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The Monkey Wrench Gang 24


  “Explain this,” she demanded. “What happened here?”

  He attempted to explain. The Explainer’s lot is not an easy one.

  In clear-cutting, he said, you clear away the natural forest, or what the industrial forester calls “weed trees,” and plant all one species of tree in neat straight functional rows like corn, sorghum, sugar beets or any other practical farm crop. You then dump on chemical fertilizers to replace the washed-away humus, inject the seedlings with growth-forcing hormones, surround your plot with deer repellants and raise a uniform crop of trees, all identical. When the trees reach a certain prespecified height (not maturity; that takes too long) you send in a fleet of tree-harvesting machines and cut the fuckers down. All of them. Then burn the slash, and harrow, seed, fertilize all over again, round and round and round again, faster and faster and tighter and tighter until, like the fabled Malaysian Concentric Bird which flies in ever-smaller circles, you disappear up your own asshole.

  “You see?” he said.

  “Well yes and no,” she said, “except that, like if this …”—she waves her hand and bangled wrist at the surrounding wasteland—“I mean like if all that was a national forest—a national forest—then it belonged to us, right?”

  “Wrong.”

  “But you said—”

  “Can’t you understand anything? Goddamned cocksucking New York Marxist liberal.”

  “I ain’t no New York Marxist liberal.”

  Hayduke drove on past the clear-cut area. Although there was little natural forest remaining in the Kaibab it still looked, by and large, like a woods. The clear-cutting was only getting started. Though much was lost, much remained—though much was lost.

  Still troubled, Bonnie asked, “They pay us for our trees, don’t they?”

  “The loggers bid for the right to log an area, sure. The top bidder writes a check to the U.S. Treasury. The Forest Service takes the money, our money, and spends it building new logging roads like this one, all banked and graded for the loggers to run their timber-hauling rigs on to see how many deer, tourists and chipmunks they can kill. A deer is ten points, chipmunk five, tourist one.”

  “Where are the loggers now?”

  “Sunday. They’re off.”

  “But America does need the lumber. People need some kind of shelter.”

  “All right,” he said, “people need shelter.” He said it grudgingly. “Let them build their houses out of rock, for chrissake, or out of mud and sticks like the Papagos do. Out of bricks or cinder blocks. Out of packing crates and Karo cans like my friends in Dak Tho. Let them build houses that will last a while, say for a hundred years, like my great-granpappy’s cabin back in Pennsylvania. Then we won’t have to strip the forests.”

  “All you’re asking for is a counter-industrial revolution.”

  “Right. That’s all.”

  “And how do you propose to bring it about?”

  Hayduke thought about that question. He wished Doc were here. His own brain functioned like crankcase sludge on a winter day. Like grunge. Like Chairman Mao prose. Hayduke was a saboteur of much wrath but little brain. The jeep meanwhile sank deeper into Kaibab National Forest, into the late afternoon. Pine duff rose on dusty sunbeams, trees transpired, the hermit thrushes sang and over it all the sky (having no alternative) flourished its borrowed sundown colors—blue and gold.

  Hayduke thought. Finally the idea arrived. He said, “My job is to save the fucking wilderness. I don’t know anything else worth saving. That’s simple, right?”

  “Simpleminded,” she said.

  “Good enough for me.”

  They came to the work site Hayduke had been seeking. It was a clear-cut in progress with hulking machines standing around, nothing to do, in the evening twilight. Bulldozers, loaders, skidders, tankers, everything was waiting but the haulers, which had made their last run loaded down off the plateau to the sawmill in Fredonia the Friday before.

  “Where’s the watchman?”

  “There won’t be any,” Hayduke said. “They’re not on to us.”

  “Well if you don’t mind I’d like to make sure.”

  “We’ll do that.”

  Hayduke stopped his jeep, got out and locked the hubs, transferred into four-wheel drive. They drove up and down the skid trails, through mud and muck, around stacked logs and slash heaps, through the acreage of mutilated stumps. Massacre of the pines—not a standing tree within an area of two hundred acres.

  They found the work-site office, a small house trailer locked and dark, nobody home. GEORGIA-PACIFIC CORP., SEATTLE, WASH., said the tin sign on the door. Them boys a long way from home, seems like, thought Hayduke.

  He got out. He knocked on the padlocked door, rattled the hasp. Nobody answered; nothing answered. A squirrel chattered, a blue jay squawked off in the trees beyond the stumps, but nothing was stirring nearby. Even the wind had stopped, and the forest lay still as the death site it surrounded. Bonnie thought of the Traveler. Tell them he returned. Tell them he remembered, etc. Hayduke came back.

  “Well?”

  “I told you. There’s nobody here. They all went to town for the weekend.”

  She turned her head, gazing over the battlefield at the inert but powerful machines close by, the defenseless trees beyond the clearcut. Then back to the machines.

  “There must be a million dollars’ worth of equipment here.”

  Hayduke surveyed the layout with appraising eyes. “About two and a half million,” he said. One guess as good as another. They were both silent for a minute.

  “What to do?” she said, feeling the chill of evening.

  He grinned. The fangs came out, gleaming in the gloom. The big fists rose, thumbs up. “Time to do our chores.”

  18

  Dr. Sarvis at Home

  A hard day at the shop. First, thoracic surgery, a tricky lobectomy on the left lung inferior lobe of a teenage boy who’d come to the Southwest ten years too late, after the old-fashioned nineteenth-century air had been replaced by modern scientific thinking, and had managed to contract pneumonitis compounded by the scars of bronchiectasis (rare in young mammals) compounded in turn, a few years later, by that most typical of Southwestern ailments, coccidioidomycosis or valley fever, a fungus infection associated with alkaline soils and carried far and wide by the winds wherever the desert surface is disturbed by agriculture, mining or construction. In the boy this expanding economy disease led in due course to severe hemorrhaging; there was no recourse but removal, suturing the bronchus, stitching up the lad’s hide.

  Second, for relaxation, Doc performed a hemorrhoidectomy, a simple operation—like coring an apple—that he always enjoyed, especially when his patient was the red-necked white-assed blue-nosed persecutor of topless dancers W. W. Dingledine (not the W. W. Dingledine? aye, the same!), District Attorney of Bernal County, New Mexico. Doc’s fee for the ten-minute rectal reaming would be, in this case, a flat $500. Exorbitant? Of course; of course it was exorbitant; but, well, the D.A. had been warned: Prosecutors will be violated.

  Finished, he dropped his blood-spattered gown, pinched the wrong nurse on the right buttock and shambled on shaky hind legs out the side door up the alleyway through the photochemical glare of the dimmed but unrelenting Albuquerque sun down a short flight of steps into the feel-your-way and padded darkness of the nearest bar.

  The cocktail waitress came and went and came and went again, a disembodied smile gliding through the gloom. Doc sipped his martini and thought of the boy with the eight-inch cut now stitched and burning underneath the left shoulder blade. The Southwest had once been the place where Eastern physicians sent their more serious respiratory cases. No more; the developers—bankers, industrialists, subdivides, freeway builders and public utility chiefs—had succeeded with less than thirty years’ effort in bringing the air of Southwestern cities “up to standard,” that is, as foul as any other.

  Doc thought he knew where the poison came from that had attacked the boy’s lungs, the
same poison eating into the mucous membranes of several million other citizens including himself. From poor visibility to eye irritation, from allergies to asthma to emphysema to general asthenia, the path lay straight ahead, pathogenic all the way. They were already having afternoons right here in Albuquerque when schoolchildren were forbidden to play outside in the “open” air, heavy breathing being more dangerous than child molesters.

  He ordered a second martini, following with his gaze the movement of the girl’s structurally perfect thighs as she withdrew in sinuous meander among the tables back to the chrome-plated rails of the service bar. He thought as she walked of those inner surfaces caressing one another in frictionless intimacy, how they led and where and why. He thought, with a pang as poignant as morning dreams, of Bonnie.

  Enough. Enough of that.

  Doc blundered forth into the fat sunshine, the traffic’s rising involuntary roar, the unreal reality of the city. Found his bicycle, actually Bonnie’s, where he had parked it (crookedly) in the rack near the entrance to the surgical ward. Wobbling badly at first, Dr. Sarvis piloted his ten-speed craft in first gear up the long grade of Iron Avenue. (“Wearing his legs out,” the country boys would say, “to give his ass a ride.”)

  Mad motorists in arrogant chariots of iron brushed him by dangerously close. He struggled on, heroic and alone, holding up traffic all by himself. A contractor’s menial at the controls of an oversize cement mixer honked his air horn immediately in the doctor’s rear, nearly blasting him into the gutter. Doc refused to yield; pumping on he raised one hand, the big general-purpose finger rigidly extended—Chinga!—in direct retort. The truck driver pulled around him and passed, leaning recklessly far to the right in his cab to stick a beefy forearm, fist and finger out and up: Chinga tu madre! Doc replied with the well-known Neapolitan double thrust, little finger and forefinger extended like the prongs of a meat fork: Chinga stugatz! (Untranslatable and unnatural obscenity.) Oh-oh! Too much: went too far that time.

  The truck driver swung his mixer to the curb with squealing brakes, opened the door on the driver’s side and wallowed out. Doc bounced up on the sidewalk and pedaled smoothly by on the right, sitting up straight like a gentleman. He shifted into third. The truck driver ran a few steps after him, stopped and retreated to his cab as a chorus of horns began to sound, tutti fortissima, behind the truck.

  Still on Iron, for him the most convenient route for another mile, Doc became unpleasantly aware that he was being pursued. A glance over the shoulder and he saw the cement truck gaining again, bearing down like Goliath. Heart beating fast, chewing desperately on his smoldering stogie, Doc made plans. The corner he had in mind, one block ahead, featured a vacant lot with a giant high-legged two-faced steel-beamed billboard already in view.

  Doc slowed the bicycle a bit, pedaling as close to the curb as he could, and allowed a couple of cars to pass. The cement truck was now directly behind him. Doc glanced back once more and threw the driver another two-pronged unspeakable Calabrian insult. The air horn replied with a bray of rage. Doc stepped up the speed, shifting into sixth as the cement truck thundered at his rear. The corner came close; he focused on the narrow opening in the curb where a dirt driveway led to the billboards. (Doc and Bonnie had edited those signs before.) Giving the driver a sporting chance, Doc courteously signaled the oblique right turn he was about to make. Finger extended, of course.

  The moment arrived. Doc banked gracefully into the turn, losing not a stroke at the pedals. Swift and sleek, sitting sedately upright on the tiny saddle of his bike, he passed between the steel posts and under the lower edge of the double billboard. The top of his hat cleared the steel crossbeam by six inches. The cement truck followed.

  When he heard the crash, Doc slowed and circled, surveying the damage: spectacular but not serious. Both billboards were down, sprawled all over the cab and still-revolving mixer of the cement truck. Out of the midst of the tangled wreckage rose a spout of steam, hissing like a geyser from the ruptured radiator of Unit #17 Duke City Reddy-Mix Cement & Gravel Co.

  Doc watched the driver crawl from his cab into the shade of the billboards. Except for a bleeding nose and minor contusions, lacerations and shock, the man appeared not seriously injured. The Dopplerian moan of sirens approached, arrived and died with the slamming of doors. The police took charge of the scene. Satisfied, Doc pedaled harmlessly away.

  Supper was not quite so facile. Dr. Sarvis loved to eat but hated to cook. After banging about for a while up and down his kitchen with a package of pork chops, hard as quartzite from four weeks in the freezer, he settled—where in the hell is my Bonnie?—for a can of string beans, some old leftover Abbzug chicken salad, and a bottle of beer. He turned on the TV to watch the evening news with Walter Cronkite and his friends. He sat down at the table and studied once again the postcard he’d found in the mailbox.

  Dear Daddy Doc having a great time up here in the woods picking flowres watching the deere and General Havick follows everywhere we go we miss you all of us and see you at Page? Fry Canyon? In another week or two right? Will phone love Butch & Bonnie & Seldom Seen Slim.

  The card was postmarked Jacob Lake, Arizona, and showed on its picture side a view of mountain meadow, mule deer, and aspens in summer green.

  He ate his lonesome bachelor supper, feeling as cold and glum as the chicken salad. He missed the gang. He missed the vivid air, the wastelands, the little yellow flowers, the smell of juniper smoke, the feel of sand and sandstone under his hands. He missed the pleasures, the action, the satisfaction of the good work. (Support Your Local Eco-Raiders.) But most he missed his Bonnie. The bonniest Abbzug who ever lived.

  He watched the news. Same as yesterday’s. The General Crisis coming along nicely. Nothing new except the commercials full of sly art and eco-porn. Scenes of the Louisiana bayous, strange birds in slow-motion flight, cypress trees bearded with Spanish moss. Above the primeval scene the voice of Power spoke, reeking with sincerity, in praise of itself, the Exxon Oil Company—its tidiness, its fastidious care for all things wild, its concern for human needs.

  Coming back from the refrigerator, second beer in hand, Doc paused for a moment in front of the television screen. Long shot of an offshore drilling rig. Music rising on concluding phrase. The words “We thought you’d like to know” passing across the screen. Too much for Doc. All of a sudden it was all too much. He drew back his big booted right foot and kicked the picture tube square in the eye. It imploded-exploded with a sound like the popping of a grandiose light bulb. A blue glare filled the kitchen and then died in the instant of its birth; shards and flakes of fluorescent glass slid down the walls.

  Doc paused to contemplate the awful thing he had done. “Thus I refute McLuhan,” he muttered.

  He sat down again at the table. The smell of zinc sulfide floated on the air. He finished his supper and dumped the dishes onto the pile of dirty dishes already overflowing the dishwashing machine. He crammed them down, leaning heavily on the lid. A crunch of splintering glass. He fed Bonnie’s cat and threw it out, left the kitchen, sat down in the living room and lit a cigar, gazing out through the big west window at the sullen magnificence, like a bed of embers, of the city. Above the city and beyond the Rio Grande, the crescent moon hung pale as platinum in the evening sky, shining down on city, river and desert plain.

  Doc thought of his friends out there somewhere, far away to the north and west, among the rocks, under that simple light, doing their necessary work while he idled away his middle age. The devil finds work for idle hands. Dr. Sarvis reached for the newspaper. Saw the full-page ad on the back. Boat Show, Duke City Ice Arena. He thought he might go have a look at the new houseboats. Tomorrow, or the next day. Soon.

  19

  Strangers in the Night

  Hayduke parked his jeep out of sight among the pines near the entrance to the logging area and stationed Bonnie on the hood with instructions to keep her eyes open and ears clean. She nodded impatiently.

  He put on ha
rd hat, coveralls, gun and gun belt, work gloves, took a small flashlight and his other tools and disappeared from Bonnie’s ken into the deep twilight of the cut-over site, fading like a shadow among the giant machines. She wanted to read but it was already too dark. She sang songs for a while, softly, and listened to the cries of birds, unknown and unseen birds, off in the forest, retreating to their nests for the night, heads nestled under fold of wing, retiring into the simple harmless dreams of avian sleep. (A bird has no cerebrum.)

  The forest seemed eternal. The winds had stopped some time ago and the stillness, as the birds settled down, became finer and deeper. Bonnie was aware of tall presences around her, the brooding yellow pines, the somber shaggy personalities of the Engelmann spruce and white fir, their high crowns pointing like cathedral spires, at variant angles (for everything which rises must diverge), toward that luxurious fireball array of first-magnitude stars which ornament, as they illuminate, doing the best they can, the vast interior of our expanding universe. Bonnie though had seen it before: she rolled and lit a joint.

  Meanwhile under the belly of a bulldozer George W. Hayduke was tugging at an oversize spanner, trying to open the drain plug in the crankcase of an Allis-Chalmers HD-41. Merely the biggest tractor Allis-Chalmers makes. His wrench was three feet long—he’d taken it from the tractor’s toolbox—but he couldn’t turn that square nut. He reached for his cheater, a three-foot length of steel pipe, fitted it like a sleeve over the end of the wrench handle and tugged again. This time the nut gave, a fraction of a millimeter. All he needed; Hayduke yanked again and the nut began to turn.

  So far he’d done nothing dramatic, merely following routine procedures. Where possible, as in the case of this HD-41, he decided to drain the crankcase oil, planning to start up the engine just before leaving. (Noise factor.) He had no keys but assumed he would find what was needed by breaking into the office trailer.