{ Robin Hood - Smoke and Ghosts - part 3 }

   Well ... it seems I've been avoiding finishing this forest fire story, but I can smell the smoke once again, so we might as well exhale this fiery tale and be done with it. To be honest, the next day was simply one of those never-ending, exhausting, nightmare days where nothing went right, and I know you all know what I'm talking about. ..

   We left off part Two after frantically trying to move the Winnie at 1 or 2am, trying to fix the engine, stamping out small fires from falling embers landing in our area, and finally settling for just clearing all the pine needles and sticks from under and around her body and tires and realizing we were beat.

   At the end of that first night, the wind had changed directions, so the embers weren't flying onto our doorstep anymore, and we drove back to the Roost, washed our faces in the shop sink, brushed the taste of smoke and ash from our mouths, and got a terrible few hours of sleep.

    Here's the forest blogs - 1 & 2 - for any of you who need to catch up:

 One - {Here}

 Two - {Here}

   The next morning we showed up well before this picture was taken - it wasn't until later, when I didn't need juwels to hand me tools or listen to my rambling about gas lines and filters, that she ran off with the camera and clicked some pictures.

   But let's get back to the cause of all this (well, besides the men below who decided to light the forest on fire without warning any of the campers ..). About a month before we moved back the forest, we were heading into the trees for a late night and morning to sleep under the Blue Moon, fight the mosquitos, & dream amongst bullets whizzing through the night, and on our way down the main dirt trail, we noticed an odd sight for this little town.

  It was very reminiscent of the Venice Beach street scene: a rickety old motorhome, patchy foil in the windows, a generator blaring nonstop (probably powering a fuzzy TV and microwave for the toe-jam hobbit shacked up inside). There was trash strewn around the camp, a cargo trailer packed with harvested scrap metal (a washer, dryer, hot water heater, crushed futon frame & rusty oil barrel.) And the whole scene looked pretty sketchy.

   When we finally rolled into the woods to make it home sweet motor-home, we were surprised to see the camp was still there. The loose rule of woodland living in these parts is: you can stay for up to 2 weeks in one spot, but then you have to move. Really, you're supposed to move out of the county, which is a far distance, but if you just cart off to another forested edge of town, and you've got a clean and quiet camp, ol' smoky the bear might just let you slide .. but this camp??

   Cut to: our second night out there. We'd been at work all day and into the night, and when we finally pulled off the pavement and found the dirt road, juwels excitedly scouted the periphery for deer or elk or long tailed jack rabbits. We saw a large herd of elk running through the edge of our headlights, and I clicked on my brights to reach a bit further into the black. Juwels squealed as they bucked their dusty stampede, and their furry white butts bounced along and out of sight. We buzzed around a bend and then both went silent as we saw an odd figure walking in the distance. Keep in mind it was maybe 11 or 12pm at this point, and we were pretty deep in the forest.

   I slowed down so I wouldn't choke this person with dust as we passed. She was skinny and pale white, and walked in a very strange and vacant way: arms hanging dead at her sides, feet stirring the red dirt as she slid them along the path, a down turned mouth, and wide eyes fixed on the ground as if she was looking through to another dimension. For a second, I wondered if I should slow down and ask if she needed anything, but she didn't even cock her head up at our lights as we approached, so we all went on our way.

   We both agreed that she was spooky and haunted and probably came from the sketcher camp with the tin foil windows and scrap metal, and I pulled my mind back from hypothesizing on what they might be doing inside that little box (the next morning as we left, we almost collided with a small green honda civic as it skidded around the corner and parked at the camp. In the drivers seat, there was a young guy wearing a blue uniform of a mechanic, or maintenance man, or something. He had a peculiar countenance as well .. more keyed up and tweaky though. The girl, part of his harem I assumed, was a walking dead zombie..) I assumed that drugs were part of their religion and cult, always seems to be with these characters, and either a falling out or a need for resources led this sad young girl out into the black the night before.

   In retrospect, we probably should have left that next day, but juwels was so excited about living off the land, and we were super busy with the candles, so I chose to ignore our neighbors. They were a long ways from us, but we had to pass them every morning and night, so they knew our pattern. Last time we were living out there, I left a note on the door that said something like, "Dave, sorry, I'm not going to be hunting with you today. I think I've been food poisoned by wild mushrooms, and I'm trying to sleep it off. Please don't wake me. I'm not in a good mood. - Bill" This might have been a good idea to do this time, but I didn't think of it .. and anyway, there's only so many times someone can see that sign still sitting there and believe it.

(The fight the first night was all about saving our home from the flames, and we thought about little else. The next day, though, was a battle for breathe.)

   So back to the day after the night of smoke inhalation and sleepy desperation. That morning I was hopeful, this went away quickly. I tried everything I could think of - new filters, playing with the battery connections, checking the lines for clogs, swearing, spitting, hissing and moaning, but nothing worked.

   I was able to start the beast a couple times and actually moved her away from the flames a bit before we died in the middle of the road. There was a large stump, full of pine resin and sap, that was billowing the most delicious vanilla smoke. I paused for a moment to take it in, wiped the sweat off my forehead with the dirty back of my hand and went back to work. We'd taken the trek into town with the truck twice already to buy parts, which accomplished nothing, and as I was sliding out from under the rig for the tenth time, I looked up at the giant rusty gas tank, the one we'd just filled with 40 or so gallons of gas before we left civilization, and I tapped on it with the tip of my pointer finger, the way you might tap your forehead trying to summon a stubborn thought. bong, bong, bong .. It echoed, empty ... empty ??? e-m-p-t-y ??  ??

   Note - the gas gauge is broken (always has been) and we normally just keep her full when we can, and pray when we can't. The tap-tap method has always been pretty reliable, too. But what the f---- ?? Where was our gas? And then I remembered the camp, the zombie night walker, and the fact that they'd all mysteriously vanished a few days earlier. They left a clean camp, too, which had surprised me, but who knows if the ranger or the cops were there watching over their exit? Now, I have no proof of who helped themselves to our full tank, but the only other people nearby were hunters with motorbikes, and high end trailers, and stuffed deer targets fixed to far off trees. If they didn't like us - they'll probably just put a razor tipped arrow in our front tire, but I'd assume they had plenty of gas around without needing ours.

(why was I wearing sandals through all this?? Wishful thinking, I guess .. 'this'll all be over soon, too soon to even suit up for battle.' But, as the gasoline drips found my dusty feet with that liquid nitrogen kind of cold chill chemical sensation, my practical self laughed at my optimistic self.) 

   After borrowing a (very leaky) gas can from a friend, back into town we went, with a mixture of aggravation and relief, just happy that this whole deal was going to be over. But it wasn't. The gas didn't work. She fired up once or twice but quickly died. I know engines can be hell to start back up after they run dry, but this was something else. Maybe the dregs at the bottom of the dirty gas tank had gummed up the fuel system ... maybe somebody had dumped something fatal in our tank? I wasn't ruling anything out. The ranch we were parked before we moved on was less than three miles away, but we were stuck in this nauseating smoke and dirt, and I should've figured it out by this point.

   I'd called an old cowboy friend of ours a while ago for advice, and he gave me some, and he also offered to tow us out of there if I couldn't get it, but my pride had kept me glued to the spot, smelling of gas and growling. When I finally called to take him up on the offer, he was on a job in a neighboring town and wouldn't be back till the morning.

  I told juwels that I was throwing the oily towel in for now, but she didn't want to leave the Winnie so close to the burn. I told her to get in the Winnie and put her in neutral. Not knowing if this would even work, I pulled the little truck around back of her and made our bumpers touch. I let off the clutch and felt the truck resist as I pushed her against the 12 thousand pounds of the Winnie's dead weight, but then she started to move. Juwels steered up front, and I pushed the old girl along the dirt road and out of the burn zone. As I shifted gears, the Winnie drifted up ahead, and the two cars crashed together as I sped back up and connected with the back bumper and pushed. I pushed her along like a dung beetle pushes its pile - over the hills and through the woods, and as the truck really started to whine and put off a smell I could only guess was the transmission, I stopped and waved for juwels to pull off the road and park.

   This story doesn't have a happy ending. I couldn't keep myself from testing more theories which didn't pan out. I went back into town, again, and bought a fuel pump. It started pouring rain at one point. (now??) Wasps continually visited me under the rig, landing on my hands and tea shirt (I think we were parked over their burrow) and I finally gave up.

   One nice thing, though, was this raven that just sat out in the field across from our final resting place. I don't know if I'd call it my spirit animal, or maybe I was a raven in a past life .. or maybe I'm just loud and misunderstood, but I associate with the flock, and in any case, I was happy to see him there. But then he didn't move, ever, and I learned my omen was in fact a charred piece of pine ... No kidding. I actually had to walk up to it, half waiting for it to fly away, to figure this out.

   These guys were real though, and they swarmed around just after the rain, tweeting and singing and tapping their little feet on our roof. It was a nice reminder that we weren't stuck in south central los angeles, and that the sky was blue, and the smoke was gone. Juwels asked over and over if I needed any help, and after being given a pardon, she stayed in the Winnie, with the windows open and the shear muslin curtains dancing in the breeze. She slid a warm cup of green tea under the frame and onto the cardboard box that I was lying on, and something really pleased me about hearing the pitter patter of her little bare feet up there: going through her baskets and cupboards, organizing things, reading old notes and enjoying this opportunity to feather and nest. The feeling was strong that somewhere inside her were little feelers of my own, pleasure and peace and pain receptors. (I'll surely be one of those husbands with swollen ankles and cramps when "we're" pregnant. ) We're a whole, no doubt, we're also satellite and independent, transmitters to each other. ...............  Anyway, she's my favorite person to share a crisis with, my cloak of squealing and smiling and warmth ; )   ((I gotta record this squeal of her's, maybe my favorite sound on earth ;)  

   The next morning, our western hero, wide brimmed hat and all, came out with his pickup truck and tow strap and hauled this stubborn beast back to the ranch. He told us the brakes might-not-work, but to just push them down real hard, and don't wait too long to do it ; )

   And always happy to use his toys, he grabbed a little bobcat from his fleet, and pushed and nudged us back into our slip. Good night.

   ... I'm happy to report that the Winnie is back up and running again (what did we do to fix her .. nothing, seriously, she just started one day after she'd been sitting for a month ??? Really ...) and we're getting ready to move to a new spot - closer to the Roost - we just might get kicked out of there, but we'll keep you all posted ; )

  Until next time - Vroom-Vroom - loVe,


1 comment:

  1. I'm sad to hear that you had to leave your woodsy home and that there were strange beings in your space but so glad to hear that this story had a happy ending for the two of you and the Winnie!