A Slash Burn Christmas (Part 5)

Matt ate a hamburger and fries while Chris drove and occasionally joined Charley on a chorus. It was funny to Matt that Chris seemed happy. He thought about asking him some questions about his life but was too tired to listen.

Forty-five minutes and three hamburgers later, Chris turned off a paved road and onto a rocked one. He stopped the truck in from of a yellow gate that blocked the way. He turned off the music, got out of the truck, unlocked the chain on the gate, swung it open, got back in the rig, and up into the clearcut they drove.

It was dry and bright outside. Chris mentioned something about rain in a couple of days.

Up, up, up, winding and winding, past slash piles. Matt surveyed the landscape as the truck rumbled along: it was a massacre, scorched earth, a World War I No Man’s Land. Not a single tree stood. Everything was dead, including the soil. Rain would erode the dead soil into the creeks and rivers and kill salmon. It was murder, ecoside, suicide. Insane. Immoral. It was the worst possible thing a corporation could do to a watershed, public or private. The watershed was slayed for short term profit to enrich far flung investors who would never see the clearcuts, let alone walk through them to witness the carnage up close.

This is what passes for legal forest management in Oregon. Management is the word, the wrong word. You don’t manage forests. You let them be and work with them.

In the distance Matt spotted a flat landing where a white and green-striped trailer stood. It was older, rounded, smallish, maybe a 15-footer. A few minutes later, Chris parked the truck near the trailer. Matt noticed the name of his new home: Explorer.

Chris showed Matt the trailer, how to work everything inside, how to radio in, change out the propane tanks and maintain the water catchment system. Matt was listening and sort of remembering. He’d figure it out when he needed to figure it out. Life was like that sometimes. Maybe it’s not a bad way to live.

Dusk was coming on. It was time to light a pile and get the slash burning going.

Chris picked up a metal gas can that he’d rigged up with a pump sprayer. They walked to a slash pile some 50 yards from the trailer. It was 40 feet high.

“This is how you do it,” said Chris. He circled the pile and sprayed gas. He stopped and pulled out a box of long wooden matches, barbecue matches. He struck a match and tossed it onto the pile. Fire erupted. He continued walking around the pile and striking matches.

“Get the whole pile burning on all sides,” said Chris, as he stepped back a bit. Crackling had commenced. “That way it will burn toward the center and collapse on itself. Use the rake and pitchfork to keep moving the wood forward, banking it. It’s not rocket science but the key is to keep moving around the pile. You got it?”

“I got it,” said Matt. The fire was already climbing and he could feel the heat. It felt good.

“Time for me to go,” said Chris. “I’ll be back in a few days for this trial run. If you last, we’ll move the trailer in a few weeks.”

He stuck out his hand to Matt. Matt took it. They shook hands. It was Matt’s first handshake in years.

“Merry Christmas,” said Chris. He slapped Matt on the back and then got in the Ford and it disappeared into darkness.