I met B in 1998 at the treesit at Fall Creek. A bunch of us had decided to make a stand defending a rare stand of low-elevation old-growth forest just southeast of Eugene. The first treesit was named Happy, and my friend Free was the first treesitter there. (Free is now serving a 23-year sentence at Oregon State Penitentiary). The second treesit to go up was Comfrey, a helicopter cargo net dangling 200 feet up in the canopy of the giant Doug firs and hemlocks in Unit 26. B was the next semi-permanent resident, nestled into that big hammock in the sky.
The first time I'd ever climbed into an actual sit (I'd climbed trees out there before any treesits were installed), it took me 45 huffing puffing minutes to get up there. When I reached the net, a furry bespectacled face reached over the edge to haul me in. "I'm B... welcome to Comfrey." "You mean "Bee" as in Bumble?" "Nope, just "B". I climbed in and took in my surroundings. The forest canopy is like twilight all day, with rare specks of sunshine filtering through the thick evergreen needles. A grey jay perched two feet away on the edge of the net and squawked for a meal. "They're the thieves of this forest... gotta keep your food sealed up tight," B told me. He gave me the Treesitting 101 intensive... how to connect your safety line, how to use the shit bucket without unhooking your safety, how to transfer food and cargo on the pulley lines to the other sits. His energy was frenetic and determined... he kept ambling around the net and small "bathroom" platform adjusting lines and securing supplies with near-manic intensity. He was rail thin, one of those skinny, energetic people that eat all day to maintain a metabolism that resents such things as quiet and sleep. He offered to teach me how to venture out on the rope walkways connecting the sits, but I declined, not sure if I was ready to dangle on ropes without even the illusory safety of a solid tree to make me feel a sense of structure in all that green-tinged void. I remember accepting a peanut butter sandwich from his grungy treesap covered hand while he told me he'd come from New York City where he'd been working with Steal This Radio on the Lower East Side.
B was killed... murdered... yesterday in Oaxaca, Mexico while covering the story of paramilitaries sent in to break up the blockade and strike. He'd been working with NYC Indymedia to provide the coverage of the brewing intensity and violence there that the mainstream US press had steadfastly ignored. He was shot in the chest as he was filming the PRIistas firing at the crowd.
The last time I saw him was about 4 years ago. He and his girlfriend showed up at our house, which was a frequent stop on the activist circuit. I remember it had been a summer of near-constant road weary travelers needing a place to crash between here and there, and B and his partner pushed the limits of our hospitality camped out in our dining room for two weeks. I can't remember what they were working on, where they were going next... only that they were in constant motion... travel gear strewn all over the place, bags of gorp spilling out on the table, on the phone hours and hours of the day. They tried to hop out on a train, and showed back up that evening, his partner in a leg brace having missed the deck on the fly.
The sad but poetic irony of B's murder is that his goal of shining a spotlight on the atrocities in Oaxaca are now being covered in the mainstream media. It often takes the death of a white American acitivist for these things to happen. This irony would not be lost on B, who I can imagine saying something like, "Oh, so NOW you wanna pay attention? Fuckers."
There has been a tragic streak in the lives of many who have done a stint at the Fall Creek treesit. We call it "The Fall Creek Curse", and it is not a stretch to say the curse is real. Since the demise of the active campaign, we have lost a dozen or so people to various dramatic exits... mostly suicides. Leaps from bridges and buildings, hangings and hari-kari, suicide by train... and then the less-than-autonomous methods like rape and murder, falls from trees, and now B... suicide? or murder? Some would say B's crazy wild risky streak was near suicidal. Wherever shit was going down, B was in the middle of it.
And now, those of us who knew him in that context are scattered to the winds. I'm sure there will be a memorial for him in the city. I plan to go out to Fall Creek and sit under Comfrey and Grover, on the ground where my mother's ashes are scattered, and do my remembering there.