In the spring of 2014, I left Hollywood in a rental car filled with food, water jugs, my few belongings, and my two cats. My destination was Humboldt County. For decades, the place had been synonymous with cannabis and after living all over America and having spent the last two years in Hollywood, I recognized the value in it so I decided I would go to Humboldt to learn how to grow it.
I drove North and stopped in Angels Camp where I stayed at the Jumping Frog Motel. There I formalized my plan of reaching Humboldt County where I would stay in a motel until I could find a long term living situation. I reached Humboldt County the next day and rented a room at the Motel 6 in Arcata. The next day, I drove through the redwoods and down dirt roads to the top of mountains looking for ghost towns I had read about thinking maybe I could live in one. The ghost towns were gone and even in the wilderness, everywhere seemed occupied, owned, or gated off. Back in Arcata, I visited a cannabis dispensary located in a kiosk in a parking lot. I bought some seeds and some buds and asked the bud tender where people looking to grow cannabis might be able to live around here. He said that there were people who rent land like what I’m looking for out there in the mountains and that I might try Willow Creek.
Forty miles inland, by way of the winding mountain Highway 299 was the town of Willow Creek. It had more than I’d hoped for in a ghost town; the sign said it had 1800 residents but it also had a grocery store, a hardware store, a motel, a few restaurants, two taverns, and about two dozen other shops. It also had a museum with a giant Bigfoot statue out front. Looking around, I noticed many things in Willow Creek were Bigfoot themed. I rented a room at the Bigfoot Motel and settled my cats into the wood paneled room. I ate at the Mexican restaurant and then went to the Forks tavern. The place was mostly empty. I drank light, tipped heavy, and spoke just enough to make an impression on the bartender before I left early.
The next day I explored the town which was located at the junctions of highway 299 and highway 96 and the Trinity River and Willow Creek. The town consisted of highway 299 that doubled as the main street with a few other side streets. I followed the road that curved down past the grocery store and Town Services Building and into a creek side park. I came back up and went into a place called the Community Center where I inquired about possible rentals in the town. The middle aged woman at the desk was named Tara. She handed me a printed out list of landlords in town as apparently my question was common. She informed me that even with this list, I’d have a hard time finding a place in Willow Creek since there wasn’t much available housing. I told her thanks and promised I’d return to volunteer if I did find a place. I called the numbers on the list but like she said, no one was renting.
That night I went back to the Forks Tavern and took the same seat as the night before. The bartender remembered me even though tonight, the place was busy. After serving me two beers and receiving two big tips, the bartender asked if I needed anything else. “I’m looking for a place to live here in town.” I replied.
“Ask the man with the white hair down there.” she said, pointing to a fit, older man with a moustache. The old man was telling some story and slapping his knee and laughing in between sloshing down sips of a white russian. I got his attention and offered to buy him a drink and he agreed immediately.
“Nobody ever buys me a drink”, he said though it was clear he had already had many bought for him that night already. Still, he was coherent and jovial and enjoyed my company even though I was a stranger. I bought him another drink and confessed that I was looking for a place to live. “I got what you’re looking for.” He said. “You come down to the Willow Creek Motel in the morning and I’ll show you what I got.”
“I’m staying at the motel.” I said, confused.
“Not the Bigfoot motel. The other one.” He said ominously.
In the morning, I found the other motel up highway 299 and across the Willow Creek Bridge. A wooden, vegas style sign that said “Willow Creek Motel” stuck out next to an old two story wooden and western looking hotel that was painted light green. Out front was an old horse carriage, an antique black convertible, and a little red truck. I stepped onto the covered porch and knocked on the door to the hotel which appeared to be converted into a house. Taped on the inside the window of the door there was an aged note that said “Out Back Working - Fred B.
I went around the back of the old hotel where there were two single story motel style buildings with a few units in them each. One room had the door open with construction debris piled up in front of it. I knocked on the door and stepped inside where there was an old man wearing a Marines cap. Before I could question my own recollection as to whether this was the man from the tavern, the man from the tavern emerged from the demolished bathroom, covered in dust. “I’m here for a place to rent.” I said.
“I know what you’re here for.” he said sharply with a hangover. “Follow me.” He led me out of the room and down a trail along the side of the motel building. At the bottom of the trail was an open field surrounded on the perimeter with a chicken coop, sheds, overgrown garden beds, and parked antique camping trailers. Beyond that was some sparse woods and then the river. “You’re the first one here this year so you get the best one.” He said.
The “best one” was a 1980’s camping trailer which was white with brown striping and the model name “NOMAD” painted on the side. He unlocked a padlock and we stepped inside the 16’ by 8’ well kept trailer home. The interior was painted light green with flower pattern curtains. It had a raised full size bed, bench, table, kitchenette, closet, and bathroom area. “It has a bed.” I said surprised.
“It’s got more than that. It’s got electricity and a fridge and I’ll give you an air conditioner when it gets hot.” Fred continued by saying the magic words, “And you get a ten by ten area to grow your plants.”
“I can work for rent. I do construction.” I said immediately bartering.
“I’ve got men to do work. I need money.” Fred said sternly.
“How much do you want?” I asked.
“It’s only two hundred and fifty a month.” He said. I pulled my envelope of money from my pocket and gave him two hundred and fifty dollars to which he handed me a key for the little padlock. I locked up the trailer and he led me to the bathroom which was an out building about 50 yards away. It had a toilet and shower with hot water.
I checked out of the Bigfoot motel and drove my cats and my things back to the Willow Creek Motel and then down a grass driveway to the trailer camp behind it. I passed the motel tenants who watched me and my rental car with suspicion. I unloaded everything inside the trailer then drove West to Redding which was the location of the nearest department store to buy some essentials that I had not expected to need like a bed cover and a chain lock for the door. When I got back one of my cats had ripped a hole in the screen of a window and escaped. I tracked him down, taking a little tour of the property to do so. There were trailers everywhere around the motel property. The ones by the building were occupied by long term tenants as were the motel units behind the old hotel building. A rough looking lady asked me what I was doing. I told her I was a new tenant and that I had lost my cat and so she wished me luck in finding my cat before “the woods got him”. Her name was Tammy, she said, and she was the fiance of Kenny, the landlord’s maintenance man. By her look I assumed she meant the old guy I had seen working on the bathroom earlier. She told me to put out some treats for my cat and pointed out that there were strays all over the place. I followed a little cat trail which led back down to my trailer where I found my cat hiding behind an unplugged minifridge underneath the small trailer parked next to mine. I brought him back in and we ate some cold food then settled in for the night. The door didn’t have an interior lock but I installed the little chain lock figuring it’d be a little harder for Bigfoot or whoever to open and that the noise might wake me up in time to fight. I felt safe and isolated that night as the cats and I went to sleep. It was so quiet, I could only hear the river flowing.
The night went by without incident and in the morning, I drove my rental car to a small airport on the coast with a rental car company. I left the keys on the empty counter and stepped outside where I had expected to find numerous or at least one taxi. This airport had none. I spoke to a man who thought it was funny that I had assumed there would be taxis at this little airport. He offered to give me a ride to the little town I had just left all my things in since he was going to be passing through it. I accepted and was dropped off back in Willow Creek where I spent another night in the quiet darkness with my two cats. I realized I was now alone in an isolated mountain town, with no vehicle, no connections, and just a little bit of money, just as I had planned.
I spent the next couple days exploring and acclimating myself to the town and the area around the motel. I checked out the sparse woods behind the trailer camp which had trails leading to the sandy area where the Willow Creek drains into the Trinity River known locally as the Willow Creek Beach. I checked out the Big Rock state park located next to the motel where there were more river access points. I went across the street from the motel and up the road which led up Brannon Mountain. About a quarter mile up was a driveway on the left with a broken steel gate hanging from a tree stump. The driveway was overgrown and unused so I went down it and found an open field with tall grass at the bottom. In the grass was a boulder with a walking stick leaned up against it and a trail trodden through the grass leading towards some woods. I followed the trail and found myself at the creek amidst a picturesque setting. A huge tree was split in half and the pieces set next to each other creating a bridge over a section of the creek. I crossed and found myself on a little island in the creek with a gentle waterfall and pool on the other side. On the opposite side of the pool was a thirty foot cliff. Amidst the roots and dirt of the cliff, a dirty nylon rope with climbing knots dangled down from the top. On top of the cliff I saw torn tarps flapping in the breeze. I heard the sound of adult laughter. It looked like people were living in the woods. I decided I’d like to see this up close and finding no dry means to get across the creek to the cliff, I went back over the tree bridge, went back up the driveway, and back down the mountain road, then walked the highway over the Willow Creek and descended down into the park on the other side. I walked to the edge of the park and hopped over a metal gate. I continued on through the creekside landscape for about a half mile until I reached a more dense forest with a well worn trail leading into it. I followed the trail which traversed through the hilly woods and over fallen trees. A mile deep into the lush woods, I came upon the tattered tarps I had seen from the bottom of the cliff. They were just a small part of a sprawling encampment. Walls were constructed with young trees and branches twisted together. Dirt beds and couches had been dug out of the ground and hardened underneath roofs of wet blankets and tarps. Wet clothes hung everywhere. Modern tents, set up randomly, shook with occupation as I tiptoed around beer boxes and layers of party trash. Having seen the sight, I returned back to my trailer, my cats, and my last night alone in the camp behind the Willow Creek Motel.
In the morning I heard the sound of a woman talking, people walking, a lock being unlocked, and a door to a trailer being opened. I pulled aside my green flower curtains and saw Tammy showing the antique trailer across from mine to a young couple. The couple both wore jean shorts. His were cut off and he had a chain wallet hanging from them. The young woman did most of the talking but after consulting with him, they decided they would like to live in the red trailer on the other side of the camp because it offered more privacy and was closer to the bathroom.
The couple left, presumably to gather their things and a little while later Fred came down to the camp as he did every day to turn on the radio inside the shelter he used as a Marine’s hangout. I’d learned that Ted was a Marine drill Sergeant who had been to Vietnam, came back and sought adventure as a unique game hunter going after such prized trophies as the white doll sheep and of course, Bigfoot. We spoke a bit about the property and his desire to grow a huge cannabis garden for the profits. His helper, Kenny, was another old Marine, and apparently had connections to sell whatever he grew. He said he had it all worked out with the sheriffs to look the other way too. They had done that before. I told him I had the “prop 215” license to grow cannabis in California as I had acquired it as a necessity to purchase dispensaries in Hollywood, where I had previously been living. He said I was the only one that had one but that I should tape it up in my window so everything looks on the up and up. I mentioned that Tammy had brought two people down to look at the trailers earlier. He got mad saying that only he was supposed to show the trailers because that’s how bad people end up getting in here. On cue, the new couple came down the trail and into the field towards their new home, the red trailer. They now had two dogs with them, traveling packs, and garbage bags of stuff. They introduced themselves as Derek and Mandy. Derek was thirty with shifty eyes and missing two front teeth. Mandy was decently pretty but rough and with an inbred looking chin. Both of their dogs got loose and Derek went off chasing them. Mandy laughed and Fred along with her as he relished the sound of a female voice.
It was Sunday, so I dressed in a sport coat and went to church at the Willow Creek Church, a single story wooden building on the East side of town. The Preacher played bass while his wife played drums to some modern sounding hymns. He read from the book of Revelation, specifically Chapter 17 and then spoke of the problems within the community. He prayed and asked the small congregation to voice their petitions. A young girl asked that her brother be cured of the giardia he had contracted from drinking dirty creek water. A middle aged woman asked for help for her teenage son who was taken to the hospital after being tricked into smoking meth in a cannabis joint that week. Another middle aged woman asked for help with her cancer. Another middle aged woman sought help regarding her son’s heroin addiction. Another, a young woman, pleaded for help with her husband’s heroin addiction as he hung his head next to her.
Following the service, I walked back through town and stopped at the grocery store. After checking out, I was stopped by Tara, the woman from the Community Center. “Did you find a place here?” She asked, surprised to still see me in town.
“Yes.” I replied simply. She looked at my clothes and noticed I was dressed up.
“Are you coming from Church?” She asked.
“Yes, I went to the Willow Creek Church.” I responded. She told me that she attended a small Catholic Church in the town 12 miles North on a Native American reservation called Hoopa. She invited me to attend. I told her I would. She explained that she sang and played Mass on guitar. I told her that I was also Catholic and that I also played guitar and had brought one with me. She insisted I play with her at Mass. I agreed. I also told her I’d stop in to the Community Center that week to make good on my promise to volunteer.
I walked back down Highway 69 to the Willow Creek motel. The Willow Creek Bridge sign had an old coat hanging on it. Dirty Clothes hung in the tallest branches of a huge tree next to the bridge. There was litter everywhere.
Back at the trailer camp, I spoke to Fred a bit more about some local physical challenges that he might suggest. “You think you’re tough?” He asked me. “Then go next door and run the old airstrip ten times. That’s five miles. I do it everyday. You do that and you’re tough.”
The next morning I went next door as Fred suggested to the Big Rock Park. The park was the airstrip, partially turned into a parking lot and sparse woods separating it from a river beach. Next to the park was a quarry storage area with piles of stones and dirt and old highway barriers. I ran the airstrip then walked back to my trailer passing by the red trailer and Derek and Mandy who were busy doing nothing. Their dogs were loose and running around the trailer camp.
I got cleaned up then went into town and stopped into the Community Center. I informed Tara I was there to fulfill my promise to volunteer. She thought for a moment and then suggested I could go clean up some heavy debris that had been sitting on town property just outside of town. I agreed. As I walked out of the Community Center, a man wearing shorts and a straw cowboy hat was waiting for me. He had heard me talking to Tara inside. He said his name was Slate and that he knew everything there was to know around town. He said he could show me where the debris was too. He led me through town, down the back road that leads to the Kimtu Beach Park, behind the business plaza, and up onto a cleared off hill. There he showed me some big pieces of metal siding. Together we moved the siding to the dumpster area behind the business park. We picked up some more litter together before I returned to the Community Center to report back the completed task. Tara was both thrilled and surprised that this task had been accomplished so quickly after years of inaction. I asked her what else I could do for her or the town. She didn’t think long before confiding about the troublesome and messy transient camps in the woods and that I could perhaps help with that. I told her that I had seen the litter and the camps and would begin cleaning up the woods tomorrow. I told her I’d take Slate with me.
When I arrived into town the next morning, Slate was already waiting for me. He promised to show me all the popular transient camping sites along the Willow Creek. We walked through the creek side park and to the banks of the creek. He showed me a few currently unoccupied spots along the creek and underneath the willow creek bridge. There was litter and camping trash everywhere. Along the trail, we came to a tent, quivering with an occupant.
“Is this usually here?” I asked Slate.
“No, must’ve just went up.” Slate said.
A middle aged woman unzipped the tent and came out as she heard us talking. “Who are you guys?” She asked .
“We work for the town.” I responded. “We are cleaning up the woods. There is no camping allowed in these woods along the creek.”
“Well, where am I supposed to go?” She asked like it was her long term home.
“Where’d you come from?” Slate asked, “You weren’t here yesterday.”
“I can’t leave. I have too much stuff to carry” She said.
“We can help you carry your stuff out of here.” I said.
“No, I can do it myself!” She said.
“Ok. But we will come back to check.” I said.
“What does that mean? I don’t know. If you guys are out here who else could be? Fine. I’ll leave.” She said.
“Do you need us to help you carry your stuff?” I asked as Slate was already breaking down her tent.
“No, I can do it myself.” She loaded her stuff onto a little wire cart and wheeled it along the trail and out of the woods.
Slate and I continued on the trail. The end of the trail brought us to the Willow Creek Beach opposite Fred’s trailer camp. Slate pulled an apple out of his cargo shorts pocket and held a lighter to it then offered it to me. I declined but him some buds which he put into his apple pipe, lit up, and puffed into a cloud into the woods. He said he’d remain in the woods and so I went to the Community Center to again report the completed task to Tara. I asked her again if there was any more I could do. She mentioned that there were large dangerous transient camps deep in the woods that had been a problem for the town for years. I told her I had seen these camps and that I would go there tomorrow. Before returning to my trailer, I stopped at the small thrift store located in the business park where I purchased a metal hand bell which I painted black.
The next morning, I dressed in a simple uniform which I would wear to patrol the woods consisting of a button down black shirt, black jeans, black canvas combat boots, and a black cap with a white buffalo on it. I met Slate in town and informed him of our mission to confront and clear the camp deep in the woods. We walked together the mile to the woods and then back through the trail I had visited earlier that week. After another half mile on the wooded trail, we came to the encampment which was active. There were numerous tents with people zipped up inside and others lounging on the dirt furniture. I rang my black bell indicating that we were approaching but meant no harm. A tent unzipped revealing two young men and a woman inside. They came out of the tent to greet us with another young man who appeared from behind a tarp wall. The other tents shook from the people inside straining to get a look or hear what was going on. I informed them that these woods were being cleared and that all camps were being taken down. I explained that the creek they were overlooking and draining into was the drinking water source for the town. I pointed out some of the piles of waste nearby and explained that this was being carried into the creek by rainwater. I explained that they too had drank this water. The young men showed concern and whether feigned or genuine, they insisted that they had only been brought to the camp by others recently and did not make it. They said they were willing to leave but needed a few days to figure out where to go or to find work. I agreed to three days but told them I would come back in the night.
Having completed our task for the day, Slate went back into town, leaving me in the woods to clean up the trash I had seen on our tour the previous day. I spent a few hours and carried loads of trash and debris out of the woods and up to the highway near the trail all the transients use. On a large piece of debris I wrote in black marker “All Camps on the Willow Creek have 24 hours to clean up and move on. I will come in the night.” I made a similar sign on paper and posted it to the board at the bus stop in town. I once again saw the three young men from the encampment now lounging in the downtown park.
At 3am the next morning, I left my trailer, walked across the street, up the mountain, down the driveway, across the split tree bridge to the waterfall beneath the cliff where the encampment was located. For a few agonizing minutes I rang my bell frantically so it could be heard through all the woods and especially at the encampment on top of the cliff.
The next day, I stopped at the Community Center to check in with Tara. She said that a group of young men had stopped in so they could get garbage bags for cleaning up the woods and to look for job leads. “Are there any jobs here?” I asked.
She laughed. “Not the kind of job they’re looking for.” Tara explained. “These people camping in the woods are here to try to get jobs trimming on the farms but there’s no trimming until September or October. That’s harvest season.” She further explained that transients and farmers used the town as a temporary employment center. Transients would camp in the woods and hangout in the town during the day until a cannabis farmer would come to hire them to trim and process their harvest. Usually the farmer would transport the trimmers to his farm where they would live until the end of the season then the transients would leave the area with money and weed. The camps in the woods of Willow Creek had been a problem for years as the property adjoining the town land was owned by a corporation that did nothing to manage it. Where previously transient trimmers would temporarily camp in the woods at night until they got picked up and taken to a farm, the occupants of the camp deep in the woods had become more permanent and were ruining the town by dirtying up the streets and parks during the day while camping on the creek at night and polluting the water and woods year round. These unregulated camps attracted bad people who were responsible for bringing in the heroin and meth that was plaguing the community. I told her I was working to remove the camps from the woods and that the young men were campers at the large encampment. She shrugged and laughed at my enthusiasm but was appreciative.
When I returned to the Willow Creek Motel, I found a new neighbor moving into the trailer across from mine. He introduced himself as Michael and explained that he was a shaman and a cannabis grower with many years experience in the area. He said planned on growing a small garden next to his trailer this year. I confessed my desire to do the same thing and my lack of experience so we arranged to attach my small growing operation to his, whereby I would pay him and he would get me the same plants, soil, and nutrients he was using and he would lead me through the process. I told him that my personal smoking supply was running low as it had been over a week since I’d purchased some at a dispensary on the coast. He said he’d be back and within minutes, he returned, told me to open my hands, and dumped a pile of dried cannabis buds into them.
That night, I decided I would begin a regular patrol of the woods. I drew a map of the wooded areas around the Willow Creek with markers on the specific campsites that Slate had shown me. I planned to visit all of these sites each day and make sure they were empty of campers and clean. I collected some pieces of heavy bark and painted the image of an eye on them. The next morning I began my patrol by checking on and cleaning each of the sites. After each site was clear, I climbed a tree and hung up an eye as a marker for me and a deterrent for future transient campers. I saved one for the large encampment that I planned to put up after it was clear.
I went into town where I spotted the young men from the encampment lounging in the park next to the museum. Without speaking to them, I immediately went back into the woods and to the encampment. When I arrived at the site, I saw that most of the tents were gone. The tarps, blankets and trash remained. The clothes and belongings of the young men were strewn about. The box of garbage bags from the Community Center was on the ground, unopened but with a note written in marker for me indicating they had plans to come back and clean everything. I ignored their note, opened the box of bags, and rapidly set to work. I gathered all the actual belongings I could discern, and stuffed it into two bags. The remaining bags I used to clean up the cardboard, beer cans, food containers and everything else that had accumulated from years of camping and partying. I took down the tarps and blankets then untangled the twig and tree walls they had constructed. I used large stones to break up the hardened dirt furniture. In order to make the site look wild again, I scattered leaves and brought in freshly fallen branches. Then I carried all bags of trash to the edge of the woods then went back to cover up the trail. I then left the woods and carried the bags back through the park and up to the highway where the young men were returning. I handed them the two of the stuffed garbage bags that contained their belongings and clothes. “Everything else is gone. There is no more camp. You can go back there if you want but you won’t even recognize the camp. I took it all down.” I said. They looked shocked. I handed them a bag of cannabis from my pocket and five dollars each. “There’s no work here until harvest season which isn’t for months. You’ll have an easier time trying to find something back on the coast. The next bus leaves at 3:30.” I told them. They graciously took all that I offered, thanked me and began to leave. “Hey,” I couldn’t resist. “Have you guys seen that bell I had around? I dropped it out here that day I met you.” They looked at each other, surely remembering the maniacal bell ringing in the night. The following day, I returned to the encampment which was untouched. I climbed a tree and hung up an eye.
By the weekend, the woods were completely clean. I had taken over management of about a mile on both sides of the creek from the camp on the cliff to the Trinity River. I cleaned up everything that didn’t belong in the woods. I climbed the 30 foot tree next to the highway bridge with the clothes tied in it and removed them. I scaled a cliff side under the bridge to retrieve more trash.
In the following days, I continued my patrol through the creek side woods and extended my route into town where I began cleaning up any litter on the sidewalks or street. I returned the loose carts to the grocery store. From experience, I know that simple maintenance is a key tactic in reclaiming territory lost to dereliction and I noticed that the town library was one such derelict area. The library occupied what appeared to be a repurposed old mill or store since it had a small covered loading dock and storage room in the back. Food trash, cigarette butts, liquor bottles and beer cans had accumulated in the corners on the dock. A single post held the corner of the roof up but it appeared a splinter away from breaking and in need of immediate replacement. In this spot, I envisioned a headquarters for a volunteer cleanup crew and with Slate as the leader.
That Sunday, I again attended service at the Willow Creek Church. Petitioners again said prayers for their ailments, their addictions, and their cancer. The young couple asked for guidance as they had decided to move away to another town because the husband could no longer deal with his heroin addiction. I waited for the preacher after service and informed him that I had cleaned the creek side woods and removed the dangerous transients responsible for bringing in most of the hard drugs that were afflicting the town. I implored him to advocate for healthier lifestyles and dietary choices among the congregation as this was all I could do to help with the illnesses they faced.
On my way back through town, I saw Slate in the parking lot of one of the two gas stations. We conversed about the cleanup work until I mentioned cleaning up the area behind the library. He said I’d never get permission and to leave it at that. I had two cokes in my hand from the gas station so I offered one to him. He declined so I offered him a five dollar bill to get whatever he wanted in return for helping me clean the woods up. He declined that too, saying that he received money every month. I asked him where he lived and he pointed to the small mountain between town and the Willow Creek Beach.
I returned to the trailer camp behind the motel where Derek and Mandy were cooking meat on a grill outside of their red trailer. He was sitting in a plastic lounge chair while Mandy stood over the grill. “Come on over for a cookout!” Derek shouted as I walked by. I dropped my belongings in my trailer, sat with my cats for a bit, then returned to Derek and Mandy’s trailer area where another man sat next to Derek. I was near certain this man was one of the ones formerly occupying one of the tents at the now cleared encampment as I had seen him in town and knew he didn’t live there. Derek introduced him as his business partner and said that he would be staying with them next to the trailer. Derek ordered around Mandy as she cooked the meat. He referred to her as “Mama”. Derek told his stories from when he was on the road, where he had met Mandy, found his dogs, and where he had experienced a miracle of a man donating $60 to them while they stood in the rain one day. Derek confessed that before that, he had been a young crackhead and was brought up in prison and that was how he lost his teeth. He claimed that although he and Mandy were transients, they were experienced cannabis growers and now they were returning to this, their third season in Willow Creek. In the two previous years, they had stayed in the woods and farm hopped for work but this year, Fred had given them the same deal he had given me. This would be the first time living there legitimately and growing their own weed and so now they had plans to reside there permanently after this harvest. While they ate, I retreated to my own trailer with an excuse and promise that I would return with my guitar to play with Derek. I went back with my guitar and played with Derek who only knew one song he had been taught and no others. I attempted to show him another chord or variation of the ones he was already playing but he would revert back to his song. Everyone drank beer and the three of us talked by a fire Derek made in his grill. Derek talked more, repeating all his stories a few times. He was sly and superficially confident, always fighting for dominance in the conversation with abrasive interjections and pontifications. Eventually he went back to his guitar and his one song. He continued slamming away his guitar long after I waved goodbye and went back to my trailer for the night.
The next day I continued on my woods patrol. No one was in the woods but me. Even so, I checked each camp site that I had marked with an eye. After that I walked along the highway into town where I cleaned the pieces of litter along the sidewalk and in the landscaping. I found a drunk transient man on the loading dock behind the library with beer cans around him. “No hanging out back here.” I said. “Where did you come from?” I asked.
“The bus.” He responded.
“Well I hope you plan on getting back on it this afternoon. There’s no staying in these woods anymore.” I said.
“Ok.” He said.
On the main street, I noticed Derek and Mandy sitting on the sidewalk in front of the closed down burger restaurant. Derek waved and I waved back. I walked to the other end of town and to the Community Center which I realized now was some kind of welfare establishment for the town’s less fortunate. Tara and the other staff were frequently occupied with the needs of townspeople and transients seeking charity until trimming season would begin. I checked in with Tara and informed her on the state of the woods and town. She suggested I attend the monthly town meeting which would be taking place the following day at the Community Services building. I told her I would attend. I also presented my idea of a cleanup task force and using Slate to help and the area behind the library to run it out of. She informed me that I might have some trouble convincing Slate to join my cleanup crew since he was actually one of the problems in town. She further informed me that he liked to hang out behind the library.
I left the community center and went back to the library loading dock which was now unoccupied. I picked up the empty cans of beer and a cigarette box left by the transient I had seen earlier. While cleaning, I checked out the single post holding up the roof of the loading dock that was rotted and in need of replacement. I pretended not to see Slate watching me from the mountain property across the back street from the library. I walked back down highway 96 looking closely down the driveway that led up the small mountain. There was a nice mountain style house, vineyards, and orchards. It looked too nice for Slate to be living in but he had mentioned that he stayed on the property in return for taking care of the grounds.
When I returned to the trailer camp behind the motel, I saw Fred sitting with Kenny and another man next to one of the shelters. The area was enclosed on the sides by tall bushes and a three foot tall, eight foot long gate made of 2x4’s and chicken wire with a wheel attached to the corner opposite the hinges. I approached the area and asked permission to enter. Fred and Kenny, the former Marines appreciated my formality. The other man eyed me. Fred granted my request and I rolled back the gate enough to enter and closed it behind me. Fred stood up and showed me around his newly created garden area. This was going to be where he was going to grow all his weed he proclaimed. He said he’d be rich and everybody would be rich. He offered me a seat with him and the two other men. Fred talked about the Marines. After, I told him I had run the airstrip like he said. “Well you gotta do it more than once. You gotta do it all the time. You think you’re tough?” He started again with another challenge. “Then you can walk down to the river at Kimtu beach and get in. Then swim down to Big Rock Park here.” He pointed to the park next to the motel property. “That’s a mile. See if you can swim it but be careful. It’s class three rapids. Wear a vest so you don’t die and only single knot your shoes in case they get caught and you need to pull them off.” We talked more and I brought up the other tenants Derek and Mandy. I suggested some caution with Derek. The men brushed me off and before I could speak any more about them, Mandy walked up to the gate and asked to come in. The three old men were happy to see the young woman in jean shorts so they invited her in quickly. “Dinner will be ready for you hard working boys in thirty minutes.” she said with too much familiarity. Derek watched her from outside their trailer. It was clear that he had sent her over and was observing the situation.
The next morning, I dressed in my new uniform and walked to the Town Services Building. About 30 members of the town gathered in the conference room in the back of the building which felt more like a ranger station than a municipal center. The five town council members sat at a table facing the audience of townspeople arranged in two columns. I took an empty seat in a row with two uniformed police officers, one a sheriff’s deputy and the other a state trooper. The president of the council, a large man in his 60’s, led the meeting and introduced reports from both police officers as well as the town supervisor. The police each gave basic reports and reassured the townspeople that even though their offices were located an hour away and they were not regularly present, they were still attempting to be responsive to crime in the town. Following these reports, the council president opened the floor to any public comments before ending the meeting. A hand shot up and was called upon as Mr. Taylor.
“What are we going to do about the depression era style transient camps that are up on the hill above the creek and all through the woods? I can see their lights at night. I can hear them shouting. There is trash everywhere and their waste is going into the drinking water. This has been a problem for years!” Mr. Taylor burst out hysterically.
The council president began to address this question obviously having no answer to give. I raised my hand. “Yes?” The president asked, glad for the interruption.
“As of now, there are no active camps in the woods around Willow Creek. I cleared out all the camps in the woods and all the trash throughout the woods. I got rid of all the campers at that large camp on top of the cliff and saw that the last of them got on the bus for the coast. I dismantled the camp and covered the trail.” I said to the room.
Mr. Taylor’s mouth was open as he stared at me with the rest of the townspeople who had all turned to look as I spoke. “Well, thank you.” Said the stunned council president. “If there is nothing else, we will close this meeting.” The sheriff’s deputy, I now knew as Sheriff Gary from his speech, stared at me through his thick glasses.
After the meeting, I reported about the meeting to Tara at the Community Center then walked through town, cleaning up the litter. Derek and Mandy dragged their two dogs down the main street and stopped to greet me in front of the museum. Derek pulled out a thick pre-rolled joint, stuck it in his mouth, tilted his head to the side and lit it. He pulled a few deep breaths through it, making the tip glow red and the white paper turn dark. He blew a huge cloud into the air. He puffed again while Mandy asked me where I had been and I answered. Derek held out his arm and the joint to me. I gently declined which caused Derek’s eyes to cinch and face to crinkle with suspicion. “Here Mama, take this joint!” Derek near shouted.
“What? No. What are you doing smoking a joint in the middle of town?” Mandy responded. Derek scowled at me.
“Getting high Mama.” Derek said with some resistance to her. I left them to their joint and dogs with the true excuse of running errands. Knowing that they would not be there, I investigated the closed burger restaurant that I’d seen them sitting in front of. I didn’t find anything except an empty restaurant, which being closed, amounted to 25 feet of sidewalk that I figured Derek considered an unclaimed piece of territory on the main street of town and therefore his.
Back at the Willow Creek Motel, Michael was eager to inform me that our clone plants (beginner cannabis plants started from the cut off branch of another plant) would be arriving tomorrow. That evening, I attended quiet prayer time at the Willow Creek Church where I could see the preacher’s description from Revelation 17 as Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem in a vision on the white walls of the church. After that I went to the Forks Tavern. There I had three beers, tipped heavy, and saw Derek’s new business partner acting drunk and weird until the bartender kicked him out.
The next day, Derek and Mandy told those who would listen around the trailer camp that their friend had left town. Almost instantly, another man appeared. This one was named Jason. He was a young forty with greying hair and energy to party. He moved into Derek and Mandy’s small trailer but now the three of them were outside smoking cigarettes, weed, and some cannabis sludge that Derek had created by soaking weed trimmings in butane. The two men drank beer and vodka. It was getting warmer now so Derek was shirtless.
The same day, the clone plants I had ordered with Michael were delivered to the motel. A few hours after I had given him one hundred dollars, he knocked on my trailer door. When I stepped out of my trailer, he showed off ten plastic pots each with a different strain of cannabis plant growing about a foot tall. Another ten were arranged outside of his trailer. We tucked them away inside our trailers and walked to the Landscaping Supply Store on highway 299 just outside of town to the East. There we purchased our big bags of soil, 30 gallon plastic planting bags, and various nutrients including bat guano. We paid one of the young workers to use his pickup truck to drop the soil off at the motel and then we walked back to begin preparing our gardens. I opted to plant half of mine directly in the ground and dug five holes about two feet deep in the area which Fred had designated as my garden area. This area was not next to my trailer but instead was about 30 feet from away with two sheds and an empty trailer in between. In the area directly adjacent to my trailer, I built two large wooden planter boxes and set out two of the plastic planter bags. Later, the motel tenants watched as we opened a gate and let the pick up truck loaded with bags of soil idle down the path to the trailer camp. As Michael and I unloaded, Derek watched from a distance with a jealous scowl.
I filled the holes, planter boxes, and plastic planter bags with the soil and transplanted the cannabis clones into the fresh soil. I taped a copy of my California 215 license on my trailer window after first blacking out my name. Fred informally inspected what we had done and approved. He said his plants would be coming soon. Though he hadn’t yet begun his growing operation, that evening Derek hosted a “Season Opening” party outside his trailer. I stayed in my trailer listening as he howled long into the night, continuously raising his beer bottle up to toast himself and how much he was going to grow this season.
In the morning, I filled up water jugs at the hose spigot and poured it out on each of my new plants. After that, I ran over to the airstrip. Instead of just the airstrip, I found enjoyment in running an obstacle course of the old highway equipment next to it. I balanced on pipes, hopped over rails, and climbed the stacks of concrete barriers that were all set up in a line. After that I went back to my trailer, took a nap, then showered in the outhouse. I put on my uniform, then walked up the road, crossed the bridge and cut down the trail underneath the bridge. Even with my patrol, I would often find temporary camps made up between the framing of the bridge. I found a bed of cardboard boxes, picked them up, and carried them out. I dropped the bag and the cardboard in the dumpster at the Town Services Building. I went inside and introduced myself to the secretary, a woman in her 40’s. Otherwise the place was empty as she said it usually was except for meetings. I continued on to town and cleaned the main street, side street and the back streets. I returned the shopping carts strewn about the grocery store parking lot then went to the bus stop.
The bus was the major mode of access for the transients that came to Willow Creek. It would come to and from the coast in the morning and afternoon on weekdays. Those people getting off in the afternoon were there to stay the night or the entire weekend if it was a Friday. I had learned that I could cut the transients off before they set up camps in the woods by meeting them as soon as they got off the bus and letting them know that I was watching these woods. There weren't any transients on today’s bus.
The next day, I put on jeans, a shirt, and a pair of shoes knotted just once. I walked across the bridge, through town, took the back street and followed it around the mountain and back toward the Kimtu Park river beach. While walking on the road, I felt a slap on my back. Slate pedaled a bicycle and looked back at me and smiled. He rode on. I passed by a baseball diamond where a game was going on. A couple deputies stood watching. One I recognized from the council meetings so I approached him and introduced myself. He told me his name was Sheriff Gary. I showed him my license and briefly told him my story, permitting him to check into my past if he liked since I was new in town and recognized the uniqueness of my volunteer work.
When I reached the beach, there were people there wading and lounging on the sand and rocks. It was early May so the water was flowing and cold. Without hesitation or preparation, I walked into the water until I was chest high in the center of the river. The people on the beach watched as I began to swim away with the slow current. The water was far colder than I expected but the motion of swimming was warming me and the current was slow enough to take a break. I attempted to put my feet down but found that I did not have the strength to stabilize myself against the flow. I kicked my lower half back up into a swimming stroke figuring that now I’d use the current to help me swim faster. I realized I was no longer swimming with current but trying to keep myself floating on top of it as it carried me. The water became too fast to swim in so I turned around and onto my back attempting to keep my feet up in front of me. Huge boulders were visible on the bottom of the river which was less than two feet away. I steered myself through the glimmering trail reflected on the water and towards areas I hoped had more depth. With each set of boulders I passed, I considered the possibility of catching my foot, breaking my leg, and swaying away in the cold current until someone found me. I kept my body on the surface until the current slowed and I couldn’t see any more boulders in the water beneath me. The rapids were over but now I was treading in deep water and feeling the cold to the core of my body. I could see the woods of Willow Creeks were on my left with the Willow Creek beach about 200 feet in front of me. Feeling cold deeper than I had felt before, I ached to get out of the water. I knew I couldn’t make it to the beach in front of me. To my right on the opposite shore was some wilderness with another small sandy beach. I swam then waded then stumbled on a bed of stones then fell onto the sand. I rolled on my back and felt the sun-warmed sand. In contrast to the water it felt hot. I pulled piles of it next to me and on top of me until I was buried in the warmth. I laid there for a while. I knew I was on the opposite side of the river from the town and the motel and that in order to get back, I’d have to walk miles to get back the way I came, then walk through town, wet and defeated by the river. I laid for a while longer, soaking in the warmth of the sand and sun until I heard one of Fred’s roosters. The noise sounded close. I opened my eyes and could see the trailer was directly across the river. I decided I was warm enough to swim across it so I got up out of the sand, waded in and swam across the cold river to the woods connecting Fred’s property to the beach. I crawled out of the river before I had finished thinking about getting in it and sloshed up the short trail to the backside of the trailer camp. I put on fresh clothes and laid into the full size bed with my cats until evening when I heard Derek and Jason starting to party.
I watched Derek, Mandy, Jason, and two others; an old Mexican man and a small, young man who, like Derek, had no shirt on. Derek was in his element. His favorite rap music played loudly out of a mini speaker system plugged into a discman he had purchased from the thrift store in town. Jason was reclined in a plastic lounge chair smoking a cigarette and sipping out of a bottle of vodka he kept picking up off the ground. Apparently Fred had gone out of town so Derek was taking this opportunity to be louder than usual. He shouted of his desires to take over the town, making it a place like he likes. “Like that night we were sitting in town blasting dubstep music into the mountains from the speakers in our van.” He said. He continued spewing out his plan that included first taking over the Willow Creek Motel since “Fred’s way was the old way.” His guests and Mandy encouraged him with laughs and vulgar affirmations.
The next morning, I dressed in my sport coat and walked to the Willow Creek Community Church as I had been. I listened as the members shared some successes in the form of new petitions asking for continued healing and guidance that they had been experiencing. The young couple was gone but so too was the young girl’s brother’s giardia. The drug problems were being rehabilitated. The Pastor spoke of an upcoming dinner which he asked all to consider their dietary health when bringing a dish to pass.
From the church I walked across the street to the hardware store. There I purchased an eight foot long 4”x6” post. I carried it on my shoulder down the street to the library loading dock. As I neared the back of the library, I saw Slate watching from across the street. He came running over to the dock as I held the new post up to check it against the old broken one.
“You can’t do that!” Slate shouted. He puffed up his chest and stepped in my face.
“I’m not doing anything today. I’m just checking to see if it fits.” I said calmly.
“You ain’t fixing nothing.” Slate said defiantly.
“Oh, you’re going to stand in my way?” I asked.
“Yeah, I am.” He puffed up.
“You’re going to stop me from cleaning this place up and fixing the broken post? Why would you do that?” I genuinely asked. He couldn’t answer. “Oh,” I figured it out and went on, “because it’s your broken post. You’re not going to stop me Slate. I’m going to clean this whole town up.” I said as I threw the new post down in the grass next to the building. “I’ll be back tomorrow to install that. Don’t you steal it.” I said as I walked away and back down the highway towards the motel.
I visited with my cats in my trailer, changed my clothes then I walked across the street, up the mountain, down the driveway and into the property that I now knew belonged to Mr. Taylor. I still visited the place nearly every day. I returned to the Willow Creek Motel where I found Fred had also returned and was working in his garden. Two rows of fifteen plastic plant bags were laid out. Kenny was filling a bag behind Fred as he gently packed the dirt around a cannabis clone he had just planted. I told him what Derek had said and done the previous night since it was his place and I didn’t think it was right. “He said that?!” Fred asked. “Well, what can I do about it?”
“Kick them out.” I said.
“They live here. I can’t kick them out.” Fred said. “But they won’t be coming here, not in this garden.” He continued, now splashing some water out of a hose in his hand.
“Hey, can you hose off my feet?” asked Mandy from behind the rolling gate of the garden apparently to Fred and his hose. Kenny looked up.
“Sure thing.” Said Fred as Mandy rolled open the gate and stepped inside the garden. Kenny took a break from packing soil to watch Fred enthusiastically hose Mandy’s bare feet.
She surveyed the garden as she stepped up and down in the stream of water. “Do ya’ll need any help.”
Fred said no. Mandy said she’d make them dinner. Derek again watched from his trailer.
The next day I did as I’d been doing. I patrolled the creek side woods but now I was running through them. I rang my bell at a fresh tent and spoke to two young men who came out. I informed them that I was part of a group called the Watchers of the Willow Creek and that I was tasked with keeping the woods and creek clean. They asked how they could join. I told them if they wanted to help they could pick up garbage anywhere in the woods or town. Later in the day, I checked in with Tara. After updating her on the status of the woods and the town, she once again invited me to join her at the Catholic Church she attended each Sunday. She confessed that she could use some help as the music director at the church and would like it if I could help sing and play the Mass on my guitar. I agreed and she agreed to pick me up at the motel on her way. After that, I stopped at the library loading dock. The post I had set on the ground was gone. I continued my walk back down Highway 96, this time noticing that the highway was flanked on both sides by mild cliffs creating a corridor out of the highway. On the cliff above I now saw Slate watching me. He whistled a tune loudly to intimidate me.
That evening, I went to the Forks tavern. I drank a few beers then left. As I walked back down Highway 96 and past Slate’s mountain, I started ringing my bell. Like a summoned demon, Slate appeared out of the brush and on the road. “What’s all the commotion?” He asked aggressively. I could smell alcohol on him.
“I’m just rustling out the campers on the Willow Creek and I’ve been wondering Slate, Where’s your camp? Why don’t you invite me over to your home?” I said making an advance for the little trail he had just jumped out of. He jumped in my way and puffed up his chest. “There’s no camping on the Willow Creek.” I taunted him. He fumed in my face. He was drunk. I began walking backwards up the highway and coaxing him toward town and the tavern. I rang my bell hard as we reached the intersection of the two highways with the single stop light. A few people came out of the tavern to find Slate and I in a confrontation in the middle of the intersection.
“Let’s go Slate. Show me how they handle things out here in the wild.” I challenged him. I could see him shaking while he pumped himself up. I talked fast. “You see, I know why you won’t let me clean up behind the library. It’s because you think it’s yours. You think this whole town is yours. But if it was yours Slate, you’d take care of it. You wouldn’t need a guy to come in and clean up all your woods and your town. But you don’t do anything. You’re just a drunk dude living in a tarp like the rest of those people. You’ve just been here longer. If you’re no good for this town, I’ll root you out just like I did to them.”
“You ain’t gonna do shit.” Slate stammered.
“I’m already doing it. Go back to your tarp tent Slate. I’ll come find you.”
“I’ll be waiting with my chainsaw.” Slate responded.
“Hey! I called the cops.” Said one of the bystanders in front of the tavern.
“Good.” I said. “This guy is threatening me with a chainsaw.”
Slate scurried off into the dark and I went back into the tavern. More than a half hour later, a sheriff’s deputy arrived and took my statement then drove me back to the motel.
The next day, I went to town with a shovel. As soon as I reached town, Slate confronted me in the parking lot of the museum. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. “Where’s your chainsaw?” I mocked him. He rushed at me but I held out the shovel and he backed up and took off behind the museum. I went to the Community Center and reported to Tara what had happened. Out of concern, she led me to an office in the back of the building, took the shovel from me, and shut the door. A short while later the door opened and a young Sheriff’s Deputy stepped in.
“What’s going on?” He said.
“Nothing. I have a little problem with that Slate guy.” I said.
“Ok. Were you the one we came out here for last night? You were fighting with Slate?” the deputy said.
“Yeah that was me. From what I hear, he’s been a problem here for a long time.” I said.
“Well right now the problem is you. Don’t you see why it would be concerning for there to be a guy in all black coming into town with a shovel?” he said.
“I’m just cleaning up the woods and I needed to break up some trails with my shovel.” I said.
“Look, we appreciate what you did with the woods and all but I think it’s time you disband.” the deputy said.
I laughed. “Are you going to clean the woods?” I said.
“No.” He responded.
“Ok. Then I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.” I said.
The deputy looked at me for a moment and sighed. “Ok. At least just go home for today. And leave the shovel here.”
“Fine.” I agreed. We walked out together and Tara told me she would drop my shovel off to me later.
After that, I walked back to the motel. I didn’t see Slate. I opted to relax that afternoon, sitting in a chair outside my trailer and lightly strumming my acoustic guitar. Within a few moments I heard Slate’s whistle. Above and behind the rows of bushes behind Ted’s garden I spotted Slate’s straw hat. I ducked behind the trailer next to mine and waited as he and his whistle passed by and walked up to the motel buildings. I followed behind him and hid behind a truck as he interacted with the motel tenants. I overheard him as he asked them about me. I stepped out from behind the truck and strummed my guitar. I continued to strum as Slate advanced toward me. I switched from holding the guitar as an instrument to gripping it as a weapon with both hands backwards on the neck. Slate made a hard lunge at me.
“Slate!” Tammy yelled, stopping him. “Walk away Slate.” She continued. Slate huffed and walked over to her. After a few minutes of talking, Slate got into Tammy’s rusted suv. She honked as she pulled out of the motel presumably taking Slate back to town. He waved at me and whistled.
The next morning I woke in my trailer to the sound of a vehicle and Michaell’s voice excitedly directing the driver. A pickup truck pulled away as I came out of my trailer. Michael beckoned me over to a messy pile of small cannabis plants with root balls attached to loose soil. The plants were flat but they were alive. “They’re all clones!” Mitchell said. “Someone got kicked out of the apartment complex outside of town and he had all these plants growing in there. He just threw them out back in a pile.”
The pickup pulled away as Derek, Mandy, and Jason came over. Derek shoved at Jason urging him to ask “Where’d you find these?”
Michael pointed in the direction of the apartments where he had found them and explained the scenario. “There’s still some there but I got all the good ones.” He said. Derek and Jason turned quick and hustled out from the trailer camp.
After they had left, I asked Michael where he intended to plant all these clones. He pointed to an overgrown and overlooked two tiered garden area next to our trailers. With Fred’s reluctant permission, we began to clear out the weeds and large growth revealing a two tiered garden bed about thiry feet long. Michaell went to town to order more soil from the nursery. When he returned, I had cleared the garden bed and we began digging holes for the plants. Derek and Justin returned carrying buckets filled with withering clones and clutching some in their arms. Derek’s eyes widened as he looked at the newly cleared garden bed. The bed was nowhere near his trailer but his trailer area didn’t offer any open land to plant in and he had no money for plant bags or soil. Michael and I continued our work while Derek watched. It was only afternoon as Michaell and I finished planting the last of the found clones. Justin sidled up to us as we looked over the bed.
“There’s still a lot of space in this bed.” Justin said. “And it’s got it’s own hose spigot. Would you guys mind if I planted the clones that I got today in here?”
Michael and I both attempted to put the decision off on Fred who we knew Justin would not approach. Justin persisted with us until Michael relented and gave up the far side of the bed to Justin first specifying that it was for just his plants and no one else’s. Justin beamed with gratitude and within minutes was digging in the bed with Derek.
I immediately approached and questioned Justin. “I thought you said this was for your plants.” I said.
“Well it is but Derek and I are going in on these plants together so they are our plants.” Justin responded, twisting our approval to include the person we were trying to keep out. I walked him away from Derek.
“We didn’t want him over here. He’s going to cause problems.” I said.
“He just put it on me,” said Justin, “but I’ll keep him in line.”
“Sure you will.” I said. We looked over at Derek as he took a break from shoveling to scratch his shirtless stomach, lift his arm, scratch his armpit then smell his fingers. He smiled once again showing off the gaps where his teeth should be. I went into my trailer where I could now see the garden bed and Derek through the upper small window above my bed. A few hours later I emerged to water my plants as I had been doing each night. I gathered my plastic jugs to take over to the water spigot next to the bed but Derek and Mandy were sitting in two plastic lawn chairs on the path connecting my trailer to the garden beds as it overlooked the two tiered bed. Both of them had bottles of beer. I went around them to the spigot where I found a new hose connected.
“Don’t disconnect that hose.” Derek commanded from his chair.
I twisted it off. “I need to water my plants.” I continued. “Are you guys going to be hanging out there?”
“Yup.” He said with unnecessary defiance.
“Ok.” I stepped through the bed and onto the other side of the trail. “Well, I do this two times a day and that spigot is for everybody to use.” I finished as I dumped my jugs out over the base of my plants. I filled up my jugs again and walked the water over the plants outside my trailer. I went back into my trailer and watched Derek and Mandy from the small window. Derek mocked me and Mandy forced a laugh.
A short while later, they were both gone, as I left my trailer with my guitar and headed to town. I had previously made arrangements with Tara to stop at the Community Center and show her how I played guitar. She opened the door to my knock, shooing out the last of the needy Willow Creekers who lingered and used up the resources of the place. She cleaned up in her office and joined me in the main room of the center where she opened her acoustic guitar. She sat it on her lap and asked me to play a song. I played an original song about the moon and the stars which she enjoyed. She said I would do perfect in Church and laid out a few sheets of music. She tested my knowledge of chords and my ability to read music which was little. She showed me how to read the chords and then quickly started to play hymns with quick changing notes. I attempted to keep up and failed but still she insisted that I join her at Church this Sunday and assured me I was good enough to play the Mass. I agreed and arranged for her to pick me up out front of the Willow Creek Motel on her way to Mass.
“You live at the Willow Creek Motel?” Tara asked with surprise.
“Yes, behind it in the trailers. Where did you think I lived?” I replied.
“I thought you stayed in the woods.” She said.
“In a tent?” I laughed.
“Yes.” She confessed. “I wondered why you were always so clean.”
“Because I live in a trailer with electricity and a closet. We have a bathroom with a shower.” I said.
“Well that makes sense.” She said. We finished up our meeting and I went back to the motel, dropped my guitar, petted my cats, and left again for the woods. My spontaneous patrol turned up two transient dudes, one a young man, the other a typical white hair, ponch belly, shirtless, cargo shorts wearing old man. They were crouching over a fire and cooking crawfish. They had already started a pile of empty beer cans. I skipped across some boulders and landed like a bird on the shore in their camp.
“Did you get those crawfish out of the Willow Creek?” I asked them with feigned enthusiasm.
“Yeah, we did!” The old traveler responded with pride.
I changed to an authoritative tone. “Well there’s no fishing or taking crawfish from the creek. There’s no camping on the creek either. And there’s no drinking in these woods. Are you two planning to spend the night here?”
The old traveler was taken aback. “We can take the crawfish from the creek.” he sputtered.
“No, you can’t. You don’t live here. This isn’t your town, or your woods, or your creek, or your crawfish so you can’t take them or camp here.” I spoke sharply.
“Man, who are you?” The old man shot at me.
“I’m the guy that cleans these woods.” I said. “And you guys are already dirtying it up. Look at these beer cans.” I pointed to their pile of cans then pointed to the circle of rocks around the fire. “And you’re not supposed to have a fire in these woods. You built a fire pit.” I pointed at the circle of rocks they had constructed.
“We didn’t build that. It was here. And those ain’t our cans.” lied the old man as he stood holding a full can of beer that matched the empties in the pile.
“Well good. I’ll clean them up then. That’s what I do here.” I said as I gathered up the empty cans into a plastic bag that was also on the ground. “And I’ll be back here to break down this fire pit first thing in the morning.” Without waiting for any more of his excuses, I leapt across the boulders and went back to the motel. I settled into my trailer, fed my cats and rested.
In the morning, I dressed and made my way to the town meeting. I stopped first at the site where I had confronted the crawfish cooking transients the previous evening. They were gone but had left behind the remaining beer cans, a bedroll and the crawfish shells. I dismantled the fire pit by crouching over it and throwing the rocks in different directions to make them harder to regather. I picked up the old bed roll and brought it with me as I walked up a trail to the Town Services Building. I threw the roll into the town dumpster and entered into the Town hall where the usual thirty or so people gathered. I took an open seat in the row with the Sheriff’s Deputy, Highway Patrolman, and Park Ranger. I listened as each gave a report about how their departments were still attempting to achieve better response times to calls from the town. The council chairman next asked me to give a brief report about the status of the woods.
I stood and explained that the woods were empty from the river all the way to the cliff overlooking the small waterfall. I reported that I had found a couple guys cooking crawfish on the creek bed last night but that as of this morning, I had shaken them out and cleaned up their site. The town members nodded and laughed lightly at my little story. The Chairman moved on to the next agenda item which he quickly glossed over as he had done the previous month.
“Item 9.9; the Downtown Street Issue and Transient Committee has not met.” He stated.
I raised my hand to which he called on me. “What is the Downtown Street Issue Committee and how do I join it?” I asked. “That seems to be the biggest issue in this place.”
“It’s yours.” the Chairman said easily. “Nobody is on it. So it’s your committee if you want to be on it.”
“Ok.” I said.
With no other business, the Chairman closed the meeting. Following the meeting, I walked through the town, picking up litter. Hank was sitting in front of the closed down burger stand. I patrolled the creek side woods and went back to my trailer.
I stayed for a while enjoying the camp without Derek in it until I heard his voice. He was fighting with Mandy on the trail directly outside my trailer. He fumed as he accused her of spending time with men around the motel camp while he was gone one day.
“You’re my fiance!” he screamed.
“Well maybe if you gave me a ring people would know that.” Mandy retorted.
My trailer rocked as Derek shoved Mandy into the outside wall. I stayed quiet as Derek seethed. “I told you I was gonna get my momma’s ring! Don’t you ever say something like that to me again.” He finished as they continued their walk down the trail and back to their own area. Within a few moments, they were both sitting in the plastic chairs on the trail near the new garden bed with beers and cigarettes in their hands.
I left my trailer and went to the Big Rock park next door. I went down by the river where the rocks stuck out of the water and hopped as fast as I could from rock to rock.
The next day, I went swimming in the river and held large flat stones as weighted fins. As I swam out deeper I heard the familiar whistle of Slate. He sat peering at me from the woods as he was peering at the few others lounging on the little beach. I swam past him a few more times making it clear I had rocks in my hands. His whistle tapered off as I swam back to the beach.
The next day I went to town and visited each of the businesses. I introduced myself and let them know about my new role in the Downtown Street Issue and Transient committee. I asked them what problems they faced as business owners in Willow Creek. Each responded with the same complaint about the transients in the woods that occupy the town streets during the day. I was told again about how the transients or “trimmigrants” would trash the town, commit crime, and never spend any money. The transients would get trimming jobs on cannabis farms out of town then never come back and spend the money they got paid. I told the business owners that I had cleared out the woods and I would meet the seasonal rush when it arrived.
After that, I met Tara at the Community Center where she informed me that she had a new project and needed my help. We would be running irrigation hoses to garden beds at the school. I agreed to meet her after work. I patrolled the woods then went back. She drove us in her little sedan to the garden supply center just outside of town. We passed Slate who was now walking around in his hat and shorts but no shirt. I explained that I still intended to get Slate to start cleaning up around town. Tara laughed. We passed Derek who was sitting in front of the empty burger restaurant. Derek’s eyes met mine as we passed and he scowled at me being in the car with Tara. Tara had known Derek and Mandy from their previous two years in Willow Creek and she excused his loitering behavior as him not being able to leave behind his old life as a transient. I lightly insisted he was up to something but let it go as we gathered the things we needed for the irrigation job. Derek was still in front of the burger place when we drove back through town and to the school down highway 96 past the Willow Creek motel. School was out so the building and grounds were empty. We went to work laying out hoses to a dozen wooden boxes that had previously been constructed. We finished what we could for the day then Tara drove me back to the motel. Down at the trailer camp, Derek and Justin were arguing in the tiered garden. Derek was shouting as he pointed at the plants. “That one’s mine! And that one’s mine! And all the sour diesel!”
“Well what do I get?” asked Justin.
“You get those three.” Derek said and pointed to a few plants.
“Why do I get three and you get seven?” Justin begged.
“Because we don’t know how many of these are going to be male so I need to make sure I get my five females.” Derek reasoned.
“Bull shit.” said Justin. “You get five. I get five.”
“Fine.” Derek agreed.
“Watch, they are probably all going to be males.” Michael whispered to me.
“What happens if they’re male?” I asked.
“You have to throw them away. They don’t grow buds and they will pollinate the females so those wont grow buds either.” Michael explained. Jason walked over to us.
“Derek screwed me.” Justin said.
“No kidding.” I said.
“He got into a fight with me over the plants so he could force us to split them.” Justin said.
“He’s going to take over the whole garden. I told you.” I said. We all looked over as Derek caressed his plants.
“My plants are in there too. He’s not taking over.” said Michael. Derek sat back down in his plastic chair and looked at us. An hour or so later, he and Mandy were gone so I unhooked the hose, filled my jugs and threw Derek’s chairs off the trail, then watered my garden on the other side.
In the morning, Derek was screaming about his chairs being moved. I didn’t bother with his tantrum and instead went into town and took the bus to the town of Weaverville located about two hours East. I toured the museum and the historical buildings preserved in the downtown area. I stopped at the police station and asked them about their transient activity. They said they expected them to start showing up soon. I stopped for food and a few beers at a tavern then got back on the bus. Another man on the bus was noticeably intoxicated and he struck up a conversation with me. He said he had heard of me for what I had been doing in Willow Creek and cleaning the woods. He warned me about drinking. “I know you’re running around on rocks and trees out there. If you fell, no one would ever find you.”
Back at the motel, Derek and Mandy were in their chairs by the garden. I spent some time with my cats then went across the street to the field and the creek. I jumped from one stone to another and just like the man said, I almost slipped. I looked at the water and remembered that I am the only one coming back here and being on any alcohol was a liability. When I got back to the motel trailer camp, it was near dark, Derek and Mandy had removed themselves from the garden and were in their trailer judging by the light in their windows and the music coming out of it. I went out to water my plants and found their chairs set up to block the path to my garden. I picked up their chairs and threw them into their garden area.
In the morning Derek was screaming again, this time about the chairs, claiming whoever threw them into the garden had damaged two branches on his plants and he wanted retribution. “Branch for branch!” Derek yelled. “I want to know who did it and I want to break two of their branches off.” I watched him from my trailer until he went away, presumably to go sit in front of the burger place. I picked two branches from my plants and broke them off. I then went and threw them on the ground in front of Derek and Mandy’s trailer door then went to do a woods patrol. When I came back to the motel, Derek and Mandy were drinking. I stepped inside my trailer and immediately heard a hard knock. Derek was on my step with a half finished beer in one hand and my broken branches in his other hand. “Which one of my plants did you pull these off of?” He demanded.
“They're not yours Derek. You said branch for branch now what are you going to do?” I said through the window.
“These are yours?” He asked, confused.
“Who did you think they were, you idiot? Now why are you on my doorstep with a beer in your hand like you're going to do something? Get out of my area.” I said.
Derek looked at the window my voice was coming from where happened to hang my cannabis growers license with my name blacked out. “Why are you hiding your name? You must be on some kind of registry. We’re going to find out and you’re out of here.”
“Have fun Derek.” I said as I popped my hand in front of the curtain and waved at him. “Now get out of here.” Derek fumed as he walked away.
The next day Tara picked me up for another day of work at the school garden. When I got into her car, I could tell she was uncomfortable. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I was told some things about you.” She said.
“By Derek and Mandy?” I asked.
“Yes.” She said.
“Well, I’m in a fight with them because Derek is a bad person so of course he is saying bad things to you about me. What’s he saying?”
He said that you’re running from the law and that you are a into all sorts of bad stuff." She said carefully.
"Do you believe what they are saying?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” She said.
“Well, I’ve only been here a little bit but I’ve just been volunteering, and going to Church with you and working on the garden. Does what they are saying about me make any sense?”
“No.” She said.
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I gave Sheriff Gary my ID as soon as I got here so he’d know who I was. You can ask him about my background if you like. I don’t have anything to hide. But beware of people who make false accusations like that about others. Like I’m telling you and Fred, they are not good people.” I said. Tara was appeased and so we spent another couple hours working on hooking up the irrigation system at the school garden. Derek fumed as he watched Tara drop me off afterwards.
I waited until Derek and Mandy gave up their plastic chair post then watered my plants, disconnecting Derek’s hose to do so. After I finished filling my jugs, I only lightly screwed his hose back on to the spigot so it would leak when Derek turned it on. In the morning, I heard Derek cursing and shouting about how he was all wet. I stayed in my trailer until they left to go sit in front of the burger place. After they left, I dug up the plants I had in the ground in the garden from my trailer. I transplanted them into large planter bags right outside my trailer door then set to work at building a fence to enclose my area. I found a pile of old wood by the dumpster of the motel and collected every piece I could use. I built two wooden boxes and mounted the fence posts into them then filled it with rocks and dirt. I found some long and weathered 2x6’s I cut down and used as fence pickets.
Derek and Mandy gawked and scoffed when they returned and saw my new set up. Derek then went to the wood pile, found an intact shipping pallet, painted it red, and leaned it up against his trailer as his own fence. Now that my plants were moved, they chose not to sit in their usual spot overlooking the tiered garden but instead stayed in their trailer pumping nasty rap music from Derek’s discman and speakers until someone from the motel yelled down for them to turn it off. That night, as I walked to the outhouse, a spotlight flicked on from the top of Derek and Mandy’s trailer. Derek held a handheld flashlight beam on me. “What the fuck are you doing?” He said. His dogs growled from inside his trailer.
“I’m going to the bathroom. What are you doing?” I responded sharply.
“I’m just protecting my house.” Derek said.
“From what?” I said.
“From you. And I got a shotgun too.” He said.
“Whatever Derek. Don’t be out here when I come back out or I’m calling the police.”
“Call ‘em.” He said.
When I walked back by he was inside his trailer. HIs motion sensor spotlight flicked back on and he yelled from inside. “Who the fuck is out there.” I continued to my trailer. A few minutes later, I saw the flash of the spotlight and heard Derek’s voice again, this time having the same conversation with Jason and then again with Michael as they each made their way to the bathroom. In the morning Derek’s music was again pumping out of his trailer. He seemed to have one compact disc he played over and over again. After the music shut off, I looked outside to see Derek and Mandy leaving for town. I went outside where Michael and Jason were already talking.
“What are we going to do about that spotlight?” I said.
“I called the police. He can’t stop me from going to the bathroom.” Michael said. Fred came down the trail and joined us as we each repeated our experience from last night.
“He’s allowed to have a light.” Fred said.
“Is he allowed to have a shotgun too? Because he said he had one in there.” I said.
“Well, I don’t know about that.” said Fred.
“You got to get him out of here.” I said.
“Now they live here the same as you. And I have compassion for people.” Fred said. “I can’t just kick them out.”
“Then they are just going to keep causing problems.” I finished as now Sheriff Gary walked down the trail and joined us. I listened as Michael and Jason told him their stories about Derek the previous night and then added that he had done the same to me. Sheriff Gary said there was nothing he could do about Derek and that he hadn’t broken the law. “Right now we just need to know if this guy actually has a gun in there.” I said pointing to Derek’s red trailer.
“How am I supposed to know that?” asked Sheriff Gary. We all looked at him for a minute. “No. He doesn’t have a gun.” he said.
“Fine.” I said. “He can’t be stopping people from using the bathroom either.”
“I’ll talk to him.” Fred said with resolve.
“What about his music?” I asked.
“I’ll talk to him, I said.” Fred said getting irritated.
After the conversation, Fred surprisingly walked Sheriff Gary over to his garden area to show off his numerous plants. Justin, Michael, and I continued our conversation about what to do about Derek. Justin confided that he had cancer and was not in a condition to deal with Derek’s antics. I said I would see what I could do about him. We asked Michael if had any access to cannabis which he said at this time of the summer, no one did. The plants we were all growing still didn’t have buds. They said Derek had tried to get them to go in on a pound with him for eight hundred dollars. I persuaded them not to do it. Later I watched as Derek walked a stranger with a backpack down to his trailer. The stranger left angry shouting at Derek.
The next day I took a trip to Arcata to visit the dispensary. I brought back a little for Michael and Justin and for myself. Michael was pleased with the delivery and pleased to introduce me to a young woman who he had met on the internet that had moved from the East coast to live with him in his trailer. Her name was Wanda and she was an artist. I left them as Michael was showing off his huge plants to Wanda. I went across the street to the area with the tree bridge and pool. This time, in addition to my painted eye, I noticed a yellow number marker I had not seen before. It was a marker for the rangers.
The next day, I walked North about a mile to the Ranger station. I let the receptionist know who I was and that I wanted to talk to a Ranger who was responsible for watching the nearby woods. Shortly after a woman with glasses in a ranger uniform came out to greet me. Her name tag said Gary just like the Sheriff’s Deputy. She brought me to her office where she informed me that she was Sheriff Gary’s wife and that she had heard about me since Sheriff Gary had trekked out to the site deep in the woods to confirm what I had said I had done. She said that she too wanted to see the site and I agreed to meet her in the creek side park shortly. We began our walk through the woods trail when Slate jumped out from behind a bush and darted towards me.
“Slate!” the Ranger shouted which stopped him in his tracks. He looked and saw who it was.
“I’m sorry Ranger. I was just showing him a candy wrapper.” Slate pointed at the ground to a piece of litter.
“Get going Slate.” she ordered. Slate slunk off and I picked up the wrapper. We continued our trek deep into the woods through the now overgrown trail. When we reached the site, we found it as natural as I had left it. No one had been there. The Ranger surveyed the clean site as I spotted a leftover piece of debris. I picked it up to see that it was an old ax with a broken handle. I showed it to the ranger.
“Looks like they left this back here.” I handed it to her. “Do you want to carry it?”
She looked at it and thought about it for a moment then declined and said I could carry it. I held it casually by my side as we left the woods and continued back out of the woods and nearby the creek. As we neared one of the marked sites by the creek, I saw the movement of people. We got closer and found a young man and woman, obviously transients, who had pitched camp.
“I’m sorry guys. There’s no camping here.” I stood on a mound overlooking the site with the ax in my hand at my side. The ranger stood next to me. The couple looked shocked as I continued. “This creek is the drinking water for the town so you can’t camp here or anywhere else in these woods. We do a regular patrol.” They looked at the ax and looked at the Ranger somewhat shocked. The Ranger shrugged at them.
“Well, where are we supposed to go?” the woman asked.
“There a campground one mile East for twenty dollars a night or another one two miles west that’s ten dollars.” said Ranger Gary. The couple looked at each other.
“Ok. We’re leaving.” said the man.
“I’ll be back in a little while to check.” I said smiling. The Ranger and I continued our walk out. “See, that’s all I do.” I said to her. She seemed impressed and told me she didn’t mind if I kept doing what I was doing.
The Ranger left me in the woods and without Slate to worry about, I wandered freely on the trails. Under the bridge I found an old man drinking a forty ounce bottle of beer. I sat down next to him. “There’s no drinking in these woods anymore.” I said politely.
“I always drink in these woods when I come here.” He said.
“Not anymore. Finish that and go. I’m sure you’ll leave the bottle so I’ll clean it up when I come back.” I said and stood up.
“What are you going to do?” He said.
“Oh, you know.” I said as I left.
When I got back to the motel trailer camp, I found just Derek working by himself in the tiered garden. I stood at my fence and stared at him.
"What the fuck are you looking at?" he shouted.
"I just wonder if you missing those nights back in jail when you used to cuddle up with your big daddy." I said stunning him.
"I'll fucking kill you." Derek hissed.
"Let's fight dude. Right now. In that little clearing right there." I said challenging him and pointing to a spot in the middle of all the trailers.
"Fine." He said while puffing up his shirtless chest and stepping out of the garden.
We stood for a moment about 10 feet from one another. I put up my hands. Derek unbuckled his belt, slipped it off from his waist and wrapped all around his fist. I sighed. He had no idea what he was doing. I envisioned the fight and envisioned the aftermath as he would accuse me of attacking him. I knew I needed a witness.
"Damn it Derek. Stay right here." I ran up the trail to the motel. There I found Kenny doing some chore. "Kenny, can you come down to the trailers? Derek and I are going to fight and I need a witness." I said to him.
"Yeah. I'll watch that." Kenny said. "We've all been wondering when you two were going to do it." He continued as we got to the bottom of the trail and into the area where I had left Derek. Derek had left the area and was now back in crouching in the garden.
"Alright Derek. Can you do this without taking all your clothes off?" I said. "Come on. Let's fight."
"What are you talking about?" Derek said.
"I'm giving you this opportunity. We have permission. Beat me and I'll leave." I said.
"I don't know what you're talking about." said Derek with a shake.
"Sorry Kenny. Not this time." I said.
The next morning, I got dressed for a town meeting. Derek and Mandy left for town at the same time I did. We walked along the highway on opposite sides. Derek started yelling over at me. “We’re telling everyone in town about you. You’ll be out of here, Matthias.”
“Told them what? That you and Mandy are drug dealers and you used to sell drugs in the woods and now you sit in front of the burger stand selling?” I retorted.
“What the fuck did you say?” Derek raged.
“Stop Derek. Shut up.” Mandy said to him.
“Derek and Mandy are drug dealers.” I sang as I dipped off the road and onto a trail that would lead me down to Town Services Building.
At the town meeting, I gave a report on the woods as the chairman and only member of the Street Transient Committee. Everyone was appreciative yet uneasy. They couldn’t believe that they didn’t have their usual transient population. I told them I would keep at my mission and warned them about the guy who sits in front of the closed down burger stand and the behavior of other more permanent residents that was generating the atmosphere which permitted the transient lawlessness.
When I returned to the motel camp, Justin was talking to Michael. He said he was moving back to Michigan for cancer treatment and family support. In his condition, he couldn’t be worrying about getting into a fight with Derek over their plants or for trying to use the outhouse at night. We looked over at Derek who was surveying his plants with his shirt off. Everyone’s plants were beginning to grow small buds. Derek rubbed sweat off his chest then touched it to a growing bud. Justin said unfortunately, he had given all of his plants to Derek. “These are all mine. This whole side of the garden.” Derek shouted at us.
The same day, I went to the grocery store where while I was shopping, I was confronted by Slate who was shirtless and drunk. “You better get out of here.” Slate slurred at me.
“Are you joking?” I said to him. “Why is there a drunk, shirtless guy harassing people in the store?!” I said loudly. “Where is the manager? Why is this shirtless, sweaty man by all the open food? Get this guy out of here.” I continued the barrage until Slate deflated, then walked out of the store. At the checkout, I asked the cashier why Slate was allowed to come in with out a shirt on. They said he just did it all the time. As I was checking out, another younger man who I had never seen before walked in without a shirt, picked a large beer from the cooler, and proceeded to check out at another register. “Why are all these men coming in here without shirts on? It’s disgusting.” I said. “Don’t serve him.”
The other cashier laughed. “Shut up bitch.” The man said to me.
“Why are you serving this unclothed man beer?” I ignored him and asked the cashier. “Stop. We don’t want shirtless dudes around our food.”
In the morning, I called the corporate headquarters for the grocery store and complained about shirtless men being allowed in. That day a new handwritten sign was posted on the glass door of the grocery store: “Shirt and Shoes required”. I cleaned up some litter in town then went to the woods. I walked my normal trails and checked the regular spots finding them all empty. I noticed litter across the creek in an area I had not been to before. I crossed the creek and came down to the area where I had seen the litter. In a small clearing of trees next to the creek was a filthy encampment. Dozens of flattened boxes lined the ground. Rotisserie chicken containers and bones were everywhere with beer cans, toiletry containers, plastic bags, and everything indicating that someone had been squatting there for a long time. The only thing of value was a coin purse stuffed with weird coins. I picked up the plastic bags and began gathering all the trash. I hauled the bags and cardboard out to the highway with trip after trip until the area was perfectly clean and natural again. I left the little purse in the center of the cleaned out area.
When I reached the road on my final trip, an old man with no shirt and a backpack was walking down the highway. “Hey! What the fuck are you doing?” He said as he passed all of the trash piled up in bags by the road.
“I’m cleaning up the woods. You can’t live down there especially like a slob. There was trash everywhere. You know that creek is the drinking water for the town.”
“I don’t give a fuck.” He said.
“I know. That’s why I moved all your shit out of the woods. Now it’s time for you to leave.” I said calmly.
“Who the fuck are you?” The transient old man fumed.
“I’m the watcher of Willow Creek. Now get going.” I said.
“I’m not leaving.” He said.
“Then I’ll keep coming back.” I said. “Don’t worry, this guy will take care of you.” I said as Sheriff Gary happened to pull off onto the side of the highway where we were.
“What’s going on here?” said Sheriff Gary.
“This guy was living in the woods, leaving trash everywhere. Look at all the trash I had to haul out.” I pointed to the bags and debris by the road.
“He stole my stuff!” The old guy shouted.
“I didn’t steal your stuff. It was all garbage down there except for your coin purse. I left that there.” I said. “Hold on.” I turned and ran back down to the campsite, grabbed the purse then threw it on the ground over to where Sheriff Gary and the old man were talking.
“Hey!” Sheriff Gary shouted at me.
“That’s it. There’s nothing else down there so he doesn’t need to go in these woods ever again.” I said to the sheriff. “Move on buddy.” I said to the guy.
“Matthias, that’s enough! Go home.” The Sheriff ordered me.
“I was.” I finished then crossed the street over to the motel. I got back to my trailer and visited with my cats. The wholesome flowery curtains, the thoughtful paint job, and companionship of my pets provided me sanctuary in between these strange confrontations I had been having. A pregnant calico cat also started coming around my little garden area so I began feeding her. I relaxed in my sanctuary until Derek and Mandy came trudging down the path from surely another day of sitting in front of the burger stand. Derek’s horrible rap music went on as soon as they got into their trailer. The ugly bass rumbled the otherwise quiet cannabis trailer camp. Today they were celebrating because Mandy had landed a job cleaning for some vacation lodges in town.
Throughout the rest of the summer I made myself at home. The calico cat had six kittens behind my trailer and left me two she wouldn’t carry to her new hideout. I brought the two kittens inside. I made a cage for them in the fridge nook and fed them with a bottle. Outside of my trailer life, I joined the Fire Safety Council and their adopt-a-highway litter cleanup program. I did a drywall job in another old building being renovated in town. I played the Mass with Tara every Sunday. I went to the seasonal festivals and exhibits of local artists at a small gallery. I also frequently stopped in the town museum with the large Bigfoot statue. It housed numerous bigfoot artifacts but also historical ones as well. Behind the building were a few old forges for traditional blacksmithing. A flyer was hung up indicating that a group of smiths were planning an event to be held there. I inquired with the museum and requested to use one of their forges for the event so as to learn.
I spent the day with the blacksmiths. They taught me how to shape the steel bars first into a hook, then into a meat skewer. Later, I made a spoon, then a fork. While working, I noticed one of the older ladies who works at the museum was having a conversation with two young transients laying in the small park next to the museum. I left my forge and asked her what was going on. She said they wouldn’t leave and were giving her trouble.
“What are you guys doing?” I asked them.
“Just walking this earth, man. Existing.” One of them said.
“I get it. We just have problems with transients in this town so the residents are concerned about people they don’t know around here. You guys aren’t planning on staying here are you? There’s no staying in these woods.” I said.
“No man. We’re not staying.” One said angrily.
“Well look, we have a bunch of blacksmiths making wrought iron over here. Why don’t you come check it out?” I said as I walked back to my forge. They looked at each other. A few minutes later, they were on their feet and touring through the smiths working on their forges. The young men came up to me at my forge.
“This was pretty cool. Thanks for inviting us in here.” One said.
“Sure thing. See you guys around.” I said as the men left for the bus stop. The smiths were happy to share my company and asked me to stay for dinner with them. I insisted I had to go to the grocery store and get back home to my cats. As I was leaving with my newly fashioned hook and meat skewer, I noticed another situation developing in the park next to the museum. A different young man, I had never seen before. was wildly exercising while grunting and yelling. The women with the smiths look on in fear. I walked over to him while staying about 15 feet away.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Just training.” He said while staring me in the eyes and jumping around. He started shadowboxing.
“For what?” I asked.
“Oh, you know.” He said.
“Well you’re making the other people in the park uncomfortable and we have an event here. Can you take your training somewhere else, maybe to a different park in town or just leave all together?” I asked. He stopped bouncing and boxing and looked at me. I started to walk away towards the grocery store.
“And what are you going to do if I don’t leave.” He challenged.
“Oh, you know. I’ll be right back.” I spun the meat skewer in my hand as I walked away.
I went shopping quickly then came back by the museum park on my way back to the motel. Everyone was sitting and eating now. They asked me to sit down and I did. The young man was still in the park watching but just sitting now on the grass.
“Hey!” He shouted over to me and stood up.
I excused myself from the blacksmith’s table and walked toward the man again. This time he pulled out a pair of nunchucks and began spinning them with some skill.
“What the fuck are you doing idiot? Put those away.” I said sharply.
He immediately unscrewed them and put them in his backpack on the ground. “I don’t need them he said as he removed his belt from his waist and snapped it between his hands.
“What the fuck are you going to do with that? Get out of here. Go sit at the busstop, then get on the bus and get out of here.” I said. Some of the blacksmiths were beginning to get up and come closer to the confrontation. The man grabbed his backpack and started walking down the road towards the woods. “Don’t be going in them woods. I will find you there.” I said. When I turned to walk back, one of the smiths was talking to a sheriff that had just pulled up.
“Where did he go?” The sheriff’s deputy asked me.
“Down the highway towards the creek.” I pointed. The deputy waved at another driving an suv who whipped out of the museum parking lot and down the highway. I ran over and popped up on the trail overlooking the road just as the police suv pulled up to the man. “Hey!” I shouted as he looked up and then at the police car. “Looks like you got a ride. See you later.” I mocked him. I rejoined the conversation with the blacksmith and the deputy where I recounted the event. The deputy said he’d be going to jail since nunchucks were illegal in California. As the deputy left to his own suv, I saw sheriff Gary waiting in the parking lot, watching the scene.
The blacksmith’s were elated by my action and one insisted on giving me a twenty dollar bill. I told him I didn’t need payment and that I was going to give it away and he said take it anyways.
I went back to the motel where Derek and Mandy were pumping his one cd out of their trailer. I had a feeling there were people in the woods so I went and did another patrol. At the site where I had previously found the crawfish cookers, now I found two transients, a man and woman who were both about 20 years old. She had blonde hair shaved on the side and looked like a gutter punk. He had long hair and hippy patchwork pants on. I told them there was no camping in these woods. The man sat and looked at the ground while the woman got up to face me. She was pretty and pleaded with me to let them stay. I gave them my usual speech about the creek and the drinking water and the campgrounds outside of town. I pulled from my pocket the twenty dollar bill from the blacksmith and offered it to them.
“We don’t need any money.” The young man laughed.
“Then why are you staying in the woods? You can’t stay here.” I said.
“Please.” The woman begged. “We need to be in Willow Creek. We will clean up and find somewhere else to stay tomorrow. Please.”
“Fine.” I conceded. “But I will be back tomorrow.”
In the morning, they were gone and the site was clean. When I got to town I found them with another young man named in the park by the museum.
“Hey! There’s our friend.” The girl shouted as I neared. They thanked me for letting them stay in the woods and told me they were looking for somewhere to stay in town until they got work on a weed farm. They gave me their “road names” Totanya, Rocky, and Sal, and said they were from Washington and Oregon and had been on the road and now they were here to be trimmers. I told them who I was and mentioned that Ted had a few more empty trailers. A few minutes later, I watched them from the trail overlooking the highway as they walked down to the motel. I continued on my errands in town and in the woods and by the time I returned to the trailer camp, the three were well settled on Ted’ property. Totonya sat smoking a cigarette on the ground beside a small truck bed camper propped up on stilts that had been empty until now. Her face lit up as she saw me. “It’s you! Look! I found a place to stay. The landlord gave me this trailer to stay in. Rocky and Sal are over in that one.” She spoke excitedly and pointed at another little trailer that had been vacant. “This place is amazing.” She continued while gazing at the various gardens of now budding plants that we had all been tending to throughout the summer. I walked past Derek’s glare and said hi to the two young men then went into my trailer.
At dusk, I ran on the rocks that stuck out from the river until I reached the willow creek beach. Two tents were popped up on the beach, staked and tied, zipped up for the night.
In the morning, I took the motel woods trail down to the beach where the tents were still up. I rang my bell. A tent unzipped and out popped a young man in a shirt and shorts.
“Bonjour.” He said.
“Bon-jour?” I said. “Are you from France?”
“Yes we are from France. We are traveling and are here to find work on the farms.” He said.
“Oh.” I said considering that word of the “watcher of Willow Creek” had probably not gone overseas. “You can’t stay on this beach.”
“Oh, we will only stay here until we can get work.” He said.
I sighed and looked around. They were on the river, down stream from the water treatment intake so they weren’t dirtying the drinking water. “Ok. I said. But no litter and you cannot stay here long.”
“But it is so beautiful.” He kidded. “Yes, we will go when we find work. We will keep it clean.” He said.
I left the tents on the beach and ran to each of my marked sites. At the site where the ranger and I had found the two earlier, I found a full encampment with multiple tents and a fire pit. The entrance to the site was a dirt mound that I used as a ramp and jumped down into the camp.
“Woah! Who are you?” said a man in a camouflage cap with an army ranger patch.
“I watch these woods. Who are are you guys?” I said, indicating he and the other tent that zipped open.
“I’m Jim Doyle, army ranger. Did eight tours of duty around the world.” said the guy in the hat.
The other guy stood up out of his tent and looked normal in a t-shirt and jeans.
“My name is Chris.” He said with a British accent.
“What are you doing here?’ I asked.
“I’m here to get a job on a farm, maybe doing security. But I’ll trim.” He said
“Same. Here for an adventure.” said the British guy.
“What about you?” the ranger asked me.
“I’ve been living here all year, kicking campers out of these woods and keeping them clean.” I explained.
“Ok. We’ll keep it clean.” said the ranger.
“Have you seen anyone else back in these woods?”
“A few people.” he said.
I told them I was headed to town but that I’d be stopping to check in on them. They didn’t seem to mind.
“You won’t catch me off guard.” said the ranger. The British guy asked if he could go to town with me. He said his name was John and he was taking a break from life and his marriage in California to have an adventure trimming in Humboldt County. He planned to make some money trimming and give his wife some time to work out homosexual feelings she was having. I took him out and up the trail I had learned from Slate. When we got to town there were numerous other new transients on the grass in front of the grocery store and in front of the park. John disappeared among them. I approached one skinny, young man dancing in shorts without a shirt.
“Where are you from?” I asked directly.
“Belgium.” He said and continued dancing.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Here for work on the farms.” He said.
“Well can you put a shirt on?” I asked.
“No. It’s too hot.” He said.
I walked through the small park next to the museum where there were more transients gathered. Totanya popped up from a spot on the ground with Rocky, Saul and some other transients I didn’t recognize.. “Hey, it’s our friend!” I walked over to them. “Look guys, this is the guy that goes around and cleans the woods.” she said excitedly. The new people averted their eyes from me.
“Well nobody is supposed to be camping in these woods.” I said.
“So many people are.” She said.
“So I see.” I said with restraint.
“We’re just trying to get jobs on the farms, man.” one of the new transients said.
“Yeah I know. But that creek is our drinking water. You guys can’t stay in these woods.” I said. “We’ll just be a couple days, man.” said another. As he spoke I felt the atmosphere shift. Slate emerged shirtless from the ditch and quickly ran at me. I dodged him.
“What are you doing Slate?” I asked calmly. Slate continued on toward the grocery store. “I hope you’re not thinking about going in there with no shirt on. They got a rule against that.” Slate pulled a t-shirt out of the waistband of his shorts and put it on then continued walking away.
“What was that?” asked Totonya.
“That guy is out in these woods too. I wouldn’t be staying there.” I said.
“We’re staying at the motel. We’re going to help you guys.” said Totonya.
When I got back to the motel, Derek’s van was in the parking lot. Down at the trailer camp, a tent was popped up next to Derek’s trailer. Next to Derek was a young transient. Derek pointed at me and whispered. I spent the evening with my cats then that night decided to go to the Forks tavern. I hadn’t been there since I’d given up drinking but I had a feeling that all the people I’d been seeing in town lately would be there. The place was busier than I had ever seen it. Not only was the bar full, but every table and all the standing room. Hip hop played out of the digital juke box. I found the ranger and John from Britain who were happy to see me and sat at their table. The ranger told me a few stories about people he had talked to about farm jobs and John talked about his estranged wife.
In the morning I crept around my usual patrol route checking out the tents that now occupied the woods I had maintained all summer. The tents were still on the beach. I crossed the creek and ran through the creek side woods. I slowed down as I neared the ranger and John’s camp, then I heard a whistle.
“Got ya.” said the ranger from a crouched position in the brush. He popped up. “You gotta be better than that. You’d be dead. C’mon down.” He said pointing at their camp. John was up too and they were cooking bacon breakfast over a fire they had made. Their camp was clean and everything was inside their tents. John again went with me to town. A few of the young transients I had seen the day before stood in a line outside the bathroom near the bus stop. I left John outside the cafe where he was desperately trying to connect with his estranged wife via wifi. The shirtless man from Belgium was out front of the nature food store kicking a beach ball with some other young transients. The owner of the store stood out front fretting.
“They never spend any money. They just hang out in front and everyone is afraid to come in.” the owner complained to me. I went into the store and bought a six pack of soda then approached the Belgian man with a can outstretched. I offered the other cans to the others then set them by their things.
“Thanks.” He said, taking a break from the beach ball.
“Sure. Can I get you guys to move to the park by the museum?” I said.
“We like it over here.” said the shirtless Belgian. The others looked away.
“Well the owners of this store don’t. Can you at least put a shirt on?” I said having never seen this man with a shirt yet. He sighed.
“We’ll move.” he conceded.
“You guys are just trying to get picked up right?” I said.
“Yeah. Some people have been getting picked up. We won’t be here long.” he said.
“Make sure those cans get thrown in the trash.” I said. After that I walked back to the cafe where John was upset since he had learned that his wife had now entered into a lesbian relationship in his absence. I walked him back to his camp, observing more new transients in the park on the way. In the woods we passed more people. The ranger was still at their camp when we got there. He told me about a dangerous man that had moved into the deep woods and had begun building some kind of fort. Other people had seen him in town and said he was ex-military and had a crossbow.
“Where?” I said and stood up.
“What? Oh. I think he’s over in those woods. We could hear him building something.” the ranger pointed towards the wood where there had formerly been the large encampment on the cliff.
“Nobody is supposed to be in those woods. Nobody is supposed to be in any of these woods.” I said and started walking in the direction of where the ranger had pointed. The ranger followed behind me and stopped at the treeline as I entered into the woods. The air and shade felt like I had walked into a different scene.
“You okay in there?” shouted the ranger.
“Yeah. I’m just looking around.” I said back. I followed a new trail of trodden down plants. About a quarter mile in I found the fort. It was a couple dozen branches which were cut neatly and fastened with screws to three trees to make a platform. There were no walls or belongings and no sign of the guy so I left the platform alone and popped back out of the woods. The ranger was laying on his stomach on the ground in a shooting position.
“Bang, got ya.” he said. “Was he back there?”
“No. But I found his fort.” I said.
After that, the ranger, John, and I walked to town. I left them at the wifi spot then ran some errands. I found the new usual transient kicking around the beach ball. There was talk among them that farmers had started to pick people up and take them out of town to trimming jobs. They also talked about the crazy guy in the woods with a crossbow. I met back up with John and the ranger. John wanted to stay at the wifi spot in case his wife emailed him so the army ranger walked back with me this time down the winding road that led to the creek side park. At the base of the road at the entrance to the park was a large man with whitish hair. He was sitting on a rock with a crossbow sticking out of his backpack.
“There he is.” said the ranger. “That’s the guy.” I started to walk down to him. “Woah.” said the ranger to me. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to talk to him.” I said.
“You’re crazy. I’ll be back here if you need me.” said the ranger who had done multiple tours of duty around the world.
I walked down and stood next to the man sitting on the rock. He looked at me and I could see that one of his eyes was off.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
“Ok.” he said.
“We have a lot of people talking about a guy with a crossbow that moved into the woods back there. Is that you?” I asked.
“Yeah.” he said.
“The people are getting nervous and they are probably going to send the sheriffs back to where you’re staying.” I said.
“I’m just trying to get away from the people. I just want to go into the wild.” He said opening up to me.
“I know but this isn’t the place. You see there’s people all over. You can find some wilderness if you keep going to the next county.” I said.
He signed. “Yeah, I’ll leave.”
“I hope you find what you’re looking for. I’ll clean up your spot back there.” I said.
“Ok.” He said. “Thanks.”
I walked back up to where the ranger was pacing while watching the conversation. “What happened?” He asked.
“He’s going to leave. He’s just looking for some peace and quiet. He wont find that here I told him.” I said.
“You’re crazy, man.” the ranger said.
I met up with the ranger and British John at the Forks Tavern that night. The ranger told us he had secured a job on one of the farms and he was leaving tomorrow. John told me he couldn’t take another night out in the tent and asked if he could stay in my trailer. I said ok and it started raining on our walk back. He slept on some cushions on the floor.
In the morning, John went to town while I went to check on the woods. I checked on the tents of the French people on the beach but now they were gone. After that, I crept up on the army ranger’s camping spot and rang my bell while he was washing his face in the creek. “Gotcha.” I said as he spotted me in the bushes across the creek from him. Shortly after, John arrived and the men set to dismantling their camp. The ranger gifted me a camouflage mesh scarf he told me I could use to hide in the woods before he walked to town and his ride to a cannabis farm. John walked to town with him with a promise to meet me later.
Back at the motel camp, the new transients were actively working as trimmers. Michael was now helping to manage a large cannabis farm outside town and had brought dried plants down to be trimmed. Each of the young transients was sitting at a seat at a plastic fold out table, trimming the leaves off the buds over plastic bins. I spoke to Totanya who was on a cigarette break. Derek and his helper watched from his trailer with their arms crossed. “My plants will be ready soon.” Derek soothed his helper. He saw me looking at them and pointed over. “That’s the guy giving me and my wife problems.” They squared up towards me.
“What’s going on?” asked Totonya.
“Are you going to do something?” I said calmly towards Derek and his buddy.
“Now! Get him!” Derek shouted to his buddy and came running after me.
“Matthias watch out!” screamed Totonya. I side stepped Derek as he lunged for me and positioned myself opposite him. Derek’s helper stayed back.
“Did he hire you to be his henchman or to help him trim plants?” I said to his helper. “His plants aren’t even ready for two more weeks. You’re going to live with him and be his slave for two more weeks? He doesn’t even pay you.” The helper said nothing. Derek seethed and slunk back to his trailer. “C’mon.” He said to his helper.
“Why does that keep happening to you?” asked Totonya. I shrugged. Totonya was excited to introduce me to her new roommate. She was small with glasses and tattoos and looked like a drug addict but I was polite to her.
The next day, the tent outside Derek’s trailer was gone. Otherwise the trailer camp was still active with the young transients trimming. Michael supervised them and brought them fresh sticks of dried plants as they sat at the plastic tables trimming over plastic bins. There were even some new transients, a young couple named Ian and Katherine who said they too were artists and looking for trimming work.
Being around all these artists inspired me to show off my own skills. I decided that I would set up an art and music show at the gallery in town. I contacted the director of the gallery who granted me a meeting with the board of the gallery. I pitched my plan for an exhibit that would include the art of myself, other townspeople, and even transients. I informed them that I had compiled a series of original songs which I had written while there that I would be performing and that I would cater the event. The board was receptive and set a date for my event on November 1st. I immediately set to recruiting my artists including some suggestions from the gallery board and my own new transient acquaintances.
I met up with British John at his usual spot, trying to get wifi near the cafe. His wife was no longer responding to him. He told me he had found a job trimming on a farm and would no longer be needing to sleep on my floor. He said he’d be back for my party. We walked down to the motel trailer camp where we found Totonya sitting on the ground outside her trailer and crying.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Fred said we have to leave. He’s kicking us out.” Totonya sobbed.
“Why? Fred never kicks anyone out.” I asked. Derek stood watching us by his trailer.
“Some people call me a tweaker but I’m a good tweaker. It’s not my fault.” She said.
“No meth!” Derek shouted. I looked at Totonya who looked at the ground. “I caught both of them smoking behind the shed. There’s no meth here.” Derek continued reveling in his righteousness.
“Shut up!” Totonya shouted back at him. “We’re leaving. Okay.”
“Yeah, you better get going.” Derek pushed his authority.
“Enough Derek.” I said sharply. He turned and went back to his trailer. “I’m sorry.” I said to Totonya. “There’s nothing I can really do about this situation.”
“I know. I’m so sorry. You were so nice. Please keep an eye on Rocky and Sal. they are staying here.” she said.
Rocky was outside of his trailer also pouting. No one was trimming. I assumed Rocky was upset since his girl was leaving but he confessed that he too had a meth problem and it was only a matter of time before he would have to leave too.
A few days later he was gone. The transients that remained at the motel camp were busy trimming for Michael or making art for the party. I too was making art inside my trailer, painting mementos of my time there on pieces of wood from the pile. I painted my cats and my new kittens. I painted the vision I had in the Willow Creek Church when I arrived. I polished up my songs about Bigfoot and Willow Creek. I made fliers and sent out a press release.
Two of my plants were near harvesting and Michael, having heard about my party and and my need to pay for food for the event offered to attach my produce to some of his for a large sale. I agreed since I myself didn’t have a sales outlet for the all the cannabis I had been growing. I cut down two plants from my garden and hung the branches up to dry. I now saw why Derek was so angry about his branches being damaged earlier in the season. Each branch was loaded with buds. The buds spent some days on the rack in my closet then I spent two nights trimming which involves using special snips to trim the leaves from around the bud. I bagged up the buds and labeled them with what I was told was the strain many months ago. Michael gave me a thousand dollars which I used some to pay the pizza place and cafe who would be bringing the food and beverages to the party.
I took a trip to Arcata to hang flyers for the show and purchase a space heater. Outside of the store, I saw Totonya who was both excited and embarrassed to see me. She was with a few other gutter punk guys and obviously on meth. She said she had gotten married the previous day to one of the gutter punks behind a dumpster. I congratulated her and gave her a flyer for the party but never saw her again.
I began surveilling Derek and his van which was easy since every day he drove to town, dropped Mandy off at her job cleaning vacation cabins and then parked in front of the gas station. Now I stood in front of the closed down burger restaurant watching as he would talk to strangers then drive around back to meet them and sell them weed. This was indeed suspicious as I knew that Derek hadn’t cut and trimmed his plants yet. I watched him do this for a few days then finally went in to confront the manager. I paid for a drink then asked to see the manager, then I asked him why he was allowing a drug dealer to sell weed there all day. “He is a customer!” the manager said defensively.
“All day long? I’ve seen him go behind the store and sell.” I said.
“If you don’t leave, I will call the police.” the manager threatened.
“Why don’t you call them on the guy selling drugs in your parking lot? I would think you would be appreciative of me telling you about this.” I mocked him.
“You must go now. Do not come back.” he said as I left. Outside, Derek was sitting in his van with Mandy now in the passenger seat. I stood in front of his van and opened my drink. I began pouring it on the ground and then walked around his van pouring it out along the way. This enraged Derek. He started up the van and put it in reverse. I ran from the gas station across the street. Derek squealed his tires as he shifted into forward and gassed the engine. I ran down the sidewalk and by the cafe. He drove off the road and into the parking lot then back onto the road as I reached the bank and ran inside. The tellers and customers looked shocked. Derek jumped out of his van and punched at the door I was behind.
“You can’t be in here.” said a teller.
“He’s chasing me with his van.” I said.
“We don’t want any trouble.” she said. I sighed. As Derek turned back to get into his van, I burst out of the door and across the highway. I ran through the museum park and behind the grocery store to the trail down to the Municipal Center. Derek cornered the van hard down the road leading to the Municipal Center but stopped and turned around as I reached the trail into the woods. I figured I’d cross the creek near where the ranger and John’s site had been and then use the route on the mountain road to get back to the motel. When I traversed the route I had planned and came to the top of the driveway on the mountain, I saw Derek’s van waiting for me so I went back down, crossed the creek and went down to the beach to cross. There I crossed successfully and made it nearly back to the motel when Michael called to ask me to pick him up some groceries since he was sick. I turned back and went through the woods to the grocery store then decided just to walk down the road to get back. When I arrived casually carrying a bag of groceries, Derek was so confused he wasn’t even angry.
I found out from the transients that Derek was also excited since he had purchased a professional electrical bud trimmer which he planned to use instead of paying a trimmer or trimming the plants himself. Everyone shouted when the power went out as he plugged it in to test it. “What a villain.” I said we stood outside and they informed me of his scheme.
“You got something to say?” Derek said from behind me. Mandy was next to him.
“Yeah, you’re like a comic book villain bringing in a machine to take everybody’s jobs” I said.
“Well you’re a fucking asshole. At least my husband--” said Mandy.
“He’s not your husband. You’ve been lying about that to seem wholesome to these people in this town.” I said.
“Shut up.” Mandy said.
“We all know he’s gay.” I said.
“What?!” Mandy shrieked. Derek turned and walked quickly up the trail and away from the conversation.
“From when he was in jail.” I continued.
“Mama! Let’s go!” Derek shouted from the top of the trail. Mandy was too stunned to speak and so she turned and followed after Derek while the transients and I all laughed.
Over the next few days, another small round of transients came to town and began setting up in the woods. This time I didn’t really feel like becoming familiar with all of them or allowing them to camp in the woods along the creek, so I devised a plan to relocate them from the creek side woods to the Big Rock Park where they would be away from the creek and town and have access to the park bathrooms. I walked to the ranger station to seek approval but found it closed for the long weekend so I made a flyer for the transients with a map leading to park and hung it near the bus stop. I went through the woods and told a few transients I found that they needed to move by the evening and later I stood on the trail overlooking the highway as groups of them walked down to Big Rock Park. At dusk, I walked through the sparse woods between the airstrip and the river. The transients had set up their camps in the little pockets of trees and popped out to wave as I went by.
By Monday, the transients camped at the park were moved on to trim jobs at farms so now the woods around the town were empty again. I went through and picked up the few remnants they left behind then went back to my trailer to work on my art pieces. I received a call from Sheriff Gary who was not pleased about my recent actions including setting up the unauthorized campgrounds at the park but more so about my accusing the gas station manager of being involved with Derek’s weed sales. I asked him why Derek was allowed to sell there and why his behavior was being overlooked by the police. The sheriff told me that Derek had his share of problems with them and had been scolded when he threw out baseless accusations against me earlier in the year and when he and Mandy were caught trimming buds in their van at the park. This, I explained, was because Derek’s electric bud trimmer kept knocking out the power and he was too embarrassed to trim weed by hand in front of the rest of us at the motel camp. I pressed the sheriff’s deputy as to why Derek was protected by him. This agitated the officer and so he told me not to call them anymore, even if I needed to, somewhat confirming my suspicions that Derek was selling weed that was being supplied to him by people who did not want me finding out.
I did back off. The idea of exposing a cannabis sales ring that was being protected or facilitated by the police was not of interest to me. Instead, I called the state troopers who assured me that they would still come if I called for help as long as the incident was occuring on a highway. I wasn’t worried. With Derek being really the only problem left in town, I could relax a bit. The woods were empty and with harvest season over, no one else was coming. I continued to work on the projects for my art show and care for my cats inside my trailer. I took down the rest of my plants, dried them, trimmed them, bagged them, then shipped them out of town since the cannabis market in the area was more than saturated.
On Halloween. I put on the camouflage mesh that the army ranger gave me and went to the Forks Tavern. I didn’t drink anymore, but I still occasionally went in to have a sparkling water and enjoy the atmosphere and tonight was one such occasion. All the young people were there and in costume. I took a seat at the bar and noticed that Derek and Mandy were there too, both without a costume. Derek was drunk and playing pool but saw me and immediately started shouting about how he was going to kick my ass and gripping the pool cue like a weapon. I saw that not only was the usual bartender behind the bar but so was the owner so I politely mentioned that I had been coming in there for months and never seen him in there. The owner spoke privately to the bartender then came back and said he’d take care of it. I stayed in my seat at the bar while the owner confronted Derek. I heard Derek whining. “He calls me and my wife crackheads!” he said with his missing teeth. They looked over at me covered in my camo mesh. I shrugged. The owner warned him to behave or leave and so a few minutes later he and Mandy were gone.
The next day I set up the art gallery for the party. Fred let me borrow his pickup truck which I used to transport my art pieces to the gallery including the flower box fence and planter box I had built for my trailer area. I arranged my art inside the gallery and set up my fence and planter outside as a backdrop for my musical performance. The other artists I had set up all came and set up their own exhibits. Tara played her flute. The guests all enjoyed the exhibits and food until they took their seats for my musical performance. Townspeople and transients all came, even British John came back as he had said. My music echoed into the mountains as I played the songs I had written in my trailer about the town with lyrics like:
"Where is the Bigfoot,
Where is the beast?
Where are the monsters
Who were waiting for me?"
In the morning, I watched Derek and Mandy as they celebrated over my missing fence, figuring I was moving out. They were devastated in the afternoon when I brought back the fence parts and reinstalled it exactly as before. I didn’t really need it since I had no more plants but it still gave me a nice layer of security and a reminder of me to Derek and Mandy every time they walked outside. Everyone’s plants at the motel had been harvested and by now, trimmed and bagged. Derek planted a few peppers in the tiered garden giving him an excuse to go over there every day.
The next week was quiet and cold. I ran my little space heater all day and night while the cats all cuddled in front of it. The transients had all cleared out of the camp. I hadn’t secured any more permanent housing. I looked into buying an RV since they were littered all over the place but neither of the ones I looked at were operational. I still ran through the woods but now it felt like I was doing it for the last times. I went all through the trails I had watched all year. Most of the eye paintings I had hung up at the camp sites were gone,. I assumed they had been taken as souvenirs by some trimmigrants. There were a few still up so I left them. The old encampment deep in the woods still had one. No one had ever gone back that far again.
Across the creek at the little waterfall, I came upon Mr. Taylor, the man who had complained about the camps in the woods in the first meeting I had attended. He asked me about a creepy eye painting he had spotted up on one of the trees over the waterfall. I shrugged. He said he had taken it down.
The next day, I walked to town for the regular council meeting. This time, as I walked to town, Derek and Mandy did too. Not only did they walk to town but they walked behind me as I went up the trail to the Municipal Center and into the meeting room. They looked out of place among the regular town people but took seats near the back of the room while I took mine next to the police. I could feel Derek’s eyes on the back of my head and I turned to look at him. I stared at his ugly face and he glared back at me. I wasn’t surprised by their presence as Michael had warned me that Derek had come up with a plan to speak against me at the council meeting. Now, seeing his tip was true, I sought a solution that would stop them from doing this. I still had nothing to hide but having dealt with the repercussions of Derek’s lies previously and wanting to save the reputation of a town who had put their faith in me, an outsider, I couldn’t let the townspeople suffer the embarrassment of whatever Derek had to say about me. Due to the meeting protocols, they had a right to speak just as anyone else, so I had to devise something that would make him not want to speak. The council president announced my regular agenda item and I got up to speak. I could see Derek inching forward on his seat ready to be called on. I calmly addressed the meeting as usual. I detailed the state of the woods and discussed the success in managing the flow of transients from the town to the farms. I then resigned as Chairman of the Downtown Street Issue and Transient Committee. Derek deflated at these words and the collective disappointment vocalized by the rest of the people in the meeting. There was no point in speaking out against me now. I continued and thanked the town for the opportunity and experience. The council president thanked me for the work I had done. I nodded and left the meeting and Derek and Mandy who never did speak.
My episode in Willow Creek seemed to be wrapping up. At the motel trailer camp, mostly everyone but the permanent residents had moved on. Derek and Mandy were still there and Michael still came by once and a while but otherwise most of the old trailers were now empty. I had made friends with another permanent trailer resident named Raphael who now began to show me some new spots around the woods I had been running around in all year. He showed me the spots where he said I’d be sure to see a Bigfoot if I stayed long enough. One night, he invited me over to his trailer to show me how to make hash. I sat in his trailer while he stirred trimmed cannabis leaves in bags inside a bucket of ice water. He strained out the bags and then collected the tricome sludge while he told me some stories about Bigfoot and grey aliens. While he was talking, the electricity went out. I assumed it was because of Derek and his machine and started to leave to investigate. Raphael stopped me and told me not to worry about it. He lit some candles and gave me some hash so I stayed a while longer. When I went back to my trailer, the power was still out and everything was quiet. I huddled with my cats in the cold and went to sleep.
The cold air pierced through the thin metal walls of the antique trailer. The space heater was off but the cats still huddled in front of it, hopeful it would start warming them like it usually did. The electricity had been cut off to the trailer camp last night and as I stepped my bare feet on the cold trailer floor, I began to reason that it had been cut deliberately during the night by Derek and Mandy as a means to lure me out of my trailer so they could attack me in the dark. Unfortunately for them, I had been out late and returned to my trailer only having to suffer the inconvenience of being cold and in the dark which they too had to suffer since the breaker box they tampered with also provided electricity for their trailer.
Now it was morning, and I heard them outside. They too were up early, surely motivated by the cold and whatever nefarious scheme they had plotted. My suspicions were confirmed as I peered out the flowery curtains and saw Mandy peaking into the window of the trailer next to mine.
“No one’s in there. Everybody’s gone.” Mandy said quietly to Derek.
‘Good.” Derek led Mandy near my trailer. He grabbed one of the old 2x6 pickets from my fence, ripped it off and threw it on the ground. He ripped off another picket, then he pulled the frame and section of fence to the ground. “Fuck his fence. Now stand right there.” He said to Mandy. She obeyed his orders and posted herself in the exit of my area while he walked over to the tiered garden and began pretending to garden.
“Looks like we got a couple of rats in the garden this morning!” I bellowed from inside my trailer. My words cut through Mandy. She winced as I continued to talk. “Now you’re his henchman because he won’t make you his wife.”
“Fuck you.” Mandy retorted to the talking trailer. “Derek, c’mon!”
Their plot being transparent now, I grabbed my bell and began clanging it. “Rats in the garden! Rats in the garden!” I shouted through clanging, expecting anyone from the motel or the trailers to come out.
“No one’s coming. Derek hurry.” Many said to Derek.
No one was coming. All the cats in the trailer looked at me. I had to get Derek and Mandy and whatever the attack they had planned away from the trailer. Without putting on my boots, I threw the door open and ran out. I hopped over the broken fence pieces and landed with my heel in the cold mud. Mandy looked shocked as I slipped and shuffled but stayed on my feet. “Don’t fall!” She jabbed.
“I won’t, you rat.” I responded as I ran around the front of my trailer and up the path to the motel, still ringing the bell.
“Derek get him!” She shouted.
Derek sprinted after me. At the top of the path I found the parking lot of the motel empty of the usual cars. Fred and all the tenants were gone this morning. Derek was right behind me, faster than I expected. I sprinted by the motel and out onto the highway. I knew the county sheriffs would no longer come to my aid but the road was the jurisdiction of the state troopers who were still obligated to respond to incidents on the highways. I turned around and faced Derek who continued to advance on me as I walked backwards down the road. He was wearing shorts but had on a warm baja poncho and sneakers.
“I’m just protecting my wife. You attacked her with that bell.” Derek lied.
Preempting whatever lie he had premeditated, I whipped the bell into the woods then responded, “What bell?”
Derek kept walking at me. “You just wait until the police get here. My girl’s in your trailer right now planting drugs.”
Thinking of the cats in my trailer, I made a quick attempt to bolt back but Derek cut me off and continued walking me backwards. “She’s putting them in there right now.” He continued.
“You don’t have any money for drugs Derek. She’s not planting anything. You didn’t make any money off your plants.” I mocked him.
“No one wants you in this fucking town, you know.” Derek tried a new angle of verbal attack. “Why don’t you just leave?”
“I want to, Derek. But I don’t have any money either. You have to give me some or let me have your van.” I responded ridiculously.
“I’m not giving you shit. Rent a car.” Derek said. I continued walking backwards up Highway 96 towards town.
“I don’t have any money. I only made a little from my plants and I spent that on the art show.” I responded in a familiar tone that agitated him
“We told everyone not to go to your party. That’s why it was a failure. We took down your flyers.” Derek said.
“Every seat was full.” I said. Derek lunged at me and I backed up avoiding his hands. “What are you going to do, Derek? You can’t even fight.”
“I’m going to throw you off this bridge.” He said lunging again.
I’m going to throw you off this bridge.” Derek said lunging at me again.
“No you’re not.” I laughed at him as I dodged again. I couldn’t believe his arrogance and figured he had some weapon concealed since he didn’t have the strength to toss me over. He continued to walk at me and press me back against the rails of the bridge.
“Everyone in this town hates you. The police hate you. We all hate you. You’re all alone.” Derek berated me as he closed in. “And now I’m going to throw you off this bridge.”
At his words, a huge black bird flew over us. “I’m not alone Derek.” I said and pointed up. He looked up and at the sight of the bird became enraged then lunged at me. I side stepped him and sprinted back towards the motel as Derek struggled to keep up with me. As I reached the motel parking lot, Michael was pulling in. I stood next to his car as he parked while Derek steamed by and hurried back to the trailer camp.
“Why are you in the street with no shoes on?” Michael asked me as he got out of his car.
“Derek and Mandy tried to jump me in my trailer this morning. They ripped down my fence to get me to come out. They’ve got some plan to get me.” I said.
“Well go get Kenny.” Michael said.
I went to the upper level of the motel and knocked on Kenny’s door. He was pissed to be disturbed so early but agreed to simply walk me down to my trailer so I wouldn't get attacked. As soon as Kenny and I came down the stairs, Mandy hollered over at us. “Kenny, he attacked me!”
“I don’t want to hear it.” Kenny said with indifference. “I want you all back in your trailers and being quiet. I’m walking him down there.”
“But Kenny--” Mandy tried.
“Nope. Let him back to his trailer.” Kenny said to her as she followed behind us. We reached the bottom of the trail where we could see Derek again pretending to tend to the plants in the garden.
“Hey I’m protecting my wife!” Derek shouted at us awkwardly since his rehearsed lines no longer fit the situation. He ran towards us but Kenny put his hand up.
“You see this Kenny? I’m just trying to get to my trailer.” I pointed at the destroyed fence. “They ruined my fence to try to get me to come out so they could attack me. They cut the power last night to get me to come out.”
Derek seethed as he was exposed.
“I said I don’t want to hear it. Everybody back in their trailers now!” Kenny shouted.
“Ok.” I said. I stepped over the pieces of wood that were my fence as Derek and Mandy skulked.
I opened my door and found my trailer and cats undisturbed. I stepped in, finding some comfort from the cold my bare feet had endured during the confrontation, closed the door and put the chain lock on. I pet my cats. Mandy was still arguing with Kenny right outside my trailer claiming I had attempted to hurt her..
“Look at my fence Kenny. They just came over here and destroyed it. Get out of here Mandy. Go back to your trailer.” I shouted through the walls.
“You’re just afraid my husband would have beat your ass.” Mandy shouted.
“Oh? Ask your husband what he did last time I challenged him to fight, when he took off his belt and presented himself to me.” I shouted back.
“Derek, what is he talking about?” Mandy sheepishly asked him.
“It was right there in that field. Ask him why he took his belt off?” I chided.
“Derek..?” Mandy asked again.
Derek punched at the wall of my trailer. “That’s it. I don’t care if they say I started it. Your fucking dead!” He shouted as he punched the trailer again, this time closer to the door. He yanked at the door. The chain lock held but barely. I knew it wouldn’t hold again. I jumped over to the spot in front of the door and waited with my fist cocked. He yanked again, breaking the chain and ripping the door open.
I could see every detail of his ugly face which was level with my cocked fist. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open in surprise. After months of patience and with righteous justification, I put my fist through the front of his face. The punch sent him flying back into the trailer next to mine. I followed his flying body and as he scrambled to get up, I grabbed his head and threw him into a small refrigerator under the trailer. He continued to struggle. From the ground he tried harmlessly to wrestle me. I was still concerned about his teeth, and his spit, and his blood, his diseases, and whatever weapon he might have so I yanked his poncho over his head like a hockey jersey and sprawled out on his back, slamming him down onto the ground.
“Mama, mama, help!’ He cried out to Mandy.
I kept Derek pinned underneath me as Mandy jumped into the fight, straddling my back and rapidly punching the back of my head. I grabbed her leg and pulled her off of me while still holding Derek down. For a moment, Mandy disappeared then I felt a strike to my back. I knew immediately it was a piece of wood from the fence. It struck me again but still I wouldn’t let go of Derek as he wriggled beneath me like a snake in a sack. Mandy swung the board down at my head.
“Oh no you don’t.” Kenny said as the board slapped into his palm instead of against my head. “Break this up.” Kenny pulled Mandy away and lifting me off of Derek’s back. With his lift, I sprang off of Derek and into my trailer, pulling the door shut behind me.
“Go away. I’m hurt.” I half lied. I felt the pain from my back in the front of my chest.
“Good.” Mandy said as she helped Derek up and stumbled away. He didn’t say anything as they walked back to their trailer.
I got dressed in my usual outfit and finally put my boots on. A few moments later, Sheriff Gary and another young deputy knocked on my trailer door. I told them the story of the fight and the events leading up to it. I held out the broken chain lock as proof. Sheriff Gary said I was within my rights to press charges but that he had already talked to Derek and that I would have to accept the charges of attempting to assault Mandy with my bell if I did.
I laughed. “He’s lying.” I said. “Where’s the bell?”
“We couldn’t find it.” said Sheriff Gary.
“Ok.” I said. “Did you talk to Kenny?”
“Yeah, we talked to him.”
“And he told you Mandy hit me with that board?” I asked and pointed to the 2x6 on the ground..
“He said you all were fighting and he had to break it up. But we saw Derek’s face.” Sheriff Gary responded. “We just want to know if you want to press charges.”
“And get arrested myself?”
“No, I won’t press charges.”
“Ok. Have a good day.” Sheriff Gary said and walked away. “Are you staying in Willow Creek through the winter?”
“Are they?” I asked.
“They’re leaving.” Gary said.
I looked at him without expression. “No. I think I did what I needed to do here. I’ll be going.”
“That’s a good idea.”
The next week, I rented a uhaul truck from the mechanic in town. I loaded up my few belongings, my old and new cats, and and left Willow Creek.