Visions of the past

Grego ( from fall 79 newsletter)


By the time the general meeting  rolls around I’ll have just crept over my 25th birthday. I feel pretty old now but nearly as old as I did on my 21st. That was the one I spent on my first fall contract in beautiful Pierce, Idaho. Another epic thankfully logged into the past. We’ll never let it happen like that again and anyway, we’ve got the bus now.

What was that story?


We headed out the Columbia Gorge, nine of us, al men with seven of us crammed into battered blue Elton, the relic with the flaming red stars on the doors. Stratton used to joke about us being the Red Army waving to the peasants as we rolled by. I kind of liked that idea.


True to form, we started too late and by the time we climbed out of the gorge it was dark. We stopped at a rest area about 40 miles west of Lewiston and I could feel the cold wind moving down out of the north under the clouds scattering over a dark sky. Being a mere youngster, I was foolish enough to ask stupid questions like what was the weather gonna be like and everybody just looked morose and nodded their heads.

The next day dawned bright and clear, a crisp fall day, the sun shining like it could go on forever. But it didn’t.    That afternoon as we hit the hill on the beginning of a nine day contract, it started to rain, the beginning of a week long monsoon. But why should we be worried, after all we hand dingy little pup tents to crawl under, so what if they leaked, and a dandy flapping tarp rigged over our main concession to civilization, a gas stove. It wasn’t the worst logging road I’d ever camped on.


The other concession to civilization was a sputtering bonfire which we kept going for nine long days. Not having a chain saw in those wondrous days, dry wood was hard to come by, but all the smoke made it easier to forget the rain. The only redeeming spirit was the COR, a real working class hero known and deeply loved for such enlightened utterances as …….


“ sure the contract says an 18 inch scalp but I ain’t gonna be no cocksucker about it.”


On my birthday I spent the lunch hour huddled alone in the crummy, reading a biography of Michaelangelo ruefully remembering the predictions of my beloved family that I’d never amount to anything. I wanted to die, but I didn’t. I just got out and planted more trees.


That night we cruised the long two hour drive to Pierce to dry out our sleeping bags and get a hot meal. People with their heads screwed on would have cut it at that and gone back to camp but no, the barbarians insisted on staying in this bar til one in the morning.


The story goes that seeing me in the corner with my long dirty pony tail hunched over a book, enraged some of the locals so much, that they wanted to march me right out of there and kick the shit out of me. My comrades claimed to have talked them out of it. I never heard nothing and anyway, it wasn’t me who painted the red stars on the doors. It would have been a fitting way to celebrate my future.


The forces of justice finally dragged those drunken animals out of the bar, it was late, too late, I loathed the prospect of getting up at dawn to face another day in the slash with just three hours of sleep.

The ride back was in pitch darkness, with the rain hammering on the roof, crammed together like sardines. It took hours, I think we got lost but when we got there we couldn’t make it up the last quarter mile of rutted road and had to walk through the inky darkness holding on to each other, stumbling off the road into trees.


Stratton claimed that the bear ran right in front of him, in retrospect, I rather wish it had attacked him, that’s for several reasons but it would have given us a good excuse to leave.


When we got to camp we found that the beloved bruin had come into the food tent, through the top from the cutbank above it, gobbled up most of the granola and slobbered all over the cheese. I had to fogive it for that, pitying the poor thing for living such a rotten sodden existence out there.


About two weeks later we made the great leap and bought the bus, so what if I cost twice as much as we’d thought, so what if the engine turned out to be a piece of shit. It was the beginning of a new era and we’ve never had a bear in the bus yet. All my birthdays since then have been dry.


A lost soul during an unhealthy time in his life.


Pierce, Idaho, October 1975. Younger and thinner.