Current Occupation: Writer – Financial Blogs
Former Occupation: Forestry Worker, Software Engineer, Technical Writer
Contact Information: Jaan (pronounced YAAN) Seunnasepp moved to Oregon in the early 1970s where he first worked with Hoedads Co-Op Inc. in a variety of forestry jobs, mostly reforestation (tree planting). He did this for five year, then dabbled in selling real estate just as the bottom fell out of that market. Jaan returned to the University for Bachelor and Masters degrees in Computer Science. After working for 14 years, he took time to write his novel The Songbook of Suomi, in which a Peruvian-American girls is swept back into the world for Finnish mythology. He is still trying to market that book and find time to write more fiction. You can find illustrated anthologies of Jaan’s short-short stories at 50CentFlash.com.
Note – The story Elk City is based on real events, including the final scene.
Elk City, Idaho
A group of old timers and a bunch of kids sat around the campfire. A couple of fresh logs were tossed on, sending a rush of sparks up to the sky. Robbie Richards pushed back his grey hair, and stretched his long boots towards the fire. Someone handed him a fresh bottle of Black Butte Porter, and he took a swig. The others, young and old turned towards him as he began his story:
Dusk was settin’ in and the rain was pourin’ down like there was no tomorrow as Tim Boty and me turned onto route 14 outa Grangeville and headed toward Elk City in spring of ‘76. Tim was driving his dusty old green Saab 96. That thing had more creaks and rattles in it than an old horse buggy, but she ran just fine. Man it was comin’ down!
Now in 1976, that road to Elk City was not paved at all, so it took us well over two hours to go that forty-five miles of dips and turns and two-foot-deep pot holes, as we snaked along the South Fork of the Clearwater River. We couldn’t see the big trees along the road in the dark and rain, but we sure could feel ‘em looming silent above us as we edged along. Well, you guys all know what I mean.
Anyway, it was about ten o’clock when we finally reached town, and since we didn’t know where camp was, we headed straight for the tavern. It was a big old log place, with huge old-growth beams and the smell of pine smoke. Inside it was toasty warm.
There were about six or so of us Hoedads in there, mostly Logrollers, if I recall correctly. I remember Tim Johnson, Peter Beleato, and little Katie in those tan jeans she always wore, and a couple more, and they all gave us a big welcome.
I remember standing at the bar with Peter and Katie (Tim and the others were shootin’ pool), and they’re tellin’ me how we got a nice camp on the river ‘bout fifteen miles outa town, and that we can crash in the Logrollers’ bus or else Burt and Cindy’s tipi, and pitch our tents in the morning.
Katie tells me “It’s a real small town, Robbie. With the three crews, almost fifty of us, I think we damn near double the population.”
Just then, up walks a couple of local guys. Now we had seen a little trouble in the past from local red-necks. Our long hair and funky rigs made it pretty clear that we are on the hippie side of the spectrum, and back in ’76 that was an issue for some of those guys. But these two seemed to be friendly, so we flash a quick smile. The first one speaks up.
“Howdy. How you all doin’? I’m Bob, and this here’s Tommy, and say, we don’t mean to be nosey or nothin’, but we kinda noticed quite of few of you and your friends come into town, and we was just wondering, what brought you all here?”
Bill gives ‘em one of his big smiles. “Well, we’re tree planters, and we got a big contract here, and so here we are.”
“Tree planters?” Bob asked, “you mean like in the woods?”
“Yep!” we replied, “reforestation.”
“Shit!” Tommy said, “One my cousins did that for about two weeks. Said it was the damn hardest work he ever did in his life, running up and down those hills in the rain and all. Never do it again, he said.”
“Well,” Katie piped in, “we’re from Eugene, Oregon, and we do it about eight, nine months out of the year, so we kind of get used to it.”
“You do it too?” Tommy’s eyes widened just a little.
“You don’t wanna get in a race with Katie Sullivan out on the slope,” I put in. “She’ll put you to shame.” I ordered a pitcher and we all moved to the tables.
So then Tommy asks us how much they pay us, and Peter goes on and explains about us being a Co-operative, which means we work for ourselves. Whatever we earn in a week on the contract is what we make, and a percentage goes to running the company.
“We’re divided up into different crews,” we explained, “and each of the crews is like a separate little business, takes care of their own vehicles, and camping arrangements, and keeps books and all. Here we got three crew, Red Star, Logrollers, and the Green Thumbs. But we all get along pretty well.”
“And the girls plant too?”
“Yep! I hear there are about fifty of us here, probably fifteen or so are women.”
They found that pretty interesting. Katie gave one of them an arm wrestle, and while she didn’t win, she didn’t just flop over neither. Everybody was laughing, but they were pretty impressed.
Well pretty soon we are takin’ turns buying pitchers, and playing pool and just having a good time. I remember Peter breakin’ out his fiddle, and some more of the crew folks filtered in. It looked like everybody was going to get along just fine.
Now I’ve been on a lot of contracts over those years back then, and I’ve seen some friendly towns, but never before nor since was there any town that took us in like they did in Elk City.
We had some 2400 acres to plant, and so with three crews we had about three weeks’ work, but we got snowed out almost a full week, and so on, you know how it goes. So we were there just over a month. We were the darlings of the town the whole damn time. On weekends we’d come in and party and never did anyone ever give us even a bad look. Not once! Everybody always just greeted us with a smile.
Well, most of us Red Stars and a few other folks went up to Mare Ridge. It was a six mile hike in, since the road was under three of four feet of snow in places. It was one big, 485 acre unit. I remember there was this absolutely enormous grand fir tree, right on the top of the ridge. It took four of us to get our arms around it, and it was tall! Liz Madera set up camp right there, and every single night you could see her resting with her back up against that tree, looking up at the stars. That was her spot, and you better not be in it when she wanted to sit down there. I swear it was really awe inspiring. That was when Galen Daicie had this crush on Liz, and was following her around the unit every day like a puppy dog. Funniest thing you ever saw.
The long and short of it was, once we went up to Mare Ridge, we kinda missed out on some of the town fun, but being up there was its own reward. Anyway, we were also the last to finish up. The road had opened up by then, of course, and half a dozen planters came up to help us finish off the last couple of days.
Boty had already split, so I was riding back home with the Logrollers in their big green bus, and we got camp all cleaned up and the bus packed up and headed on into town. Now Liz and this gal Rachel were doing some laundry, so I walk in there to see if they’re ready to leave. They say it’s almost done, so I sit down and wait, watch the big old dryers going flop, flop, flop.
As I’m sitting there, in walks this young woman and her little girl, maybe six years old. As they walk by, the girl gives us a big, wide-eyed stare. When they get to the machines on the other side, we can hear her whisper, almost breathless:
“Mommy. Are… are those hippies?”
Her mom straightens up just a little, throws us a quick glance, and says back to the girl proudly, with just a touch of awe in her voice, “No dear. Those aren’t hippies. Those are tree planters.”