Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Scrounging Wood

Strawberry Crater Wilderness Area, Arizona

I dragged my big-city first wife deep into the forest to live in an unfinished “cabin” and she immediately began to weep. Quickly I began gathering twigs, scrap lumber, anything that would burn. Not to torch the place, but for the wood stove, to warm her heart and dry her tears. Thus began a long saga of scrounging wood.

Boy Scouts and family camping trips had taught me fire. A couple years working “in the woods” had taught me about the care and feeding of chain saws, the trees of Arizona, and the inherent laziness of ‘professional’ wood-cutters. Still, keeping that place warm seemed to consume every spare minute.

Parking lot at Sunset Crater National Monument, Arizona

Woodcutters leave knots, stumps, and smaller limb-ends, and they skip steep slopes altogether. I’d thrash uphill through juniper, manzanita, pinon pine, and scrub oak, then drag and heave future fires down to the trunk of my gigantic (455 V8!) lime Buick.

When my beat-up chain saw failed, lacking money for parts I broke limbs using rocks and physics, caveman style, and mauled stumps. Sometimes the weather almost won--wet sticks would be drying by the fire for the next fire.

Chasm Creek, Arizona
Eventually I got to know one woodcutter well enough to work for him. We’d be out before sunrise, back and unloaded before U. S. Forest Circus officials poured their second cup of coffee. He was thus able to get about 40 cords of wood on an eight-cord permit. Not very legal but perhaps less immoral than letting your family freeze. I was usually paid in misshapen pieces rich people don’t want.

Perkinsville Bridge, Arizona

I rejoined fools and family in the city a while, where heat is from burning fossils, nuclear fission, and damned dams, payable only in cash. Bizarre concepts, but a welcome break from scrounging wood. Then back out of Babylon to the high desert boondocks, bought my first and only house, with...guess which type of heating?

Electric. But also a wood stove. I could pay about $300 a month to a bloated quasi-government bureaucracy for coal fire sent by copper wire, or pay nothing if I was willing to resume scrounging wood. So I did.

Without a handy nearby forest, I snagged scrap lumber from construction sites, broken pallets behind businesses, yard trimmings dumped off back roads, busted furniture, any burnable free object. When desperate I drove into distant juniper-dotted hills in the late afternoon, and brought back a pile of--what else?--woodcutter rejects, while government enforcers sat down to supper.

These were already cut up, but I couldn't lift 'em. @ Petrified Forest NP

At first my young sons were easily convinced it was fun to help scrounge wood, until, with the sudden wisdom of teens, they decided it wasn’t. Even so, after kicking and screaming briefly, they learned other critical skills: how to avoid work, how to pretend to work, how to maintain a Zen-like demeanor when cranky cheap Dad forces you to do stupid work, and in the end, how to, actually, work.

This looks like fun, right?

I also learned: diplomacy and psychological trickery, from being outnumbered four to one by bigger/smarter sons. Dudine has very little left to learn, but she did acquire additional dirt forbearance, a gift with which she has already been considerably blessed, both by nature and by riding herd on said sons.

Strawberry Crater, heavy traffic near housing sector

Winter visitors are surprised at how warm the stove keeps the joint. (Too warm sometimes, snow swirling through windows opened for a gasp of cool air.) “Quaint...homey...how pretty,” they say. I agree, then smash the fantasy with a litany of bugs, filth, choking on smoke, burns of hair and skin and stuff, shoveling ashes (and nails), teetering on the roof rattling chain in the stovepipe to clean it, and cold-arse nights when I sleep too long and the fire goes out.

Kids grown and gone, I scrounge alone again, always one eye open for scrap sticks. Still directly trading my own energy for household warmth. Ancient technology at prehistoric prices, a blob of spit in PowerCo’s unseeing corporate eyeball, and a perfect excuse to wander wherever trees breathe. Fire: warming hearts and drying tears since 68,000 BC!

Strawberry Crater Wilderness Area


   “It used to be that any difficulty of [military] assignment could be taken care of under the sheltering umbrella of Duty, Honor, Country. As long as you had a casus belli like the Maine or the Alamo you could get through any dubious expedition without agony. The West Point formula may no longer suffice. Country is clear enough, but what is Duty in a wrong war? What is Honor when fighting is reduced to “wasting” the living space—not to mention the lives—of a people that never did us any harm? The simple West Point answer is that Duty and Honor consist in carrying out the orders of the government. That is what the Nazis said in their defense, and we tried them for war crimes nevertheless….
   “When fighting reaches the classic formula recently voiced by a soldier in the act of setting fire to a hamlet in Vietnam, “We must destroy it in order to save it,” one must go further than duty and honor and ask, “Where is the common sense?””
                                                             --Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989), from an address to the U. S. Army War College, April 1971, reprinted in Practicing History, a selection of her essays.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dirt Cheap Day Trip 27-B

Alternate title, for the extra-literate:
Earth Econo-logical Sunshine Journey 27-B
Why 27-B? Why not? Must everything be ordered sensibly always?

Agua Fria National Monument, pack rat nest

Winter's the best time for desert wandering. Sometimes there's even a rare clear-ish liquid in the "creeks."

Water Cold was in fact trickling through the “Agua Fria National Monument” when Dudine and I paid a free visit last week. Part of our poverty reduction plan: spend future “vacations” in our own ‘hood. The directions on the BLM page are vague, so after some wandering we asked a Quickie-Mart clerk, who eagerly directed us onward, as if she were actually glad to tell us.

Historic Teskey Home Site, Agua Fria National Monument

Wandering further, we parked—alone--at newly fenced and reinforced “Historic Teskey Home Site," courtesy of a local historical society.  Happily, there is little federal funding for “improvements” so the place is not yet “californicated." No pavement, no entrance fee, no uniformed goons, no crowds, no toilets, no smooth tourist trails with hand rails, no crap-filled gift shop, no poisonous overpriced “snack bar,” no closing time—nice and cheap!

Teskey Home Site, Agua Fria National Monument

A bleak reminder of my age, to find a ‘historical site’ dated a mere ten years before my own sojourn began.

The explanatory plaque has not yet been painted with graffiti, carved with initials, burned, axed, or shot-gunned—but give it time. The Teskeys, family of six, still had no electricity when they left in 1948. Water was from a hand-dug well and heated on a wood stove. They farmed, and raised horses and cattle. Hard work but I would trade my industrial drudgery for it if I could.

Agua Fria River

Horses are better than cars, we decided, in this rough land. The trip to town would take longer, but without flat tires or gasoline. Also, cars still can’t breed free new cars. Come on science, what’s the hold-up?

The pathetic Agua Fria “River” was less than a quarter-mile east, via an old jeep road. Usually dry except for storm run-off, it calmly gurgled away a recent winter blast. Eventually Phoenix will drink it, so don’t pee in it unless you hate Phoenix.

Agua Fria River, Agua Fria NM

Now: the following directions are very real, if anyone wants to find the place: (Or for you all with newfangled Gee Pee Ess, try this bitchin site.)

I-17 north out of Phoenix about 40 miles to Cordes Junction, exit 262. Exit, head east, and hang an immediate right on Stagecoach Lane. Follow it around and down about a mile and go right on Red Rock. Soon go left on Quail Run. This turns into Kelton Ranch Road at a cattle guard and the pavement ends. Stay on this road and you will go over a second cattle guard, under power lines, then over a third. The Teskey site is on your right when you come to the steel bridge. I forgot to note mileage but I’d guess less than ten miles from the highway.

Agua Fria River, Agua Fria NM

Have an inappropriate amount of fun no matter what, and please cuss me if the directions ain’t right. This is one of four vehicle access points in the Monument, we’ll eventually go to the others so stay tuned if you give a rip. Folks who lived in the area 600 years ago left art galleries among the rocks, which I plan to find.


best Kinks song ever, by Ray Davies

This is the age of machinery,
A mechanical nightmare,
The wonderful world of technology,
Napalm, hydrogen bombs, biological warfare,

This is the twentieth century,
But too much aggravation
It's the age of insanity,
What has become of the green pleasant fields of Jerusalem?

Ain't got no ambition, I'm just disillusioned
I'm a twentieth century man but I don't wanna be here.

My mama said she can't understand me
She can't see my motivation
Just give me some security,
I'm a paranoid schizoid product of the twentieth century….

…Girl we gotta get out of here
We gotta find a solution
I'm a twentieth century man but
I don't want to be here.

I was born in a welfare state
Ruled by bureaucracy
Controlled by civil servants
And people dressed in grey
Got no privacy, got no liberty
Cos the twentieth century people
Took it all away from me.

Don't wanna get myself shot down
By some trigger happy policeman,
Gotta keep a hold on my sanity
I'm a twentieth century man but I don't wanna die here….

This is the twentieth century
But too much aggravation
This is the edge of insanity
I'm a twentieth century man but I don't wanna be here.