Thursday, February 19, 2004

The Cedars' Dark Plan

Although only an amateur historian, I am gifted with omniscience.

This omniscience offsets, to some extent, that lack of credentials, of degrees, that absence of even the smallest smell or echo of cap or gown, that brand me an amateur. Hence I can report the details of a conversation which took place in a cabin at The Cedars, late in the afternoon of October 13, 1953. It sheds some light on their Policy of Exclusion.

"Nyah-ha-haaa!" The braying laugh of hard-bitten lawyer Warbucks Babbitt Warbucks rang through a rustic little shingled edifice in the High Sierra of the North Fork American. He was one of several men seated around an oak table. A glance would show that all were men of substance, if not outright captains of industry. They were, after all, members of The Cedars.

The men glanced furtively at one another, and dared the shadows of smiles. Had a solution at last been found, for the age-old problem of The Public hiking on the old public trails across Cedars lands? Warbucks *seemed* pleased; but could not this be some sort of courtroom trick, before he let the hammer drop, and caught you up in a web of perjury, or worse?

Finally, the most substantial of the substantial men spoke. Call him "Jones" (I wish to protect the privacy of his descendants). "Do you mean to say, Warbucks," Jones inquired, with all that studied gruff hoarseness of voice which showed him a real man's man, "that we can keep these people off Cedars land, for good? And if so, how? What's our weapon?"

Warbucks did not answer immediately. His gaze slowly moved from one expectant face to the next, and then at last he nodded, and spoke, with a quiet assurance, slightly tinged with triumph.


The word rang out starkly and strangely alone in that small room so full of people. The shadows of smiles dwindled away. Jones at last remarked, laughing nervously, "Ha, ha, Warbucks! I presume you mean, jestingly of course, that our Armed Caretakers should actually kill the trespassers--and yes, *then* they'd get the message--ha ha!--or they'd all be dead--ha! But seriously, Warbucks, we need an iron-clad legal strategy. We didn't fly you all the way out here from Washington to make jokes! What's your *real* plan?"

"Death!" Warbucks replied, firmly yet soberly. "Death, and more 'No Trespassing' signs than any sane person would ever care to imagine. Here's the plan, fellows; have no fear; you've nearly laid The Public in the dust at your feet already."

And Warbucks Babbitt Warbucks explained that time was on their side: only a very few people alive remembered hiking the old public trails before The Cedars arrived on the scene, and those who *were* still alive were not likely to be doing any hiking (being quite old). It only remained to post the very very many 'No Trespassing' signs, patrol the trails with the Armed Caretakers, ordering all hikers to leave, and soon enough *the children of the last men and women to hike the old trails freely, would themselves be dead*. With them would die the last credible hearsay that any public trail had ever existed on Cedars lands.

"Once the second generation is dead," Warbucks summed up, "the war is over, and The Cedars has won."

His audience mulled over this "Warbucks" plan. One of the younger men (he could scarcely have been a day over fifty) gestured toward a pile of papers on the table. "What about the old maps, showing these trails--the Heath Springs Trail, the Anderson Peak Trail, and so on. Won't 'The Public' be able to use the maps to show that these were once public trails?"

"'The Public' won't ever get that far, young fellow," Warbucks replied derisively. "Listen carefully: burn those maps, and if anyone ever asks, tell them that 'certain Forest Service maps erroneously depicted private trails as public trails.' Not only that, but start telling anyone and everyone that The Cedars itself made those trails."

"But, Mr. Warbucks, sir," the youngish man exclaimed, "we didn't build those trails! I mean, sure, we cleared some brush off them, and so on, but those trails are *old*! In fact, my research shows that the Heath Springs Trail was being used in 1862, and ..."--but Warbucks would not let him continue to describe his 'research'.

"Young man!" he thundered, "If anyone inquires, anyone at all, you just say, 'The Cedars built those trails,' and by God, you dress the story up nicely--tell them, what, anything--'Grandpapa says that it used to take a whole day to get down to Heath Springs, before we built the trail,' and then, you stick to your guns!

"After all," Warbucks finished, and here he fixed them with a truly steely gaze, "You own one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Just because men and women and their families used to hike and camp and fish here, way back when, doesn't mean that you, The Cedars, shouldn't have it all for yourselves, now and forever more.

"So: nail up your ten thousand 'No Trespassing' signs, patrol your trails, and wait. Death will solve your problems, permanently."

So far, The Cedars' Dark Plan has succeeded admirably.

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