(Humboldt County, October 1996. Tensions mounted at the Owl Creek Tree Sit, where a village of at least half a dozen activists occupied strategically-located trunks in an attempt to protect that grove of ancient redwoods from a technically illegal timber harvest by the multinational corporation, MAXXAM.)
After a week in the trees, the Humboldt County Sheriff's department nearly had the Owl Creek Village under seige, starving out the activists and chasing away the press. One afternoon, my pregnant girlfriend who now went by the forest name, "Mirage," ferried a couple of reporters, another activist, and me to the top of an eight mile dirt road that "Lucy," our late '70's model station wagon, could barely handle. She really needed a tune-up and new muffler, and chugged like a chopper the whole way up the hill. So much for being surreptitious.
The two reporters were escorted by me and an Elfish fellow who went by his real name, Virge. The woman with the video camera, Kay, took her white T-shirt off as soon as we got in the woods, to change into a camo one, and ridiculed me when I blushed and turned away. Tagging along as we prepared for some bushwhacking, a chubby, sweating, photographer from Los Angeles was hampered by dress pants and city shoes. He was already puffing, and we had barely begun.
The three followed me down a few trails I'd already traversed several times, as this was not my first mission. Around a boulder we met a guy with long black hair in a pony tail who sported a beard and of course was decked out in camo. His forest name was, "Spirit."
Spirit moved swiftly through the huckleberries under madrones, following an elusive trail. Kay and Virge kept up okay, but the other reporter, a cumbersome laptop case strapped over his shoulder, a camera hanging from his neck, was red-faced, lagging behind. Spirit got a little ahead of me, as I was looking back. When I turned around, again, the guy in front of me wasn't Spirit.
About ten steps ahead strode a county deputy, also decked out in camo. He carried a rifle, following Spirit.
I paused and gestured to Kay and Virge to do the same, putting a finger over my lips. I didn't have to tell the fat photographer to stop. Eventually, we cautiously converged into a huddle. Virge had witnessed the cop in the military garb, and his eyes were wide open. We quietly concluded that Virge could lead the trio back to the dirt road where Lucy had dropped us off, and from there they could at the very least walk to base camp.
"You're not going back?"
They thought I was courageous for sticking around, but I honestly considered the whole cops and robbers game in the forest to be almost like flag football compared to East 38th in Indianapolis where people REALLY got shot and went to prison and had recently rioted in the streets, which was where I'd been renting a cockroach-infested apartment with my girlfriend only a month previous. I was curious to see what was going to happen down in the creek valley where the tree sitters resided, though I did conclude the best plan was to chill until dark. At least I got plenty of granola, water, and reading material, I thought, pulling one of the books out of the pack, wondering who wanted to read Silent Spring when they were sitting in a tree. Edward Abbey. Al Gore. Noam Chomsky. Jeezus Christ, there were at least fifteen pounds of anti-corporate, environmental musings that I'd been lugging along with the granola and water bottles. Who'd packed the books? I'd hauled food in with other groups of camouflaged hippies and hung out under the trees enough to know the sitters were talking directly to CNN on high tech cell phones that somehow worked in a remote environment.
When night fell, I followed the voices of the tree-sitters. Naturally they bantered to each other constantly, being a bunch of daring, young, anarchists. I'd decided to abandon the books on the hillside, thinking maybe a logger or cop would pick them up and find Enlightenment. Gradually, I made my way to the redwood duff under the Owl Creek village, watching out for the bags of partially-digested granola and scattered plastic water bottles that were accumulating like land mines.
"Who! Who!" I called.
"Yo, who's that?"
When the rope with the army bag hit the ground, I quickly, quietly stocked it with granola, protein bars, dried apricots, apples, almonds, the soy milk cartons. . .there was more in the bag than I'd realized. The tree-sitters had to haul three loads up to their separate clusters of stands, maybe thirty feet apart.
Once the bag was empty, I spent the rest of the night under some huckleberry bushes nearby. By dawn cops and loggers were everywhere.
"Six-up! Six-up! If Mulberry's out there, there's five-oh all over the woods," hollered the tree-sitters. "I see two on the hill, by those boulders--you see them, Spring?"
"I see another one. You can't see him from your vantage point."
"Hey!" called a logger. "The hot chick with the blue hair. Why do they call you, 'Spring?' Were you born in the spring?"
"No. I was named after the boingy device."
"You kids call yourselves environmentalists, but look how you're littering the very forest you're trying to protect. Look at all these bags of shit, the water bottles, the candy bar wrappers! It's disgusting how you've polluted this place!" said a cop.
"Pretty sure if you assholes leave the woods, we can clean this up!"
"Doesn't look like it to me," said a logger.
I had to wonder why a logger was messing around with a chainsaw under those trees. No way they were going to chop them down with CNN on the horn. I wondered if he was even a logger.
"You know," said the tree-sitter who had the high tech connection with CNN, "you should have gone to college, found yourself a career."
"I did go to college," said the logger. "Humboldt State."
"Then what are you doing here?"
"What are YOU doing here? You're up a fucking tree, kid! I got a chainsaw."
"You're nothing but a goon hired by the corporate pigs!"
"Okay, hot-shot!" he started up the chainsaw, for effect.
"I have CNN on the phone right now!"
This went on all day while I hid out under the huckleberry bush. Fortunately, the bluish berries were ripe. Some kind of wren became my friend as we shared the same habitat, got acquainted. I really could have used a bottle of water, or one of those environmentalist books, and wished I'd saved one. When night fell, I shivered and crawled inside the backpack for warmth, as much leg and ass as I could cram in there, and waited until the moon rose. In the moonlight I climbed the hill, knowing that at the ridge the whole terrain changed to cow pastures dotted by oaks and madrones, and it would be easy to find the road. The whole west slope, I froze in the moist fog, but once I got to the ridge, a dry, hot breeze must have been blowing off the Central Valley, maybe the Santa Anna winds. Warming up, I discovered the road at dawn and hiked the eight miles back to base camp. Everyone had given me up for lost, they said, based on the stories from the journalists. Also, they told me that Climber Dan had finally been employed to painstakingly remove each activist from platforms more than a hundred feet above the ground. It's doubtful that anyone caught this procedure on film, and too bad, because the level of intimacy Climber Dan must have felt with each activist, the mutual respect and trust as they clung together for dear life while descending the trunk, the expressions on their faces, would have made the cover of Time.