I’m from a small timber town in southwest Washington state. I grew up on a small hill above a small river named after a small indian tribe on a small tributary of the big Columbia. This is a place where the smelt ran deep and the hills were once covered with timber, tall and wide. Mount St. Helens sits not far behind us, her ash the invisible foundation of our modest living.
I know from the stories that this place grew and the trees were cleared. Today some trees still stand and they seem large enough to me, but anyone wise will tell you different. Back in the day, the men of the area made it their business to turn green trees into green paper with the help of big factories.
Aluminum came later. So did nuclear. The girth of industry grew and dollars were plentiful for the men and their families. They became comfortable. But time went, and so did these things. Industry withered along with men’s bank accounts; they watched the abundance of everything recede along with their hairlines, the meat in their freezers, and the lift on their pickup trucks.
Today there are men that walk the dike along the river and sleep in canvas tents in a town too proud for a soup kitchen. They burn chemicals and ingest them, on purpose. Their cheekbones protrude and their teeth fall out. They steal railroad arms and stop signs from the street corners. Sometimes they get angry and light things on fire, just to be seen.
But there are still men who work hard. They drink beer and have nine kids and fight with their wives but they still dream bright big dreams. With hands like leather and talk about big motors and elk hunting and football, these are men whose hearts are tired but still big with love and with just a little bit of hate for anyone who tries to tell them what they already know.