The Vertical Range War: Part Two, Up and Downs On the Yellow Brick Road
Here's how it starts: I'm carrying a load of supplies and one passenger up the mountain; its late, almost sunset. It's been a good run; the kind of run you can almost convince yourself is simply a nice refreshing drive in the hills. So why are my hands shaking? Why is the wheel slick in my sweaty palms? Suddenly, on the spookiest part of the trip, a one lane road with mountain on one side and Oh-My-God-how-far-down-does-that-go on the other; a road so twisted you get cotton mouth around every other hair pin, there, maybe fifty yards down the road, I see it. It's stopped, lying almost hidden in its own dust, like the steel skeleton of some science fiction whale carcass. The sight makes my bladder squeeze down so hard I have to bite my lip to keep from messin' my upholstery. My passenger begins to mutter something that sounded like a Wicca rosary, but I'm way too preoccupied to make it out. She falls quickly silent and we're both left gap jawed and staring at the giant monster now coming slowly, irresistibly, toward us. On the front is a banner that reads "Oversized Load"; I giggle insanely at the thought that I've never seen a more appropriate missive. With no time to think I react instinctively praying that I'm right. I gun the Jeep and dive straight for the only semblance of straightaway I can see, slow to a crawl, and pull hard toward the Oh-My-God side of the road. I can see from the corner of my eye my passenger has taken to staring straight down to avoid even a chance glance out the window; I think it is better that way. I put the brakes on only after feeling soft, uncertain ground under my outside tires; the jeep settles in, no choice but to wait for fate to sort it all out. The trucker, who I can now see clearly, has a cocky evil sort of grin plastered on his face, the kind of grin some men get when too much testosterone gets mixed with a crazy sort of challenge, the kind of challenge only a suicidal, or in my case, half crazed maniac would lay down. From the look in his eyes I can tell I may have made the wrong wager; this man may just be crazier than I am, and I'm certified. But I'm not thinking about that now, I can't think of anything except the massive vehicle crawling toward us like an Imperial Cruiser from Star Wars. As it approaches, the oversized banner flaps and I'm struck with the insane vision of the bull stealing the red cape and waving it at the dazed bullfighter as he lumbers toward him. The driver pulls to a stop in front of me, almost like he's giving us a last chance to get out while the getting is still good. The crazed look in my eye must have let him know we were declining his offer, because, wearing his evil grin stuck like stone, he moves to hug the mountain as closely as he can and without a word begins to slide past us at a pace significantly beyond my comfort. My passenger reflexively drops into a duck and cover position leaving me to stare out the window alone as the enormous machine slowly rumbles by. I have an insane urge to moon the driver, but I'm afraid it might push my passenger, or him, right over the edge, and over the edge was not the place my passenger, or I, wanted brought up at that moment. Thus, I'm reduced to rolling an unlit smoke in my hand and wondering if my knees will support my weight when this thing passes so I can smoke it, or if I'll get a chance to light it at all. The trailer moves closer and closer as it glides by and I know in my heart this bozo doesn't have the room to make it. Suddenly it's D-Day; there's no room at all between the vehicles. Still, the oversized monster moves forward without stopping. I know this is it and I try to scream something insane at the driver, but I can no longer find my voice. Suddenly it's too late...
And just as suddenly, I awake.
As I sit up on the side of the bed, sweating even in the cool of the night air, desperately hoping there's something at hand to wake me the rest of the way up; I keep telling myself that that didn't happen today, that was another trip. Let it go; it was days ago. Let it go old man; let it go. Focus on today, I think, today is going to be a better day. Today the forces of good will prove the stronger. Today there will be high times on the mountain; big magic and bad craziness are set to duke it out deep in the Siskiyous. Today promises to be a day when polar opposite energies will struggle like hot oil and cold water in the high country air; mismatched lovers caught in a chance meeting on the street after the ugly end of a short and sour relationship. It promises to be a day that will not disappoint. A day of dogfights and astral portents, high spells and dirty low down insults, all rolled up in a shiny ball reflecting the struggle for the upper hand here on the front lines of the battle for the soul of the planet. It promises to be a moment straight out of some warped surrealist theater when Starhawk, wise counselor to generations of Witches, comes head to head with the bull's security guard at the barricade. Mother Theresa meets Bigfoot. It will surely be a sight to warm an old pagans heart, imagine it kiddies, two dozen Witch's and more, chanting and dancing, pitting mighty mojo against the shriveled soul of a security guard strapped up so tight with his guns and mean dog he has to disarm to defecate. A strange twisted scene that promises to make me think about flashbacks and what my doctor in the seventies told me about early senility and hallucinogenics. As I think over the possibilities I am struck with an overwhelming urge to just give in to the whole damn image, like a bad trip you just have to ride out. A scene where Warriors and Witch's fade away into the scariest forest in Oz with Glenda the good Witch their only guide and protector. Harry Potter got nothing on these good folks. But then the feeling passes and I'm left thinking that hey, this is the Horn, the fight where anything can, and probably will, happen, and, all in all, I have to say it should be a pretty good day on Weirdsville mountain.
But I didn't come to tell you about the Witch's. I'm certain the Witches can tell their own story better than this broken down, cynical old smuggler. Let me instead tell you a little bit about camp "Oh my God, how Far up that Hill Is This Place", my collective name for the endless camps that have come and gone here at the Horn. Here at the Horn, you see, campsites rise and fall like governments in a Banana Republic. It's mostly because of a twisted game of hide and seek the protesters are forced to play with the Freddie's and the L.E.O.'s: the forest defenders move camp in the dead of night, only to rise in the wee hours of the morning to the sight of a Freddie wandering amongst their sleeping forms. They move again. After each move, they have a few days, sometimes very few, before their new hiding place is uncovered and they are left with no choice except to begin the play again; the game goes on. Twisted stuff on more than one level.
Now remember, a lot of what I'm relating here is the way it was before the closure. Not that things have gotten better since the Freddies closed the woods, in fact, the real truth is that after the closure the crazy factor went up instead of down. You know, mad dogs accompanied by guards more bloodthirsty than the animals frothing by their sides. But, even before the closure the campsites were Spartan to the max, spread out for miles with only their ruggedness in common. It's been a hardtack series of camps ladies and gents. Camps that have been the polar opposite of the camp at the Green Bridge. Here every damn walk seems to go uphill; there we were nestled in an emerald jewel on the banks of the beautiful Illinois River; close to parking, close to town, fighting a battle that allowed us to commute. Here, by the time you walk from the kitchen to the work site you've already worked up an appetite; there, a professional chef often catered the camp. In fact, the Green Bridge Camp was the only place I have ever eaten Vegan cooking that I liked. Vegan cooking normally makes me want to clean out my mouth with a stick, gargle copious amounts of cheap booze and rub raw meat on my tongue, but this stuff was really quite tasty. I hardly suffered any carnivorous impulses at all while I scarfed it down. The camp at the Green Bridge served as a wonderful base camp, part staging ground, part classroom, and part meeting place for the concerned. It attracted Earth Firsters, townies, environmental scientists, responsible "natural selection" hands-off wilderness loggers, and the merely curious and fretful. People who would have perhaps never thought of going miles for a fight, suddenly found the front lines of a crucial battle practically right out side their door. At the Green Bridge Camp there was time for long rap sessions each night where everyone had a chance to air their feelings and fears; a place where bonds were formed that are even now proving to be trustable and lasting. All in all, the Green Bridge camp was one of the more pleasurable campsites I have ever attended. Of course, there were the small inconveniences concerning the bulls hauling you or your friends off to jail before sunup every other morning, and some morning's we had to take the expectable ass kicking, but hey, every neighborhood has its downers. But, that was the Green Bridge, a place that, for all the arrests and hassles, seems somehow peaceful and distant from here at the Horn. Like that was the Tunnel of Love, and this is the Roller coaster from hell. This is the ride where the grin on the ticket takers face makes you nervous without knowing why, and the last thing he tells you as you slide into the darkness is: "hold on tight children, this is where the ride gets interesting".
You get the feeling that the camps of the Horn have been to the Green Bridge camp what crossing the Sahara is to crossing the park for a picnic by the lake. I mean, the squeamish definitely need not apply. In this place supreme physical challenges mix daily with high doses of physical sacrifice. No endurance athlete in any sport demands more of themselves than the citizens of Free State at the Horn. Here, in this place where only the committed and somewhat mad dwell, hard physical work and a lean dumpster/donated diet turns the body to pure muscle covered by only by the sparsest layer of flesh. Those hardy few who had the inner fire to be stick it out long enough to be considered longtimers showed the unmistakable signs of protein deprivation. They have literally become spooks in the night-Casper the grimy ghost and friends.
The Horn has been a place where, by some twisted magic of the Gods, the paths all seem to go straight uphill. Here, help has been far removed from just around the corner, and sometimes the only people with transportation are the people on the other side. Here, every act of resistance must be constructed out of materials on site, and the willing hands of the campers are often the only tools they have to hold back an enemy waiting to overpower them with bulldozers and hoists. Here in the heat of summer many of the campsites have been over a mile from water, and a site that lasts beyond a few days is a rarity. Here physical exhaustion is the norm. I've sat around campfires in the evening here at the Horn, eating with the campers after one of my runs in what they call the Revolution Taxi, and with very little convincing I would have sworn to God I was eating with front line troops from some long ago war. A conflict where the irregulars went to battle wearing the cloths on their backs, and those who returned could be marked in a crowd by the thousand mile stare in their eyes, and the grime on their limbs and faces that only long months of desperate struggle grinds into a body.
But there is something else about the Horn. Something every resister should know. It's something that goes beyond the long hikes, beyond the intimidating drive, beyond even the physical demands and deprivations, you see, there's something sinister about the Horn. Being here, and listening to people talk about their experiences, I've gotten the distinct feeling that at the Horn, not only the less hearty need not apply, but the fearful and easily intimidated should probably take a pass as well. Because here at the Horn the rules of civilized behavior apply about as much for the loggers as they did for white supremacist during the civil rights movement. Here what passes for law enforcement turns its back at convenient moments, such as the loggers verbally harassing, or physically intimidating a protester or innocent bystander. Here the bulls threaten camp supporters while watching the other side bulldozes in the supporter's car. Here, the norm is illegal arrests, intimidation tactics, threats and abuse. Here, logging company's find employment for the sadistic creatures prone to creeping about in the night, dog by their side, hunting for "hippies" in the woods. For what? Protecting the machines owned by men who live far away; fat cats happy as hell to pit the guard against the protesters so they can exploit the security guards in the same way they exploit the forest? Maybe the guard gets something out of this, some dark sick gut level sort of rush. I don't really know, I tried to ask him, but it seems he is about as fond of interviews as our loving commander in chief.
But what troubles me most is the fact that since the closure our young warriors have found them selves up against the oldest fascist trick in the book: mind games. At this site Psy-Op rumors are released as often a Presidential denials. Around here a new and evermore threatening rumor seems to crop up every other day. My favorite, and my personal nominee for mind f**K of the season award was the one that had the Governor calling out the National Guard to surround the tree set, thus keeping the evil and dreaded night warriors of the chuck wagon from running supplies to the person at the top of the tree. (It's odd though, I personally got a much bigger laugh out of it than the Governor's office or the National Guard Commander seemed to when I got behind some cheap scotch and called them to confirm or deny the rumor. Were they in cahoots with the Bush's Forest Service and logging companies? Did they intend to use taxpayer money to surround a tree? It was a moment filled with many denials, many: "Oh my God, we would never consider such a thing." Maybe it was the way I worded the question. Maybe I might have left out the part about the wrath of the people rising up like a righteous tide and drowning the greedy and wicked. People can be so touchy about things like conspiracies and plots).
That's the way the days and nights pass here at the place we call the Horn; attack dogs and late night gunplay; threats and ugly acts. I guess its like the good book says folks: wars and rumors of wars. Some of the folks in my camp think that this rise in the level of lawlessness is a reaction to the amount of money that the protests are costing the state and the companies trying to cut the trees. My personal theory is a little different: I think that the powers that be think they have the Earth Firsters, their few supporters, and anyone else foolish enough to get in the way of the jack-boots loose in the forest, caught, a long way from help. In other words, they have them all to them selves. I think Freddie thinks that nobody in the world is going to give a tinkers damn if they need to rough up a few scraggly looking kids to get the harvest in on time. It's the oldest range war rule in the book: you do what it takes to get done what the big man wants done. I mean everybody understands the cost of doing business right?
So there it is children: uniformed lions and tigers and bears (oh my) loose in the forest, good witch's casting protection spells, physiological mind games, selective law enforcement, selective protection--all the classic elements of an old fashion American range war. On one side progress is measured in wilderness conquered, while just across the barricade or high up in a tree stands and sit the preservationists, those who believe that progress is better measured in wilderness spared. Someone commented that this all reads like a twisted Greek tragedy, my first thought was I must have screwed up, because it should read like an American tragedy. But remember my despairing reader, not all sad stories end badly, and this will be a long war. And besides, in the end the meaning of life really boils down that for which you are willing to sacrifice. You've heard it before: it's a question of which master you choose to serve. For some people, that means accumulated toys obtained through a lifetime of careful (or not so careful) financial planning; for some it is the adulation of the masses; for others it is life itself. This, in the end, is the simple story of a group of people who have not only decided that the salvation of a planet is a thing they are willing to make sacrifices for, but that suffering for the sake of right is itself beautiful. No attachment to the outcome, only to the process. I guess that's why beneath the ground in layers of sweat and dirt, I always seem to sense a layer of nobility; something that goes beyond whether they win or lose. Maybe its the beauty of finding something that is pure and noble in a world that has gone so terribly wrong on so many important levels. Perhaps that's why, for me, there is something compelling that haunts these campfires. Hopelessly out gunned, constantly harassed, lacking the basic comforts of life that you and I, sitting here reading the news in our comfortable homes consider necessary to making life tolerable; these young women and men continue their valiant resistance as if it's just another day in the woods, just another day in the life. Determined to fight like Gandhi, bearing malice toward none, they demand the absolute of them selves, and by so doing accomplish the unimaginable. Besides, every time I go up into the woods, only to find a gaping hole in the forest compliments of the people you and I hired to protect them; I can't help but wonder how many holes my grandchildren will find when they grow up, or if they will find a forest at all. Maybe that's what pushes me to load the car and drive up the mountain one more time, regardless of what spooky shit is coming down the hill to meet me. It's that sure and certain knowledge that what has started in these quiet mountains is far from over; far from settled. So keep a backpack stuffed and strapped up in your closet fellow babies, you never know when a small mad voice in your head will begin to whisper that there's a road trip in your future, and that even a hopeless fight is better than no fight at all.
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