“It’s like we’re on the run except we haven’t done anything wrong,” said the Dimple, on our first night in a cheap motel. We were running, and there was a crime –shocking murder– but it wasn’t our doing.
911 called. They left a message that an armed and dangerous man was in our forest and we should lock the doors and stay inside. Gulp. So we did, kind of, not quite believing our lovely woods could produce such a nasty specimen.
On occasion, we’ve been scared of scorpions –that sprint like fugitives across the floor– mountain lions, poison oak and bear rumours, but not an armed lunatic who goes by the staid name of Aaron. There’s nothing classy about this thug, who shot dead Jere Melo, a much-admired councilor, former Fort Bragg mayor and forester who came across his poppy patch last Saturday.
Once we heard Aaron had sniped through our property we packed up essentials and sprinted, like fugitives, out.
It’s been eight days since the senseless murder and everyone’s on it: FBI, National Guard, Sheriff, Firemen and local SWAT team.
It sounds too dramatic for us; we pick wild huckleberries, not hide from wild hooligans.
Aaron had apparently been lurking in the woods for up to four months before he opened fire on Jere, 69, and another forester who luckily got away. It’s a shame our local cougar hadn’t gobbled Aaron for lunch. He’s said to be small, jittery and bald – ideal catch for a hungry mountain lion.
The irony is, our summer camp is a safe haven for children who need to escape violence and weapons from the city.
We debated getting a gun when we first arrived and decided against it. Violence breeds violence. But after hearing the thirty-five-year old goon had murdered Jere with a semi-automatic, the Other Camp Dad lent us a rifle.
We piled the ‘Dactyl and Bob into our large bed and slept with it, unloaded, beneath us on our last night there.
“Where are the bullets?” I asked the Dimple, once we turned the lights out. They were in his jeans on the floor, about six feet away from the bed. It was a one-shot bolt-action .22 rifle and I fretted about him fumbling in the dark, trying to find which pocket of his jeans he put the blasted bullets in.
We lay in pitch black hoping the madman would miss our gigantic house in the trees.
There’s nothing like the deathly darkness of the middle of the mighty Redwood forest. With no moon, as it was that night, no light gets in and your eyes don’t adjust. It’s filthy black. I imagined him out there, hoping he too was lying still, pissing himself warm with fear.
I have never felt so vulnerable, which is why, when we were ordered to leave the property the next day, we did. The SWAT teams were on their way in as we headed out.
Rumors are rife; Aaron was guarding a pot plantation; it wasn’t pot, but 100 poppies; it wasn’t even the poppies but he’s been suffering from delusional paranoia and has been waiting to pounce for a while.
None of it matters now, everyone is focused on finding the loathsome wretch. Jere Melo was an extraordinary man; en eye for an eye people are whispering, hunched over café tables. ‘Wanted’ pictures of Aaron’s shaved, unsightly head are slapped on every door.
So now we’re waiting – on the run from our not-so-lovely woods. After one night in a motel we felt trapped by the four walls. In our haste to Get The Fark Out, we suggested the two and four-year-old pack their own toys. There’s only so much you can do with six blocks, one puzzle piece, half a plastic mouse and a race car.
Whilst I had pondered how many outfits I would realistically need, my wonderful, forward-thinking husband packed the tent and sleeping bags. With no home to go back to, indefinitely, we decided to hit the road.
Being New Zealanders, we headed for the ocean and when we came across a town called Westport, our hearts thumped the brakes. Like New Zealand’s version, Westport is coastal, small, with some wild west-coast waves to boot. There on the sand we breathed easy, in the open, in the light.
Thunderous waves colliding on the shore took us back to our country and back to our roots. I’ve never missed home so much, and for the first time since leaving the woods, I felt calm. Silently, I whispered a message across the Pacific to Mum and Dad. Hallo. Stop. Everything’s OK. Stop.“I like being on the road,” Bob said today, “but can we eat snakes?” Clearly, our home-made burgers are too tame, now life has got a little wild.
Bob and ‘the Dactyl are thrilled; they think it’s one big adventure. I guess we will too, we’re just waiting for the end of this story, hoping it will be, ‘And they nailed the low-life,’ so we can claim back our woods.
Tomorrow, we head to a beach called Manchester to hark back to our other roots. It’s not exactly 24-hour party people; more like 192 hours of potty-ness.