From: (Matthew Skala)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: Jugging for cats (Cross Product ch. 9)
Date: 1 Dec 2000 21:09:09 -0800
Organization: Ansuz
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[Chapter 9 of a larger work.  Chapters 1-7 at ,
others being posted concurrently.]

Jugging for cats

When I started going to Scouts, it was the first year that they let girls
join.  I could tell you a few stories about that, to be sure, but they
wouldn't be as interesting as you imagine.  Despite what everybody says, sex
really doesn't make that much difference to kids.  At four in the morning
under three layers of sopping wet nylon and a tarp in the middle of the
forest far away from Mom, after a dinner of hamburgers that your patrol
leader didn't really cook properly, you have other things to think about
than the fact that there might be an actual member of the opposite gender in
the next tent over.  Lord Baden-Powell said that every Scout ought to sleep
with the windows wide open, and he said that in England, too, where the
climate is no laughing matter.  Maybe he figured it would keep the kiddies
"continent" if they were chilled into suspended animation, but more likely
he was just nuts.

As I toiled up the trail I reflected to myself that I must be nuts the same
way too.  Why else would I be here, in the middle of a beautiful Friday when
I could be doing something halfway useful at work, even if it was
theoretically a statutory holiday?  I'd been here before, and had been
scared and made unwelcome by at least some of the inhabitants, and now not
only was I back for the third time, but I'd doubled the size of my
expedition every visit.  If I returned for a fourth round later, would I
need to find four more acquaintances to add to the group in order to keep up
the pattern?

We were climbing the Mountain, of course.  Taylor and Rick had been very
insistent on the phone, and I have to admit I was more than a little curious
about the place myself, especially after things had been so different
between by first experience and when Jeff and I went to check his mystery
GIS.  When he attempted to crunch the numbers on that, by the way, he found
that his calculator memories had been erased.  So had mine.

Jeff had also written some of his numbers down in a paper notebook just as
backup.  But Mella had interrupted him while he was doing that, so it wasn't
a complete data set, and his writing was such a scrawl that he couldn't get
anything useful out of it.  That is not normal for him; his normal writing
is quite legible.  He must have been in a great rush when he was taking the
numbers down.  Fortunately, he had a pretty clear memory of a lot of the
numbers anyway, and was able to do a few checks strictly from his own recall
of the sightings he'd made.  Based on those, he found that they agreed
perfectly with the mystery file, to the extent that he could be sure about
his memories at all.  So it certainly looked like that CD-ROM he had found
in the discard drawer was an accurate map of what you see when looking out
from a point on the Mountain, notwithstanding that it didn't match any other
maps of the surrounding area.

Now I was climbing the first segment of the trail behind the museum, with
Rick and Taylor and Jeff, and we were all carrying heavy packs of food and
camping gear and planning to stay at least one night near the top, maybe
two.  Jeff had even managed to borrow a GPS unit from his work, because the
problem of the data file was still bugging him.  It was a big old-fashioned
one that had cost the taxpayers a lot of money back before GPS equipment
became cheap.  Every few minutes that afternoon he was taking it out and
playing with the buttons, to record another data point.  He also had a
notebook to write the numbers down in, in big bold legible print, although
when I asked him about that (much later) he told me that he had gone and
misplaced the notebook.  By then it didn't matter anyway.

Anyway, right in that first segment the trail was rocky and steep and I
wasn't enjoying the hike much, but I knew things would get better once we
got into among the big trees.  For most of the way up the trail meanders
through the forest at a shallow grade, often doubling back on itself.  It's
a longer walk that way, but easier than going straight up.

At the top of the steep incline the trees were very sparse and the trail
barely discernible, heading off to the right and around the curve of the
Mountain.  We paused a moment or two less than I would have liked, to catch
our breaths, and then kept walking.  I found myself last in line, with Rick
just ahead of me, and he was in a talkative mood.  As I plugged solidly
along, he expounded on the joys of camping and how much he loved sitting
around the ol' campfire tellin' stories and toastin' marshmallows, and other
sylvan delights.

"Sorry," I said, "but I don't think we'll be allowed to have a campfire.
Fire ban, you know."  "Is there a fire ban now?"  "This is B.C., there's
always a fire ban.  Didn't you ever go to Scouts?"  "Um, no."  "Well, they
always have these pathetic little sessions where they teach you how to build
a campfire, but because there's a fire ban you're not allowed to actually
light it, so you build the fire and you pretend that you lit it, and then
you dump water on it until you pretend that it went out, because you don't
want to leave it burning and have a pretend forest fire.  Then you have to
bury the pretend ashes so they won't clutter up the landscape.  Every kid
who grew up around here can light an imaginary campfire with only one
pretend match; it's an important survival skill."

I had slowed down while I was talking, and we had to hurry to catch up to
the others.  Rick was quiet for a while, probably disappointed about the
campfire although he should have known.  After some distance he said, "Oh,
by the way, I showed that diagram you drew me to my supervisor."  "Uh,
what diagram?"  "Of the radio dish, you remember?  When you showed me
those photos."  "Oh.  Yeah."  "Well, I showed it to him and I said you'd
seen a dish like that out in the woods, I didn't say just where, and he
said, actually he didn't really say anything useful.  He said it looked
like a pretty ordinary satellite dish to him."

"Now, I know the difference between a telescope and a satellite ground
station, and so does he, and he knows I know and I know he knows and he
knows I know he knows and so on.  And you know what?"  I thought I did
know, but I said, "What?"  "No way in Hell that was a satellite dish."
Right.  "And then he said he didn't want to waste time discussing it.
It was just like he was hiding something.  But you know the strangest
part?"  "Uh?"  "He was really taut and uncomfortable while we were
talking about that.  When I changed the subject his whole manner changed
and it was like he'd forgotten completely about it.  Like someone had
let the air pressure out of him."

I didn't know what to think of that, so I kept my mouth shut.  I wasn't
really eager to chat anyway, so we went back to walking silently for quite a
while.  The group only loosely stayed together.  In the more open parts we
often didn't really keep to the trail at all, but just sort of walked
through the forest in a big group.  I wanted us to stay within sight of each
other in case anyone saw anything weird, but so far, there was nothing.

When we got to the part where I had found the old road, we must have
intersected a different branch of it or something, because it wasn't as
clear as the part I remembered.  You could tell there was a road here once
because the big trees had been felled; some of them had been left lying on
either side of the road, and could still be seen, partly decomposed.  But
fast-growing alder saplings had filled in most of the open space, so the
road didn't really make our progress much easier.  It was just comforting to
see some evidence of human activity after the wilderness we'd been hiking
through before.

Rick was in the lead now, shouldering the snowberry bushes out of the way as
he tried to find some semblance of a clear path.  His pack made this a
little difficult because he couldn't fit through some of the tighter spots.
I amused myself by imagining that we were some kind of big forest-stalking
black cat, with Rick serving as the whiskers.  If he could fit into a space,
so could the rest of the cat.  Rick suddenly let out a yell and seemed to
sink about half a meter into the ground.

When we caught up to him, he was sitting heavily on a pile of sticks,
pressing his hand to his bare shin and cursing.  He'd stepped on a log that
looked like it could support his weight, and it couldn't, and he'd cut
himself on something.  The cut was bleeding a fair bit, but wasn't very deep
and didn't really look too serious.  I dug around in Rick's pack for the
first aid kit and patched him up.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that
this kind of thing was exactly why I always wear long jeans when I'm hiking,
no matter how hot a day it is.  You just can't teach woodcraft.

Jeff was just standing around looking stupid while I did this, but Taylor
seemed fascinated by the question of what, exactly, Rick had cut himself on.
She squatted on the ground, poking at the broken log.  When Rick and I were
finished, I said to her, "Well?"  She held up some kind of wooden object.

"Look what I found," she said, "I'm pretty sure that Rick just cut his
shin on the broken log, there's a sticking-out bit with blood on it, but
right underneath where he stepped, there's a pile of several dozen of these,
mixed up with ashes and charcoal." Jeff shook off his stupor and took the
object from her.  He examined it, and frowned.  "You know, I think this is a
Native fishhook." It was a forked bit of wood with a splinter of bone in
just the right place.  "You could use this to catch a salmon, if you were
really patient."  Looking significantly at me he said, "It's exactly like the
ones that the shaman burned in that story I was telling you about!"

"So you're telling me that this old legend, from hundreds of years ago, must
have been true, and that here are the remains of the fire to prove it?" Jeff
shrugged.  "If the pile of ashes fits..."  "I don't buy it," I said.  "That
story must have been at least one hundred years old, right?  Despite what
they tell you in Scouts about the necessity of 'zero trace camping' or
whatever, because otherwise you're polluting the woods forever, there is no
way the remains of any ritual campfire are going to last a hundred years."

"Besides," added Taylor, "this must have been subsequent to when the road
was made." Rick chortled.  "And before the fire ban!  We could probably date
it to within a couple years."  "Yes, Rick," she said, "It must have been
before the fire ban, unless our shaman would be so indecorous as to
contravene that most sacred commandment.  And I don't think a good shaman
would do that.  Would he?"  I wasn't so sure; the ashes and charcoal looked
awfully fresh to me.  But I didn't say so.  I pocketed one of the hooks to
examine carefully later, and we kept going.

The trail we were following clearly wasn't the same one I had taken on my
earlier visits.  This trail was wider and less defined, and it curved around
to the Eastern side of the Mountain.  I was almost afraid that we'd be
carried clear out of the park boundaries, but it was a big park and I
figured we'd be sure to hit a fence or a warning sign or something before
we'd actually find ourselves in an active logging area or whatever.
Besides, if we really got messed up we could always use Jeff's GPS.

We were in a sort of valley, which I figure must have been where a glacier
came through in the last Ice Age.  Down below we could see dense evergreen
forest, but right here the soil was just a thin layer over the bedrock.
There were a lot of scrubby little arbutus trees, and the occasional dead
grass meadow perched on top of a basalt cliff.  It was early afternoon and
the sun had passed well over our heads, so the trees kept us in shadow most
of the time, but every so often we'd have a clearblue moment when the trail
crossed a blank rocky patch.

There was one such place where it looked like a great rectangular bite had
been taken out of the Mountainside.  The bottom was a flat dirty area
littered with stones; the side was an almost-sheer cliff, like a quarry
face, seven meters high.  Rick plodded methodically from one side to the
other, keeping up the same slow steady pace he'd been setting, but before he
could disappear around the curve of the rock, Jeff called a halt.  "Hey!" he
said, "look at that!"

The surface of the cliff was covered with petroglyphs.  In the shade created
by the afternoon Sun they weren't so easy to see, which was why I didn't
notice until Jeff pointed them out, but once seen it was hard to imagine the
cliff without them.  Rick came back and we all stood looking at the symbols
that had been pounded into the stone.  I wondered what could possibly be
important enough for prehistoric people to spend all that time writing a
message that would outlast their own civilization.

Taylor sat down on a rock, at the sunny edge of the flat space,  and
announced that she was going to eat a sandwich.  Who else would like one?
We all sat down and she started handing them around.  Jeff took a bite of
his, chewed for a moment, paused with an odd expression on his face,
swallowed, and then stared at the bitten sandwich in disbelief.  "What is in
these?"  "Miracle Whip and ketchup."  "Oh."  I figured I'd give the
sandwiches a miss.

Jeff tried to take GPS readings, but the lay of the land prevented him from
getting line-of-sight on enough of the constellation for a good solution.
He wanted to try from above the cliff, and Rick said he'd help.  They walked
up the trail, looking for a place they could climb to the top of the cliff.
I took a closer look at the glyphs.  There was a little shelf of stone
running most of the way along the cliff bottom, and I stood up on that and
tilted my head to take in the whole thing.

I'd seen petroglyphs before, but this cliff was different, and not just by
the lack of modern-day graffiti and spray paint defacement.  Instead of
isolated symbols, the rock pictures here seemed to form one complete scene.
Near the top was an elongated Sun, or more likely Moon, because it was
surrounded by four- and six-pointed stars.  There were people, too, five
stick figures with stars for heads, cooking things in bowls supported by
tripods of sticks.  They were surrounded by geometric figures, and a curved
line like a rainbow that went all the way from the bottom of the cliff up to
one side.  Near the top were many more stick figures all superimposed with
their star-heads merging into a galactic swirl around the Moon.  That's what
I made of it, anyway.

There was a scuffling above, and a shower of small stones fell on my head.
I crouched into the rock, shielding myself, and heard some kind of cry.  An
object landed near Taylor with a thud.  I jumped from the rock shelf as Rick
and Jeff came skidding down the trail on opposite sides of the cliff and
converged on the fallen object, which turned out to be the GPS.  Neither
seemed particularly concerned; those devices are built to take a beating.

But although there were no outward signs of damage, when Jeff handed me the
device as ranking microcontroller expert, I found that its little LCD was
blank except for an angle bracket in the upper right corner, which I assumed
to be a command prompt.  Playing with the buttons I couldn't get anything to
work, so I eventually dug it out of the faux-leather carrying case and used
the tip of a ballpoint to press the master reset on the bottom of the box.
That seemed to restore it.

Jeff and Rick couldn't or wouldn't give me any clear explanation of why they
had thrown the GPS off the cliff, if that in fact is what they did to it.
So Taylor packed up her disgusting sandwiches and the four of us kept
walking, slightly the worse for wear, along the trail.  It immediately took
us back into the forest.

Matthew Skala                   :CVECAT DELENDA EST