CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Hershel Hashes And Slashes For The "States"

(03/17/2001)

By Jack Cawthon

I had stopped at one of those quaint diners down in the hills with its sign blinking "e-t -eer," which the overly educated might interpret as Latin, or those of lesser learning as a tribute to a football team in the northern part of the state, but which I knew was "eat beer," putting me in the middle range of SAT and IQ scores. He was sitting there, dressed in the garb of a man who earns his keep in the woods, with a Stihl professional chainsaw on the table beside him.

Always on the lookout for a story for my thousands of Hur Herald readers, a trait I learned from the late Jim Comstock, who always seemed to find interesting characters alongside the road where I find only dead possums, I sat down and engaged him in conversation.

He said his name was Hershel and that he used to work "fer thet there company that drives orange trucks," but that he had found better employment with the "states."

I asked what a man with a chainsaw could do for the state police, putting my higher education to work in a literal translation of "states," and he replied "I'm a hash and slash man." That sounded like food service to me, but he patiently explained to my puzzled look that he was a professional marijuana logger.

"Some of thet pot shoots up 40, 50 foot, three-foot through at the stump, he said. "I far up my Stihl, bring 'em down, cut 'em in joints"-and here he paused to giggle as if to an inside joke-"and the cops bring in a John Deere skidder and load 'em on log trucks."

He asked if I had seen some of the prices the stuff brings on the street, like 10 plants worth two million dollars. I admitted that some of the estimates made by the authorities sounded a little high, and I had wondered at the time what they had been smoking.

I was curious as to where the harvest ended up. He said he thought that it went to Japan as the Japanese have a yen for high rises.

Come on. Was Hershel a good old boy putting me on, or was he one of those college professors trying to experience a different life style?

As we talked he would occasionally run his tongue over the bar of the saw, seeming to lick off accumulated debris, a trait I had never witnessed before in the tree cutters I had known. When I asked about it, he giggled, a little uncontrollable, I thought, and said he liked to keep his bar clean, and it saved on "oral."

Hershel began bopping around, but there was no music playing that I could hear. I had the feeling that he might be dancing to a different drummer beyond my hearing, a trait often exhibited by punched out boxers and burned out writers.

I had ordered an extra cup of coffee in the hopes of calming him down but I had no idea what mixing caffeine with the buzz of the chainsaw might produce.

Suddenly, the waitress hurried over and told Hershel that there was a police cruiser outside waiting for him. "Gotta go," he yelled over his shoulder, as he grabbed his chainsaw and tore through the doorway. Out in the parking lot I heard him cry "r-aa-id," the spinning of tires as the gravel flew, and a high-pitched giggle as the siren wailed.

And I hoped that Jim Comstock, where ever he might be, would think I done good.


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