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The Snopes Family Reunion

24 September '03

Near Olympia, WA

Millersylvania State Park was built by the CCC in the 30s, and threading the road around and around through the trunks of 60 foot trees must've seemed like a cool thing back then.

I noticed there's a lot of bark been rubbed off some of these trees recently, maybe eight or ten feet up. You couldn't make the whole circuit in a motorhome, and even with the articulation of a 27 foot trailer it wasn't easy. Finally I found one of the very few drive-through spaces and pulled in.

No way I'd try to do this after dark.

But this is exactly the sort of mature spruce forest I like best: thick branches 20-60 feet off the ground, big trunks, nothing much down low. You can walk around on a carpet of needles in the quiet gloom without having to break a trail through brush. It seemed to drink up sound. At 5 pm when I was setting up, the silence was almost oppressive.

It wouldn't last.

A little before 8 pm someone started up the loudest generator I have ever heard. Needles rained down from the trees. The whole world was vibrating. Making my way down there two or three sites towards it was the aural equivalent of walking into a gale.

This "site" didn't even look like part of the park. It was like unexpectedly turning a corner into a bad street along the border. Plastic sacks of garbage lay piled around, some open. Ragged blue tarps half hid more mounds of junk: bicycle parts, empty glass bottles, beer cans, crates, rusty stuff.

You couldn't generate this much trash overnight. They must've been here weeks like this.

There were two hail-battered Winnebagos sharing the site, and one of them had a flat tire. There was a thin wormy-looking dog sprawled under the far one. He sat up to look at me disinterestedly. His tongue hung out.

And I could not believe the noise and oily blue smoke and bits of fluid splatter coming out of that old generator. All but a remnant of the muffler had rusted off some time in the distant past. It was shaking so hard it might have walked right on into downtown Olympia if it hadn't been tied off.

I didn't see a burn barrel or a bunch of chickens, but I was half expecting them. The door was open. Needless to say, they didn't hear me come up.

Bubba and Bubbette were in there, lying back semi-clothed across a couch that had been let down into a bed some while back. She was sucking on a hand rolled cigarette. Or maybe something stronger. She jumped up when she saw me, but he didn't bother.


Mumble, mumble, mumble. RATTLE, RATTLE, RUMBLE, RUMBLE, STINK, POP.




Empty threat. I hadn't seen anybody around when I came in.


I looked over at Bubba, who seemed to be actually going to sleep in the middle of this whole thing. I shook my head. It was hopeless. There was no way to shame these people. They reminded me of Faulkner's river clan, the Snopeses.

Not the Joads. Neither of them bore any resemblance to Henry Fonda. Definitely the Snopeses. And from what little I could remember, this was not good.

I covered my ears, went back to my site, and considered my options. I could shoot them both. Nope. Since I knew I was going to Canada, I'd left my guns at home. I could shoot the generator. Nope. Same problem. Hmmmm. Maybe I could run my head right into a tree.

It was getting dark, and I wasn't sure I could thread this maze in the dark. I had company coming: Meep from the newsgroup and her son Evan.

Too bad. I had to leave, or I was going to do something desperate. I got the phone out of the truck to call Meep and tell her to forget about it. And at that precise moment the noise stopped. I guess it was only on for maybe 20 minutes. Not much, objectively speaking. Probably just enough time to microwave a half dozen slab dinners.

Twenty minutes that shook the world.

There was a lot of random noise coming from that site all night, but nothing to even approach the ear-slaughter earlier. Cussing, kids yelling, dogs whining, raucous laughter. Mere nothings.

Once it sounded like they tried to fire up one of the Winnebagos. It spat, choked, and rumbled just long enough to inform me there was no muffler on that thing either.

The Snopes Family Reunion. There was a bunch of them. They seemed to overlap several sites. Certainly the kids did.

Meep and Evan showed up soon after, and we burned some logs. It wasn't so bad while they were there. My ears quit ringing. Evan was wearing his Scout uniform, with all his patches. Meep brought marshmallows, and Evan entertained himself by losing a few of them in the fire.

Turns out that Meep can sing. Like a bird. Evan egged her on a bit, and between them I got to hear a good part of the second act of Phantom of the Opera.

It was a lot easier to listen to than the neighbors. Every now and then we'd hear a strangled scream and a cackle from down that way.

The only place I'm able to successfully carry a tune is in the shower, with plenty of water to block my ears and lubricate those golden vocal chords.

Phantom of the Shower.

One effect of the RV life is that I sing less these days. I've only got 6 gallons of hot water. Don't believe I could attempt a lyric opera on that. Maybe Pirates of Penzance. Some of that goes pretty quickly.

That's what I should have done about the Snopeses. Sung at 'em, sans shower. That'd show'em.

Nah. On second thought, they'd probably just think it was good stuff. Real good stuff. And groupies like these I could do without.

While we were sitting there talking, a voice came out of the darkness.

"Hullo the camp."

"What can we do for you?"

"Well, I'm not trouble, that's for sure. I'm too old to be any trouble to anybody. I saw you here, and I was thirsty, and I wondered if I could get one of those beers. I'd have brought you some, but I don't think I can drive out of here to get any. When I was younger I could see good to drive, but now..."

He went on in this vein, talking on and on into the air without seeming to expect any reply. He had a couple of day's growth of itchy looking white beard, and he limped a little. Reminded me of Walter Brennan.

I gave him a beer, thinking he'd take it and go away.

But no. He sat down on a rock right next to us, and commenced to tell us all his problems, starting about 20 years back. Dear Lord. We were in for it.

After a few minutes of this, it came to me that this was probably Grandpa Snopes. They sicced him on us. Great.

"You can take that beer with you, if you want. We don't need the bottle back."

His voice trailed off halfway through whatever story he was telling. mumblemumblemumblemum. Just like Bubbette.

"Go ahead. Take it."

He got up, hesitated, started to say something, thought better of it, and wished us good night.

"Sure. So long. Good night."

He staggered off, fondling the neck of that bottle like it was his best friend's sweetheart.

Next morning I got up early and wove my way out of there. I stopped at the office. They said they were aware of the problem, and had Already Spoken To Those People.

"Spoken? Over the generator?"

"No. Well, you see, the regular ranger is off sick..."

"Spoken. Spoken!? You're gonna have to do a lot more than that. Those people aren't camping. They've moved in there. That much trash didn't accumulate in a few days, and you know it. One of those buses won't even start. One has a flat. You're gonna need a wrecker and a dump truck and probably explosives to get them out of there."

I caught my breath. I was scaring the clerk. What the hell.

"Look. I'm gone. I've never seen this sort of crap tolerated in a state park. And I won't stay in a place where it is. I don't know if you've got a problem here, or if you are the problem here. But it's not my problem any more."

I turned and went for the door. When I was half way through, she called out to ask if I wanted my money back. But I was too dang mad to turn around.

I see the transient life I've adopted lately as cognate with freedom, but only as long as it remains transient. Once tires go flat and mufflers fall off, it's not transient. It's not attractive.

It's just trash.


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