The Monkey Wrench Gang 9

  What Hayduke and friends could and did see were several of the many phases of a road-building project that follow the survey. To the far west, on the rise beyond Comb Wash, they saw bulldozers clearing the right-of-way. In forested areas the clearing job would require a crew of loggers with chain saws, but here in southeast Utah, on the plateau, the little pinyon pines and junipers offered no resistance to the bulldozers. The crawler-tractors pushed them all over with nonchalant ease and shoved them aside, smashed and bleeding, into heaps of brush, where they would be left to die and decompose. No one knows precisely how sentient is a pinyon pine, for example, or to what degree such woody organisms can feel pain or fear, and in any case the road builders had more important things to worry about, but this much is clearly established as scientific fact: a living tree, once uprooted, takes many days to wholly die.

  Behind the first wave of bulldozers came a second, blading off the soil and ripping up loose stone down to the bedrock. Since this was a cut-and-fill operation it was necessary to blast away the bedrock down to the grade level specified by the highway engineers. Watching from their comfortable grandstand bleachers, the four onlookers saw drill rigs crawl on self-propelled tracks to the blasting site, followed by tractors towing air compressors. Locked in position and linked to the compressors, the drill steel bit into the rock with screaming teconite bits, star-shaped and carbide-tipped. Powdered stone floated on the air as the engines roared. Resonant vibrations shuddered through the bone structure of the earth. More mute suffering. The drill rigs moved on over the hill to the next site.

  The demolition team arrived. Charges were lowered into the bore holes, gently tamped and stemmed, and wired to an electrical circuit. The watchers on the rim heard the chief blaster’s warning whistle, saw the crew move off to a safe distance, saw the spout of smoke and heard the thunder as the blaster fired his shot. More bulldozers, loaders and giant trucks moved in to shovel up and haul away the debris.

  Down in the center of the wash below the ridge the scrapers, the earthmovers and the dump trucks with eighty-ton beds unloaded their loads, building up the fill as the machines beyond were deepening the cut. Cut and fill, cut and fill, all afternoon the work went on. The object in mind was a modern high-speed highway for the convenience of the trucking industry, with grades no greater than 8 percent. That was the immediate object. The ideal lay still farther on. The engineer’s dream is a model of perfect sphericity, the planet Earth with all irregularities removed, highways merely painted on a surface smooth as glass. Of course the engineers still have a long way to go but they are patient tireless little fellows; they keep hustling on, like termites in a termitorium. It’s steady work, and their only natural enemies, they believe, are mechanical breakdown or “down time” for the equipment, and labor troubles, and bad weather, and sometimes faulty preparation by the geologists and surveyors.

  The one enemy the contractor would not and did not think of was the band of four idealists stretched out on their stomachs on a rock under the desert sky.

  Down below the metal monsters roared, bouncing on rubber through the cut in the ridge, dumping their loads and thundering up the hill for more. The green beasts of Bucyrus, the yellow brutes of Caterpillar, snorting like dragons, puffing black smoke into the yellow dust.

  The sun slipped three degrees westward, beyond the clouds, beyond the silver sky. The watchers on the ridge munched on jerky, sipped from their canteens. The heat began to slacken off. There was talk of supper, but no one had much appetite. There was talk of getting ready for the evening program. The iron machines still rolled in the wash below, but it seemed to be getting close to quitting time.

  “The main thing we have to watch for,” Hayduke said, “is a night watchman. They just might keep some fucker out here at night. Maybe with a dog. Then we’ll have problems.”

  “There won’t be any watchman,” Smith said. “Not all night, anyhow.”

  “What makes you so sure?”

  “It’s the way they do things around here; we’re out in the country. Nobody lives out here. It’s fifteen miles from Blanding. This here project is three miles off the old road, which hardly nobody drives at night anyhow. They don’t expect any trouble.”

  “Maybe some of them are camping out here,” Hayduke said.

  “Naw,” Smith said. “They don’t do that kind of thing either. These boys work like dogs all day long; they wanta get back to town in the evening. They like their civilized comforts. They ain’t campers. These here construction workers don’t think nothing of driving fifty miles to work every morning. They’re all crazy as bedbugs. I worked in these outfits myself.”

  Doc and Hayduke, armed with the field glasses, kept watch. Smith and Bonnie crawled down from the ridge, keeping out of sight, until they were below the skyline. Then they walked to the truck, set up the campstove and began preparing a meal for the crew. The doctor and Hayduke, poor cooks, made good dishwashers. All four were qualified eaters, but only Bonnie and Smith cared enough about food to cook it with decency.

  Smith was right; the construction workers departed all together long before sundown. Leaving their equipment lined up along the right-of-way, nose to tail, like a herd of iron elephants, or simply in situ, where quitting time found them, the operators straggled back in small groups to their transport vehicles. Far above, Doc and Hayduke could hear their voices, the laughter, the rattle of lunch buckets. The carryalls and pickups driven by men at the eastern end of the job came down through the big notch to meet the equipment operators. The men climbed in; the trucks turned and ground uphill through the dust, into the notch again and out of sight. For some time there was the fading sound of motors, a cloud of dust rising above the pinyon and juniper; then that too was gone. A tanker truck appeared, full of diesel fuel, groaning down the grade toward the machines, and proceeded from one to the next, the driver and his helper filling the fuel tanks of each, topping them off. Finished, the tanker turned and followed the others back through the evening toward the distant glow of town, somewhere beyond the eastward bulge of the plateau.

  Now the stillness was complete. The watchers on the rim, eating their suppers from tin plates, heard the croon of a mourning dove far down the wash. They heard the hoot of an owl, the cries of little birds retiring to sleep in the dusty cottonwoods. The great golden light of the setting sun streamed across the sky, glowing upon the clouds and the mountains. Almost all the country within their view was roadless, uninhabited, a wilderness. They meant to keep it that way. They sure meant to try. Keep it like it was.

  The sun went down.

  Tactics, materials, tools, gear.

  Hayduke was reading off his checklist. “Gloves! Everybody got his gloves? Put ’em on now. Anybody goes fucking around down there without gloves I’ll chop his hand off.”

  “You haven’t washed the dishes yet,” Bonnie said.

  “Hard hat! Everybody got his hard hat?” He looked around at the crew. “You—put that thing on your head.”

  “It doesn’t fit,” she said.

  “Make it fit. Somebody show her how to adjust the headband. Jesus Christ.” Looking back at his list. “Bolt cutters!” Hayduke brandished his own, a 24-inch pair of cross-levered steel jaws for cutting bolts, rods, wire, most anything up to half an inch in diameter. The rest of the party were equipped with fencing pliers, good enough for most purposes.

  “Now, you lookouts,” he went on, addressing Bonnie and Doc. “Do you know your signals?”

  “One short and a long for warning, take cover,” Doc said, holding up his metal whistle. “One short and two longs for all clear, resume operations. Three longs for distress, come help. Four longs for … what are four longs for?”

  “Four longs mean work completed, am returning to camp,” Bonnie said. “And one long means acknowledgment, message received.”

  “Don’t much like them tin whistles,” Smith said. “We need something more natural. More ecological. Owl hoots, maybe. Anybody hears them tin whistles will know
there’s two-legged animals slinkin’ around. Lemme show you how to hoot like a owl.”

  Training time. Hands cupped and close, one little opening between thumbs, shape the lips, blow. Blow from the belly, down deep; the call will float through canyons, across mountainsides, all the way down in the valley. Hayduke showed Dr. Sarvis; Smith showed Abbzug, personally, holding her hands in the necessary way, blowing into them, letting her blow into his. She picked it up quickly, the doctor not so fast. They rehearsed the signals. For a while the twilight seemed full of great horned owls, talking. Finally they were ready. Hayduke returned to his checklist.

  “Okay, gloves, hats, wire cutters, signals, Now: Karo syrup, four quarts each. Matches. Flashlights—be careful with those: keep the light close to your work, don’t swing it around, shut it off when you’re moving. Maybe we should work out light signals? Naw, later. Water. Jerky. Hammer, screwdriver, cold chisel—okay, I got them. What else?”

  “We’re all set,” Smith said. “Let’s get a move on.”

  They shouldered their packs. Hayduke’s pack, with most of the hardware in it, weighed twice as much as anyone else’s. He didn’t care. Seldom Seen Smith led the way through the sundown gloom. The others followed in single file. Hayduke at the rear. There was no trail, no path. Smith picked the most economic route among the scrubby trees, around the bayonet leaves of the yucca and the very hairy prickly pear, across the little sandy washes below the crest of the ridge. As much as possible he led them on the rock, leaving no tracks.

  They were headed south by the stars, south by the evening breeze, toward a rising Scorpio sprawled out fourteen galactic worlds wide across the southern sky. Owls hooted from the pygmy forest. The saboteurs hooted back.

  Smith circumvented an anthill, a huge symmetric arcologium of sand surrounded by a circular area denuded of any vestige of vegetation. The dome home of the harvester ants. Smith went around and so did Bonnie but Doc stumbled straight into it, stirring up the formicary. The big red ants swarmed out looking for trouble; one of them bit Doc on the calf. He stopped, turned and dismantled the anthill with a series of vigorous kicks.

  “Thus I refute R. Buckminster Fuller,” he growled. “Thus do I refute Paolo Soleri, B. F. Skinner and the late Walter Gropius.”

  “How late was he?” Smith asked.

  “Doc hates ants,” Bonnie explained. “And they hate him.”

  “The anthill,” said Doc, “is sign, symbol and symptom of what we are about out here, stumbling through the gloaming like so many stumblebums. I mean it is the model in microcosm of what we must find a way to oppose and halt. The anthill, like the Fullerian foam fungus, is the mark of social disease. Anthills abound where overgrazing prevails. The plastic dome follows the plague of runaway industrialism, prefigures technological tyranny and reveals the true quality of our lives, which sinks in inverse ratio to the growth of the Gross National Product. End of mini-lecture by Dr. Sarvis.”

  “Good,” Bonnie said.

  “Amen,” said Smith.

  The evening gave way to night, a dense violet solution of starlight and darkness mixed with energy, each rock and shrub and tree and scarp outlined by an aura of silent radiation. Smith led the conspirators along the contour of the terrain until they came to the brink of something, an edge, a verge, beyond which stood nothing tangible. This was not the rim of the monocline, however, but the edge of the big man-made cut through the monocline. Below in the gloom those with sufficient night vision could see the broad new roadway and the dark forms of machines, two hundred feet down.

  Smith and friends proceeded along this new drop-off until they reached a point where it was possible to scramble down to the crushed rock and heavy dust of the roadbed. Looking northeast, toward Blanding, they saw this pale raw freeway leading straight across the desert, through the scrub forest and out of sight in the darkness. No lights were visible, only the faint glow of the town fifteen miles away. In the opposite direction the roadbed curved down between the walls of the cut, sinking out of view toward the wash. They walked into the cut.

  The first thing they encountered, on the shoulder of the roadbed, were survey stakes. Hayduke pulled them up and tossed them into the brush.

  “Always pull up survey stakes,” he said. “Anywhere you find them. Always. That’s the first goddamned general order in the monkey wrench business. Always pull up survey stakes.”

  They walked deeper into the cut to where it was possible, looking down and west, to make out though dimly the bottom of Comb Wash, the fill area, the scattered earth-moving equipment. Here they stopped for further consultation.

  “We want our first lookout here,” Hayduke said.

  “Doc or Bonnie?”

  “I want to wreck something,” Bonnie said. “I don’t want to sit here in the dark making owl noises.”

  “I’ll stay here,” Doc said.

  Once more they rehearsed signals. All in order. Doc made himself comfortable on the operator’s seat of a giant compactor machine. He toyed with the controls. “Stiff,” he said, “but it’s transportation.”

  “Why don’t we start with this fucker right here?” Hayduke said, meaning Doc’s machine. “Just for the practice.”

  Why not? Packs were opened, tools and flashlights brought out. While Doc stood watch above them his three comrades entertained themselves cutting up the wiring, fuel lines, control link rods and hydraulic hoses of the machine, a beautiful new 27-ton tandem-drummed yellow Hyster C-450A, Caterpillar 330 HP diesel engine, sheepsfoot rollers, manufacturer’s suggested retail price only $29,500 FOB Saginaw, Michigan. One of the best. A dreamboat.

  They worked happily. Hard hats clinked and clanked against the steel. Lines and rods snapped apart with the rich spang! and solid clunk! of metal severed under tension. Doc lit another stogie. Smith wiped a drop of oil from his eyelid. The sharp smell of hydraulic fluid floated on the air, mixing uneasily with the aroma of Doc’s smoke. Running oil pattered on the dust. There was another sound, far away, as of a motor. They paused. Doc stared into the dark. Nothing. The noise faded.

  “All’s clear,” he said. “Carry on, lads.”

  When everything was cut which they could reach and cut, Hayduke pulled the dipstick from the engine block—to check the oil? not exactly—and poured a handful of fine sand into the crankcase. Too slow. He unscrewed the oil-filler cap, took chisel and hammer and punched a hole through the oil strainer and poured in more sand. Smith removed the fuel-tank cap and emptied four quart bottles of sweet Karo syrup into the fuel tank. Injected into the cylinders, that sugar would form a solid coat of carbon on cylinder walls and piston rings. The engine should seize up like a block of iron, when they got it running. If they could get it running.

  What else? Abbzug, Smith and Hayduke stood back a little and stared at the quiet hulk of the machine. All were impressed by what they had done. The murder of a machine. Deicide. All of them, even Hayduke, a little awed by the enormity of their crime. By the sacrilege of it.

  “Let’s slash the seat,” said Bonnie.

  “That’s vandalism,” Doc said. “I’m against vandalism. Slashing seats is petty-bourgeois.”

  “So okay, okay,” Bonnie said. “Let’s get on to the next item.”

  “Then we’ll all meet back here?” Doc said.

  “It’s the only way back up on the ridge,” Smith said.

  “But if there’s any shit,” Hayduke said, “don’t wait for us. We’ll meet at the truck.”

  “I couldn’t find my way back there if my life depended on it,” Doc said. “Not in the dark.”

  Smith scratched his long jaw. “Well, Doc,” he said, “if there’s any kind of trouble maybe you better just hightail it up on the bank there, above the road, and wait for us. Don’t forget the hoot owl. We’ll find you that way.”

  They left him there in the dark, perched on the seat of the maimed and poisoned compactor. The one red eye of his cigar watched them depart. The plan was for Bonnie to stand watch at the far west end of the p
roject, alone, while Hayduke and Smith worked on the equipment down in the wash. She murmured against them.

  “You ain’t afraid of the dark, are you?” Smith asked.

  “Of course I’m afraid of the dark.”

  “You afraid to be alone?”

  “Of course I’m afraid to be alone.”

  “You mean you don’t want to be lookout?”

  “I’ll be lookout.”

  “No place for women,” Hayduke muttered.

  “You shut up,” she said. “Am I complaining? I’ll be lookout. So shut up before I take your jaw off.”

  The dark seemed warm, comfortable, secure to Hayduke. He liked it. The Enemy, if he appeared, would come loudly announced with roar of engines, blaze of flares, an Operation Rolling Thunder of shells and bombs, just as in Vietnam. So Hayduke assumed. For the night and the wilderness belong to us. This is Indian country. Our country. Or so he assumed.

  Downhill, maybe a mile, in one great switchback, the roadway descended through the gap to the built-up fill across the floor of Comb Wash. They soon reached the first group of machines—the earthmovers, the big trucks, the landscape architects.

  Bonnie was about to go on by herself. Smith took her arm for a moment. “You stay close, honey,” he told her, “only concentrate on looking and listening; let me and George do the hard work. Take the hard hat off so you can hear better. Okay?”

  “Well,” she agreed, “for the moment.” But she wanted a bigger share of the action later. He agreed. Share and share alike. He showed her where to find the steps that led to the open cab of an 85-ton Euclid mountain mover. She sat up there, like a lookout in a crow’s nest, while he and Hayduke went to work.