On an early August day, after graduating high school, I boarded a Greyhound bus in Sacramento along with a group of other young people. It took us up a desolate winding road and dropped us off at a secluded location east of the town of San Andreas where I would spend the next three weeks in the CCC training academy. And so began Day 1 of my journey in the California Conservation Corps. The following is from my hand-written journal that I kept where I documented my experience in the CCC.
8/9. Today I arrived at the training academy.
After traveling on a rather treacherous narrow
road, the Greyhound bus dropped us new recruits
in the parking lot in front of the main administration
building. We disembarked and lined up beside the
bus. I carried two pieces of luggage: a soft case
Samsonite and a duffel bag. I would eventually
find out that the training academy was originally
a state correctional facility. I guess the idea of
putting a jail in the middle of nowhere was
suppose to deter inmates from escaping. Anyway,
after dinner, crew leaders were busy at work
assigning us our dorm assignments.
8/16. It was hot and dusty. We were soaked with
sweat working under the bright summer sun and
covered with all the dirt and dust that we were
stirring up. Today I saw an incredible site. While
we were clearing brush along a hillside in the
foothills of the Sierra to construct a new park,
someone in my crew discovered, on a steeply
sloping embankment, the entrance to an
abandoned mine. It looked like it had been
untouched and abandoned since the gold rush
days, over a century ago. There was some old
lumber and rocks framing the small entrance,
which, as we far as we could tell, led to a dark
abyss. Our crew leaders immediately blocked it off.
8/26. There was a rock concert at the academy.
It was a big event activity, almost everyone of the
entire session was there. It was crowded and
chaotic. I think it was a kind of celebration of
conclusion of the academy training because it was
towards the ending. Afterwards the crew I’m in was
in squad order. For some reason, squads 2 & 3
had only 2 or 3 people. I think they’re on some
sort of detail. I remember I was happy because
graduation from the academy was coming close.
8/27. Yesterday I was so glad because I was able
to take a warm shower. For dinner we had tacos,
burritos and Spanish rice.
8/5. Last Tuesday night I called Scott’s house in
Sebastopol. His cousin, Danny, answered and
he told me that Scott was kicked out of his
Aunt’s house because of family problems.
Danny said Scott moved in with one of his
friends, George, in Seb., but didn’t know the
phone number or the address. All Danny knew
was where Scott worked, which was at RedyMix
Concrete. I was most disappointed that Scott
wasn’t there and that we weren’t able to chat.
And that he didn’t let me know of the
situation. But I think it must have been rather
recently because Danny said Scott did receive
and read my letter which I sent last June.
Angered, I explained this problem to one of
my roommates, Steve, who accompanied me
to the phone I used to call Scott’s house.
That evening while in the tent I sat down
and started thinking. I decided that I will write
to Danny who can find out the phone number
and address to Scott’s work and send this
information to me here at the lake. I’ll be happy
when I receive it so I can see Scott. Right now
I can only rely on Danny and hope he finds
the info for me and sends it to me.
The following day I thought about this more
while on the grade. As I worked digging the dirt
I thought about what I’m going to do. But
despite my thinking and focus on this, the day
was probably my best day so far because I
removed completely 3 tree stumps. I was so
I was also so satisfied during dinner on
Wednesday night. There was peace and
quiet here at camp, because a major portion
of the crew went into town with Debbie, our
crew leader. I, along with a few others, Steve,
Lisa, Ben, and Chris, remained here. We had a
nice, pleasant dinner. I like that! There weren’t
so many people talking. I ate dinner slowly,
contently, peacefully, and without being
rushed, as usually happens.
Ross, whom I first met back at the
Academy, visited us that evening, and a
guy named Dave, who traveled with me from
the Academy to Lake Sonoma, accompanied
him. Steve, Lisa and I were talking in the
kitchen, then ACL (assistant crew leader)
Dave, came in, suggested we come out to the
camp fire, where we met Ross. It was already
very dark and the fire provided heat and
light. Ross started talking about nature.
Steve changed the subject by talking about
religions, finally we talked about crime and
politics. The conversation turned into a frenzy.
With everyone expressing their views and
opinions, this intriguing discussion turned
into a dynamic debate! Tired of all this,
though, Dave wanted to talk about sex.
Ben, Chris and Walter, the new guy, were
in their tent probably listening to all this,
our debate around the campfire. It was
certainly an in-depth discussion.
Thursday night Debbie reminded us
that we’re in the home stretch, with only
16 more working days for those of us
transferring, and that we should kick ass.
8/6. The van left unusually early on this
Friday morning. Unfortunately, I was still
in the outhouse when I heard an engine
started up. That ominous sound gave
me a feeling that departure will be
earlier. So I was the last one on the van
and I almost missed it.
After we arrived at the river, we were
told to step off the van. It was the first
day I brought my journal with me and
wanted to remain inside to write in it.
Disappointed, I through rocks into the
river and watched the ripples flow out,
like watching a nuclear bomb detonation
from the sky. I told Steve, who was
standing next to me, this observation
and he agreed.
Riding on the barge to work, I began
writing. The sky was overcasted and the
overall weather gave me a gloomy feeling.
I wondered if today is going to be gloomy
as well. As we approached our destination,
I looked at the mountains, their image
reflected on the motionless water. The
surface of the water this morning was so
smooth it was like looking at a massive
piece of mirror. Destroying that serenity,
our boat sliced through that mirror, its
loud motor and very presence causing
birds to flee, its propellers churning up
the water, leaving ripples and waves
behind it, extending outwards until
they hit both shores of the river.
I imagine our disembarking the barge
was like a navy ship loaded with weapons
and troops landing on a enemy shore to
establish a beach head during a military
Today for the first day I worked with
the new guy, Walter. We’re at stumps
again, and after I removed a stump with
Gino, I was assigned to help Walter at
another stump. We worked efficiently,
methodically, attacking the stump in a
systemically order. During lunch he
talked about his roofing job and that
roofing work during winter is not possible,
then he asked me where I’m from.
Later on he suggested using a chain saw
to cut through the remaining roots. Kelly
came by and offered to find Boots who
has the chain saw. I find Walter nice,
friendly, someone I’d like to be friends
with. I like him and I think he likes me.
We worked well together.
By 4 we were back on the barge on
the way to camp. It was unusually chilly
for this time of the day, and the sky
began clouding up. Being cooler than
usual, I felt that the weather hinted us of
the arrival of fall. Gino made comments
about man-made lakes, and observed the
oak trees, saying that we seem to be
drowning these poor trees.
I’m sitting at the picnic table writing,
and as I write, they’re cooking our steaks
over the campfire. I told Gino, sitting
across from me, that I wish they would
use charcoal briquettes instead of wood.
Jim, very, very good writing. Keep it
up – also you’re doing better on the
grade – keep striving to do better.
9/7. There was a light rain last night.
We woke up to a cloudy sky this morning
and there were on and off sprinkles
showering all day long. I think this is the
first rain for the approaching fall season.
I like rain and I like this kind of weather.
I guess I like it because those grey
clouds pour endless drops of water, in
sprinkles or rain drops. It’s fascinating.
This kind of gloomy weather makes me
reminisce about certain past memories,
unforgettable memories, which I’ll talk
about another time.
Today is the first Saturday I spent
at camp. (Last weekend, the Labor Day
weekend, I went home. That weekend
was my first one here since leaving the
academy). Brunch at around 11:30,
which I’m told was a little later then
usual, then I sat by the fire by myself,
took a little walk around the perimeter
of the camp, looked at the nearby grape
vineyards, took a short afternoon nap,
showered, then ate dinner by the fire
with Steve, Gino, and Lisa. During the
afternoon Debbie took most of the crew
into town for a store run. Steve, I and
3 others stayed in camp. It was a quiet
afternoon. After dinner, there was a
lengthy argument between Steve and
Gino about our tent. Actually I thought
their argument was rather hilarious.
It’s so dark now I can hardly see,
so I’m going to stop writing.
9/8. Once again the entire crew
went into town on this cloudy Sunday
morning. I heard they will be there for
most of the day. This time only Steve,
Boots, and I stayed in camp. With only
the three of us here, I’ve never seen our
camp so empty, so quiet, so peaceful.
No yelling, no screaming, no complaining,
no shouting, no arguments, no one to
bug me with silly questions. A time to
reflect. Since Gino isn’t here, I won’t
have to confront him for the day. It’s rare
when such times come, when Gino isn’t
here. I should relish these rare
opportunities for they don’t come often.
Just imagine, I have the whole day all to
The first thing I did to take advantage
of today was to go out to the picnic
tables and write while enjoying the
pleasant sunshine. All I hear is the wind
blowing the tree leaves and birds singing.
Boots came out of the kitchen and
approached me, asking why I didn’t go
with the crew to Santa Rosa. I told him
my reasons and to my surprise he
understood because he agreed and felt
the same way I did.
I mentioned that Santa Rosa was
my hometown for ten years and that I
did not desired to do anything there
today. I asked Boots how he got that
name. He said it’s a nickname given to
him when he was in the Army, explaining
when, during a certain instance when he
was drunk, he kicked his roommate with
his boots and the roommate ended up
in the hospital for several months. The
sergeant then nicknamed him “Boots.”
I inquired about his Army career. He was
stationed in Germany, his MOS was 11B
(infantry), he had his basic training at
Ft Benning, and that he was in for 2 and
a half years.
I also talked a little about my life
story. Since I’ve been at camp here at
Lake Sonoma, this is the first time I ever
really talked with Boots, our other
I continued writing and Steve came
out of his tent and decided to join me.
Located about 50 miles north of
San Francisco, Santa Rosa is
predominately a farming community with
not much to do. Surrounded by agricultural
land, it has 2 major shopping centers,
Coddingtown, outdoor kind, and Santa
Rosa Plaza, an enclosed mall, the
Redwood Empire Ice Skating rink, UA
movie theaters, a Ripley’s Believe it or
Not museum, Luther Burbank Gardens,
Spring Lake and Lake Ralphine in
Howarth Park, a large Hewlett-Packard
division located behind Fountain Grove,
and is home to Lasercraft laser-engraved
artwork and Charles Schulz, creator of
Peanuts comic strip. I know because
he was my next door neighbor for 2 years
while I was living in Rincon Valley. My
favorite restaurants in town are Cattlemen’s
steakhouse, the Big Yellow House, La
Bufa mexican cuisine and the Brickyard
seafood restaurant. But that’s about it
I guess. This one girl hanging out at
Scott’s house the day I visited him once
told me, “There are enough things to do
in this boring town.”
Still, I suppose that there are places
outside of S.R. that one can see and
things to do.
For example, like visiting the Petrified
Forest, the geysers, the mudbaths in
Calistoga, sightseeing along the coastline
and through the fishing communities of
Bodega Bay, and of course there are the
many vineyards and wineries that dot the
About 2:30 Steve and I went into the
kitchen where we saw Boots watching his
small B&W TV. We watched “At the Movies”
and wondered how those movie critics come
up with their critiques and reviews. Boots and
Steve disagreed with some of their comments.
While watching TV, the crew arrived back.
Steve went off to the phone, while I shaved
using a small mirror Debbie loaned me. It was
the first time I shaved since one week. I found
an outdoor electrical outlet at the rear of the
kitchen trailer with a vacant socket. A tiny
hummingbird hovered by and took a drink at
a nearby water hose that was spraying water,
probably as a result of a valve that was not
completely shut off.
It’s windy this afternoon, and our tent is
flapping in the wind. It looked like it will blow
away. Gino is trying to secure it, as he
Boots is in his tent listening to country
music. He’s always listening to country
music. I myself like country music too
sometimes. Actually, I like a wide range of
music. My favorite genre is early music or
baroque, the kind that comes from the
Renaissance period and the Middle Ages.
It has a “mystic” sound to it. I also like
classical, jazz, dixieland, so-called space
music, and heavy metal-type rock. The
Scorpions and Ratt are some of my favorite
bands. In fact I brought the latest Scorps
tape with me to the academy and I plan
to carry it throughout my time in the CCC.
I’m tired. It’s 4:30 and I still want to take
a walk, shower, and take a nap.
We were very rowdy and hyper this
Sunday evening. Some people were throwing
rocks at the kitchen and at Gino who was
scurrying all over the place like a scared
squirrel, trying to dodge the airborne ammo.
After dinner I went into my tent, laid down
on my bed and closed my eyes and opened
my ears. There was another argument
between Gino and Steve, but with Gino in
our tent and Steve at the picnic tables, the
argument extended from one corner of the
camp to the other. Eventually Patti and a
few others who were annoyed joined in
and soon everyone in the camp was telling
everyone else to STFU. Someone mentioned
about Kelley’s cat. Ken said he’s going to
take it to the kitchen and throw it on the
frying pan. Obviously irated, Kelley’s voice
rose up in extreme anger, and then came
out of her tent to retrieve her cat and
started telling Ken to fuck off.
After the evening campfire was started,
some people were kicking around a ball. I
heard that ball slamming against almost every
wall. As expected, that ball came flying
through my tent, revealing to everyone that
I was sleeping there.
Someone is shouting for Walter, who
said, “Why am I always being paged?”
Debbie came out of her trailer office and
I heard her suggesting to those at the fire
that they should go on a hike to burn off
their excess energy. Someone responded
and among all the commotion, her voice
disappeared as fast as it came.
I’m feeling hungry now. My dinner
consisted of only 2 slices of pizza.
Furthermore, when I eat pizza I like to eat
it with a bowl of soup and green salad.
The batteries to Gino’s flashlight which
I was using ran dead so I came out to the
fire to continue writing. Someone
constructed a massive colossal stack of
wood in the fire. Ben stuck a stick at the
base and the whole column of burning
wood collapsed, giving off a spectacular
show of sparks.
9/9. We start the work week with a wet
Monday. We crammed into the little
kitchen to make our lunches and eat
breakfast. On the way to the grade, Lisa made
satirical remarks about how she disliked this
type of living situation and said she looked
forward to transferring. Sitting at the rear of
van, I could hear and see all the talking up
front. She said, “I want to go to a place where
I don’t have to walk outside to use the
restroom… can take warm showers… wear
white clothes and not get them dirty after 2
minutes… do laundry when I need to… not
have to wait to go into town with the crew…
my sleeping bag will unzip when I want to
get out of it.” We all laughed, including me.
On the barge, it rained. Just after we
arrived at our worksite at the side of the hill,
Debbie called us via walkie talkie radio and
told us to stop and return to the barge. So
Boots instructed us to pack it up and we
dropped all our tools on the ground. Joyfully,
we slid down on the thick mud as we descended
Lisa asked Debbie if we are to be docked for
the day. Debbie said we were still going to work,
that we were going to help the Army Corps build
picnic tables. We waited around for awhile at the
park headquarters, then Debbie took us up close
to the dam and led us inside a warehouse-size
metal building containing numerous park signs,
tools, and equipment. We worked in a large
outdoor roofed section that contained materials
for the tables and which protected us from the
It was raining hard and It was cold. I had
mistakenly left my coat back at my tent
because it was sunny at the time we left.
I thought we all worked efficiently together
on this one-day project. We selected the
necessary parts and knew what we were doing.
Eventually we came up with an assembly line
production system: I inserted the bolts, Steve
placed nuts on them, and after all the planks
were attached to the leg frames, we flipped the
table over and Kelly and Lisa installed the
crossbar reinforcements. They then tightened
all the nuts and made final adjustments. It went
well today, and with 3 or 4 tables being worked
on at the same time, we assembled a total of
some 23 completed tables. In the afternoon, as
if to reward us with our exceptional efforts, the
sun appeared, giving us a nice warm temperature.
Despite the rain and cold, I think today was
my best day here at camp so far. Assembling
picnic tables offered us a break and a variation
from the routine of removing stumps and clearing
bush. I really enjoyed it. I like assembling things.
I hope and look forward to doing more of this
type of work during my time here in the CCC. I
remember I used to assemble and create various
things, like woodworking projects, Lego,
Tinkertoy, and plastic model replicas.
Our van left us for repairs today. Boots took
us home in a smaller van. It’s strange, I felt that
our original van, which we relied on, which
transported us to and from work day after day,
was there when we needed it, was like a part
of our family and a day without it made us feel
incomplete as a crew. I think we all would
At the evening campfire, Walter suggested
inventing a glow-in-the-dark hackysack. Gino
re-secured our tent. It looks like new now.
9/10. Very chilly morning, the air biting
cold. Breakfast made me mad. I had to fight
at the table to make my lunch again as
usual, and I didn’t have enough time to eat
breakfast because Dave and Ken removed
the cereals to put them back in the kitchen.
From 7 to 7:15 we have only 15 minutes to
eat breakfast and make the days’ lunch.
This morning they took breakfast away at
exactly 7:15. After I ate I went into the
kitchen to find some hot chocolate. There
was no hot water, so I attempted to make a
pot. Then I couldn’t find the hot chocolate.
Ben, who was near the stove, helped me
find it. Well we never did. Then Dave asked
me to leave the kitchen. I was so irritated.
All I wanted was a cup of hot chocolate. In
those 15 minutes we have to rush and fight
the crowd to find and make lunch, get the
bread, the knife for peanut butter, etc, and
rush to beat the 7:15 deadline. I guess it’s
our version of the morning “rush hour”.
Bob and I carried a very heavy 10-foot
metal retaining wall up the mountain for
almost one mile. That was UP the
mountain side. Man did we have fun with it.
In this ravine-like area, some of us cleared
bush, while others constructed a rock wall
along the creek.
I saw some incredibly beautiful scenery
today at the place where we worked. The sky
was cloudy. The forest floor was humid and
misty, brush and vegetation was growing all
over the place, giving the feeling of a tropical rain
forest or some exotic jungle. Moss and other
green colored fungi were plentiful among the
bark of trees. Huge redwoods pierced the
ceiling of the jungle. There was an abundance
of nice ferns growing on the floor. Dead and
deteriorated moss-engulfed logs that probably
dropped a long time ago scattered the floor
here and there. It had just rained. We can
hear water trickling. With the combination
of this forest flora, there is no doubt this is
definitely one of the most beautiful places
I’ve been around lately. I hope top bring my
camera tomorrow when we return.
9/11. I’m laying down on the seat at the
back of the van. Patti is sitting in front of me.
Patti has a cold, and complaining about her
illness and congested nose. What concerns
me is that she didn’t wear any warm clothing,
only a short sleeve shirt on this cold morning.
Also I think the food we eat here doesn’t
supply us with enough of the required vitamins
and nutrients that build up our body’s natural
defenses. I hope she doesn’t spread that cold.
As I lay here, I’m thinking about a movie I
saw 8 years ago called “The Cassandra
Crossing” about a virus-infected man who
escapes from a hospital and stowaways on
a passenger train. Some of the passengers
got contaminated with the sickness and the
whole train becomes a moving quarantine.
Although a remedy serum was discovered,
authorities diverted the train to an old bridge
that hadn’t been in use since WWII or
something, hoping the bridge would collapse
upon its crossing, thus killing all the infected
to prevent the spread of the virus. There was
a graphic scene where the front half of the
train plunges into the canyon below the bridge.
I’m hungry after dinner, like all of us. They
fed us each a piece of steak which was lousy
and a little corn. That was it. So I’m still
hungry. We worked hard all day. You’d think
that we deserve a nice big warm meal. But I
guess that’s the way it is out here.
Now I am miserable and in a bad mood
and it’s too cold to shower.
I’m lying on my bed watching Gino
carefully roll up his rain gear and stuff it into
9/12. Maria, sitting in the van as we wait
for the boat to arrive to pick us up, said she
was tired, sleepy, and sick, adding humorously
that she wish she had a bazooka so she could
blow up the boat so that we didn’t have to go to
work. She said she’d also shoot the truck and
our van also.
Steve and Patti aren’t with us today. They’re
working at the marina with the Army Corps.
Gino said Steve is probably eating his lunch
now and talking about flushable toilets.
Today is the first time I sat in the passenger
seat in the van on the way to work.
Today was a great day. I was assigned to
a small group of Gino, Teri, Lisa and Ben. We
each had a pulaski and we cleared a newly-made
section of a trail, chopping off thick tree roots
and removing rocks. I Iiked working in this group.
I had a good time. We had a nice lunch.
When we arrived back at camp, I saw that
they finally installed a wooden floor in out tent.
Unfortunately, they built the frame too small for
the canvas, so we have a smaller tent than the
original. Maybe it was measured wrong. Also
I finally received my new watch in the mail.
I’m so happy!
9/13. (dream) I’m at a huge int’l airport with
the whole crew including 2 or 3 other crews on
a vacation. We just arrived and were retrieving
our luggage at the baggage claim area which is
outside outside the terminal. I volunteered to
help, standing on top of a ledge throwing our
luggage down to the crews waiting below. One
of the last ones was also one of the biggest.
It was a massive suitcase that belonged to
Teri. She kept telling me to be careful as I
maneuvered it toward the ledge. I was careful
with everyone else’s but with this particular
one, I thought to myself, “what the f***” and gave
it one big kick that sent it flying over the ledge.
In a residential neighborhood walking to a
small shopping center with Alison, Gino, a few
school-age girls and a couple of classmates.
Gino suddenly came up behind me along a
sidewalk and poked me in the back, trying to
scare me, then he pointed to this girl walking
in front of us wearing white short pants and told
me he’s going to pull down her short pants. I
told him not to do that.
Going on a trip to SF for a weekend of
underwater archeology and treasure hunting.
Near a steep bank where the water depth was
around 30 to 40 feet deep, I used my new water
resistant watch and it worked great. I found many
old Indian artifacts tucked inside a small cove.
With all relatives we went to a Chinese
restaurant that specializes in northern China
breads, located down a steep street. It was a
small, cozy, family style place, crowded and
busy. The name was something like “Hwan
Hong Fo”. I wanted montoe, wanton, donuts,
etc. Afterwards we went sightseeing at a park
that had a lake.
I woke up unusually early this morning with
an overcast sky that my high school behavior
science teacher called “constipated weather.”
Today’s Friday and I’m happy.
Jim, excellent writing – keep it up. DS 9/16.
9/16. Steve left camp for the weekend, leaving
just Gino and I in the tent. Debbie also left for
the weekend, for her little vacation away from
camp, with Boots holding down the fort.
Saturday I showered and did laundry. I took
a short nap then began packing my bags in the
afternoon, keeping in mind that I’ll be gone in
2 weeks. Gino asked in a low voice what I was
doing, and I said I was packing and wanted to
be prepared before the 30th and not wait for the
last minute. He looked sad.
I still have clothes in the locker that I’m not
wearing. I may be too busy during the week
and not have sufficient time to pack. Or
something unexpected might happen. In the
CCC academy I sort of waited for the last
minute, thinking I had lots of time. But it didn’t
work out like that. I rushed and packed things
wrong. Furthermore, I was slow and the last
one to pack and the last to leave; it was
embarrassing. So I’m not waiting for the last
minute to pack no more.
In fact it’s a good thing I did pack early.
I just heard news that 4 new corpsmembers
will be arriving on Tuesday, the 24th. That’s
next week. Debbie wanted to let those of us
who wanted to transfer proceed to our centers
to make room here at camp. That’s being
worked out right now. If it’s true I’ll have only
one more weekend here.
With Steve gone, I was afraid that Gino
will bug me with his jokes, pranks, tricks and
silly questions. Ironically it didn’t turn out that
way. He made minor alterations to the interior
of our tent, elevating his mattress with bricks
and removing the shelves, which is Steve’s
greatest fear at camp.
On Sunday after our brunch, Gino and I
explored the Army Corps junk pile in the open
field behind our tent. We looked at the old farm
equipment at the entrance to the park
headquarters, inspected a car accident site
near the visitor center that occurred last night
where someone crashed through a metal railing
and a wire gate, went through the visitor center
and took a self-guided tour of the history of the
lake, then he took me to the fish hatchery to
show me his hometown on a large map posted
there. We looked at displays, posters,
videotapes of newscasts of Lake Sonoma, and
finally we went down to the huge fish tanks
holding hundreds of baby salmon.
Gino found ways to amuse himself and
had loads of fun. He devised a way of obtaining
for free 10 cents worth of fish food from the fish
food dispenser by simply jiggling its handle.
Perplexed tourists nearby watched in
amazement, as he proceeded to feed the
fish. I was embarrassed so I said lets go. He
kicked into the tanks a white lollipop stick
that just floated on the water surface, the small
fish biting and attacking the object thinking
that it’s food. Then he threw in a large rock into
a 12-inch drain pipe at the end of one of the
tanks. He said it would probably ruin the pump.
As we left I took one last look back at the
sign posted at the bottom of the walkway that
said something like, “Please keep our fish
hatchery environment clean and sanitary by
feeding them only our fish food.”
Arriving back at camp we kicked back on
our sleeping bags, then Gino started playing
magic coin tricks with me.
We had a late dinner Sunday. We had
roast chicken. Saturday we had BBQ chicken.
I guess it was a chicken weekend.
Today Chuck found and beheaded an
18-inch rattlesnake. Right now Boots is
showing Debbie how to preserve its skin. Chris
is watching. Gino is sitting next to me as I
write. He’s calling for Lisa.
I remember on Saturday night Boots took
those who stayed over the weekend to the
hospital for Ken’s poison oak, leaving only Gino,
Lisa and I at camp. Lisa volunteered for CTO.
She was in the kitchen trailer and Gino throw
rocks at it, at its walls, at the its roof, annoying
the hell out of Lisa. Then she went into one of
the outhouses. Gino throw a rock at it too when
she was inside. Lisa yelled.
I worked with Lisa today, including Steve,
Gino, and Robert. I was assigned a lopper for
doing trail cleanup. During my first few days at
camp my first impression of Lisa was that she
was someone who talks often. How true it is,
after several weeks at camp. But most
importantly, however, her humor, high spirits,
and satirical remarks keep me joyful and
motivated, both on the grade and at camp. She
even lifts my spirits whenever I’m feeling down
or sad. I suspect the same thing happens to
the others too. She’s like the comedian of our
crew. Her cheery, amiable, radiant personality
is contagious, at least to me. She has a most
unique character that projects happiness to
everyone around her.
She often uses humor to turn adverse, bad
situations into positive ones and looks at the
bright side of things. I admit I admire that trait
and such positive attitudes in people’s
Lisa is really a nice, pleasant, friendly
person to be around with, and if I may say so,
one with gorgeous looks too. I remember a
week or two ago on a beautiful sunny morning
when we were on the barge on the way to work,
she was standing against the rail with her back to
the sun. Her reddish-autumn-colored hair shielded
her pretty face from the sunlight, showing a golden
halo around her emotionless expression as if she
was in deep thought, her eyes staring down at the
deck. The image reminds me of a sunflower, and
I couldn’t help but notice it. She has a sweet
voice to go along with her sweet character too.
Apparently, she has a boyfriend named JR,
who’s in the academy. At times when others
tease her or joke around with her they’ll mimic
his name, saying it like a peacock’s call,
“JR, JR, JR.” The person who most frequently
does this is Gino. This JR name calling business
is annoying to her, and people like doing it so
they can watch her become angry.
She’s the only vegetarian on our crew. On
the kitchen policy posted inside the kitchen,
there’s a little statement that exclusively says
that Lisa has permission to come into the kitchen
and make her meals anytime. Respective of
animals’ lives, she doesn’t eat any meat-related
products and refuses killing any living creature.
One night during dinner (we were eating ribs)
there was a major attack of yellow jacket wasps
which we call meat bees swarming all over our
meals. At home I have a habit of swatting bugs,
flies and any annoying pests, so I habitually
killed one with my knife. She got really mad.
There were other times too when she’d get really
angry like the time when Robert attempted to
whack a lizard with a poulaski on the grade, and
when Chuck beheaded the rattlesnake. One
evening Ben found a large potato bug walking
on the ground near the campfire. Lisa kindly
request that he not kill it, saying they have a
right to live (or fly, crawl, slither, etc.). I guess
it makes me think twice before I swat or step
on some little critter.
She’s also respective and supportive of
other people and their feelings, which I think is
very important. I have observed many instances
when she touched, hugged or talked to others
when they felt down, sad, or needed someone
to talk to about a personal problem. She’s
always supportive. I wouldn’t hesitate coming
to her with a problem.
She’s concerned with the environment too.
One evening there was a touchy incident at the
campfire when Ben wanted to throw an aerosal
can into the flames. Lisa stood firmly near the
fire, refusing to move out of the way, saying
that the fluorocarbons that would be released
will damage the ozone layer. Ben insisted that
she move, but she stubbornly held her ground.
I do agree with her but my feelings are that
strong enough to provoke me to do what she
did. (Eventually that can was thrown into the
campfire when no one was nearby. It exploded
with the loudest explosion I ever heard. It
sounded like an exploding grenade.)
An innovator with words, she invents her
own vocabulary. Such words are like “treeqoid”
and “sleezoid” which she uses to name-call
people when she’s angry at them. Although
she calls people treeqoids and sleezoids at
times, she’s really an awesome person to know
and she would make a great girlfriend. Keep up
the good humor, your positivity, cheerful attitudes,
good nature, high spirits, keep it up my friend.
9/17. A morning mist filled the air, causing
morning dew to accumulate on every surface.
The thick fog kept the soil saturated, and it
looked like it would rain on us. As we loaded up
on the six-pac and the van, I saw Midnight, a
black-colored cat, sitting near the kitchen
watching us, like a sentry on duty. I think of
Midnight as the resident cat of the Mendocino
spike at Lake Sonoma. A part of the camp, a
member of our family. Perhaps our mascot too?
I’m not sure about its sex but he/she seemed
sad watching us leave for work.
One evening he came in our tent and climbed
on Gino’s cot and curled up inside it, making
himself comfortable. Gino had a mattress on
top of the cot, so it was like a little cozy den.
After we disembarked the barge, we sorted
out the tools, the canteens, then Lisa said, “I
want a sharp poulaski. Do I have to go to a
hardware store to get one?” I like her sense of
humor. Everyday she’s always so nice and
pleasant to work with. She doesn’t have much
of a temper, at least from what I’ve noticed, and
she’s never grouchy and is always in good spirits.
She’s one of the few nonsmokers among the crew.
Since Debbie went shopping, Boots was in
command today. He asked Teri, who was already
proceeding up the hill, where she was going.
Boot wanted her to come back down to the rest
of us. Without a break in her pace, she insisted
that there were 3 more stumps that still needed
to be removed, and so there was this little
argument between the two. We, Maria, Lisa,
Steve, Gino and I, just watched as Teri continued
making her way up the hill, leaving us in silence.
Everyone was speechless. Then Lisa asked why
we were so quiet. It was only the beginning of the
workday and I guess we were too tired and sleepy
to deal with Teri’s behavior. Was she P.O. at us?
Solidly built and physically strong, Teri is a
tough girl, certainly more muscular than skinny
me. She can handle harsh outdoor conditions
and do grueling laborious work. Able to carry
more weight than I can, she has proven to
outwork me on the grade. For example, moving
huge rocks or pulling big branches. Unlike most
girls, she isn’t afraid of dirt, mud, hard work or
pesky little bugs.
Teri reminds me of a fictional character in a
book called Crazy Eights I read several years ago
about a teenage girl torn between boyfriends,
struggling with school, smokes weed, and who
suffers from the “who am I” self-identity crisis and
a roller coaster of emotions and mood swings.
She dislikes her mother who disapproves of her
activity of burning incense in her room, but plays
a card game of the same name as the book’s
title with her father.
An emotional and unpredictable girl, Teri’s
personality consists of a wide range of emotions
and moods ranging from ecstasy and joy to fuck
everyone fuck the world. In the mornings during
breakfast she’s often grumpy and rude, bitching
about everything that enters her mind and
telling us how she doesn’t look forward to the
upcoming workday. At the breakfast tables I
always hear her shout things like “Where are my
Wheaties? Where the fuck’s the spoon? Where
are the lunch bags? Who took the knife? Why did
they forget the damn sugar again?” Last Sunday
I was in my tent when I heard her jam out of the
kitchen and scream angrily, “Who ate the
Coco Puffs!” When she’s in her tent she’s often
blasting away Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” tape,
with the track “Dress You Up” most frequently
on replay. Man it was starting to get on my
On the grade I often hear her talk about her
various personal, family-related and job-related
problems. In camp she wears her basketball
sneakers with the laces untied. This morning,
while waiting in the van for the barge to arrive,
Teri was lying down on the seat in front of me,
complaining of an ear ache.
At times she is friendly and approachable,
but at the other end of the spectrum she’s a
grouch, a little unruly kid with an attitude,
defending only herself and not realizing the
consequences that follow her actions. I
envision this little child curled up inside just
waiting to emerge. Oddly enough though, I
have to admit, her vitality, spontaneity, and
unpredictability somehow keeps me alive.
Out on the grade, Boots asked if I wanted
to work on installing culverts for today. I said
OK. While digging a ditch for a culvert, Chuck
unearthed a small scorpion. We all looked at
it with curiosity. Chuck debated with Dave,
our present ACL, about its poison sac – is it
flammable or not, whether to kill it or not, about
where to dispose of it. Imagine we had this
huge fuss about this tiny creature. Ben got a
spider bite and is lying under a tree.
At lunch time Steve returned to us to retrieve
his lunch, which was in my backpack. I offered
to carry it for him today. It was my first day
working on culverts and building retaining walls.
These culverts were designed to divert streams
away from or under the hiking trails that we were
working on. We work on a sloping hill side, and
for the trail to cross a small creek or gully, we
erect retainer walls to hold up the dirt so we can
install culverts, essentially flexible plastic tubes,
for water drainage. I have to admit, these
12-inch diameter 10 foot-long slinky tubes with
their coiling ribs, remind me of the huge sand
worms I imagine from the Dune novels.
Unlike previous afternoon when I arrived
back from work tired and exhausted, I’m so
happy this afternoon. First, I finally received my
first CCC paycheck which was delayed because
for one day I was placed on bed rest back at the
academy, and secondly, in Debbie’s office, I was
informed that I will be leaving here on Tuesday,
and I’ll be going to the center of my first choice,
Santa Clara. Debbie briefed me on the details
of the transportation arrangements. She said
that Lisa will also travel with me on that day.
At this point, only Lisa and I, among the 3 others
who wanted to transfer, will leave here on the 24th.
I went to Lisa’s tent and told her to report
to Debbie’s trailer for some good news. Lisa’s
going to Delta Center (near Stockton), and
she’s no doubt very happy too because her
boyfriend, JR, will be transferring there from the
academy. After she spread the good news, I
read her my five-page description of her that I
wrote last night. She said she really liked it,
was touched, never realized that someone in
in camp paid such close attention to her, and
will never forget what I wrote. In fact, she
requested a copy of it so she can send it to
We discussed about our various
observations, perspectives and point of views.
Generally, we agreed on many things. I inquired
about how she met JR. Then she talked a little
about her life story. Born in New York, she lived
for awhile in Coral Springs, Florida, finally moving
to Northridge, California.
9/18. Last night I went to a dark quiet place
behind my tent and looked up at the stars,
pondering as I usually do before going to bed.
I hear the low mumble of those conversing around
the fire. I observed the Big Dipper just over the
mountain tops in the northern sky. I pondered
about the magnificent Milky Way galaxy, a
colossal collection of stars that forms a pathway
across the night sky, stretching from horizon to
horizon. I recall that it got its name from Greek
Returning to my tent, I saw Gino already in
bed. My movements disturbing him, he awakened
and asked me what I was doing and began telling
me what he was just thinking about – his problems
about his hometown.
We were informed that the Army Corps will be
inspecting our camp this morning. Debbie
instructed us to clean the kitchen, the showers,
gather and discard all the junk and garbage around
our tents, neatly stack all extra wood and bricks
and generally organize our tents and the entire
camp itself. Hiding under the van as if to protect
himself from some unknown danger, Midnight
curiously watched us as we feverishly worked
to straighten up the camp, probably thinking,
“What in the world are you guys doing?” Never
before has there been such a massive effort to
clean up camp.
During our usual stop at the headquarters
building in the building, I went into the men’s
room to remove some dirt from my eyes. When
I came out, the van had already left and I felt bad.
I was lucky and fortunate though, to be able to
pick up the boat with Jim, the senior park ranger,
and met the crew at the rendezvous spot where
the road meets the shore of the lake. Jim is a
very big man, but he’s also quiet like me. We
traversed across Lake Sonoma, whose surface
was rather choppy. Aboard the park patrol’s boat,
I saw the Warm Springs Dam, then we passed
under a big bridge and then motored by the boat
marina. The crew was relieved to see me and
glad that I hadn’t been stranded somewhere.
Today I worked on a big stump by myself
and removed it by days’ end and Gino helped
me push it down the hillside.
We took down a 20-foot plastic culvert.
Someone said that it looked like a giant
centipede. Lisa helped Dave load it into the back
of the six-pac. Dave said to her that she is a
“lifesaver”. I noticed Dave looked exhausted and
angry, but was appreciative of her help.
During dinner, Gino, Lisa and I were eating
together at the table. Gino admitted to Lisa,
“You’re so sweet and lovely. I will miss you.” It
was probably the most touching statement I ever
heard from Gino.
9/19. At last night’s bitch session, during an
argument involving Walter, Debbie said, “No one
needs to be in power to motivate someone else.”
It’s certainly a quote worth thinking about and
something to aim for. I will make it one of my
challenges in the future here in the Corps. When
the spotlight turned to me, Teri said, “I like Jim.”
I thought that was really nice. I thought that was
a most sincere and straight forward remark said
about me and hearing it from Teri was totally
unexpected. How often do we hear such honest
straight forward compliments about someone
here at camp? I was surprised.
This morning just before I made my final
exit from my tent, I looked back and saw Gino
sitting quietly at his corner of the tent, intently
writing in his journal. Today was the first day
he didn’t work with my part of the crew. He was
with Boots putting in culverts and retainer walls.
I was told he’s going to be working hard carrying
those heavy metal retaining walls.
About a week or two ago Gino offered to let
me read what he just wrote in his journal, telling
me his subject fo that evening was about his
life history, or at least part of it. Having been
molested as a child, lived at three different foster
homes and several successful runaway attempts,
I never realized at first that he came from such a
broken background. When we talk I look behind
his eyes and could almost sense the pain, the
anger, the frustration, the suffering, the
unhappiness, the need for companionship, and
I can almost feel the tortured life that he had
been going through. With his glowing blue eyes
and those freckles on his face, I imagine this little
innocent boy coming out and pleading for the
caring attention that he needs.
And he has relied on me to be his companion,
his friend. Because I understand him, and I listen.
I look at his positive side and good aspects. I
suspect I’m probably his best friend here at camp.
Having trust in me, he tells me his feelings often
and won’t hesitant to talk to me whenever he feels
down or depressed.
Gino is the kind of guy who looks dorky and
acts boyish on the outside but is actually very
creative and ingenious on the inside. During me
first day at camp, there weren’t enough mattresses
to go around for us new arrivals. My tentmates,
Gino and Steve, each had one but I didn’t. Since
I didn’t want to sleep on the ground which was
only covered with tin sheeting, I had to improvise
my own “bed.” Looking for any available materials,
I found some extra lumber behind our tents, and
decided to lay down some boards on my sleeping
area. This little construction activity prompted
Gino to do some of his own, rearranging his
section of the tent. Although the boards were
hard, I like it and in fact was rather comfortable.
Gino said he wanted to try sleeping on my boards
Our tent interior, boring and unfurnished, when
we arrived, had to be fixed up to become a suitable
living quarters to satisfy us. Gino, creative as he is,
came up with a bizarre shelving system which
eventually had to be changed. But together, we
came up with a plan to arrange our beds and
belongings, all to our satisfaction.
After windy days, Gino will try to find ways to
plug up holes, repair the tent, tie down loose
canvas, cover up exposed dirt surfaces or rearrange
his shelves. Recently, using my bed platform idea,
he placed bricks and logs under some long boards
that supported his mattress, thereby elevating his
bed. Creative and sturdy, I think it’s an outstanding
idea. When he warns Steve that he’s going to
rearrange the inside again, Steve goes into a
temper tantrum, exploding with fear and
dissatisfaction. Steve doesn’t like what he does
with out tent. His dissatisfaction even got
After our new floor was installed, Gino
placed some boards on the ground in front of
our tent entrance to serve as some sort of porch.
An innovative idea, our neighbors started doing
the same thing too. He is constantly either fixing
the tent or rearranging the interior. Gino the
He is mechanically inclined too. On the
first weekend here after graduation from the
academy, the 3-day Labor Day weekend, he,
Patti and Steve stayed in Santa Rosa in a
Travel Lodge motel. I heard that Gino played
with the elevator buttons and had fun doing it.
They went into a video TV store and indeed
there were plenty of buttons for him to play
with. But he explained to me that he likes
mechanical devices and, in the Corps now,
misses operating them.
One morning some of us were waiting in
the van, and there was this fuss about keeping
the doors closed so the interior lights stay off
thereby saving battery life. Gino found a way
to keep the switch that contacts with the door
locked in a position that permits the doors to
remain open while keeping the lights off.
In the evenings he enjoys hearing me read
from my daily journal entries. Likewise, I like
his writing also. Although he misspells words
often, he still tries nonetheless. When I think
about him I sometimes feel sorry for the poor
Though clumsy at times, he really tries to
put his full efforts in. Using creative techniques,
he’s always offering to help remove stubborn tree
stumps. One morning as the crew loaded onto
the barge, Gino, carrying tools, tripped and fell
into the water while stepping onto the slippery
surface of a pontoon. In spite of this
embarrassment, he carried on. On the grade
he makes these peculiar grunts that sound like
an ape when he exerts force. Whether he’s
swinging a poulaski, lifting a heavy rock or
swamping brush, I hear those Gino grunts.
Maybe it helps him accomplish his job.
Another thing that bugs Steve and I is that
he likes to throw rocks. In one instance when he
threw rocks at out tent, Steve asked, “Why
would anyone be so stupid as to throw rocks
at their very own tent?” He also throws rocks at
a metal meter box located on a pole behind our
tent that produces a farting-like sound
periodically. One evening near quiet hour he
threw a barrage of rocks at it, but the rocks
keep missing the target, so they landed in the
Army Corps’ junk pile laying all over on the
ground, ricocheting off an assortment of
objects. This rock assault produced an
orchestra of sounds as rocks impacted on all
kinds of material – metal, plastic, glass, wood,
aluminum. Imagine! Clink clank, clink, clank ….
Indeed it eventually woke up those already
sleeping and annoyed the entire camp. Finally,
someone shouted, “Who is throwing rocks?
Will you please stop it?”
What really annoys me is that he frequently
asks me silly irrelevant questions when I’m in
deep thought and thinking about something.
It’s difficult to tell him to stop because he’s
easily provoked. Once he secretly hid my
hardhat, managed to exchange our boot and
still asks me what I am doing, what is in my
bags, what is that, etc.
I would advice caution: he’s got tricks up
his sleeve and enjoys making pranks. That’s
how I came up with the idea of “shake on the
last day,” because I don’t want to shake hands
everyday, every minute, which is what he likes
to do. So we made an agreement that we shall
“shake on the last day”, the last day we’re at
Lake Sonoma, before our we leave for our
respective centers, whenever that day will come.
I know he depends on me for friendship and
wants me to be his friend but this thing of
hand shaking constantly is a little too bothersome
and a little too weird.
Shorter but heavier built than me, he looks
like a busy baby bear when we’re working on
the grade, or when he carries bricks into our
tent. He looks like an old man too, hunched over,
struggling to carry a heavy load. He is most
And with the Gino grunts, he seems almost
threatening and formidable, but others think he’s
really making a fool out of himself.
There’s this scab-like marking on the bottom
corner of his mouth. He says it’s only a cold
sore. But someone jokingly suggested that it is
a herpes flare up.
He is short-tempered and becomes agitated
and angered easily. His moods are volatile, ranging
from a sudden burst of high energy to an explosion
of frustration when someone hurts his feelings.
Although he behaves childish at times and
likes to play stupid games, he can be nice,
friendly and helpful, and in the words of Lisa, a
“sweet and sensitive” guy. It was an adventure in
itself just talking with him but I’m glad to have
met this creative and ingenious individual. I think
the best day we had together was last Sunday
when we went to the visitor center and fish
hatchery. I thought that was fun.
I will miss this character, and I will miss
working with him. Hang in there Gino.
It’s too dark to write outside so, using its
light, I’m writing in the outdoor shower now. Gino
discovered that I was writing in there and having
nothing to do, decided to fix the canvas around
the showers. Debbie took several people into
town, and the rest are either in their tents or in
the kitchen watching TV with Boots.
9/20. Here it is, finally, Friday, the long-awaited
day of the week that everyone looks forward to.
This weekend will be my last one here in camp.
Only two more working days until Tuesday.
Yesterday, through the van’s radio, I heard on
the news that there was a major earthquake in
Mexico and another hostage situation in the
Middle East. Living here in the wilderness, I
feel closed out from the rest of the world,
isolated from civilization. Even though things
are happening day to day here at camp
around me, I know there must be lots of things
happening out there. I wonder what they might
be, what’s going around the nation, the world?
Well anyway in a matter of days I will be back
in civilization, making adjustments to
re-familiarize myself with metropolis.
Steve got a haircut last night, with Ben as the
barber and Boots helping out. Steve had all his
hair cut off and so now he’s totally bald. Of
course there were all these comments about
his new hairstyle. Earlier today, Walter said,
“I thought I woke up in an airport this morning.”
I removed exposed tree roots (Debbie calls this
task “stabbing”) today with Steve, Lisa, Patti,
Chris, Maria and Debbie, who led us through
the trails. Lisa told us a funny story that occurred
last night when she went to use the phone and
Gino accompanied her. Gino wanted to use the
phone too, so he manufactured an excuse to
Dailing zero for the operator, he attempted to
make a collect call to the time and temperature
information line pertaining to his hometown in
southern California. First one doesn’t call the
operator for such information. Secondly, one
doesn’t need to call collect to obtain it, and
presumably the time in southern California is
the same as northern California. So Gino got
angry at the confused operator and hung up.
In addition to stabbing, Debbie told us to dig
out these rust-colored hairs poking out of the
ground in the middle of the trail. Actually they
are part of a plant bulb usually referred to as
Indian onion. A city dweller, Lisa first thought
that hibernating dormant animals bury
themselves in the ground and leave their tails
sticking up, exposed, like ostriches burying
their heads underground. Later, Chris told her
that the core can be saved and made into a
natural soap by mashing it and combining it
with water, forming a soapy solution. Instead
of discarding them after we dug them out, we
saved these bulbs and gave them to Lisa who
eventually accumulated about two bags full.
Peeling one and rubbing her hands with the
core, Lisa said she’s going to bring them to
her future center and use the new solution
for soap. Remembering that she is a
vegetarian, I mentioned to her that they are
not only 100% natural, but because it’s a
plant, they’re totally vegetarian as well.
Finding no name to label them, she called
them “soap weeds”.
Deciding to give one to Lisa as a gift before
we leave Tuesday, I kept an eye out for the
exposed hairs. After carefully digging out
several samples, I selected a nice
undamaged one, wrapped it up in a paper
towel and hid it in my pack.
With Debbie leading the crew, Maria was the
last one making a final check, bringing up
the tail end, chopping the roots that we missed.
Complaining that we missed too many roots,
Maria took her time finding and removing any
remaining ones, falling further and further behind.
Maria said she wants the trail to look really
nice. Knowing Maria is persistent about quality
and particular and picky about stabbing,
chopping away at even the most tiniest of
roots, Steve jokingly suggested we should
bring out a Norelco next time.
I really like your writing. Remember to send
us a copy here. I will definitely cherish it.
Also it’s been a pleasure having you on my
crew – I wish you all the luck and happiness
at your new center. Keep up the writing
and get on Santa Clara’s newspaper or get
one started if they don’t have one.
Debbie Stein 9/21
Maria is a funny girl to be with. In the mornings
before work, she often complains about, “Oh,
I don’t want to work today… I want the green
bowl… I’m sick… I’ve got a plugged up nose…
I’m too ill and weak to work today….” And
yet she’s one of the most conscientious
worker on our crew, as exemplified by her
attention to detail on trail work, attacking
even the most microscopic of tree roots.
Maria can be a good worker when she’s
not complaining and I enjoy working with her.
I think the only time we ever really worked
together was coming off the grade one
afternoon, when Debbie assigned only she
and I to dig out some small stubs pertruding
near the trail. Complaining that the stubs
were near an ant nest, Maria sat next to me
and gave me advice on how to remove the
problematic stubs quicker and easier, then
I helped her remove some of her stubs but
quit after the ants started biting me. On the
way back, she even waited for me out of view
when I took a leak.
A slender and tall girl with long flowing brown
hair, Maria is rather soft-spoken and articulate,
and when she talks she chooses her words
carefully, always speaking softly, slowly, gently.
When she complains, she has that cold, evil
look in her eyes, like she’s ready to make a kill.
Warning: don’t ever give her a bazooka.
Though she keeps a low profile both on the
grade and in camp, I notice she likes to wear
tight jeans and a cowboy hat, has a crush on
John Snyder of “Dukes of Hazzard,” reads
western novels, insists on carrying two
poulaskis around her waist so she can walk
“balanced”, and calls her favorite poulaski
“George.” I heard someone once referred to
her as “Miss Oakie.”
Working on the grade, Patti told us a dream
she had the night before involving me and
several others from the crew. Her dream
centers around Lisa. Lisa was married to
JR and was an actress, which seems very
appropriate in real life. The dream story takes
place 15 years after their marriage. They had
4 children and lived in luxury. Debbie was
their maid and Boots was their chauffeur, who
probably drove a 4-wheel drive limo. Patti was
married to Gino and I was a journalist,
married and had 5 children, and on occasion
we’d visit Lisa. I thought Patti’s dream was
After Patti told us her dream, Lisa said,
“wouldn’t it be nice if we still kept in touch and
were friends many years from now?” Something
to think about.
We just arrived back from work on this Friday
afternoon and I’m at the picnic tables. Lisa is
sitting across from me, meticulously peeling
and trimming her soap weed bulbs, preparing
to make them into soap. It is near dinner time.
Lisa’s hands are dark and filthy dirty. She just
discovered tiny worms hiding in the peels…
isn’t it appetizing?
9/22. It’s Sunday which means only one more
working day here. Lisa said she’s getting
nervous. “Will everyone like me there?” she
For brunch I had cold and hot cereal, and
excellent French toast cooked by our resident
cooks, Kelly and Chuck. As a girlfriend/boyfriend
pair I think they make a great kitchen team.
From what I can tell, they understand each
other and never seem to argue. I like them.
Chuck is an expert at installing culverts. He
and Dave taught me how to install them when
I worked with them last week.. Kelly, who has
a pet cat named Harley, wished me good luck
whenever I get to college.
Last night after dusk I walked to the phone
where I met Steve and Lisa. We have only
one public phone that we can use, and that
phone is located over at the visitor center,
which is a little hike from camp. Using the
phone booth’s light, Steve is showing Lisa
how to work with tarot cards.
Steve is an interesting fascinating person to
talk to. He is very talkative. In fact Gino
described him as a “blabbermouth and a
motormouth.” Steve is constantly telling
everyone how he misses “flushable toilets”,
“flickable switches” and all the modern
conveniences of civilization. He is unhappy
with this outdoorsy camping type of living
conditions and would much prefer to live in
an actual residential center with decent living
quarters. Disappointed when he arrived here,
he added that he was told, back at the
academy, that he’ll be living in cabins.
He is always complaining about everything
here and how things are run in camp.
Furthermore, he’s critical of our world, feeling
that we need radical changes in US policy
and in our government itself. He speaks
knowledgeable about world religions and
foreign traditions and my conversations with
him is always very interesting.
Steve is skinny and scrawny like me. When
he smiles and laughs, his facial expressions
resemble that of actor Leonard Nimoy’s. We
first met at the academy while waiting for our
transportation to our centers. In the van we
discovered we have similar tastes in music.
He doesn’t like Gino who frequently annoys
him. They’re always arguing about rearranging
something inside the tent and Steve’s greatest
fear is when Gino comes up with some brilliant
idea to improve our interior layout, and when
Gino starts throwing rocks.
Steve says he wants to live near or in an
ISKON center (International Society of Krsna
Consciousness, a commune), follows news
on the Rajneeshes, is interested in ninja
weaponry, and reads books on
Bhagauad-Gita (Sanskrit scripture) and Tao
de ching (Chinese scripture). He is also
interested in astrology/zodiac predictions,
analyzes people’s character and personality
(I already mentioned the tarot cards), and is
outspoken and opinionated on world religions
It’s a hot Sunday afternoon, the kind of weather
that reminds me of that all too familiar
picturesque lazy summer afternoon. Chuck and
Kelly are in the kitchen preparing our dinner
listening to Crystal Gayle, Debbie took a
van load to go swimming at the marina to cool
off, someone is in their tent listening to
baseball, and I’m sitting in a shady spot at the
picnic tables writing. Boots just caught Gino
throwing a rock at our (Steve, Gino and I) tent
red handed. Boots said the next time Gino
throws another rock again, he’s going to get
a write-up. Steve, lying next to me, is urging
for a cigarette.
9/23. For my last working day here we simply
continued from where we left off last Friday,
going in the opposite direction. During a
morning break, usually around 11 am, there
was this conversation about Indian reservations.
Then Chris mentioned he will be able to vote
next year. Debbie added she never voted before.
From there the topic went to the draft, the
military, nuclear war, Armageddon, and biblical
prophecies. Then Ben talked about Christian
pilots and the Rapture.
With not much stobbing to do, we seem to
have taken a slow and lengthy hike through
the trails today. Walking behind the group,
I observed my coworkers’ casual and lethargic
movements. Tired, exhausted, carrying our
pulaskis, dragged our canteens, lazily chopping
and kicking here and there, we looked like a
family of baby ducklings leisurely following
their mother duck, with Debbie as our mother
I want to take this opportunity to reflect a little
on these past few weeks. When I was at the
academy, I was informed that I will be going
to Santa Clara which I was so excited and
looking forward to, then they changed their minds
and said I’ll going to the Mendocino center
which doesn’t even exist yet! And so just
before I left the academy, a C1 told me I’ll be
going out on spike at the Warm Springs Dam
project up in Sonoma County.
I arrived confused and disappointed. But if I
were to look at the positive aspects of this
whole experience, what would it be? What have
Never before have I lived and worked so close to
nature and the wilderness for such a prolonged
period of time. Eating outside everyday, taking
showers without a roof over my head, sleeping
on the ground and living in tents, answering
nature’s call in the bushes are things I don’t
normally do often, and probably never thought
I’d have the opportunity in my lifetime.
Secondly, never before have I lived so close
with other people I never met before and work
with these same people day after day in an
isolated environment. At first it was a challenge.
This might sound like one of those programs
for “at-risk” youths. This is not to be confused
with such programs and I can’t stress enough
that this is nothing like that. In fact the CCC
does not permit admittance to underage
minors. It is for those who are interested in
conservation work and gaining valuable
I witnessed animosity and deep friendships. I
made new friends like Gino, Lisa and Steve,
special people whom I will miss. Some of those
already present at the camp were glad to help
me out, like Dave and Patti, who were among
the first I talked to here at camp.
I remember meeting Patti for the first time. My
first impression of her was that I thought of her
as a young adult version of Pepperment Patty,
the tomboy character from the Peanuts comic
strip. Especially there’s a CM named Chuck on
our crew. Peppermint Patty calls Charlie Brown
Lastly, I now know what it is like to be on a
CCC spike. It is not for everyone. The ideal
person who would thoroughly enjoy working
on spikes is someone who likes living and
working in a rugged outdoorsy environment
without much of any modern conveniences
and doesn’t mind being away from the
amenities of civilization. But the payoff is
seeing beautiful scenery everyday, the
satisfaction in the knowledge of helping
restore nature, being away from big city
pressures, and lifelong friendships.
I guess I got a taste of what the CCC calls
“miserable conditions.” It came as a surprise
to me because I didn’t expect to go out on a
spike immediately following graduation from
the academy. I expected to go to an actual
center like the majority of my follow
9/24. Hearing lively activity before sunrise, it
seemed the camp woke up unusually early
this morning. I myself woke up extra early to
do some extra packing. After we saw a
documentary film about the dam at the visitor
center, there was a dramatic goodbye then
Ross took the four of us (Lisa, Walter, Alison
and I) up to Redwood Valley where we met
Juan, the Mendocino Center administrator and
said goodbye to Walt and Alison. Then Lisa and
I proceeded to the Greyhound depot in downtown
Ukiah to begin our trips to our new centers.
Waiting for our bus to San Francisco, and
having this sad feeling that I’ll never see her
again, I presented my soap weed gift to Lisa
and a copy of my journal containing the
excerpt I wrote about her. She was so elated.
Leaving Ukiah, Lisa, sitting across the isle
from me, said to an older women passenger,
“I’ve made many friends here. I’m both sad and
glad that I’m leaving.” As the road trip
progressed, Lisa began to cry. She asked me
for some tissues to wipe her tears.
Arriving at the Santa Rosa bus station, I saw
the Travel Lodge – the very one where Gino,
Steve and Patti stayed at during the Labor Day
weekend. I thought about Gino, and the fun he
had playing with the elevator buttons there.
Some of my final thoughts: Steve, I hope you
find your flushable toilets; Gino, put your
creativity and ingenuity to work for you; Lisa,
continue making people happy with your
cheerfulness, positive thinking and humor;
Teri, keep eating them Wheaties; Ken, the day
I get muddy and dirty in Corps I will have you
in mind; Marie, take care of George and stay
away from anything resembling a bazooka;
Kelly, take good care of Harley; Chuck, keep
working on those culverts; Patti, be careful
when you walk along a hillside; Ben and Chris,
you guys are great cooks.
I want to say goodbye to Midnight, our resident
cat, Debbie our crew leader, and especially
the entire crew at Lake Sonoma.
Here I am on a Greyhound on the way to my
new center. In a few hours I will be encountering
a totally new environment. What will it be like
there? Will I met more Ginos, Steves, Teri’s,
I will hear no more about Steve’s flushable
toilets, no more Gino and his pranks and rock
throwing, no more fear of cold showers, no more
competing with the crew to eat breakfast and make
lunches everyday, no more confronting the meat
bees during dinner, no more Boots and his
country music, and no more bitch sessions.
Soon, I will be back in the city.
I looked at Lisa. She looked tired, emotionless,
nervous, paralyzed. In San Francisco, Lisa and
I said our final goodbyes. She was the very last
person I would see from the Lake Sonoma spike.
Santa Clara County
9/25. My arrival at the Santa Clara center
yesterday seemed rather routine. The guy who
picked me up from the San Jose bus depot
(a blue hat) led me to the center’s cafeteria
where I arrived in time for dinner, and standing
at its entrance was Troy, a friend I met at the
academy. We graduated from the same session
and were in the same crew, Crew 7. He was very
surprised to see me. He told me he couldn’t
believe it when he saw me and wondered what
I was doing here.
After dinner, George, a crew leader whom I also
first met at the academy, tried to find a vacant
room for me in the dorm building, but Troy helped
me find a better one, one that has a door with a
lock on it. Each room is designed to accommodate
two corpsmembers with two beds and two lockers.
Both the lockers in my room didn’t have a latch
so Troy also helped me find another one. We
finally found one in another room that no one was
using and carried it to my room. It’s not the
standard kind but it did have a latch so it’s better
than nothing. Troy remained and laid down on one
of the beds. We talked about our experiences
since the academy, saying we missed each
other. I sorted out my things, somehow managed
to squeeze my bags into the tall and skinny
locker, and unfolded my bedding, deciding to
use the bed Troy was on.
My room is one of the closest to the communal
bathroom (my room is #16, Troy’s #21) which I
think is convenient, centrally located to all the
exits and showers down the hall but they are
currently under repair so we have to use the
ones on the administration level which is beneath
the girl’s dorm section.
I was tired, I had been traveling almost all day,
said goodbye to friends this morning and was
curious about tomorrow. What were the people
like here? Thinking about these things, I had
difficulty sleeping. Furthermore, a mosquito
kept me up all night long. There was this strange
on-going sound that sounds like when you’re in
the cabin of a jet plane probably coming from a
generator somewhere outside, which eventually
stopped somewhere in the middle of the night.
And hanging from the ceiling at the intersection
of the dorm’s two main hallway is one of those
fluorescent electric bug zappers, where any
flying thing that enters its field is vaporized,
making that zapping sound.
The CCC Santa Clara center occupies only
three buildings on the grounds of the Agnews
State Hospital for the mentally ill:
admin/girls dorm, boys dorm/PT room, and the
supply room/kitchen/dining. Last night they
served spaghetti but I wasn’t hungry as seems
always the case when I travel to new and
We begin the day with PT at 6am which is
where I met the entire Santa Clara crew for
the first time. We newbies were assigned to
one squad. One of the newbies, a tall guy
named Wayne, and I were assigned to rake
up lose weeds hay in an adjacent field and to
pile them up. Every few minutes we hear the
loud roar of jet engines above us as planes
make their final approach to the San Jose
airport. It appears we’re directly under their
I started thinking about Lisa. It has not even
been 24 hours since we last saw each other
and I’ve already missed her. I wonder how she’s
doing at Delta? What is she doing there today?
Is she starting to call people sleezoids?
Throughout the day, as I mingle and chat with
others, it seems that I’ve been repeating the
story of my unique experience from the Lake
I find it interesting that you go to a new place
not knowing anyone, make new friends by the
time you leave, go to another new place, miss
the friends from place #1, make new
friendships in place #2, move on to a third,
miss friends from place #3, and so on. I
remember when I left the academy I made
many new friends from my crew and was not
looking forward to going on a spike. I would
have never imagined making great friendships
at the lake and then later having to say that
I’ve missed them. Now in Santa Clara I will
have to start over again to establish new
friendships. It must be part of the nature of
In the afternoon we newbies washed vehicles
in the roll call area (everyone else leaves the
center for projects), then I read my entry from
today to a short and chubby black girl named
Lavynia, who’s from Ontario, California.
This being Wednesday, there was a
“committee meeting” held in the TV room
after dinner at 6:30. Held every Wednesday
night, it is a mandatory meeting for all CMs
at the center. Bob Hennessy, center
administrator, was the speaker. He had us
newbies introduce ourselves then he talked
about his recent vacation to Ireland. Speaking
with a stern tone and with little emotion but
with some humor, he gave us a geography
lesson on Ireland then mentioned about the
terrible economic situation there. He reminded
us that we’re lucky to live in California.
Just before quiet time, I investigated the
library on the second level of the girls’ dorm.
9/16. Today is the first day of fire training for
us new arrivals. In the morning we were issued
our Nomex fire gear. Then Patrick, who picked
me up from the bus station, drove us to a
Santa Clara Co. CDF fire station located below
the Mt Hamilton observatory. Because our van
had mechanical problems we were late when
we arrived. We went up that winding and steep
road up the mountain to Mt Hamilton so fast
that the girls screamed and I literally had to
hold on to my seat belt for dear life.
The CDF staff at this fire station were our
instructors. The purpose of the visit to this
station is to receive training in a variety of
fire fighting procedures. There were nine of
us, which we were told is an unusually small
group. We had Wayne, Lavynia, Matt, Tim,
Markus, who was my partner when we
practiced placing the fire blanket on the engine,
Dave, who helped me put my shroud on my
helmet, and Dina, whom Tim humorously calls
“the arsonist” because she handled the drip
torch with such confidence and didn’t hesitate
nor fear being around fire. So far, it seems we
all got along nicely.
I finally acquired a good locker with a latch
from the store room with help from Mr.
Hennessy. I started rearranging my room.
Troy came by and asked if he can borrow
money, then looked at one of my magazines
laying out called “Plain Truth.” He said he
will subscribe to it too.
9/27. Day 2 of fire training. We were divided
into 3 groups of three persons each. I was placed
with Lavynia and Markus. Activities included
learning techniques for rolling out water hoses,
mobile fire attack using the engine, several runs
of hose laying and deployment both dry and
with water included.
We had fun when Lavynia was the assigned
nozzle person. This petite little girl is so short
and small that she has a hard time climbing a
hillside. Losing her balance, she lost her ability
to control the nozzle which now seems to have
a life of its own. She kept pointing the nozzle
downwards, aiming it at the ground. The high
pressure water rushing out of the nozzle sliced
and pulverized the dirt like a powerful laser,
spraying mud everywhere. Everyone on my
team got a mud bath.
Carrying a 100 ft. hose, I slipped and fell on
the slippery wet dirt coming down the hillside.
With all of our mishaps, however, I’ve notice that
we all gave each other help and support.
Standing on the helipad, I saw the Mt Hamilton
observatories, only a few miles away. Marcus
and Lavynia were wondering what they were and
so I told them that they are astronomical
observatories. On the way back, Pat told us
we were the best group of newbies to come to
Santa Clara for some time because we all
follow instructions. He said we are not newbies,
but new people. That was a nice compliment.
9/28. In the library I read a little and started
transcribing my journal for Debbie. After dinner,
which is 5 on the weekends, I explored a junk
pile behind the supply bldg. I found some small
pieces of lumber that I can use for making
furniture. Then I met these two boys searching
for their lost dog. One of them is a freckle-bodied
red head from San Diego named Sam who did
all the talking between the two. He asked me
if I can help them search for the dog, but instead
ended up helping me sort through the junk pile
for some clean wood. Just before they left, I
asked Sam, ” Am I going to see you again?”
He said, “We’ll be around here.”
Had a rather quiet, peaceful night. I brought in a
fourth locker and a nice square Formica-covered
table to my room. With the lumber from the junk
pile I thought about how am I going to make
furniture that will fit in the room. Most everyone
went to another corpsmember’s house for an
overnight BBQ party.
9/30. Last night, the portable radio-TV combo
that I found Saturday night tucked away in the
bushes near the girl’s dorm, was returned to its
owner, a brown hair girl named Lisa. No doubt
she was very relieved.
Today is the first day of KP duty for me, a
requirement for all CMs. The dining room is like
a cafeteria, where you serve yourself from a buffet
style steam table. The KP persons take out and
put away the food, assist the cook, do dishes,
then sweep and mop the kitchen and dining
areas after the dining room closes. The policy
here is that KP duty is for two weeks, everyday,
seven days a week. But, I’m told, once completed,
we will never have another KP duty again while in
the Corps. Plus I will have four CTO days (both
weekends). We have two long breaks, each two
hours long, one in the morning and afternoon.
During the morning break I went over to Steve’s
(crew leader) office. I inquired about the
horticulture specialist position. He was glad to
hear my interest but said I’ll have to first wait
until after I completed KP duty, then, instead
of going out on grade, I’ll be working in center in
the hospital’s carpentry shop and the CCC’s
greenhouses, gaining on-center experience.
Hopefully I can transfer to the Placer Energy
Center in Auburn where I’ll work in their
greenhouses. Steve said there are limited
openings in this program, and they
occasionally go out on spike to locations
throughout the state.
Steve seems to be always eager to hear my
questions and concerns. He asked how I like
it here and how I liked working in the kitchen.
10/7. Morning PT can sometimes be entertaining,
mainly because of Bill. Bill is perhaps my best
friend here at the center. He’s a bearded guy from
Costa Mesa and he’s quiet and low key like me,
which is probably why we get along. He’s very
much into the environment and nature. He calls
our daily PT session “whale watching”, referring
to Troy who’s a big guy.
Bill and I are usually the very last ones to leave
the dining room. We both tend to eat slow and
enjoy our meal. Some of the others like to make
jokes about us, including this long blond hair guy
named Sean, aka “Mr Heavy Metal.” That’s a
nickname given to him by Tank (Troy’s nickname
that he got from the academy).
After dinner Bill brought me to his secret, hidden
play area around the back of the supply bldg, near
to the junk piles where I met the boys looking for
their dog. His secret area was like a small scrap
yard located atop a concrete foundation to a
building that was torn down. Rusted equipment
and metal parts and all sorts of other junk were
strewn all over the place. I can see that Bill took
the time to stack and organize all the junk laying
around in this forgotten spot. Like Gino, he likes
to tinker with mechanical things. Bill explained
to me that he likes to come here after dinner
or on his free time to play around with all this
discarded stuff. This scrap yard looked like a
collection of artifacts from an archeological dig
of an ancient civilization, well not that old, but
all this rusted abandoned stuff might as well
come from an ancient civilization.
10/22. I awaken to the sounds of the Clash singing
their “Rock the Cazbah”, playing from someone’s
radio down the hall. It is loud. There is no sound
and lighting privacy in my part of the dorm. The
partitions separating rooms do not go all the way
to the ceiling, thus we can hear all that goes on
in a neighboring room.
Abruptly interrupting my sleep, the music is the
first indication that it’s time to depart dreamland.
I open my eyes, and among the darkness search
for my compact travel alarm clock. It reads 5:48.
When those radios and stereos go on I know it’s
time to get up. Alarm clocks not necessary.
I jump out of bed, put on my shoes and quickly
run down stairs to the dark PT room, where I
encounter a big group of grouchy, grumpy tired
CM’s who are only so reluctant to get up so
early in the morning and go through this daily
rigorous routine. Some are sitting in chairs,
sleeping, some are lying down, while others
are standing. We just want to go back to our
rooms and sleep. I find my favorite spot, the
corner up front near the restroom. Behind me
is Matt Hatcher.
At precisely 6:00 am, the CL’s look at their
watches and turn on the light. We yawn and
complain, adjusting our eyes to the bright light.
So now begins the time for “whale watching,”
a phrase Bill Judd invented to turn PT into a
more recreational activity. The “whale” in
question is our friend the big Mr. Tank, who
was on my crew at the Academy. Bill
believes that this particular CM is actually a
whale disguised as a human, who was sent
on a mission to learn about human culture.
In human form it likes heavy metal and is
always talking about football.
It has rude mannerisms. It’ll barge into my
room, slamming the door open, demanding
something, usually wanting to borrow money.
At this point it looks mean, sloppy, snarling
like an angry dog, ready to fire its
high-velocity temper. Despite its name, though,
Tank does have an area where its armor
falls short, where it is very thin. It’s feelings
can be easily hurt. It was back at the academy
when I called this Sacramento native “Tank”,
because he’s always talking about the way he’d
play football in high school. Now Bill calls
him the “whale”.
The whale watching session, which concludes
with a short run down the road to the tool
shed, lasts for 30 minutes. Back at my room
I turn on the radio and listen to NPR morning
news until breakfast, 20 minutes later.
The first signs of dawn are now just beginning
to appear. My breakfast consists of a bowl of
hot cereal and two or three boxes of cold
cereal, plus a glass of O.J.
At 7:20 we commence with dorm cleanup, with
the men’s top level directed by in-camp CL
John, who assigned me to the shower room and
a small room recently remodeled, then before
roll call at 7:40 in the central courtyard, there
is an inspection by a C-I.
We tie on our boots, line up in our crews and
listen for any news that Steve or Amos may
have for us.
Today is Tuesday and it is my second week on
Steve’s in camp crew, after seemingly weeks of
being on KP duty and going out on grade to a
park in Fremont. Where we work we are within
view of the BART, whose trains pass by about
every 20 minutes.
The in camp crew begins the day with daily
cleaning of the administration level. Helping me
mop the floor and take out the garbage is Bill.
Following this I resume, around 9:30 or so,
cleaning the upstairs level, the women’s dorm
and the library.
I kept an eye on my watch ’til 12 noon, when I
wash up and head for lunch. Bill and I would
always be the last ones eating lunch, taking
about 40 minutes. In fact that’s how we met; we
both are slow eaters. I saw this other guy who
frequently was still eating when everyone left, and
I subsequently became their second “Bill Judd”.
When our 45 minute lunch ended, we met Steve,
our supervisor, at his desk in the C-I office. He
was reading the newspapers. He had Bill and I
fold up these blankets that were hanging on the
clothes line on the PT lawn area, next to the
volleyball net. As we folded the blankets, Steve
checked up on the progress of those painting
the offices. When we finished folding, we took
the blankets over to procurement (supply/storage/
warehouse) where we spent the remainder of
the day rearranging and reorganizing.
Steve instructed us to to stack the blankets,
fold some linen, and restock the shelves with
boxes, cleaning supplies and toilet paper.
There is currently no procurement specialist.
The one that was here was fired recently.
Then Bill and I cleaned out these four lockers
containing all office supplies. We took out all
the contents, sorted them, and decided what
goes in which locker, making it look neat and
organized. Bill carefully and slowly examined
every single little item, while I stacked boxes
of paper and envelopes and removed the
Somewhere in the afternoon around 3, Dave
Waters, our evening night duty person, arrived
and gave Bill and me a brief visit in procurement.
When we finished, we were satisfied and proud
of with our work. Now procurement looks much
more organized. Finally, before the day was done
and before dinner, we each took a stack of broken
down boxes down to Bill’s recycling and storage
area – an old uninhabited chicken farm – across
a field. The Fall weather is nice, sunny and warm.
Bill joined me at dinner, as usual. We’re the
two slowest diners at SC., perhaps that’s why
we always sit at the same table every day. We
are always the last ones to leave the kitchen.
Dinner is sort of like our daily bitch sessions,
the time at the end of the day when we’re all
together, when we all gripe and bitch about each
other. There’s so much shouting going on that
the kitchen literally turns into a war zone during
dinner – CM’s firing their complaints and bitching
back and forth, igniting more bitching. “Tanker,
you better get your ship on the right course,”
Double D once said.
“Shut up,” Tank rebuked. Bill and I always enjoy
the few moments of peace and quiet when
We get off work at 4:30; dinner is one hour later.
Now, at 6 pm, I’m back in my room and turn on
the TV to watch Star Trek on channel 44. Bill
came by at 7:30 to watch Wild, Wild World of
Animals on channel 9. Afterwards we continued
watching programs on ch. 9. On other days, we’d
talk or I’d be typing in Dave’s office.
At SC., most of us have our own rooms to
ourselves, except for a few, who have only other
roommate. In my room, going clockwise, is a
table, a locker on its back to serve as a storage
chest, an upright locker, another locker on its side
under the window to serve as a second table, the
bed, and a fourth locker standing right side up.
When Bill leaves, I prepare to shower, then into
bed. But tonight, I watched Nightline in the TV
room with John, Dave’s nightly relief, who comes
in at 11pm. Nightline is one of my favorite nightly
shows. It has a brief summary of the days’ major
headlines followed by an analysis by experts.
I think John is very intelligent, especially he’s
analytical and philosophical. I always like talking
with John into the night, during the peace and
quiet of the late hours. As I return to my room
upstairs, I hear a few radios and stereos echoing
through the dorm halls. It’s another work day
12/31. I spent New Years Eve at the center.
It was quiet, there was hardly anyone around
and there was little activity going on. All night
I just laid down on my bed with the lights off,
thinking about those friends from Lake Sonoma.
Only the dim lighting from the far hallway lit up
the ceiling. The ceiling in this dorm floor is very
high, and the walls that separate the rooms
don’t go all the way up to the ceiling, so
there’s not much privacy. They seem to be
intended to be movable and temporary.
1/1. I began the first day of the new year
with a new look. I gave myself a haircut,
giving myself a sort of buzz cut, using the new
hair clipper I bought last week at Walgreens.
It worked great.
1/4. My transfer to the Siskiyou center has
been approved. The new year begins with a
new assignment, new place and new people.
About two weeks prior to Christmas, Dave
Waters handed me a flyer advertising an opening
for a position called “Wildlife Habitat Specialist”.
The description read, “If you like animals, you
need this job. Requirements: Four months
minimum in the Corps, no longer than ten – see
evening supervisor for details.” Then there was
a quote from Bill Vogel, Siskiyou Center director,
“With 2000 corpsmembers, there must be
someone out there with a burning desire to work
This could be that opportunity I’ve been waiting
for. I’m grateful for Dave for bringing it to my
attention. I met its requirements and decided
to apply, but the closing date is December 20,
so I’d better hurry and submit the application.
Bill called me up on Christmas Eve and explained
to me that I can transfer as a candidate, and
that there is another applicant from San Luis
Obispo that will be competing for the position.
He gave me instructions for transportation to
Siskiyou, and that I should be ready to work on
Monday the 6th. I told Bob Hennessy my request
and on Friday he gave written confirmation.
Saturday I packed up and prepared to leave
Bob said that I worry too much, so when all the
transfer paperwork was completed, he handed it
all to me and said for me to personally mail it so
I wouldn’t have to worry about it.
Early Sunday morning a taxi arrived to met me
at the front entrance of the administration bldg.
Luckily, the driver found the center quickly and
apparently without any problems as describing
directions to Agnews can be problematical.
Lisa, one of the latest newbies, came out and
saw me, asking me where I was going. She said
there are people playing pool in the rec room.
She helped me load my stuff into the taxi and
wished me good luck. Once again, another
Lisa was the last person to see me off. At 4:12am,
I said goodbye to Santa Clara. Costing $11, the
taxi took me to the San Jose Greyhound station.
1/5. It was still dark when I arrived in SF. And it was
raining. While waiting in line in the boarding area,
I met an old man standing in front of me who’s
also going to Yreka. After Redding, an Asian boy
sat next to him, and the man began talking about
his midwest hometown, comparing it to CA. As
we snaked northward through the small towns, he
gave the boy a little guided tour, explaining the
local geography. The boy spoke little English but
seemed eager to learn. The man pointed out
Mt Shasta, which was engulfed by heavy overcast.
He talked about the declining Midwest economy,
and that the cheapest combine today costs around
$110,000. At a town called Weed, I asked him how
much further to Yreka. He said 30 miles.
I discovered he was an elementary school teacher
living and working in Happy Camp, just outside
Yreka. At the Yreka depot, he said it snows here
occasionally and advised me to not go into the
bars “even just to buy a Coke because there’s
nothing but trouble in there.” The town where the
Siskiyou Center is located, Montague, he said,
is 6 miles away.
Also waiting were several other returning CMs.
A CCC van picked us up and drove us to the
center. There were no mountainous ridges,
canyons and forests with big trees as I expected.
Approaching Montague, the scenery reminded me
of the desolate mountains outside of Reno, NV.
I explained to the weekend shift supervisor why
I transferred here, then he assigned someone to
help me get settled in with my linen and led me to
my new assigned room, room 124. We found no
locker for my spot, but someone was nice enough
to help me carry an extra one to the room. My
two other roommates are also transferees. Skip,
a little guy, who arrived last Friday, says he wants
to join the Army Rangers after the Corps, and
comes from San Pedro. Pete, who comes from
SLO, is the other guy applying for the wildlife
I ate dinner in my room, eating the sandwich
and berry fruit pie that I had packed, and went to
bed extra early because I was so tired. So here
I am, I start the new year with a new experience.
Tomorrow will be my first full day here, it will be
the first working day, and the first working day
for the new year.
1/6. The center loudspeaker woke us up. We
didn’t have PT because of a room inspection, but
no one came into our room during this “room
inspection.” After breakfast, the in-camp crew
met in the day supervisor’s office for the day’s
assignments. Mark, a CL temporary in charge,
greeted us and welcomed us new arrivals. We
did some cleanup throughout the building, then
began our orientation and tour with Barbara,
the wood shop specialist.
Following lunch Donna, the current wildlife
specialist whom one of us will replace when
she leaves, introduced Pete and I to the animal
cages next to the wood shop. She explained that
only 1/4 if not less of the days work has anything
to do with taking care of wildlife, if there are any,
and that 90% of that 1/4 is all cleaning. Our first
training assignment began with the cleaning of
cages. They had pigeons in one that had been
removed from a lady suspected of cruelty to
animals. As Pete removed the nest boxes, I
took them and washed them outside. Donna
also showed us a sparrow hawk that has a
broken wing, feeding it thawed deer meat.
In midafternoon I met Ed, our evening supervisor,
a nice man like Dave W., but a little more
talkative. He said I reminded him of a Hawaiian
friend he knew. Later I worked with Dina (a crew
leader) on repairing a barb wire fence out in the
pasture. She had left me to get her paycheck,
and by 5, when our workday ends, it was already
approaching dusk. Then a warm-hearted voice
shouted over the loudspeaker, “Welcome home
Siskiyou Center, dinner is now ready, come and
1/7. “Fifteen minutes until PT! 10 minutes ’til…
5 minutes ’til…”, warned a voice over the PA.
The way they say it makes you think that PT is a
very important event – like the countdown to new
years, or the launching of a rocket. What a way
to wake up.
I was one of the first ready for PT and while waiting
in the corridor connecting the main hallway to
the grade shop where PT is held, I noticed this
short, quiet shy boy behind me. His name
is Chris, and he stayed behind me at PT, this our
first one here. I went with him to his room. Opening
his locker, he selected some pills. I asked about
those pills and he said he’s epileptic. I showed him
the way to the kitchen for breakfast.
Dino helped Pete and me finish fixing up that fence
out in the pasture near the airport.
1/8. In the afternoon, I painted the supergrade bathroom
with Skip and Wes.
Chris transferred from the San Francisco Center to
apply for that wildlife specialist position here, now
the third applicant. We talked about the people at
Frisco and he said Steve, my tentmate from the
Sonoma spike who transferred to SF, was his
roommate and is now at the academy for CL training.
Chris told me about Steve’s punk music, his imitation
of others in his squeaky voice, that he would talk about
Gino and I. It was a fun discussion about Steve.
Patti, Chris said, also transferred there but after one
month was fired because she came back drunk.
After dinner I moved my things into Chris’ room,
room #128. I can talk to Chris more often now. Our
third roommate, Tim, didn’t seem all that friendly
and avoided talking to us. I heard he’s a “second
chancer.” He insists on keeping two lockers,
whereas each CM is suppose to get one locker.
1/9. At 5:30am Chris’ clock radio woke us up. He
reported in sick today, so he had to remain in the
sick room all day. He complained of aches all over
his body and a slight fever. He believes his illness
was the result of the sudden exposure to the cold
weather. I occasionally checked up on him,
bringing him food including a glass of OJ for
breakfast, and the people in the kitchen keep on
saying that they “forgot that someone was is the
Tonight was our first weekly community meeting,
held at 6pm in the TV room. Rico, the former
evening supervisor, introduced us to the new
evening supervisor, Virginia. A dynamic lecturer,
she seems both wild and crazy and strict.
1/10. The entire afternoon I worked at removing
those thicket weed bushes with a pulaski in the
pen area next to the cages. Being a Friday, all
grade crews returned early to wash and clean
After dinner I went downstairs to the TV room to
see if I can watch the 6 o’clock news. No one was
there and the set was off, so I turned it on and surfed
through the channels. Halfway through the ABC
World News Tonight, Chris came in and joined me.
Then Pete entered. Following the news we kept it
on the same channel, being too lazy to change
channels. I ended watching TV all night long that
evening. At 6:30 the local news came on, where
we learned about a new Japanese-made video
camera the size of a microphone. Others began
trickling in. At 7, “Entertainment Tonight” came on,
then “Bensen”, “The Twilight Zone”, “Knight Rider”,
the then “Miami Vice.”
1/11. Today, being a Saturday, I had time to write
letters. Looking for stationary in my room after
breakfast, I saw Chris sleeping. For some reason
I felt tired too, so I lied on my bed and fell asleep.
I had a rather peaceful afternoon nap. I slept until
dinner and even had dreams!
There was a very long line at dinner. The two girls
standing in front of me were talking about Tim, the
guy who didn’t seem friendly, seems they were
disappointed about his return to the center.
In the evening, Ed saw me writing in the library.
He came in and asked me about my educational
background and talked about his interesting
experiences he had in Hawaii. He said to let him
know if anyone here is giving me any trouble.
1/12. Having been working and living here now for
one week, I have noticed some major differences
from my last center at Santa Clara.
The center itself. Santa Clara was big, it had many
rooms (in fact too many). Most every CM had their
own room. The interior of the buildings were very
spacious. By comparison, the Siskiyou Center is
much smaller. Every CM has roommates and the
halls are narrow. There are no men’s dorm or
women’s dorm here. The entire center consists of
one single building. There are two levels and a
basement. Upstairs consists of the supergrades/
women’s quarters/library, the middle level – men’s
living quarters/kitchen/grade shop/sick room/offices
and in the basement – staff offices/supply room/
From the outside the inconspicuous building looks
lonely, being situated in the middle of a flat valley,
but one would never know that this innocent-looking,
isolated building is filled with the energy of 40 young
inhabitants. The only identification we have is the
name “California Conservation Corps” painted across
above the main entrance, and a little sign out in the
parking lot. Sort of reminds me of that farmhouse
atop a secret underground biological research laboratory
in the sci-fi thriller “The Andromeda Strain.”
Location. The S.C. center is in the middle of the Agnews
Hospital grounds. The facility is surrounded by houses,
stores and strip malls, freeways and high tech
companies. At Siskiyou we’re surrounded by nothing
but open lands, fields, pastures, grasslands and hills.
The closest towns are Montague, 3 miles away and
Yreka, 6 miles away. At S.C. I enjoyed the convenience
of walking to retail businesses whereas here I enjoy
the beautiful picturesque scenery and serenity of
nature. There’s no hustle and bustle and smog but
there’s no quick and easy access to shopping or
Thirdly, our in camp crew is smaller. Consisting of
mostly specialists, the in camp work instructions I am
given are clear and straight forward. I know exactly
what to do and which things have priority. I am clear
about which projects need to be done. The in camp
distribution of instructions seem to be well organized.
Unlike in S.C. where I am often wondering around
looking for things that need to be done. Tomorrow
though I hear we will have a new in camp supervisor
so we shall see.
1/13. Last night I went downstairs to mail my letters
and noticed “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” was on in the
TV room. I decided to watch it, as I normally do on
Sundays back home. Then following Ripley’s, on the
same channel, was “Diamonds are Forever”, so I got
stuck watching TV all night.
Had my first run this morning at PT. I was so bored
today. Nothing really to do around here. Pete
mentioned he may like to transfer to Del Norte
instead; he too had the same observation as me.
I took a little early evening nap, then watched
Nightline at 11:30. Despite its coverage of world
events, the show actually offers me peace and
solitude. Everyone’s in their room sleeping, it’s
quiet, and I’m the only one in the TV room.
1/14. For some reason, the entire in camp crew
went on grade today. I suspect it’s because there’s
not much for us to do in-center. Chris and I were
assigned to one of the crews, and just before
entering the CCV (crew carrying vehicle), we met
the CI and TLC who inspected us, smiled and
welcomed us. This CCV is different than the previous
ones I’ve ridden. It’s bigger, there’s overhead storage,
the seats are facing forward and much more
I met Chris Bowley, across the isle, formally
back country crew and next to me was a guy named
Les Glasser, a little dude with a big beard. Last
night he sat across me at dinner and after mail call
read aloud parts of his letter from his girlfriend. The
letter said something like “boycotted Christmas” and
that the “idea was getting too superficial.”
A girl sitting in front of me in the CCV said that
Donna will not relinquish the wildlife position to some
stranger, that she’d prefer someone she already knew
well. The girl mentioned that the opening was not
advertised at the center, that the director was too
much of an “alcoholic” and messes everyone up, and
that the center should close down. There was a rumor
about giving Donna a 6-month extension and we, the
applicants, will not be trained for the intended position,
that it was all a hoax. I was most alarmed.
We left at 8:30am, passed through the nearby town of
Montague which has an old west atmosphere, then
changed vehicles at a truck machine shop in Yreka.
As we approached Mt Shasta and ascended the
mountains, we saw all kinds of animal farms, fields,
steep hillsides and forests. Someone’s portable
stereo was playing an Eagles tape – how appropriate
for traveling through this country setting. We stopped
at a rest area for a break and to stretch. After all this
traveling, I wasn’t sure where we were.
We reached our worksite at 11:10. We signed the roll
sheet, then our CI reviewed the worksite rules. The
crew was assigned to construct a barb wire fence along
a levy. Most of the work that Chris and I did for the day
consisted of carrying rocks and observing. I learned
about the H post part of a fence and reinforcements.
There was snow and ice on the ground, but most of it
melted, forming slushy mud. We had to walk back
and forth through this mud.
During lunch, the CI, named Bill, asked Chris and I
how we liked the center. We talked about that problem
with the wildlife specialist training. I didn’t come here
originally to go out on grade. He understood and
offered to talk to Bill Vogel to arrange a meeting
between him, Mark (CII), and Donna to see what
exactly is going on. On our way back it snowed
briefly but ceased when we stopped at that same
rest area. Although our day was very short, everyone
was so tired. I even fell asleep.
I like the whole crew. Everyone was nice, friendly and
helpful. I especially like our CI, Bill. Chris complained
he didn’t like the grade here. He said it’s too muddy
1/15. I was on a different crew today, and with 11
people it is a relatively small crew. We headed
towards the big mountains to the west. Again we
crossed valleys, forests, and various small rural
communities. At the summit of one mountain we
encountered a snow blizzard, then while going uphill
our CCV got stuck in the ice. Everyone got out of
the CCV. Tire chains were installed. We had to wait
in the windy cold air. I left my gloves inside and
feared that I would get frostbite. Few others huddled
together. My feet and hands were the coldest. The
fierce winds were constant. It took so long to get
those chains on it seemed like we waited in the
freezing weather for almost an hour.
We finally arrived at the worksite. It was about 11:30am.
We were at a lower elevation where the snow turned
into a light rain. A short lunch then we did roadside
brush clearing, throwing the branches into a chipper
machine. When we were done, we gladly loaded up. We
worked for only 90 minutes, thus far my shortest workday
on grade. This CCV had a leaky roof and was not heated.
On our way back, we stopped roadside and engaged in a
little snowball fight. Even our CI participated! It was the
best part of the workday!
Attended the first health class tonight. The instructor,
a friendly man from a local community college, showed us
a 60-minute video on the subject of love, followed by a
1/16. What a miserable muddy day! I’m on crew 2, and
I’m back at that fencing project. It had rained all night,
and it continue to rain into the day. The ground everywhere
was totally slippery and muddy. We donned our rain gear
and prepared to submit ourselves to this most
I was standing at the rear of the CCV when Scott Cooper,
dressed up in his rain gear looking positive and bright,
stepping down the metal ladder and onto the soft muddy
ground, proclaimed, “One small step for man, one giant
step for mankind.”
I ended up working with him today. I helped him dig holes
for the wood poles as well as pulling out old metal stakes,
whiles others stretched the wire. Scott is a humorous
dude who wears glasses and likes to wear this yellow hat
and slippers while off duty.
Our worksite is actually along a levy that separates two
flat pastures which resembles a desert prairie especially
with its tumble weed-like bushes. The constant rain and
the strong winds, all under a gloomy sky, made this a
most challenging work environment. The already saturated
ground was virtually flooded. Massive puddles seemed
like lakes, while thick mud covered everything else. In
fact our CI said to Scott and I, we’re getting two training
experiences today – fence installation and flood control.
Our feet would sink a few inches, and standing in one
place for any extended period of time our feet would
sink even further. And It was difficult to get them out.
It was like trying to work in quicksand. Scott called this
place the “Butte Valley Mud Pits.”
We were cold and our feet and hands were soaking wet.
The winds blew the rain so strongly that it felt like
hundreds of little shrapnel hitting against my face.
1/19. I’ve now spent one week on grade and I actually
really enjoyed every day of it. I like the projects – they’re
both fun and adventurous. There was the 2-hour commute,
the rest stops, the blizzard we encountered on Wednesday
and the super muddy grade site.
I found out the other night in talking with Donna that she’s
not the one who makes the decision whether or not I go
on grade. The in camp supervisor decides. She herself
said that she accepted a 6-month extension. The in
camp supervisor told me Friday morning that the three of
us applicants were not qualified. I told Chris that night
and he was most disappointed. He said it was totally
worthless and a waste of money (transportation costs)
and time. He admitted he did like the beautiful scenery
here, and the excellent food which was better than the
S.F. center, however. But all three of us not qualified?
Why? I wander what was the criteria they used? What
exactly was the type of person they were looking for?
Pete, the third applicant, complained it wasn’t really
what he wanted and this center was too boring. He
wanted to apply for the backcountry grade or the
Canadian youth exchange programs. Chris’ second
choice is to transfer to the Escondido center and
apply for an internship at the San Diego Wildlife Park.
1/21. It was a hectic morning as I was scheduled for
in camp then I was informed I’ll be on Crew 3 today,
and I was hoping to catch Bill before he was to leave
for Sac for the week. Before he left I asked him if the
position was closed. He said it is not closed and
another CM will be arriving to compete for it. I then
mentioned my decision to go on to my next plan, the
ECON program at Placer. Bill offered to find out for me
the application process and the deadlines for applying.
This morning, Chris announced his resignation from the
On grade, we continued with roadside brush clearing.
Chris talked a little about himself, where he was born,
about the Frisco center, the fun times he had with his
friends there, and about his most favorite experiences
he had in Frisco, when he went on spike to Yosemite.
He talked about rock climbing and those slick granite
rocks. Everyday I’m assigned to a different crew so it’s
kind of confusing having a different CI everyday.
I decided to take that preliminary math test offered this
evening just to test how rusty I am with math. It was very
easy, I think I got 100%. Few others complained that it
was too hard, that it uses too much “brains”.
Afterwards, I went upstairs to the library to attend the
newspaper class. It was my first time to attend, and I
really liked it so I signed up to be a part of the regular
staff. The atmosphere among the members seems to
be highly energetic. They have a typist, a photographer,
and an artist. The name of the paper is “Siskiyou Choir”,
and Dave Finley, one of our cooks, is the editor. Finally,
I’m at a center that has an interest for a publishing a
newsletter. At S.C. I tried to start one, but due to a
lack of interest, I had no success.