Outdoor Life

“ You climb up to the top of the tree and while you’re up there I’ll chop the tree down. ”

When I was 11 years old I spent the summer in rural Massachusetts, wandering around the fields and woods with my best pal, Stevie Wolf.  We had no phones of screens to distract us so we had to invent our own fun. Stevie’s father owned over 50 acres of farm land which had been cleared into agricultural land in the 18th and 19th centuries, but much of which was reverting back into forests by the 1950’s and 1960’s, after many of the farmers had moved wesward  to where there was better land and a somewhat more temperate climate.

We spent a lot of time in a young pine forest far below Stevie’s family’s house which had been called “The Maxwell Pasture,” though it was far from being a field or pasture at that point. It was covered with hundreds of young white pine trees that were from 10’ – 20’ tall. Stevie and I decided that we would bring an axe down there and build a log cabin for a new playhouse and fort. I knew that my ancestors had moved from Scotland to the Catskill mountains in upstate New York in 1820 and had cleared the virgin forest and built and lived in a log cabin and I wanted to learn what their lives had been like. We had cut down a couple of trees when Stevie decided that he would like to climb to the top of one of the trees that I was chopping down and ride it to the ground as it fell. What could possibly go wrong?

He scrambled up to the crest of a 15’ tree and as I began chopping he positioned himself so that he would be on the high side of the tree when it hit the ground, cushioned from the fall by the springy and supple branches on the other side of the tree. After many mighty vigorous swings of the axe I yelled “Timber!” and the tree swayed and crashed to the ground. Stevie emerged from the tangle of branches and pine needles laughing and exhilarated. I needed to try it next, and a new and dangerous game was invented that we played many times. We had a whole forest to fool with where no adults ever went.

We were also both young Robin Hood archers and spent much of the time shooting arrows into hay bales and trees and toward woodchucks, squirrels and chipmunks for a couple of summers. We liked to draw back our bows as far as we could and send our arrows flying into the heart of the empty sky and catch the arrows just before they hit the ground with a flourish & a whoop, a game which could have easily turned our eyes, hands or faces into shish-kebabs.

“ This wouldn’t be to everyone’s liking. ”

We had hiked out of the Sierras a day earlier than we had planned due to a sudden early autumn snowstorm after spending 2 weeks hiking and exploring in the alpine wonderlands, mostly above treeline. As we drove past Mono Lake we decided to explore that strange and unlikely landscape with our free extra day for the first time.

Mono Lake is a huge high desert, salt lake with no outlet. The water is a brilliant torquoise color and is full of billions of bright pink brine shrimp, and is a necessary stop on the flyway for migratory waterbirds as they fly north to south, from continent to continent, and back again seasonally. It has several islands in its waters, and we decided to see if we could wade out to one of them; Negit Island. At the time Las Angeles was diverting most of the runoff from four large streams in the Sierras that had traditionally filled it which caused the level of the lake to drop by a dozen feet and created land bridges out to several of the islands which had previously been surrounded by water.

We drove several miles along the shore of the lake on a rutted gravel and dirt road, parked and hiked down to the water’s edge, took off out boots and waded out to Negit island. It turned to be by far, one of the strangest places that I have ever been.  We spent the day circumnavigating the island, a jumble of jagged volcanic spires, surreal tufa formations and white beaches covered with millions of non biting brine flies which the native indegenous people had used as a source of protein. As we scrambled over sharp lava formations in the heat of the day Brad said to me: “This wouldn’t be to everyone’s liking.” 

The 14,000 foot snow capped high front range of the Sierras, rose up just to the West. The day was warm and peaceful and the island was populated by thousands of nesting sea gulls and their fledglings, ceaslessly screaming at us. As we looked across the waters to the nearest island we saw an enormous man made Krakatoa volcano, the remains of a set for the 1954, B-Movie “A Fair Wind to Java.”

In the intervening years I have been back to Mono Lake many times and have canoed and hiked on all of the islands and once had to take refuge in Krakatoa volcano for a night after having our canoe capsized by a huge wave during a sudden afternoon windstorm. 

“ Look, here’s a light bulb! ”  

Steve and I were hiking through the jagged lava beds on Negit Island in the harsh, surreal high desert landscape of Mono Lake. We were miles away from civilization when Steve bent over and suddenly picked up a fully intact, vintage light bulb, clearly produced sometime early in the 20th century. A strange, unlikely and unique find indeed. A few years later he found what looked like a piece of cosmic melted space shuttle debris on the top of a rock on another much smaller island in the same lake with Russian cyrillic print embossed onto its surfaces. Light and the desencions of the Gods clearly shine down on this strange desert body of very salty water in the shadow of the 14,000 foot snow capped front range of the Sierra Nevada mountains. You never know what you might find there right in front of you.

“Don’t let ‘em go pullin’ none of that horseshit on you, kid!”

The advisor with this gem of wisdom was a gentleman named Pete Krupa, who was the supervisor of my friend Steve when he had a job during high school at the Sears Roebuck department store in Riverside, California, in the late 1960’s, for which he was paid $1.80 an hour. Paul was the most effective salesperson in the hardware department and was so confident of his abilities that he worked on a straight commission basis.The advice was provided to Steve one evening as Pete left for his fifteen minute break at the adjacent coffee shop. Mr. Krupa hoped that this would help Steve maintain order in his absence. I had heard Steve use this phrase for decades but only recently learned of its provenance.

Steve told me that “Pete was somewhere around 5’3”-5’4”, and weighed perhaps 110-115 pounds,soaking wet. Long before it was trendy, he had extensive (mostly forearm) tattoos, acquired during his stint in the military, where he rose to be a supply sergeant.  His manner of speech was down to earth, peppered with salty language. enabling him to relate well to the hardware clientele.

Steve would sometimes send customers with large orders to Pete to help with his comission-only salary, and Paul would give Steve a few dollars in appreciation. Steve called him  “an all together fine fellow,” and recently told me that “My appreciation of this advice stems from its universal application to life, if one applies a broad definition of  “them”, as well as the likelihood (and meaning) of them “pulling that horseshit on you.” Having followed his advice since that time, I have tried to limit my exposure to folks trying to pull that horseshit on me.”

In later life Steve became an attorney and used his horseshit detector to deduce that AOL and MCI were stealing small amounts of money from him with fradulent billing procedures. Extrapolating how much money they were illegally pilfering from their millions of customers on a monthly basis, he sued both companies in class action suits and won both cases, a warrior for consumer protection, protecting the public from almost undetectable monthly micro rip offs on a vast scale, netting tens of millions of illicit dollars for the corporations in their unethical billing schemes.

After winning the cases he sponsored two eco-adventure trips for our outdoor explorers club, The Eco-Karmic Brotherhood; First to a villa in the seaside jungles of Costa Rica and then a 10 day trip wilderness canoeing trip down the Green River in Utah to its confluence with the Colorado River. The Brotherhood had Pete Krupa to thank for setting Steve on the No Horseshit path of truth and justice.