Second-Hand Encounters With The Spotted Owl

The full story about how we ended up in that smoke-filled rental car – bouncing down the bumpy roads that circumnavigate Mount Rainier with eight refugees from an Alcoholics Anonymous convention in Seattle – may best be told at another time. But the memory of it popped into my head this morning along with the smells of donuts, and cigarettes, and strong perfume, and three days of sweat and polyester topped off with a bit of panic.

Of course, Carl Coy and I supplied the human and the mountain smells. There were four AA conventioneers on each bench seat, and Carl and I sat on strangers’ laps with our packs on our own laps. I was vaguely aware that the picks of my ice axes pointed in a bad direction, but I couldn’t fix it. Nobody wore a seatbelt. Everyone in the car smoked non-stop. We didn’t mind: We were penniless, and glad for the ride.

That morning, on the summit of Rainier, we had watched as the giant bergshrund at the top of Winthrop Glacier calved off. Too late, we realized that we were on it. Carl winced every time we hit a bump in the road. We found out later that he had torn two ligaments in his knee. The walk from the summit wasn’t that bad except that by virtue of our self-rescue we ended up in Paradise Camp. It’s a nice and well-named place, and – unfortunately for us – on the wrong side of the mountain from where we needed to be.

“Ice cream!”

The car careened into a frantic u-turn, abruptly. Carl screamed but nobody noticed. Everyone else was screaming, too. At high speed, there’s actually very little difference between cries of pain and cries of joy. The driver of the car was a petite blonde woman named Lucy. She had the high-energy bounce of a cheer-leader on crack. It was her sudden mission to get ice cream from the shop that we were passing on the other side of the road. So that’s where we were going, just like that.

“Hey, I was thinking,” Lucy said in rapid-fire staccato between bites from her ice-cream cone,”We need to get back to Seattle for our meetings, so we go west here. You guys need to go east. Let me get you another ride.” With that, she walked right out into the road in front of a pick-up truck, both hands held up like a crossing guard. The truck screeched to a halt, the bumper stopping just inches from Lucy. She bounced around to the driver side of the truck, talking fast and pointing to us. Lucy beckoned us over as the truck’s driver kicked open the passenger-side door. That fast, we had a new ride.

We piled in. The driver nodded. We pulled off in silence. After a few moments, this is what the driver said:

You boys climbers? Well, let me tell you something.

This spotted owl crap is bullshit. I’ve seen that bird. It’s just a bird.

I’m a third-generation logger, and my eldest son just joined me in the woods. I want my grand-kids to do this. It’s a good life.

Don’t let people tell you that a bird is more important than people. I just wanted you to know.

This is where I’m lettin’ you off.

He pulled over. We had gone about a quarter mile, total. For the first time, I noticed the handgun in his lap. There were giant chainsaws in the bed of the truck, and a shovel. (I remember the shovel, clearly.) For sure, this guy could find a spot on the map that nobody else would ever find.

We thanked him for the ride, and got out.

Last night, I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and came across a passage that resonated with me, which I paraphrased to 140 characters:

Conflict [will] take place in cities as often as battlefields, be fueled by ideas as much as weapons, engage cultures as much as armies.

And it seems to me that we are already at war with ourselves. We live in a time of unparalleled changes and challenges. Battle lines are being drawn between those who recognize and embrace change, and those who fear and resist it. There will be casualties. Right now, we’re being distracted by who’s right, and who’s wrong. Disinformation campaigns have already begun, and are taking hold. But that’s not what it’s about:

It’s about the trees, not the birds.

And it’s really not about the trees [oil, precious metals, coal, healthcare, business paradigms, whatever]. It’s about the fact that no matter what we want for them, our grandchildren will be doing something different than us.

Recognizing this now will leave more options for what our grandkids might be doing, later.

Comments are closed.