In 1975, Steffi Smith, twenty-five, journeys from Georgia to Oregon in search of a new life. There, a friend tells her about a unique way for her to make a living: joining a forestry services co-operative, whose members live a gypsy existence amid the mountains and rivers of the great Northwest. The rest follows.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


AFTER THE "runaway" contract, Steffi takes a little time off to get Ritzy and Little Bird up and running. She's not a great mechanic, but with the aid of tools from the crummy and manuals from Eugene Public Library, she makes a little headway on the starter motor. Ritzy is parked at Central, by the tracks. This doesn't seem to disturb anyone, maybe because it's close to the city jail, which is next door to Central, and folks just don't hang around outside those sad, overly illuminated walls.

By day, Steffi tinkers with the starter motor under the skylight in Ritzy's "living" room; by night she reads in the sleeping bag, gloves on: it's a cold winter and the police are okay until you start building fires in your stove. For a reading lamp, she has the jail's sodium vapor lamps.

Once Ritzy's got a new starter motor throw-out spring in place and the motor re-installed and tested, Steffi turns to Little Bird's problems. A new headlamp is easy; the forks less so. She learns disassembly, puzzles over the forks awhile, then grabs them and a hydraulic jack and heads for the smallest gap she can find between two buildings.

It's late when she gets back to the Ritz. Little Bird's gonna be okay, but assembly should wait until morning. Or maybe even later; Face crew and the Wildcats are glomming in Six Rivers and she's running a week behind. She'll drive straight there tomorrow.

Packs herself into the sleeping bag in the "bedroom" above the tall blue truck cab.

Close above her head is the ceiling; cedar one-by-fours. It's a little like sleeping in a tent. She reaches up to touch the ceiling.

The road she's remembering, in her tenting days, came down from the hot Georgia Piedmont into the flats and curved along the lake shore to a small boathouse. This building was just big enough to hold a hefty retired gentleman and a cash box; outside stood a soft drink machine, a pay phone, and a mercury-vapor lamp.

Many years' accumulation of white moths lay in a heap on the red earth beneath the lamp.

Alongside the building, at water's edge, stood a long-legged shed, under which lay about fifteen wooden "jon" boats, green with yellow numbers, the objects of the gentleman's care. A sign on the shed read:

$2 DAY.

Stephanie pulled up beside the heap of dead moths. The old gentleman, of impressive girth and gruff appearance, seemed to intimidate newcomers but was kind to his regulars. He huffed up from his chair, took one and a half steps, and leaned in the doorway.

Stephanie leaned out the window of her dad's station wagon. "Hey, Mr. Johnson. How have you been, sir?"

"Oh, hey, Little Bit. Ye've growed up! Where's your old man? He arright?"

"Yessir, he's well. I'm here on my lonesome, sir." Steffi didn't want to dwell on her newness in this adult world, but the gent sensed both her reticence and her pride: a first-timer away from the parental eye. An occasion to be handled with care.

"You here f'r'a boat?"

"Yessir, and may I ask, I'd like to take Number Eleven, here, over to the point, camp out there for a few days?"

He looked across the water. "Y'dad knows you're here, right?"

"Yessir, and here's our phone number, sir."

"Okay, child, you'c'n do that. Things are slow, that's a fact. Y'kin leave y'car here. There's this fire ring over there, use that, n'a good flat spot, but don't wander off. Bad swamp back there. Check in w' me inna mornings."


"Six bucks."


"Here's yer paddles."

"Yessir, thank you, sir."

Number Eleven was a high-sided three-seater, sixteen feet long, square on each end, with a chunk of cinder block for an anchor. It was not much favored by the fishermen, because it tended to catch too much wind; but Stephanie liked it for that; she could get onto the lee end of the lake and sail downwind, putting one paddle in the water behind her to steer by.

She rowed over to the point, on the east end of the lake, good for camping because it was to windward and would not have a lot of mosquitoes, and good for her purpose because there was no road access.

She could put up the tent, stretch out, nap, eat, read, go off and paddle around, eat some more, sleep, build a fire, stare into the fire, hum, chase snakes. Read, sleep. Thoroughly explore the forbidden swamp. Alone.

Her own schedule. For, hmm, only the second time in her life. And this time with permission. She lay in the sun, a turtle on a Number Eleven log, soaking up the future.

Come the last night, she put her kerosene lantern on the landing, so as to find her way home, and rowed out to the middle of the lake under a stunningly red sky. Blankets, dinner. Prepared to stay as long as the stars wanted company. Dropped anchor in thirty-three feet of dark green water.

Stephanie ate her beans, read till it was dark, which was quite late out away from the trees, looked about, made her bed in the bottom of Number Eleven, put her feet up on the seat, watched stars and things come out.

Vega overhead. Jupiter to the southeast. Bats flying low over the water, a moment of wings thrumming by in search of whatever moths had been missed by the mercury vapor lamp.

Along about two in the morning, she came to. Felt distinctly Not Alone. She lay still, wondering if maybe a cottonmouth had got in with her, but those have a distinctive smell, a bit like watermelon. And rattlesnakes waft a bit of cucumber. There was a smell, all right, but it was like a wet rug.

Mammal, then.

Stephanie eased up in the dark and peered over the gunnel.

A beaver, looking for all the world as long as the boat, lay on the still surface, eyes closed. Shiny in the starlight. Dead? She reached out a finger. Poked the wet fur.

Water geysered up and descended on Number Eleven, the blankets, and Stephanie, as the startled beaver slapped tail and sounded. She screamed. Maybe twice, for good measure. Her heart raced for a good while, and she was fairly cold from the drenching by the time she got round to raising the anchor.

Could the beaver have been sleeping out there, hundreds of yards from the shore? Never heard of a beaver doing that. Then again, the beaver had never heard of a girl doing that, either. They had both had a pretty rough moment there. She set to with the paddle.

In the morning, she packed up, paddled around for three more hours, then pulled into the boathouse. Mr. Johnson took possession of Number Eleven. "So, d'ja catch anything?"

With her Baptist upbringing Stephanie felt compelled not to lie outright. "There ... there was a really big one, but it got away."

Steffi must have dozed off, remembering the lake. It's late night or pre-dawn, she's not sure. She's suddenly uneasy. Did she remember to lock the door?

And what woke her up?

She crunches up on her elbows and looks in the direction of the back doors. They're wide open, and there's a man in silhouette, with the lid of one of the lockers open, rummaging in the interior. Not a good thing to have happening; that's the locker with, among other things, an axe and a machete in it. She'd better act fast.

Shrugging her shoulders and arms out of the sleeping bag, she reaches under her pillow for her .38. Taking the grips in both hands, with her trigger finger indexed along the frame, she aims it at the shadow. "Get out of there."

The man jumps and the lid bangs shut. He turns and steps toward Steffi.

"Heh," he says. "You wouldn't."

Smokes too much.

She locks back the hammer with her left thumb and puts her finger on the trigger. "I do flinch. But I don't miss the ten ring by much."

Apparently he's thinking it over. After a long moment, the guy shrugs and turns away, his rumpled trench coat rustling. He eases himself down to the ground through the open doors, and saunters away.

Steffi's shaking now, badly, but she's got things to do. She eases the hammer down, puts her beloved Model Ten in its holster, gets up, locks the doors, dresses, buckles on her gun belt, unlocks the doors, climbs down, locks the doors again from the outside, runs round to the cab, fires up Ritzy, and drives to another part of town. There she parks, runs back to the 'house,' secures everything for a bumpier drive, runs back to the cab, then heads for the hills.

Not until she reaches open country does she start crying.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


WITH THE fall rains comes Steffi's third season in the woods. Ritzy's starter motor isn't feeling well, and Little Bird's forks were bent by a borrower, so Steffi hitches to camp. The contract camp's only about an hour away from the quarry, if she can find a ride that will take her right to camp (hah!) or at least to the end of the Forest Circus road (more likely). She packs up a change of clothes and some possibles and a copy of Suzuki, puts on her hard hat, grabs her dag and drapes her caulks, laced together, over the handle, and puts her thumb out by the margin of the highway.

Today it's not a long wait; the third vehicle to come by is a green Volkswagen bug, driven by a huge head of hair. Steffi's thinking Frank Zappa's twin, or second cousin at least.

"How ya doin', great day huh, how far ya gotta go, can't go too far outta my way, hey ya got any grub on ya?"

"Not really." She needs her gorp for the slick, tiring hillsides.

"Ahh, too bad, I'm from California, gonna be in Seattle by tomorrer, th' fuzz in San Jose's jus' too nosy, know-whadda-mean, look inna back seat, ain't that purdy, you tell me that's purdy now."

Steffi twists around to see.. The floor and the seat are covered with greenish-gray bricks, each wrapped in its own thin, shiny layer of clingy plastic. She has no idea what they are.

"Look at you, making innocent, yer a hippie, I'm a hippie, here, I gotta smoke somma that shit." He opens the dashtray, then swears. "No-o-o-o-o. I left my pipe inna rest stop, diz-asss-tah. Look, you gotta pipe, any chance, sistah?"


"A pipe, for frackin' cryin' out loud, you gotta have a pipe!"

Better humor him. "Well ... there is one on me, yeah."

"So hand it over, yuh gonna have th' experience uvvah lifetime!"

Steffi fishes out the little Dr. Grabow

"Cheeses, what's that innit?"


"Cheeses, yer one crazy chick. Where'n-ell yer frum, West Virginia?"

"Umm, Georgia."

"Well, that explains a lot right there. Clean th' dam thing out, clean it good, clean it good."

Steffi goes at it with her little Swiss Army, wondering if she should maybe just dive out the door on one of the turns.

Big Hair takes the pipe, knocks against the dashtray three times for good measure, then produces a tiny lump of green coal and drops it in the pipe. "Here. Light that, light that, light that up n' pass it ovah."

Steffi obliges, making an effort not to inhale.

"Cheeses gahd, girl, you -- are -- wasteful, gimme that."

He inhales and holds, rounding a curve erratically.

Fortunately there doesn't seem to be much traffic; Sunday in the Coast Range.

"Cheeses gahd, now is that not the good shit, the better shit, the best shit you ever hit, so help you gahd?" he grins, passing the pipe back.

Steffi mimes lipping at the pipe, then hands it across. She rolls down the window a crack. "Here's my turn-off, sir."

"Hey, I got time, take ya where ya goin', sure."

"Oh, there's no need. My, uh, my ride will come for me."

"Nahhhhh, door to fa-riggin door service s'me."

The curves are getting tighter as the road rises into the mist-covered mountains. Steffi's host paws at a box full of tapes between the seats, picks one, and jams it into a boom box behind his seat. Aqualung fills the tiny car. Big Hair sings along, and he's not bad.

"Look," he says. "I'm gettin' inspired, Reach back there, gotta flute case, right on toppa th' hash."

Steffi scrabbles around, doesn't locate it at first, turns around in the seat on her knees, fishes, finds it -- has fallen down behind her seat, next to the immense pile of green bricks.

"That's two hundred thousand Seattle dollars back there, that is, that is, that is," says Big Hair. "Put th' flute case in my lap, take th' wheel."

Big Hair snaps the flute together and starts playing. He's with Jethro Tull note for note, astonishingly good. Steffi watches the road and steers, stunned, tries to stay focused on the curves. In spite of her efforts there is a buzzing in her ears, like the night she ate the brownies. The road keeps speeding up or slowing down; she's not sure which. Or is Big Hair's foot beating time on the accelerator?

They're approaching the rear of an empty log truck, hauling its trailer piggyback up the valley. It's a straight stretch and the other lane is empty. Without missing a note, Big Hair tromps on the throttle, and Steffi, having no alternative, steers into the other lane.

The trucker is either going faster than Big Hair thought, or is irritated at the glimpse of hippie-car in his rear-view and has picked up speed. Either way, Steffi's stuck steering down the road in the left-hand lane with a curve coming, and Mad Flute is still not missing a note in the driver's seat, mashing the gas pedal to the floor.

A loaded log truck appears from around the corner., filling all twelve feet of the left lane. It's several seconds before the truck's driver believes what he seeing and sets the croaking jake brake.

There's not going to be enough room. Both truckers are applying the brakes and the trucks are screaming at the vee-dubya with their air horns. Flute still going. Pedal still on floor. Steffi still steering.

Too bad. Would have liked to have lived a little longer.

At absolutely the last second, there's daylight and Steffi snatches the wheel over, missing two log trucks' front bumpers in the same instant. She glances back.

Both trucks, the loaded one and the empty, are rolling off the highway onto the shoulders and are tootling curses from their horns.

Mad Flute drops the silvery mouthpiece from his lips for a moment. "What's their problem? I thought we handled that pretty well."

Steffi is still watching the curve, bug-eyed. "Um."

Big Hair finishes the album just as Steffi's crew camp heaves into view. "See, gotcha here in record time, betcha got stories t'tell now, huh?"

Steffi, gathering her stuff, nods.

The Bug whips around and disappears.

Steffi drops her dag, boots, hat, and pack frame and settles onto the ground next to a stump, leaning back. The rain pelts the steel hat, a swarm of tiny bells. Drops run down her forehead and nose, dripping onto her hickory shirt. The rain on the hat sounds like -- like --

A Magruder ambles by, going from pickup camper to yurt with his wooden bowl in hand.

"Stef! How'd you get here -- drop from the sky?"


Marie is sitting in the crummy next morning -- Steffi hasn't seen her since her first contract, two years ago. The only open seat is beside her. After a few moments of intense silence, Steffi remembers that intense silences were what Marie had been about, usually followed, at some point in the day, by an effort to monopolize someone's attention for an hour or so, monologuing. The crew'd had little clue what to do with her, but in the Hoedags one does not simply shed a crew member for low production and some instability.

The unit's a top-down job, laid out from ridge top to creek bank, in the shadow, in better weather, of an unused steel fire tower. It's a tough work site, filled with gnarly logging slash and transected by deep ravines populated by hideously thorny stuff known as devil's club. Steffi finds she has to concentrate to make headway across the bristling draw and stay with the line. She's sure she's going to need a lot of duct tape on her Uniroyals.

It's at this point that Marie appears before her, sitting on a stump and weeping.

"What's up?" Steffi hopes not too much; she's got half a bag of trees to plant out yet.

"I ... I need ..."

Oh, lord, no, here it comes. Steffi decides she's not up for it.

"Tell you what we both need, which is to get these trees planted." She sinks her dag into the black earth at the feet of the stump, yanks open the hole, drops the sliver of green into it, tamps impatiently with blade and heel, and moves on. She fails to look back.

Fifty trees later, she's hung up in yet more devil's club when Isaiah appears on a rock face above her.

"Seen Marie?"

"Umm, while ago, going into one of her funks on a stump."

"Well, she's not on the hill."

Oh, crap. "I, uh, shined her on; maybe it's my bad."

"I dunno, Stef, maybe we all shined her on. I'm gonna go up to the crummy and look for her; y'wanna rep to 'th fazoos for me?"

"N-no, I think I want to go up with you."

Willard pops out of the slash. "G-g-give me y-your trees, Stef, I'll NPF 'n hand 'em out t-t somebody."

Isaiah and Steffi climb out of the unit, looking behind stumps, logs and snags along the way. Weather is coming over the next ridge and the day is getting on when they reach the crummy and the government truck.

Isaiah looks in the crummy and Steffi look in the cab of the fazoomobile, then in the back, but no joy. They look along the service road a ways, but there's no sign of people tracks, just truck tracks.

Isaiah looks up at the fire tower. "Maybe I should see can I see somethin' from up there?"

"Is it even open? I thought they do all that with airplanes now."

"Well, there's the stairs anyway," he points. "Ain't gated."

They both go. Trudging up to the first couple of landings is not too bad, but it gets scarier for Steffi after each flight of steel stairs, which seem to her more air than steel. There is wind moaning in the framework and the clouds are closing in at ground level. The railing shudders under her hand. Two more landings. Their caulk boots scrabble on the stair treads and the steel mesh landings. It's like walking on ice.

There's a last landing. They stand there, looking up at the trap door beneath the lookout cabin -- sure enough, padlocked -- and it takes a moment for Steffi to turn around and see Marie's rain gear, pants, shirt, kerchief, and underthings all neatly folded, with her rubber boots, tree bag, and dag all lined up beside them in a row.

Steffi taps Isaiah's shoulder and points. They both look up at the padlock again, then run over to the railings and look down, north, west, south, and east.

Nope, no ... body.

And now here are the clouds and the two searchers are shivering cold and can't see squat. Steffi turns around and starts stuffing Marie's clothes into the tree bag.

"She must have dropped all that stuff up there and then run off into the woods," says Jerry-down at the quick meeting on the landing.

"And it's gonna be cold tonight," adds a Magruder.

"We've hollered all around the unit but no answer," says Burt.

"My partner is on the radio right now to the search-and-rescue," says the inspector.

Willard holds his arm out toward the poor excuse for a sunset, curls his hand around and counts fingers. "Th-th-three hours, s-su-sunset."

"Search-and-rescue can only do so much at night, liable to not start till morning," says the government.

"We oughta start right now," observes Jerry-up.

"Do that," says the government. "We''ll stay here in case she shows up, honk the horn three times."

Dags and bags into the crummy. Fresh water. What food they can find. Couple of flashlights for thirteen people.

Everyone, increasingly under the direction of the barefoot-and-crazy but woods-wise Willard, spreads out along the ridge to the right of the unit and dives into the darkness under the firs. Steffi snaps off a hazel shoot for a walking stick. Here she is heading into slash again, and it's already been a nine hour day.

In deep woods, as on a clear-cut, what you want to do is climb up on the nearest log and walk along it in your caulks, which is what they're made for. The little spikes give a sense of safety and freedom, and pretty soon you're in competition with the most agile monkeys.

But in a search, you're keeping Jerry-down in sight on your left and Juneen in sight on your right. So you can't really take advantage of logs, meaning you're up to your waist in tiring stuff and continually off balance.

Hence the stick.

It's getting dark when the sweep hits the bottom of the valley. There's a light on beyond a pasture across the creek.

Short discussion. Up the gnarly mountain with thick rain clouds and a new moon? Or go say hi to the light?

Farmer opens his door and finds himself asking in a troop of tree planters, pants rolled up and boots in hand. Offers tea.

"Where are you from?" asks Steffi.

"Everybody wants to know," replies the farmer. "It's the 'accent.' If you think about it, I'm the only one here with no accent. I'm from London."

"London, England?"

"That's the second thing everyone says. What other London would it be?"

"Umm, you have a point."

"And you are from?"


"Oh, right around the corner from Ukraine, then." The tone drips.

"Yes, sir. Could we, umm, make a phone call?"

On the second day of the search, Willard decides the twelve tree planters, fifteen federals, and twenty-six Search and Rescue citizens are slowing him down, and pads off on a hunch. He hoots a few times, Marie hoots in reply, and the next thing Steffi knows, she's the ambulance driver, hauling a slowly thawing blanket-wrapped Marie to the Johnson unit. She tells Marie she's sorry, but she's not sure if Marie is listening.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


"S'GONNA BE a long, hot summer," announces Dan.

Steffi's not really listening. Dan has procured a quart of fresh cream from Omega Farm's cow for Steffi's birthday, and she's trying to dispose of it in one sitting. There are no cows in the quarry, and she's nuts about cream.

Dan goes on. "Some of us are thinking about putting together a fire crew; make a little money for the Valley. You want in?"

Oh. Work! Money. Pay attention. "Umm, sure."

"Have you done any bidding?"

"A little. But that's all acreage and spacing; how do you bid fires?"

"We're going to talk to Timberlands tomorrow and see what they want. Play it by ear. Come along, hm?"

Next day, Steffi finds herself sandwiched on a pickup's seat between Dan and a long, lanky, soft-spoken fellow with John Lennon glasses and a nice Roman nose.

"Carlo." he offers his hand. "Star crew, same as Dan."

"But this job is not Hoedags," explains Dan. "We're looking for mostly summer work for us farmers, so it'll just be a small company and we'll just bid work that's close to home. Call it Greenwood Workers Co-op."

"Workers," muses Steffi.

"Lot of old Wobblies up in here," offers Carlo.

They roll through Alderton and take the third mill entrance on the left.

The meeting room is just like the one in the Ranger station. There are windows with blinds along one wall, gray-enameled steel filing cabinets along the opposite wall, and a blackboard on the end wall. A handful of paunchy men in white shirts, sleeves rolled up, amble in. Steffi wonders if she's seen this many paunches and hairy arms in once place, ever.

"What we have in mind," say the paunches, "is we make one call, you can supply eight to fourteen bodies within two hours. We'll train. Hourly rate per body, time and a half, double time. We'll try not to have any days longer than sixteen hours."

"Is this shovels and McLeods mostly?" asks Carlo, who has been on fires before. Steffi hears "M'Clouds." She has no idea what that is.

"Well, it's good if you have those, and Pulaskis and a couple of saws. But it's mostly hose work from pumper trucks, mopping up after unit burns."

"Sounds good," says Dan. "But why us all of a sudden?"

"Well, we usually use crews made up of loggers -- out-of-work choker setters an' chasers -- but they tend to run off to Alaska fishing or whatever, and we can't get reliable numbers on the ground when the chopper's ready to drip."

One of the paunches looks at Steffi a bit sourly.

Uh hunh, another one thinks a girl can't work.

She pipes up. "Can we recess a few minutes, go out the parking lot, come back to you with a pre-bid? Subject to approval by our crew."

"Uhh, sure. Be our guests in the next room if you like."

Coffee there, too," says another.

The Greenwooders step through the door. Ugh, Styrofoam. And the coffee looks like it was brewed last week.

"Did I do that right?" asks Steffi. "I needed to look real to those guys."

"No, that was fine," says Dan. "Yes, we'll be able to interest people in anything we can get here."

Carlo takes a sip, makes a face, and puts his cup down. "Hose work is pretty easy. We can bond the company with my place and recapitalize at, say twenty-five percent. So, if we want, like, eight dollars an hour, tell Timberlands twelve."

"Can we guarantee the bodies in the crummy?" asks Steffi.

Dan answers. "Yes. Greenwood is used to using phone trees. What about we keep the crummy at your place, Carlo, because you're way upstream. They call me, I call the next name on the chart, and the eighth or tenth person or however many they want, less one, calls you?"

"I can do that," Carlo nods.

"I don't have a phone," Steffi points out, suddenly alarmed.

"We can just assume you're going, Right? Seeing as you're not a farmer."

No, but I kinda wish I was. "Cool. We tell, 'em what, then, twelve? And about saws, they cost. Sawyers with their own saws a better rate? We could pay out twelve for saw time? And what about drive time?"

"Sure, you tell 'em." Dan smiles.

They file back in.

The paunches look at Carlo, then Dan.

"We believe our people will do it for twelve an hour per head, plus saws at sixteen, plus miles," says Steffi.

There's a moment of surprised silence. Then a subtle shift in expression, as Timberlands meets the future head-on.

"Deal," says the head paunch, cautiously extending a hairy arm. "Hope to hear from ya sometime tomorrow."

Steffi shakes on her first contract.

Training day, the thermometer decides to zip up to a hundred and five degrees.

Just to add a little, you know, realism. Those who, for example, aren't carrying enough drinking water learn a little bit about that.

There are eighteen trainees, a third of them from Omega Farm. Not everyone is experienced in woods work, but even those who aren't at least know which end of an axe is which, and all are willing to follow instructions. Unlike tree planting, at a fire you can't always wait to get a vote on what must be decided, so Carlo is elected crew leader from the start. He's working with the paunchy guy that leads the training. First lesson: when it's this hot out, protect yourself. Work slowly, drink a lot, and from time to time spray yourself with your hose.

Steffi learns the tools of her new trade. The drip torch is carried along and pours a kerosene-scented flame on dry brush, good for setting slash burns or backfires. The hazel hoe has a curved three-foot handle like the hoedag, only stouter, and a heavy hoe blade for gouging at duff and dirt. The Pulaski is a combined axe and hoe, especially useful around tree roots. The McLeod is a rake with a tall, wide blade, straight-edged on one side and toothed on the other, good for raking through coals and duff. The one-and-a-half-inch hose runs from the truck to the brass wye, which is coupled to a couple of one-inch hoses, each ending in a brass nozzle.

She learns to bring Vibram-soled boots instead of caulks -- caulks transfer heat to the soles of one's feet. She'll get a wide-brim hard hat instead of the cap-style plastic one she's been using. She'll wear a bandanna in case the smoke turns and she needs an impromptu mask. There will be two water canteens and a canteen cover stuffed with lunch suspended from her web belt.

A small portion of the unit they're on has been lit off with drip torches for the training. After the flames die down, the crew spreads out with hoses, wyes and nozzles and learns to trace burning roots with the water pressure from their nozzles.

It's like playing with mud pies. Everyone loves it.

Ritzy is nestled under the firs at the south end of the quarry again. During fire season, Steffi keeps half an ear cocked, in the mornings, for the crummy. It's a used eighteen-passenger yellow Weyerhauser bus with an air brake, and the yelp it makes coming to a stop means a day's work somewhere. Steffi's saw, boots, helmet and canteens are already stuffed into the tool locker; all she has to do is grab lunch and run down in the pre-dawn light to the half-asleep crew. Sometimes Carlo, at the wheel, is half asleep too, his day having started an hour earlier, so Steffi takes the wheel, releases the brake, and heads out, getting her directions from Dan as she goes.

Today, they're going to Reedsport, up the Umpqua, into the Smith River watershed.

Much of this area is covered with a uniform green blanket of young fir trees, having suffered a massive forest fire a couple of decades earlier. Steffi remembers a book by a local housewife, all about a family's adventures daffodil farming on the Umpqua; the author had witnessed the huge fire and her description of it topping the ridge and threatening her small town had impressed the young reader deeply.

The unit is a clear-cut in a a rare patch of old growth. Across the creek in the drainage is the rest of the old growth, trees so big they run five or ten to the acre, with branches the size of most trees. In the darkness beneath that forest, Steffi can see mature big-leaf maples, dwarfed by the old-growth firs. The big-leafs are the undergrowth.

The helicopter is late, so everyone gets to lounge around. It's by the hour, a novelty to many Greenwooders after years of piece work, and they're reveling in it.

Steffi's brought with her a text on koans, so she pulls it out to read awhile in the shade.

Mervin, a farmer from Greenwood, settles nearby. For awhile, his mustache flutters in the breeze from his snores, but as the sun reaches his legs and starts to bake them, he sits up, rubs his eyes and looks over at Steffi.

"What's that?"

"A book of koans."

"You're a collector? My dad was all about stamps. Crazy."

"No, koans. Zen Buddhist stuff. The teachers used to say illogical things to fry their students' habits of thought and get them going in new directions."

"Oh. One hand!"

"Yes, that sort of thing."

"Well, that's crazy too. What one are ya on right now?"

"A monk gets permission to go live in the canyon. He's down there a couple of years, and then one of the cooks goes to see if he's okay."

"That's it?"

"No, it's long one. He asks the hermit how it's going, and the hermit says, 'because the ravine is deep, I have a long handle for my water dipper.'"

"That is deep, Stef." But Mervin is chuckling. His own area of interest is the restoration of Farmall Cubs.

The air throbs with the passage of helicopter blades.

Everyone drops whatever they're doing or not doing and drifts over to the edge of the landing.

There it is, looming over the young firs two ridges away, coming their way. Its paint job is orange and tan, vaguely like that of Little Bird. It heads for the other landing, half a mile away, and alights there, straddling a long silvery tank that's been offloaded from a flatbed.

"That's the drip torch," says a paunchy white hat nearby. "Not kerosene and diesel, like a hand torch, though. It's Lum-i-gel."

"Lummy-what?" asks someone.

"Napalm, basically. With aluminum powder in it. Makes a nice, fast burn all across the unit. He's running so late, though, we might be here all night."

The Greenwood crew, having with them only lunch, furrow their brows at this.

"Oh, not to worry, we'll getcha sandwiches and soda for dinner an' bring 'em to ya if it comes to that."

Presently, the chopper seems satisfied with the disposition of its burden and it takes off, torch smoking. Like a massive hummingbird it darts this way and that, pausing from time to time, not to sip nectar but to release bright orange globules of flame that splatter on stumps and spall amidst the piled and dried detritus of last year's logging show.

Flames run together and leap, first unbelievably high, then unbelievably higher. A mature tree that, for whatever reason, had been been left behind on a point of rock, sways in the winds created by the heat, then erupts like a Roman candle.

"Cheeses," says a farmer.

There's not much else to say. The cloud of smoke and steam that forms, superheated from within, rises through the early afternoon into cooler air, where it spreads into the mushroom shape familiar to Steffi from sixteen-millimeter films, shown in her childhood's classrooms, concerning "her friend, the atom."

She remembers a poem she's read about Hiroshima -- a father tells his son about his mother, how happy she was in that morning's light, reaching for a blooming cherry branch...

...and you were never born.

"What?" asks Mervin.

"Said that out loud?"

"Uhh, yeah."

"It's complicated."


The crew is sent down to the unit's right-hand fire trail to prevent flames spreading into the woods there. Steffi grabs her favorite nozzle and a section of one-inch and runs down along the trail, hopping over logs left behind by the loggers or cleared by the trail crew. She stops and looks back as Mervin comes behind her, fifty feet away. He has a one-inch hose looped in rolls over his shoulder and is dragging the inch-and-a-half. He sets the layout, threading a wye onto the end of the inch-and-a-half, throwing down his one-inch, coupling Steffi's line to the wye and then his, and moving off to his left toward the fire.

They're waiting for water.

The thump of the helicopter's blades is returning to the unit. Surprised, the crew looks up. It's slowing down as it nears them, with the guttering torch clearly visible, swinging underneath.

Gee, that's awfully close. No, right overhead.

What's he doing?

Orange globules appear, falling directly toward Steffi!

She drops the nozzle and runs along a log right through the nearby flames toward a tall, smoldering root wad. Nothing, so far as she can tell, has hit her. Surely, with the aluminum powder in full combustion, made tacky by the jellied gasoline, she'd not only know, but it might be one of the last things she would know. Pausing in the shelter of the root wad, Steffi looks up -- okay, the chopper is not directly overhead. It's still spilling fire. The flaming goop is landing in a streak right up the hill, much like a line of machine gun bullets hitting water.

Mervin has taken shelter underneath a large log suspended across two stumps. The fiery Lum-i-gel actually hits the log right above him, setting the bark aflame.

Crew members have scattered all over the hill, cursing.

"What was that about?" asks Steffi.

Mervin scrambles away from his burning shelter, checking his clothing for burns as he goes. "I dunno, but I'm gonna go find out. When the water comes down, go over the layout for leaks."

"O-okay." Steffi's knees are beginning to shake. She can see the hose bulging already. She checks over the line, finds that none of it has burned in the drop, and begins pursuing hot spots in the slash.

A long, hot and dry hour later, Mervin returns and picks up his nozzle.

Steffi wanders over. "Well?"

"I got there just as they were putting the torch on the trailer. I asked the pilot why he came back, he said he thought the edge wasn't burning hot enough and he'd hit it one more time."

"I take it they failed to tell him we were already down there."

"I guess. Anyway, I told him, and he said, and I quote, 'well, one hippie more or less, big deal.'"

Saturday, May 10, 2014


"WHERE TO now?" Steffi asks Burt over the phone.

"Down th' Umpqua an' head south to th' Bay. BLM. Nobody likes BLM, but it's what's open this year; too much snow at Circus elevations. We'll have two crews in camp, Face and Wildcats. Stop by Central and get a map."

Steffi is running late. She's got to hit Central before five, get her groceries, drive half the night, and find camp in the dark, maybe around midnight, in the mountains of the southern coast.

She turns to Dan. "Can I get a couple of y'all Omegas to help me get Little Bird into th' back of the Ritz?"

In Eugene, Steffi pulls into the gravel parking lot by the railroad tracks and climbs the steep stairs to Central. The Hoedags office is a set of dingy smoke-filled rooms above a food co-op, with church pews for benches and some three-legged tables and chairs. The Bidding Room is the heart of the company, with representatives from various crews arguing over cramped writing on an old blackboard

It's a long way down the mighty Umpqua at night. The droning of Ritzy's engine nearly knocks Steffi out, which she would purely hate to have happen, as drowning, in spite of her best song, is not her preferred way to go down.

Shifting gears in sleepy Reedsport, she hangs left and follows the white line, around curves, past mysterious black lakes, and, briefly, along the dark Pacific.

Uh-oh, blue lights in the rear view.

"What's the matter, officer?"

"Interesting rig you have there, Miss. I hate to bother you, but there's a taillight out."

"Oh-h-h, thanks, I would have never known."

He's got his little book out, writing a ticket in the light from his headlamps, when his car radio comes to life. It's for him.

"Oops, gotta go. But you stop first place you can, get that light fixed."

"Yessir." Steffi mounts up, heads south again. A close one; on her present budget she's not sure she can get a light bulb for Ritzy, let alone sustain a ticket. All the money in her world is tied up in a motorcycle and a fancy chainsaw. Any more money is waiting somewhere in the darkness ahead.

Ah, here we are, a left, a left, a right onto dirt, ten miles, and a right.

She doesn't see a right. Ritzy is lugging a little; shift down. Still lugging, shift down. Shift down again. This is a really beat-up road; log trucks are clearly running a 'show' somewhere up ahead when there's daylight. Camp is on a dead-end road with no logging; she's missed her turn.

Steffi pulls onto a wide-out and climbs down from the cab. Oh, finally a little moonlight. Not that it helps much in the heavy cloud cover. A light rain softens her eyebrows as she looks down over the precipice.

Oh, that's gotta be camp. Kerosene glow in a small creek valley. She's gone up the mountain by mistake. Ah, well. Hop in; find the logging show, turn around on the landing. Steffi fires up the engine, pulls back into the road ...

... and the engine dies.

Right away she knows, and sets the emergency brake, cursing.

Gas! She's forgotten to fill up the truck and the spare cans in Eugene again. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Could drag out Little Bird and go get a can filled. But Little Bird is heavy and the road is steep. Could walk out with a can, borrow a gallon and come back. But it might be a ten mile round trip or more; the loggers are going to want this road in about five hours. She can't be sure of getting back in time, even if she can rouse somebody for a lift.

And loggers hate hippie house trucks, especially the ones with jade trees in those windows with the little yellow checkered curtains.


Steffi swings open the driver-side door and climbs down onto the wide running board. She reaches for the grab bar on the side of the cab and sticks one leg experimentally into the cab. Foot on brake.


Steffi climbs down onto the gravel, crunches round to the back doors, lets herself in -- an athletic achievement in itself -- retrieves a flashlight, tapes it to the side of the steel girder supporting the house, and switches it on. Not much of a "head" lamp but she sees the road, sort of, and the drop-off, sort of, and the cut bank, sort of.


At one mile an hour, foot on brake, other foot on running board, eyes straining back along the cedar shakes of the house, Steffi backs down the mountain, steering round the curves, heart in mouth.

It's not until she makes it all the way down into the swamplands and finds the turnoff to camp that she remembers.

Gas-line tubing. She could have siphoned off Little Bird's gas tank and been on her merry way.

It's almost dawn as Ritzy pulls into a suitable campsite, right next to Little Butch's big black Harley.

Part of Steffi wants to go to the yurt, wake everybody up and tell them her amazing adventure.

Better not.

Aside from they need their sleep, they could all tell even more amazing adventures of their own.

That's the way of it in the Hoedags. Better she should just fire up the Airtight and see if they want some breakfast.

The "Blim" suspectors are more difficult and distant than those Steffi's used to from the 'Circus' and seem to go out of their way to add to the unpleasantness of the local climate and dangerous terrain. Day after day in the glutinous rain, morale falls.

Chuck watches the dispirited crew thunking away at the soggy duff with their tools, seemingly unable to earn any other inspection rating than eighty-nine percent, no matter how many extra 'insurance' trees they put in. He watches the inspection plots closely and argues every tree. He worries himself hoarse and is driven to his bed in the back of his pickup.

Burt takes over, but burns out within days. Juneen would give it a go, but the crew feeling is that an alpha male is the only crew rep the BLM will halfway respect.

Isaiah, a family man, is not in camp this month, so options appear limited.

Little Butch volunteers.

"You're, pardon us, not an alpha male," responds Amy.

"Ouch," grins Little Butch. "But I'm, y'know, devious. Might be good for something." He's twirling and polishing a strange collapsible star made of slim brass rods -- a craft he'd picked up somewhere.

Next day, he's standing on a stump in his underwear, with his camera in his hands. His dreadlocks are ruffling in the stiff morning breeze.

The suspectors roll their eyes but they get on with their work of finding enough wrong with the quality of the crew's efforts to bring down the contract price ten percent.

One of them's digging a hole next to a tree, in preparation for tracing out the position of its roots with a pencil.

There's some annoying clicking going on.

He turns to find Little Butch right behind him with the big camera.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm making a photo-doc. It's for the American Geographic."

"Wait, wait, you can't take pictures of me."

"Too bad, you'd look great in the article, just the kind of man we want representing the United States Government. But don't worry, I haven't shot you, just your hands and that pencil."

"Get out of here."

"Sorry, can't, I'm the crew rep, page two, second paragraph."

After a few hours of documentation by the half-naked madman, the suspectors retreat to their white pickup and make frantic radio calls.

Higher-ups show up. They visit the site and talk with with Little Butch.

A call is placed to American Geographic. Turns out, unbeknownst even to the crew, Little Butch is legit. He has some kind of deal with them, very recently negotiated.

Things loosen up a little bit.

Despite the improved relationship with the district, the work is still difficult. The biggest unit of the contract, a mere sixty-two acres, seems to go on forever. There's no access to part of it except down a vertical sandstone rock face with a little dribbling waterfall. Chuck, who's recovered, reconnoiters and recommends the whole section be planted in one day, by having volunteers climb in via the creek chimney, then bag up from tree sacks brought down from above. The idea is unanimously adopted.

Steffi is not a great climber but ends up on the delivery crew. She's wedged in by her knees, with the little waterfall pouring down the back of her rain jacket and soaking into her boots, reaching up for one proffered tree sack after another and easing them down to Murray, who is right beneath her.

There are four workers in the chimney. As Steffi releases the last sack into Murray's hands, she hears the dreaded warning cry from somewhere above: "rock!"

Steffi tilts back her head in an effort to see what, if anything, might be coming their way. Those above her crowd themselves back into the chimney, spraying runoff into the air.

The rock has been rolling, relatively slowly, down the ravine above and has pinballed itself into the chimney before anyone can try to stop it. Water is in Steffi's eyes, but the rock looks sufficient large to her to be a threat -- maybe even volleyball-sized. If it misses the two crewmembers above, it may hit her. If it misses her, it will certainly hit Murray, and by that time it will have acceleration to hit like a cannonball.

It's going to pass by her, really close.

Without any conscious thought, Steffi reaches up, palms the rock with both hands, collapses her elbows to her side, and shoves the missile outward somehow. It tumbles past Murray and crashes into piled slash fifty feet below him.

Everyone in the chimney has frozen, a tableau of stacked treeplanters. They're told later they looked a bit like a stunned totem pole.

That night, Steffi pulls off her shirt and tee and discovers a bruise from collarbone to collarbone, ending just above her breasts.

The "sixty-two" continues to bedevil the crew. Another section can only be approached -- dry-shod -- by means of a debarked and green-slimed log thrown across a winter -swollen creek, some ten feet above the water. The loggers apparently used this route, as they have left a rusted cable strung from tree to tree, as a kind of hand rail for the log.

Steffi is not much into crossing logs, but everyone else seems unconcerned. They troop across, do a morning's work, troop back, eat lunch, bag up again, and troop across, disappearing into the heavy slash with aplomb. To cover for her trepidation, Steffi is the slowest at bagging up her trees, so that she can inch across the log alone. With the caulk boots, it would seem to be no big deal -- they provide excellent traction on slick wood, and on the slopes Steffi is, like the others, half monkey. But a ten-foot drop seems to put things in a different light for her.

After the day's done, she walks back to the bridge alone, puts on her caulks, and practices. Back and forth, back and forth, with and without holding on to the cable.

This isn't so bad. Maybe I'm getting over it.

She turns to go back and change shoes. The caulks strip out of the log, Steffi bounces once, and plops into the icy pool.

Okay, it's that bad.

The next day, the crew bags up, crosses the log, and goes to work. Steffi dallies with her bag-up and starts inching across yet again.

Something in the water catches her eye.

She's not really anxious to look down, but she tugs the cable toward her and leans out a bit, which stops the cable's wobble enough for her to feel secure, and investigates.


Really big fish. Lots of them.

Steffi has not seen spawning salmon before. She's amazed, mystified and humbled by this display, and almost forgets to go to work.

Others have seen the fish too. Conversations all across the slopes are about size, numbers, colors, and the wonders of migration. By day's end, almost all the men have buck fever.

It's the end of the dreaded sixty-two and good riddance. The suspectors have relented and it will pay one hundred percent. Face/Wildcat Crew feels like celebrating. They count their leftover trees into a tree sack, help the suspectors load it into their truck, wave goodbye to them, stand around a bit in case the suspectors forgot anything and come back, then the men, as one, slip out of their caulks, roll up their stagged-off jeans, wade into the pool beneath the log bridge and stand around with dozens of giant fish milling around their feet.

"Whaddya think?" asks one.

"Hard to get hold of," says another.

"We oughta at least try," says another.

Murray leaps on a salmon, which splashes away upstream beyond the riffle.

Amy, standing on the bank with Steffi, cheers the fish on.

"Whose side are ya on?" asks Burt, who has just repeated Murray's performance.

"Well, y'know, those salmon have come a long way. Maybe we ought to not bug them."

Willard comes down the bank, trousers rolled, hoedag in hand. "That one was-was-was too fresh, M-Murray. Yours t-t-too, Burt. Ya wanta, wanta get one with, with white s-s-spots, p-p-patches, all s-s-spawned out."

"You know so much, pick one and get 'im," says Murray.

Little Butch, also on the bank, snaps Murray's picture.

Willard watches the water and the thrashing men awhile, then suddenly leaps into the riffle as a white-shouldered salmon struggles by. He raises the dag. Just as he does so, Murray arrives, chasing behind the fish. There's an audible thump as the reversed blade meets Murray's skull. The dag comes down on the hapless salmon and Murray drops to his knees, hands on his head.

Blood can be seen running down the riffle toward the pool, and not all of it belongs to the fish. All the witnesses fall silent.

Murray, eyes closed, is the first to speak. "Did ya get 'im?"

Willard, who doesn't even know yet of Murray's mishap, bounds up the creek bank with a flopping salmon by the gills in one hand and his hoedag in the other. Either one is about as long. "C-Coho," he says, proudly.

Little Butch snaps its picture.

Amy has turned her head; she's looking down the road. "Truck comin'."

Everyone springs into action. The remaining crew members in the creek seemingly levitate onto the roadside. Burt takes the fish from Willard and stuffs it, almost doubled, into Steffi's tree bag, which she's still wearing. He turns her to face toward the road. He and Chuck line up to her right; Willard and Amy do the same on her left.

The truck arrives, slows down, and stops. Sure enough, it's the Fish and Game.

Window rolls down. Gray beard juts out."Hey, kids. Been tree planting, huh?"

"You bet," replies Burt.

The fish seems to come awake in Steffi's tree bag, and starts flapping frantically. Chuck has a coughing fit.

The Fish and Game's shotgun is turning over pages in a Tatum clipboard. "We're surveying the anadromous fish runs. Seen any fish in this creek?"

"Oh, y-yeah!" says Willard. "They're running!"

The fish lunges, throwing Steffi a little off balance. Amy bumps shoulders with her to keep her upright.

"You didn't by any chance see what kind they were?"

"Oh, th-they're cohos 'n s-s-steelheads, maybe about thirty of each in th' pool here. Some are, are already spawned out."

Flap-flap-flap. Chuck's coughing again. Little Butch takes the Fish and Game truck's picture.

"Gee, thanks! This is good to hear. Well, good luck with your job!"

"You bet; you too," waves Burt.

Fish and Game drives off.

There's a collective sigh of relief.

Murray, who is holding his scalp together with his tree hand, looks into Steffi's bag. The fish has finally agreed to expire.

"Salmon steaks tonight!" announces Murray.

Saturday, May 3, 2014


STEFFI NEEDS a place to park Ritzy over the summer, and Dan knows just the spot.

"Downstream from here, about five miles, there's an abandoned quarry. It was licensed for gravel, but the rock is rotten -- weathers into sand too fast -- and they gave up on it; nobody goes there, not even the BLM, which owns it. Right on a bend in Greenwood Creek, next to the apple orchard. You can get in from either upstream or down, and there's even room to turn that thing around in there. Just drive right in over the baby alders in the driveway, and they'll spring back and it's like you were never there."

She tries it, and it's all good. Parking at the south end of the landing, at the end of the old dump-truck turn-around, she's got plenty of shade for hot weather. The prevailing wind draws smoke from her chimney up and over the ridge, so she's not likely to attract undue attention. Time and space to read Three Pillars, watch sunsets, and think.

But there's not enough groceries for the summer. Steffi hikes out, thumbs her way to Omega Farm, and pulls weeds with Dan for a bit. She's got a little money from the Idaho job; enough to expand her horizons a bit.

"Does anyone have a motorbike for sale around here? Not an Electro-Glide or anything like Little Butch has. I'm afraid I'd drop it just trying to go over a curb or something."

'Well up at White Star they have one, I think; something Japanese. Clunky. But we have a good mechanic here. Could maybe get you on the road cheap."

Steffi checks this out and within a week she's the proud owner of a moderately unattractive orange-and- black Yamaha three-fifty with high pipes and a rusted sissy bar, complete with helmet, a greasy cloth bag of Volkswagen tools, and spare tubing for the gas line. It's been awhile since she's driven a bike, which was a Honda Ninety in Enterprise, Alabama, all of once, and the Yamaha looks like a lot of bike to her.

Dan trains her on it. Shifter, throttle, brake, lights, gauges. How to watch for traffic, potholes, dogs, and railroad tracks.

Licensing? Insurance? Hey, she's young and foolish.

Every two weeks Steffi puts on her jacket, gloves, and helmet and cranks up Little Bird to head for Eugene, eighty miles from the quarry. She has a five-gallon bucket strapped to the sissy bar, and that's where the potatoes, rice and canned goods will ride. The curves are tight along the river canyon, the highway is narrow and bumpy, and the traffic unforgiving. It's a good education.

One of these trips is made late in the evening. On the way back out of town she spots a drive-in theater with a movie running. When was the last time she saw a movie? So she pulls into a suburban side street with a view, parks between two cars, sets the bucket down beside the bike and leans back into the sissy bar with her feet up on the handlebars.

She can't make heads or tails of the flick. Not just because, for her, there's no sound track. It seems to be about a plump subteen who's in some kind of row with her family, and there's a priest who keeps waving a crucifix at her and she throws up an awful lot. Pretty soon the kid's head is spinning on her shoulders. Ugh.

Whatever the world is up to, outside of Greenwood Creek and the Hoedags, Steffi's thinking she's not up for it. After awhile she puts the groceries back on the sissy bars and motors off into the night.

A walk along the creek in the morning convinces Steffi there are possibilities for supplementing the potatoes and rice. What are called "creeks" here would be serious rivers anywhere else, and the driftwood piled high in trees on the bends serves as a testimony to what can happen when the whole Pacific Ocean decides to dump itself in your lap.

Among the pools and riffles there are what look, to her, like dwarf lobsters, crawling every which way. Steffi is not much into shellfish, but she's thinking that where these are, there may be trout.

Back at the Ritz, she digs out an old and heavy baitcasting rig she'd pilfered from her dad, with which he had fished for many years for bass and bream. It's rigged for bream, very lightweight line, small hook, one split shot. She's not too sure of the antique lures in her kit that came with the rod and reel, and it hasn't rained in months, so she's not likely to find worms.

Oh, hey! The lobsters! But they have those big claws. Folks around here must know how to catch them, but Steffi has no one to ask at the moment, so she grabs the log tongs from underneath the Airtight and heads down to the creek.

There's one of the little dickenses right there. After snapping at him fruitlessly for two or three minutes, staggering around on the smooth stones in the riffle, Steffi corners the little guy -- gal? -- both? -- by a willow root and picks him up. He spreads his claws and plays castanets, which throws Streffi for a moment and she goes over backwards into the water.


Where Steffi grew up, water is warm at this time of the year. This stuff takes one's breath away. Might as well be in a flood in the Olympics.

The tongs are empty now, so Steffi stands up, water draining from her hair, shirt, and jeans, shivering. She looks for a sunny spot to stand in, pulls herself together, and repeats the hunt.

Got one! She dismantles it, draws a section of fresh crawdad onto the hook, flings the hook and split shot into the pool downstream from the riffle, and in seconds is playing a tiny trout over to the bank.

Gonna have protein all summer.

Fish and potatoes every morning will last until the rains come. But a little more money before fall would not be a bad thing to have; a cushion. In case Ritzy ends up needing another engine replacement, say.

Steffi places a call to Hoedag Central.

She catches someone in, which is lucky in August. "Yeah," the guy says, "not much goin' on right now. There is some precommercial thinning. Near Alderton, too, and they're short-handed. Not much money in it, they never pay good out your way. But that's what there is. Got a saw?"

Steffi shows up on the landing riding Little Bird, in her blue hard hat and caulks, with saw, gas, oil, lunch, and water in the sissy-bar bucket.

The crew leader, a tall, humorless but gentle man called, appropriately enough, Slim, shakes his head. "No scrench? No round file? No laundry soap bottles to hang yer liquids on yer belt? An' that McYellow there is worse than no saw; it will shake yuh to death. But yer a Hoedag already and I've heard nothin' bad about yuh; we'll see what we got in th' crummy."

Slim outfits Steffi and they walk, slide, and skid for half an hour through jungle into the bottom of the unit. Steffi falls head over heels twice, scattering tools and sandwiches in the brush. Slim shakes his head again.

Thinning is done from the bottom up. A tiny creek is squeezing through a thicket of salmonberry. At the bottom edge of the unit, which had been tree-planted a decade before, Slim trains Steffi as best he can. The work is more complicated than she'd thought.

"Work sidehill," Slim is saying. "Meet somebody, bump up fourteen feet, work back, repeat." He draws the diagram in the dirt at their feet, then stands up and points.

"See, right here is a good tree. S'Doug fir, eight foot tall, an' all 'round it is some ocean spray, alders, bracken. No need to cut bracken, or grasses 'n forbs, but if it's woody 'n within fourteen foot o' yer good tree, cut it off within six inches of th' ground. Take out smaller or poorly shaped Doug firs or hemlocks or cedar, and anything broadleaf -- alder, maple, 'shittim,' willow, cherry, viney maple, ocean spray, thimbleberry, salmonberry. Y'cn leave these Oregon grapes alone. Sword ferns, huckleberries, they're okay. Yuh don't have a good fir, pick a hemlock or a cedar. Yuh don't have any conifer, skip ahead to yer next good tree. You get into old-growth alder an' there's any conifir in th' understory, I'll show yuh how t'ring th' alders."

Slim puts in his earplugs, lifts his gray and red saw by the wraparound handle, yanks once at the cord with his other gloved hand, and gives a demonstration. In seconds, things are falling toward the creek one after another, as he walks along.

Steffi kneels atop her saw housing, sets the choke, yanks about fifteen times, and eventually cranks up and slashes at her surroundings for a few minutes. There's a tap on her shoulder.

"Yer way too dull an' runnin' too rich. Siddown a minnit."

For what seems like hours, Slim files away at each tooth on Steffi's saw chain, then files at the rakers, which she hadn't even realized had a function, explaining as he goes.

"Shine each tooth evenly, an' always file to the outside of your cut. Y'wanna smooth bevel here an' a minimum of resin buildup. Use th' same number of strokes on each tooth or it will cut on a curve. All our wood here, 'cept for madrone, is soft, so take your rakers down like this t' throw a bigger chip. 'K? Now yer chain's too loose, yer gonna throw it. Yer scrench at this end will loosen these two half-inch nuts, then yer tighten th' screw here; not overtight. See that daylight when I pull on it? 'N now yer carburetor, take yer scrench an' take both of these screws back t' zero, then this one out one turn, 'n this one a turn an-a-half."

Steffi's head hurts. Might as well be studying calculus. But when she cranks the saw again, it starts right up. And she can't believe how fast the chain goes through the little alders. Saplings bounce off her hard hat, slide down her shoulders, and roll downhill behind her like the wake behind a boat. This would be fun if it weren't so hard.

The buzzing saw chain is out of her sight half the time and the saw bucks around among the smallwood as she imagines a bronco might buck. This is not at all like firewooding. No wonder Slim talked so much about knowing where my legs are at all times.

Steffi does not remember ever having worked at anything so exhausting. When her first tank of gas runs out, she falls over on her back in the slash, dizzy, her eyes full of salt. Her arms are covered with scratches even beneath the heavy drill of her hickory shirt. When she crosses her eyes, she can see blood drying at the end of her nose.

She drags out a red bandanna and wipes her face. A hummingbird appears from nowhere and hovers for a long moment not six inches above Steffi's eyes. Oh! It's checking out the bandanna.

There are saw noises everywhere but here; mostly upslope somewhere. She's falling behind; better gas up and go.

After her four tanks of gas have run out, it takes Steffi a long time, say about fifty years, to make it back to the landing. Other crew members have worked through the area she'd come in by and it's all changed. The jackstrawed slash easily defeats her efforts to gain altitude.

When she arrives at the landing, the others are having a heated discussion. Steffi feels hostility in the air. The men, all but Slim, climb into their crummy as she starts unloading her gear into Little Bird's bucket.

Slim comes over.

"There's been a, uh, a crew meetin' an' th' guys are feelin' like you will cost us too much money. They're hopin' you'll wait for tree plantin' to start up again."

Steffi feels tears welling up behind her safety glasses. "It's -- well, I need money too. Maybe I could work at half rate till I get the hang of it?"

"I like it that you thought of that, but it wouldn't be legal really." He thinks a minute.

"Tell ya what. I'll bring it up to th' others that we'll put yuh on yer own subcontract, right across th'draw. Yuh do that piece, y'get paid for that piece. It probably won't make yuh minimum wage but it'd be something. I'll check on yuh once a day."

"Wow. Thanks, Slim."

"It's about fifteen acres, I'll ask the fazoos t' tell us exactly. You'll need to be done by th' first of October, an' if ya meet inspection, you'll make, after fifteen percent to Central, about six hundred dollars."

That seems like a lot to Steffi. She's almost grateful. But then Slim's talking again.

"But y'gotta dump that McYellow. No shocks, no chain brake, bad piston ring. So half of yer six, we'll get Central to front it to ya an ya go buy a Stihl."


"Stihl. German saw. Model oh-thirty-one, sixteen inch bar."

So, for her summer's work, Steffi's going to make three hundred dollars, less saw, sawgas, oil, and tools. If she doesn't shorten a leg.

Oh, well. With any luck, she'll make it through to planting season a little stronger and wiser.