The Monkey Wrench Gang 11

  He shambled about for a while, stiff and sore from last night, blear-eyed and groggy, rubbing his hairy belly. A roll of fat had recently appeared there, magically. Sloth and bloat, bloat and sloth, they’ll ruin a man quicker than women. Women? Damn her. He could not quite force the image from his mind’s eye. He worked hard at not thinking about her. Failed. Unsummoned, unwanted, unwelcome, the joyprong rose as always, perpendicular to the imagined field of reference, a mind of its own but no conscience. He … ignored it.


  No sound yet from the wash below the rim. Hayduke gathered a double handful of dead sticks, built a little squaw fire, filled the pot with water and set it on the flames. The sun-cured juniper burned with clear smokeless intensity, hot and bright.

  He was camped in a sandy basin below the crest of the ridge, surrounded by juniper and pinyon pine, out of sight of all but the birds. Nearby were tire tracks in the sand, where Seldom Seen Smith had turned his truck around last night, as the old moon came up.

  Waiting for his water to boil, Hayduke tore a bough from the nearest juniper and swept away the tire tracks to where they disappeared onto the sandstone. Returning, he distributed pine needles over the disturbed sand. Hard to hide anything in this goddamned desert. The desert speaks with many tongues, some forked.

  The others had given him an argument last night about this separation. Hayduke had insisted. He wanted to see the results of the work, if any worth seeing. And he meant to walk the rest of the right-of-way, all the way to the next road junction, and see what he could do to undo the surveyors’ work. There comes a time in a man’s life when he has to pull up stakes. Has to light out. Has to stop straddling, and start cutting, fence.

  He fixed and consumed his humble breakfast: tea with powdered milk; Hayduke’s Munchies, a private Granola mix; beef jerky; an orange. Sufficient. Squatting close to the fire, he sipped his tea. Chemicals: his mind cleared.

  In the big backpack under the head of his sleeping bag he carried enough dried food for ten days. Plus a gallon of water; he’d find more on the way. Would have to. And topo maps, snakebite kit, halazone tablets, knife, rain poncho, spare socks, signal mirror, fire starter, flashlight, parka, binoculars, so forth, and the revolver and fifty rounds of ammo. Life was returning.

  Hayduke finished his morning tea and repaired to the shelter of a juniper. He dug a hole, squatted again and shat. He checked his stool: structurally perfect. This was going to be a good day. He wiped himself with the rough green scales of a juniper twig, Navajo style, filled the hole with sand and camouflaged it with twigs. Returning to the fire, which had also been built in a hole in the sand, he covered and concealed it as he had the other.

  He cleaned his dishes—the cup and little blackened pot—and packed them, along with all his other gear except field glasses and one canteen, into his backpack. He was now prepared for quick departure. He carried the pack, glasses and canteen to the slickrock close to the rim and set them on the ground, concealed by a pinyon pine. Taking the juniper-bough broom which he had used earlier, he obliterated his tracks and all other signs of the camp as he walked backward to the sandstone which extended for many miles along the crest of Comb Ridge.

  All chores completed, he took glasses and canteen and crawled to his lookout point on the rim. There in the shade of a flowering cliff rose he lay down on his belly and waited. The cliff rose smelled like orange blossoms. The stone was already warm.

  Going to be a hot day. The sun turned in a cloudless sky. The air was still except for a steady flow of warm air rising over the rim where Hay duke waited. He judged the time at seven by the sun.

  Presently the pickups appeared, lurching down the roadway to the work site, stopping, discharging passengers, returning. Watching through his field glasses, Hayduke saw the workmen spread out, swinging their lunch buckets, hard hats shining in the morning sunlight, and clamber aboard their vehicles. There was further movement, a blast of diesel smoke here and yonder. Some machines started; others did not, or would not, or never would. Hayduke watched with satisfaction. He knew what the operators didn’t: they were all in trouble.

  You don’t lift the hood of a Caterpillar tractor. There is no hood. You walk forward over the steel cleats of the track and hunker down for a look at the power plant. What you see, if your name is Wilbur S. Schnitz this bright morning at Comb Wash, Utah, is a fuel line leading into empty air, a cluster of ignition leads snipped clean in two, cylinder injection heads hammered off, linkage rods cut, air and oil filters gone, hoses severed and dripping fluid. What you do not see is the sand in the crankcsae, the syrup in the fuel tank.

  Or say your name is J. Robert (“Jaybob”) Hartung and you’re on your back looking up into the underparts of the engine of your GMC Terex 40-ton hauler (which Abbzug had got to), what you see dangling in your face and dripping in your eye is a festoon of mutilated hydraulic hoses and seeping fuel lines.

  All up and down the line, from east to west of the project site, the story was the same. All systems mangled, half the equipment down already and the rest doomed. Gnawing on his breakfast jerky, wriggling his toes with pleasure, Hayduke watched through field glasses the disarray below.

  The sun rose higher, invading his shade. He was getting bored anyhow. He decided to put some distance between himself and the potential lynch mob down in Comb Wash. For all he knew or could see there might already be a squad of tractor lovers and heavy-equipment freaks trudging up the slope on the east, following the tracks which he and his friends might have left—could not have helped but leave—the night before.

  He crawled backward from the verge, not rising to his feet until he was safely below the skyline. Among the trees, he took a deep drink from his canteen—no use nursing the water when the body needs it now—put it into a side pocket of his pack, shouldered the pack and marched off to the north, away from the highway project, toward the old road. The plan was to slip across Comb Wash and down the other side, on the west, to intersect the highway right-of-way. Five miles? Ten miles? He didn’t know.

  Hayduke took pains, as he walked, to stay on the sandstone. Making no pictures, leaving no tracks. Where it was necessary to cross intervals of sand or dirt he turned and walked backward, for confusion’s sake, reversing his trail.

  Most of the way he was able to walk on bare rock, on the smooth, slightly rolling surface of a stratum of sedimentary sandstone, Wingate formation. Good solid well-knit stone, deposited, cemented and petrified some twenty-five million years ago, according to the fantasies of the geomorphologists.

  He was not aware of being followed. Once, however, when he heard an airplane droning toward him, he stepped quickly beneath the nearest tree and squatted there, not looking up, until the airplane passed beyond and out of sight and sound. Then he went on.

  Hot motherfucking day, thinks Hayduke, wiping the sweat from his nose, wringing the sweat from his thick eyebrows, feeling the sweat trickle from armpits down over ribs. But it felt good to be marching again; the hot dry clean air smelled good to him; he liked the picture of far-off mesas shimmering under heat waves, the glare of sunlight on red stone, the murmur of stillness in his ears.

  He marched north over the boulevard of sandstone, among the junipers and pinyon pines oozing their chewy gum, in reverse across the sand flats and—almost!—into a nest of needle-tipped yucca blades: Spanish bayonet. Maneuvering around that hazard, trying to get more authentic-looking weight on the heel, he back-walked to the comfort of the slickrock and, facing forward again beneath the ambiguous shelter of the sky, advanced.

  For some time. Then stopped in the shade, removed the Stone—his oversize pack—and drank more water. Only two quarts left.

  The sun hung noon high. When he came within sight of the old road, the original dirt road from Blanding to Hite, he picked out a juniper shading a comfortable slab of stone and laid himself down, pillowing his head on the pack frame, and fell asleep.

  He slept for three hours, not without dreams, through the heat
of the afternoon.

  He might have slept longer, for he was certainly very tired, but thirst, a dry throat and parched tongue, kept him uncomfortable, and when a truck went by on the road, groaning in low gear down the long steep grade to the wash, he woke up.

  The first thing he did was drink a half quart of water. He ate some jerky, stayed in the shade and waited for dark. When it came, he hoisted the great pack to his back and started down the road, through an old “dugway” in the ridge. Unless he walked clear around the head of Comb Wash, a detour of thirty miles, there was no other way to descend from the ridge into the wash and reach the other side. To rappel down the cliff he would have needed a rope a thousand feet long.

  Walking down the road offered few places to hide, in case of traffic, but nobody appeared. The road was as empty as it must have been half a century before. When he came to the wash he filled his canteens in the lukewarm stream, popped a purifying tablet in each and carried on.

  He reached the summit of the plateau beyond Comb Wash, left the old road and headed south, guiding himself by the stars. The going was rough, rocky, over a highly irregular surface cut up by draws, gullies and ravines, some of them tending west, others east back to Comb Wash. Hayduke tried to follow the divide between the two drainage systems—not easy in the dark, in a piece of back country where he had never set foot before.

  He guessed he had already walked ten miles that day, most of it up and down, all of it with a sixty-pound pack on his back. He was tired again. Worried that he might cross the highway right-of-way in the dark, where it consisted of nothing but a survey route, without seeing it, he decided to stop and wait for the dawn. He found a level spot open to the east, kicked a few stones away, unrolled his sleeping bag and slept the sleep of the just—the just plain tired.

  The cool twilight of dawn. Jaybirds crying in the pinyon pines. A band of pearl and ivory spread across the east….

  Hayduke awoke.

  A quick breakfast. Repacking. Off again. He walked down the sandstone ledges, around the heads of a dozen arid watercourses, to the highway right-of-way.

  Survey stakes in the ground. Pink flagging like ribbons dangled from the branches of trees. Taller stakes made of lathing, also with ribbons, were set out at one-hundred-yard intervals. Limbs had been lopped off trees to provide the surveyor with a clear line of sight and to make way for the survey crew’s jeep. The tracks, coming and going, were plain on the ground.

  The view was about the same in both directions. He was too far west to see any part of the construction project. Nor did he hear any sound of machinery in action: only the stillness, the breeze among the junipers, the call of a mourning dove.

  Hayduke waited for an hour or so in the shade of a pinyon pine near the right-of-way, making sure that none of the enemy were stalking about in the area. He heard nobody. When the sun flared above the horizon he went to work.

  First he concealed his pack. Then he walked east toward the project site, removing as he went every stake, lath and ribbon on the north shoulder of the right-of-way. Returning, he would clean up the south side.

  He topped a rise and came within sight of the man-made notch in Comb Ridge, the big fill below. Hayduke found a good vantage point and put the field glasses to his eyes.

  As expected, repairs were under way on part of the equipment. All up and down the line he saw busy men crawling over, under, in and out of their master machines, replacing fuel lines, soldering cut rods, splicing wiring, clamping on new hydraulic hoses. Had they also discovered the punched-through oil strainers, the sand on the dipsticks, the syrup in the fuel tanks? No way of telling, from where he lay. But many of the machines were both idle and unattended; they had a hopeless, abandoned look.

  Hayduke was tempted for a moment by the notion of walking down to the work site and asking for a job. If you were serious about this wooden-shoe business, he tells himself, you’d get a haircut, shave off the beard, take a shower, put on some clean work clothes and get a job, some kind of a job, any kind of a job, with the construction company itself. Then—bore from within, like the noble cutworm.

  These whims faded when he spotted, through the glasses, a pair of armed men in uniform—guns, boots, shoulder patches, badges, the tight shirts with the three sharp creases ironed up the back. He watched them with interest.

  We should have left them a clue to fasten their attention on, he thought. Like a “Free Jimmy Hoffa” button. Or “Think Hopi” or “Winos for Peace.” He tried to think of something new, something cryptic, a prophylactic conundrum not too clever, not too obvious, but inviting. But couldn’t, Hayduke being more destructive than bright. He hung the binoculars on his neck and took a drink from the canteen. Would soon have to start worrying about water again.

  He got up and went back along the south side of the right-of-way, paralleling his former route, and pulled up the stakes and threw them off in the brush, as he had done before, and plucked the ribbons from the branches and stuffed them down gopher holes, whistling softly as he worked.

  He retrieved his backpack and continued, plodding through the scrub, doing his job as before with this difference: now he zigzagged back and forth across the right-of-way, working both sides of the street, clearing it completely on a one-way trip.

  Tired, hot, thirsty. The midges danced their molecular dance in the air, in the scattered shade of the trees, bit Hayduke on the earlobe, tried to crawl into his eyes and inside his shirt collar. He brushed them aside, ignored them, trudged onward. The sun turned higher, beaming down on Hayduke’s hard head, on George Hayduke’s strong back. “A back,” his captain once had said, proudly, “that any pack would fit.” He marched on, snatching off ribbon, yanking up stakes and not forgetting to keep both eyeballs skinned for trouble, an ear cocked for danger.

  The jeep tracks veered away, northward, over the rock and through the bush. But the stakes and flagging went straight ahead. Hayduke followed the survey, a patient, resolute, sweating man doing his job.

  He arrived, abruptly, at the stony rim of another canyon. A modest abyss; the wall of the canyon dropped two hundred feet to the talus of rubble below. The opposite wall of the canyon was four hundred feet away, and there the stakes and staves and Day-Glo flags continued merrily on to the northwest. This canyon, then, was going to be bridged.

  It was only a small and little-known canyon, to be sure, with a tiny stream coursing down its bed, meandering in lazy bights over the sand, lolling in pools under the acid-green leafery of the cottonwoods, falling over lip of stone into basin below, barely enough water even in spring to sustain a resident population of spotted toads, red-winged dragonflies, a snake or two, a few canyon wrens, nothing special. A nice canyon but not a great canyon. And yet Hayduke he demurred; he didn’t want a bridge here, ever; he liked this little canyon, which he had never seen before, the name of which he didn’t even know, quite well enough as it was. He saw no need for a bridge.

  Hayduke knelt and wrote a message in the sand to all highway construction contractors: “Go home.”

  After some thought he added: “No fucking bridge, please.”

  To which, after further thought, he signed his secret name: “Rudolf the Red.”

  After a moment he crossed that out and wrote: “Crazy Horse.” Best not identify oneself exactly.

  Forewarned. Well, so be it. He’d be back, Hayduke would, with or without the rest of the crew, properly armed next time, i.e., with a sabot big enough to lever a bridge from its foundations.

  He walked north along the rim toward the head of the canyon, looking for a place to cross. Might save miles of walking if he could find one.

  He did. Pinyon pines and junipers on the rim, contoured terraces below, the canyon floor not so far away—150 instead of 200 feet. Hayduke took his rope out of the pack—120 feet of quarter-inch laid nylon—uncoiled it and looped it around the base of a tree. Steadying himself with the left hand, controlling the free ends of the rope with his right, he leaned backward over the edge of the ri
m and hung there for a moment, enjoying the sensation of gravity neutralized, then swiftly rappeled to the ledge below.

  A second rappel lowered him to within scrambling distance of the canyon floor. He lined his pack to the ground with the rope, dropped the rope and climbed down through a chimney to the sandy alluvium at the base of the wall.

  He refilled his four canteens at the stream, where it purled through sculptured grooves in the pink bedrock of the canyon. He took a good drink and rested for a while in the shade, dozing. The sun moved; the light and heat crept upon him. He awoke, took another drink, hoisted the pack to his back and climbed a high talus slope through a break in the west rim of the canyon. The final pitch, above the slope, was steep, tricky, twenty feet high. He took off the pack, tied the rope to it and climbed to the rim, one end of the rope in his belt. He drew up the pack, rested again, then marched south along the canyon rim to regain the project right-of-way.

  Through the afternoon he continued his project toward the northwest, into the sun, nullifying in one day the patient, skilled, month-long work of four men. All afternoon and into the evening he plodded along, back and forth, pulling up stakes, removing ribbons. Aircraft passed overhead, miles above, trailing vapor plumes across the sky, not concerned with Hayduke or his work. Only the birds watched him, the pinyon jays, a mountain bluebird, a hawk, the patient buzzards. Once he startled a herd of deer—six, seven, eight does, three spotted fawns—and watched them bound off into the brush. He blundered into a bunch of cattle and they rose reluctantly at his approach, half wild, half tame, hoisting hind ends and then foreparts from the shady ground, and trotted away. This wilderness at least would support pastoral man for a long time to come.