Return to A Deliberate Year
At any one time there's a dozen stories going round in any campground. And that's just the humans. Animal stories are mostly straightforward and sunny in the summer, turning darker when the snows come. Human stories are apt to turn dark any time.
I am parked within a short walk of the water, and directly down slope is a beaver lodge. It's an impressive edifice, made of mud and wattle, poles and brush, about 3 feet high and maybe 12 across. It's been here a while, because grass has grown half-way up the shore side, but appears in good repair. I've been trying to catch sight of the enterprising owner, but it's hard. He's dug a clear channel about two feet deep and as many wide, twenty feet out into the lake.
So he doesn't have to break the surface of the water, entering or leaving.
Apparently he doesn't consider any of his business to be any of my business. I've thought of planting an American flag atop his hill, a la Iwo Jima, just to annoy him. But then there's those big yellow buck teeth to consider. I may want to go out on this lake.
Animal stories proceed at a stately pace. Human stories are mercurial, and can turn on a dime, even allowing for inflation. Shortly after she took my check for the week, I overheard the host tell my neighbor that she was feeling better now. The Lyme disease she got from a tick on these premises seems to be in abeyance.
Things like that can give you an itchy perspective on paradise.
The fellow who was evacuating my intended site in fairly good order yesterday didn't tell me about the ticks. But he did say there was something of a fight in the upper campground over Labor Day. A fellow was trying to improve his situation and found an empty slot he liked, so he put a chair up in the entrance until he could go back for his trailer. When he came trundling up the road, perhaps 15 minutes later, some lady had come along, thrown his chair in the weeds, and was in the process of leveling her class C in the site.
When he objected, she more or less told him to go piss up a rope. And take his chair with him.
The supervising hosts were no help. Possession is all the law, prior to the permit, and it seems the rule is that they will not issue a permit unless you are actually occupying a site. The chair-marker convention depends entirely on voluntary compliance. I'm not sure what would work against a surly competitor like this lady was. Quickly staking out, if not assembling, a cheap tent kept solely for this purpose? Perhaps a couple of official looking orange cones, thirty feet of police tape, and the spray-painted outline of a body at the entrance?
It's worth a try.
How would Tony Soprano handle a situation like this? Nah. Never would even come up. Way too far from the Bada Bing.
Early this morning I was taking what used to be called a constitutional walk through the campground, carrying a cup of coffee, when the sound of a chainsaw ripped though the peace. Down slope, not far from the entrance, a guy and his wife were cutting a downed pine into three foot lengths.
"You're mighty ambitious for this early in the morning..."
"Did we bother you? We're almost through." As usual, the wife was assigned a role as the delaying diplomat, while the guy kept on grunting upwards with the logs.
"You guys gonna turn those into smoke?"
He stopped a second. Sat the stump down. He had big hands.
"Boles? They're already boles." I am sometimes burdened by a sense of humor.
"Bo-wel-s. Like salad bowls."
Salads have bowels? No, I didn't actually say it.
"Look, I'll show you. See these grey radial stripes, away from the heart? That's where the tree was attacked by fungus. For years. When this is shaped and polished, that'll make a nice pattern."
That reminded me of a story. When you are as old as I am, almost everything reminds you of a story. And you just assume everyone wants to hear it.
The first time I visited San Francisco, back in the middle '70s, I took the ferry over to Tiburon. Right where you got off, on the left side, was a store called Nautical Antiques, or Nautical Brass, or Nautical Something or Other. They bid on odd lots, when ships were being dismantled and broken up. Brass trim, silverware, china, nameplates, official stationery, ship's clocks, compasses, doors, lighting fixtures, anything they thought they could sell. It was a warehouse.
Outside, at the end of the parking lot, piled in disarray as though delivered by dump truck, were 50 or 60 walnut burls. From the Philippines. Someone had cut a huge walnut tree, 3-4 feet in diameter, into 8-12 inch slices. They were rough, the bark on, but you could still see a nice pattern in the grain. Some had been in water. The saw had grooved the surface in places a quarter inch or more. They had just been ripped up like trash.
The guy said they had been used as ballast. They were 10 bucks apiece.
"Ten bucks?" My bowl-making acquaintance seemed stunned. "Why, something like that would cost you a thousand dollars, today."
"They were sort of oval. Indented round the edges. Would 've made great coffee tables. But man, they were heavy. Dense. Take a couple of men to lift one. Maybe more for the thicker ones. I thought of putting a couple in the back of my old chevy, tying the trunk down, and bringing them back to Texas. Probably would 've broken the springs before I cleared the state line. I thought about renting a truck. I thought about a lot of things for a few minutes there. Hell of a situation."
He nodded. I could see the story was working on him. Walnut. Here he was out in the woods on a Thursday morning, waking people up, collecting fungus-addled pine.
"Ten bucks. When was this?"
"Around 1976. Even back then, they could 've found a better use for a tree like that. And no telling how long those burls sat in the bottom of that ship before it was broken up. The guy said there was something like a thousand of them in there. Maybe more. It just wasn't practical to bring 'em home. I don't know if I could 've found a commercial planer big enough to take 'em. They'd be a lot of work to smooth down. And you really needed to slice them into two rounds, which might be delicate. Three or four inches is plenty thick."
He shook his head, standing at the back of his truck, leaning on a long pry bar. This guy wasn't big on words, but working with wood was obviously a large part of his life.
It was just a funny story to me. But for him it may have been something close to the heart of darkness.
Campground stories. There's lots, but just now I've been interrupted by the strangled rude barking of a large gray squirrel. Never seen one like it. Big fellow, whitish, with a black stripe running down his back. And that's a beautiful bushy tail to be dragging through the dirt like that. Long silvery hairs fanned out from the central short black fur, like a thin halo or fringe.
Beautiful. But man, is he obnoxious. Doubtless he has his own stories to tell.
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