Redwood Summer

A human-rights activist has been kidnapped and killed.

This brings back a terrible memory.

Two weeks after I moved to Boulder to live near my boyfriend, a group from the University of Colorado Environmental Center rented a bus and went to California to be a part of Redwood Summer.

This was a gathering, primarily of college students, in Northern California. The kids were staging protests against the logging industry.

It was a peaceful effort. Ben & Jerry would be there, and the ice cream would be free. I grabbed two cameras and my reporter’s notebook and jumped aboard.

On the way out our busful engaged in nonviolence training.

When we arrived in Humbolt County, we were met with the somber news that the events’ organizers, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, had been hospitalized. A bomb exploded under Bari when she sat in the driver’s seat of her car. Her pelvis was blown apart, among other things.

This was the first indication that I was in harm’s way.

We sat cross-legged in a ring on the floor while our leader guy did an emotion check. I was freaking out. I am not brave.

This news had the protesters angry and ready to charge. Our exercise that afternoon was role playing, to prepare ourselves for confrontations with loggers.

First I played a protester. My ersatz logger was shoving me and yelling obsenities. I practiced not fighting back.

Then it was my turn to be the logger. Perhaps it was because of my journalism training, or because I was not a protester, but I was surpised by the myopia these kids had.

My logger response in this game was “I hear you, but I have a family that depends on me. I don’t cut and haul what I’m told; I don’t get paid.”

My drill partner said, “I never thought of that.” Those zealous college kids were putting themselves in danger without even considering the other side. I agreed with them, mind, but thought they couldn’t have a good strategy without they saw the forest through the trees.

The plan for the next day was something called ‘Cat and Mouse.’ This was not a drill. Half of the protesters sneaked into the forest at 4 a.m. to hide, the second half at 6. The idea was that the loggers couldn’t fell trees knowing there was a bunch of people in there.

I was with a group in a gully as dawn broke. I can’t describe how frightened I was. Mingled with the sounds of the forest was the voice in my head, replaying ‘This is a bad idea.’ I couldn’t make it stop.

A large, strong man appeared at some point on higher ground. He had seen my group, and was heaving softball-size boulders at us. If one had made contact with someone’s head it could have been fatal. People started running, but I’m slow and got separated. I called for my boyfriend, and forgot to use the code name he was assigned. I didn’t know what to do. I struggled up the side of the gully, but there was no trail, and it was steep. It was also dark, and I was afraid. This was out of the cover of the trees, but I just wanted to get out of there.

I couldn’t hear the quiet anymore, just screaming from the protesters, yelling from the loggers, and thuds from the rocks they threw. That’s what my husband says he remembers the most — the thuds.

As I crested the forest I saw a sherrif’s car. I ran to it and embraced the officer. Shortly after, my boyfriend found me. We were done with this craziness.

The officer gave my boyfriend and me a ride to our camp. I used that time to get his perspective for my story, but he also asked us a lot of questions. By the end of the ride, I had a great article, and the officer had decided he agreed with the environmentalists’ cause.

By nightfall one of our number hadn’t returned. We learned he had been caught by a group of loggers and beaten with an axe handle and abandoned.

That was the end of the action for the Coloradans. We got our free ice cream and headed back.

I grabbed a stack of local newspapers before we hit the road. Someone had done a story on my boyfriend, me and our officer friend, who was a Mendocino County sheriff sergeant. He had credited us by name with educating him on the issue and inspiring him to work toward protecting old-growth forests.

Shoot, if I’d known I would make my biggest impact sitting in a car, I never would have gone into that forest.

And to top it off, someone else had written my story.

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One Response to “Redwood Summer”

  1. Fred Bauman Says:

    I guess it was inevitable you’d be blogging about logging. You went out on a limb and could have ended up dead in a trunk. And you’re not out of the woods yet. Are you going to branch out into further grass roots protests? I’m sure your readers are pining for more. I may be barking up the wrong tree so I won’t needle you further.

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