Woodcutter

Posted by on Dec 30, 2018 in Blog | 1 comment

13. Santa Clara Peak

I met Marilyn in a dream on the Pacific Crest Trail, but only realized fifteen years into our marriage that I’d seen her even before then.
I had a small sawmill and firewood and fencing business out on Airport Road in Santa Fe., where I’d moved after Galisteo. Our main thing was hand-adzing trees into round roof beams we call vigas in New Mexico, or finishing saw-milled beams that we used a broad axe to shave the mill marks from. In the olden days a round tree was made square entirely by hand-adzing. We created the “illusion” of it being handcrafted by using those same ancient tools.
The best trees for this were Engelmann spruce from way high in the mountains. When they die the bark beetles and other critters don’t attack them because the cambium layer doesn’t taste good and the scaly bark clings too tightly to the wood. So the tree slow dries over the years with minimal cracking. An adzed Engelmann viga is a pleasure to look at, eight or ten of them holding up your bedroom ceiling, herringboned in between with peeled aspen or split cedar saplings. You don’t have to read to fall asleep, you just marvel at this primitive roof above you in your casa on the banks of the Acequia Madre where the Santa Fe farmers used to live.
I was driving the logging truck up the Santa Clara Peak one morning in February going for a load I’d decked earlier in the week. It was light but the sun hadn’t come over the Sangre de Cristo across the Rio Grande valley. A dusting of snow had fallen and mine were the only tracks on the dirt road.
A car came around a bend headed toward me just as the sun rose behind me, a yellow Volvo station wagon with a man and woman up front and two children in back. They waved as they passed, all smiles, beautiful people, radiant in the new sunlight. They zoomed past and I followed their tracks ahead of me, wondering what they’d been up here for. They were dressed for summer in bright colors, yet it was below freezing. Had the car broken down? That was the only explanation I came up with because this main road ended at a deep canyon fifteen miles on near Pedarnales Mesa through deep snowfields. There was a one-track, very rough road carved out of the lava, put in a century ago for horses hauling trees. The road wended down to a village that even a jeep couldn’t make it over at this point. Any other logging roads branched from the trunk road I was on.
A few miles along, I came to where their tracks ended, or began—depending on how I looked at them. There were no wide melty spots you usually see where a car’s been parked in the snow for awhile, or footprints. The tracks just appeared as if the car had touched down from flying along.
Here’s the spooky part. When I met Marilyn in 1991, I was driving the old Buick Regal. When we moved from the trailer court at Lake Morena over to Regner Road in San Diego she showed me a classified ad for a used Volvo station wagon at a good price. She suggested I sell the Buick and buy the Volvo, as there’d be more room in the station wagon for my kids.
I ran an ad and a German student came by and paid me in cash that I used to buy the Volvo. I’d never had one before, and never particularly liked their looks. I didn’t think of myself as a Volvo person, which I thought to be dependable, no-nonsense Nordic types who went for solid and honest craftsmanship in their cars, tools, and wives.
But this Volvo was different, long and sleek, with a turning radius where you could do a U-turn on a two-lane and still clear the far curb by a good margin. It was silver with black leather seats, and a reputation for running 200,000 to 300,000 miles. The car got good mileage, had abundant power, and made me smile just to sit there at the wheel, sniffing its good leathery smell and feeling safe and cozy.
The time we moved to Montana with the kids I hauled it on a flatbed trailer behind the U-Haul, and we explored the valleys and mountains aplenty in that fine car. I loved that Volvo and much later rebuilt it to give to Marilyn’s son, Jonnie, quasi-repairing all the things I’d become used to in the 100,000 miles we put on it. Maybe what I’d seen that faraway morning on Santa Clara Peak in my logging truck was a greeting from the future from a woman I’d not yet met, still busy in Owatonna raising her first family, and from my youngest children who were yet to be born, in a car that hadn’t yet been designed and built, driven by a me that I would become.

Santa Clara Peak is sacred land. The Clara pueblo Indians still drive up there for holy ceremonies in their pickups and hike back to shrines only they know of that their people have maintained for a thousand years. The time I’d found those three decks of abandoned spruce way up there I borrowed a bulldozer from Bob Gibbons in Apache Canyon, the operator he sent was Guillermo, and he hauled the dozer in to clear the trenched logging road back to the decks. He told me he used to cut wood up here back when he was a wino and smoker of weed, something he gave up when he met the woman who became his wife, and she told him, “That stuff, or me,” and meant it.
One day Guillermo saw a few pickups park and some Pueblo men walk up a slope toward the tree line. They were there a few hours before returning and driving away. He knew about their shrines they kept energized with ancient artifacts he figured he could sell to unethical collectors, so he went to rob the shrine. While climbing the slope, lightning struck out of clear sky close enough to where he could smell it and feel the heat. He waited, started again and this time the lightning struck next to him. When he came to, he tumbled down the slope running back to his truck. He told me this story in exchange for the one I’d told him about the time up there with Neil Lane when the two storm fronts collided with one another above us and dropped a tornado on our heads.
When Guillermo and I told Bob Gibbons about it, he said he and his crew were spending the night in a ranger cabin on the mountain when a storm hit with such power that when they went out in the morning the old road to the cabin was covered with blow-down debris, and a new one opened where the tornado lifted out a swatch of trees.
It was Bob who sold me his milling equipment and a Bobcat loader when he went into the adobe hacienda-building business with his mother and brother on the eve of the mass migrations of the elite from both coasts to Santa Fe. When he started his wood business he’d gotten the contract for clearing the ties of an old, narrow-gauge track line near Apache Canyon where he lived. He pulled up and loaded the nine thousand or so ties himself. He said that one time cutting trees he was driven into the ground like a spike by a hammer when a tree fell on him and has never been the same since, the main reason he’d moved on. He said he was lucky it fell on his head. He and his mother and brother started the home construction company called Rational Alternatives and were the only ones building true, adobe pueblo-style homes on four-acre lots east of Santa Fe. This part I know to be true, but his being driven into the ground by a falling tree, or the tornado cutting in a new road and covering over the old with the scything, only he knows.

After Bahia in 1990, I returned to San Diego broke and still broken. When everything goes to hell I get a backpack and find a trail, doesn’t matter where it comes from or where it’s going.
Back on the Pacific Crest Trail, I hiked for days with an eighty-pound pack from the Mexican border forty miles into the mountains on my way to Canada. A young woman came loping along and passed me, huffing gently. Then came a man, then what looked like a street person all raggedy, wearing beat-up leather shoes. Then came a few runner-type guys of the sort dropped from the womb in a starting position, then a long line of them. One said they were doing a fifty-miler. He wasn’t even breathing hard.
At the water and juice table at the Sierra Club Lodge five miles along, I stopped to ask a man about this. He said this was a running club he usually competed in but’d torn a tendon and was helping the runners by passing out drinks and slices of orange. He was over eighty.
I said, “You mean you guys run these races every weekend?”
“Yep,” and he said lots of times they ran in the city where there are plenty of trails and bike paths, “but it was good to get out into the country too.”
I said, “You mean these runners will run back to I-8 and drive back to town after covering fifty miles?”
“Yep.”
I said, “There was a man who looked like a homeless person, long, tangled hair and beard, came by me. Is he a regular?”
“Oh, Ted, yeh, he runs with us. He’s sixty-five, I think. He won a few weeks ago, not much of a running style but he can move when he wants to.”
This unhinged me. My worldview shifted. In my youth, for a person to run five miles was, what? Well, if you were a hard-core transcontinental Indian or the Kenyan Abebe Bikila, or Roger Bannister, sure, some sort of esoterica for the gifted; but where did this sudden athletic ability among street people and octogenarians come from?
What was I doing while this was going on all these years? Did a few athletes break through some sort of impossibility standard that we took as ultimate truth when younger, and open the doors to longer, faster, heavier, and higher?
In the wood business I cut and worked trees all day long, muscling 300-pound logs onto the flatbed and chaining fifty of them down at a time. I felt I was It. Now there’s a street person in his sixties running a Sunday fifty-miler on the PCT for fun. I’m not It.
I sat cross-legged by the campfire cooking some quinoa, no sound except the popping of wood. There wasn’t much left of me. I ate and crawled into the tent, zipped the flap shut, and got into the bag, wearing my clothes. It was February in the desert mountains. I’d done ten more miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and was seriously staved in.
In my sleep I meet a woman in a white pleated gown. She is tall, broad-shouldered, her hair a brassy blonde. We aren’t communicating with words but I’m getting that she is the “Connector.” She brings people together on earth who otherwise wouldn’t meet on their own. Though she works in this dimension she is not of it.
There is no time here. She seems familiar. The eyes. It’s a face I’ve always been drawn to in women, starting with Bailey Mott’s when we were three years old in Oswego, New York. I’m trying to place this woman but there is nowhere to take it, I don’t have that kind of memory connected to me right now. We are connected through the hearts and it’s enough.
I don’t understand what she’s saying, it’s not that kind of talk, but know something is coming into me about her and our destinies. I want to fall to my knees and ask her to take me back to wherever she comes from. I don’t want to stay here. She smiles. She can’t.
She introduces me to a weasely little man with thin mustache and slicked-back black hair in a black three-piece suit. He works for her, connecting people through accident. He has started going too far, putting in more suffering than is needed to bring the people together. He has been doing this increasingly. She tells him to stop it. He says he will and then he’s gone.
She looks into me and I awaken lying flat on my back, naked with the tent door flaps pulled back and the sun directly in the middle of the entryway. I am here and still there for a while until I get my bearings. I get up, not remembering getting undressed or tying the flaps back. I eat some cold quinoa, pack and start along the trail toward Canada.
That was no dream. And who was that? I swear I’ll never forget it. By afternoon I’ve forgotten it.

I get rid of half the weight of my pack, storing it in a hole I mark with stones. I won’t come back for it but some hiker might see the duck and investigate. There’s rice and quinoa and hummus flakes. There’s some dehydrated campfire dinners. I leave some pots and pans and clothes to get the pack down to absolute survival weight. I’ve lost forty pounds over the last few months, lost a wife, kids, business, and money, along with betraying everyone close to me and everything I thought I stood for. I am unlovely meat and bones and don’t have the energy to live. Or didn’t until I met the Connector. Something happened last night but I can’t remember what. I didn’t remember what it was for months.

It started to rain the other side of Warner Springs and it rained for a week, ending a six-year drought. Higher up in the mountains above Palm Springs this was snow that closed the PCT until spring. So I called Frank and Barbara Coates from a payphone back in Warner Springs and asked them to come pick me up. I met Frank in the New York City in the early Sixties when we were wannabe actors.
We missed connections so I hitchhiked to their place in San Diego and lived on their boat “Morning Star” for two or three weeks. Down and out at the San Diego Yacht Club.

One day they said they might like to take their boat out now and then, how would I feel about that? At their house I met Tom from Texas and he told how when he came to town he was penniless and went to a roommates finder agency where they hooked him up with a divorcee in La Jolla on the beach. He became her boy toy. She gave him a new car, had his clothes tailored, they moved among the rich and famous, boated on her yacht and, when she grew tired of him, sent him off with a stipend and the car.
I went to the agency and told Joanne that was what I was looking for. She remembered Tom and the divorcee. She spoke instead of a woman in her mid-fifties in Ocean Beach who boogie-boarded, taught college, and was a home healthcare nurse.
I said I was thinking more mid-thirties over La Jolla way with a beach house. She said this gal she was talking about looked mid-thirties and did have a house on the cliffs just south of La Jolla. Ten miles south as it turned out. She was divorced, vivacious, and a whole lot of fun. She wrote down the name and address along with that of another woman renter in Lemon Grove.

I went to Lemon Grove first and arrived in the midst of an argument on the front porch between a man with two suitcases and a woman with none. She was yelling at him and pointing toward the street. He was doing shoulder shrugs with the suitcases and yelling back. She grabbed one of the suitcases from his hand and heaved it onto the lawn. He said something and she took a swing at him. He went to pick up the suitcase and she noticed me halfway out of my car and waved for me to come on over. I got back in and drove away.
The other woman whose name I’d been given was hard to connect with. I spoke with her son, Jonnie, who said she was hard to reach because she had three jobs. There went my tailored wardrobe. I left Frank’s number and went back to Morning Star. I left a message with Jonnie a few days later that I’d be by at noon the next day.
His mother was coming out the door to go to work and only had a minute to show me the room because I was late. It felt good in the house. The rental room was about six by ten with a narrow bed, small desk, and window facing west. There were two bathrooms for five people and I’d be sharing hers. We looked at a quilt on the wall created by an artist in Morgan Hill, showing a circle of seven men and women as if they’d jumped from a plane to skydive, but without parachutes. They were sewn three-dimensionally in different fabrics and one was sewn together from all the others’ personal fabrics. This was the Cristus. He was the only complete one, the others were missing limbs, and one of them his head. The artist was Barbara Baumgarten. Her conception was titled “World,” the story of humanity in one cover.

Marilyn said again she had to go on house calls and I told her I’d think about the room and call her. She later said she had to bite her tongue to tell me not to bother. Instead she said she usually took only women renters but, since Joanne had made an error in sending me, she’d let me rent the room for a month while I looked for something more permanent. She said primly that her women boarders all locked their doors at night, and I said primly that I did, too.

One Comment

  1. re: I sat cross-legged by the campfire cooking some quinoa…

    That ain’t the cowboy way pardner. Ever tasted beans and jerky?
    Other than that, I’m behind yer story 29%. Keep writin’.