Forest Service Summer

by Backwoods Boy

Chapter 1

Monday, July 3, 1967

In the warm afternoon sun, the boy stood beside the river road with his thumb out. His other hand rested on the top edge of an inflated truck inner tube nearly as tall as himself. Shaggy, damp hair and wet cutoffs hanging low on his hips further confirmed what he'd been doing. He was probably fifteen, though his thin frame made him look younger. Undernourished , came to Logan's mind. Sexy, though - he'd be fun in bed .

The dust swirled around the government-green Forest Service pickup as Logan braked to a stop beside the hitchhiker. The boy tossed the inner tube in the back and climbed into the cab. Pushing his black hair away from his dark-brown eyes, he smiled shyly.


"No problem, buddy."

Actually, it was a problem. Logan was jeopardizing his summer job as the district recreation assistant with the Forest Service. Picking up hitchhikers in government vehicles was seriously frowned upon. Logan had never done it before, but something about the boy compelled him to stop.

In addition to that compulsion, he was feeling rebellious, having just given his no-fireworks-in-the-forest lecture for the umpteenth time - without any legal capacity to enforce it. All he could do was notify the sheriff, and he'd already learned that was like pissing into the wind.

For a while they rode in silence, broken only by the sound of the engine and the tires on the gravel. Logan had no doubt about the boy's destination. He'd seen him at Beaver Creek Campground, about six miles up the road, one of the four he was responsible for.

The teenager had been there for over a week now, presumably camping, although Logan had only seen him swimming in the river, sitting on a log looking bored or, more rarely, talking with other campers his age. They'd waved to each other a couple of times, but that was the extent of their contact.

As if reading his mind, the boy smiled.

"I've seen you at the campground."

There was an unspoken message that Logan understood:

**I like you and I wanna be your friend.**

Logan smiled gently. "I've seen you too."

There was a silent message there as well:

**I'll be glad to be your friend, buddy.**

Logan paused for a few moments.

"Did you do the float trip by yourself?"

"Yeah, there wasn't anybody to go with me."

Though tempted to give his official water-safety spiel, Logan kept silent. The boy was old enough to know his own limitations. Furthermore, friends don't lecture, especially new ones.

Turning into the campground, Logan noted, as always, the fire-prevention poster. Smokey Bear pointed at everyone who entered reminding them: Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires .

"Which campsite?"


That was the site with the best view of the river, where he'd frequently seen an older woman sitting in the shade, reading and sometimes smoking. They waved to each other each day when Logan arrived to maintain the campground. Most likely the boy's grandmother.

As Logan pulled up in front of campsite ten, the woman was reading, as usual. She stood and came toward the pickup as the boy got out and retrieved his inner tube. Short but solid, she had that hard-working, no-nonsense country look of someone who had experience dealing with a cross-section of humanity - someone who'd give you the shirt off their back if needed but wouldn't hesitate to put you in your place if required. Her penetrating look at Logan suggested she'd sized him up quickly, and her smile indicated she approved. When she spoke, her voice had a raspy, heavy-smoker sound.

"Thanks for giving Danny a ride. I'm his neighbor, Hazel."

Now the boy had a name, and a known relationship with the woman.

"Nice to meet you, Hazel. I'm Logan. No problem with the ride."

"Would you like a soda?"

"Could I stop by in a half hour, after the trash is collected and the bathrooms cleaned?"

"Sure. We'll see you then."

As Logan parked next to the restrooms, several younger children gathered around The Ranger . Part of his job was public relations, and dispensing Smokey Bear pencils was one of those tasks. As he handed out the pencils, he posed his usual question.

"Can any of you tell me what Smokey's middle name is?"

Conditioned to the classroom, three raised their hands. Logan pointed to the closest young lady of about eight years.


"Good try." He pointed to the younger boy next to her. "How about you, young man."

The kid grinned and followed his sister's lead, sure he knew the answer.


"Good guess, but it's much simpler than that."

The remaining hand belonged to a very serious-looking youngster with wire-rim glasses. He held up the souvenir Logan had given him.

"It's right on the pencil. He doesn't have a middle name. There's a stupid joke that his middle name is 'the', but that's only because of the song - which is wrong."

This kid was destined to be a lawyer, for sure.

"Good job, buddy. You're the first one this summer who got that right."

Logan reached into the cab of the pickup and pulled out a foot-tall, stuffed Smokey Bear, complete with blue jeans, personalized belt and hat, and official fire prevention badge. His parents had bought a half dozen of these for him to give away on special occasions. He handed it to the young lad.

"Because you're so smart, you get this prize."

The smile that lit up the boy's face made it clear he was still a kid at heart, even if he had a lawyer's brain.

"Cool! Thank you, Logan!"

The kid was observant too. He'd noticed Logan's name tag. Definitely lawyer material.

As the children dutifully thanked him and returned to their play, Logan turned to the more menial duties. Fortunately, the real brown bear hadn't been around to raid the garbage cans. He smiled at the scratch marks high on the outhouse wall where the bear had literally scared the crap out of some poor kid a few days earlier.

While Logan sat at the picnic table drinking his soda and talking with Hazel, Danny sat next to him - as close as possible without touching. Whenever Logan set his drink down, Danny picked it up and took a sip. Logan grinned at him.

"I'm sure you could have your own."

The younger boy smiled happily.

"Nope. I wanna share yours."

Logan rubbed Danny's back gently and then put an arm around his shoulders.

"I'm happy to share with you, buddy."

Danny moved closer, a contented smile on his face. Had he been a cat, he'd have purred. Hazel watched the interaction with amusement - and obvious affection for Danny.

Logan learned that Hazel was the county director of social services. Her husband, Harvey, was a log truck driver. She was on vacation, and the three of them were camping near his current work site. That explained why the empty log truck, its trailer perched on the back, was parked in a turnout area near the campground in the evening.

It also explained the two tents, the second back in the trees, technically off the campsite. Logan was supposed to discourage that practice, but he seldom did and wasn't about to now. If Danny wanted a little privacy for wanking, it was fine with him.

Logan finished his soda and stood. "I gotta get on with the other campgrounds. Thanks a lot for the drink."

Hazel stood too. "Thanks again for giving Danny a ride. Would you like to join us for dinner tonight?"

Logan was used to these invitations that separated the locals from the tourists.

"Thanks, I'd like that."

"Great. Would six o'clock work?"

"That'd be perfect, thank you."

"Okay, see you then."

At five o'clock, Logan pulled into the Rock Creek Work Center, summer home for the trail crew and other seasonal personnel like himself. He parked his government pickup, logged his mileage, and then stopped briefly at the dining hall.

"I won't be here for dinner tonight, Mary."

Mary, a local resident and former schoolteacher, put her hands on her hips. "Something wrong with my cooking?"

Logan smiled. "You know better than that. I have an invitation from some local campers."

She smiled back. "Have a good time. Anybody I know?"

"Hazel, the social services director, her husband Harvey whom I haven't met, and their neighbor, Danny."

Mary paused briefly before replying in her usual candid manner.

"Yes, I know them all. Hazel and Harvey are the salt of the earth. Danny was in my classroom when he was in sixth grade. I suppose he'd be a sophomore in high school by now. In spite of his living conditions he's a good kid, and a large part of that is due to Hazel's and Harvey's support."

Mary returned to her food preparation tasks. Logan, though curious about her last comment, knew he'd learned all he was going to right then, and started to leave. But Mary wasn't quite finished.

"I haven't seen Danny for a while. If you happen to bring him out this way, stop by for cookies and lemonade."

"Sure, but what makes you think I'll be bringing him out here?"

Still engaged with her tasks, Mary replied without turning around.


It was a confusing conclusion, but it was clear the conversation was over. Logan headed for his room. He knew that his roommate, Carl, the trail crew supervisor, was already there by the hard-driving sounds of Jefferson Airplane drifting from the open window, suggesting that he needed somebody to love. No shit, Sherlock. Grace Slick had him pegged.

After changing out of his Forest Service uniform, Logan got into his aging Chevy pickup and drove the three miles to the campground. Danny was anxiously waiting for him and greeted him with a big smile. Hazel introduced Logan to Harvey, and then took him aside.

"Danny would like to float the river with you on Wednesday. He's too shy to ask. He says Wednesday and Thursday are your days off. Is that right?"

Logan smiled. "Yes, that's right. And a float trip sounds like fun. I'll talk with him about the details. How did he know about my days off?"

"He said those were the days you weren't here last week."

Logan laughed. "He doesn't miss much, does he?"

Hazel put a hand on his arm.

"Where you're concerned, he doesn't miss a goddamn thing. Would you like a beer?"

"I'd love one, but you should know you're contributing to the delinquency of a minor. I won't be eighteen for a few weeks yet."

Hazel fetched a can of Olympia and handed it to him.

"What's a few weeks among friends?"

While Harvey grilled hamburgers and Hazel prepared the rest of the dinner, they all became better acquainted. Harvey was a self-made, hard-working logger who'd started by setting chokers and worked his way up. In time, he bought a truck and became his own boss.

Logan explained that he'd recently graduated from high school and would be going to college in the fall with a forestry degree in mind. Harvey made a suggestion.

"When you graduate, work in private industry instead of being a government stooge."

Logan laughed. "That's four years away yet, and it's too early to make that decision. But I'll take your advice into consideration."

After dinner, the two boys agreed on an afternoon float trip to take advantage of the warmer part of the day. Logan would show up on Wednesday at noon.

As he drove back to the work center, the Forest Service radio in Logan's pickup came alive with chatter. The towering cumulus clouds to the west, which the lookouts had reported earlier, were building higher and moving in. A dry thunderstorm was forecast, and as warm and dry as it was, lightning strikes would surely produce fires.

When he arrived at the work center, Logan learned that the holiday had been canceled for all personnel. Logan was already scheduled to work, but his efforts were likely to be redirected from public relations to fire suppression.

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