I was riding my bike from Portland to Eugene.
It’s not the longest ride but it’s not the shortest either.
In Oregon anyone can walk or bike on any road even the main several lane freeway that cuts down through the off center of the state. We weren’t taking that route though. We were taking two lane highways;
the ones that were the freeways before the invention of the freeway. We passed so many buildings where popping businesses had lived before they lost their passing traffic to the new road. Some of those abandoned dreams were hardly even standing enough to sneak inside of for a rest.
This was a time in my life where I was very good at inventing complicated solutions to simple problems. My simple problem was that I could not under any circumstances tell anyone that I was afraid of anything, ever. In this specific example, I had not begun to hitchhike yet and the prospect terrified me. So my solution was to convince my friend that our two-hour trip should be stretched to a few days in the name of clean air, in the name of human propulsion, in the name of the revolution.
Bike trips are amazing, there is very little that is not completely awesome about them. Any and every wonderful thing, however, is to some extent muted when it is done out of fear.
We rode our bikes, my sweet friend and I, and we met fair weather mostly. We met the sweet smell of tall grass and cows staring over fences confused about what kind of smelly loud slow moving critters we were.
We met a snake charmer who went around to public schools. He facilitated 7 year olds holding pythons. The money he made went into the small parcel of land he and his wife lived on. It was an easy place to spot.
From the road you would be moving through soggy cow pasture that was no longer holding it’s water or able to regenerate quickly when the herds moved off. Right in the middle of miles of the same you saw an enchanted forest shoot up like that is where the comb fell when the young girl was trying to escape what she might become.
It was two or so acres of pristine olde growth seeming forest filled with every kind of bird and reptile who always lived there before the cows but who had not returned in years until this miracle.
The forest was less than fifty years old but the trees were huge like the trees that me and my friend lived in most of the time; trees that were hundreds of years old. I have never seen, before or since, that kind of “restoration”. But I have also never seen someone so in love, so diligent, so sure, planting, cutting back, waiting, watching, working.
His wife had two giant birds from the jungles of distant lands whose wings had not been clipped in ten years. They could have flown at that point but had become accustomed to not doing it and so they never tried. Whenever they were outside on walks with her and a large wild bird flew by over head, the biggest one would jump and spread itself over the ground, it’s head buried in the dirt it would tremble until she picked him up and took him back inside.
Those people were very kind to us. They let us sleep out a storm. They fed us. They showed us all around. That place was every kind of hope and hopeless in the hearts of us two travelers; so many sprouts and so many chains; so many never before seen things and so much of the same old shit that got us in this mess in the first place.
It was breath taking…
kind of like everywhere else.
The next day we heard that an occupation that had been years standing on Mt. Hood had just been ended. That part of that ancient forest was saved, for the time being, from any threat of cutting.
I wrote a poem that day on napkins about how it seemed very likely to me that there would always be more work to do. I realize now that that is providing we are lucky.
When we got to Eugene I tracked down a friend from up North who I heard was around those parts. We all stayed up and talked and had beers and rested sore butts.
In the morning I got kicked in ribs until I sat up. I started to cuss but when I looked into the wet eyes of a man who usually kept himself vacant, I stopped. He asked if I knew a certain name in Portland. Of course I did, she lived at my same house there. She shared a couple of lovers with me a couple of times. I think I may have been in a dirty home movie or two with her. Why?
Well the occupation on Mt. Hood had officially ended but tree sitters had not left because all of the papers had not been signed yet. They were expected to leave the following week. She had gone out and climbed up and slipped on a rope ladder between two platforms and fell over a hundred feet. She was dead; not all at once but definitely by the time medics got there.
That man had to be wrong.
That girl didn’t do that kind of thing.
It was the wrong name or the same name on a stranger.
I got up. I went to the phone. I called Portland. It was true.
It had been her first time there, her first climb. She did it because she was in love with someone who lived out there.
There were a lot of questions about how and why that all happened like that. I don’t have answers to any of them. At the time though, as I rode all over Eugene desperately seeking a way back to Portland, I ran my brain furiously trying to make sense of it.
One of those friends from up North had a very sweet friend with a car who drove me to Portland out of the goodness of his heart. He asked for nothing. It took two hours to undo the last three days. If my thighs hadn’t have ached I would have thought it was a dream.
He dropped me on the front porch of her house, of my house. It was a circus. Tons of people and investigators and news and the lady of the house making sure everyone ate and every phone call got answered and every camera who over stepped it’s welcome got smashed.
Someone was screaming on the front porch because Rush Limbaugh had just done a radio show where he proposed that that friend had jumped to get sympathy for activists. Through the screaming I learned that it was the dead persons father, who was a conservative truck driver, who had first heard the radio program as he was flooring it to Oregon with the news of his daughters death. He had just called the house to say he would never listen to Rush Limbaugh again.
He just needed someone to tell his resolution too.
Next thing I knew I had a list of phone numbers. I was told to call them and tell them what happened, these are numbers from her address book, from back home in California.
The first one I called was a high weak sounding voice. I asked if the name next to the number was home. The voice said that was she. I asked if she new this other name. I realized all too late that that was not weakness in her voice it was the exhaustion of uncontrollable grief. The voice screamed at me, cussed me, told me it was all my fault her daughter was dead. I had called her mother.
We all had numbers like that in codes in our address books. We were paranoid little shits, sometimes for good reasons. I was on the phone until I was hung up on.
I had been surrounded by where I sat at the landline. Some one was holding my hand. Every one understood the mistake that had happened when they heard the noise through the receiver and saw the tears streaming down my face.
I hung up the phone. I walked outside. I floated around the block. My tears stopped by the time I got back in front of the house.
There was a lot of work to do.