Getting back to the forest, driving up into the mountains, swinging my axe against the freshly fallen timber still damp from the winter’s melt, casting my line into the swollen waterways, and examining the night sky overflowing with stars nagged at me as I remained in Cheyenne for the weekend following the annual partners’ meeting and retreat. I usually spent every Friday through Sunday in the Bighorn National Forest and despite my business obligations, the solitude of my piece of land burned
inside me despite spending the past three weekends camped above forest road forty-six.
The surrounding stillness of nature and the powerful excursion into its environment
emboldened me. I occupied my time with the purposeful activity of a bountiful firewood harvest, which likewise helped me to clear my land of fallen timber. I sacrificed myself to the lingering chill of spring as the nighttime temperatures remained cool even this late into June, if for no other reason than to bask in
three whole days away from the trying town’s folk, immersed in my own glorious isolation.
With all the advances of modern technology, purchasing a firewood permit from the federal government ought to be easier and it ought to be online. Wandering into the Forest Service office doesn’t appeal to me, although other locals probably have little concern about the process, if they utilize it at all. This town, despite it being the place where I live, keeps me at arm’s length, and quite frankly, I prefer to keep it even farther. I choose to never frequent a single establishment or became a regular at
any restaurant here, and I belong to a grand total of zero frequent shopper clubs. My home exercise equipment meets my needs in the winter, and in the summer, biking the paths around town and chopping lumber in the forest provide enough physical exercise so I’ve never needed a gym membership. And so despite my efforts to avoid recurring encounters, I inevitably occasion the Forest Service office out of necessity, and my inability to conduct business from my home office at an entity as
large as the federal government stupefies me.
If I subscribed to pet peeves, making superfluous conversation tops my list. Asking a question for which someone already knows the answer, or doesn’t even care about the answer, making a statement when a question ought to be warranted, and fumbling for words when one has the ability to think before speaking all strike me as wasteful uses of the English language. I prefer thinking through my responses and answering cleanly and succinctly. I conduct most of my professional exchanges in this manner, especially with the Forest Service, and I rarely deviate from this style of conversation. Never meaning to be terse, I pace my responses, speak softly, and use polite greetings and exits. It’s not difficult, yet not enough people do it, and still I find the annoyance a part of the routine of daily life. I nonetheless accept it as commonplace more than I allow myself to be perturbed by it.
Stopping in for firewood permits brings both of these lifestyle priorities into a social conundrum. Forced to visit the office to obtain the permits, and likewise dealing with the verbal oddities of the exchange to procure them dampens the handful of minutes on four days every summer. Statistically, dividing the full number of days in any given year by the number of stops I make to its office, the minimal number of visits calculates to a negligible percentage of interactions, yet I still detest these
parleys. I perhaps could combine all four visits into a single encounter, but I consider this a penance for some past transgression and a small price to pay for the end product. Nonetheless, I enter the office on each visit with the intent to speak as sparingly and depart as quickly as possible.
Bonnie, the assistant who has worked there for years, makes my minimalist approach to communication completely feasible. I expect she simply avoids extensive conversation for my benefit, and her approach is less about brevity, or courtesy, and even less about civility, and more about getting me back on the far side of the office door. Besides her silent disdain in the office, I have seen her once
or twice in town, perhaps at the car wash or gas station, and on each occasion she looks at me then looks away. I’ve seen her converse easily with others, and then have her companions likewise glance my direction, so my distinct impression is that I highly desire limiting my interactions with her.
She, too, has a penchant for quietness like me, and even the white noise in the office keeps its sound to a minimum. No music plays, no machines generate excessive decibels, and her office encases her in what appears to be a wall of sound-proof glass. While I doubt the Forest Service expended money enough for such a feature in an office that clearly lived its previous life as a warehouse, she probably covets the quiet, and makes a point to maintain it when I enter her den. The simple cowbell dangling on the door and banging brashly into the glass when I enter or exit starkly contrasts the dearth of sound in the lobby, and its playful jingle might be the only cheerful audio the building produces. In the past six years, the two chimes it rings out on each visit exceeded Bonnie’s total word count during our business transaction. I come prepared with my payment already written and ready to give her, and, thankfully, I usually need to spend less than five minutes in her domain.