Thorny days at Lone Pine
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
An outbreak of invasive thistle plants was threatening to inhibit the natural regeneration of a wildfire-scorched forest called the Lone Pine Burn, and the crews my buddy and I were leading were under contract to eradicate as many spiny green monsters we could find.
The terrain proved difficult to confounding degrees, but the killing was easy. Too easy. As we marched around the ashen acreage uprooting thousands of thistles per day with our pointy-nose shovels, the carnage we inflicted took its toll on our collective well-being.
Despite our concerted effort to foster a fun-loving atmosphere in camp, we began to experience alarming rates of sickness, malaise and attrition among our crews.
By the end of the first week, my buddy’s crew (a.k.a. “Green Menace”) had dissipated from 11 young adults to seven while my crew (dubbed “Clod Hoppers”) had dipped from 12 to nine. By the end of our second week, Green Menace was down to five and Clod Hoppers was holding steady at seven.
To compensate for this labor shortage we were compelled to make the remaining crew members work more hours. And the longer our workdays grew, the more unhinged things became.
Finally, after a relentless barrage of spring snowstorms and punishing rain-squalls reduced our collective ranks to a grand total of nine crewmembers by the end of week three, it became necessary to consolidate the skeletal remnants of both crews into one.
Theoretically, this was a perfect idea—except for one crucial flaw. It soon became glaringly apparent my buddy and my assistant crew leader didn’t get along.
He was fire. She was water. And we were marching through the carbonized timber early one evening when their long-simmering resentment of each other finally boiled over in a heated clash of wills.
“Every part of a thistle plant except the spines is edible, you know,” she growled at him. “The stalks taste like celery and you can chop the roots into a pan and fry them like potatoes.”
He sighed, disinterested. But she persisted.
“If we’re going to keep killing these plants, we should at least respect them enough to learn how to eat them!”
It sounded like a good idea to me. But since they wouldn’t stop shouting and gesticulating wildly at each other, I made the executive decision to lead the rest of the crew back to camp.
The two belligerents showed up an hour later. Their clothes were coated with ash and charcoal smears. They each had bloody cuts all over their faces.
“Yikes!” I exclaimed. “Have you been whapping each other with shovels, or what?”
“I accidentally stepped into a hole,” my assistant said. “And when he tried to help me out, the hole sucked him in too.”
“If I never see another thistle in my life, that’ll be too soon for me,” admitted my buddy as I cleaned and tended to their abrasions. “The harder we try to defeat the thistles, the harder this goddamned place keeps beating us.”
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