by Tom Leskiw
Summer 1978 found me working as a hydrologic technician in Hayfork for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. My primary duty was to walk streams and characterize their attributes that included gradient, total discharge (as measured in cubic feet/second), sediment sources, bedload composition, geology, and vegetation type. Environmental politics were much different then: the mission of the U.S. Forest Service (F.S.) was much more focused on getting the (timber) cut out and its relationship with the NEC was more adversarial. During that era, examples of partnerships where the NEC or other environmental groups collaborated with the F.S. on common-ground projects such as creating fire-safe communities or inventorying salmon populations were scarce to non-existent.
Much of my work was focused on creeks on South Fork Mountain that conflued with the South Fork Trinity River near Hyampom. One day, starting atop South Fork Mountain near Blake Mountain, I set out to walk Lucy Gulch, a tributary to Big Creek. About two-thirds of the gulch’s stream length was on private timberland, which I had to pass through to get to F.S. lands. On previous days, I’d navigated past waterfalls, boulder-choked canyons, and deep bedrock pools, but nothing had prepared me for what I was to see that day.
If you’re not familiar with “old-school cut-and-run forestry,” let me enlighten you. Over a huge area—many tens of acres—all the trees had been felled, most of them massive, 36-72” in diameter. Using the practice of high-grading, only the very best trees were taken to the mill; the remainder now formed a log-jam from hell, stretching as far as I could see. There was no way to assess the condition of the channel by veering off it into the residual forest, so gamely, I soldiered on… all the while cursing the lie from the 1960s that someday soon, we’d all be traveling via jet pack.
That day had a big impact on me and my world view. So much so that I was moved to write a poem for the EcoNews, which appeared in the November 1978 issue. There was just one problem: I wasn’t sure if I could write a piece critical of forestry practices and not be subjected to blow-back. So, I only used my initials. Unfortunately, during the publication process, a typo crept in, with “radiant heat” being changed to “radiant head,” which likely made the final paragraph engender a “huh?” from readers.
Much Hunted Animal
rainwater puddles: mirrored reflections
of myself in the middle of a country road
rising up sheen-like to explore the
lines of my face
all the while walking down a country road
with cares dropping off like autumn leaves
this valley totally encircled by
orographic clouds of menacing intent:
pregnant and black with expectation.
winter’s begun already, creek waters
turbid with the first strong rain
did all this timber harvesting madness
November snows will grace the flanks
of the much hunted animal: South Fork Mountain;
the much less renowned:
longest ridge in the world
advance guards of the next storm enter
brusquely upon the scene,
the temperature lowers,
radiant heat extirpated instantly: failing
to warm the river gravels