Sometimes I was convinced a joke was the only kind of precipitation that rained from the skies, even if it only misted in dripping fog. Those nights camping on the sands between Humboldt Bay and the crashing waves of the Pacific, tweakers invited us to join their campfires and grew toothlessly lewd before bedtime. The fish weren't biting, either. At the Arcata co-op, we noticed a poster tacked to the bulletin board, along with a host of others advertising different music performances, yoga instructors, and clairvoyants. "SAVE HEADWATERS FOREST," it proclaimed, at the top. A rally was coming up on September 15, 1996.
"I bet there's a conflict, locally, between the loggers and the hippies," I mentioned to Maggie, who, like me, was fresh out of the Hoosier Hills, both hick kids. We'd only been in California a few days. "We oughtta check it out."
So on September 15, Maggie drove us down to Carlotta, in southern Humboldt. We parked in the midst of thousands of cars in some cut hay pastures, and marched along with crowds towards the site of what was supposed to be the largest mass arrest in California history, they were saying. Don Henley was playing, as well as Bonnie Raitt, Judi Bari, and Derryl Cherny.
As we hoofed it down the county road, towards the logging gate and the main stage, the marchers sang the chorus and verses of "This Land is Our Land." Some had strap-on drums to beat. Some carried signs. Tears streamed down our cheeks. The effect overwhelmed both of us, but my pregnant girlfriend more.
At the line where people walked officially out of bounds, had their wrists cuffed with plastic ties, and were bussed back to the place where they were released after signing the papers, some girls in camou gear, dressed like soldiers, spotted Maggie and me. They took us aside.
"We're doing a jail jam," they said, "looking for people to go John or Jane Doe."
"Refuse to give up your identity. Then they can't release you. We're taking over the Humboldt Hilton, bitches!"
"I'm down!" said Maggie. "This is so beautiful! I always wanted to see something like this!"
We kissed farewell, and she walked across the line, refused to give up her identity, and was hauled away.
I stayed back, thinking about the station wagon, also that I probably had a warrant out somewhere. The girls in camou, with redwood duff in their black dreads, directed me to a chubby attorney in the suit and tie who said he would keep tabs on all the inmates, that I should go back to base camp.
The Earth First! troopers led a caravan south to Van Dusen park off Highway 36. Some tall, thin, blonde dude from L.A. rode along, said he'd been arrested in the big city for walking around naked. They'd taken him to a psychiatric ward, drugged him with thorazine, he said. The guy seemed a little airy in the head, and asked if he could crash out in the front seat of our late '70's model, wood-grained Chevy station wagon for the night.
"I don't care."
Entirely curious about this Earth First! deal, I slammed the heavy, vintage driver's door to the wagon and ventured to a nearby campfire where those same girls in camou wear, who called themselves, "Chaos," and "Anarchy," were conspiring for the next action. They passed me a fat hooter, the likes of which I'd never seen. "Who the fuck are you?"
"We talked earlier, right? My girlfriend went Jane Doe?"
"Why didn't you?"
"Shit, I don't know. I got a car. I got a criminal record."
"How do we know you are who you say you are? You got a funny look in your eyes."
"He could be FBI."
I was starting to think, hey, you guys are on CNN, trying to attract attention. This is no secret. You're not robbing banks, but didn't say that because I was young and charmed by these bad ass chicks in the army gear, conspiring around a fire. "It sounds fun, these actions. I'm all about it."
"If you want to join an action, find yourself an affinity group after the morning circle."
That night, I laid on our bed in the back of the wagon, thinking about Maggie and what her dad had said back in the forests of Brown County, Indiana, about the real heroes of the world being the kids out in California trying to save the redwoods, thinking fuck yeah I was down to do an action. I wasn't asleep for long before the wagon started rocking, and I gradually realized that the dude from L.A. was jerking off in the front seat.
When he finally stopped, and coughed, I resolved not to let him or anyone else stay in my car again, and finally went back to sleep a few hours before dawn in the redwoods.