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Location: DownByTheRiver, Central Iowa, United States

Husband of the world's most wonderful wife, father of the world's four most brilliant children, grandfather to the world's eight most beautiful granddaughters and two handsomest grandsons

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

In A Ranger's House

This weekend it seemed the RRR's job consisted of admitting one hurting (and hurtful) teenager after another. The nights were cold but Monday morning brought the respite of sunshine before the approaching rain. I had tasks to perform in the Big City so when I left the hospital at 0730 I drove down to a city park by the River to hike till stores opened.

Only one other car was in the parking lot, a battered old K-car. The two scruffy types inside must have been very poor. They were rolling their own and must have been unable to even afford that as they were passing the cigarette back and forth. Slim cigarette, too. I hear tobacco has gotten expensive.

I walked along the waters edge on the north bank. Enough chill in the air to make it brisk, enough sun to make it pleasant. Past the border of the park I followed the fishermen's path as it entered the industrial area. I was walking into the vee where the levee cuts close to the river bank. Soon the area narrowed and the willows grew more verdant. The path continued, now just recently pressed down grass. It ended at a tiny clearing with a campsight. An old piece of carpet on the ground sat exactly under two branching limbs that leaned away from the river. It was where I would have set up a camp.

There are several kinds of homeless people. The crazy ones who chose the woods rather than the psych wards, the substance addicts who prefer the riverbank drunk to the rescue mission sober, and the rangers. The first two leave garbage and filth. Their spots are litter nests. This was a ranger camp. So how do you tell a ranger camp?

No trash, not a scrap. The spot is hidden from the casual wanderer or officer bent on eliminating "vagrancy". With the tarp gone from the tree limbs, as I found it, the observer would assume a fishing spot. Indeed, a willow wand leaning out over the water a short distance away might have a worn place on the bark where the fish line is tied to provide the occasional free breakfast. A short piece of rope trailing in the water from the base of one of the limbs, a stringer for fish or the restraint for a container serving as a refrigerator. Directly in front of where the lean-to would be, a flat piece of concrete a few inches thick and about a cubit in diameter covers a hole about a foot deep and the same wide. Another smaller chunk a foot away to cover the air vent/chimney to the fire pit. In the pit a coffee can with an aluminum foil cover keeps dry the partially used bits of charcoal bricuet salvaged from the grills scattered about the city park. A faint trail further back in the willows leads to another chuck of concrete over a larger hole used for another purpose. Burdock and "velvet" weed with the leaves torn off show where quick toilet paper was needed when the ranger's supply ran out unexpectedly.

So what does the ranger look like? 6 foot or just under from the height to which twigs are broken off on the way in. Slender, as no limbs or rocks are arranged as seats, no spots on conveniently high limbs where the bark is worn smooth. So thin enough to squat comfortably, both by the fire and over the toilet hole. Arms no more than 36" long based on the distance to the burdock leaves. He doesn't make a living by scavaging cans for the deposit. There is no smell of stale beer or sticky spots of old pop from rinsed and shaken out cans. Not a smoker, no ashes flicked about or pipe dottles and no cigarette butts. Fastidious, he doesn't use the area around his house for a urinal. At worst he uses the river, at best, the toilet hole. He must carry everything in a small pack and take it with him each day.

I like this guy. We would share a fire. Perhaps we have.

Up the levee and off past the warehouse. The gang symbols spray painted on the back wall giving good reason for the ranger to stay hidden and private. Walking till the trail joins with the asphalt one named for the congressman whose pork barrel project it was. Almost immediately that dratted left heel begins to hurt, so I step off onto the grass. Where I was meant to walk anyway. Past the nests of crazy and addicted campers, past the trucking company. To the island that used to be an amusement park and now is a little used picnic area maintained by the Kiwanis. And back using a different trail past the private motor squadron marina and the college rowing scull marina and the public marina where the green hornet waits. An hour stolen. A friend appreciated. A good start to a new day.


Blogger Hushai said...

Let’s hope in the case of the camper that skill is also a sign a virtue, as the Nazis taught us neatness and organization are not necessarily next to godliness.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Mid-kid said...

I can't believe a true ranger would camp in the Big City. You have great observation and description skills.

10:18 AM  

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