Back in the summer of 1986 the boss told me to take the feller-buncher up to Indian Grove to free up one of the sacred pines from a widowmaker leaning and dangerous. These are trees they say Nez Perce Indians peeled and used for food and medicine.
I'd been out there dozens of times, but that day was different, starting with goose bumps down my arms getting out of the truck.
While I checked equipment and packed gear I heard faint drumming and singing, chanting really. I figured it came from Buckhorn Springs Campground down the road.
I fired it up, climbed up in the seat and backed that buncher off the lowboy, then drove through the grove to find the tree and look over the situation. It was a tricky snarl, and in order to take out that leaner I'd have to cut that sacred tree. I moved the buncher closer.
Ear plugs and the hum of the buncher drown out the distant music, but then I realized the drumbeat was inside my chest. That's when it happened.
I heard tiny bells first, and then out of the pitchy scar on the sacred pine stepped an Indian. I think I gasped because I remember tasting his gamey smell. I'll never forget his white Buffalo robe, naked body underneath except for moccasins, chest and face marked with white, green and blue paint. Glass beads hung in his long black hair on what looked like an otter pelt.
I finally exhaled. He and I froze, locked gaze, he a few feet from the tree and me perched 10 feet above. His eyes were curious.
Nobody at headquarters was gonna believe I ran into an Indian ghost that kept me from doing my job. I had to figure out something darn quick to take down that tree.
So I started talking to him from the cab.
"I come to fix that mess up there," I yelled pointing. "And it looks like I gotta cut the top off the pine to make it right."
He stood silent, though his gaze followed my hand. I waited for a response. Nothing. We stood staring again for a bit before I went to work.
I stretched the hydraulic arm to where the pine met the leaner and locked the pincer around the pine. I looked down to check his reaction. He barely nodded.
I took a deep breath, started the saw then cut that sacred pine. But when I turned the arm to lay the cutting on the ground, the leaner tree c-r-a-c-k-e-d and split in two, the bulk of it careening down, the broken top shooting up about 6 feet and dropping with a thud in the middle of the pine, which it turns out was rotting and hollow enough to swallow it.
Adrenaline pumping again I finished setting the pine on the ground, then checked the Indian's reaction. He was looking at the top of his sacred tree, which now had a top-knot of sorts--a branch with a bit of green hanging over like a faucet turned away from its sink. His eyes told me he approved.
* * * * * * * *
"Tell it again Papa. I love that story," begged 6-year-old Sadie.
"Yeah, tell it again Grandpa, urged 10-year-old Michael, "I love it every time you tell it."