I looked right at him and said, “Quit blowing your pot smoke in my face!”
He happened to be taking another hit off the joint when I said this, so that hit was interrupted with some laughter, which then turned into a coughing fit. After awhile, he managed to pull himself together. He said with a smile, “Sorry, Piper. I’ll do better. You are the last person I should be doin’ that to.”
I said, “I’m not just a kid, dammit!”
He said, “I didn’t say that!”
I said, “You were thinking it though!”
He said, “Now, how do you know what I was thinking?”
I said, “Well then why am I the last person?”
I waited for an answer while he mulled it over. Finally, he broke into a smile and said, “Sorry, Piper. You’re just a kid. I’m sorry!” Then he started laughing.
I said, “Good! Now stop blowing your pot smoke in my face!” I was irritated. I just wanted to jump over the table and punch him in his big, stupid, stoned face. I got the attention of everyone else in the cabin. They looked up from their books or whatever it was that they were doing.
Bear said, “Yeah, I know, Piper, you see that is what I mean. I’m agreeing with you. I’m trying to apologize.”
I said, “You’re just antagonizing me!”
He said, “ No, I’m not! Piper, I am really stoned right now and stoned people don’t antagonize other people. That is a scientific fact.”
I just shook my head in disgust and said, “Drug addict.”
He pointed to me and shouted, “Hey!” He held that finger up for a few moments. He didn’t look angry though. Then he said in a calm manner, “I am not a drug addict. I’m an alcoholic who occasionally does drugs. There is a difference. Now Bill…Bill is a drug addict.” Then he turned around to point him out, but Bill wasn’t paying attention anymore. He turned back to me and then moved his hands up over his eyes and began to rub them. He said, “Piper, I don’t even know what is going on. I am so stoned. I am sorry.”
He looked so pathetic that it actually made me laugh. I shouted, “Bear!” He looked up and was waiting for me to continue, starring at me with his stupid, dopey, stoned eyes. I said calmly, “It is your move.”
This is the thing I don’t get—he immediately looked at the board and all of a sudden he was back in the zone and on his game. Just like that. I could see it in his face. Yes, in his stoned, stupid eyes. He just looked at the board and it was like he could already see ten moves ahead. Yes, through them bloodshot eyes. He may have been too stupid and stoned to remember not to blow it in my face, but marijuana seemed to have zero effect on his game because he would then proceeded to wallop me. He wasn’t as good as Stephan. Stephan was the best chess player in the cabin, but Bear was a close second. Then there was everybody else. I was probably the worst. I had just learned the game that winter after they taught it to me.
That was all we really did though—we played chess. We did have backgammon and a deck of cards. We played cards fairly often—poker, euchre, spades. There were some other ones. I can’t remember them now. I noticed some of the inmates here like to play cards. Now that everybody knows that I am not a deaf-mute, I have become acquainted with a few of them. They didn’t take offense to my charade about being a deaf-mute. They admired it actually. They knew from whom I was hiding. And I guess the guy who squealed on me paid for it big time. It wasn’t because he sold me out. It was because he sold me out to the wrong person. There is a hierarchy in here and you may be surprised to know that the Warden isn’t at the top.
We also had two board games—Monopoly and Sorry. Sorry didn’t make it through the winter though. For some reason this game just really got on everyone’s nerves. I remember at one point Prof starting making a habit of saying, “Sorry”with a real nasally-type voice. And sometimes he would elongate it, so it was, “Saaaaaaaaawwwwwwwww-reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.” He was the one most annoyed with it. He hated that game. I think he was getting on Machine’s nerves with it though, because one day Machine just got up, picked up the board, broke it across his knee, then again the other way, and tossed it in the fireplace. Then he looked to Prof. He moved his hands outward slightly as if to shrug and said, “Cool?”
Prof seemed really taken aback. He said, “You tell me.”
Machine said, “Yeah…it’s cool. I hate that fucking game too. Give me a hug.” He went over and gave Prof a hug and I could see from the smile on Prof’s face as it hovered over Machine’s shoulder momentarily, that all was well. I don’t remember for sure when that happened, but it seems like it was probably the end of February or beginning of March. The days were noticeably longer and winter’s hold would break here and there for a few days at a time. I think being cooped up all winter was a lot of the reason why these sorts of exchanges happened. Cabin fever. Whatever you want to call it. We were a nomadic people now staying put in a cozy cage for more than just a couple of months. Stir crazy.
It isn’t like Prof to resort to mindless repetition of a mantra-like phrase or word. Nor is it like Machine to grab the bull by the horns and act so aggressively in a unilateral way like that. I’ve said it before—we were a democracy. That game was owned collectively by all of us. Not that anyone cared. No one was going to miss it. Caring Sue had mentioned that that she would have liked to have given it back to Salvation Army so they could sell it again and do the most good with it, as they like to say. But she did find the episode amusing and wasn’t really that upset about it. Everybody else thought it was hilarious, myself included. Bear pulled out a bottle of bourbon that he had squirreled away and passed it around. It wasn’t a celebration, but he felt that with everyone being so jovial, it was an opportune time to ride that wave. This was perhaps the first time in my life that I wished I was a drinker. I just wanted to be a part of the band of brothers. If only for a few moments. They did offer, much to the disapproval of Caring Sue, but I declined as usual anyway.
It was almost as if we were held hostage that winter, especially after the first snowfall. We didn’t want to create any tracks, or at least as few as possible, so if there was snow we spent most of our days cooped up. It wasn’t what we wanted to do, but it was what we had to do. We knew we couldn’t afford any run-ins with people. There was a path from our cabin to the creek. There was nothing we could do about that. We needed water on a daily basis and quite a bit of it at that, so that path had to be worn. Nothing we could do about it. Caring Sue wouldn’t let anyone smoke cigarettes in the cabin. Usually when someone stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, they also fetched a pail of water as well. As a result, I hardly fetched any water that winter.
I wasn’t a slacker though, nor was I like Bill who go by in life by the good grace of other people. I became the default fire feeder. It fell on me because of where I was sleeping in the cabin. I was right next to the rock face, which was always cozy and warm, but down past the foot of my bed was the wood pile. So if we were awake and someone noticed that we could use another log, they called on me to either pass one over or just place it on the fire myself. At night, I’d put a couple logs out in front of my bedding, in the area between it and the fire place. This way no one had to step over me in the night to get a log. Most of the time it was me who ended up using those logs. Sometimes I would hear someone complain in their sleep about how cold it was. I would get up and put a log on in my sleep, basically sleep walking. Prof said he noticed me doing it a few times. He said he would have long drawn out conversations with me. He knew I was still asleep because of the bizarre, off-the-wall things I would say in response to his questions. Then the next day he would ask me with a smile about our conversation the prior evening and I would have absolutely no recollection of the encounter.
Prof was a bit of a night owl when he could be, which actually wasn’t very often. Because of course ,we were always on the move, so most of the time he had to have the same schedule as everyone else. But in these times when we were stationary for a bit like the winter of 1992-93, he would enjoy the witching hours. He had a telescope. It was unlike any telescope I had ever seen. It was collapsible. He had a very large round mirror that he carried around with him in his pack. Then there were a series of smaller lenses and mirrors that he had as well. Then he had a section of leather. It was very thick leather—maybe as much as a half-inch thick. It was three feet wide and four feet long. It had a few holes in it of varying size and they looked like they were just in random places, but they were perfectly circular. When not in use, he would roll it up tight so that the roll was three feet wide and not too terribly thick. It was heavy though! But it fit well attached to his pack right under his wool blanket. When he unfurled it, he would then curl it lengthwise so he would have a four foot tube that was about a foot in diameter. He had a sack of fasteners and brackets that he used to keep the contraption together and so that he could mount the lenses and mirror.
I had been walking behind him for a number of months and I had noticed the leather roll under his blanket. I would wonder if it was a yoga mat, though I had never seen him do yoga. I thought maybe that he used it to pray to Allah, but he wasn’t the least bit devout if he was a Muslim. If it were Stephan’s, then I would just chalk it up to being sorcery. Then I thought that maybe it was a sled. That would make some sense actually, but that wasn’t it either. When we camped for an evening, it always remained rolled and was just set aside, never used. When your primary mode of transportation is your feet, and the only home you know is the one you’re carrying on your back, you become very aware of the weight and girth of things. You really do have to ask yourself—do I really want to carry this? Walking thirty or forty miles a day is one thing, but we were also doing it with a forty pound pack on our back—at least. So whatever this was that he was carrying, I knew it had to be precious, despite its rare use.
I didn’t know and I think that maybe there was some fun in not knowing. I’ve gotten into things in the past that were mysterious and wonderful, so much so that I just delved into them and overturned every stone, explored every nook and cranny, and then discovered much to my dismay that this thing that once had so much beauty and allure, had suddenly lost its luster once all of the mystery had been revealed. I guess that is why I liked it tickling my curiosity. I would even ponder while I walked a few paces behind him. He was right there. All would be quiet. No one had even said a word in at least an hour, maybe two. I could of just said, “Hey Prof, what the heck is that thing?” But you know what—even if I would have asked, he would have told me with a straight face that it was a telescope, and I would have thought he was deceiving me for the sake of fun. Indeed, when he went to assemble the thing, I asked him what he was building and he said, “A telescope.” I didn’t believe him.
I tell you what though, that thing was amazing! In the early part of winter, Prof would go to bed extremely early in the evening. It was more like late afternoon. He wouldn’t eat supper alone hours before us. Then he would awaken hours and hours before the sunrise. He would venture out with his telescope strapped to his back. He would come back shortly after sunrise, then he’d be up all day. Then later in the winter as spring was approaching, he pulled an about-face, whereby he would go out shortly before sunset and arrive back a few hours before sunrise, then sleep almost all day. If there was something really special going on in the night sky, he would tell us about it and have us come out with him. One such occurrence happened in the late winter. Shortly after sunset, there were four planets in the sky all in the same time and it the same vicinity—Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Like I said, that telescope was amazing! Did you know that Venus had phases like the moon? Is there water on Mars? You can see it in the ice caps! When you look at Jupiter, you can see the same moons Galileo saw. If you convert Jupiter time to Earth time, then it is like Galileo lived just last week. And how about Saturn? Wow! I was speechless actually. It was crazy to me that I had spent my whole life not knowing that those little points of light were actually something incredibly detailed.
We did have a radio. Prof had picked it up at the army surplus store in Escanaba. It was an interesting conversation piece in and of itself. It was just an AM/FM radio with a couple of different shortwave radio bands available as well. Where we were located in the Upper Peninsula, there weren’t necessarily a lot of sources producing radio waves way up there, but there were a few. The thing that was interesting about the radio was that it was powered with a hand crank on the back of it. You would give it a few dozen cranks until it wouldn’t crank any more, then the thing would slowly wind down and as it did, it would give you a few minutes of radio. Prof wanted it so we could keep track of the weather. It was useful for that. In the daytime, we would sometimes listen to NPR out of Northern Michigan University. Other than that, we had a Top 40 station and a Gospel station available. Bill and Stephan didn’t mind listening to the Gospel station, but nobody cared about the Top 40 station. In the daytime, nobody ever really cranked the radio. At night though, it was a different story. There were evenings when the sky wasn’t ripe for gazing. Maybe it was hazy or just downright cloudy. Well on these evenings, Prof still enjoyed the witching hours. He would get out his radio and he would crank on it. He’d crank on it all night. When a commercial break occurred in his favorite program, he would seize that as an opportunity to top off the tanks on his radio and start cranking. He once asked, “I try to keep it as low as possible. Am I keeping anyone up with the radio here?”
There was a rather long silence. There were no yeas or nays. I didn’t know if it was an awkward silence. Maybe some were irked by it and it was a source of agitation. I didn’t care. I personally liked it actually. I was getting ready to say just that when Machine said, “You’re not keeping me up, I actually wouldn’t mind if you turned it up a touch.”
Stephan said, “Yeah, I second that.”
Then everyone else spoke up. It was actually unanimous. Everybody loved Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell. We would all stay up all night and listen. If Prof went out with his telescope, then the six of us would stay in and listen without him. It was the most entertained any of us had ever been in our lives. In our lives! And it wasn’t coming from the TV. It was coming from the radio! It was almost War of the Worlds type stuff for us—you know the radio phenomenon from the thirties. It was real and yet it was so strange. It was like the veil of illusion was being lifted and we were allowed to see reality for the first time. Stephan once asked, “Why haven’t they gotten to this guy yet? They don’t have to kill him, but I can’t believe they haven’t tried to shut him up.”
We also did a lot of reading. I have already told you the story of how we came upon our books from the Salvation Army in Escanaba. Machine had a volume of poems by Arthur Rimbaud. He really wanted me to read it. He was almost insisting that I do. And I know why. It was because Arthur Rimbaud was only a few years older than me when he was writing his stuff and when he was off on his adventure. I think Machine thought it would be an inspiration to me.And it was, but me and Mr. Rimbaud really didn’t have anything in common. I mean nothing. He was a hedonist and a libertine. I was a prude and a virgin. But I will say that Rimbaud had a way with words and that might be the one thing in this world I won’t argue with no matter the source—words.
And Prof really wanted me to read A Catcher in the Rye. I think for pretty much the same reason. Holden Caufield was only a couple of years older than me. He was astonished to discover that I hadn’t already read it. He was floored. I told him it was on my to-read list, had been for a long time, but it is was a long list. He thought I ought to move that one all the way up into the top slot. There wasn’t a copy available at the Salvation Army, none that we found anyway, so he personally went into a retail bookstore in Escanaba and grabbed me a copy at full retail price. It was that important. And what can I say? All I can say is the same thing everybody else says. I read that one at least five times over the course of that winter. It changed my life. It really did.
I probably read thirty to forty books that winter, not counting the rereads. We all did. There really was nothing else left to do. We were well stocked with food, water, wood, and other supplies. We weren’t for want of anything. Fresh meat and fish were nice, but we could have managed without them. Our cabin was very cozy. I’ve already mentioned how I was given a spot next to the rock face. Caring Sue was given the other one. Women and children! Women and children! We both protested. She had her reason—feminism. And I had mine—I’m not a kid! We lost. Which I suppose isn’t a bad thing in the end. Machine slept in the spot next to me. At first, Bill was looking to set up camp there, but Caring Sue got a hold of Machine and told him that she wanted anyone but Bill sleeping next to me. She said she wouldn’t be surprised if Bill was a pervert. Machine agreed and simply pushed Bill’s stuff over and when Bill inquired as to what the big idea was, he just shrugged and said, “You’re in my spot, dude. No worries though, pal. I took care of it for ya.” And that was that.
Caring Sue mandated that we all had to leave the cabin for a few hours, once a week, every week. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. She wanted to bathe and she wanted to give the cabin a good cleaning too. She really wanted the whole day to herself and we tried to stay away as long as we could. We understood why it was important to her. We also liked the idea of getting out ourselves. Before we would leave for the day, she had us take our bedding material outside, vigorously shake it out, then fold it neatly and put it up against the wall at the back of our spot. We all bathed on this day too, but our bath happened outside with a big pot of near boiling water, a pot of lukewarm water, and a bar of soap. Needless to say, it was a very quick process. Once we were all bathed and our beds put away, we would leave the cabin and not return until sunset.
Sometimes we would go down to Fred’s but this was only when one of us needed rolling tobacco, beer, or booze. Caring Sue did not keep an inventory of the vices. That was up to each individual to manage their vice. Bear had actually developed a relationship with Fred over the course of the winter. I think Bear had a hard time falling asleep without alcohol. He would just venture out alone at night. He didn’t want anyone else to come along either. It would worry Caring Sue sick, but she didn’t really have a right to say anything. He was an adult and she wasn’t his mother even though she acted that way at times. We figured he was going to Fred’s. He would make the two hour trek and he would sit and talk with Fred and Fred would even let him drink a few beers right there at the counter while they talked. We found this out later. It was unlawful. Fred knew it. So did Bear. But Fred was life-long friends with most of the cops. Plus, he also seemed to really like Bear, maybe even more than he liked Caring Sue. The thing is about northern Michigan—everybody already is a little strange, so Bear fit right into the scenery. He was warned not to bring up marijuana though, and he was told to be prepared to lie if Fred brought it up.
Most of the time we would just go ice-fishing on that day. Fresh meat! We’d get enough perch to have a few decent meals with fresh fish. There were a few other types types we caught, but it mostly seemed like it was perch. It was kind of a risky endeavor though and it wasn’t because of the possibility of thin ice. We would go out onto the middle of a lake and just completely expose ourselves. Someone could have been just inside the shoreline watching us from the trees and we would have no idea until it was too late. We never did see any tracks that winter—well not from a human at least, aside from our own. We didn’t even see snow machine tracks. We were that tucked away from everything. That is why we picked it though because we had to walk up a creek to get to it.
It is funny how time changes things. If you recall, Caring Sue received much heat for her assumption that we all were going to be lead along by the collar up the creek. Sometime in the middle of winter though, when our collective paranoia suddenly experienced a flare up with no apparent trigger, much gratitude and love was bestowed upon Caring Sue one evening for having the foresight to see into the winter, and then sticking to her guns. It did help a lot, the position she more or less put us in. I can’t imagine where we would have been without her. The paranoia got deep. Maybe paranoia is not the right word because our fear was actually reasonable. We were always on edge waiting for the world to find us, even if by accident. Our fire even made us nervous because it left a scent that can linger for miles. There was even a discussion about the possibility of not even having a fire. We may have been free of society’s trappings on some level, but we were always looking over our shoulder for society to happen upon us, and then subsequently net us. So we weren’t free.
When we’d go fishing, Bear and Machine would bring their pellet pistol. This was in case a squirrel was to go wandering by, which happened quite often, especially if it was a mild winter day. Bear and Machine were each a good shot with that pellet gun. It wasn’t very loud, so it didn’t startle the squirrels, which meant they could squeeze off four or five shots before the air was out. I always felt bad for the squirrels. They would just be hopping along, then they would stop to observe us with a false sense of security, thinking we were a longs ways off, when suddenly they would get pinged in the head by something they didn’t even see coming. They would just fall over dead. They didn’t react most of the time. I saw a few of them twitch a little bit for a few seconds afterward, but most of the time it was instant death. I guess it was as quick and painless as could be, but still, my heart went out for those poor little guys. Yeah, I ate the meat. I never had any qualms about it. Bear knew how to cook. It tasted like chicken to me, maybe a little gamy.
The winter really was about the wait. There was nothing for us to do, so we didn’t do much of anything except wait, and kill time with books and chess. The boys peppered in some booze and drugs for some kicks, but most of the time it was rather boring. So boring that a weekly trip to go fishing and squirrel hunting was the highlight. And the highlight of the highlights was a time at the end of January when a fishing trip turned into anything but a fishing trip. It concerns an incident with a doe. You would call it poaching. We may not have been on the right side of the letter of the law, but there was no conflict in terms of the spirit of the law.
So. As we were heading to the lake, as we had done a dozen times before, we saw up ahead that there were a couple of fawn frolicking about. We thought it was odd. We did wonder where the mother was. As we got near though, we discovered that it wasn’t odd at all, it was actually horrific and we knew right where the mother was. They were in fact frolicking around their maimed mother. One of her front legs was broken and broken in a bad way. There was blood and a lot of it. When she saw us, she became startled and tried to run. It was the grossest thing I had ever seen. I was absolutely horrified and I just wanted the horrible nightmare to end. Everything that happened, happened so fast. Bear got on top of her and put all of his weight to try and keep her down. She then began to kick her hind legs and tried to buck him off. He said, “I need some help here!”
Machine said, “Where do you want me?”
Bear said, “We just got to steady her, then I’ll cut her throat!”
Both Machine and Stephan got in on top of her and forced her down. She seemed somewhat calmed. Bear pulled out his knife. He put the palm of his right hand over her eyes and then cut her throat. When she stopped moving, they all got off of her and each caught their breath. Bear looked past me, pointed, and said, “Piper, can you run them off? They’ll be alright. Just run at ’em and chase ’em away. Can you do that? When they come back here later on today or tomorrow, their mom won’t be here and they’ll move on. They have to.”
I was glad that he asked me to do that. I just wanted to bawl so bad, but I couldn’t do it in front of everybody. My heart was aching for that poor doe and her poor fawns. Bear told me what was best for them, so I gave them my all—I ran at them as fast as I could. I kept them on the run. They kept looking back. I kept yelling at them—Go off on your own! You don’t need a mother! Or a dad! I’m just like you! Look at me! I’m doing alright! You’ll be fine! Go on now!
I don’t know how long I ran. I ran longer than I needed to if I was just chasing them off. I lost them after awhile. Well, I suppose it is more correct to say they lost me, which was a good sign. But I kept running. I always liked running. I always thought of running for the sake of itself as a kind of cleansing process, especially if you got something that is angering you. You can use the high energy of anger, even though it is negative, to fuel your run. In this instance though, I was dealing with heartbreak. That poor mother and her poor fawns. I exhausted myself thinking about it, never mind the run itself. Then I started having this fear that maybe I had been gone too long. I know they were going to field dress the doe, and I knew that took more than just a couple of minutes, but I didn’t know how long for sure.
I followed my tracks back. I walked mostly. I was very aware that my eyes were puffy and probably really red. I could feel them. So I kind of took my time. I put a handful of snow in each of my eye sockets hoping that this would help the swelling go down. When I got back there though, all was well. They were still working, so I still had more time yet, and I kind of wished I would have taken it. Bear noticed that I had been gone a long time. He came up to me all covered in blood and thanked me for doing such a thorough job running them off. Then he noticed my eyes. He said, “Yeah Piper, I know it is hard, but we’re making sure she didn’t die in vain. Her kids will be just fine.” It took everything I had to keep it in, but I did.
I know it is still considered poaching. If a park ranger were to come upon the scene of the kill and then follow our tracks back to the cabin, we would have been cooked before that deer ever was. It was yet another thing we were on edge about. Why should they believe us about the broken leg? We knew in the grand scheme of things that no wrong was really committed by anyone. The doe was probably hit by vehicle and being in a state of shock was able to sprint quite a ways off into the wilderness. We figured she got hit on US-2 and that maybe she only fractured it initially, so was able to run a couple of miles. But then all of a sudden, it snapped on her like that so it was just dangling there only connected by skin and tendons. We knew there wasn’t a hunter out looking for her. It could have taken days for her to die from that injury. Maybe even a week. A predator that doesn’t kill with the same mercy a human does could have found her first. They might just feasted on her while she was still alive.
After she was dead, what were we supposed to do? Leaving the meat there to waste seemed like a crime, so yes, we took it. We picked every last bit of meat from her bones. We took the heart, the kidneys, and the liver. The heart was the first meal we had. It cooked while Bear and Machine butchered her. I was glad they did that. I couldn’t wait to have a piece of her heart. We ended up not eating the kidneys on the account that it sort of tasted like urine. Bear said that might happen. We smoked most of the meat. Bear tanned the hide. We then used that hide for the rest of the winter. It was laid down right before the fireplace in the small space of common area that in front of Bear’s spot. I liked cuddling up with it.
In the spring, we left it at the door of a ranger’s office. It was after-hours when the office was clearly vacant. We didn’t want to get caught with it since it wasn’t tagged, but we didn’t want to have it go to waste either. Actually, Bear left all of his winter hides at that ranger’s station—even the squirrel fur. I said it was countless before, but there were actually twenty seven. He had them all together, stacked one on top of the other. The stack was probably knee high. In regards, to the bones and skull of the deer, well Caring Sue and I gathered them together and had a funeral of sorts for her. The ground was pretty frozen so she mostly got buried under mulch and a few boulders. I had told Caring Sue about what we had witnessed with that poor mother and how much it bothered me. I was glad Bear was able to do what he did though. Watching that poor innocent thing suffer was way worse than watching her die.
I know none of this looks good no matter how I try to dress it up and rationalize it. Well, the letter of the law is one thing and the spirit of the law is something entirely different. I’m not just talking about the doe. I’m talking about the whole lot of it. The squatting on Federal land. Felling trees to build a shelter and to feed a fire through the winter. Prying boulders from the forest floor and then erecting a monolith from them. Fishing without a license. Hunting without a license. Bear shot four rabbits that winter that I hadn’t gotten around to telling you about yet. There is nothing to say about it except that it happened. He and Machine were tempted by the wild turkey as well, but they weren’t sure a pellet gun would suffice, and they didn’t want to needlessly wound a creature that they would never be able to catch up with, so cooler heads prevailed, but they still had sin in their heart.
They had their justification for all of it though. The entirety of our existence. And I guess at the time I just bought into it. Maybe it was because I didn’t have a lot of choice. I was homeless, poor, and though I wouldn’t admit it at the time—I was just a kid. I had to rationalize my behavior. Prof would say time and time again, “We are God’s creatures after all, living on God’s earth. Our life was not given to us by the US Government, it was given to us by God and God would have us do what God has all of the earth’s creatures do—do what is necessary to survive without causing undue harm to any of our brothers and sisters. If you are thirsty, then kneel down and drink from one of God’s streams. If you are hungry, then nourish yourself from God’s green earth. And what kind of God wouldn’t have all of its children build shelters for themselves, so that they may weather the storms and protect themselves from the cold of winter? And what kind of entity would put itself between mankind and God’s bounty? Well, only Satan of course! And we don’t have to answer to Satan!”
When we left that cabin in the spring, aside from the cabin itself, we left the earth around it in very good shape. I had already mentioned that Caring Sue took the time to replace all the trees we took and then some with saplings. I know you can’t just dismantle a fireplace and put all the boulders back in the earth and we didn’t even try. It was actually a nice dwelling. It served us well. In a way it was hard to pull us away from it when it was time to go, but we were weary from not being on the road for so long. I’ve thought about that cabin from time to time over the years. I’ve wondered what ever came of it. Maybe the roof collapsed and now all that lumber hides our masterpiece. Or maybe it is still intact and maybe some hunters found it and use it to rest for an evening. The scenario surrounding that cabin would be much the same as the cabin in Idaho where you apprehended me. That was not built by me. I simply reclaimed it from the animals. I think it was built even before I was born. I’m not trying to get out of anything either. You can still charge me with it. I’m just drawing a parallel.
You might be wondering about what we did as far as relieving our bladder and bowels. Obviously, we didn’t have a bathroom. We didn’t even have an outhouse. But that doesn’t mean we were disrespectful and nasty about it. We had a toilet seat and a five-gallon bucket to take care of business in. Even Caring Sue. There was a little cove around the corner where you were at least protected on three sides. We never went to the bathroom outside of that bucket—ever. The boys didn’t pee in the bushes around the cabin. We all had an understanding. Even Bill. It was the only place we were allowed to go to the bathroom. Period. No one wanted our feces and urine spread out across the outside of our cabin so that it smelled like a tomcat lair. So everyone went in that bucket.
Caring Sue was a bit of a germophobe. She had handy wipes, a lot of handy wipes, and she was not afraid to insist that you use them. I remember Bill said something like, “No thanks, I’m alright.”
Caring Sue then responded, “It is not a choice, Bill! You might be the best ass wiper on both sides of the Mississippi, but even Ted Williams’ best was only .407. That is forty-one percent, Bill. Now clean your goddamn hands!” I think she aimed to make an example of him, and that, she did. Bill kept his hands clean, as did everyone else. It really was an effortless procedure and if you weren’t going to have a fear of germs, then you were going to have a fear of Caring Sue. She kept the wipes out in the open—always handy. She could make due without a sink, but that didn’t mean she would settle for dysentery or cholera.
There was one spot a ways off from our cabin that was at a rather low spot for its area. We dug a hole there. We didn’t have a shovel, but we dug a hole. We used axes, pots, pans, whatever. We got it pretty deep too. Might even have been about six feet deep. Stephan was one of the last ones to dig and he was in over his head. He was a little taller than average. Machine and Bear each had to grab an arm and pull him up and out. So this hole became our designated septic tank. We dumped the contents of our toilet into that hole once or twice a day. When it was your turn to flush the toilet, so to speak, you sometimes had to bring a little yeast to sprinkle into the hole. In the spring, when we abandoned our camp, we just filled the hole in.
Everything we brought into Hiawatha National Forest, we brought back out. We had quite a pile of fire ash and we spread that evenly across the forest floor. We had to dis-hoard ourselves of much of the things we had accumulated to get us through the winter. We couldn’t carry all of that stuff across the country with us, nor did we even need most of it. We couldn’t even get it all to the Salvation Army in one trip. We had a ton of books, extra cookware, extra blankets, extra pillows, heavier winter clothing, tools, and just a lot of other odds and ends. Prof donated the radio. We no longer needed our rubber boots. So it actually took us a few trips. It might even have been a half a dozen. As you recall, it took a few trips to get the stuff in, so naturally it took a few to get it all out. Some of the stuff had to be laundered, so we did that one day before making the donation. What was too soiled or tattered, we simply threw away in a dumpster. We hated to do that. We were dumpster divers after all. We knew all too well the wasteful ways of man and we loathed it even though we benefited from it. We tried not to waste ourselves, but sometimes things really are at the end of the line.
And that was our winter. Winter, like sleep, is really a rather bizarre phenomenon if you think about it or if you just sit, observe it, and attune yourself to its rhythm. It is a slow, cold rhythm. Almost barely perceptible at times. No pulse. That a body has to spend a quarter of its existence at rest, in a near lifeless state, that looks like death and feels like death, but is not death because there is a whole other world unfolding below. Somewhere deep beneath the surface are the dreams, they are like death’s seeds—in the them is rejuvenation.