Just one country store where a gray dog and perpetually-pregnant cat snuggle on a chair outside the screen door. Everyone local knows this place. Coastal low mountains. No real town to speak of. Miles of black hills silhouetted by clear night sky. Snow in the winter. A smattering of houses. A lonely winding highway.
There it is, in the middle of those hills, jutting from a crevasse like a well-lit shelf: the casino, as bright, as glowing, as out of place as a topless dancer in a children’s library.
We arrive on horseback, dressed in camouflage. We’re fragrance-free and carry walki-talkis. We’re as efficient as a SWAT team and we’ve executed this type of project before.
First, we spread out, canvass the surroundings, then line up, heave-ho, pull the plug.
The coastal low mountains: complete. Dark from here to there, the only interruption a homey house light or two on every ridge or so. It is remarkable how much better we can smell in the dark.
The stars! The casino neighbors cry who haven’t seen the dippers from their backyards in years. They whisper, the moon – it’s so white, so round.
The mouths of the bus drivers are duct-taped as we load grumbling gamblers to deliver them back to Chinatown.
With no time to explain complications and considerations to the new guys - we’ve had this set up months ahead of time - by midnight we bulldoze the tiered parking lot, plant a grove of redwoods, transplant mature oaks, bring in truckloads of squirrels, a deer family, three spotted owls. The block-wide casino tent is hauled off, destined as an anonymous gift for a preschool UV playground shelter.
The gamblers toss litter from the bus windows, lining the freeway with plastic cups and emptied debit cards, to make sure they can find their way back. This is their only retort and one we expected. A crew disguised as county workers shuffles the debris into orange bags.
The machines, ka-ching ka-ching, are emptied bucket-brigade style, one-by-one into a barrel. We’ll turn the change into Benjamins to fund our next operation.
Before we can congratulate ourselves, every single man-made thing left on the grounds is dismantled and sent to our paid-off auto-crusher.
When the last truck rumbles away, a code word spread: mountain.
The matriarch of our mission, the mother of Feisty Rojo, our imprisoned leader, emerges for a speech. This is her first appearance since the arrest. She materializes from the trees as thin and wispy as lichen. When she mentions the humble beginnings, the story we all know well, how Feisty Rojo was the Robin Hood of Late Fees at Blockbuster Video, we cheer and scream until her arthritic hand rises. By the time she leads us in the chant, “Save our planet one by one,” most of us are crying.
What a party we have, dancing and howling, a bonfire, more face-paint, throwing of mud clods, tearing of clothes, running through the sprinkler.
Around dawn, pausing for breakfast, we eye, out of breath, the rows of grapevines in the valley and the dry dirt paths between them - those almost-as-wide-as-a-jeep dirt paths where nothing at all grows - calculating how long it will take us to restore a forest and placing bets on how much water we’ll save.