The beauty of the wilderness is almost incomparable to that of anything else upon this earth. I have found solace in the silence of the woods, an awakening for my soul while overlooking valleys of trees from a mountain ridge, and a breath a fresh air unlike anything I have smelled before; for the rumbling of the city is non-existent, leagues away and forgotten while hiking the unknown.
I arrived in central Idaho in late 1995, a mere ten years old, unknowing what laid before me. My belongings, my family and friends, all were still in Wisconsin; I had made my decision and decided the path that was before me. It was quite possibly the most difficult decision that I have ever made in my life, there are others up there that were very difficult for me to make, but without making this one, I would never have had to make those. And for that reason, I am deeply grateful that I did make it. Along the way I would experience more than most would in their lifetimes, and meet many amazing, odd, and weird people; some of those whom are still close friends. However, let me begin with a preface on why we were here.
In 1995, President Clinton signed the Salvage Rider, which was a provision to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1995. Essentially it expanded timber sales that were stopped to protect endangered species and habitats, and exempted public challenges to the sales under environmental laws. This meant that many timber sales which had been on hold in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington (among other states) would be able to go forward. We were protesting the Cove Mallard timber sale, in a 64,000 acre road less area that had been protested since about 1992. This area was adjacent to the 2.3 million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Salmon River ecosystem.
We ‘couch surfed’, i.e. crashed at friends places, for the time that I was in Moscow in 1995, preparing for the next year. In this time period I learned that dumpster diving was a main source of food for the likes of us, and could be quite lucrative for meals. The amount of unexpired food that grocers and bakeries throw away is quite high, and if you time it right, you can score some pretty good eats. Looking back on it, I’ve become very grateful for having a steady paying income, and regular meals on the table. Over the years I’ve had some less than fortunate friends who have lost careers or been down on their luck, and my memories of diving have given me a different perspective on life, and I’ve attempted to help them in any way that I can. Occasionally, we would stop at a local restaurant which appears to have closed, and we would spoil ourselves with orange marmalade rolls or cinnamon rolls; a rare treat that I would look forward to, and still do these days. Down the street was a small hobby shop that I would spend quite a bit of time at, in which I was lucky enough to be able to purchase a Star Wars Tie Fighter model to assemble and play with.
Winter of ’95 came, and I ended up heading back across country to visit the family. I would road-trip with some pretty awesome hippies in a V.W. Throughout our trip we would stop on the roadside for a break or a driver switch, and play hacky sack next to piles of snow for a few minutes to get the blood flowing and stretch out a little. We would stop at gas stations and play pinball, or run pool tables for some gas money, before retiring to our sleeping bags for a quick nap while another driver would take over and resume the trip.
In 1996, after my brief visit to Wisconsin, I returned to central Idaho and began protesting the clear cutting myself. The photography within this post is all that I could beg from anyone around that time, and while it doesn’t show the extent of everything described, it provides a small insight into what I can recollect from that time.
We camped in the wilderness area, tents scattered around a base camp, in which a campfire was kept almost 24 hours a day while coffee brewed or protesters congregated for warmth, while singing songs and playing guitars. Further up the road was the main protest site; the image at the beginning of this post was the entrance.
We were non-violent protestors and did not partake in destruction of equipment as a few more extreme environmentalists had done. The site was blocked at the beginning of the new logging road, and further in, with slash piles of discarded timber and whatever else could be found, yarn, wire, and so forth.
At the main site, there would be protesters in tripods, some chained to items above ground, and some handcuffed to items below. There were many different ways to prevent logging crews and equipment from entering the timber sales, and these were some of the methods used at this site. They couldn’t just run us over with their bulldozers or logging trucks to get in, they would have to remove us in other ways. Being so young, I never had the chance to sit in a tripod, yet I was introduced to climbing with harnesses and ropes which would prove to become a hobby down the line in life; I was also able to handcuff myself into buried pipes as my chosen form of protest.
I wasn’t the only kid here, there were others, and I made friends with them; as kids we weren’t as heavily involved with the protesting as the adults were, we took what shifts we could at the main site, however we did form our own little groups and attempted to find ways to help. Personally I helped in the kitchen quite often, peeling or dicing potatoes, prepping meals for other protesters. To this day, I still have a scar on my left palm, where my pocket knife slipped while peeling a potato and slammed into it. If there was a saying that best described it, it would be along the lines of “You’ll shoot your eye out kid!” just … well with a knife. Hey! My first bad analogy of the post!
The food wasn’t the best, as mentioned earlier a lot of it was dumpster dived, but we got by. But let me tell you about the coffee, it was horrendous. I’ve had bad coffee before, and then I’ve had this stuff. As you can imagine with the diving, it’s not like we found tons of coffee. On a regular basis you would find pots of coffee over the campfire that were using multiple day old grinds; and they weren’t just re-brewed once; they were reused over, and over again until it barely tasted like coffee, coming off of the campfire with a slight tinge to the water that barely resembled coffee, in which you could most definitely see through. I know people, myself included, that complain about cheap coffee; hell, we have free Folgers at work and I bitch about it occasionally. But I try to limit my complaining, and whenever I do start, I catch myself and recall that flavor. Never again.
While some people that I’ve spoken with about my time protesting here have mentioned that it sounds like a fun way to spend a summer, or laid back, it was far from that. There were protesters who would get in altercations with forest service rangers, the ‘locals’ in the small logging town near the camp despised us and found ways to agitate protesters and pick fights. I’m quite sure that there was quite a bit of drinking and other devices for the hippies to find their time to waste with, which would fuel some more aggressive altercations, however, my memory is a bit foggy on that almost two decades later.
We would leave for Boise in the fall of ’96, my parents looking to find jobs and get a house, provide a more normal life and get out of the protesting scene. It would turn out that the day we left the site, it would be raided by agents in night vision gear, with assault rifles. The camp would be torn down, protesters would be sent to jail and fined.
“A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, power lines, and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.”
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
My time in the wilderness was life changing. There will be days that I will sit back and recall the smell of a campfire and coffee brewing upon it, my walks through the old-growth ponderosa pine and spruce-alpine firs that would be contemplative even at a young age, the untouched babbling brooks that would meander throughout the forest; starting somewhere, and ending elsewhere, that may never be seen again. I would come to respect the wilderness for what it was, and what it should be. And I would find solace in my memories of my time there later on in life. But, it would be back to the busy hustle and flow of the city; a place so different to the calm and beauty of the middle of nowhere. To a city of Iron and Steel trees would we go.
More, in Part 3.