We camped over the weekend for possibly the last time this year due to the shortening days. As we lay in the van reading on Saturday afternoon, something caught my eye, and I looked out to see a large owl observing Baxter from a nearby tree. This was the third time I’ve saved him from a predator. The first was a bobcat and the second a hawk. The bobcat was clearly on the verge of attacking, but the plans of the hawk and the owl were less clear to me, and maybe to themselves. Baxter is too heavy to fly away with, yet he is so enticingly helpless. A person doesn’t realize how many predators there are in the woods until he goes there in the company of something they would like to eat.
This was our fifth trip to the same abandoned roadbed. On the first, we biked as far as we could, often having to carry our bikes over logs and around brush. We got it into our heads that it would be fun to clear the roadway with the exception of a downed tree at the very beginning that we hoped would discourage ATVers. According to our map, the road went maybe two or three miles (crooked distances are hard to judge) and gained 800 feet before abruptly ending on the side of a nameless mountain. The map also showed a few spur roads and several creeks. None of the creeks were running, although some contained small pools for the dogs.
Some of the spur roads were still marked by plasticized signposts. The forest service really has a winner with these as they look almost new even after three decades. Our best map is supposed to show all the roads, even the abandoned ones, but some of the spurs were simply too old to be included. Yet, these faithful signposts continue to announce their existence.
Weeks later, we returned with a bucksaw and set to work. It was a lousy job for a man with a bad knee, but I enjoy few things better than tidying up the woods. As is often the case with abandoned roadbeds, the first part was easily discernible, but the latter completely covered by leaf litter and fallen trees. On an exploratory trip, Peggy actually became lost and had to follow the dogs out. Although she questioned their choice of direction, she had no ideas of her own, and was pleasantly surprised by how fast they found me.
The woods being shadowy, sword ferns had taken root in the leaf litter. They were huge, but so shallowly anchored that they could be easily peeled from the earth, exposing glimpses of the old roadbed. I hesitantly uprooted enough of them to create a passage. I often ponder ways to reduce the number of creatures that must die so that I might live, but my responsibility is unclear. For example, I’ve no doubt but what I often run over snakes sunning themselves on mountain roads, but what am I to do? I could drive fewer miles or even stay home altogether, yet it would be a terrific loss to me.
In their struggle to reach the light, quite a few big-leaf maples and western red cedars had grown so tall that their trunks couldn’t support them, and many had bent completely across the road creating an arbor effect. Maples can survive several years in this condition, and we let them be except when they were too low to bike under. Cutting cedars conjured memories of sharpening pencils in grade school. I felt guilty about killing even such stunted trees, but I consoled myself with the thought that they were doomed anyway.
Our work consumed a significant part of four days, and we did not expect to reach the end of the road even then, but the last few hundred feet turned out to be less challenging than anticipated, so at four o’clock Sunday we arrived at a spot beyond which no more gravel could be found. Some old growth logs awaited us there in company with a beer can, an oilcan and a Prestone anti-freeze container—all made of steel and requiring an opener. Since I didn’t remember anti-freeze coming in such a container, I assumed it must date from the early sixties if not sooner. A log had protected it from the elements.
Peggy wondered halfway through our work if we were breaking the law. I said that we probably could be charged with something, although I couldn’t imagine that we would be even in the unlikely event that anyone caught us. Then too, I offered, it is only a matter of time before the dozers return to reopen the area for another round of logging, so, in all fairness, we should be paid for our work. Without us, the forest service would have to send in surveyors to find the roadbed. Of course, they will probably send in surveyors anyway—as a matter of course—but those surveyors will be pleasantly surprised to find that someone did their work for them. As for us, our private treasure will be lost. Not just the road but the forest itself.