EcoPunk #77

    Along the periphery of the Great Basin, high in mountains named after long forgotten indians like Wallowa, Umatilla and Ochoco, the Ponderosa Pines grow thick and stout like 200' tall pumpkins. The Doug Firs, thinner and more wiry than their Westside cousins, flex their muscles against the strain of oppressive snowloads and root wrenching gusts of wind. Higher up, the tenacious five needle pines, the Western White and White Bark, grow slow and steady, sometimes growing from a sprout to a tree 40' tall and 6" in diameter in just under 500 years. The understory of huckleberry, sage and mountain mahogany lay in the duff stoic and warped like some ancient sadhus on their path to metaphysical enlightenment. But amongst them all, there is a consistent joke and target for bad humor; the Western Larch.
    The Western Larch is a tall, gangly tree that looks like it was drawn on some little kid's notebook. They rise out of the ashy soil and shoot straight into the air with no discernible taper (meaning they're the same diameter at breast height as they are at 100') before erupting into a shaggy crown of awkward branches that Dr. Suess wouldn't have dared attempt on paper, much less in such fragile ecosystems. Their needles are arranged like miniature crowns and cones look like shaggy grapes. The tree is renowned for its ability to sprout wolfy mistletoe clumps and the fact that even its largest branches are prone to popping off without a moment's notice. As much as the other trees make fun of 'em, the Forest Service loves larch. It was discovered a few years back that planting larch alongside Ponderosa Pine after a heavy cut or burn will not only help the marketable pondies grow faster, but in a relationship not unlike that of planting tobacco next to corn, will keep the pondies from developing several species of root infections.
    The larch is also the constant enemy of professional tree climbers from Sisters to Telluride, from BC to Arizona. Its brittle branches have caused more than one climber to fall to his death and well, it just feels fucking weird to be 150' up so skinny a tree.
    I wasn't feeling so good about the state of the world that dark Thursday when our Forest Service liaisons dragged Lars and I up to the highest points in the Wallowas and sent us up a pair of huge larch. The sky looked like it came straight off a black metal album cover with heavy dark clouds shrouding the mountains in a nightmare-like mist. A slight wind came up from the East, but needing money, we scurried up the trees.
    I sang a Red Alert song to no one in particular as I dug my spurs in and raced up the 100' branchless, taperless, humorless trunk to the crown. From there it was the tedious chore of flipping my fliplines around each branch as they came, taking great care to break as few branches as possible. A couple more lines through "Rebels in Society" and I was at the top. I slipped my climbing line around a couple of semi-sturdy looking branches where the bole was still 4" in diameter, checked my knots, and set to work jerking off the tree as gently as possible. Rosemary, my dear Forest Service friend, shouted up a dirty joke. I turned around and looked down to shout something back when a gust of wind hit. The bole of the tree shimmied like a particularly good belly dancer and I felt the top of the tree swinging back and forth 6 feet either side of center. Tree sickness (like seasickness but from being blown around in a tree) erupted in my guts and all at once I felt like I was stuck in a Swans song. The total and absolute futility of humyn existence competed in my mind with the biological fact that my non-winged, non-shelled, all too breakable body was swinging 150' up in a fragile little tree with a notably shallow root system in decidedly shallow soil. Just when I was about to get freaked, I looked down across the valley (always look at a distant object when you're getting treesick). There, a mile away was a mosaic of different sized trees, most caused  not by chainsaw or feller/buncher but by two of my fave old testament destroyers of life; fire and pestilence. I was once again reminded of the justice inherent in our precarious existence on Earth. Short of humyns, there is no evil in the world, just lives and elements doing their best to act out their nature. The bark beetles that killed off several hundred lodgepole pines were just eaking out a living in a world harsh with bats and woodpeckers and fishers and other insect devouring predators. The fire that WILL reclaim the entire temperate West is only following the nature given to it by whatever sculpted this all too perfect natural world. The bald eagle I saw ripping apart a screaming rabbit a couple weeks ago was doing the only thing it could with instinct, biology and a lack of vegan options guiding it. In the non-humyn world, there is no such thing as an accident or coincidence. Everything occurs as a result of one or more parts of a natural system coming into conflict or symbiosis. But sometimes our humyn egos get in the way of our appreciation for the cycles of life and death; especially when these cycles take something away from us.
    Earlier this year me and one of my fave people in the world were falling dead trees along the roads where the Quartz Fire wiped out every living thing for miles around. Just as wimmin are always better with guns than men, Bug had become an excellent timber faller in just a few days careful work while most of the men were arrogant/reckless as hell and workman's comp. claims waiting to happen. So Bug was my number one employee. We'd get up at 3:30 AM, drink too much cold-pressed coffee and head out into the units so we'd be knocking down our first dead trees before the sun came anywhere close to popping over the incredibly steep Siskiyous. We'd thump trees all day, then retreat back to our camp by the river for swimming, copious quantities of rum and organic limeaid, and dancing to Soft Cell. The best rituals are the ones you make up by yourself.
    Anyway, one day after a particularly hairy day of falling huge rotten trees on a huge slope, we retreated back to camp at about 5pm. I was opening up another beer when Bug jumped up and shouted" Ow!"
    "What happened?"
    "I just got stung by a bee!"
    "Are you allergic?"
    She shook her head and laughed. "Naw. I been stung a hundred times."
    A wind of worry swirled around my guts 'cuz I'd almost lost a climber two years earlier to a bee, but hell, Bug was a superhero. She was the smartest person I'd ever met in my life, tougher than nails, gorgeous and a great dancer. She had worked on fishing boats in alaska and before my own dazzled eyes, had mastered the quickly dying art of timber falling. She was as indestructible as she was amazing. I was in the process of rolling another joint when a moan caught my attention. I looked over and saw that she'd abandoned the fire and was laying on her back.
    "Bug? Are you OK?"
    "Uhhhh… Naw. My heart feels weird and I can't really breathe."
    Fuck. I jumped up and skidded to her side. Her face and arms were bright red with deepening hives and I could see how shallow her breathing was. I ran into my truck and got the first aid kit out. No Benadryl. I'd given the whole box to Lizzzz when she came out with her hands all swollen from wasp stings. All I had was a pair of Epi-pins. The seconds dragged on like they were a million miles long before I pulled the cover off the Epi-pin. "You ready?" I asked.
    "Yeah. Do it."
    I jabbed the spring loaded needle into her bare thigh and held her hand as the burning sensation of adrenaline oozed into her bloodstream. We were way the fuck in the middle of nowhere, an hour from the nearest cell phone reception or hospital and I knew she was probably going to die. That's the thing about woods work, anything more than a scratch at work and there's a huge chance you're gonna die.
    I laid her across the front seat of my truck and peeled gravel as we shot uphill towards Wagner Gap, the quickest road to Ashland. The sweat from her head soaked my pants and hand grew colder and colder in mine. She dropped in and out of consciousness as we barreled around hairpin curves and bounded over washboard. Only a week before we had been taking lunch on a steep draw when she had asked "Have you ever seen anyone die?" and I had dodged the question 'cuz I didn't wanna talk about watching my friends be covered up by K lesions or twitch to death with needles in their arms. And here she was dying on the seat next  to me.
    Her hand went limp and dropped to the seat. I shifted into forth and felt the old diesel surge as we careened down the poorly maintained logging roads at twice the safe speed. My fingers felt the still deepening welts on her cold face. An hour later, after driving 70 mph through 25 mph residential zones, we arrived at the Ashland Hospital. They pumped her full of more adrenaline, set up a Benadryl IV and slowly, she emerged back into the world.
. It's sometimes hard to pull ourselves out of the subjective and see just how the pain and trauma that's battering our hearts into a bloody heap is not the world trying to make us hurt, but the natural result of consequence. My dear friend almost died of a bee sting, not 'cuz the yellowjacket wanted her dead, but 'cuz it was hanging out around the fire eating dropped pieces of fish from the dirt when Bug sat on it. There was no malice involved, no hatred, no violence, just actions inspiring reactions  between creatures all sharing the same bitchin' space.
—mike antipathy * 541.554.0922