Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Very First Trout

All I had was an apple and a bit of kibble for Maya. I was finally at a lake full of trout, but now I had no rod and reel.

I left Maya tied at camp to rest. Her pads had suffered on the sharp cinders and limestone. I hoped the lake would have crawdads to sustain us until I could devise some sort of fish trap or snare. Crawdads have a lot more meaat than grasshoppers. It was the weekend and there were quite a few people fishing the lake. I picked my way among the rocks, looking for a place where I would not disturb anybody.

I came to a small beach where somebody had discarded a good deal of tangled line. The monofiliment stretched out into the water and lay in curled masses among the rocks of the shore. I tested the line and it seemed strong. It hadn't been there long enough to suffer from the sun. I hauled it in, winding it around my left hand. There was a hook on the end. I smiled. I was right where I was supposed to be. The Universe provides.

It didn't take me long to catch a crawdad. I removed their tails and tossed them back into the water. A crawdad can grow a new tail or claw, if it isn't eaten in the meantime. I snapped the tail meat out of the shell and, once hooked firmly, used it to catch several more crawdads.

There was a Mexican family of six or more fishing about a hundred feet further along, and I had garnered their attention with my activities. It looked like three generations. There was the old padre and his sons fishing. The grandchildren played along the bank. The women sat in the shade with the coolers, tending to the young and dispensing beer according to the gender roles of their culture. Budweiser for the men, and Bud Light for the women. The eldest male, like an Elk or Javelina, had moved to a position between myself and his family. He kept one eye on me at all times.

Once I had about a half dozen crawdads, I tied a small twig to my line about 18 inches from the hook. I needed weight in order to reach the deeper water. I uncoiled the line from my hand and laid it loosely in the sand at my feet. I swung the line above my head, in ever increasing circles like a lariat and let fly. My bait made it about thirty feet out. I sat to wait and hope. Glancing at my neighbors to the south, I saw the old father chuckle and point at me while calling to his sons in Spanish. There was laughter from the women.

It probably only took me five minutes to catch the first trout of my entire life, this of course, was after a few nibbles I failed to set. Trout are tricky fish, wary and wily. I had a lot to learn. Another half hour and I had three, ranging from 12-16 inches, with a forked stick through their gills to hold them. The Mexicans had not caught a thing. By now the head of the neighboring family had sent the kids scrambling at the bank for crawdads. It was my turn to chuckle. I wound my new fishing gear around a discarded beer can, smiled and waved goodbye to my neighbors. I think we all learned something. Maya and I would eat well tonight and I had higher hopes for survival and success. The kibble would keep for another day.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Shortly Before Christmas My First Year on the Run. 1992

It's sixteen degrees in my sad little town on Christmas eve, My apartment is so hot I type this with my window open wide. I thought I'd share a story from my first Christmas on the run.

Scott and I spent the day hiking at Big Cat mountain outside of Tucson. I'm not sure of the date, but it was after Thanksgiving and before Christmas in 1992. Near the intersection of 6th ave and Ajo, on the way to our favorite hiking places, was an odd little store with the unlikely name of “High Dreams”. We were curious, and often speculated on the nature of this shop. This day, we decided to quench our curiosity and stopped in.

We entered a room of bassinets and other baby paraphernalia. Around the corner was a counter and an area of Mylar balloons and coffee mugs. The proprietor of the establishment, a Mexican woman of about 40 years, saw our bewilderment and told us what we wanted was probably in the back room. We turned another corner and found ourselves surrounded by bongs, pipes, and other instruments of delight.

Mary, who owned the place, asked if I was new in town and if I'd like some work. She told me stories about how, when she first came to this country, she lived at the bus station. She had pegged me as a fellow traveler. Serendipity was a constant companion. I certainly was. Somebody had broken in, and she needed the window re-glazed. I happily complied and satisfied with my efforts, she gave me a pager and promised more work in the future.

I had many duties at High Dreams. I fixed things, painted bootleg pictures of Disney characters and Ninja Turtles on playhouses she sold, and on holidays, they would dress me appropriately and send me into the streets to hand out fliers and candy and balloons. I may have run drugs from Phoenix in stuffed animals. I didn't ask, but they paid me VERY well for that.

I was a leprechaun, the Easter bunny, Cupid, and several other characters. My favorite was when I was Santa Claus. At lunchtime when I was Santa, I walked the two blocks down to the twenty nine cent hamburger stand. “Hambourgesa”. What a fun word. Maybe I should mention that this was the barrio.

On my way back, I was smoking a joint. It was a difficult proposition with the fake beard and all, but I managed. As I crossed at the light at 6th and Ajo, a semi stopped in the intersection and the driver opened his door, stepped out, and yelled out to me: “Santa! I knew it! I Knew it!”. I gave him the thumbs up.

Apparently if you are dressed like Santa in the desert and smoking a big fatty, no matter how casual you think you are, people will notice... and approve!

Merry Christmas, (or the appropriate regards) to you and yours.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Excerpts from the Actual Diaries

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005
I continue to take it easy. I’ve been walking only about a half mile a day. I feel better. Less run down.Brian had scheduled that Havasupai trip for yesterday. I didn’t want to over do it with the altitude sickness (Mild as it is) so I had to decline. That sucks. I really wanted to go. I’ve never been there.

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

I’m still napping two to three hours per day. Sleeping hard, actually. The weather forecast is sunny and dry, all week. I was able to wear shorts all day. Not too much to write about really as I have just been sitting around trying to get used to the lack of air up here.

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

Today Marc and I visited areas of the Rodeo-Chedeski fire near Huber. We saw acres and acres of standing burn. We also checked out a free Forest Service campground, numbered 9350, which sits right at the edge of the Mogollon Rim. It has horse pens, restrooms, camp hosts, but no water. You can see all the way to Four Peaks from some of the sites. 9350 is located on the south side of Forest Road 300 (Rim Road) between Bear Canyon and Woods Canyon.
We stopped in Forest Lakes at a place called the “Rim Resort” which is a general store, RV dump, gasstation, and hamburger stand. We had a fine lunch.
We’re back at the lake now and ithas warmed up nicely. The wind has finally calmed down.

Friday, June 17th, 2005

One of the things I’ve been enjoying up here in Rim country is the ability to receive FM radio. Now I can listen to NPR and 93.9 The Mountain out of Flagstaff.
It’s good to have some variety besides the tired issues on AM.

Saturday, June 18th, 2005

I hiked to the other end of the lake today, then up the hill to Forest Road 208. There is a camp ground down there that I like to visit when I get tired of all the traffic at the main campground. It seems every year this lake gets more and more crowded and trashed. Soon, I fear, it will be just like Woods Canyon Lake.
Today was the day they shut down the two hydro-electric plants at Irving and Childs. One Hundred years of clean, profitable, electricity. Three generations of workers. Now it’s over. No more rippling pools of Bass. No more fresh water in the campground. No more flume rides. No more Stehr lake. With one stroke APS has erased a huge chunk of my home. How will I sleep this September without the melodies of the turbines? Where will I get my water?
Marc and I listened to the whole,tragic, sickening ceremony as they returned all the water to Fossil Creek. It was broadcast on NPR. There was one yo-yo there who had written the NAU thesis which resulted in today’s travesty. He was claiming that within months a 15 foot wall would be built up at the bottom of each of the pools along the creek. Uh-huh. I don’t know about him  but Marc and I have seen how much water was diverted to the plants and there’s no way that little water could carry so much sediment.

Sunday, June 19th, 2005

The fire rangers came through today. I heard them putting out the coals of abandoned camps while out taking my standard Sunday walk through picking up garbage. There were a lot of cans in the firepits and string in the trees but overall I’ve seen much worse weekends. I only filled one trash bag the fire rangers gave me ten.
It turns out we had the horse shoe posts 4 feet too far apart. Our game has greatly improved..
I want to take this time to apologizeto Marc. I’ve been Misspelling his name with a k for years. Sorry Marc.

Monday, June 20th, 2005

I fixed an old hammock I found, and hiked to the lake twice today. Once for water, and, once for the fun of it. My wind is about as good as it gets at this altitude and I’m just about ready for some longer hikes.
It rained a bit but not enough to even get me out of the hammock. The radio says 50% chance of thunderstorms tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

7:00 pm. So far today the sky is blue and it’s been nice and warm. Upper 70’s I think during the day, dropping to the 50’s at night. It’s the longest day of the year.The summer solstice coupled with a full moon. Purportedly this is an auspicious portent.
Some rain today, not much. Spotted showers predicted through Thursday.

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

The Senora is here! I think I’ve mentioned her before. The Senora is Pastor Olga. She leads a church group out of Deer Valley. More later on the Senora. Next installment.

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

Marc left today for 9350 camp. I plan to hike down there monday for a day or two to camp on the cliffside.
There are several fires going to the south. Mostly brush lands in central Arizona. The two to look out for are the Cave Creek Complex fire and the Sunset point fire. It’s been raining up here almost every night on top of a wet winter. Ipray this keeps the forests safe.
As I sit here, facing west, Irecognize the eerie orange glow of the sun, all too familiar, whichaccompanies large fires.
Still no fire ban here.
I’m out of coffee and drinkingre-boiled grounds with dandelion root  . Pretty weak.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Looking Back from December 2010

  Christmas isn't a whole lot of fun when nobody even knows your name. Tory was with me that first year, and again in '96. other than those years, Christmas was a thing to hide from. I usually told people I had plans and then went off into the desert. All that changed, those last few years, when I lived in the forest.
      The weather would drive me down from the mountains to the Verde River Valley in September, with the exception of '04 when I tried to hang at the desert lakes outside Phoenix. Even then, I managed to get to the Verde for the Holidays. Most years, I would wake alone in the Valley, but friends always rolled in throughout the day.
      I could always count on Grizz to show up with some fantastic grass, often with Lee. You just don't find good friends like them everyday. Other people would roll into camp, day trippers, all friends that I sometimes wouldn't see all year. Last year I went back and saw darn near the whole old Verde crew.
      Those years in the forest, those people I met-sometimes weekly, sometimes yearly-did something good to me. The holidays at the river, especially, helped make me feel more real than I had in years; softened me to humanity where I had grown hard.
      I rediscovered the joy that I had lost on the long journey to anonymity. I believe that regaining that joy was an important element in earning my freedom. I told Tory, when I first left Muncie, that I could see that I was going to lose a part of myself. You don't undertake a journey like mine without paying some price. I wanted her to know from the outset, that I was likely to lose many of the qualities that she appreciated about me. I knew it was going to be a difficult task to become whole again.
      I don't know what she thought about that, I don't think she really believed me. Back in those days she gave me too much credit sometimes. Turns out, I underestimated the degree to which I would lose myself in fear and despair. Funny now, looking back. I can see that when I  hit my lowest point and chucked it all to live in the forest, (committing myself to the whims of the universe if you will), the healing would finally begin. When I had nothing left to lose, I gained everything.

The Day I Fled Corn Country

Once I learned Mayor Dave was screwing me, that there was no State Police sting and there would be no wiretapping of my meeting with the DTF, I knew I had to blow town before it was too late.
I made arrangements with Lonnie to get me to Chicago.
I was so paranoid that I would put a couple things in a paper bag and maybe wear an extra shirt when I went to Lonnie’s house on Main Street. I packed, little by little, in this way so if anybody was watching, they wouldn’t know I was leaving. Like I said, after getting set up by The Snitch and screwed by The Mayor, I was paranoid. Over a couple weeks, I loaded up a couple duffels with clothes, food, and camping gear. Lonnie kept this all in his girlfriend’s trunk until it was time to go.
Tory and I were living in my bus at Charlie’s place in Yorktown. I thought it’d be good to get out of the direct view of the MPD. I arranged for Lonnie to take me up to the bus on a Wednesday morning, at exactly the same time I left for work each day. I had spent the evening writing letters in Spanish so they wouldn’t be read until I was gone. It was tricky, because I don't speak much Spanish. Lonnie showed and I got in his car with my lunch in a sack, like any other day, and we headed for Muncie. Halfway there I realized I left my charm bag on the bus. This would have been a most unlucky way to begin my new life, so we returned to Yorktown.
Needless to say, Tory was surprised to see us. I guess just after we left, a Delaware County Sheriff car parked across the street watching the place until just before we returned. Gosh, who would have thought an alleged LSD felon living in a big black school bus in a quiet middle class neighborhood would draw attention? I grabbed the charm bag and we headed to the museum where I worked, just to be safe. We cruised through the parking lot, to make it look good, then initiated red herring number two by driving out to a buddies farm in Gaston.
Have I mentioned how nervous I was? Flaky paranoid. I expected at any moment to be surrounded. By this time I didn’t trust anybody, I mean, I was up all night translating letters into a language I don’t speak, for crying out loud. Two people knew I was splitting; Lonnie, and Tory. I didn’t even trust them completely. The whole trip to the farm I kept imagining the roadblock and the look on Lonnie’s face as he’d say: “sorry dude…”. My fears were unfounded, of course. I’ve always felt guilty about the level of mistrust I was harboring during those times. Then again, there were the others. I really learned who my friends were.
The road to the farm is long and fairly straight with several small hills and valleys. A couple of the hills are high enough to afford a view for quite a distance. This enabled me to determine we weren’t being followed, so we drove on past the farm and took a circuitous route through the corn country.
About two-thirds of the way to Illinois, we picked up a tail. Two white motorcycles were following at a distance of about a quarter mile. I noticed them but was trying to maintain my composure and not let Lonnie know how freaked out I was. I couldn’t tell if they were State Cops or not. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore and asked Lonnie what he thought. He couldn’t tell either. My heart was in my throat, along with my breakfast. I asked Lonnie to pull over at a farmhouse because I couldn’t handle the uncertainty. When we did, they rode on by, not cops.
A lot of people in Muncie owed me money but were either too scared or too cheap to pay me, so I had just enough money for a bus ticket when we got to Chicago. I was supposed to meet a friend in Leadville, Colorado later in the summer, but already knew the bus didn’t go there. My plan was to get a ticket to somewhere nearby and then camp and wait for Trilo and Tory.
I asked the ticket agent where they had stations in Colorado and he replied by asking: “Why don’t you know where you’re going”? This unraveled my last nerve. I was sure his supernatural powers of detection had revealed my situation. He got out a map and I bought a ticket to Glenwood Springs. Lonnie and I parted ways outside the kiosk and, as he left, he handed me a sack of grass, a blue sealed envelope, and a hundred dollar bill. God Bless Lonnie. As he drove away, I realized that I was completely alone in the world. I had to force myself to breathe. I wondered how long I could last before they caught me.
Once on the bus, I thought everybody was looking at me. Those who weren’t were obviously and deliberately trying not to look like they were watching me. Just my luck, I had gotten on a bus that was crammed full of double secret undercover FBI and DEA agents. There were probably acronyms lurking I'd never even heard of, just waiting to pounce. Sure, it’s funny now, but I was about to shit in my pants. I figured they were just waiting for me to cross the State line so they could tack on Federal charges. FYI, you can’t look out the back of a Greyhound bus to see who’s following.
As we pulled out, I opened the blue envelope. The card had Ziggy on the front cover and bore the words: “When Things get you down, do what I do…Hold your head up high! Smile!”. When I opened it, the inside depicted eyes shining out of the shadows and a balloon that read, “Then go hide out in the basement till the whole thing blows over”. It was signed Love you, hang in there, Peace, Lonnie.
I still have the card. Thanks Lonnie, It worked!

An Encounter at Willow Creek

The only thing I knew was that I was frightened and far from camp.

 It surprised me. I had no reason. I froze and looked around and listened. It took me while to realize it wasn't anything I had seen or heard that had put me in such a state, It was what I didn't see or hear. The forest had suddenly become very quiet. The birds were still and out of sight. Perhaps the most disquieting thing was the constant white noise of the insects had stopped as well. The only sound was the wind in the trees and the brush and the grass.

I was several miles beyond the far turn of the Bear Canyon Loop Trail and radically off path by just as far, blazing my way north beyond even the most ancient of fire roads. I carried water, tobacco, sardines,and grass. I was in no hurry, save the waning of the day. I had may be an hour to return to the trail before dark and probably another hour or two to camp.

I had kept a steep ravine a couple of hundred yards to my right once I left the trail. It was overgrown with Ponderosa, Doug Fir, and all manner of rim cover. I remember thinking that elk could never fit between the trees if they were even able to negotiate the grade. I knew that Willow Creek (one of many named that in the high country)ran along the bottom. The deadwood alone, on these pristine uncut slopes, was probably chest high or better.

I decided to follow the edge of the ravine back south, to a point where the trail curved in sight of it and so, find my way home. When I was about twenty feet from the tangled line of growth, I heard a sound that made the hairs on the back of my neck and arms reach for the sky. I had faced big cats from ten feet away, I chased a wolf once.Nothing frightened me like this growl (for lack of a better word for it).

“Don't act like food!” Was my first thought. So I stilled my shaking and calmly, but with purpose, continued on my way.

There was a crash to my left and behind, like a large branch falling from a tree, then another just ahead. I did the only thing I could do. I had another one hit of the grass that woman left me. After a while I continued and the howl repeated. The crashes repeated. I rolled and lit a cigarette and pretended not to be food as best I could. I never looked to the left, for fear I would see what was stalking me and immediately and involuntarily act like food. I remember thinking something was protecting it's young or home. I remember hoping that.

The sun was behind the trees. It would be dark very soon.

I thought of the sardines and how hungry I was, but dared not open them for fear it would bring trouble.

It was terrifying walking like that, in the surreal landscape of twilight. It seemed like hours, just waiting for the inevitable. I peed once, hoping to offend the creature with my foul human scent. I stumbled up a low incline and into a clearing. I had found the path.

Once I got back to the old fire road, it was pitch black, my way was lit only by the stars and bright, glorious Venus. I hadn't heard anything for awhile, but still I walked down the middle of the trail, as far from the inky blackness of the trees as I could. I was still shaky hours later when I returned to camp.


High in the Ponderosas, I missed the woodlands of my childhood home. The deciduous trees with their fruits and nuts seemed almost like a made up story to me after 10 years in the desert. Sometimes, of an evening, I would find myself in the company of those with whom I shared the trails. I would tell the stories then, of Southern Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Where the trees were different. Where you could hike a mile and see thirty different kinds of trees, not two or three.

I told them about the trees and about the spaces between the trees, how varied and lush the plant life was. I told them about the Hedge Apples, the strangest darn thing I ever seen growing on a tree so covered in thorns you’d think a bird couldn’t land. And Hickory nuts and hardwoods and Limestone cliffs overlooking the streams. About how we fished for Bass there, and not Trout, Water Moccasins and them tiny rattlesnakes that live in the grasses. I told these stories and they carried me home. Home was a place I never thought I’d see again.

Medium Maximum Part II

When I was originally arrested, nearly fifteen years before, there was no statute of limitations on drug offenses in Indiana and you didn’t get time off for good behavior either. There is still no statute of limitations, but you do get time off. Still and all, I’d be looking at a decade or better in lockup. Years later, during the time I was in the Matrix and LBJ, I had no clue that I would be free today. I thought I was in for the long haul.
That first night in Lower Buckeye Jail there was a ruckus just after lights out. Two guards came on the POD and entered a cell about three down from mine. I could hear a fight going on and then they hauled a man out by one arm and one leg. He wasn’t moving. I fell asleep wondering what he did to make them come in and beat him in his bed and drag him away. I thought about all that hooch in our cell.
Next morning, the Woodhead asked me to walk the floor with him. He reeked of Corn Nuts and Coco Butter. He explained he liked to get to know his men and asked what I was in for. I told him “Freeing minds”.
. “I read your booking sheet” he chuckled. “Fourteen years, Jesus, and you didn’t get into any trouble in all that time”?
“Not really, I had a few close calls”.
“Why’d you give up? Just get tired of running”?
“Pretty much, I haven’t seen my daughter in nearly ten years”.
“They should just let you go”.
“I agree, but I’m not counting on it. Muncie Indiana’s a whole different world”.
We talked about the politics of the POD, how the three Heads weren’t rival factions but institutions who worked together to keep things running smoothly. He explained to me what I could expect from him and informed me of my responsibilities; protocol, contingencies in the event of trouble, and the proper method of addressing grievances against the guards or inmates. The DOC was responsible for providing me with certain documents and processes vital to my case, The Woodhead facilitated these processes. Whatever I required of my captors, I was to request in writing and submit to him after morning chow.
Internally, any loan between inmates required his consent and was only approved within the races. I could give something to a Bro or Piso, but not extend credit. Only the heads could extend credit, they kept current copies of everybody’s commissary forms.I could make direct purchases from anybody, but only with approval. Gambling was done by writing a personal note for the money and showing proof that amount was covered in the commissary account. To play poker, chips were purchased that were squares torn from worn decks of cards. Woodhead had a lieutenant who was never out of arms reach. He carried the books and kept the chips, neatly stacked and held together with rubber bands.
The Heads were allowed such authority because they also acted as enforcer for the guards. There were rules we could break, within the established protocol and performance guidelines, and rules we couldn’t. We didn’t want the guards coming on the floor to bust people and they didn’t either. There is always the potential for things to get out of hand. Each Head had soldiers who acted at his request, and stopped any infraction that wasn’t allowed or wasn’t executed properly.
What appeared to me, at first, to be an example of extreme racism and segregation was actually a pretty effective form of jailhouse government. The guards gave the Heads authority because they maintained control. We gave the Heads authority because they were fair and beneficent mediators. They took care of us. They kept their position by appeasing people on both sides of the cage.
I asked about the guy they removed the night before and the Woodhead said “That was unfortunate”. The guy was wearing a cross he had made from threads pulled out of blankets and clothing. He went to sleep without tucking it in and the guards saw it. If the guy would have been caught with the necklace before lockdown, the Woodhead would have been told and he would have handled it. Roger had let his bling show, and it wasn’t the first time, so he had to do a couple days in solitary. When he returned, the whole POD rose and applauded. It’s a ritual of welcome and acceptance to give a man food, candy, and sodas when returning from the hole. It helps his attitude and builds community.
I saw several examples of this crocheted jailhouse jewelry. The multi colored designs were intricately knotted and beautifully made. The hippies could learn a thing or two from these felons.
I got so sick of the smell of Corn Nuts and Coco Butter. The whole joint reeked. To this day I can’t stand either. If I went to the beach, I’d probably throw up.

Medium Maximum Lockdown Part I (After I turned myself in)

On the evening of the third day, I walked into something they call a POD. The room was thirty feet high with three floors of cells along the right hand wall and across the back. Half the left side was a structure that looked like an air traffic control tower. Before they brought me to Lower Buckeye, they gave me a ID tag with an orange rectangle designating my placement as medium-level maximum security. I've attached the mug shot. It amused me that they thought I was a dangerous fugitive, in their defense...look at the picture... They let me keep my shoe strings, but took the buttons off my pants so I “couldn’t make a weapon”.
An offender who looked like a young Uncle Fester introduced himself to me as “the greeter”, and told me once I stowed my mattress I was to report to him for orientation. My cell was the first one on the first floor. It was a six by nine with two bunks on the wall and a plastic boat on the floor. The boat was six feet long and I’m six-one. I removed my mattress and flipped it over, placing the pad on the bottom. I had the choice of either my feet or head touching the toilet when I slept.
I met my cell mates, both of them armed bandits, and went to my appointment with Young Fester. He was sitting on a bench at the back of the POD. The surrealistic nature of my position overwhelmed me as I noticed a large “W” drawn on the bench. Father-rapers and mother-stabbers and a real life “group W” bench.
We shook hands and Fester laid down the rules. No hand washing in the drinking fountain, no masturbating on the payphones, no racial slurs, no epithets were to be used toward the gay population. Then he asked me if I had ever been in the woods before. I thought maybe we had met in the forest and I replied “Hell Yeah! I lived in the woods for almost five years”!
“Where at”?
“Mostly on the Mogollon Rim and the Verde Hot Springs, but I made it as far south as Apache lake”.
He looked at me like I was an idiot and explained that the POD was divided up racially. The white people were called the “Wood’s”, as in peckerwoods. If you weren’t White, Black (Bro’s), or Mexican (Piso’s), you got to chose which group to join. The races were allowed to talk amongst each other, but not eat, sit together in the common area, or enter each other’s cells. Fester explained that this was to prevent tension and show solidarity to the leaders of each respective group. He further explained that we had a leader, called the Woodhead, and introduced me to Robert DeNiro’s twin. DeNiro explained that if I wanted anything at all to let him know. I immediately tried to put in an order for cigarettes and marijuana, but was informed those were the two things they couldn’t risk because of the smell. There was a lot of cocaine, heroin, and homebrew. The Bro’s handled the drugs, the Piso’s ran the bootlegging, and the Wood’s took care of the gambling.
Both of my Cellmates were Piso’s. Reuben, the carjacker, was the brew master. Everybody traded him their oranges, peppermint candies, and plastic soda bottles. There was an exchange rate and list of names and contributions. My position as Celly gave me certain hooch rights and, coupled with my 15 years of escape, earned me the respect of the father-rapers. This amounts to gifts of food and a seat at the Woodhead’s table. At any given time, there were probably thirty bottles of home made orange hooch stashed under our mattresses and in the toilet. I was rationed a half bottle a night, after lights out, and two bottles on Saturday. The other inmates were only allowed to buy on Saturday. I stayed pretty buzzed for the whole time I was there.

Dialog from the Emergency Room

Thank you Mr. West, now can you tell me what day of the week it is”?

“No ma’am, but that’s probably more the result of lifestyle than the head injury”.

“I see… what about the month, can you tell me what month we’re in”?

“I can tell you, you just ended a sentence with a preposition”.

“Will you please just tell me what month we’re in, Mr. West”.

“That’s better”.


“Never mind. I live in the forest, I don’t need to know the day. I don’t have any
appointments. I know it’s October”.

“You live in the Forest. Do you know how you got here”?

“I caught a ride”.

“How about the President, do you know who the President is”?

(Smiling) “Al Gore, but I don’t think Mr. Bush understands that”.

(Frowning) “How many fingers am I holding up now Mr. West”?


“Well, you’re cognitive processes seem to be, um, o.k.”.

“Too bad we can’t say the same for Mr. Bush.”

“The Doctor will be in to see you shortly, Mr. West”.

A Peculiar Wind

There is a peculiar event that occurs here as the lower country warms and air currents rise to my island in the sky. I can hear the wind coming from a distance, like a corporeal entity with form and definition. Were I to look down on these lands from above, I would be able to see blocks of the forest succumbing to the ministrations of this wind; acres of Ponderosa bending and swaying as if to allow some tremendous creature to pass. Imagine a coyote in the tall grass. The coyote cannot be seen, but from the vantage point of a man, his movements are discernible. I can sense the wind, beginning at the cliff's edge and traveling in a not so direct path. Somehow it always finds me.

 The silence of this Arcadian landscape accentuates the event. The rustle and rumble of the trees produces a sound so like a truck on a gravel road as to be indistinguishable. I hear it from the distance and my ears follow as it builds and grows closer until finally it is upon me. The lofty pines commence their frantic dance. A moment later it is still. I can listen as this passing traveler fades into the distance, around the corner, and ebbs to silence once more.

On lonely mornings at my camp, over coffee, I believe it is an approaching truck. It excites me to think I might see people. I find myself hoping to meet them. I need to communicate. I need to hear the stories of others. I need to smile and celebrate and share.

“Now this one has to be a truck”, I would tell Maya. “No wind makes a sound like that. Listen. It has just passed that narrow place where we saw the white wolf”. Then the lofty pines commence their frantic dance once more. This time they seem to mock me. These visitations make me lonelier, so I descend the valley and busy myself at the lake. (Where the wind is only the wind).

Cowboy Coffee

Anybody who loves the bean can tell you how well coffee goes with the great outdoors. In the old westerns they might have had to eat a Chuckwalla, but they always had a pot of coffee on the fire. One of my fishing buddies is an ol’ boy they call Rainbow Brite, King of the Hippies. He's not really a hippie, the name's ironic. His real name is Martin and I'd say he eats hippies for breakfast, but he once told me, "Have you ever tried to clean one of those things"? Brite carries the coolest little plastic French Press and always uses fancy beans from the yuppie store. You can’t always be hauling a lot of gear though, or even a special pot for coffee. When I was living in the forest, I got by for years on cowboy coffee.

To make cowboy coffee you fill a small sauce pan (pot) to within an inch or two of the top. When the water starts boiling you take it off the heat and throw in a handful of coffee. The coffee grounds cool quicker than the liquid, so as the temperature drops, the grounds settle to the bottom. This process can be quickened with some eggshells or a splash of cold water. If you poor slowly off the top, you won’t get too many chunks. Eggshells also help pull some of the bitterness out.

I rarely made fire in the mornings. I couldn’t afford to be tied down to my camp in case the rangers came through and I had to hide. Leaving a fire behind is a big no-no. I would use my coals at night and make coffee after the evening’s meal, then enjoy it by the fire.

I didn’t have much in the way of luxuries, so coffee was a treat that I savored. The forest would be quiet and I would reflect on the day’s labors, happy to have lived another day in paradise. Much of my day was occupied with sustenance in the early years. When I would relax by the fire of an evening with the extravagance of a hot cup of Joe I felt like a rich man. along with a bud, or in those days some resin scrapings, and I was in heaven.

My first few months on the Rim were deep in a period of drought when it seemed to me like the whole world was on fire. The sky was always black and the drone of fire planes could be heard below the cliffs all day as they tried desperately to keep the fires below the Mogollon. I was in one of the few parts of the forest still open, and fire was banned that year for several weeks.

I didn’t have a stove with me because at the time I was traveling from lake to lake on foot and didn’t want the weight. The fire ban took me by surprise, being an Indiana boy, but I made do with what I could. I ate a lot of greens, and choked down raw trout five days a week to make sure my body got what it needed. Thankfully, I was carrying Taco Powder and used it liberally on the raw fish. It was still terrible. Trout makes lousy Sushi. It gave me the trots for a few days at first, which had me worried. You have to keep an eye on that in the wilderness. The resulting dehydration can be a killer, but all was well. I soon got used to the change in diet.

That Summer I didn’t mind asking friendly campers if they would heat my water at night for my coffee. I never asked anybody to cook my fish because I didn’t want people thinking I couldn’t take care of myself. I didn’t mind asking about the coffee though. Coffee is social. I met a lot of fascinating people that way and learned a lot about the forest. I also met a wide range of people. I had coffee with Cops, Mormons, CEO's, Bank Robbers, Elderly Couples, IT Geeks, Schizophrenics, Families, and Bikers. The conversations I’ve had in the wild, over coffee, run the entire breadth of human experience. Not bad for an outlaw.

I’d say that pound for pound, coffee’s worth carrying, even uphill on a dusty day.

The Senora: How I Became a Mexican Holy Man

     I’d been in the Forest for sixty days. The last forty or so, I was hopping around the campgrounds at Bear Canyon trying to look like somebody different every couple of weeks. I had gotten in the habit of fishing in the afternoons so I wouldn’t be around when the rangers drove through and then, after eating my trout dinner, I would take a nice five mile walk around the short leg of the Bear Canyon Loop trail. I would see dozens of Elk on these hikes. So I called them my evening Elk walks.
     I was returning from an Elk walk just after dark one night and heard the unusual sound of electric guitars tuning up in the forest. I cut through a ravine and up the hill on the other side, bringing me just outside the circle of generated electric lights of a large camp. I eased back into the shadows a bit, so as not to freak anybody out while I watched the hundred or so people milling about, waiting for a show of some sort. This wasn’t something I would see every day in the woods, and I was starving for entertainment in those early days.
     Eventually a tiny blond woman stepped up to a microphone and began speaking in Spanish. I didn’t understand a word she said, but I liked the way she said it. Obviously the crowd did too, as occasionally they cheered and clapped. Lurking there in the tall pines, I felt like an anthropologist; watching strange customs in an unknown language, or maybe a marine biologist studying dolphins. I knew they were intelligent, but had no clue what their language meant. Then the music started.
     It wasn’t like the Polka beat stuff I was used to hearing or any other Mexican music I was familiar with. Everybody danced except the little woman and her entourage of maybe six men. There was no doubt but they were all familiar with the songs. Most were accompanied by intricate gestures. I watched as the crowd alternately pantomimed pushing something away and then chased each other around. There were people of all ages, and they were having a lot of fun. I returned to my camp and smoked a joint while I listened to the distant strains of music and laughter.
     Eventually, of course, curiosity got the best of me and I went back to the celebration, this time taking the trail that went right past the assemblage. I had to get a better look. There was a high school aged fellow standing guard on the trail. When he saw me approaching, he told me “No English” and signaled to another guy at the other side of their camp and he came over smiling. “Can we help you?” he said in broken English.   “Are we bothering you”?
     “Not at all, I heard your music and wanted to listen. I’m sorry. I’ll go back to my camp”.
He nodded to the little blond woman who was watching from a distance and she he nodded back. I was beginning to wonder if I had gotten myself into some kind of situation. “Wait here a minute”, he said. He conferred with the little blond woman and then she pointed and he disappeared into the crowd. A few people had begun staring at me. The little blond woman, whom they called ‘The Senora’, leaned over and whispered with a tall man. Moments later, four teenage girls came out of the crowd and, taking me by both hands, led me into the circle of dancers. None of the girls spoke English, and they were very patient with me; showing me the proper steps and gestures to accompany each of the songs the band played. I began to recognize certain words and gestures and realized I was at a religious retreat of some kind.
     When the music stopped everybody remained standing where they were. The tall man came to me then and asked me if I was having a good time. I told him I certainly was. His name was Vincent and he told me he was the Senora’s husband and co-Pastor. She spoke again and paused between sentences to allow Vincent to translate for me. As she gave her sermon, I noticed her making eye contact and gesturing with her chin to certain young men who were standing around the outside of the group. They would take people by the arm and move them around, setting up the congregation like pieces on a chessboard.
     When the “ushers” returned to their original positions, the Senora paused and looked down, then the tone of the Sermon changed. She said God had told her there was a fornicator in the group who needed her help, and asked that this person come forward. I was worried for a minute. When nobody came forward she began describing this person. Finally a young girl, no older than twelve, stepped to the front with tears in her eyes. The Senora spoke directly to her, this time with no translation, and then hauled off and wacked this little girl on the forehead. The girl fell to the ground, rolling in the dirt and wailing. The Senora spoke of the courage this little girl, her own daughter, then asked that any other fornicators step forward. A line of about ten people formed and she thumped each of them, leaving them to roll on the ground and cry.
     When there were about a dozen people on the ground and the majority of the congregation was sobbing, The Senora walked into the crowd and proceeded to smack people. I saw her give one of her signals to the first young man I met and he guided the four girls I had been dancing with right in front of me. The Senora thumped them and they fell, rolling all over each other at my feet. I tried to maintain my composure, but as I mentioned, I was stoned, nervous, and thoroughly entertained. I couldn’t keep the silly grin off my face even though I was appalled that I was smiling so stupidly in the midst of such anguish.
     Finally all were on the ground except Vincent, The Senora, The ushers, and I. She then walked directly up to me and looking me deep in the eye, asked if I wanted her to smack me too. I politely declined and apologized for grinning like a fool. She smiled and told me it was okay, that some of her people were great actors and she was glad I was enjoying myself. I spoke with Vincent a while and watched as the ushers gently brought each person to their feet and walked them to their tents. Figuring the show was over, I returned to my camp, wondering at the unusual scenes I came across in the forest.
     The next morning I was drinking cowboy coffee at my camp when I was approached by a twelve year old boy named Genaro. He said the Senora asked him to bring me to her. To my surprise she wasn’t at her camp, but sitting by the lake with Vincent. She said that I was obviously different than others in the forest and asked me to tell her my story. I explained about my web site and how people paid to read my journals and the charities the money went to. We talked about fear and the mistakes it causes people to make and my faith that the Universe would provide for me. That night her pre-music sermon was entirely taken from our conversation. She used me as an example and asked me many questions during her talk designed as an example to her people.
     For five years I spent my summers at Bear Canyon. The Senora brought her people out twice a year for a week at a time. On the last day of her visits she would always ask me to join her at the lake and we would plan the evening’s sermon based on my most recent adventures. The last time I saw the Senora, she announced to her people that there would be a time when they came and I was not there. She said that that would be when she retired. She offered me a scholarship to attend their seminary and warned me against the many temptations I would face when I left the forest. I didn’t know at that time that I would be free and home in Indiana before the next summer.
     Frequently the drunken hillbillies of the campground would come around with threats and warnings, angry about the noise and unusual activities in the camp. Sometimes they brought rangers. I acted as intermediary each time and made sure the noise subsided before 10p.m. according to the rules of the forest.
Over the years I became close with those people. Here I was this long haired bearded dude that appeared out of the forest every year. I think I inadvertently acquired a position in the mythos of their church. Sometimes the littlest ones would call me “Christo” I would have to straighten them out. I often wonder what stories they still may tell about “The Gringo in the Forest”.

Big Red

     It looked like part of a big hairy red ass sticking up out of the bushes. It was jiggling in a manner that suggested the fabled Mogollon Monster. Was Big Red himself bent over hiding in the thicket and giggling like a little child playing hide and seek? Was I just high?
     Even as I was walking closer I thought about how stupid I was. I closed to within about fifteen feet of the great beast. There was a giant rusty furred ass cheek at about eye level. Its shaking stopped and mine started. I froze in place. Then it started jiggling again. I took another hit of the joint.
It was 2005, and the forest was showing signs of recovering from the drought. There was to be no summer fire ban that year in Apache-Sitgreaves. The vegetation was lush and blocked my view of the creature. Was it a bear?
     I inched closer until there was only about ten feet separating me from the mysterious red ass. The rustling of grasses at my feet seemed to echo through the hills in spite of the care I was taking to creep silently through the trees. Again, the jiggling stopped. I dropped to a squatting position and took a few more tokes of the doob.
     At five feet I stopped again and put the joint in a 410 shell casing I was carrying in my pocket. I thought: “Damn, I could jump on it's back! What a story that would make!" Then I realized dead men tell no tales. I changed my thought to: "I could lunge and smack this thing on the ass”. I seriously considered it. I figured it would make a better story than just standing there with a smoldering pocket and wondering whose ass I was looking at.
In the end, I eventually sneezed or coughed or did some other dumbass thing I was trying not to do. The massive creature rose to its full height and turned to appraise me. I froze, gaping. That’s the closest I ever got to an elk.

Gettin' Squirrely

     I found that Bear Canyon is home to a curious creature known as the Abert squirrel. Aberts have high, pointy ears of sometime more than three inches. They are a very large breed of squirrel. One of them would make a good meal. It takes three or four common grey squirrels to fill me up.
     I made a mental not to construct a snare.
     Each day, at camp, A large Abert would dart over to the gold pan, which doubled
as my dogs bowl, and steal some kibble. Maya would chase it up the nearest tree where
the scoundrel would turn and chatter and tease her. I can only take a couple minutes of
pissed off squirrel noise. So I’d throw a rock and the little bastard would scurry away. It
became a routine.
     Eventually there came a day when I couldn’t bring myself to catch any more
crawdads or fish so I foraged up a salad. I found plantain and dandelion greens and I
mixed up a dressing using powdered milk, sugar, and wild dill; which grew in abundance.
     I was cleaning the greens when that damn Abert showed up to rob the dog. As usual, I hucked a rock at it as it tore off up the tree and nailed it square! It fell to the ground, twitched, and died. I couldn’t believe it. It was a one and a million shot, taken from about thirty feet away. I jumped to my feet and raced over intending to hide the evidence before neighboring campers noticed what I had done.
     But I was too late.
     Several A.S.U. kids camping next to me had seen what I had done and were
sprinting in to my camp. As I turned to face them I was worried that they were maybe some militant animal rights faction. The biggest one took a step forward and I realized I had no good excuse to offer. He assumed what I thought at first was a threatening pose but surprised me by saying, “ Dude, can you do that all the time?” I squinted one eye, assuming my best grizzled mountain man visage, and replied, “Ah only take whut ah need.”
     I never let on that it was an accident.
     They told me they had a keg of Fat Tire and they’d be happy to share if I’d be willing to show them how I skinned, gutted, and prepared wild game. I love to teach wilderness skills almost as much as I like applying them, and I sure could use a nice cold beer. when carcass was eviscerated and smoking over some mesquite chips, I showed them how to scrape, salt, and cure the hide. My inclination was to tie it spread out on the back of a tree where the ranger wouldn’t see it.
     All six of them, men and women, took their pictures with the hapless rodent at various stages of it’s disassembly. The way they carried on you’d have thought I brought down a rhino. Sure, I hammed it up a little.
     When it was done I saw to it that everybody got to try a little piece. We drank beer, smoked a few bowls, played some horseshoes, and just as I was about to leave, one of the girls brought me a plate. She said she appreciated my sharing my dinner with them and they wanted to reciprocate. There was bacon wrapped filet mignon, roasted corn on the cob, and potato salad. Then they brought out a cherry cheesecake and carved me off a big slab.
     I was so happy I coulda cried.
     A few days later they pulled out, leaving me with the remainder of their provisions. I didn’t have to fish for a week. Then one day I awoke to an empty campground.
     I was sitting on a round of oak and writing in my journal when a huge RV pulled up and stopped in front of me. An elderly man got out and walked in to my camp and just scowled at me. I thought, “Why would this old guy take the trouble to get down out of his rig just to give me a dirty look? “ I concluded that he must just have a face that looks like that. Maybe he was lost and mentally preparing to ask me directions. I didn’t know the protocol for dealing with crazy old coots behaving oddly, so for lack of any other ideas I waved and smiled.
     He immediately turned and hobbled back to his Winnebago, where I heard him tell his family to stay away because I looked like I’d been in the forest a while and I might get a little “Squirrely”. Not being one to miss an opportunity, I retrieved the hide from the tree and jogged over to where he was standing. “You are absolutely right.” I said, “I just got a little squirrely the other day.” and I held my skin up by the tail and shook it above my head.
Would you believe that out of the whole huge forest, they camped right next to me?

Downsizing Part II: Potato Lake to Johnson Spring

     I woke up under a tarp in a meadow and sat up, spooking the herd of Elk grazing around me. I was surprised that neither Maya nor the Elk knew there were others so close. I could have spit on the Elk as they ran by.
     I gave Maya some kibble and split half of our remaining water with her. Pangs of worry assailed me. It had been another dry summer.
     I pulled the watch out of my pocket and checked the date; almost ten years. I didn’t ever wear a watch anymore, not since the cops stole the nice one Gay Ann gave me. Ten years. I chucked the watch into the Forest; wouldn’t need that anymore.
     Suddenly I flashed to sitting back in D Block, wondering where I’d be in ten years. I never would have guessed, couldn’t have really. This realization notwithstanding, I tried to pry open the future and see where I’d be in another ten. No bueno. I couldn’t see past the lack of groceries in my pack. Once again, my own mortality was apparent. I didn’t know if I would survive the summer, or even the month.
     How would it all end? When the cancer finally took Maya, would I despondently hurl myself from the cliffs? How would I continue without the motivation to take care of her? So many times I had wanted to chuck it all and surrender, but I couldn’t leave her behind. She was my sole reason for survival. When I couldn’t bear to do for myself, I was always able to find the energy to do for her.
     I might die here. Nobody for a thousand miles knew who I really was. I’d felt that way once before, at three a.m., in an alley in a Mexican border town (I’ll tell you that story some day). Nobody had known me since I had thrown Tory out five or six years previously. The last five years seemed like decades of horrible loneliness. I’d been surrounded by millions of other people entrenched in the fetid metropolis where I’d been hiding, and I felt like the loneliest man in the world. I was reminded of the Grateful Dead lyrics: “In the heat of the sun a man died of cold”.
     Three more miles should bring me to Johnson Spring and fresh water. That meant nine miles actual hiking. My gear was too heavy and my pack was broken and lying along the trail. I had to hike half my gear ahead, stashing the rest, and return-leapfrogging my way into an uncertain future. I shouldered my load (both figuraitvely and literally) and continued onward.

Downsizing Part I

     Between the spring of ’90 and the winter of ’97 I produced a tremendous volume of work on a certain topic. I accumulated, literally, suitcases full of essays, journals, and observances, all relating to a central theme.
     Unsatisfied with the amount of information I was able to generate, I leased the storefront next to my Gallery and installed bookshelves. I filled these shelves with thousands of volumes of texts on subjects with a related subject matter.
     One night I sat at my desk, with the books all around me and my suitcases at my feet, confident that I had all the information I needed to assemble the understanding I sought. I bought a stack of legal pads and a bag of Bics. I took four days off work at the newspaper to get a good start. Then I realized I had no idea how to assemble this information. That led me to realize I had no idea how the elements of this body of knowledge even related to each other.
     Haha! Imagine that.
     I toyed with the idea of declaring the whole project a monumental tribute to failure. I had several truckloads of puzzle pieces and no idea what the puzzle was all about, or even if they were pieces of the same puzzle. All I had was a hunch that there was a commonality. Seven years, and I hadn’t thought it through enough to even know what I was collecting.
     So I shoved the suitcases under the bed and carved faces into stones for three days.
Then one night while I sat at my desk shaking my head in disbelief it came to me. It was all about being. There were medical books, psychology books, sociology, sexuality, group dynamics, religion, philosophy, self help! It was all about ME. It was all about being human. I had, in that room (before the internet got to me), every curiosity I might have about the human condition.
     I typed sixty pages that night and called it “Welcome To Planet Earth”. None of it came from my suitcases or library, but it was finished. It was brilliant too, if I may say so. Exhausted, I slept for 24 hours. When I awoke I knew better than to read my new manuscript. I put it away and went back to the newspaper.
     I waited a week, and it wasn’t easy, before I read my novelette. Then I started to make additions to clarify some of the presumptions. I revised until I hit a hundred pages, then I realized I needed another two hundred to back up my additions. I spent months editing and rewriting until what I had was completely unintelligible. I realized that I wouldn’t be finished until I had written all the books and suitcases that I had started with.
     Again, Imagine that.
     So I packed it all back into the suitcases (and additional milk crates), and placed the original 60 page manuscript on top. I slid it all under the bed.
     Every couple of weeks or month or so I would pull out the original and read it. It was perfect.
Then one day while I was reading it I decided it was useless. Not only was it something I understood from the beginning, but anybody who it might benefit already did as well.
     Imagine that.
     For reasons I don't understand I carried the original manuscript and the most coherent of the notes with me into the forest. Maybe I was afraid to let go. I don't know. So while I was downsizing, I buried the lot of it behind the Shakedown camp on a hill in pickle buckets. Seven years later I returned to Shakedown camp for the first time. I smoked a fatty and played some of the same songs on the guitar as I did years before on that spot. It was really a mind blowing experience to be back there and reflect on all the miles in between and where they have taken me. My recollections intensified with my buzz and I began to wonder if I could find those old pickle buckets.
     I found my buried treasure on the first try; halfway up the hill and centered between the triangle formed by three stumps. Seven winters of freezing and thawing had cracked the plastic buckets and let water in and the papers were a solid unidentifiable mass. Deep in the second bucket I found a surprise I had forgotten I had included in my time capsule: two shirts.
     I had an old blue dashiki that people in Muncie knew me by, and a shirt Jack Herer gave me that said “Hemp for Victory” on the front and had boxes all over it with excerpts from his book. I remember not wanting to burn them with my other clothing, so I buried them out of respect for who I had once been. The shirts were in tatters when I unearthed them, and it was a little weird to see this stuff again. It was kind of like digging up my own grave.
     I returned the manuscript and notes to the earth (this time without the buckets) and brought the shirts back to Muncie for re-interment. I figured it was right to take them home. I have them stored at Lucky Tailor’s place until I decide on where to bury them.

After the Raid at Potato Lake

     By time the LEO rangers left, it was nearly dinner time and all of my belongings were scattered and unpacked on blankets around the camp. A camper named Mike, who was on the other side of the hill from me, rode through on a quad to make sure I was okay and brought me a rib eye wrapped in foil. The day before, I had traded him my guitar, paints, books, and other objects I would be unable to carry for dog food and a box of cigars the previous owner left in his camper. Being Mormon, Mike and his family didn’t carry coffee. I would have to make do with the bitter Chicory and Dandelion roots that grew along the roadsides. I roasted these on a rock by the fire and boiled the shit out of them for a barely palatable hot beverage. I had reached a stage where whatever calories and vitamins I could get were important.
     The steak was much appreciated because all I had left were meager rations to get me to the nearest fishable lake twenty-four miles away. I had a can of tomato soup, a gallon ziplock full of breadcrumbs, and a half pound can of Knorr’s Mushroom Hunters gravy powder.
     After sharing the rib eye with Maya, I repacked my gear and strapped my tarps on top of my external frame pack. Once thusly loaded I couldn’t lift the pack to get into it, so I sat it next to a tree and strapped it on sitting down. Then, pushing against the tree, I slid myself upward into a standing position. I was carrying nearly two hundred pounds of gear and figured I would do two miles a day at 100 yard intervals.
     I had devised a tool to help me keep track of mileage. Knowing that my average pace is one, and a mile is 1760 yards, I strung 18 beads on a piece of hemp that was tight enough to prevent the beads from slipping on their own. For each one hundred paces I traveled, I slid one bead to the other end of the hemp. Once the beads had all been moved, I would have travelled approximately one mile. (1800 instead of 1760 paces to compensate for a slightly shorter pace due to the heavy pack). Having a decent estimate of distances was important so I would know where to look, according to my maps and charts, for water sources and connecting trails.
     Before I got out of camp though, disaster struck. As I descended the low hill to the trail from my camp, my tarps shifted forward over my head and I tumbled head over heels down the hill. After several moments of flailing like an upside down turtle, I extricated myself from the gear and surveyed the damages. Luckily I was unhurt. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the pack frame which had snapped the supporting guy wires and was in ruins. Crap.
     Remembering my survival studies, I cut some branches with my machete and fashioned a travois using some of my rope for lashings (One of those ladder-looking things that you drag your crap with) and set off down the hill again. No Bueno. The weight of the travois, together with the gear, dug a furrow as I walked that made it quite difficult and made it immediately apparent that I couldn’t cover 24 miles like this.            Discouraged; I kindled a small fire, smoked some of my remaining resin, brewed up a cup of nasty tasting crap, and resolved myself to address.the problem after a night’s sleep.
(I later learned you're supposed to have a horse or mule to pull a travois).

Forest Fire Part II: The Shakedown

     As I started back to camp, a white suburban with a red light bar on top rounded the corner and stopped next to me. Its sole occupant rolled down the window and asked what I was doing here. He wore a gold badge and a nametag which read "Jeremy Smith" Before I could answer he asked why I was talking to the other ranger. I explained that I was backpacking and concerned for my safety and the safety of my dog. Then ranger Smith proceeded to ask me the same questions the previous ranger had asked, only this guy wasn't friendly.
     Once he was through with me I went back to camp, made my last pot of coffee, looked over my maps, and assessed my situation. I decided to go and have a look at the lake before hitting the road. There was a trail that led to the lake from a quad track north of camp. I strapped on a machete with the hope of finding a nice piece of Oak along the way to make a bow.
     Maya and I walked maybe two hundred yards when we were overtaken by the white law enforcement truck. This time there was an older man driving. As the truck pulled along side, Jeremy Smith dove out of the passenger side and snatched the machete from my hip. "It's a tool, not a weapon" I said with my hands up.
The older man got out on his side of the truck and assured me that his partner's actions were for safety reasons only and promised that he would return the machete once I met them back at my camp for "a little friendly chat". It was the worst and most insincere good cop-bad cop routine I had ever seen.
     When we got back to my camp, Jeremy Smith immediately got out of the truck and, choosing a poker stick from my fire pit, proceeded to explore a nearby area where campers had left the woods littered with toilet paper. Smith would locate one of these "landmines" and lift the paper up with the stick, inspecting whatever was underneath. I didn't know what he was doing, but figured if he walked a little farther back and found the latrine I dug, he'd be happy.
"     What's your buddy doing over there?" I asked the older guy. It looked to me like the man was insane.
"Don't you worry about him (I thought that was funny but held my laughter), we have important matters to discuss and I would appreciate your help". Then he chose a stick of his own and began drawing in the dirt. He continued asking me questions while he created a map of the lake. Mostly he wanted to know what time of day I hiked there for water and what vehicles I saw. I retrieved my journal from the pack and related to him the approximate times and locations of anything of interest I had noted.
      He completed his map with a heavy line across the path leading to the lake. He explained that it was important that I tell him what the line represented, that he couldn't tell me unless I identified it.
"That's a big dead tree on its side", I informed him, "The trunk is maybe four feet thick". This got him all excited and he mumbled a fast "Very good, very good". Then he looked up at me and his demeanor changed. He became quite somber. "Now", he began, "I'm going to ask you a very important question and I need you to think about it before you answer. Okay"?
     "Do you have any marijuana, son"?
     This time I did laugh. I didn't have any pot and told him so. Then he told me his buddy had been through my pack, while I was out of camp, and found my marijuana among other things. At first I was puzzled, then I remembered a pouch of an herb called mullein that I used medicinally for Miss Maya. I handed it over and asked if this was what they had found. "Hey"! he yelled at his partner, "Is this what you found? This isn't marijuana"!
     "This isn't all we found. Why do you have so many packs of rolling papers? What are the baggies for? We suspect you have a large amount up here and you're selling it". Now the guy with the stick made sense. Barely. They were looking for the mother load. Jeremy Smith finally gave up and joined us as they made me unpack everything in my packs.
      Once I had emptied all but one zippered pouch on the side of my external frame pack, I remembered a baggie full of seeds I had been saving. Also in that pouch was a collection of stones and fossils I had collected. I slowly pulled each rock out and told the story of where I found it, what it was used for, how it was formed, and what tools, if any, I would use to work the stone. About eight rocks into this process the older ranger asked, “Is that all you have in that pouch; rocks”?
     “Yes”, I replied.
     “I don’t want to see any more fucking rocks”.
      By time they were done, they had confiscated two pipes, the mullein; "in case it is a controlled substance", and a fishing tool called a Magic Worm Blower. The worm blower is like a Visene bottle with a hypodermic needle on the end. It's used to inflate worms. I told them I only used the one pipe for tobacco. Smith smelled it, then returned it to me. It still had some pot in it.
After robbing me they gave me a receipt. Curious what the receipt was for, I asked if I could use it to claim my property from some office somewhere. They said if I tried, I’d be arre sted.
      “What’s the receipt for then”? I inquired. 
      “That’s to show that we didn’t steal anything from you”.
      “The way I see it, that was my stuff, now you have it, and I don’t have any choice in the matter. That sounds like you stole it to me”.
     “Look, we’re not going to arrest you or even give you a ticket for the paraphernalia”.
     “I’ll shut up”.
      As they drove away they told me to enjoy my stay in Coconino National Forest.


     I repacked my gear, smoked the rest of the pipe they returned (I still have it), and hit the trail. About three miles down the road I came across a large wooden sign which read: “IT IS ILLEGAL TO GROW MARIJUANA IN YOUR NATIONAL FOREST”. I was eager to remove the seeds from my possession, so I scattered them all around the sign. I've been there since. The sign is gone.
     The Universe chose to thrust Jeremy Smith onto my path no less than a half dozen times during my life in the Forest, although I have every reason to believe he didn't recognize me. Upon each occasion I witnessed acts and attitudes that contribute to the negative image frequently held by the public concerning the police. Our very first meeting was indicative of his ignorance and lack of sense. I always had a certain respect for Feds. They’re supposed to be smart. Jeremy didn’t have a clue. He’s like a mall cop without the mall. It's a shame that bullies have always been attracted to law enforcement. Don’t believe me? Get out your high school yearbook. Find the bullies. Now go down to the local cop shop. How many of those guys do you see on the wall? I thought so.
     I expect more from the Feds. I imagine they do too.

Forest Fire Part I

   I woke up at dawn with the feeling that something was wrong. I was still half asleep and incapable of coherent thought. I wanted to go back to sleep but knew it was imperative that I didn’t. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. The approaching drone of an airplane brought me out from under my tarp, as I realized it had been circling for quite some time. There was a wall of thick black smoke obscuring the horizon barely a quarter mile to the east.
      I started hurriedly cramming stuff in my pack, frequently looking over my shoulder in the direction of the fire. About the third time I did this I could see flame rising above the trees. I just left my gear in a pile, put the leash on the dog, and hauled ass.
     Years of watching news reports in Phoenix had taught me that these fires can move upwards of 60 miles an hour in certain conditions. I had no time to think. If I ran directly away from the fire I faced many miles of unspoiled forest, maybe even a box canyon or sheer cliff that would leave us trapped. Shit.
     It was a gamble, but I figured our best bet was to run a course parallel to the fire. There was a forest service road about a quarter mile to the south. If we could make it a quarter mile south before the inferno continued a quarter mile west, there might be rangers or firemen. “Run Maya!” I yelled, “Run, run, run-run-run!”
     We didn’t stick to the trail. Heading due south we leaped fallen logs and hurdled ditches. My heart was pounding so hard I thought my chest would explode. Finally we slid down a gravel slope and tumbled out onto the road. Looking back to the east, the fire didn’t seem any closer. I caught my breath as we walked down the road to the west, hoping we wouldn’t be sorry we slowed our pace. It wasn’t long before we heard the rumble of an approaching truck.
      Frantically waving my hands, I flagged down the green forest service Dodge as it rounded the corner. I apprised the ranger of our situation, how we were backpacking and had no vehicle, and asked him how we should proceed. He made an inquiry on the radio and found out the fire was under control. It seems some idiots in a white truck had been seen shooting off fireworks at Potato Lake the night before. He asked me if I had seen such a truck, and we talked for several minutes about different people I had seen when fetching water from the lake the day before.
     He told me that between the ash and fire retardant, it could be weeks before I
could get drinking water from the lake. I figured I could give Maya the little we had in the
jugs and I’d make do with the water in the canned peas and green beans. With no fresh
water available and little food, It had become imperative that we leave immediately.

Other notes on the first day in the forest

     We began our odyssey on the Mogollon Rim, a great gash that runs laterally along the center of the state of Arizona. It marks the southern border of a geological feature called the Colorado Plateau, consisting of a portion of the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the world. The most notable features of the Rim are a stretch of sandstone and limestone cliffs that extend, east to west, for fifty miles or more, rising majestically thousands of feet above the forested high desert. From the edges of the cliffs you can see mountains nearly one hundred miles away.
     The terrain is quite hilly with crisscrossing patterns of steep mountain canyons and cool, clean, freshwater springs. Nearly every ten miles there are coldwater lakes, which, along with the streams, are purported to provide some of the best trout fishing in the state. Our chances of survival rested heavily on the legends of Mogollon trout.
     The first thing I noticed, upon exiting the car, was the overwhelming aroma of the pines. The smell of pitch in the air is so pervasive you can feel it tingling on your tongue. It’s a good wholesome smell and taste. There is no comparing it to the medicinal stench of pine cleaners or the flowery reek of those Christmas tree air fresheners.
     It didn’t take long to set up camp. Camp consisted of a rope tied between two trees with a green canvas tarp thrown over it. I lined the soft pine straw with an old wool poncho I bought long ago in Mexico and threw a blanket on top.
     I have this image of myself just sitting on my duffle bag there in the dust. Darl’s old blue Pontiac brought us as far as it could. As I watched him drive back down the rutted dirt trail, I felt a pang of remorse.
The Maya dog was at my elbow. She had spent the chill of pre-dawn frolicking, sniffing, and exploring our new environs while I unloaded the car, pitched camp, and smoked a bowl with Darl. It was hard to believe she had been diagnosed with cancer just three weeks earlier. I’d always felt somewhat guilty to have raised Maya in the city. She was half Lab and half Coyote. This trip was going to let her experience the other side of her heritage. Sure, she and I had been hiking and exploring since she was a pup, but this was a whole different kind of hike.
“Well, here we are”.
     I spoke the words aloud with less conviction than I intended. Miss Maya turned and looked at me inquisitively, her golden coyote eyes flashing and her black fur glistening blue in the morning sunlight. It was apparent to me, her companion those last twelve years, that she was as uncertain of our fate as I was. It was an all or nothing gambit. There was no guarantee either of us would survive the summer. We had a hundred miles of rough terrain to cover before we reached civilization, and a lifetime to do it in. I don’t know about dogs, but times like those tend to cause a man to pause and reflect.
     Sitting there at 7,000 feet, we were in no hurry. It was a cool sixty degrees on the Rim, probably 25 degrees cooler than the bottom of the cliff two thousand feet below. The Valley of the Sun, which was our ultimate destination, was registering 100 degree temperatures when we left at four o’clock that morning. One of the goals of our quest was to develop a working timeline where we would always be in comfortable climates. I hoped to use this trip as an exploratory mission geared toward a future 365 day adventure.
I’d always felt somewhat guilty to have raised the Maya dog in the city. She was half Lab and half Coyote. This trip was going to let her experience the other side of her heritage. Sure, she and I had been hiking and exploring since she was a pup, but that’s different than living out there.
     Considering Maya’s age and illness, I only wanted to hike two miles per day, every other day. That would be less than our daily walks back home. Weeks of study at the Burton-Barr library in Phoenix, reading trail guides and poring over maps, yielded a route that would allow us to (supposedly) always be within three miles of an aquifer. Water weighs eight pounds per gallon, so I could only carry so much. I estimated that my pack weighed over two hundred pounds dry. Fifty pounds of that was dog food.
     I noticed grasshoppers leaping in the tall weeds. This was good to know. One of the subjects of my research was edible insects. Grasshoppers are supposed to be the tastiest. You remove the legs, head, and wings, and roast what’s left. I imagined it would take a lot of bugs to fill me up. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but like I said; it was good to know all the options, our lives would depend on it. There would come a day, probably much too soon, when our supplies ran out and we would have to live off the land. I took a deep breath of the sweet pine air and let it out with uncertainty. There was no turning back.

Preparations for the Trip

     When I was about ten years old my class read a book called “My Side Of The Mountain”. It was about this Canadian kid who just up and lived in the woods for a year. Man, did that novel make an impression on me. I devoured all the information I could find on wild edibles and methods of constructing shelters. My friend Amy Mays and I even wrote the first forty or so pages of our own novel about an unspecified-gendered child who was raised by wolves in the arctic. All my free time was occupied by walks in the woods where I would snack on leaves, berries, nuts, and bark.
     As a child I would lie awake at night and imagine that I would slip off through the silky night and steal away across the cornfields to the creek where I would subside on hickory nuts and groundhogs and maybe even be lucky enough to find a hollow old oak to live in.
     In my adolescent years I turned to the wooded areas to escape the oppression of that age, sneak cigarettes and to talk the neighbor girls out of their virtue. The forest for me has always symbolized freedom and ecstasy, comfort and joy; a place of high adventure and LIFE in capital letters.
     All through the summer and everyday after school I would venture to the creek and fish like a madman. If the Creek was frozen I hiked along it’s limestone cliffs scouting or tracking game. I remember one time bringing home a painted turtle about two feet across and begging my mother to cook it. That was the day she made the rule that any fish or animal I wanted to eat had to be cleaned and eaten in the woods before I came home.
     So I learned how to skin a rabbit, and how to cook a fish on coals. I never did learn how to eat a turtle. I hear they have like eight different kinds of meat and six of them are worth eating. Much to the surprise of the adults in the neighborhood I caught trout, bass, catfish, and bluegill. All in the little creek. It was there that I learned to stuff the gutted trout with the meat from the crawdad’s tails and really eat fancy in the woods.
More recently, I had spent weeks in the Burton-Barr. From the moment they opened the downtown Phoenix library in the morning until the last call to leave at night I researched, studied, and plotted my response to every possible eventuality I could conceive of. I studied shelters, methods of procuring and purifying water, hunting, fishing, and trapping techniques, and I even spent a whole day learning about which insects are edible and which are not…just in case.
     You’re not supposed to eat bugs with red markings, or spiders, yellow jackets, hornets, or wasps. Bees are good (with the stingers removed as well as the legs wings and heads). Grasshoppers are prepared similarly. Ants are edible, as are caterpillars without hair, grubs and earthworms.
     I never had to eat bugs but in the interest of preparedness I tried some during those first couple weeks at Potato Lake. I ate one meal entirely made up of roasted black ants, boiled bees, and fried grasshoppers and earthworms in taco powder. I preferred the grasshoppers. They were tasty and snack-like. Its labor intensive and takes a lot of grasshoppers to make a meal. Once the wings, head, and legs are removed; there isn’t much left.

People of the National Forests

     The Forest Service estimates that nearly 50 million people visit our National Forests each year. Every visitor has the right to camp in the forest for up to 14 days. Some heavily used areas have a reduced limit. I used to paint a "36" in front of the "5 day stay limit" sign at Childs. Every week the rangers would come down and correct my addition. I would have it repainted before they reached the top of the ridge. It is illegal to reside within the National Forest.
     Occasional visitors include hunters, fishermen, families, and church groups. Oddly, I observed more church groups leaving behind trash and camp debris than any other. Of the families I spoke with, the majority of the elders camped with their parents when they were young.
The small numbers of people who call the forest their home include veterans, hippies, displaced families, homeless individuals, and outlaws. Long-term backpackers are extremely rare.
A substantial number of those who illegally reside in the forest are mentally ill veterans. Many are young. CNN reported that over 30 percent of troops “returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who received care from veterans affairs between 2001 and 2005 were diagnosed with psychosocial ills”. These veterans often camp in their vehicles and return to society only to gather supplies when their disability checks arrive. A large number of this group is paranoid.
     I made the acquaintance of one particular paranoid schizophrenic veteran who was the recipient of the Silver Cross for “engaging the enemy and returning fire, with valor”. Paranoia, poor social skills, and drug addiction, in addition to a meager disability income forced this man from forest camp to another. After observing his behavior for several years, he was awarded a substantial retroactive payment for his disability which left him quite well off. He purchased a home and settled down.
Within months he was complaining to me that he wasn’t “adjusting well to society”. Within two years he sold his home and squandered his money. I bumped into him again last summer and he owned only the gear he carried, was sober and living on fish, bullion, and Cream of Wheat. He was happier than I had seen him in a long time.
     The forest people have a name for the vagabond hippies who subsist by begging and theft. They call them Drainbows, a play on words, comparing them to the Rainbow Family of the seventies whom they poorly emulate. The original Rainbow Family only gathered in unpopulated forests. These dirty children only live where there are other people to support them, moving on when resources are scarce. Wherever Drainbows are found, law enforcement isn’t far behind. If a Drainbow finds a campground to have generous patrons, word goes out via the internet, and the invasion begins. Drainbow invasions are called “gatherings” and leave the forest littered with tons of debris each year.
     Occasionally I would come across homeless families living in tents. These folk were always in high spirits despite their forced exodus from society at large. Frequently, one or both parents were employed and commuted to jobs in nearby towns. People in the forest are friendly in general, but the homeless families I met were the most congenial.
     Most forest dwellers move from forest to forest in order to circumvent the non-residence laws. Those who don’t are soon recognized, fined, and ejected by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers (LEO’s) who patrol. I traveled without the aid of a vehicle so I was less easily identifiable. I traveled with three different tents and would move my camp and alter its appearance reg
ularly to avoid the LEO’s.
     The people of the national forest are a society unto themselves and contain the same elements of society that are found everywhere. Some are kind and some are dangerous. Some are downright strange. Many are misfits who find a commonality in nature. Ever since there have been municipalities there have been those who escape them for the forests. I suppose there always will be.

Culture Shock

     The first leg of my journey spanned 117 days and took me from Strawberry to Heber, Arizona, a distance of about 60 or 70 miles. Maya and I stuck mostly to the back trails during this time. The rough cinders of the forest roads were too tough on the pads of her paws.
Even when we did pass through the more populated lake areas we had little contact with others. We were illegally residing in the forest at this time and there were the felony warrants out of Indiana to consider. It seemed best to avoid scrutiny.
      At the end of the 117 day trip, I returned to town for a couple weeks to visit a friend and store the journals I had amassed. I was unprepared for what I found there. The months of silence seemed to have built up to a point where I craved human interaction. I’m normally a talkative person, but when I got back to town I talked to anyone and everyone who listened. I caught myself waving at people I passed on the street an activity which drew a lot of looks, (not all friendly). Friendliness was an ordinary behavior among the pines, but not so ordinary in a metropolitan area.
      Most of all I was blown away by all the perceptual stimulation provided by the city. This was more than the amazement I imagine a person from the country must feel when surrounded by the hustle and bustle. I was experiencing a form of Culture Shock, a term I had read about in a book I purchased in a garage sale in the seventies. The author defined Culture Shock as “The anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of intercourse”. In short, I was kind of freaking out. 
     I couldn't stop just staring around me at all the activity, noise, and lights of the city. The form of culture shock I experienced is known as re-entry shock or reverse culture shock, a common occurrence among students returning from studying abroad. One student studied by Jerginson defined it as “what has always been normal, suddenly seemed strange”.
     For me it was uncomfortable, even almost frightening. Part of me wanted to hide indoors, while another part wanted to walk the streets in an attempt to understand these strange feelings I was having. It was a strange sensation. I equated it with the way one must feel when released from prison or returning from war, and I had only been “out there” for three and a half months!
     I knew there were psychological elements of survival to consider, I just wasn’t aware how serious they could be in such a short time. When I returned to the forest I did so with a different plan. An article published by the Arizona State University Department of Anthropology stated:

Awareness of the nature of cultural shock and the typical reactions
fosters constructive intervention by providing the basis for recognizing
one’s own ongoing cultural shock experiences and for reframing the
situations with adaptive responses and problem-solving strategies.
(Winkleman, 1994, p. 121).

     I would spend more time in campgrounds, where I could find human company and
take more frequent side trips into nearby communities. These efforts paid off. Every
couple months I would visit friends in one town or another, and even though I
experienced periods of adjustment, I was never again broadsided by the intense anxieties
that accompanied my first return to civilization.

My First Day in the Forest: Discovering Potato Lake


I remember showing Darl my maps before he made the trip north to drop me off. I told him I wanted to start above the town of Strawberry, at a place called Potato Lake, and work my way along the General Crook Trail. A few miles east is a pullout with an old cabin and the trailhead leading down from the Mogollon Rim. I explained that if I got reports that the Tonto was extremely warm that summer, then I would work my way farther east to a lake called Bear Canyon. Either route brought me to fresh water every 3-5 miles, Or so the maps indicated.

When we left, it was still dark in Phoenix, but registering over one hundred degrees. We got to the Rim just as the first fingers of light were reaching up to us. It was cold. You could see my breath.

I asked Darl to drive to the lake before we found me a campsite, so I could make sure there was water... and fish. The lake was what we;d call a pond here in Indiana. You could just about throw a rock across it in any direction. It had none of the signs of bad water: foaminess, stagnation, odor. There were tiny minnows which I (incorrectly) assumed would support a population of larger fish. All systems were go.

We went back down the meandering forest road to a dirt track I had seen about a mile back. As we came around a corner, some guy on a quad was doing about 40 and nearly hit us head on. He drove off the road to the right of our car and down about a fifty foot embankment. I told Darl what the terrain offered on my side of the car and asked if he wasn't going to stop and render assistance. "Fuck that guy" he said. I was sorely disappointed.

We found the primitive road I had seen and followed it until it was too much for Darl's little car. I was home.

I unloaded my gear from the car, inhaling the sweet aroma of the pines. It was a lot cooler in the high country, cooler than I had expected. I realized how useless my charts of average temperatures would be. Average temperatures are just that: an average. There would be radical departures from these mean numbers. Just because the average temperature is 50 at night, doesn't mean it's always 50. Duh. The month could start out in the thirties and gradually warm up. This oversight quickened my pulse and caused me to wonder what other mistakes I may have made that could adversely affect my prospects, but I didn't have the luxury of second guessing my well laid plans. It was a time for doing. I didn't even have a tent. The first order of business was going to be erecting a shelter.

My friend Rona had my tent. On the way to Darl's house, I was to drop off my car at her compound and pick it up. I had filled the Olds 98 with those documents, photos, and memorabilia I felt a need to keep, and Rona was going to store it for me. Nobody answered her door though, which was very odd. In the years I had known her, there was always somebody on site. Unable to retrieve my tent, I left the car in her driveway. (I later learned she had been arrested).

I would have to make do with a length of canvas and a hunk of rope. (I tied it between the trees that are pictured above).

I watched my breath billow out in clouds as I finished unpacking the car. My adventure was about to begin, and it was becoming quite real. There were vital and immediate preparations to be made that would reflect on my survival.

I had a little bit of pot, so Darl and I smoked a bowl.

Then he left and the Maya dog and I were alone in a very big world.