Nov 29, 2009 | Sisters, OR
Nov 29, 2009

Speaking of outdoor mid-afternoon naps being interrupted by grisly Oregonian incidents — Jim, the caretaker, told me about something that happened to him seven years ago. Jim loves to explore big, desolate regions of Oregon by himself, especially in the southeast corner of the state, a barren expanse of mountainous desert where neighboring towns are sometimes separated by six-hour drives. He goes out there to look for arrowheads and petroglyphs, and generally to be alone with nature (and his ubiquitous walkman, which plays books on tape). One day he was driving through a reservation, and stopped for lunch in a dried up lake bed, at an empty camp site. He noticed that strangely, there was a yellow oil cloth spread out over a tree stump, like someone had prepared for a picnic, but then abandoned the idea. There was nobody around as far as he could see, so he sat down next to the tree stump, spread out his lunch on the yellow tablecloth, and opened a bottle of wine. When he finished eating, he lay down for a nap, under the hot midday sun. He had his headphones on, and was listening to NPR. They were having a retrospective of Billie Holiday, and just as he nodded off, they played her song "Strange Fruit", about African American slaves who were hanged from trees in the south. He slept for a while, and then woke up. There was still nobody around. He packed up his lunch, got back in his truck, and headed home. That night his wife, Patti, was cooking dinner. Jim was sitting on a stool in the kitchen, and the local news was on. He glanced at the TV and noticed they were showing footage of a desert landscape that looked a lot like the spot where he had lunch. The camera panned, and showed a tree stump covered in a yellow tablecloth. Baffled, and suddenly with goose bumps, he stammered something to Patti and swung to the TV to turn up the volume. The news report was saying that a man had committed suicide that afternoon by hanging himself from a tree, about 100 yards from the tree stump with the yellow tablecloth. Apparently it happened around lunchtime, and the cops had found the body in the late afternoon. Jim reckons the man was hanging there as he was sleeping, and he hadn't even noticed.