‘How are you guys doing?’ The Forest Service Ranger had a pickup truck the size of a lorry.
‘We’re well. It’s warm today.’
‘You can say that. Parked in the shade the meter in my car says 92 degrees; yesterday it was 95. It’s the humidity that is the problem here. Go over the mountains and the air is dry and 92 degrees is OK’.
‘You guys on vacation?’
‘We are – we are travelling from San Francisco to Seattle and then to Vancouver’.
‘You were in Frisco? Why would anyone want to go there? Do you know what we call it? The gay bay. And why would you want to go to Seattle? It’s just another big city. I’ve only been there twice, didn’t like it either time. I don’t like cities’.
Dressed in a collarless shirt and jeans held up by braces and wearing a dark green baseball cap; he might have been a stereotype, except he wore his hair tied back in a ponytail and had an earring.
Seeking to establish ground on which we might meet, I said, ‘We went to Alcatraz. Are you from these parts?’
‘I am. I was born in the valley, but my father was a naval man, so we moved around a lot, then I joined the navy myself, but I’m glad to say five of my seven kids are still living in the district’.
‘Is there work around here?’
‘No, if you took away people paid by the state and by the federal government, there would be no work at all. There used to be a lumber mill, but that closed. The environmentalists stopped the cutting of old growth timber – I notice none of them try to live around here. And if you don’t cut old growth, how are you going to have new growth? The trees will die sooner or later or there will be a forest fire and there will be nothing to replace them’.
Not having the first idea about forestry, I couldn’t comment.
We talked on for another ten or fifteen minutes in the shade of the trees that canopied the park in which we had stopped. The town from which we had come was 14 miles away, the next was forty miles or so eastward; there was nothing in between except miles of difficult driving along a river valley. It was a place where without a car you would not survive, and the car would only bring you to a town with a population of less than two thousand.
The man was a libertarian with a distrust of big government; a social conservative with a dislike of his perceptions of San Francisco; a nationalist in his support of US foreign policy; but a man with a deep love of his community, a concern for jobs for the unemployed, a warm regard for his neighbours, and genuine desire to welcome visitors. There was both a conservatism and a radicalism in his views that seemed, at times, contradictory.
Irish politics are easy by comparison with the nuances and paradoxes of Oregon.