Just past Pudding Creek, the osprey’s nest. South Fork of the Noyo River enters here. Once a lumber train, now only tourists ride deep into the forest past. Work camps stand, but empty. These cabins are ghosts to another era when trees were logged, cut and sold.
Couples from New Jersey, Korea, and France ride the Skunk Train after café-au-lait and waffles in sleepy Mendocino. They go through a tunnel and stand in the open car. The trees are taller than memory. This forest drinks up summer fog and winter rain like dreams.
Canyons protect the height and depth of redwoods. A tapestry of branch and broken bough net the sky. But they are not alone. There is alder, sycamore, bay laurel, chinquapin oak. Sun pours through. Marbled murrelets and spotted owls root in trees.
The lumbering has stopped; the mill town gone. No one dances till three in the morning in flapjack saloons. Yet, these redwoods circle rings through centuries, pushing five, six, and seven hundred years. Some stood before Columbus, a forest imprint of root and time. The Pomo’s gathered seed through harvest, dancing to the sacred and spirit sound.
What is lost returns through seed and burl. Tiny redwood cones hold hundreds of seed for growth, abounding. But more is lost under brush. There’s a man loose in these woods, alone with piles of ammunition. He knows these trees like the back of his hand.
The undercover agents can’t keep up with him. Three weeks now in chase. He has an assault rifle, one twelve gauge shotgun; has killed two in town, maybe more. For his capture, packs of men roam these woods, sacred as they are. A bounty offered of $30,000.
The disengaged, some unemployed, take on this job. They band together like wolves to grab him. Deer leap away. Coyote watch. But this fugitive evades them. His father pleads to bounty hunters on the radio to bring him back alive. He was once a high school athlete, a decent kid.
Dogs come too, trained to smell. These hills and deep ravines are cluttered with fear and rage now. A hunt for one man, mottled by greed and gain. Some hunters, themselves murderers, erase their own narratives to catch this one. No telling what the hawks see after dreams spill onto this forest floor.
Guards and national security climb the ancient hills. They take the Skunk Train in each day with tourists, some undercover. They are ready to jump with the slightest hint of movement, whiff of burning campfire. The train stops for them, as if it routine to stop and deliver soldiers with automatics between thick branches and hanging vines.
Tracks know no paths here. The trees measure time. Ocean fog swallowed whole by redwoods, before the day begins. A mountain lion watches packs of men enter the forest to catch a fugitive who lives simply by the moon.
Nothing for weeks. Then suddenly the young man shoots for his life. Fires at a team of Alameda County cops, trained special for this mission. They shoot back, no time spared. He disappears, fast as morning fog. Then back again, rapid fire from a different angle. He bolts and is gone.
Courage creeps under a blanket. Who will kill who between redwood stair and burl? The stars anoint loss. Time lifts from under these cabins, boarded up by the few campers fleeing. Raccoons slip into tree holes. Rabbits stay underground. And a man who believes aliens are chasing him, leaps through space, through time.*
*Aaron Bassler was shot seven times by a SWAT Team. A bloodhound sniffed him out, tracking a nearby burglary. He died from this shooting, after one month of manhunt in the Fort Bragg redwood forests.