(This is the third in a series of reports from Earth First! Base Camp during the Headwaters Forest actions in Humboldt County, 1996-7. While this narrative is historical fiction, and the names may or may not have been changed, and some of the memories blurred together, the unreliable narrator does his best to objectively, without malice, paint a picture of that experience. Any points of information regarding vital errors in recollection are welcome.)
The vegan lunch consisted of those stir-fried vegetables that had thankfully been mixed with peanuts, canola oil, and apple cider vinegar, over rice. After serving nearly a hundred activists, glopping the rice into reused, plastic salza containers, I helped myself and took a seat across the table from the fellow kitchen guy and Hoosier, "Duck," who sported a dark goatee, blonde hair, and looked Scandinavian.
"So I heard your girlfriend is in Eureka?" he asked.
"Yeah, the Humboldt Hilton. The lawyer says all the Jane Does are cool in there. It's funny that she can go Jane Doe, since she's already been fingerprinted back in Indiana. How does that work?"
"You're asking me? I'm not interested in all the tree sits, the big time media stuff, the jails and cops. I'm on a spiritual quest."
After lunch I pitched our tent on the redwood duff, stuffed our belongings in there. A couple of kids, maybe eight and ten years old, hung around and pestered me. "What's your forest name?" asked the boy. It was a brother and sister. Their dad was Pond Scum, they said, one of the guys who played protest songs around the campfires at night.
"I don't have a name, yet. Don't want to make one up for myself. It ain't right to make up your own nickname."
"How about, 'Mulberry?'" asked the boy.
"Works for me."
Around the campfire after dark, while Pond Scum and a few others played songs like "Dancing on the Ruins of the Multinational Corporations, Sprout and Kathy brought some tofu dogs that had been kicked down from the Arcata Co-op. Still hungry after my first day on vegan cuisine, I ate three dogs in the Alvarado Street buns, with ketsup. "These damn things taste just like regular hot dogs," I said, suddenly feeling sleepy. Not really in a party mood with my pregnant girlfriend, Maggie, still Jane Doe in the Humboldt Hilton, I retired to the sleeping bag on the foam mat in our tent and crashed out. About midnight I woke up from this weid dream in which I'd been dining on a plate of spaghetti, except the noodles were made out of chewing gum. Thanks to the tofu dogs my guts felt like a concrete mixer loaded with condoms. No way to puke that stuff up, so I just laid there on my back in misery for a few hours.
The organizers shouted with bull horns and blinded us with flashlights at like three in the morning, rousing the troops to caravan to the logging gates. Our station wagon, Lucy, was loaded with support personel by the time I quit attempting to take a crap, and I barely squeezed into the back before they left. Maybe fifteen earth defenders occupied the seats, and Lucy's poor motor wheezed and sputtered that she needed a tune-up the whole slalom on the dark logging roads. Nobody talked much except the driver and her friends in the front. I had no idea what we on our way to do. I was only 22 and could just as easilly have joined the U.S. military at that stage in life. Were we on our way to do battle with cops and loggers? Would my courage be tested? I imagined this was Nam and we were actually riding in a chopper on our way to a hot L-Z. Lucy's motor, in need of muffler as well as tune-up, sounded like a helicopter as she chugged around the switchbacks.
A crowd had already assembled at the logging gates where Chaos and Anarchy, along with several older ladies, the "Grannies for Headwaters," were already linked together with steel, tubular sleeves at ninety degree angles. Ribbons decorated the trees both sides of the road.
Adding theatrical elements to the scene, the flashing berries and cherries of the Humboldt county sheriff's department illuminated protestors in the pre-dawn hours.
The lumber company's steel-cutting expert, the legendary "Climber Dan," arrived with his truck full of tools that had originally been intended for repairing logging equipment. This was his new gig. With a sense of purpose, oblvious to the crowd like an NFL quarterback with nerves of steel, he assessed the situation while the women chained together sang Earth First! songs, or old IWW tunes, and us supporters chanted or sang with them.
A camera crew from CNN showed up, also Time magazine's photo journalists. A line of sheriffs, plus hired security in dark blue, guarded the gate.
Some guy in a D-10 Caterpillar bulldozer approached the crowd on the road, roaring and brandishing the blade as if to run over Chaos, Anarchy, and the old ladies, and a bunch of protesters started screaming bloody murder. I just watched. I didn't really think the fat guy on the Cat was gonna squash those ladies. That would have been over the top, especially when the cops were still blocking the logging gate, and their guy, "Climber Dan," was painstakingly attempting to surgically cut the steel sleeves off the singing women, which was going to take a while, I gathered, thinking I wouldn't want THAT guy's job right now. One slip-up and he'd be all over CNN. I wondered what they paid him, and figured nobody would attempt such a procedure for less than a thousand bucks an hour.
Neither would I have wanted to be one of the women with their arms linked together, sparks flying as the grinder slowly cut through steel.
The fat logger driving the Cat kept advancing towards the cops and the women, but only in the crawling gear.
A young cat with long brown hair who was still decked out in his orignial green army jacket with his name in black letters on the front pocket jumped in front of the blade and acted as if he'd been hit, falling on the asphalt like a basketball player faking being fouled. All these support personnel rushed in, and then the cops. They arrested the ex-military kid and a few others.
The bulldozer stopped ten feet short of the gate, and the driver laid on the diesel throttle, sending black smoke in the sky a few times, but then let it idle and just sat there like he was paid to do, while the painstaking removal of the steel elbows continued, and the protestors chanted. The fat Cat operator was grinning. He was having a lot more fun than Climber Dan who was the only one not enjoying being the center of attention, just thinking about the fat pay when the ordeal was over. Patiently, he grinded.
"This is show business," I said to Duck as we stood in the perimeter and observed the whole scene from somewhat of a distance, as spectators. "You got the keystone cops, the evil corporation, the loggers, the Lorax forest defenders, and the support personnel plus the rest of America who watch CNN as the audience! It's theater! Not only do we got front row seats, but we can be part of the cast! We can help write the script!"
"I'll pass," said Duck. "I'm trying to stay focused. On a spiritual quest, you know?"
Once Climber Dan had succeeded in breaking the first link in the human chain, the D-10 Cat operator fired up the diesel, sending a waft of black smoke into the sky.
Protestors yelled bloody murder, and a few more rushed in to get arrested and attempt to stop the Humboldt County Sheriff's department personnel from dragging the human chains out of the way, to let the Cat through. Caterpillar tracks screw up asphalt, leaving deep creases, and the D-10 pulled over beyond the gate, followed by loggers in their Toyota Tacomas or Dodge Dakotas with the mud tires, some of whom waved peace signs or gave thumbs up to the protestors who carried posters or gestured from both sides of the road. It was almost like watching a parade, and I started counting, mentally, the thumbs ups from Pacific Lumber employees. Got all the way to 13 before I quit. Peace signs, 34 — more or less. I got distracted by conversations. Middle fingers were more vigorous, more noticeable, but numbered no more than twenty. The vast majority of loggers stared blankly ahead at such an early hour, sipping coffee from thermoses or to-go cups, probably not looking forward to a day on the job any more than they were looking forward to returning home after spending the hours sweating and wondering who their girlfriends were doing, or who they wanted to do, or if they were going to get any, or if they had enough firewood for the winter, and missing their kids the whole damn day.