It’s still hours before dawn when Jake pulls off the highway and kills the engine of his father’s pickup. The trip from Medford had burned four gallons of gasoline – a sacrifice he’s sure The Cause will understand. He sits in silence for a moment, then pulls a dog earned copy of The Art of War from his backpack. He can nearly quote it word for word, but still he flips to a page that has been heavily highlighted.
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night,” he reads aloud,” and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt”.
It’s one of Jake’s favorite passages. True, there was no strategic value in arriving so early – the loggers wouldn’t arrive for another five hours. But he was at war, and the rules of warfare must always be honored. Tucked inside the back cover of the book is a map of the forest; he unfolds it and smoothes it across his lap. He has never had the best sense of direction, but from where he is parked, the hike looks to be a simple one. He will follow a dirt access road for three miles before heading south to the edge of a clearing. With any luck, he will see the sunrise from his battlement. He refolds the map, tucking it inside the book and returning both to the side pouch of his backpack. The chains rattle in his pack as he swings it onto his shoulders.
Two hours later, he reaches the clearing. He’d seen pictures of it online. The short, broad stumps, the shredded bark, the shin-deep ruts from heavy equipment – even in the dim pre-dawn glow, all of it looks exactly as it had in The Cause’s weekly newsletter. Jake wants to scream and curse his species for what they were doing to the world. But there was work to be done.
He walks the tree line from north to south, searching for the most noble and significant among them. Twice he finds suitable candidates, but they are too far back from the edge of the clearing – far away from the prime lighting he imagines will play well with the media. Finally, as the pink sun starts to creep over the horizon, he settles on an adolescent pine at the top of a ridge. It is sturdy and straight, without the bends and twists that might spare it from the loggers’ machines. He drops his pack at the foot of the tree and begins pulling out the chain foot by foot; it was heavier than he’d planned on. He circles the tree three times, and squeezes underneath the loops, holding the two tails in front of his waist. Only then does he realize the padlock is in his backpack, out of his reach. Several minutes later, he’s repeated the whole process and snaps the lock shut in front of him.
“Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”.
From his spot on the ridge, he cannot help but feel that this is what Sun Tzu meant when he talked about supreme excellence. The sun is fully up now, and the forest is coming alive. Birds are calling and he hears branches snap as sleeping critters awake and set out for the day. Back in the direction he had hiked, he can barely see a sliver of the access road. Soon, the logging crews would arrive on that road, ready for another day of raping and pillaging the forest of its splendor. Only today, they wouldn’t be uncontested – the might of Jake’s resolve would further The Cause. They will know the strength of one man in the face of unspeakable odds. He will be ready when they arrive.
“He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious”.
Yes, he will lay in wait. He will wait as long as it takes, because this is his calling. No longer will he be a silent observer of The Cause. He has taken his stand at the front line and will welcome the slings and arrows that will soon meet him here. Jake digs the small padlock key out of his pocket and pops it in his mouth. Wishing he’d held on to his water bottle, he somehow manages to swallow the jagged thing on his third attempt. There will be no going back until his demands are heard.
Far below, the crew chief throws another handful of sunflower seeds in his mouth as he drives. He misses a lot of things about smoking, but none as much as the first cigarette of the day on his way up the mountain. He passes an empty pickup truck parked on the side of the highway. Briefly he wonders if it belongs to one of his men, but then thinks better of it. They’d finished logging this area two weeks before.