Journal of Writing & Environment

I lay in the middle of Willamette Forest Road 8413, staring up through the morning mist, when the first truck registered beneath the springtime music of songbirds. I sat up and imagined I could feel a low rumbling in the gravel beneath the seat of my guerilla cargos. My wrists were wrapped in Ace bandages with chains fit snugly over those, and attached to each chain was a carabiner. Men sat on either side of me, Fox on my left and Chinook on my right, each with a leg cemented in the earth up to his knee. The birds kept singing. Dust rose over the distant trees.

“This is it!” Fox shouted.

Bear rushed over with the two lockboxes, reinforced PVC pipes that swallowed my arms up to each shoulder. Fox and Chinook slipped their arms in and we each clipped our carabiners to the bolts in the middle of the pipe we shared. Fox’s fingers found mine, and he gave me a nod before facing forward. With my arms extended, I felt like Christ on the cross, then checked my ego, my little sacrifice nothing compared to His.

Bear took his position on the road behind us. Osprey passed before me with her camcorder running. I hardened my eyes as sweat started beading on my bare arms.

We’d built the links of our three-person chain a week earlier at the crash house in Eugene, an old machine shop converted into an anarchist co-op next to a vacant lot in the Whiteaker. “We need Raven front and center,” Fox had said. I wasn’t sure about my Watcher name. The alter-ego thing was kind of cool, but I liked my own name, Maya, just fine. “I’m too ugly and Chinook’s too dopey,” Fox continued. “Raven will be our poster girl.”

Fox wasn’t so much ugly as unruly: knotted red dreads and patchy red beard, brass hoop dangling from his septum, barcode tattoo on his neck. I’d tried to imagine the look on Mom’s face if I ever brought him home. I wouldn’t prep her, just enjoy the split second of shock before she masked it with politeness. She’d probe beneath his rough exterior and find a pissed-off street kid fighting just as hard for the environment as she did on her side of the law. He was smart, too, had done his homework and found out about this little fifty-acre timber sale that none of the mainstream environmental groups were talking about. It was in the middle of nowhere, on nondescript national forest land without any waterway or established spotted owl habitat to legally protect it, but old growth was old growth.

And this whole Watcher thing he’d put together, savvy enough to visualize the impact we three would have on computer screens: Fox, like a fire bursting from his Utilikilt and black hoodie; Chinook, soft on the inside but imposing as a Viking with his blonde mohawk and full beard; and me, like something out of a Che Guevara movie, dark and decked out in guerilla gear I’d ordered online. I’d considered streaking my face red and black like the Amazon warriors Mom defended in Brazil, but I didn’t want to offend anyone.

Osprey shuffled behind me with her camcorder, wanting us in the foreground for when the first truck appeared. Sweat trickled across my skin. I remembered the carabiners and breathed.

Back at the crash house, Chinook had driven a bolt through the middle of each pipe, melting the exterior heads and nuts with a glass blowing torch so the cops couldn’t unscrew them. They could pull all they wanted, but there were only two ways I could be separated from Fox or Chinook: if they figured out how to cut through the pipe, or if I unclipped my carabiners from the bolts.

I fingered each one and peeked at Fox. He stared toward the bend in the road, maybe a hundred yards away. His chin rose slightly when he sensed me looking. His fingers still rested on mine inside the pipe.

I knew Chinook’s face was calm, but I looked at him anyway. He gave me a quick wink. I tested the carabiner on the bolt I shared with him, careful not to open it all the way.

All three of us wore Depends adult diapers.

A long way from the crash house, where we’d experimented with the diapers while slamming cans of warm Pabst, Osprey and I had debated whether pads might work better, but we settled on the Depends. She was a pixie who hummed while painting a huge banner that stretched across the lot. Bear, her oversized boyfriend, had tied back his brown dreads and cooked garden burgers and tar over the same open fire, flipping the burgers on a camping grate and stirring an industrial pot with a broom handle. He was our muscle, harder than Chinook and scarred from scraps, though Fox had promised no violence. While Fox tinkered with the Watcher blog, I had helped Bear and Chinook plaster hot tar to the PVC. It got me thinking about the Revolutionary War, tarring and feathering those Redcoats, though rolling the sticky pipes in pebbles and nails felt more like Mad Max. We wrapped chicken wire around that, then a mix of electrical tape and duct tape melted with a hairdryer. By the time we finished, I was drunk and leading Fox to his tent, pitched among tall weeds in a corner of the lot.

I’d met him at the Saturday Market just days earlier, had approached him after watching him shout into a bullhorn about old-growth logging. We’d sat at the edge of the drum circle and talked about the movement until he invited me back to the crash house, which seemed a little quick to me. I’d considered his motives: if he intuitively saw me as worthy of this activist group he was forming, if he smelled money on me that might bankroll it, or if he just wanted to get inside my pants. I had a paper to write on low-cost drip irrigation alternatives, but the spontaneity excited me. It was a relief to let myself be drawn into something real, to meet people ready to actually lay their convictions on the line. I finally felt some of that old militant fire from freshman year. I was the one getting inside Fox’s pants, and he never brought up money. When I asked where they got their cameras and equipment, he brushed it aside.

A flashing light burst around the bend. I pulled my fingers from Fox’s and clutched both carabiners with jittery hands, a long way from my cozy off-campus apartment, where I’d prepared for getting arrested by reading Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.” Where Mom had called but I hadn’t told her what I was up to. The color of the flashing light finally registered—yellow. And on a white pickup—an advance vehicle. Too much noise and dust in its wake to be a single truck. But the pickup wasn’t slowing. I imagined a pissed off driver pressing his boot to the pedal. Bear started forward from his position behind us.

“Back!” Fox barked.

The carabiner in my sweaty grip slipped off the bolt that I shared with Fox. Fifty yards out, the pickup finally slowed. I fumbled to lock back in, hoping Fox hadn’t noticed. Through the haze of dust hanging over the road, a flatbed semi rounded the bend. Strapped to its back sat a mechanical monster with tracks like a tank.

“Feller buncher!” Fox yelled.

Brakes squealed as the flatbed fell in behind the pickup. The trucks rolled to a stop fifty feet away and sat with their engines running. Osprey crept along the side of the road with her camcorder. She’d posted a link to a feller buncher clip on the Watcher blog, and the video had exposed my outdated notion of logging. I’d still imagined burly lumberjacks working tree to tree with chainsaws. But in just a few minutes, the feller buncher had taken out at least a dozen trees. Like a giant scorpion, an angled boom swung out from a cab and struck with lethal force, slicing trees at their base with quick puffs of sawdust. The machine dropped big trees where they stood and grabbed bunches of smaller ones at a time. It was like the Super-Axe-Hacker from The Lorax, no logger visible, just the cab swinging around like an all-seeing eye.

I saw only vague outlines of men in the pickup, an extended cab, maybe three of them behind the dust-coated windshield. One driver in the flatbed. Neither shut off their rigs. No one got out. I found Fox’s fingers, sweaty like mine. The pickup driver lifted a phone or radio. The chalk smell hanging over the forest filled with diesel. Long moments passed before the driver set down his phone. The men were making their own statement: Let the hippie punks choke on these fossil fuels.

“Come on already!” I yelled.

Fox turned his head but I just glared forward and lifted my chin like he’d done earlier.

The passenger door of the pickup opened first, the Green Mountain logo with its unbroken tree line. Out stepped a logger, a squinting man in his forties wearing black Carhartt suspenders and a Green Mountain cap. I’d expected someone more imposing. This guy reminded me of my sustainable agriculture professor. He glanced up at Osprey’s banner behind me and shot a black gob of tobacco spit into the bushes.

The pickup’s engine stopped and a bigger man hopped out of the driver’s seat, a younger man, attractive. He could have been a student in sustainable agriculture. He sported a big smile, teeth slightly off, and though I wanted to tag it as sarcastic, the smile seemed genuine. He wore the same outfit but with the suspender straps hanging at his sides instead of over his shoulders, broad like I’d imagined on a logger. I glimpsed a wedding band and suddenly felt less mature despite our common age.

Another logger stepped out, somewhere between the other two in age, with scarring around a lazy left eye. All three fell into a line in front of the pickup. Bear cleared his throat behind us. The first logger spit again. The flatbed driver remained in his rig, engine idling.

“Lane County Sheriff’s on the way,” Spitter said.

“Fuck the sheriff and fuck you, too,” Fox snapped, pulling his fingers away from mine.

My belly tightened.

The young logger chuckled under his breath and leaned back against the hood. Spitter pointed toward Osprey and said, “Better shut that thing off.”

Osprey stepped closer, filming with one hand and pointing the other up toward the banner behind our blockade. “Big mother is watching you,” she said.

I doubted any of the loggers got the 1984 reference. I wasn’t even sure all the Watchers got it. The burlap banner stretched above the road, twenty feet up and tied to two Douglas firs. Osprey had filled the “O” in “MOTHER” and the “O” in “YOU” with blue-green planet earths that now looked like eyes watching from the trees.

“We’ve got another camera rolling up there,” Fox said.

“Big Mother can watch this,” Lazy Eye said. He walked to the side of the road, worked out of his overalls, and peed in the bushes.

I met the young logger’s eyes. He seemed amused and curious. Nothing malicious about him. I wondered if he’d seen other protests, if he didn’t give a rip because he was getting paid by the hour. Or maybe he just wondered how I’d pee when I had to.

I’d sit there until dark in a wet diaper. Now that the protest was under way, and maybe because of the reprieve from the cops, I felt less nervous, like I did when making a speech, like my final presentation in Environmental Ethics. It was a relief just doing the action after all the planning.

“Watchers,” Fox had told me they called themselves. “The eyes of Mother Earth. Big Mother Watching. BMW. The corporate acronym turned on its head. We’ll be huge. We’ll go viral.” When I did a quick search and pointed out that “Big Mother Watching” was already a term to describe overprotective parents using technology to track their children, Fox shrugged and said, “Same thing.”

Now he focused on Spitter and spoke clearly into his hidden microphone. “Why don’t you find some second- or third-growth to chop down? That’s old growth in there.”

“You think we decide where to log?” Spitter shot back. “We just work here.” He spit on the gravel.

Fox eyed them and settled on the young logger. “Then why don’t you quit?”

The young logger didn’t budge from where he reclined against the hood, still smiling. “I have a kid to feed.”

The gulf between us widened further.

“And this is the example you’re setting?” Fox asked. “Teaching your kid how to destroy an endangered ecosystem?”

“He’s three,” the logger said, laughing. “I’m teaching him how to wipe his ass!”

The loggers laughed and I smiled with them. “Right livelihood,” I said. Mom had raised me Catholic, but I’d dated a Japanese guy the year before and read up on Buddhism.

Fox shifted, pulling my arm with him.

“It’s a Buddhist thing,” I continued. “Finding a job that doesn’t hurt others.”

“And what’s your livelihood?” the young logger asked, still smiling, still curious.

Student, I thought, but it sounded lame and barely true considering I’d take my last finals in less than a week. I worked part time at the campus bookstore, but Mom paid for almost everything—room and board, tuition and books. I had one interview lined up after graduation, with an outdoor education program called Oregon Wilderness Leadership.

“Raven’s a Watcher,” Fox said.

That name again. And I didn’t need Fox speaking up for me.

“Like Chinook and me,” Fox continued. “And our friends Bear and Osprey. And our friends in Eugene and all over the world. We’re Watchers. The eyes of Mother Earth. It’s our job to keep our eyes on criminals like you.”

“Criminals!” Spitter leaned forward and shot a black gob that landed a few feet from Fox. “We’ll see what the deputies think.”

The young logger hadn’t looked away from me or given up his grin. “Doesn’t pay much though, does it? Not sure I could support my family sitting in the road like that.”

I had a comeback, how he wouldn’t be able to support them once all the big trees were down, but I shifted on my rear and looked into the forest. His parents couldn’t afford braces, much less college. Fox found my fingers. Chinook sat like a rock, and Bear came around with a drink of water. I felt the first hint of a need to pee.

More dust rose in the distance, more rumbling as another rig approached the curve, blocked from my view by the flatbed. Spitter walked to the side of the road to look. Osprey backed away from him, turning her camera toward the bend.

“Skidder!” she called.

As Spitter ambled back, Fox spit loudly into the gravel in front of him. Spitter smiled and leaned back to join Lazy Eye and the young logger against the hood of the pickup. The second flatbed pulled up behind the first and also left its engine running, doubling the noise and diesel.

“Wonder who they’ll send,” Spitter said.

“Big John I bet,” said Lazy Eye. He faced me but seemed to be looking at Fox. “He loves this shit.”

Spitter laughed. “Didn’t give much love to them other kids.”

“No sir,” Lazy Eye said. “But you know he loved it. Like them executioners in the old days. You know them sick fucks got a rise chopping people’s heads off.”

“Whatever,” Fox said. “Don’t listen to them.”

I wished Fox would just sit quietly. He might as well have told the loggers I’d never done anything like this before, that my mother would freak if I got arrested, so it would be great if everyone could take it easy on me. The young logger had turned his attention to his thumb, frowning as he pinched at a splinter. I fought back the urge to pull my fingers away from Fox.

“See that Blazers game last night?” Spitter asked.

“Lakers can suck it,” Lazy Eye said.

Spitter mentioned a name I didn’t know. I barely knew the sport was basketball, which the three men continued talking about while the young logger quietly poked at his thumb with a pocketknife. The idle sports talk was deliberate, like burning the extra fuel or trying to scare us with Big John. They had found another way to show their contempt, ignoring our protest and leaving us for the sheriff. Facing the law did scare me, but the loggers’ tactics only fueled my desire to stick it out. I hated how the rumbling of the flatbeds had become the sound of the forest.

I checked Fox’s reaction, but he’d closed his eyes, a thin smile spread beneath his red scruff. He’d moved on as well. He had his footage, and now, like them, he waited for the next confrontation.

Sliding my fingers away, I tried to prepare myself for the pain compliance the deputies might use. Pepper spray or wrestling moves. Though the camera might keep them in check. Osprey would disappear into the forest if they came after her. Of course, there would be no camera in the patrol car or at the station. They would separate us. I would be at their mercy. Just me and Big John.

I had to pee now. I ran through the Hail Mary to calm down, reminded myself that I’d already made this decision. I didn’t want to go through life without getting arrested, and what better way to get arrested? Environmental Ethics 101. Like Thoreau wrote, under a government that imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man—or woman—is also in prison.

But Mom. The prospect of facing her scared me more than Big John. I’d already imagined what would happen if my arrest prevented me from graduating, like if I couldn’t get out of jail in time to take my finals, Mom showing up to bombard me with questions. I had my defense ready, my Thoreau quotes and how she got arrested back in the day over nukes. But Mom was the lawyer, and she would be loaded with comebacks. Times were different back then. Why couldn’t I have waited until I got my degree? And what about my career? Wasn’t the job market tough enough without having an arrest on my record? After all those thousands of dollars she’d spent?

I smelled my own body odor, the kind that rose up when I was anxious.

I reminded myself that I wouldn’t want to work for anyone who had a problem with what I was doing. I wondered if the wilderness program would have a problem with it.

The loggers talked baseball now, something about the Mariners. The young logger had lifted his face, eyes closed, to a ray of sunlight breaking through the trees.

I wanted to think Mom would have a secret pride if she knew what I was doing. She would admire Fox’s fire, how he’d channeled his anger into a positive force that rallied gutter punks into a gang for Gaia. In a secret fantasy I’d relished for a while now, I saw the video going viral like Fox predicted, this protest leading to more protests and me right in the middle of them, the face of a growing movement, an appearance on late night television. Maybe I’d embrace my Watcher name: Tonight on The Daily Show—Raven! Vain, I knew, thinking I could become a one-name wonder like Oprah or Madonna. But I could reach so many people that way, actually make this my livelihood: professional protestor.

I heard another vehicle arriving, less rumble than the flatbeds, just right for a patrol car. But something was off, and I quickly realized what. This rig came from behind, fast approaching the bend at our backs. We craned our necks to see dust rising from those trees, the forest we’d been protecting. Osprey hustled up with her camera rolling. What sheriff’s deputy would be up in those woods?

A silver SUV charged around the bend, a Toyota 4Runner with camping gear strapped to the rack. Civilians behind a dusty windshield. The driver hit the brakes and skidded to the right, spitting gravel into the bushes. The passenger spun to check the back seats.

I turned to Fox, who met my eyes briefly before looking back to the SUV. I could see him trying to sort it out. We hadn’t talked about this possibility. I hadn’t even considered it.

Windshield washer fluid squirted up on the 4Runner, the wipers revealing a man behind the wheel and a woman beside him. The urge to pee crept back. The man drove up to within ten feet of Bear, who stood right behind us, then rolled down his window and thrust out his head. He was about forty, good-looking with light stubble, right out of an REI catalog, if not for the wild look in his eyes.

“You need to move,” he demanded. “We’ve got a sick kid in here.”

“Fuck,” Chinook whispered.

Bear and I turned back to Fox, whose face gave nothing away. I felt weight settling on me, pee building. I wouldn’t be able to think straight if I didn’t let it go. Luckily the diaper soaked it up without a sound or any smell.

The driver narrowed his eyes and let the SUV lurch up to within a few feet of Bear, who tensed but didn’t budge. I felt the heat of the engine against my back, more gas fumes choking the air.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?” I heard from the SUV, a whine breaking into crying that I couldn’t make out as that of a boy or girl.

“Hush now,” spoke the mother.

“Nothing, sweetie,” the father said, looking us over and settling on me. “These people are going to move so we can go home.”

Did he guess I could detach? Or was it blind hope? And what were they even doing out there, camping in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the week? Kind of cool to pull your kid out of school. I wondered if they knew about the timber sale, if Green Mountain was the family business and they’d been taking in the old growth before it turned into money. I held the father’s glare and knew he was used to getting what he wanted. Like Mom.

“What’s wrong with your kid?” the young logger asked.

I faced forward, neck strained from craning it. The diaper had gone soft and damp beneath me. The smile was gone from the young logger’s face. He and the others had risen to their feet. They didn’t seem to know the family.

“Diarrhea and fever,” the father said. “We were up all night.”

The crying rose in pitch and volume to back him up.

“Hush!” the mother ordered, and the wailing stopped, replaced by sobbing.

I thumbed both carabiners and sized up the length of the pipes. If I got up, there might be enough room for the SUV to sneak through. The young logger jingled the keys in his pocket as he stared at Fox.

“You can take another road,” Fox said to the father. “We have a map.”

“We don’t have enough gas,” the father said. “Or time. I need to get my daughter to a doctor. Now.”

Fox turned to Osprey. “Cut it,” he said.

Osprey looked up from her camera. I had heard Fox’s instructions that she was to roll nonstop during every confrontation and worry about editing later. She kept filming.

“Goddamnit,” Fox said.

I had an idea. Fox might not like it, but tough shit. “You guys move first,” I told the loggers. “Back around the bend and give us time and we’ll let them through.”

If the loggers thought it out, they would realize the lockboxes had releases. The father would know he was right. Fox slowly exhaled but held his silence, waiting to see what they would do.

“We ain’t the ones breaking the law,” Spitter said, stepping forward.

“We wouldn’t be here if you weren’t,” Fox snapped.

Spitter stepped closer until his crotch was right in my face.

“Back off,” Bear growled behind me.

Fox fumbled for his carabiner.

“Don’t,” I said, fighting back the urge to crush Spitter’s nuts with a head butt.

Spitter ignored us and addressed the SUV. “I’m sorry, folks, but if they won’t move, you’ll just have to wait until the cops show up. Shouldn’t be long now. You got enough water?”

“I just want to go home!” the girl shrieked.

“We’re trying!” the mother yelled. “Just calm down, would you?”

I closed my eyes, trying to keep my cool knowing Osprey’s camera was trained on me. I waited for Spitter to back off, knowing this would be footage we could use, knowing Fox would be thinking the same thing. But how awful if this image went viral. I imagined Spitter letting his crotch touch my face or dropping a black gob down into my hair, then focused instead on the crying girl. I guessed she was six or seven, a little younger than I was when I got sick visiting family in Oaxaca. I’d burrowed into Mom’s arms at a bus station, then thrown up in an empty feed bucket on a bumpy hillside ride, wanting nothing more than my room back in Ashland, my cat and my posters of fairy worlds.

“Easy,” the young logger said, and I opened my eyes to see him laying a hand on Spitter’s shoulder, guiding him back toward the pickup, but not before that black gob landed inches from my combat boots.

Fox exhaled and leaned toward me, gesturing for the others to do the same. “Let’s think this through,” he whispered, reaching for my fingers. “Good call, Osprey. It’s too bad about the kid, but that was good footage. I think we can flip it on these fuckers and keep them the bad guys, do the same when the cops get here.”

The girl’s crying suddenly muffled as the father rolled up his window. Moments later a door opened and slammed, the engine still idling, burning gas they claimed not to have. I turned to see the father stomping toward me in his hiking boots. He grabbed my shoulders, and Bear rushed forward to engage him. I couldn’t quite see because they scuffled right behind me, a tangle of black and khaki clothes grunting and huffing, while the wailing inside the SUV intensified, the mother yelling for her daughter to be quiet. One of the men landed a punch, the dull thud of fist against flesh. Then Bear’s dreads swung wildly as he roared and threw his weight into a pin. The father flailed beneath him but couldn’t break the hold.

I could feel where the father had squeezed my shoulders, imagined him trying to yank me out of the pipes and realized that’s what I would have done. I waited for the other door to open, for the mother to rush over and work on me, start screaming in my ear with Bear now occupied, but she stayed inside the SUV with their hysterical daughter.

“Please,” the father begged.

Osprey’s camera had caught it all and now settled on me.

“Stay strong,” Fox whispered.

He had trusted me, must have seen more than good looks to plop me in the middle of the chain instead of cemented into the ground where he sat. I’d be letting him and the Watchers down if I unclipped, but the longer I sat, the more I felt myself hurting the girl. A different kind of violence. And what images would all this leave in her young brain? I’d never returned to Oaxaca.

Maybe I wasn’t meant to be in front of the camera. Maybe I’d get that wilderness job, hook angry kids on Big Mother and help people and trees that way.

The young logger bit at the splinter in his thumb, glancing from logger to Watcher to SUV until his eyes settled on mine.

I gave him a smile before I unclipped.