The medicine wheel


I often stop by Roscoe's with no notice on summer afternoons when  he can often  make time to knock back a beer with me. Between us old presidents, there is this fellowship, maybe a shared sense of past suffering, a riveting of our identities with Hoedads,  and an unusually acute memory for old faces from our youth.


This crew of  old prezs still look around to each other, like searching out your planting buddies  on a glom line,  each of us having stood alone on the same uneven ground in front of hundreds of faces. .



At our worst, we two can get maudlin so  I need to offer Fred Miller another apology for more nostalgia, although tough old bird that he is, he has said that the only time in his life he ever felt anything "spiritual" was while a tree planter. What contract might that have been?? We could  prod  the good Fred to explain what  that very broad  word means to an old Marxist like him. ( Recall if you will, that Freddy was screaming at me during my very first hour planting, " Hey you people in  there, get a move on" ,  something I forgave him for by that evening….. but still…….some wounds never really heal Freddy.)


Roscoe was going on about the Culz 1980 contract in the Bighorns in that legendary Hoedad  district- Medicine Wheel. Thunder and lightening over their camp at 10,000 feet near the Wheel with snow slinging down  out of the dark sky as the Culz piled out of their yurt into the crummy to take in the spectacle.  Life then really was one spectacle after another.


Brings back a lot of memories, late spring planting when the money was good, days were long and a new district and mountain range beckoned like a promise. Those were the days for me in 77 when I first saw the Bighorns, riding east  in the Red Star bus from Powell in Idaho's Clearwater, a three day rest stop in Missoula in the top floor of the  Palace Hotel with a view south over the Bitterroots, and then perched over the engine in the front of the bus, across the continental divide outside of Butte, down onto the basin and range region of Montana with one range after another stretching in three directions, mountains to lose myself  in for months and years.


When I lived in Kenya for two years, everywhere I  went  I always carried  maps of Wyoming and Montana. During my worst days of  living dead alone in Israel, I studied those maps like the only letters from a friend.


In summer 82 I took a job as a wilderness ranger in the Absaroka Range  north of Cody , Wyoming , my first job away from  the coop in eight years. It was   after  the end of Red Star's last real season as an intact  planting crew,  a year when the whole coop lost about 300K and it  felt like the screws holding it all together were pulling loose for the last time.  I needed some time away, broke hearted about it although as our last  spring went on the money got a lot better for us red stars and I was reminded of how much I loved it all. [1]


With most of the Yellowstone high country still snowed in the beginning of July, I took two  days off to try to hitch over to the Bighorns where a Hoedad glom crew was scheduled to chew into  the last job of the season. I ended up on some god forsaken side road close to the MT/WY border and the sweet hamlet of Belfry whose high school team name was you know it, the Belfry Bats.  (Gotta love some of those cowboys).


I was still  a good hundred miles from camp with daylight beginning to wane over  the early summer achingly  green  hay fields. I thought I would never make it and started scouting possible sleeping places when an incongruously pale green little rig comes barreling down the road toward me, drawing close enough to finally spy out the Oregon plates, and finally the big black leather hat low over the glasses perched on Malcolm's nose.


Mr Manness, a  seriously lost soul mate,  was at least 50 miles out of his  way where fate and some very serious  Hoedad karma  had brought him to me.


He always did  better with me riding  shotgun with a map.


First thing the dude says to me is " we don't have room for your pack, leave it here and we'll come back for it later." To hell with that I said as I unloaded its contents and crammed them into the backseat with me and we blasted down the road into the garishly colored hills flanking the Bighorn basin .


Life was pulling back together after a seriously shitty season. Fuck the FS job, let's go plant some trees.


Those late season high Rocky jobs with a smattering of faces from a wide circle of crews, always were the best. I found Bert Rekker there who skulked a bit, acting  suitably guilty for planting that hard season with another contractor.  He thought I  was going to give him shit for then showing up on a coop job when I just wanted to throw my arms around that big Dutch guy and hold onto him,  I was so happy to see him back with us.


At our camp near the Medicine Wheel I found  a yurt with Schlaeppi, Bugz, Janice,  Barnaby, Gravy, Steve Nasty, Marianne, Drea, Rochelle, Rudy  a passle of other Halfers and faces.


It was good laying under a   tarp open to the sky next to  Gravy  in our warm sleeping bags  laughing another star studded night  away before dropping off to sleep, feeling like,  these were the best days of my life.


Near  camp Bugz found an ancient  teepee ring hidden in a copse  of trees in those long rolling alpine meadows,  and right in the middle a perfect arrow head where  he knelt down to pray.


I worked 6 days with only one change of clothes, and made about $900, my best money that year.

And of course, there was the Bear Lodge with Cream blasting out the crummy doors and another extraordinary Hoedad character doing some wicked dance moves all the way across  the parking lot. There were so many of us, we could make  those little places our own.




[1] This is in spite of some astonishingly loose tree spacing in Gold Beach where we had an epic theological battle about the morality of sticking closely  to the contract spacing specs. Of course,  I now know I was wrong about that and like Jerry Rust always said, we did not need trees in at 10-12 by, when  16 by would give us plenty.  So much for another sanctimonious episode by your's truly.

Now in the Siskiyou they are working to heavily thin those plantations where survival was much better than anyone expected. 

This is not to forgive ( insert name here)  for advocating cutting out the whole frigging top of a unit in 79 since this gentleman  felt he had once gotten stiffed on his federal  tax rebate. Or as another minimal type put it, “gotta get your cream where you can”.  Sadly enough the trusting inspector finally discovered this ruse and a worthy price was paid in the end.  People yelped when they  decided to just not pay us for those forgotten acres.