Charles, I Think

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

I was enjoying driving up the coast. 101 is a busy highway, which also happens to be a tourist route. Oregon beaches are phenomenal, undeveloped and I guess the water is cold. Crossing the mouth of the Rogue, salmon fishing boats were everywhere. I don’t know what the rules are on the Rogue, but on the Chetco you have to release them. I had read an article on best places to camp along the coast, but everywhere I went they were full. I didn’t think it would be so much trouble during the week. I called a KOA and thankfully, they had a place. It was on the Great Dunes and caters to dune buggies. The nice lady suggested William Tugman State Park just up the road might be quieter. As I pulled in, there was a vacancy sign on the post. Whew! Two nice ladies helped me find a quiet site.

On Wednesday morning, I showered, shaved and put on some nicer-looking clothes. I had washed the truck and trailer yesterday. Back in Brookings, I saw so many scruffy-looking people, especially at the library. Old men would ride their bicycle, then go in to get WIFI, like I was doing. A lady drove up, asking about the WIFI code. We talked a minute, and I noticed all the stuff in her car. She was obviously living out of it, perhaps like Cody in cheap campgrounds. I wondered about their stories. I was sitting on a rock outside the library one day and a nice-looking lady walked past. I said “Good morning”, but she never moved her head. Hmm, I hadn’t shaved in a couple of days and my clothes were dirty. That’s why I was sitting outside, but I guess I must have fit into the same category as the other men. I thought about Cody, out of work and running out of money. I thought how with some bad luck, a market crash and a few other bad things, and I could be like these guys. I will try to keep myself more presentable.

I went into Lakeside to do laundry. The small town is on Tenmile Lake. A nice gentleman said “Good morning” as I walked in. Once loaded, I went to the grocery store next door. That’s convenient. It’s a nice grocery and I picked up a few little things. When I got back, a scraggly-looking, old man shoved a cart to me to carry the wash to the dryer. “Thanks” I said. He had on a dirty, yellow t-shirt and an equally dirty jacket open in the front. His pants were dirty, and he had work boots on. He was about 5’8” with a bit of a gut. I sat down, checking for messages on my phone. Charles, I think was his name, struck up a conversation, asking where  I was from. First he told me about fishing in the lake and around the area. He has always lived in Oregon, growing up on a farm with 10 brothers and sisters. For some reason, his uncle mostly raised him. He drove his first logging truck when he was 14! He did that for a number of years, along with other odd jobs.

Now he had my respect. I hate all the logging and what it does to the land, but there are plenty of other ways we ruin the planet. I get scared driving National Forest roads, and they are the good ones. Where these guys go, I would never go… my truck. I can’t imagine doing it in a big logging truck fully loaded, winding up and down these steep mountains, always in a hurry to make time. I told him how I worry about the back wheel on my truck tracking inside my front wheel on these skinny gravel roads with 1000’ drops, and how there are washouts taking away part of the road. Hang a wheel in there and Oh my! He said, “Oh you get used to it when you do it every day”. He told of the time he was coming down the mountain with a young worker with him, and the brakes went out. He told the young man he was going to run it into the ditch and for him to jump out. He started to do the same, but the door stuck, so he ran it into the ditch again and it popped open. He jumped out and the truck went over the side, falling 2,000 feet. matter-of-factly, he said, “It happens.”

One of his friends put a group together to build logging roads or private roads. They had a great time doing that for 10 years, because they all knew each other, and each had a special talent or a piece of equipment. Mostly he ran a dozer, but he was running a bucket one day when it rolled down the mountain. “Lucky to be alive”, he said in a calm voice. He broke his leg, ribs, ankle and back. Screws, plates and all kinds of other hardware hold him together. They wanted to take his right leg off, but he wouldn’t let them. I mumbled, “Like Gus in Lonesome Dove”. He gave a little grin and nodded. He said without that leg, he would never be able to work again, and he would be on the dole. He said he would rather die than that. Great respect.

I started folding laundry, but he kept telling stories. He has a place in the mountains and showed me pictures of herds of elk in a field across from his house. he said all his life he has shot elk, bear, cougars and an occasional duck. I asked him how he liked eating bear. He said, “Oh it’s fine, but the special thing about bear is using the fat to make pies. It’s fluffy and light, and nothing like it!”  That’s what they lived on – fish and game, and what they raised in the garden. At 67, he doesn’t hunt much any more. He would rather look at them. By the time I finished the laundry, I shook his hand and told him how I enjoyed talking with him. I looked at his hand again as he talked some more. It didn’t look so big, but you could feel the power when you shook it.

  2 comments for “Charles, I Think

  1. Jane-Ashley Skinner
    August 19, 2017 at 7:15 am

    Your best story to date!
    Last year when Big Sur was aflame for three months, the only casualty was a firefighter rolling a dozer due to steep terrain.
    Peter is 65. He used to be able to get away with a little scruff, but not anymore. Missing one day really ages him. Missing more than that and he looks homeless. He usually pays me no mind when I remind him of this, and I find it surprising given how vain he is;)
    The national parks are so crowded. I wish I’d started visiting them decades ago. With all the baby boomers retiring, looks like we all have the same idea!

    • August 19, 2017 at 8:34 am

      Too funny about Peter. Martha tells me the same thing. Thank you for all your great comments.

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