My friend Bob has a particular genius for naming things. He named his metal gas can that had a dint in it “Dent”. He named my toaster “Chromie”. His big red truck is called “Big Red”, whilst the small red truck is called “little Red”. One day he took Dent up to the top of the pass in Big Red to fill him up with gas. When he got to the top, Dent was gone. Some weeks later someone had deposited Dent on Bab’s back door step. Dent knew how to find his way home.
Big Red, on the other hand, wasn’t too astute when it came to keeping his charges in his bed. Witness the time Big Red let the tailgate down and discharged Cut the chain saw out on the road. Witness the other time – just the other day when we went out to cut firewood – when we got to the place where we stop to turn in the hubs and check on the load, the stick, whom we called “Stick” was not there. Where is Stick? we asked. The clip that held the chain across the back of the trailer had bumped off as well. Where is Clip? We used Strap, but he was not very efficient. Not like Clip and Chain. The gas had bumped off as well as the shovel and the tool George’s grandfather had made, which he called a Pick Around because you could use it to pick around tangled logs; to make them lie together in a straight line so that you could cut them easily. Its like a tool to make all the string beans lie in a row so you can cut their tails off in one easy chop. A handy tool. Gone.
We speculated that Stick had run off with Shovel, seeing as they are both long and thin and probably carnally inclined. Of course neither of them were there when we needed them: especially Shovel (you’ll hear about that later). So many escapees! It’s a surprise that Big Red didn’t disgorge us as well. We had to leave the trailer on the side of the road and go back to find the Diaspora. We found everything but the clip and the shovel. Did they think we were imprisoning them? Were they so unhappy that they had to defect? Or was it the work of Big Red? No one really knows. The truth is that none of them really needed to work at all…most of the time. All they had to do was lie there at the ready. And the one time in years that Shovel was called upon, where was he? The rascal.
Perhaps he knew what lay ahead. After driving the six or seven miles up the mountain and then down through the rocky, rutted logging roads to the place we wanted to cut firewood Bob said “lets just leave the trailer here, and drive all the way to the bottom of the draw, just say we’d been there.” I said “why not load the trailer up now, and then walk to the bottom? Its a nice day for a walk…” Of course Bob won. Well, why not. You’ve got to let guys win sometimes. So down we went, through the slash piles left by the loggers, to the edge of the un-cut forest. I was just sort of looking out the window, trying not to press the imaginary brake pedal in front of me as the mud got deeper and the ground got softer ahead. Bob put it in four-wheel drive for that, but for what?
In only a fraction of a moment the left front wheel sunk sickeningly into a quagmire of stinky black goo. In another fraction of a moment it was clear that this was a creek crossing, cleverly disguised as a greenish spot in the road – as it were. Having acresof experience being a passenger with Bob on back-country roads, I was accustomed to fording foolhardy passages without serious recourse. Junctures at which I would have, were I driving, sensibly said “lets turn around now” or, if it were particularly important to ford the stream, bust through the snow back or gun it through an avalanche-in-the-making; like for instance if we were carrying an antivenom to a snake-bite victim or if we were carrying to the hospital a pregnant woman actually beginning to give birth to triplets in a breech presentation; in these cases I might not say “turn back”, but “first lets get out and suss out the situation, then put the chains on and put it in four wheel drive”. These sorts of junctures Bob has simply powered through with an equanimity worth of the Buddha in two-wheel drive and hardly a break in the conversation, so when I saw the green patch in the road and Bob didn’t even slow down for it, but just slugged it into four-wheel drive, I didn’t say a thing. An then the fraction of a moment arrived.
Boy, oh boy, were we stuck. As I say, I have acres of experience driving with Bob in the back country, and only oncehad he gotten us this stuck. The mud was over the axles. The differential was plowing earth. The doors scraped the mud as we opened them. I’m not sure whether to measure stuck-ness in how deep the vehicle is enmired in goo, or how far it is to get help. Its a close call. I mean, if the goo is soooo deep that it plugs the tail pipe or gets caught in the fan belt: that’s deep. j But if all you have to do is run across the street to call a wrecker to yank the truck out, well, that’s not too stuck. But if the goo isn’t that deep, but its a five mile walk to the nearest place that might have a phone to call for help, that is pretty stuck. In either case the truck is immovable. In this case we had the five mile walk option as the only one available. So we were stuck. And we walked.
First we walked up, since we had seen Buddy’s truck drive by waaay up there on the mountain as we were searching in vain for Shovel, who had wisely taken a hike. So we hiked up a couple of miles looking around for Buddy. We saw him not far away, riding his four-wheeler fast in the opposite direction. So much for that. We hiked around until we found his truck, and, well, we looked at it. We poked around a bit, examining the leftover dross from mining days. What do you do? There’s a truck. We need a truck. Its locked. We decided to leave a note, but found that we didn’t have a pen or paper. I did, however, have a chunk of drywall II used to mark the logs in eight foot lengths. So we found a couple of old boards to write a message on. What to write? “Walking to Neihart. Help.” Too long. We settled on “Stuck. Help.” We put the two boards on the hood of the truck and resumed walking; this time down the mountain, to Neihart.
Miraculously, we found Clip as we walked down. He lay there with his spring-loaded jaw snapped. What a cruel, cruel road. It was a nice day for a hike – which I had, if you remember, previously noted – with the birds singing, the bright autumn leaves clattering lightly in the breeze, and the warm afternoon sunshine laying lightly on our shoulders, offering succor after each chill shady patch we walked through. Eventually we reached Ron’s house. Not only was Ron home, but he offered to drive up with his winch and high-lift jack and pull the truck out. Ron’s son-in-law wanted to come along in his Bronco for something to do, so I rode with him, and Bob rode with Ron. On the way up we met Buddy coming down.
All Buddy had to say was that he was spooked by our message. “Something spooky is going on!” he thought, so he high-tailed it out of there. And we thought that it was a remarkably clear message, given the tools we had to work with. But then again, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that I had mischievously re-arranged the chairs that were scattered about the ruins, collecting them into witches circle. As thought he ghosts of miners past were knocking back earthen-ware jugs marked XXX and hashing out plans to haunt anyone on their land. But he didn’t notice the bright red truck mired in the muck at the bottom of the draw. He was busy, I guess.
Thankful to not be riding with Ron of the Roving Hands (Ron has a history of causing me to desire ardently to deck him, which I only refrained from doing out of deference for his advanced years, but that’s another story), or even in the back of Roving Ron’s truck with Allie (Ron is the only human on Earth who hates my dog), I overlooked the questionable aspects of the driving abilities of Ron’s son-in-law, Nick. He surfed the dust cloud left by his father-in-law like a Californian in rush-hour traffic. We choked on dust. He took rocky corners with cliffs rising to the left and falling to the right like Mario Andretti. When Buddy came down the narrow road as we were going up, Nick drew so far to the edge of the road that he dropped the front wheel over the edge of the cliff. We did not die, but I’m not sure why not.
Come to think of it, that’s how we got stuck, isn’t it? By letting a man drive? And just to prove that patterns are hard to break, after we got the truck out Bob said “lets go ahead and get another load of wood, while we’re here.” As if we hadn’t already cut and hauled a cord and a half, walked a good six or seven miles, defied death and Roving Ron and corralled a whole herd of escaping tools and supplies? I looked at him in a way I hope he realized was askance. More than looking askance, I wanted to look incredulous. I was tired. That firewood gets heavy after the first three or four cords.
“Okay.” I said. “Since we’re here.” And he cut and I loaded another load. At least I had two years worth of firewood, and a story to tell.