Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Journal Day 6 (Getting Less Lost, Vaseline Popcorn, and Maya)

My hike to the lake today left me feeling like an idiot. As usual I put Maya on the lead so she wouldn't wander after me and headed up the hill for my shortcut. Again, there were no new bear track. I descended the hill and followed the fire road to FR147, and FR147 to the lake.

On the way back, I wound around the forest road until I got to the culvert with the Mountain Dew and Bud Light litter. On this occasion, the area looked more familiar than it ought to.

Curious, and no longer worried bears were going to molest Miss Maya, I decide to explore a little bit. I turned and headed up the primitive road. It led to my camp. I have been doing a big circle around the forest on FR147 before following it to the lake. On the way home, I've been blowing right past the turn to my camp to travel around and come up the back way. I'll need to look on a map to figure out exactly how this works.

I've always prided myself on my sense of direction in the wild, this is humbling and a bit embarrassing.
I should be able to knock nearly an hour off the trip from now on.


Maya and I agree, Zataran's Dirty Rice Mix is excellent camp food, even without the meat. Shoulda known Louis Armstrong wouldn't steer us wrong. Saw a lot of Grasshoppers today. Maybe tomorrow we'll roast some up.


Elk due east fifty yards.

Speaking of food and all, lets say you find yourself in the woods with five pounds of popcorn and no oil. A little dab of Vaseline from the first aid kit will do just fine. You don't even taste it. I assume it's safe enough, I saw my sister give a spoonful of the slippery stuff to my niece once for constipation.


Maya has been more active tonight. Her pads are looking much better. We went for several walks tonight through the thick pine needles and she seemed unfazed when we hit gravel. Tonight, with the last rays of sun, she headed toward the warmth of the tarps as she usually does. Halfway there she stopped and gave me a look to see if I was following, like I was crazy to be out in the cold. It occurred to me that she might not understand fire means warmth. I called her back and fixed her blanket by the hearth. She dug it, and later, wasn't so eager to go to the tarps.

I worry so much about her. I know our time together is growing short. About five weeks ago, I returned home to find a growth the size of a tomato protruding from her girlie parts. She didn't seem bothered by it as much as I was. Not knowing what else to do, I wrapped my hand in Saran Wrap and gently pushed it back in. The next day we saw a vet. It's cancer. I wish I had known, but if female dogs aren't fixed, the vet told me, they almost always end up with reproductive cancer. They said it's not a good idea to try and operate because of her age. 

So far, the tomato has not made another appearance. I'm hoping for the best.

Maya came to me in the desert when she was only 5 weeks old. A nearby rancher had lost her. He said her mother was a Labrador and her father was a Coyote who had an ongoing, seasonal relationship with the lab. He said this wasn't the first litter they produced. Maya was the runt, and the others kept tossing her out of the box. He said I should keep her, otherwise he feared she would be harmed by her litter mates. 

I didn't want a dog. Being a fugitive isn't a stable profession, but I couldn't resist.

She was raised on the desert and mountain trails in and around Tucson. We'd been in the city for years. Its good to be back out where we were both happiest. When she is gone, I don't know what I'll do. All these years, I've had to take care of myself and remain free so I could take care of her.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thinking About Those I Left Behind

So I had some doubt and fear, those first weeks at Potato Lake. I thought of just staying through my groceries and heading north to Flagstaff. I was halfway there. It might be a fitting end to Mike West to have him wander into the Forest and disappear while a new incarnation arose to the North. But I was pulled along.

The curiosity that built within me was unquenchable. I had to see where the trail would lead me. That's why I began this journey and escaped the bonds of imprisonment and oppression. I had absolutely no predictions. There were too many unquantified variables. In that way, the afternoon before I set up my first camp and the ensuing days were much like sitting in that bus in Chicago. I was propelling myself into a void, lurching forward with only my intent to find what Casteneda called “The Path with Heart”. I could no longer justify my freedom based on the life I led in the city; cowering in anonymity and silence.

Before my ruin, I was of help to some people. I spread messages of hope and faith. I lived my life as an example of the joy that can be found and the miracles we can experience if we just trust in the Universe and the way it all fits together. I lost that. I Knew I would. I walked away from all that and into a world of betrayal and fear.

I also knew it was my duty to find my way back to that self again, even if I had to risk my freedom on some questionable woodland journey. I couldn't give up without giving it a shot. I owed that to all the people I left behind. I had to believe in the world as I used to describe it. I had to thrust myself physically into an environment lacking in guile; a jolt of reality, if you will. Nature can be unforgiving, deceptive and alluring, but even in it's deceptions, there is great truth.

If I were to rebuild myself, it would have to be on such a foundation of truth and the beauty that surrounds us.

I wondered if those folks back home would even recognize the man I had become. I was pretty sure they remembered me, maybe even fondly. Did they tell their friends about the hippie that gave away tabs of LSD every Sunday when the bands played at The Flying Tomato? Did they remember the messages? Did they remember there are worlds, within and without “reality”? Did they remember the lessons we learned together? How would they receive me if they met me today? Did they miss me the way that I missed them?

I wished they could know I still took breath, my adventure continued. Even when I had those moments when I lost faith in myself, I didn't lose faith in those remarkable people I was stolen from by those who feared the freedom of the mind.

Many times, people warned me that I would be stopped. I was so vocal, so present, so obvious. My profile was as high as I was, but I wouldn't be silenced. If I could only have the freedom to do as I did for a short time, then I would have to accept that. I had faith back then that I was ultimately justified in word and deed and no matter what happened, everything would be alright. My continued freedom hinted an affirmation to memories of optimism. I hoped that optimism would grow in the magical places I now occupied.

I was going for broke, gambling on this pilgrimage. The worse thing that could happen would be if the Blue Meanies caught up with me, and dragged me to their dungeons. At best, I would someday go home and show that my faith was well placed, and the words and works of my youth were validated; that the Universe, chaotic as it is, ultimately provides. We can be free if we believe.

I used to converse at length on the topics of truth, love, faith, and freedom. I wasn't being punished by my exile. I was being given the chance to live my message as an illustration. Actions speak louder. Would anybody be there to hear?

The Redemption of Shattsworth

A year to the day from the time the mysterious van pulled in and parked, I found myself back at Bear Canyon. This time I was camped to the west of Forest Road 89, tucked way back in a little used part of the forest at the end of a fire road. This made for a longer hike to the lake, but also hid me from the prying eyes of the Feds.

This year, I had no forest closures to blame for staying in one region beyond the fourteen day limit. I had to avoid the scrutiny of not only the Law Enforcement Officers (LEO's) but of the Rangers, Toilet Rangers, Game and Fish Wardens, and Wildlife Rangers.

I maintained contact with the Fire Rangers, known as Hot Shots, because they didn't care how long I stayed in the forest. They said they saw a difference between recreating and residing in the forest and even though I overstayed the regulations, I was obviously recreating and that was cool with them. I fished and explored and always had adventures to share with them. They often told me they wished they could do what I was doing. They had become friends and often provided me with useful information on the state of the forests, fire bans, and forest fires. I met these guys the previous year. They were all in their twenties and expressed appreciation for my continued journeys.

So I was cutting through the main camp area toward my hiding spot with a stringer of fish when I saw a maroon Dodge van pull up behind the shitter. The driver got out, opened the hood, and checked the radiator. This couldn't be Shattsworth, could it? I thought maybe it was just the color of the van and the location he pulled into that reminded me of him. I circled along the ridge and came up from the other side for a better look. It was him. I stole out from the cover of the trees and silently moved up behind him without being noticed.

From about a foot away, I said “Don't tell me you have a hole in your Radiator!” loud enough to startle him. He turned and smiled and said he was hoping to find me here. He suggested we go to my camp and talk. Having learned my lesson from previous experiences, I told him I was camped a few miles away, in a spot where he probably couldn't get his van. There were some fallen logs nearby where the Forest Service had recently downed some trees that were victim to the Bark Beetles. We could sit and talk there. I hung my fish in a tree and he brought out his bong.

As we smoked, his story unfolded.

Shattsworth had a girlfriend once, and a house and a job. He lost them all. The girlfriend got hooked on Meth and hooked up with a friend of his. His birthday was approaching and he got an idea from watching a movie. That movie was “The Life of David Gale”. He was always talking about Kevin Spacey movies. The David Gale film, and “American Beauty”. I had not seen either. Apparently, in the movie, Somebody kills themselves by taping a bag over their head and handcuffing themselves behind their back after swallowing the handcuff key.

He said he came to the woods to do this, once his supplies ran out, but then he met me. He said he wanted to thank me and invited me to stay with him, should I find myself in Phoenix. He gave me his extension number at work and said he had a present for me in the van. I felt bad for having judged him so harshly. Still, I found it hard not to do so.

His bong had a huge bowl, and after he would load it and each of us would take a hit, he would dump the rest out. The first three times he did this, I kept quiet. It was killing me to see such waste. It was just regular Mexican, but still. I jonesed on the rim. Grass is hard to come by up in Mormon Country. It's not like the river, where pot is plentiful.

Finally I said something to him. It was along the lines of “What the hell are you doing, grinding good buds in the dirt?” He replied that he had plenty, and only wanted the green hits. I was flabbergasted. I had never seen such behavior. I told him so in vivid and voluminous detail. I entreated with him to at least dump the bowls on a plate or a rock as I could smoke a week or more on what he had wasted. He said nah, if he was going to smoke green hits, he wasn't going to make me smoke the remainder. “Remember” he stated, “I told you I was sorry I didn't share with you before, and promised to take care of you if I ever saw you again”.

I thanked him as humbly as I could, but damn! He didn't have to throw Marijuana away right in front of me! He demanded that we change the subject, which is quite assertive for that guy, and asked me if I liked creamer in my coffee. “Sure” I said, “but I'm out of coffee right now”. He went to his van and returned with a number 10 can of Creamora and asked if I wanted it. Sure, I said. I was thinking I might use it like I did powdered milk and add water and sugar and pour it over greens. “If you don't want it”, he teased, “you don't have to take it”.

“I want it.” I replied, “Thank you”. He tossed it to me and I pulled back the lid to check the seal and left it at that. I wasn't about to accept food from Shattsworth that wasn't sealed for my safety. I thanked him again and sat it down on my right side. With a sly look, he asked “Aren't you going to open it?” “Why?” I queried in return, “Is this a joke? Are snakes going to jump out when I open it?” “It's no joke”, he said, “Maybe you should give it back if you don't like it.” “I like it! I thanked you twice.”

He appeared not to be convinced and said I'd better just give it back. He said he was sorry he didn't have anything better for me. I handed it back to him, wondering what kind of sick Shattsworth game he was playing. First he was throwing away grass that he KNEW I was dying for, now he was making a weird issue of my not opening the Cremora.

He stood there examining the canister, removed the plastic lid and showed me the unbroken foil seal. He put the lid back on and turned the can over and over in his hands, muttering things like “mmm, let me does this work”. Finally he unscrewed the bottom a quarter turn and tossed it back to me. As he did so he said “I'll need the empty can back.”

I opened it and inside was a quarter pound of the Mexican buds we'd been smoking. That magnificent twisted bastard! “Did you really think I'd drive all the way up here to bring you four pounds of creamer? How weird do you think I am?” “Pretty weird, Jeff, but wow! Man, thanks!”

We chatted a while about my adventures since he had last seen me. He told me he still carried the Bear shit (dog crap) he found in his camp. I asked if the ranger had arrested him or threw him out and he said “No, I left because you said I poisoned you. I didn't know what you might do.” I still think he poisoned me, just to see what would happen. I'd love to get my hands on his juvenile records.

We didn't discuss the poisoning much further than for me to express my conclusion that he fed me something that made me sick. In the end, We thanked each other, and before he headed back to the city, he extracted my promise that if I needed to come to town for any reason, I'd look him up.

God help me, a year later I did just that.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Journal Days 4-5

Day 4

I just noticed I've been writing in this book upside down from the back so I turned it over and started at the other end.

I got up and the sun was high again today. I don't know if its the altitude or the cold, but I've sure been doing some sleeping. I breakfasted on canned green beans, mashed potatoes, and Knorr's Mushroom Hunter gravy. I have a big canister of the gravy mix and it has chunks of dried mushrooms.  Its very good and the 'shrooms rehydrate nicely. I'll have to remember that. I found it in the trunk of my old Oldsmobile. I've never seen it in the stores. I hope they still make it.

Maya and I walked down the track we're camped on to Forest Road 147. It was only a few hundred yards. Maybe a quarter mile give or take. Her feet are improving, yet tender. We stuck to the trees and walked on the thick, soft, pine needles. She wanted to go farther, but I noticed her react if she stepped on rocks so we'll have to wait a bit before we do any real hiking.

We returned to camp and I polished off a can of yams before napping from three to six. I wonder how long before I get used to this thin air. It doesn't seem to affect Maya, but she doesn't smoke like I do. We're above 7,000 feet up here. I had to turn my lighters up to get them to work properly.

Dinner was soups. Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Celery. Smoked my last cigarette and picked some Mullein. Mullein makes a decent tobacco substitute in a pinch. The herb books say that smoking it is actually good for the lungs. The trick to smoking Mullein is to remove the veins in the leaves. That makes it taste much better. I'm carrying a few dozen packs of rolling papers.

Just before the sun went down, we were serenaded by three different Ladderback woodpeckers. I hope they are eating Bark Beetles. With the drought, the beetles have wiped out a lot of the trees. At night, I can hear the click click click as the beetles munch away. During the day you can see patches of rust throughout the forest where the trees have died. We hit the sack at nine and within a half hour there was an elk barking within feet of our tarp. It's another cold night. My breath has been visible since dusk.

Day 5

Again the sun was high when we crawled out of the tarp. I hiked up the ridge to the northwest with Maya. We were scouting the area for a place to retreat for the upcoming weekend where we might be seen by less people, and not visible from the road. I guessed I could wait another day to fetch more water. Maya was looking and walking well, but I didn't want to walk her down the rough gravel roads to the lake. I cooked spaghetti at about four o'clock.

At about seven, I followed last night's fresh elk track up the ridge behind us and found the fresh elk himself. He was a young fellow, and had four points still in velvet. Maya was riveted, and the creature allowed us to watch it for a bit before crashing away through the brush. That was her first sighting and she learned the word elk that night.

We climbed down and had a dinner of macaroni and mozzarella with tomato sauce. Afterward, I reconfigured the tarps to be tighter and warmer. By time I finished, the first three stars of the night were out and we heard coyotes in the distance. An hour later, as I was pulling the last pot of coffee of the night off the fire, we heard an elk bugling. This wasn't the same sound as the warning barks we had been hearing. It was similar to the sound a pool hose makes if you swing it over your head.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Getting Rid of Shattsworth...The First Time

I wasn't really very nice when I confronted Shattsworth about making me feed him while he sat on a stockpile of tasty grub. He was apologetic and offered to cook dinner. He said he'd bring it to my camp, a statement I found suspicious in the following days. I took Maya back to my camp and fed her the fish. If I gave her two fish, she would eat them whole. When I gave her more than that, she would only eat the heads, saving the rest for later. This led me to believe there is something good in fish heads that dogs know about.

We had beef stew, mashed potatoes, green beans, and red cool aid. Ah, flavors. Jeff kept yammering about the beans and the correct way to accent the words. “Do you say GREEN beans, of green BEANS.” Throughout the meal he kept saying it in different ways. After dinner he tossed me a twinkie. It had been a long time since I had eaten like that and it was almost worth it to have been fishing for him.

Then he started asking if I'd eat Maya if I was hungry, or if I'd eat people. Then he told me he had a 14 year old girl tied up in his van, and quickly said he was kidding. I made him show me. There was something really wrong with this dude. There was a story here, lurking behind his weaselly persona. I was very curious to learn what his deal was. Was he hiding like me? Was he dangerous, or just damaged?

I asked if he'd ever been to jail. He said he spent the last couple of years until he was eighteen in kiddie prison in Indiana. He related that when he got out, he split for Arizona. We shared jail stories. His were mostly about smearing shit on the walls of his cell and throwing balls of it at the guards. He refused to tell me what he had done to get locked up.

He pulled out a bong and while I scraped the resin out to smoke he told me again how he would make it up to me someday for helping him and for smoking all his stash alone in the van. He said without me he'd probably be dead. While he was being amenable, I enlisted an agreement from him to help me move camp the next morning. Alone, I would have to make two trips.

My plan was to move to the south end of the lake temporarily, to organize and prepare to continue my journey and ditch the nutcase. The Tonto Forest had reopened when the rain came. I had no more excuses to remain at Bear Canyon. West on the rim road, just past the fire tower, was a little known path dropping down to Tonto Creek called the See Canyon Trail. Mike, the watcher in the tower, had told me it was the best kept secret on the Rim and the fastest way down. It would save me a long waterless hike back to the Washington Trail I had originally planned to use to descend.

I figured I'd ditch Shatts for the south of the lake for a day or two, then move to the trail head. From there, I would move to the Highline Trail halfway down, and on to Tonto Creek and southward. It would be warmer on the Tonto, and I could kill some time there on the way down to Roosevelt Lake. It would be a couple of months before it cooled off to a comfortable temperature at Roosevelt. The creek was known to be a good trout stream in the north, hopefully it would provide other options in the south. Where there is water, there is food.

As we were discussing my plans, a guy drove up and asked if we could give him a hand with his camper. He had a hard sided pop up, and the gears had stripped and he needed help holding it up while he released the supports so It wouldn't jam crashing down. We happily complied and he gave us a few beers and a tub of macaroni salad. He said to eat the salad soon, as it had been in his cooler a few days. He said by soon he meant now.

He was another odd one, and from Indiana like myself and Jeff. He kept remarking on the size of Maya's genitals and teats. Jeff asked him for a ride to Payson and back, which he of course declined, but was able to use a pair of needle nose pliers I had and crimp the leak in Jeff's radiator. It was while he was doing this that I learned how the radiator was damaged.

Shattsworth had chosen to replace the mechanical fan on his water pump with an electric fan mounted to the radiator. He scavenged the fan at a junk yard and it didn't fit right so he held it in place with zip ties. On the way up the highway, the zip ties melted and the fan cut his radiator. With the temporary mend, Jeff should be able to make it to Payson. He opted to stick around, fearful to drive with the jankity repair.

The next morning I packed up my camp and true to his word, he helped me move to the south of the lake. On the way there I was startled by a snake I almost stepped on that had two heads and let out a girlie scream that Shattswell thought was tremendously funny. He kept saying he couldn't believe that Mike West, the great outdoorsman was scared of a little snake. I wasn't scared, it startled me. AND IT HAD TWO HEADS! It was just a garter snake. It had a red stripe along it's side and the two heads forked out from the body about three or four inches back. It was probably only about sixteen or eighteen inches long.

Shattsworth left me at my new camp, and I was relieved to be rid of him. That evening, after I had set up, four high school aged boys came and camped right across from me. They were up all night hollering and drinking and playing poker. They had a sex doll propped up at a camp table where they played. Occasionally, they shouted rude things at me across from their camp. They were naked and I couldn't tell if they were simulating sex acts with the doll or actually doing it. I didn't sleep until they left in the morning, and of course they left a mess for me to clean up. They also left an oil lamp hanging in a tree. Score!

I woke that afternoon with gut wrenching cramps. I threw up until I was empty and then dry heaved for a while. I tried to drink some water but repeated the cycle of vomiting and heaving. I thought I would turn myself inside out. The spasms didn't subside for days and I had a splitting headache. I thought I might die. It was a good thing I had water and dog food, because I couldn't have fished or fetched water.  I wondered if the macaroni salad was bad, but thought it more likely that Shattsworth poisoned me with bad water or shit in the stew. Looking back, I wasn't there when he cooked the meal and plated it. I remembered how he sent me away while he cooked and that remark about "hamburger" in his cooler, and all those other stories he had told me about his vengeful and fecal loving nature.

On the morning of the second day I heard somebody poking through my camp and looked out to see him there. I asked if he was sick, and he wasn't. That ruled out the macaroni salad. I asked if he fed me untreated water in the Kool Aid and he denied that too. I told him I knew he did something and he should be glad I was doubled over in agony, or I'd kick his ass. In my delirium I may have told him I'd kill him if he was still in the forest when I got better. He looked guilty, but he always looked guilty.

After he left, I was lucid enough to remember the benadryl in my first aid stash. The next day I was able to keep some water down. By evening I felt much better, but weak. On the fourth day after I fell ill, Maya and I hiked to the north side of the lake to interrogate Shattsworth some more and see if he needed his ass kicked.

We crested the hill above the lake just in time to see an LEO truck, with the cop lights flashing, disappear down Forest road 89. Shattsworth was gone. I wondered if he was arrested. I didn't figure I would ever know, I couldn't really just walk up to a ranger and ask. I returned to camp relieved, but I didn't know I hadn't seen the last of Shattsworth.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Journal Excerpts Day 3

Day 3

Woke up late today. The sun is high. There is nothing below my bed but a canvas tarp and my old wool poncho from Mexico and the cold seeps right through to my bones. I only have a Mexican blanket to cover us and even with the heat of the dog, I wake cold and clenched several times throughout the night.

At the library, I learned how to judge hiking distances by sliding beads on a string. I've devised such a cord to measure the trip to the lake and to help me know where I am on the trail. The cord I used is tight in the beads, so when I slide them they stay slid.

Here's how it works. There are 1,760 yards to a mile. My typical stride, being 6'1' tall, is just over a yard. For every 100 steps I take I slide a bead. When all 17 beads have been moved, I should have traveled a mile. I don't plan to hike so many miles that I cannot remember which one I am on, but if I did I could just string up some more beads.

I left the Maya dog at camp because of her feet and hiked to the lake for water. I removed the tarp from the rope and fastened her lead to it so she could move along the length between the trees.

When Darl and I drove to the lake, we went south on the track where I'm camped and then turned to the east. The road wound around to the left fairly constantly. I estimated that if I hiked north along the trail past my camp and down the hill, then turned east, It would bring me to the road and shorten the hike by about 15%.

A few hundred yards up the trail from my camp I crested a hill and a few feet further was a tree growing in the middle of it. The dirt around the tree was powdery and loose and I saw my first bear tracks. The hind feet were easily as big as mine. I don't know enough about bears to guess how big this would make it. Big enough that I looked around warily, but saw no sign of the animal. I worried for Maya, alone and tethered back at Onion camp. I saw my first bear scat. Each turd was connected to the next by a network of animal hair. It was dry so I picked it up using a leaf and it hung like a chain.

Just past the tree, the trail narrowed again and descended into a heavily wooded area thickly carpeted with ferns. A few hundred yards further along, the woods ended in a clearing and a fire road. I followed the fire road and came out on the forest road just as I had hoped. I followed the several curves to the left and counted three more dirt roads on the left and one large meadow with dry a stream bed before I came to the longer road that leads back to the lake.

At the lake, I filled my 6 water jugs from a depth of about eighteen inches to avoid any contaminants on the surface, I left them with my pack on the west bank of the lake and hiked the perimeter. It's a small lake. On my way around, I saw several minnows but no crawdads. There were elk tracks in abundance, but no sign of bear. On the way back, I stopped at a large fallen tree and climbed up to sit, rest, and survey the area before returning to camp.

My bead count estimated the distance I traveled at three point two miles. My water weight in the pack was just over twenty five pounds. A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds.

I returned the way I came, again counting the jeep trails before I left the forest road. The third one had a culvert that ran below the road and dropped of into a slight ravine. I noticed a Mountain Dew bottle and Bud Light can at the bottom of the ditch. I found the forest road through the meadow and encouraged by the success of my shortcut, tried another overland and off trail. It was a failure and led to deeper forest rather than coming out where I had hoped.

Everything looked alike in the thick trees, and they obscured any landmarks. I panicked a little, as the sun was below the trees and I had no conception of time and needed to get back to Maya before dark when the predators roam. I was able to retrace my steps and return to the trail I needed. Back at camp, Maya was fine. The whole adventure took about four and a half hours.

I took Maya off the lead and replaced the tarp on the rope in a pretty strong wind. I had to orient just right to accomplish this. We crawled into the shelter and napped until just before dusk. I was feeling the altitude.

When we awoke, I boiled drinking water and cooked a can of chicken noodle soup. All day I had seen no sign of any people on the road or at the lake. It was an awesome feeling, being alone in the woods with Maya and the bears and the elk. I felt good. I was starting to unwind. I loaded a bowl and got out the guitar. When darkness came, the wind stopped. I was fearful of being caught with a fire, but it was too perfect so I kept it going, even after all the water was boiled and we were fed. I kept it very small, just a six inch twig or two at a time.

I had twelve liters of water and treated six. Maya can take hers straight. With Maya sticking close and resting her pads, it should last us two days, three if I conserve my share and drink water from the canned goods. I'm using the canned stuff first to drop pack weight rapidly in case we need to move on earlier than excpected.


Monday, January 20, 2014

There's a reason they call it a Turkey Buzzard. Vultures are delicious.

I was fortunate enough to meet quite a few people who taught me things that helped me along the trail in a variety of ways. Frank taught me some Bass techniques that I use to this day. Brett taught me how to clean the hot springs. Martin taught me to cook in a pit. And Grizz taught me to how to cure buds on the plant. The list is long. I could do this all day.

Among the many people whose paths I crossed that were well versed in wilderness lore, none stands out so much as the hardcore outdoorsmen Rusty and Mark. The last time I saw Mark before he passed away, he was traveling the Wild and Scenic Verde River on foot with his son Matt. His aim was to impart some of his knowledge to his son. I was lucky enough to be hanging around. Among other things, Mark taught me to make minnow traps out of liquor bottles and how to rig a catfish line for strong current.

It was mid-September and the previous week was a nightmare of late season monsoons and high winds. Rusty and I had been up on the Mogollon at our respective summer hideaways and the storms blew us both home to the river on my thirty seventh birthday. It was the third year that Rusty and I happened to descend from the high country on the same day. Mark and Matt hit camp later that afternoon. FBI Al was there, as were Grizz and Lee. Grizz brought a spare tent that he gave me, knowing I liked to switch up frequently to avoid notice. I remember it was orange and blue and looked like it should have said Miami Dolphins on it.

The same storms that had plagued Rusty and I had flooded Mark and Matt on their way downstream and they lost their tent. I gave the Miami Dolphins tent to them, and they set up camp at the edge of the river. They told us they tried to eat a skunk on the way down, but even though they were careful to remove the scent glands intact, the meat was too gamey to tolerate. When they left, they passed the six foot dome tent on to Goat and his girl. Grizz, Lee, Rusty, and I were a little higher up in the hackberries.

Just before dusk that first night, we were in the hackberry camp sharing Rusty's brandy and the fine smoke Grizz had when Mark came back from the waterfall we called the showers and told us there was a wounded buzzard flopping around down there. Barb, a nearby camper, said the bird had shown up about three days before and had a broken wing. It had presumably been injured in the storm and sought the shelter of the island below the showers.

A vulture with a broken wing on an island in the desert doesn't have much of a chance. We all knew somebody should go down and end the creature's suffering. Rusty volunteered and headed off with his Ruger Olympic .22 pistol. When he returned, Mark told Matt to go clean and skin it for practice. When he had done so, he brought it back to show Mark his work. He had done a fine job, but for some reason he left the feet on.

It looked like a stretched out chicken carcass, not nearly as big as I had expected. Somebody said it looked good enough to eat. “Maybe” Mark said, and sent Matt back down to retrieve the liver for inspection while we admired the bird. Mark explained that when eating carnivores, its important to check the liver for spots and proper color.

The liver checked out ok. We all had a look and learned something. Looking around, there were obviously too many people for the buzzard to feed, so I volunteered to wrangle a couple of the spotted bass that live in the pools above the showers. Those pools were always good for a quick 2-4 fish before they quit biting. That was my lunch spot for years on the Verde. Al was skeptical that we could be so productive in such a short time, but Rusty knew. He had showed me the sweet spots. I headed to the pools and Al went for his pole.

As I hoped, I caught three small bass after five casts of a white crappie lure and Al caught two. Al helped clean them, and we returned to camp with the booty. He fileted the larger two and I chopped the smaller ones into bone-in steaks. I remember looking at the little pieces of meat produced by the filet process and thinking it was a waste of the fish's life to yield so little food. Back then I prepared all my bass and catfish cutting through them, perpendicular to the backbone in two inch widths. You have to deal with the bones, but there is no waste. Al didn't know. Everybody filets fish like he did. He was fast too. Impressive. I showed him how I do it, and told him why. We both learned something.

Mark had parted out the bird and parboiled it in Cayenne. While I fried the bass, Lee fileted and battered a couple of catfish he had on the stringer and Mark lathered the vulture with BBQ sauce and applied it to the grill. We had quite a feast. Barb and Ken passed around plates of fajitas, and everybody got to taste the vulture. 

I was going to just try a small piece but it was so good, I had a wing and a thigh. It was like the juiciest turkey I ever had. I was left wondering if they're called Turkey Buzzards because they are so tasty.

Friday, January 17, 2014

About the Actual Journals

Shattsworth stole many of my journals and maps the last time I saw hm. I lost more of them in the big flood at the end of '04. I still have most of the website journals saved to my email, a few notebooks from after the flood, and the original two volumes I left with a friend when I went to town when Maya died. My favorites are the those two dollar-store blank books that I started out with chronicling those first few months. All of this I keep in the red casino suitcase I bought when I left Arizona.

The blank books are written in pencil, and have faded quite a bit so they're nearly blank once more. Soon, there will be no reading them. I'd better transpose them while I can. I was afraid to carry pens in the arid outdoors. Although I despise writing with a pencil, I believed I could get more mileage from one. Once the website was up and Sunshine had to transpose my scribblings, she asked that I switch to pens and brought me a few. I experimented with cursive writing, but she found those months even harder to decipher and I switched back to printing. It was just as well. I hadn't written in cursive except to sign my name for ten years or more and found that I had to think hard to remember some of the letters.

I haven't been writing from the journals much, but telling stories as they come to me. Sometimes, I just jot down fond memories and sometimes I'll write in answer to a question somebody asks or conversation I've had. I figured when I was writing them, I'd use the journals to fill in the gaps and refresh my memory to certain details.

The journals are maps in themselves; riddles of sorts. There is much I left out. I was paranoid, so the whole of the story never made the page. In the early days I wrote incompletely, in an effort to save precious paper and graphite. I left myself clues, veiled references to jog my memory. By my fourth year, I had a website up. There were children and cops and churches following my story then, so I left out the fun parts.

I didn't write about running from the law, marijuana, giant balls of hash, or naked mormon girls with bottles of Jagemeister. When I see these incomplete narratives, memories rush to fill in the gaps. I've told many of these tales around the campfire, in bar rooms, and on porches in the summertime enough to solidify them in my memory. The journals can be a little more boring than the stories. The details are in the journals. Weather, food, and location make up most of the material I wrote; day to day activities and fishing reports for pages at a time with the occasional significant event like a flood or a fire or a lion. All of it important to the story, but there is so much more.

My first journal is cloth bound in a beige and white alligator pattern. The inside of the jacket is covered with emails and addresses of people I met, all reminders of stories and adventures unwritten. There are a couple of stickers, like the one I pulled from the second Magic Worm Blower. The pages are all loose now, just stuffed in between the covers. Like I mentioned, the pencil is quite faded.

The inside front cover of the first volume has a Jerry Garcia sticker a couple in a pink 1969 DeVille gave me. Below that is the Worm Blower sticker and the label from a jar of Powerbait. Written around the margins are the addresses and phone numbers of friends in Phoenix. The inside back cover has the contact information for people I met at the lake.

The first page lists three goals. I don't even remember writing them. The first goal was “to increase public awareness of the resources provided by the National Forests”. I'm almost on the fence about that one nowadays. I certainly don't want to increase awareness if it brings a bunch of yahoos out to the woods to shit everywhere and spread their trash. We not only need to protect our forests from yahoos, but from industry and even from the government we trust to take care of them. But we can't do this without public awareness so it's a necessary evil.

The second goal says “to encourage partnership between the Forest Service and the public, for it is through cooperative stewardship that America's most valuable assets may thrive”. The latent cynicism of my forties makes me think that was a pretty naïve goal. Rangers love to see people cleaning up, I've had a few thank me and give me nice heavy bags, but partnership? Sometimes I think it's all we can do to hope for cooperation. This is the government. If they don't have a form for a situation, it doesn't exist. I obtained such a form, that last year, and it was probably the most illegal thing I ever did as a fugitive. We'll get to that later.

The third goal is something I can stand solidly behind, and hasn't wavered. “Record for posterity comprehensive observations of these lands and the life they support as they exist now”. I reckon we'll get down to that soon.

The next page I mad a weather chart listing fourteen different areas and elevations around the state of Arizona. Beside them I listed average high and low temperatures for the months of January, April, July, and October. I also listed total rain and snowfall amounts for the year.

The next five pages are lists of books and authors and call numbers for books I used in my research and trail mapping. The following two pages contain notes and sketches for traps and snares and first aid and water purifying tips. The last several before the journal begins are lists of edible insects, plants, and animals and tips on what to avoid.

I actually began writing the second day out. The first day was a busy one and I lost sunlight before I knew it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Excerpts from the Diaries: Day 2; Potato Lake

5:00 pm, Day 2

We set up camp yesterday. I'm calling it the Onion Camp. The plan is that while I'm here I'm going to peel off the layers of society like an onion. Its been a long ten years and it has injured me. I need some healing time before I start this adventure. This being Potato Lake, the Onion reference seems apropo. Friday, I moved my car to Roni's house with all my possessions in it, not knowing why I couldn't reach her or if it would be towed and I would never see those things again. Then I had to walk up Cave Creek to Cactus Boulevard and a few miles East to Darl's house to catch a ride up here. It was over a hundred degrees in Phoenix and the sidewalks damaged Maya's foot pads. The limestone up here is brutal on her poor burnt paws. We're taking it easy today to get our heads right and give her time to rest.

I built a fire pit last night. There's a ban on fires up here right now. When we rolled in, we saw two different camps with fires anyway. Nice for them, if they get caught they might get a stern talking to or a ticket. I can't tolerate the scrutiny. So I built my fire pit so it's two feet high 7/8ths of the way around. I've taken care to seal the holes so the only light that escapes is facing toward me. There is little glow to draw attention. I keep the fires small. Just enough to boil my water and cook my dinner. I feed small Ponderosa twigs in, and I'll only use the fire for cooking and water purification. I don't dare risk it for heat or entertainment.

Tomorrow I have to find the trail to the lake for water. Darl and I drove it, but there were switchbacks and curves and I'll bet there's a shorter way. We have a two liter of agua left, plus whatever is in the canned vegetables that I figure will do in dire times. There's a lot of salt in canned veggie water, but hiking in the dry Arizona climate, I need to keep well salted for water retention anyway. Usually, I get most of my salt from meat but I have very little meat now and don't know when I will.

I'm hoping to trade my guitar for a tent since Roni wasn't there to hook me up. My tarp probably isn't very water resistant because it's tiny.  I have two tarps, that I cut from the floor of an old army tent. The top tarp is pretty small. The floor tarp is smaller. Each is about 5'x8' give or take. Fortunately there hasn't been a cloud in the sky.

There are two very important tools missing from my pack. One was a bone handled hunting knife that I found in a median on 75th avenue by the mall (I don't want to know), the other is my can opener. I'll have to use the machete for both. It'll be interesting to see how well I can clean a fish with such a large blade. When I was fixing dinner last night, I found a way to open my cans.

I put the point of the machete in the middle of the can and strike the end of the handle with the heel of my hand. Then I turn the blade and do it again. This cuts two three inch slits in the top of the can in a cross pattern. I used my needle nose pliers to bend the corners back. Dinner last night was a can of that fake chinese food with the water chestnut can taped to the top. I have tied some bailing wire to the large can for a handle, and am using it for a coffee pot and to boil my water. 

I've made shelter with a tarp and rope, used a machete to open cans, and built a coffee pot. I'm excited to see what else I learn to fashion from materials at hand. Maybe some day I'll write a book about the adventure if it ever gets off the ground. Where I'm probably going, it'll be good to have something to do to pass the time.

The shelter I made is about thirty inches wide at the shoulders and narrower at the feet. It's like a Boonie Sack, really. There is no room to move and just enough for me and Maya. The small quarters kept us warm. Sometime after we went to sleep, I was awakened by Maya grunting somewhat quietly. That's something she does when she is alerting, but doesn't want to alert whatever she's alerting to. I quickly hushed her, as I didn't want her drawing the attention of bears, wolves, or other predators.

A few moments later I heard a strange noise I had never heard before. It was loud, loud enough to be big. I searched my inventory of animal sounds and came up flat. It wasn't a big cat, wolf, coyote, or any other predator I had ever met. It was loud enough to be big and it was crunching in the limestone just feet from our flimsy little shelter. I'd never seen a bear, but I saw them on TV and they didn't sound like this. Honestly though, my experience is limited to "The life and Times of Judge Roy Bean", episodes of Grizzly Adams, and a few old Marlin Perkins or Disney films. Again, I cautioned Maya to be quiet.

If I had to describe it, I'd call it a bark, with a kind of a squeak at the end. It was obvious that whatever it was, it had something to say about our being there. It was close. I began to regret camping off the beaten path. I worried that an instinctual response from Miss Maya would result in our being eaten. It seemed like hours that we listened to the crunching around and occasional “barking”.

I was worn out and didn't really give a shit (or I wouldn't have been here, right?) so I went to sleep half expecting to wake up in some carnivorous disaster. I slept the night and heard no more complaints from Miss Maya.

This morning I looked around and found some hoofed tracks within ten feet of our tarp. I consulted with Clyde Ormond's “Complete Book of Outdoor Lore” and identified the tracks as Elk. Turns out the book was right and I was camped right on an Elk path.

I've read a lot of survival books, and subscribe to several websites. I even watched a few TV shows and they all disappointed me. I have no desire to learn from those “Survivalists” that I have seen drinking their own urine while camping in the snow. Like Don Juan told Carlos: “They are just indulging in being masters”. Or maybe they just like drinking urine.

Mister Ormond lays it down. Its the most comprehensive collection of actually useful material I've ever found. Get on Amazon right now and order a copy. If you like it send me one, as I gave mine away years ago. Better yet, send one to a ten year old kid; a nephew or somebody. Seriously. If you are interested in the subject, you need to have this in your collection. This book is why I'm writing stories from the forest instead of a survival guide: I don't think it would be possible to do any better than Mr. Ormond. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Fear, Feces, and Fecundity part II

It wasn't the first time I had returned from the lake to find groceries. When I would meet people while fishing or in line at the shitter or on the trail, I would tell them a little about my trip. People fear what they don't understand, and I wasn't quite normal with my tarp and chair and no vehicle, carrying water and fish from the lake each evening. To keep people from speculating too closely about my circumstances, I would conversationally volunteer how I took the summer off work and was backpacking the Rim Country.

I didn't ask for charity, or rely on it. Shattsworth didn't get it. He never would. The weeks he followed me around, he kept saying he was going to figure out what my scam was. The funny thing is, I was being myself for the first time in years. My “scam” was telling it like it is. I omitted the part about the felony warrants. Most people appreciated my adventure, and wished they could do the same. I was doing something most people only dream of. I told them the hardest part was making the decision to do it. Every couple of weeks, I'd get an invitation to dinner where my hosts pried me for stories, or I would find a sack at my chair.

People wanted to be a part of my journey even if only by leaving me some food they didn't want to take home anyway. They wanted to help me to succeed. They wanted to think I could make it because then maybe, just maybe, it was possible to have their own dream someday. Whatever it may be. This is how I quit hiding after all those years, using my very freedom as an example of the possibilities you can encounter if you let go of your fears and pursue your dreams. I had a purpose and a goal and something good in my life. On top of it all, look at my front yard!

Of those two sacks, one was full of hot dog buns. I learned that people bring WAY to many hot dog buns camping for some reason. The other sack held a pack of partially frozen hot dogs, potato chips, mustard, pickles, and an apple. I tied a rope between two trees, hung the bags on the line, and covered them with a tarp. We retired to Shattsworth's camp to cook the fish on his stove. He was like a sponge. A deformed little sponge who required me to explain everything I did. He wanted to learn and I wanted to share what I learned. He left no stone unturned in his search for my “scam”. He was continually disappointed to learn that hard labor and good citizenship were the main principles of my success. He learned how to clean and cook a trout though, even if he couldn't catch one.

We cooked and ate on the side of his van opposite my camp. After dinner, he reassured me that he felt bad that he hadn't shared his grass. I told him not to sweat it and returned to my camp. When I got there, I found that my pots and pans were smashed flat and my journals and maps were missing. The groceries were camouflaged in the darkness under the tarp. Pots and maps, even hand drawn maps, can be replaced. The loss of the journals was a blow. Then I heard the explosion.

The loud bang came from about three hundred yards away. I looked and saw four teenage boys rapidly backing away from their fire. Likely suspects. I hurried to their camp and found them dripping with scalding hot Dinty Moore stew. I was feeling no sympathy for morons in the woods at this point and immediately launched into my own concerns. “You boys know anything about somebody trashing my camp over yonder?” I pointed.

The guy who looked like he'd been burnt the worst spoke up as he was toweling himself off. “Mister, I'll be honest with you. We saw a chair and some pots and pans and papers over there and thought since there wasn't a tent or car or anything, that it was an abandoned camp. When we were walking over to check it out, a guy in a camouflaged bronco drove over your gear and started poking around. Some old bald guy chased him off. We didn't take anything, honest. If anything's missing, it was the guy in the bronco. You can ask the bald guy. He;s camped down that way” and he indicated a jeep trail that led through some Aspen trees. It turns out they didn't know enough to open the can of stew so it wouldn't explode. They had no other food, so I took them the hot dogs and a pack of buns. The dogs might not be good in the morning, and I was full of fish.

It was late, and there was no sense in looking for bald Samaritans or camouflaged Fords in the dark. I went back to camp and rolled up in the remaining tarp with Maya. In the morning the sight of my flattened cookware depressed me. I had no clipboard to start my day. I set out looking for the Bronco.

I found the miscreants I was looking for about a mile and a half up Forest Road 89 by the power lines. There was a guy heating a pot of coffee on a gas burner. In addition to the bronco there was a red Ford Ranger. There were two tents. “Is that your Bronco?” I asked in the most menacing voice I could muster. “Nope” he said. “Why?”
“That truck has been identified as one that destroyed my camp last night. I need to settle with the driver.” He nodded as if he knew what I was talking about and walked over to one of the tents and stuck his head in. After a minute he came back and said “He said he's not going to get up yet.”

I pulled a lawn chair alongside his cooler, felt around for a beer, opened it, took a drink, and said “I can wait.” Even I was surprised at my bravado, but I intended to get my journals back. I was thankful for the chair. It kept him from seeing me shake. He went over and stuck his head in the tent again. After a few minutes of mumbling back and forth, I heard him say “You get rid of him then!” Neither of them wanted to face the wild man in the forest. This gave me hope of getting out of there intact.I finished the beer.

Shortly, a small round man with a black beard emerged from the tent looking sheepish. I explained that I understood that mistakes happen and told him about my trip, I stressed how I depended on the gear I had to survive and couldn't just run to the store for pots and pans. I requested he return the journals and maps. Afraid my entreaty showed weakness that he might take advantage of, I punctuated it by helping myself to another of his beers. I tipped my head back and downed most of it in one draught. I leveled my gaze at him and awaited his reply. His friend busied himself at the burner. It was obvious that he blamed this intrusion on his bearded buddy's bad behavior.

He was apologetic to say the least. He explained that he was drunk and that was no excuse. He said that once the old bald guy straightened him out, he put the papers behind a tree with a rock on them so they wouldn't get scattered (I found them later). He was genuinely remorseful and gave me a two quart pot, a small skillet, a two liter of soda, and a sixer of Coors light. I thanked him and told him he was a stand up dude.The next day I took the lid off the two quart for the first time and found a fifty dollar bill.

After leaving my new gear and supplies at camp and ignoring Shattsworth's curiosity as to my latest “scam”, I found the Samaritan and thanked him. He invited me to visit later, as he was interested in hearing about my journey. We became friends and bumped into each other in the woods for years to come. He was in charge of security at the Palo Verde Nuclear plant.

Shattsworth hung around for weeks. I fished for him and fed him and tried to teach him as best I could. He was looking for shortcuts though, and I didn't know any. One day I came back from fishing earlier than usual and found him behind his van with three crates full of canned goods and tinned meat. When I asked him where he got the food, he said he always had it. I was flabbergasted. I'd been fishing and feeding him for weeks and he was well supplied. His response was “I have to conserve, I can't do things like you.” That was Jefferson Shattsworth's scam.

There was something that had been nagging at the back of my mind for months, and before we parted company, I had to have an answer. I asked him how he got back and forth to the shitter without ever being seen that first month. He said he didn't. He took me to the side door of his van and showed me a piece of hose that ran out his passenger door through which he peed. Then he opened a cooler and revealed to me newspapers wrapped in freezer bags. “I thought about offering you some hamburger from my cooler” he told me, “Then watching your face when you unwrapped it”. The possibility that he was a deranged cannibal began to creep back into my mind. “I think it's time I was moving on” I said.

His name was seriously Shattsworth. Honestly, I couldn't make this shit up.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fear, Feces, and Fecundity in the Piney Forest part I

My years in exile afforded me the opportunity to meet a wide variety of interesting and unusual characters. I became a junkie to the parade of personality rolling through the paradise of “My front yard”. One of the strangest cats I came across showed up on the eighteenth of July.

I awoke that day to the sound of my most recent crop of neighbors packing up and heading out. By ten o'clock they were all gone. It was the first time I had Bear Canyon to myself and I was looking forward to the solitude.

I walked around the general camping area above the lake, pulling lengths of rope out of the trees and bagging up other people's garbage to leave for the Toilet Rangers. Among the debris, I found a Leathernan tool on a rock by a fire pit and a canvas chair that was in need of repair. One of the plastic fittings had broken and the owners just abandoned it. In the next few years I would be surprised at the amount of gear and garbage that folks abandon or discard when they leave.

I once chased a caravan of church people a quarter mile and made them return and clean up their campsite. It was one of those hip congregations that targets young people. The leader of this particular cult played stupid with me, claiming he thought it was okay to leave their paper plates, coke cans, and chicken bones everywhere. He said he thought people worked on site picking up after campers.

The chair was a boon though, and I was happy to finally justify the heavy roll of bailing wire in my pack by wiring the chair together. Back at camp, and proud of my ingenuity, I sat in comfort for the first time in months. With the Maya dog at my feet, I reclined upon my new throne. I surveyed my kingdom.

Surveying one's kingdom gives pause for much introspection, so I retrieved my clipboard from my bag and documented the recent events leading up to my current position. As I was writing these few paragraphs, I heard the rumble of an approaching truck. It turned out to be two vehicles, a new Nissan Xterra and an old Dodge van. The Xterra pulled in about twenty five feet to the north of me. The van parked about a hundred yards to the south. Surrounded. So much for solitude.

The Xterra guy was a GenX-er. He was maybe 21 and wore shoulder length blond hair and surf shorts. He wasn't there long before he walked over to my camp and introduced himself as Jason. He was on a day trip, sightseeing on the Rim and he had forgotten to bring a can opener. I offered him the use of my new Leatherman and he returned to his truck and prepared his lunch on a propane stove. After eating, he invited me to join him for a couple of beers.

Jason was curious about me, as most people were. I was certainly an oddity, up here without a vehicle with just a tarp, dog, duffel, and now a chair. I told him about my original plan to hike Tonto Creek and the fires that had me cornered in this part of the forest. He looked at me appraisingly, with a glint in his eye, and produced a blue padded cloth bag from his back seat. Much to my delight, he drew a heavy glass bong from the bag.

As we smoked he questioned me about my journey. I told him the worst thing was that I didn't have a stove and there was a fire ban in effect that I was too paranoid to violate. Tired of eating raw trout, I offered to trade the Leatherman for whatever spare food he may be carrying. It took some negotiating on m y part, but I managed to end up with a few pounds of dog food, two beers, a hunk of colby cheese, and a can of beanie weenies. It was like Thanksgiving dinner to me. Before he left, we had a laugh at the guy in the Dodge. He'd parked right behind the shitter.

It was a full sized conversion van and it had come to a stop and that was it. Nobody stirred. I kept an eye on the thing late into the night, but there was no activity at all. I found this strange, but easily explained it by convincing myself that the driver had been on the road a long time and had sacked out upon arrival. The next day there was still no movement from the Dodge. By nightfall I concluded the occupants must have assembled their gear while I slept and hiked further into the forest.

After two weeks there was still no sign of life from the vehicle. I remembered the news stories I had heard about Robert Fisher, who had murdered his family and disappeared near the Rim. Having opened the door to thoughts of morbidity, I began to concoct scenarios of violence and serial cannibalism.

My sense of civic duty called for me to investigate or alert the rangers to a possible missing person or mouldering corpse. I wrestled with this dilemma for days. Then again, I thought, maybe this dude wasn't a bad guy. Maybe, like myself, he just needed to get out of town and lay low for a while. Rather than draw attention to myself, I chose a course of immediate inaction.

Meanwhile, on the weekends, campers came and went. Most of the time I was alone with the mystery van. By the eighteenth of August, I was beside myself with curiosity and fear. I caught myself testing the air for the odor of death.

I was writing how the van had been there for a month to the day when Jason rolled back into camp. I barely gave him a chance to get out of the SUV before I sprung the story of how the damned thing had been there all this time and nobody came or went. He said, “They must get out to go to the shitter, you must just be missing them”. I told him that wasn't likely, during the fire ban I would often forgo the unpleasant raw trout, instead subsisting on salads I scavenged within sight of the area. I spent entire days without ever leaving camp: foraging for greens, writing in my journals, and tending to housekeeping chores.

Jason removed a couple of chairs and a cooler from his Nissan. As he loaded that magnificent bong, he said we should just walk up and bang on the door and demand that anybody inside the van come out and explain themselves. I thought him naïve and that line of action a bit dangerous. I recounted the news stories about Fisher and elucidated with the scenarios of violence and serial cannibalism I had cooked up. Jason asked the obvious question: “What kind of person would come to such a beautiful spot and not get out of their vehicle for a whole month?”

“Somebody who goes to extremes not to be bothered, that's who”.

“There could be a dead guy” Jason exhorted, 'We have to check it out”.

After several drinks and bong rips to muster up our courage, we devised a plan. We would act like we were going to the shitter and swing wide in a broad arc that would carry us close to the van for a better look. As we neared the driver's door, it suddenly sprang open and the mysterious occupant leaped out like a demented Jack-in-the-Box.

At first glance, I thought he was just a kid, maybe kidnapped and his attacker was lurking nearby. He was small and thin, maybe five foot five. He couldn't have weighed more than a hundred and ten pounds. He wore a polyester leisure suit and had his name tattooed on the knuckles of his right hand. With his slight stature, baby face, and sparse mustache, only his thinning hair betrayed his adulthood. “Do you guys know anybody who could give me a ride to Payson and back? I have a hole in my radiator”.

I was incredulous. “You're telling me,” I said, “That you've been here and haven't gotten out of your van for a month because you have a hole in your radiator?”

“I just ran out of food and pot” he said. By now I was nearly raving. “What?” I ranted, “You've been here for a month and had food and pot? Why didn't you say anything?”

Apparently I wasn't the only one keeping an eye out for Robert Fisher. The kid told me he thought I might be him, or I might be a Ranger. I wore all green, slept on a green canvas tarp, and began and ended everyday writing on a clipboard. He'd seen a uniformed ranger in camp one day and noticed him writing on a clipboard like mine. Even though I laughed with him at our mutual paranoia, things didn't quite add up to my satisfaction. I asked to see his radiator and it was indeed damaged. I figured maybe he was too. I didn't recognize the degree of his pathology, but soon would.

We found several people willing to give him a ride to Payson, but none willing to haul him back. In spite of my assurances that a fellow walking in the mountains with a radiator will get a ride, he refused to try. He was fearful he wouldn't be able to get back. Fear was a big thing in this little dude's life. He was afraid to leave and afraid to stay. He had no business in the forest. I worried he would bring heat if not handled right.

He was traveling under the ironic moniker of Jefferson Shattsworth. I asked for ID which he provided. Having already contemplated the scatological humor of his name, I lost it when he walked into my camp the next morning and informed me he was an avid collector of animal excrement. What's more, he claimed to find a prize specimen of bear dung right outside his van. I was skeptical. I had seen no sign of bear nearer than three or four miles. Jeff proudly produced a sandwich baggie with his trophy inside. It was from Maya. The erstwhile Marlin Perkins had mistaken it for bear droppings because of the squirrel fur and fish bones. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. He could not be persuaded that what he had was a sack of dog shit.

Shattsworth spent the morning hanging around my camp and whining about his food supply and radiator. He kept mumbling “I'm going to die”. I couldn't make up my mind if he was serious or begging or looking for sympathy. Some people wig out when they get too far from their comfort system. I asked him what kind of gear he was carrying. They guy had fishing gear and a camp stove. All he was lacking was know how and confidence.

I took him to my favorite spot and taught him everything I had learned about trout fishing at Bear Canyon Lake. I was stymied that even though he appeared to be doing everything exactly as I did, in two hours he hadn't got a nibble, while I had caught my limit of six nice trout. I'd seen this kind of thing before, and I swear, some people just can't catch a fish. While I was hauling one after another in to shore, he just sat there looking dejected. I suppose when it comes to angling, like everything else in life, attitude is important. You gotta believe.

I tried to explain this as I cleaned the fish. On the hike back to camp I told him my favorite story to illustrate my point.

In 1992, I was on an extended camping trip in the Colorado Rockies for the Rainbow Gathering with my ex wife. We had hiked the five miles from our camp to our car at Electric Mountain Reservoir to retrieve supplies. It was a tough hike. Being at about 9,000 feet elevation, the air was thin. About halfway to our camp, was a fallen tree where we liked to rest in the sun and have a smoke.

We hadn't been there long enough for me to finish rolling a joint when we were interrupted by a fellow in his twenties who asked if he could join us for a rest. He told us he'd read in the local paper that the hippies were out there eating al the groundhogs and crapping behind every tree. He introduced himself as Bill, a Evangelical seminary student. He had come to save the heathens. I suppressed a smile and concealed the reefer.

He said “How long have you been here?” I told him about 45 days and his eyes got real big. “What?” he responded, “How much longer do you plan to stay?” Tory told him we might stay another month. Again his eyes grew wide and he said “What!? Don't you work?”

I told him “Certainly I work, but its important for us to be here. If my boss didn't let me off, I'd just find another job”. This really blew his programming and he asked “How do you live? How do you eat?” He began to breathe hard and stood up, clutching his Bible to his chest.

I think this was the moment where he realized that despite our clean cut appearance and collared shirts, we were probably some of the heathens he was there to save. I saw an excellent opportunity to speak to the guy in his own language, put him at ease, and maybe even make a friend AND a point.

I asked him if I could see his bible a minute. He handed it over and I stood up and turned to Luke and read: “Therefore I say unto you. Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat...Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap and God feedeth them. The least of God's creatures are taken care of: how much more are ye better than them?”

Then, at 9,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, high atop the continental divide, we were distracted by a rustling sound on the hill above us on the opposite side of the trail. We all turned and saw the weeds and grasses moving as something made it's way down the hill toward us. It broke through the brush on the edge of the path, crossed the trail, and stopped right between my feet. It was a grapefruit.

We just stared for a long silent minute. Bill the evangelist was pale. Finally, Tory picked it up and held it out to him. “You see that?” she said. “That's Magic”.

Well, you don't say “Magic” to an evangelist. He stumbled backward a few steps, promised to pray for us, declined our invitation to dinner, turned, and we never saw him again.

I like to think that someday, eventually, it dawned on him and he got the message. I'm not saying God manifested a piece of fruit and rolled it at me or anything. Obviously, some hippie on a higher trail had lost his grapefruit and it followed the designs of gravity. But when I think of everything that had to be in line for that particular event at that particular time, I have to believe the Universe was in agreement with my message.

W          As Jeff and I rounded the hill to my camp, we noticed two grocery sacks sitting beside my chair. I was beaming with the satisfaction of a point well delivered. A grapefruit wouldn't have been better. Jeff turned to me and for the first of many times asked “What's your scam?” 
                           Evangelists aren't the only ones afraid of Magic.