I’ve been in a pensive mood lately, and wandering through the mill’s graveyard can be oddly soothing. Those of my readers not intimately acquainted with Fort Bragg are probably not aware that this is a picture of former Georgia Pacific Lumber property, facing east. The empty space was once filled with appurtenances of the logging industry–now all that you can see is redwood lumber, probably worth a fortune, rotting in the salt spray. To your back in this picture is this:
I don’t know who those people are either, and how they got into my frame, damn them. But try, if you can, to imagine that they are not there, or, if you are the romantic sort, that it’s you in that picture. I think I’ve mentioned before that I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Sometimes it’s a good idea to remind myself of that fact.
To walk on the mill property, in addition to flaunting the law, is to enter an industrial wasteland, and an elegy for a world which is now gone. We once boasted the longest green chain in the world. The mill supported our community, the community supported the mill in turn. And the timber industry destroyed the environment, and the community in turn. Indeed, I don’t feel that I’m breaking the law when I walk the mill’s land, for how could I when it belongs to my collective history?
It’s hard to explain what the mill property means to someone who is not there. It’s also hard to explain it to someone who hasn’t been steeped in the timber industry. Were your friends’ parents missing fingers when you were a child? Did they drive logging trucks? Sort timber on the green chain? Work out in the forest? One of the earliest pictures of me as a baby is an image of me strapped to my father’s back while he surveys timber. I grew up in the woods. My first word may have been “hot,” but my second was “tree,” and no wonder, for I lived surrounded by them and spent my days among them. At one point, my father worked as a choker setter–meaningless arcana to someone not familiar with the logging industry, but something which gave him immense status in his community.
The mill and the timber industry are part of my identity, and perhaps that’s why I’m so bitter about what I view as the destruction of my home. It’s a great irony that I work in an industry highly reliant upon tourists, “kissing ass all day,” as a friend says, and that I loathe those I serve. I loathe their big vacation homes and their fancy cars, their smug faces and tailored clothing, the culture they embody, their ignorance. I loathe everything they represent. These interlopers have destroyed what Georgia Pacific could not, and it is a great tragedy to see Fort Bragg brought to her knees. Yuppies find the nature of our town “quaint,” all the while making it impossible for people to live here. We are locked into low paying service jobs of drudgery, far from the forest. Honest men and women who used to make a living are forced into states of virtual slavery to survive here: this is the choice we all make, to live here. Friends who work for the Department of Forestry, or Fish and Game, are forced to take waiting jobs because they can’t live on their government salaries. But at least they get to roam the woods all day, even if they don aprons at night.
Sometimes I suspect that if the mill was still around, I would probably be working for them. Most people who stayed in town did. It’s an odd thought, because I’m not an immense fan of the logging industry. But I probably would have surveyed, like my father, writing death warrants for trees hundreds of years old. The mill and I are intertwined, bitter lovers.
Early explorers in California saw forests to the ocean. It must have been an awe-inspiring sight. I wish I had been there, to see California wild. To be sure, there are portions, especially in Northern California, that have a whiff of wilderness about them. Naturally, these early explorers saw fear (and, later, chests of gold) in those forests.
I wonder what they would think now?