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In the Pines, In the Pines

Haviland Lake

I am living on the shore of the Lake, along a stretch of campsites known informally as "Texas Row". We've had a couple of useful Newmexicanos, but soon as they pull out there's always a Texan of some sort hovering nearby, waiting to get in. Nary a Coloradoite in the place, save perhaps the assistant camp host.

Texans tend to dominate the backcountry crowd here in the summer and fall, to the generalized complaint of the townie natives, who nonetheless take our money with abandon. Texans themselves complain mightily about each other within the Sovereignty Itself, but tend to throttle back a bit out here in the dependent territories.

There are so many volunteers already available, when it comes to carping.

I can generally recognize a Texan right off. Take Weldon from Comanche, two sites up. First thing he said to me was "If you see anything you need over at my place, just go get it. No need to ask. I got most everything."

Now that's a Texan in the woods.

Weldon goes well beyond the normal concept of camping. What he does is create an encampment. The other day he came by on the road while I was reading.

"Wanta take a ride?"

"Where to?"

"You need firewood. I got a chain saw. Don told me where there was some dead trees. How about it?" We came back with about a third of a cord, as much as we could load in the back of his Tahoe. He cut up about as much more and left it stacked on the ground.

"Somebody else might come along. Might as well finish up what we brought down."

Weldon introduced me to the Wood Grenade, which I promptly bought at Wal-Mart. It is a pointed wedge, with raised planes reaching up the sides. Sitting down with this thing and a 5 lb. hand sledge, you can split wood about as fast as anybody standing and swinging a splitting maul or an axe. And you can control how it splits and the size of the piece, if the bole is not too knotty. It's fun to beat on things.

Add a light hatchet, gloves, and a cheap electric chain saw, and you have all the kit an RVer might ever need, to keep himself in campfires. Assuming there's dead trees where you are.

They are everywhere in Colorado. The bark beetle is deadly to pines, especially the great Ponderosas here along the lake. There is a constant rain of brown needles from these so-called evergreens. I suppose 4 or 5 years from now, if you come here, you'll be camping among the snags and wondering what all the fuss used to be about.

Right now this is a cool, tree-shaded, light-dappled, wind-ruffled, critter-filled paradise. But the needles are ever falling, falling, falling. Softly covering the deep floor of the woods.

Coming down the Dolores from Telluride a couple of weeks ago, I was looking for early color along the mountainsides, and exclaimed to myself when I saw the rusty lines among the green. How pretty.


Then I shut my mouth. It wasn't pretty at all. Those trees are dead. The bark beetles got 'em, and the pests are spreading. The only defense pines have here is a sticky sap, which they can just manage when there's plenty of rain. There's been a drought for the past 5 years.

Last year the snows came. It may be too late.

In any case, there won't be a shortage of firewood for a few years yet. Lots of dead and dying trees in these parts. My hammock is tied between two of them. As the trees sway in the breeze, the gentle rocking effect is like sleeping on a small boat in the water.

Restful it is, right up until needles start pelting you. Well, nobody ever told me hammock lessons would be easy. Mine has been empty more often than not.

While wrestling a stump over to the table to be split a couple of days ago, I stumped my right big toe on an upright piece of iron the forest service had helpfully provided. It was welded to the grate on the fire ring. I was hobbling around the next day in houseshoes, and my new Texas neighbor offered his wife's services.

She's an Acupuncturist.

She asked me where it hurt. No, I didn't have to disrobe. Just a general idea. Outside of the ball of the right foot? She took my right pinkie in her hand, and started pressing the inside of it with a car key, just by the nail. Does this hurt? Where does it hurt the most?

"Okay, now hold that spot." She bent down. "The scientific part of this," she chuckled, "is picking out just the right rock." The one she chose was tiny and pointed, like a grain of sand. She pressed it into the spot selected on my pinky.

"Does your foot hurt now?"

I'll be damned. No, it doesn't. It had been throbbing. She taped the rock in place with a piece of band-aid.

"Now whenever your foot hurts, just press this spot. Leave it there a few days. It won't cure whatever's wrong with your foot, but it will alleviate pain."

And it did. To hell with Ibuprofen. In partial trade, I sat in the sun and sharpened her knives. Weldon brought over a pile too.

I started to ask her, just in case, if she had anything for a broken heart. But no. The only rocks suitable are probably rattling around in my head. And how would I ever apply the appropriate pressure?

There's another reason I didn't ask, of course.

I was afraid she might tell me.

Bob, on line, in the pines.

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