TRAIL TALES: The poems of Roger Bell
The laughter, the adventure, the woes, the memories of 35 years of trailbuilding, in rhyme no less. See Roger's poem reminding you to join American Trails.
Trail Tales, Roger Bell's new book, is hot off the press just in time for the holidays. Trailbuilders will take a trip down memory lane as they laugh alongside Roger; non-trailbuilders will gain a new appreciation for the complexity of the art. Roger owns Bellfree Contracting, Inc., is Vice-Chair of the American Trails Board, and is a Board Member of the Professional Trailbuilders Association. Order your book today from the American Trails online bookstore!
I'm not sure of the moral of these tales
Creative solutions are just the beginning
See the Table of Contents below... We'll be adding more of Roger's poems to these pages
Okay, a few words about all of this fun business of trying to capture in rhyme the unique and crazy world of trailbuilding.
I didn't start out to spend so much time out in the woods, traveling all over, building hundreds of miles of trail, solving problems that such insane existence throws up daily. I started out my professional career as an academic administrator and teacher, with all the proper credentials, headed in a wholly different direction.
I was a student dean during much of the late 60's when the campus was pretty chaotic--experiences that were exhilarating and challenging and deeply satisfying, and I wouldn't trade them for anything, but also they were exhausting. And then there was academic bureaucracy which anyone who's been there will tell you has its special way of deadening what otherwise could be quite satisfying work.
So when my brother, who was doing something very different, so visceral and direct, and which, at least from a distance, looked like it might also be a lot of fun, invited me to help him for a summer or two, well, I was ready for a respite. And damned if that exposure, however outrageously insane at times, didn't stick to me. So after awhile as a middle aged rookie, and then in an informal partnership with Harvey, we incorporated with my other brother and two nephews as Bellfree Contractor, Inc.
If Bellfree sounds like a place bats hang out, you have some idea of the adventure we embarked upon!
However, it turns out there were just a few problems associated with a family business. Also Bruce, my other brother, had a stroke and was more or less sidelined permanently. So in the early 90's I took the company over and Harvey and his son went on with their trail business by a different name.
I had gotten involved with what was is now the Professional Trailbuilders Association and became President for several years. My brother had actually been one of its founders and, after his death, the Association decided to give an award annually in his name for creative excellence in trail design and construction.
I should add that Harvey was an unforgettable character admired and held in high regard by his colleagues, but also known by all as cantankerous to the core. I have described him as being the only person I ever knew who had perhaps never strung together more than three sentences in his life without insulting someone! As you might guess, he shows up frequently in these verses.
But anyway, PTBA has grown and evolved into a respected organization with nearly 50 members who put on a first rate annual conference and have an extraordinary web site (trailbuilders.org).
In 1996, I became a Board member and am currently Chair of American Trails, a remarkable overarching organization which, working with Federal partners and user groups, tries to serve the entire trail community (See AmericanTrails.org). Among some other really interesting projects we coordinate, American Trails also organizes the biennial National Trails Symposium, a major gathering of the trail community.
And in the many years my company has been building trails, we have completed over 400 successful projects in 14 states. My focus in recent years has shifted to design/build services, most often in front-country situations in Southern California.
Okay, enough of that.
I have for years wanted to write about our trailbuilding experiences. So varied, so comical, so filled with adventure, the stories just seemed to cry out to be shared. But when I tried some years ago, it just seemed the narrative wouldn't translate well for anyone who had not done similar work out in the woods&emdash;almost like you had to be there to really get it.
But there is this cowboy poet, Bill Roberts, who for the last half dozen years or so has been coming to our trailbuilders conference and telling his cowboy poems as part of our banquet entertainment. Bill works for the Forest Service and has years of experience in the back country handling pack strings and doing trail work, etc., and his way of telling about some of his hilarious experiences through poems has captivated our attendees.
For me he has been pure inspiration!
So on vacation recently (in a hot tub, I think!) it came to me that, like Bill, I should use the medium of poems to tell my trail stories too. I wrote one and let that sit for awhile. On vacation again, I found myself resurrecting dozens more. I became totally absorbed. Somehow, fitting stories to rhyme seemed strangely freeing and it stimulated a strong creative effort. I think this way of expression will communicate much better than narrative. We shall see.
I do notice that the majority of my tales and memories go back to some of our earlier projects. A couple of reasons come to mind. For so many of those years we were living the situation more intensely, out in the woods, with all the attendant emotions. Also, we have recounted so many of those experiences over the years that they remain quite vivid I suspect for my family and friends, something in the nature of folklore.
While it took a while to fully admit it, even to myself, I do love this crazy business, which daily introduces new and exciting situations, and yes also many that can be distressing. Typically, it's the kind of work that, if something can go wrong, it will. Bland and routine it surely is not!
The new world in which we ply our trade is quite satisfying as well, because I have reached a place where I can chart my own course, design the trails I build, enjoy increased recognition and appreciation for our special capabilities, and actually make a decent living&emdash;which was not true in the earlier days.
But by the same token, those earlier days so impacted my imagination they retain a certain hold. I suspect it's a little like how the earlier settlers and pioneers must have felt about coming West, and then seeing civilization grow up around them. I don't exactly yearn for the old days, but I do celebrate the memories and feel partly defined by the stories we lived.
So I invite you to come along and share this effort to bring the adventure back to life. For the most part, the poems can speak for themselves. I do grant that some of these perhaps need the drama of "telling" that Bill Roberts brings, but I hope you will run with my cadence and rhythm and hear the shear joy and love of the subject I try to bring forth in these pieces. I can't tell you how much I do hope you enjoy them and how much I appreciate your taking time to give my Trail Tales on opportunity to resonate with you.
--ROGER BELL, July 2005
...we'll be adding all of Roger's poems to these pages during 2007
Chapter I ARIZONA
A MORNING WAKE UP CALL
TRAPPER JOHN AND HIS WILD, WILD CAT
THE TOYOTA COMMERCIAL
Chapter 2 -- WYOMING
JAKE, THE SHEEPHERDER
DENNIS, AND THE CASE FOR GRAVITY
THE GREAT U-HAUL VAN CAPER: A CAUTIONARY TALE
RODEOS I HAVE KNOWN
THE BOYS, AND MORE WILD RIDES
Chapter 3 -- CALIFORNIA
NAKED TRUTH (Dedicated to the Hoedads)
LANDELL TO GROUND
ESCALERA, aka "JOSE"
BRIDGES OVER THE RIVERÉSIGH
Chapter 4 -- OREGON
NEVER BID A TRAIL NAMED "ROCKY"
SURVIVING DIAMOND PEAK
A SIX FOOT RABBIT?
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Updated May 17, 2012