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Skookum Summer excerpt

The following is an excerpt from Jack Hart’s novel Skookum Summer: A Novel of the Pacific Northwest. The book is available at the UW Press website (UWAA members receive 30% off all UW Press titles). Jack Hart will be reading from and signing copies of Skookum Summer at the University Book Store in the U District on June 10 at 7 p.m.

Most of the loggers who’d attacked Rush Creek were out on bail by the time I’d finished my story and made a final check with the jail. Theoretically, they faced serious assault and arson charges. In fact, Klahowya County justice wasn’t going to come down terribly hard on some local boys who got carried away with a bunch of long-haired meth dealers. Like small-town journalism, small-town justice didn’t necessarily operate with cold impartiality.

The phone on my desk rang just as I was handing my copy off to Marion for editing. The sound of Mark Judd’s voice reminded me that he was out of work, too. “Sorry,” I said. “This is a rough break.”

“What? The layoff? Screw that. Twenty-six weeks of unemployment ain’t bad. Trout season’s long gone by the time that runs out, anyway. In the meantime, I fish every day until the rains come, and then I’m off somewhere with some damned sunshine.”

“I’m glad you’re putting on a brave face. But the whole town’s practically in mourning. This sucks.”

“Yeah, maybe. But I didn’t call so that you could hold my hand while I blubber into my hanky. Finish whatever you’re doing and get out on the porch. I’ll be over in ten minutes.”

One of the Hmong he’d talked to on Cutthroat Creek road had tracked him down through the mushroom buyer and called him. The shroomer was excited, Mark said. Talking fast. Barely understandable through his accent. But he made one thing clear. He’d been shrooming up the Scatter Creek drainage and found something other than morels and boletes. “You go!” he’d said. “You go right now!”

“If it’s so damned important, why didn’t he call the cops?”

“These guys don’t truck with cops. For God’s sake, back where they come from, everybody was shootin’ at ‘em. Vietcong. NVA. Cambodians. Everybody. Think about the crap you’re in when your only friend is some guy from the CIA. And you ain’t sure about him. These be hill people, Little Brother. Don’t trust nobody.”

It was five minutes, not ten, when he pulled up in front of the Echo and honked. I ran out, climbed into the Ford, and Mark stomped on the accelerator, throwing gravel before the wheels bit into the Front Street asphalt, squealing.

“So how was the big weekend with Sandy?”

“A guy could get used to that big-city stuff. We hit three clubs Saturday night. Every one packed. And rockin’. We got back to the hotel at 2:30.”

Mark turned up the Longmont Grade. “I’d been in Seattle with Sandy Harper, I’d a been back to the hotel a whole lot earlier than that.” He laughed loudly as he crested the hill and turned out toward the federal highway.

“How’d you feel the next mornin’?” Mark asked.

“Like sleeping in,” I said. “But we got up, dressed to the nines, and went for brunch at the Olympic. Geez. You should have seen the food. And not a pair of corked boots in the place.”

“Yeah? No corks? That’s goin’ a little too far. Them fancy hotel people afraid the spikes gonna tear up their pretty floors? What then? Back to bed?”

“Nah,” I said. “Woodland Park Zoo. Saw a gorilla looked just like you.”

“That wern’t no gorilla,” Mark said. “You was in the john, you hung-over son of a bitch. And you was lookin’ in the freakin’ mirror.”

Mark stepped on the gas, and the Ford rumbled up U.S. 101. Twenty minutes later the sign announcing Scatter Road appeared on the shoulder. We drove by stump ranches and Scotch broom, entered the national forest, crossed the creek, and took a left onto FS 2102. I spotted the turnout where I’d met the Forest Service PIO on the first day of the fire. Beyond it, the blackened hillside rose to Bull of the Woods Ridge. A sour smell hung in the air. But no smoke rose from the charred stumps and heaps of cinders. The fire was out.

Mark drove on. We passed the spur road the first crews had taken to reach the fire. Then Mark slowed at the track leading down to the butchered old-growth grove we’d discovered the month before. “Here?” I said.

“That’s what the man said. He talked funny as hell, but I finally figured the place he was gibbering about.”

Unburned second-growth fir and brush still lined the road halfway to the bottom of the canyon. Then it suddenly gave way to sooty ruin. Black snags and stumps stuck out of a six-inch layer of ash. Toppled logs lay helter-skelter. “Chanterelles love a fresh burn,” Mark said. “This place gonna sprout shrooms like nobody’s business after the first rains. Maybe that’s why our man was up here. Gettin’ the lay of the land.”

I knelt by the creek while Mark wandered on upstream. It hadn’t rained since this hillside had burned, and the creek water was still fairly clear. But a dusting of ash floated downstream on the surface, and a scattering of dead trout lined the bank. The heat, I figured, had killed them.

Mark’s voice, pitched an octave too high, broke the stillness. “Good goddamn Christ!” he shouted. “Look at this!”

I jogged upstream through the wasteland of ash. Mark stood on a charred log, looking down into the creek. I stepped up alongside him.

The first man lay facedown on the bank. His back was blackened, his clothes and hair incinerated. Heavy cork boots still covered his feet, and a black band encircled his waist. I realized it was his belt, an odd survivor of the intense heat that had swept over the body.

The other man was lower, spread-eagled on his back with his head in the creek. His jeans had burned below the knees, but the rest of his body extended into what must have been a cooler zone created by the flowing water. His plaid shirt was intact. His hair streamed downstream off his head, which moved slightly with the push and pull of the creek. His pale face stared up at us, lids open and eyes rolled back.

“My God,” I whispered. “That’s Eddie Dykes.”

One Response to Skookum Summer excerpt

  1. Judith Stoloff says:

    Lost me at “that sucks”

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