Great Bales of Fire!
Funny things you might see on the road in North Idaho
Many things mark the passage of time and the seasons that make it up. Like all signs, some are easier to see than others, like the seasonal smoke from upwind forest fires versus, oh maybe say, the lengthening of fur on moose testicles or the common woolly-worm, whichever you find handier to keep tabs on. I tend to keep my eyes on the road. Come to think of it, I’ve yet to see one single woolly-worm this year to base my winter forecast on!
The other day on the way to town, I passed a pickup bristling with hay bales so intricately stacked that Ramesses II would have been duly impressed. Twenty seconds later, I passed an ambulance running code and parting traffic in the same direction as that glistening trail of chaff, providing me with a couple of fairly decent flashbacks.
The first one put me back behind the wheel of an old fire tanker, also running code and parting traffic, coming up on a rolling hay stack with no visible means of rear view reflection, its load being well beyond the truck’s mirrors, yet traveling at a blinding forty miles an hour, nearly in the middle of the road to avoid bicyclists who were hogging the ditch and waving impolitely.
This is nothing new, as September seems to sprout such wonders. Firewood also does this in large unsecured piles but the chaff tends to be a bit more worrisome to tires, grills and tailgating motorcyclists.
The second back flash had a fuzz more to it, including a larger dose of inattentive driving than most I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing.
Involved were two guys in a fairly nice Chevy truck pulling a flatbed tandem axle trailer, both laden with hay well beyond their foundations, a casually flicked cigarette butt and a mother load of karma for dessert.
Not very long after the flicking occurred and the subsequent sucking of the hot cherry right behind the cab, smoke began mixing with the chaff. Then flames fanned by the sheer velocity of this memory worked their way through the front stack, back over the tailgate and made their warm acquaintance with the rear load.
Now, it shouldn’t be a surprise that several tons of ignited hay can generate simply an amazing amount of smoke and embers as well as excitement as it travels among the motoring public and in time it also became evident to the two occupants up front.
At this point, I would like to have had some kind of measuring devise that could have gauged the responses of the two sphincters on the front seat when they became conscious of what their load was doing. Being Christians, the ‘clamp factor’, on a scale of 1 to 100, was probably right between “Holy Crap!” and “Christamighty!” Short prayers are often the most effective in an emergency.
But rather than stop and be humiliated in public by finding a convenient place to stage a complete and utter melt down, they instead ran for home, [“only a few miles away”], where they could (presumably) handle things in the privacy of their own driveway, sans onlookers with snide remarks and handy cameras.
Like a large angora cat with a bit more than its tail on fire, they pranced up a county road, through the woods and, in time, into their own front yard where the brains of the outfit stopped feeding her chickens and dialed our dispatcher to report a large, unusual fire ball with two screaming voices threatening her domestic tranquility, not to mention her prized sumac.
By the time I got there from the house I was working on, a tanker, a quick attack 4x4 and half a dozen of my fellow volunteers were busy putting “wet stuff on the red stuff” which, by this time, included engine compartment, upholstery, tires and a few trees. Not included in that hosing were the two red faces responsible for this unscheduled break from our daily earnings, entertaining as that would have been.
Filling out the report, I carefully noted the cause of the incident to be “careless use of tobacco” and let it go at that. The owner’s insurance handler undoubtedly raised an eyebrow at it but probably paid off the claim anyway, spreading the cost around to all of their clients one way or another as that is precisely what insurance is for; sharing stupidity with those who don’t deserve it.
I could go on with this subject but I’d rather dabble on another observation of late summer/pre-winter: stupid bugs.
It never ceases to amaze me, the seasonal frenzy of yellow jackets gleaning anything edible to bolster their colonies before harsh weather and cold temperatures arrive to replace irritating insects with that other seasonal phenomenon, goose bumps.
Recently, a sow bug had some trouble avoiding the bottom of one of my boots and within only a few minutes there was a tiny ”No Vacancy” sign posted nearby which was being totally ignored by so many of those yellow and black protein taxis that I had to enlist the help of a large round of buckskin white fir firewood to shut down their little banquet for the evening.
I reopened it the next morning after things warmed up and the driveway once again looked like it was in some kind of turbulence. With my custom made, four-foot-long fly swatter in one hand and a fresh tube of Benedryl Cream in my back pocket, I tipped the block over to start up the morning shift.
As maitre d’, I stood by until things became fully occupied and customers were actually starting to lumber off, their tiny propellers straining under the heavy loads, when I simply stood the block back up again and gave it a couple of spins to make sure everyone was getting well acquainted under there. This worked so well that when I tipped it back again there came another rush of even more eager and hungry patrons! I’d found my calling, at least for the time being.
I was quite proud of my new establishment and played headwaiter for most of the day until the dinner bell signaled a higher calling. When I returned, I realized I’d forgotten to close up shop as both the block of firewood and the ground in front of it were completely bare. My little restaurant was cleaned out! Kaput! My driveway strangely motionless.
That night, I had the darnedest nightmare, of having my guts strewn across the gravel and dandelions that make up my driveway by a large angry tennis shoe the size of a city bus, then of being masticated and carried off, bit by bit, until I was fed, from locks to sox, to all the various nests in the immediate neighborhood.
Several days went by in this dream, where I was absorbed by many thousands of tiny larvae, growing, wriggling and hatching until I was stunned to find myself cruising my own driveway, inches above it, but not feeling it odd in any way that I was craving body parts and goopy insides or even singing “Hail to the Queen.”
When I finally woke up, I had the distinct notion that reincarnation wasn’t such a strange concept after all but a rather natural sequence of events.
By mid-week, the driveway was even more animated than before, thus giving credence to my earlier notion.
I’m currently rethinking my stance on yellow jackets.