Clack-clack, clack-clack…clack-clack – clack-clack, clack-clack…the thirty-car Rayonier logging train snaked its way downhill from the sizing and grading yard at Black Pass to the sorting and holding yard in Hoquiam, its steel wheels seeming to tap coded messages as they rolled over joints in the track, the rails telling tales of great trees from long ago, survivors of fires, floods, and pestilence eons before man and axe ever saw these woods, felled and hauled away in a mere blip of earthtime; this particular tale was being tapped-out on a warm and humid evening in the summer of 1995:
Twilight had set, full dark was coming, and Jesse Vega’s three-girl gang was riding the logs, a strictly-forbidden favorite pastime of theirs. Fourteen-year-old Christine was sitting up on top of the load and holding on to a log’s loose bark for dear life. Bolder and braver Jesse with tagalong Billiejean, both fifteen-years-old, were down lower on one of the lengthier logs that extended well past the cradles – they rode like perched ravens, cantilevered out over the couplers between the cars where the longest log almost touched logs protruding from the cars ahead and behind, the space between them a treacherous place constantly flexing wider and then narrower as curves were negotiated by the train, rough stobs swiping past each other with the promise of Poe’s pendulum.
“What do you think the rails are saying?” Billiejean Wisdom asked Jesse, practically yelling her head off just to be heard.
“They’re saying if this train doesn’t get across the skinny and rickety
trestle before full-on
dark somebody’s gonna go pee-pee in her panties.” Queets
“I’m not scared!” Billiejean protested.
“Oh yes you are. No fibbing allowed.”
Jesse stood up and turned loose with her hands. Balancing atop the cantilevered end of a sizeable log, she looked up at her white-knuckled sister sitting on top of the load. Filled with wicked glee, she glanced back at the last few cars following them around a bend, and then, with a little hop, she turned and looked ahead as they rounded another wide curve, seeing the train stretching out ahead and behind, the entire quarter-mile-long rail-car ribbon of logs that had been living trees only a week or two ago. Mimicking a soaring raptor staking her claim to the forest, she extended her arms out to her sides like wings with fingers at their tips instead of feathers. The wind in her face dusty and smelling of cedar and tamarack, she screamed like a screeching red-tailed hawk, her spirit guide according to
Billiejean’s grandmother, “Skeee! Skeee!”
Billiejean’s grandmother, “Skeee! Skeee!”
“Cut it out, Jesse!” Billiejean cried. “You’ll fall!”
“Not me! Watch this!”
Without further warning Jesse took two quick steps and leaped across the treacherous space between cars onto the rough stob of the longest log protruding from the car ahead, waving her arms to catch her balance as she landed.
Billiejean screamed, “Jesseeeee!” at the top of her lungs while the rails kept on tapping out their code, repeating clack-clack, clack-clack – clack-clack, clack-clack.
“Hey! What’s going on?” Christine demanded, raising her head up, long blonde hair blowing all directions at once in a zillion tangles, her eyes squeezed shut.
“Jesse jumped! She jumped ahead!” Billiejean yelled hysterically, pointing and tattling on her friend. “She could’ve fallen!”
“I’m not gonna fall, you big chickenshits!” Jesse hollered back to her so-called posse. Then she leaped across the open space again, returning to where she had been, Billiejean grabbing and hugging her furiously while beating her fists against her back.
Christine peeked out from under a hand over her eyes, yelled, “Stop showing off, Jesse!” with all the overdone petulance she could muster considering the chaotic circumstances, and Jesse laughed, plopping down to sit atop the log while Billiejean wailed “Not funny!” giving Jesse’s shoulder a hefty girl-gang punch for good measure and sitting down beside her with her brows knitted into half-hitches.
Jesse had often wondered since that day how differently things would’ve turned out if Billiejean had just stayed put and pouted. But the path never is a straight one, and even the best of minions will sometimes wander…