The Breadbasket of America
My 20 man fire crew is southeast from Sacramento driving away from the coastal enclaves.
SUV crashed into a fence, Semi spun around in the road.
Jack (the crew boss), Trevor, James, and Derek jump out of the trucks and run over.
The rest of us are sitting in the cabs impotent and bored.
A man is holding a crying baby.
Jack and Trevor are trying to break open the back right door.
They pull a little girl out of the back seat, she’s screaming as she goes in and out of consciousness.
I really have to piss.
Derek is standing frozen a couple feet away from the scene.
Paramedics come, they don’t pull the ambulance up to the crash at first.
They get the mother out of the front, there’s blood bubbling out of her mouth.
The paramedics throw her in the back of the ambulance without stabilizing her, Trevor mentions later she could have died from this.
I’m sucking on my vape wondering if it’s appropriate for me to get out to relieve myself in the wheel well of the truck.
They got everybody in the ambulance and we’re back en route another 5 hours to our destination.
We find out later that the children are all fine but their mother is deceased.
And I was just a blithe observer of this event which will change their (the children’s) lives forever.
Perhaps, I was staring bored as the paramedic broke her neck.
Camp is in Porterville a couple hours away from Fresno.
Rolling through endless miles of citrus and almonds.
We’re in the heart of California’s Central Valley which produces half the produce and nuts consumed in America.
This isn’t a romantic idea of fertility, however.
The clouds of smoke blot out the sun save for a dim bloodshot circle staggered high above the landscape.
We drive through the reservation only miles away from the fire.
Signs urging vaccination pepper the road as we pass trailers surrounded by broken down cars.
Driving up a dusty two track carved into the side of a mountain.
One wrong move and its a straight vertical drop.
I can’t resist making jokes about the truck going off the road; if we careen down the cliff I want everyone to remember that Dustin made a wry quip about it minutes before.
Poison oak everywhere and our job is to cut and move it, soon half the crew will develop blistering lesions that bleed and pus when scratched.
A couple days into the run James develops a different kind of itch.
It’s supposed to stay hush hush but soon he’s telling everyone about the burning discharge that’s affecting his groin quite acutely.
He alternates between cursing his ex-girlfriend, “That fucking bitch fooled around on me!” And complaining in disgusting detail about the symptoms he is experiencing.
So, the next morning we drop James off at the hospital with Trevor as his chaperone.
Antibiotics acquired he’s back on the line the next day.
The drought killed all the cedars and they hang in the canopy snagged up, ready to come down at anytime.
I’m coughing up phlegm constantly by the 5th day.
Is it the smoke, the fertilizer, or do I have Covid?
It can’t be Covid because we all got it at a fire camp in Washington last month.
Our supervisors forget about us while we are holding a burnout.
No comms, Jack (the crew boss) is pissed and we pull off the hill early as the fire creeps up to the line with no one to hold it.
Tree comes down, Jacob and Will jump out of the way, Josh pulls the truck pulls forward, it falls on the bed and destroys it.
Going home a day early, passing by the endless fields for the last time.
The bloodshot sun illuminates our final exit,
As we leave the breadbasket of America.