? Was there ever such a day? No. And so finally, yesterday, the farmer let her go.
It was a desperately beautiful, desperately sad day. And a desperately sad end to the story. But it was just the end of the story. It wasn't the heart of the story. The heart of the story was the fact - who knew? - that all of us, at any given time, are one border collie puppy away from a whole new life.
It just has to be the right puppy.