“He looks like the lady in the Sound of Music,” laughed Bob and Otto perched up on a hill, watching as Uncle Weed danced around a field.
He was spinning and whirling and every few feet, he pulled a stick with orange tape on top out of the ground and tossed it far off into the darkness.
“What’s he doing?” the kids wondered. He looked goofy whatever he was doing so they laughed quietly some more.
As Uncle Weed came closer, the words became more clear:
Stealing survey stakes, on a Friday night stealing survey stakes, by candlelight you better not get caught you’ll be thrown in an institution they’ll give crazy shots then a long conviction. Someone’s got to do it to prevent the mass destruction of Earth’s private property from wholesale degradation!
“Survey stakes! He’s yanking those wooden things, you know, the ones with the orange on top!” said Bob.
“What’s wrong with those? Are they dumb? Is this something to do with the concrete dam and waving neon cowboy ya think?” asked Otto.
“I guess, we should ask.” answered Bob curiously, “There must be an explanation.”
It was one of those nights where the air is warm yet crisp. The moon was fat and full and made everything radiate. The prickly pears, scrub oak, pinyons, junipers, little flowers on hardy plants cast long, sharp shadows against the deep orange slickrock. The desert sounds of scurrying feet, rustling breeze, and creatures calling out bounced around the canyons. It made everything seem comfortable, alive, and content.
It was a good night, a good night for just about anything.
“Well that’s lame!” the boys exclaimed, “If they did that, why don’t we go down and torch the waving cowboy! Yeah! And throw rocks at the buildings and tear down the dam!” Bob and Otto were excited by the story if still a little bit confused.
“Well boys, direct action speaks louder than words!” shouted Uncle Weed.
“Like your bumper sticker says, ‘Talk minus action equals nothin’, Right?!” yelled Otto and Bob .
Then, all of a sudden, Uncle Weed hollered, “Who wants wedgies?” Bob and Otto ran for cover as the crazy, bearded man chased after them, “Come here you little revolutionaries, this is camping tradition.”
He yanked Bob from his sleeping bag and climbed up a tree after Otto. After pulling their underwear clear up by their neck, they groaned, laughed, wrestled and went to bed.
“I wish we could, but it’s closed. closed for renovations,” Uncle Weed answered slowly.
“How can they close a river? You’re teasing again,” the boys stuttered in confusion.
“Well, I’ll tell more of the story. Shortly after we finished our adventure, a bunch of government types came and said, ‘Wow, sure is nice out here but all canyons look the same and there’s plenty of them anyhow. This one would be ideal for our purposes. Barely anyone comes here anyhow, we could probably score us high-paying office jobs, heck maybe even some medals, for improving and developing this place.’”
Uncle Weed continued, “So they built a huge concrete plug of a hydro-electric dam, proudly proclaiming it ‘One of the biggest in the world’ without any acknowledgement of the nature and history they covered up, the evidence of ancient civilizations were just flooded over without so much as a eulogy.”
“They went on to build a matching visitor’s center, highways and byways, hotels, marinas, liquor stores, bridges, convenience stores, government offices, fast food chains, trailer parks, and eventually, a whole town. They called it a National Recreation Area and received their shiny medals and increases in their pay packets I suppose.”
He continued, rather excitedly, “But I call it a National Recreation Slum, a filthy, bathtub playground for the inconsiderate and wealthy to play with expensive, polluting toys.”
Standing up now, he continued, “These politicians felt it was more important to create electricity to light giant clowns and waving cowboys in Las Vegas and keep the malls in Phoenix air-conditioned then it is to preserve a natural wonder filled with life and history. All in the name of progress, ‘can’t let technology pass you by, it ain’t worth anything unless it shows a profit,’ they said, so they abused it until it did.
“Now, bus-loads of people go down and gaze with wonder at this glorious piece of cement and steel, buy postcards and motor on to their next stop. I don’t know about you guys, but I find it hard to love concrete.”
“There I was, just a kid, out there digging the scenery, while all the other kids went to some silly amusement park. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I learned the importance of noticing every detail possible, to remember the majesty of the Earth, and respect all living things. There’s so much to see and experience, but people don’t notice or even take the time to look and, when they do, it’s going by through the window of a car.”
It almost looked like Uncle Weed was crying, not exactly, but sort of leaking around the eyes.
“Well, all the more space for us to roam ‘eh?’ He choked out in a whisper.
“Is that where we’re going tomorrow or something?” The boys figured anyplace that got Uncle Weed this emotional had to quite amazing.
“Don’t say anything yet you two! This journey was amazing. Anyway, every night, whenever we felt like it, we pulled up to a sandy shore or rocky beach up a side canyon and threw our sleeping bags on the ground. My Dad would cook up a pot of grub, he used plants, roots, berries, whatever he could find around. Your Grandpa’s real good at that sort of thing you know—cooking and all.”
“Then,” Uncle Weed continued, “We would lie around the fire and tell about what we had seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted and thought that day. Sort of like what we’re doing here. You might think that after a couple of weeks, you would run out of things to say, but you wouldn’t. Those two weeks could’ve been a thousand and you’d still want more.
Every time you would find a perfect view, you would turn around and find one twice as stunning. Then you would turn your head again and find something more breathtaking still.”
“What, you didn’t like that one?” Uncle Weed teased. “Well, here’s a good one, an important one in fact.”
Uncle Weed sat up to tell the story better and collect his thoughts. “Back when I was about your age, I think I was eleven, I went with my Dad on a trip to a place not too far away from here. Our friend Ed and his daughter, who was about my age, came along as well.
Before we left the city, we bought an old rubber dinghy at an Army-Navy surplus store and took just a couple bags of gear and the clothes on our back then pushed off a sandy bank into a beautiful, vibrant river. We floated down this cascading river for about two weeks.”
“Two weeks in a boat with a girl and the same clothes! Gross!” The boys squealed.
They laid down, bellies full, beside their little fire and told stories. Bob and Otto told about the Arches and the cave they found while exploring. “Now you tell us a story, another good one,” the boys asked.
“Alright, alright. Once I had a job repairing lawnmowers and one day this guy comes in and says; ‘Well I reckon my valve cover gasket is blown to tarnation and my piston rings aren’t seating in the proper circumference in the cylinder which is resulting in an acute lack of synchronization in the timing, so as a result, the camshaft is opening the intake and exhaust valves on the wrong lobes causing premature wear on the crankshaft main bearing on account of the push-rod tubes spurting because the oil cooler isn’t. . .’ ”
“Uncle! We asked you for a good story!” The boys hollered.