The Sign

Santa Barbara backcountry

The men emerged at dawn from the confine of darkness with strained faces wet and ruddy as writhing newborns and the forested land materialized before their bloodshot eyes by the minute in the lightening day, ever larger, until mountain wilderness reared all around in the faint and colorless twilight and the view was strange and desolate. 

Slopes thick and tangled with bristling chaparral rose from the creek and folded and blended into one another and compressed with distance into an olive drab felted wall of mountains that encircled their world.

They stepped off the main trail pounded bare and wide through the river valley and slunk into the bush to enter the narrow canyon mouth of a tributary creek. 

The stream flowed clear and steady. The cool water pooled among boulders in the shade of alder and willow and sycamore.

Tree tops spread over the creek and the canopy filled the canyon like a lumpy green reservoir pooled between sheer sandstone cliffs framing the canyon mouth.

The men bounded across creek stones through the tunnel of trees.

Native trout flitted between the stones like green torpedoes fired underfoot each time they leaped over the purling water, fish of the oldest origins untainted by the genes of McCloud River rainbows that had by mankind’s hand taken over the world. 

Holt Carson stopped and turned about his small wiry frame, chest heaving, mouth agape.

“We’ll know we’re close to the Indian cave when we see the sign warning us from going there.”

He sucked in a fresh breath through a wry smile and turned and waded onward through the creekside scrub. 

“What?” Daniel Hillman snapped.

Holt kept walking letting his comment hang.

Hillman followed, waiting for him to elaborate. 

“Can’t go there?” Hillman pressed in a confused inflection when Holt offered nothing more.

“Nope,” Holt said, almost sounding pleased.

“What the hell you talking about?”

“It’s illegal. Five thousand dollar fine and a six month jail sentence for trespassing,” Holt said.

They kept walking. “Maybe I forgot to tell you that part,” Holt said.

“Yeah pretty fucking sure you never mentioned that tidbit of invaluable information,” Hillman said. “So what’s the deal? We get to leer at this place from afar through field glasses?” 

Holt laughed. Always quick on the rhetorical draw, he fired from the hip: “Well, if you can climb the fence, that might work.”

“A fence? There’s a fucking fence? We’re in the middle of nowhere!”

Holt laughed. They hiked on.

* * *

The blaring white sign reared up in the forest as they approached, an intimidating, bristling hackle of authority unwelcoming of anybody.

“There it is.” Holt pointed up the draw with his chin, hands resting atop trekking poles.

Hillman tramped past him with eyes on the sign and his mouth cracked open. He pulled up short and leaned back on a straight leg, other knee bent, gripping his two trekking poles with tight fists. “Unreal.”

“Read it.”

“Hear ye. Hear ye,” Hillman bellowed in a stentorian blast that resonated from his bearish chest. “To protect fragile resources for future generations the area behind this sign is,” and here he outright yelled to convey that the next few words were printed in all capitals, “CLOSED TO ENTRY.” Then he tagged on the end bit in a low rapid mumble, “until further notice.”

“How ‘bout that?” Holt said. “Guess we have to go home.”

Hillman turned. He fixed Holt in an intense glare through crystal blue eyes. “Horseshit!”

“Here we go,” Holt said, grinning.

“So let’s follow their reasoning. . .”

“Whose reasoning?” Holt interjected, leading the conversation in a direction he knew Hillman would appreciate.

“Good question. Nobody knows. The nameless. The faceless. The unelected. The unaccountable. Some desk-bound cog in the bureaucratic regulatory wheel whose profession it is to revoke without reasonable justification the rights of others on the pretext of supposedly protecting sensitive resources.”

“The wheel that just rolled us,” Holt said, wiping his wet beaded brow with the back of his forearm.

“Ground like grist,” Hillman added.

“No soup for you!” Holt shouted.

They stood in silence, thinking it over, looking about, sucking warm tap water through clear hoses running into their backpacks.

“So the man that lives today,” Hillman began. 

“The man that woke in the wee hours like some tortured lunatic from over the cuckoo’s nest,” Holt declared “and hiked his ass through half the night and all the next damn day.”

“Yes. Yes, indeed. This glorious sentient man of action present before you in the here and now. He is forcibly denied access from his own public lands on behalf of the man that does not exist, for the man that has yet to be born.”

“Insane.” Holt said, shaking his head.

“Utterly. We’ve been stripped of a right that’s been reserved for fictitious people that don’t even exist. What the hell kind of sense does this make?”

“That’s not now a right, my friend,” Holt said. “That’s called privilege.”

“Un-American. Is what it is. What about equal treatment and access and opportunity?” Hillman said. 

“Well, come back in a decade or two, after you’ve been born again as a future generation, and you’re in like Flynn,” Holt said, a double click of his tongue sucking wind through his teeth as if guiding a horse.

They stood silent.

“Or wait here for further notice,” he added.

Hillman grinned and lowered his chin to his chest looking at nothing in particular. He looked up at Holt. “Meanwhile the chosen few come and go as they please, no doubt.”

“Oh yes, of course. It’s all in who you know. We lowly unassociated kulaks get nothing.”

“Nope. We get lectured by Gevlin Dandy. Do as he says, not as he does. He asks for directions to trespass while telling us not to.”

“Yes he does.”

Hillman looked up into the vast cloudless sky, looked ahead, and marched on in a sudden surge of energy, touching the sign with a single gloved finger as he passed. 

Holt fell in behind him. “Just keep to the ravine,” he called ahead.


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12 Responses to The Sign

  1. Clever, very clever. I wonder if Hillman reads this one ?

  2. At least that’s a slightly better reason than the reasons for the closures at present!

    • Jack Elliott says:

      It’s a difficult issue from any angle or perspective, with no clear cut way to handle it that makes much reasonable sense.

      The sensitive resources—Native American rock art-pictographs—that are to be protected are being lost due to natural elements like rain, wind and fire. One day none of it will remain even if nobody goes there. And so what was the purpose of restricting access for current living generations when future generations may be born after it has been lost to natural causes?

      And if current living generations should not be permitted to visit these places for fear of desecration or unintentional destruction, why should future generations who are no different in their behavior be allowed to visit them? It’s absurd on its face.

      Of course, too many people visiting these sites can exacerbate the matter and cause these places to be destroyed sooner rather than later.

      But if access is barred altogether for sake of preservation, what is the point of the resource to begin with if nobody is allowed to see (“use”) said resource?

      I offer no solutions. Just thoughts in one form or another.

      • I have to say that, in the main over here, it’s vandalism which destroys things like that so the sign would be a sensible precaution here. I’d still ignore it though as I don’t see how they would find out when it’s so far in the wilderness. I’d just look over my shoulder before I climbed the fence! 😉

  3. Lester Crapperpot says:

    Hahahaha BUT JACK, if Gandolf says, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” then you shall not pass! But don’t forget to sign your name in the visitor book. That’s what gets me. There’s a sign that says no trespassing, but yet there’s a visitors book at the site welcoming you…

    I think the Archaeologists argument against the layman would be that they are preserving these sites for future researchers and the indigenous people. Not as a viewing spectacle for the public.

    What I find the most fascinating is that nowadays it’s actually the layman who are discovering more than the archaeologists and they have in turn become the site stewards. Yet they get no respect and are told to stay away from sites. The archaeologists are coming to guys like you and asking for information about the sites and finds. However, there’s no incentive for anyone to report finds, and therefore artifacts go undocumented. Sure its great to have the artifact in the collections and preserved, but to not have it documented at all is a complete loss. If I was an archaeologist, I would at least want photos or some sort of documentation of the artifact. The point I’m trying to make is that cultural resource managers are losing out on finds because they aren’t working with the “commoners” who find wayyy more than they do. This isn’t true with all archaeologist as some do work with layman, and such instances has proven to be successful, but for the most part this seems to be the case.

    There’s also just a lot of ego in the archaeology world. For example, if Danny Hillman is who I think he is, he should take his own advice about holding ‘privileged’ information about sites and boasting about it. Posting photos of himself in front of sacred sites and telling others to take down their photos because they aren’t worthy of posting them is exactly what he does. Earlier today he posted photos on his website of the Bryne cache retrieval mission and then an hour later when I went back to his website they were gone. No doubt he took them down after seeing this post. But they were revealing and those images paired with the written publications would lead anyone right to the site. It’s pretty hypocritical that they think they can tell others not to post images online, but then they go off and post their own images or try to exploit coveted sites in major publications like NatGeo. I was warned at one point in time not to post images of the rock art at Carrizo out of respect for the Chumash and their request to not have images of sites at Carrizo published online. But then I went on the website of the person who asked me not to post the image, and he had a rather tasteful image of a Carrizo site on his website…I know the examples could go on for a long time.

    The psyche behind it all is that everyone wants to be the one holding the information and coveting it like Gollum and his precious in the Lord of the Rings. People like Hillman and Crack Plague (from the place where canines pass gas) want people to believe that they know everything. They think they know where every site is and they want you to know that. They definitely don’t know where every site is, and I’ve proven that to them, but in their minds they want to be the holders of the power. So much that they take credit for things they didn’t discover. (Example: A layman discovered a rock art site recently and reported it to the land manager, and the credit of the find went to the archaeologist instead of him.) If they ever decide to cast the ring in the fire they will gain more knowledge about finds from all of us than they could ever imagine.

    I do think that we should pay respect to the indigenous people still living today, but I know that’s a whole other can of Olivella beads. In your write up about the sandstone bowl you found at the beach, I believe you mentioned how some people would prefer to have the artifact be left in nature, and this is something that seems to be true with some tribal elders. They would rather have the artifact disappear out in nature and not end up in some special collections filing cabinet or on some collectors shelf. It’s one thing to preserve an artifact as it preserves a material cultural, but the indigenous are connected with the land and arguably that’s where their culture should be left to rest.

    Anyways, these are my thoughts. Keep posting

  4. Lester Crapperpot says:

    Anytime, King! He might have the blonde hair, but don’t let Dandy become your Carole Baskin

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