– Monday Morning 28 October
"There Is Unrest in the Forest, There is Trouble with the Trees" – Treebeard Fangorn
"Jared, you're late. Seth's going to be all over your ass like black on asphalt," Todd spoke over his cubical wall.
"Thanks for worrying about me Todd," Jared smiled. He always smiled. He was a big man, a huge, hulk of a man. What wasn't clear was how much of it was muscle and how much fat. The women of the office never tired of the debate. His head was large and square, but his cheeks were sunken and the skin seemed to be tight on his face. But his jacket and vest could never be stuffed with that much muscle. Could they?
The fact was that Jared Sharpfield was square all over. There was nothing round about him. He was square, square and solid like machine steel. He was far heavier than anyone would guess.
As a young farm boy he made money by going to carnivals and having the man grossly miss-guess his weight. Once the man insisted that Jared must have been smuggling an additional person onto the scale, inside his coat. It was one of the rare times Jared took his coat and shirt off in public. The man banned him from ever returning. He was similarly banned from the ring the bell booth and any other strength challenges.
At the time his small hometown of Barrensoil Flats was going through a depression that had pretty much started when it's founder Cyrus Blackthumb founded the town on history's first ever toxic waste dump. Of course they didn't know it back then. Young Jared knew that he had to get out of town to seek his fortune so he convinced one of the carnivals to take him with by suggesting a bear-wrestling booth.
This was surprisingly lucrative because rather than having a real bear, Jared dressed up in a bear costume. No one ever managed to take the "bear." It made so much money that sometimes they stayed in one town for weeks. They only had to leave when a town figured out it was just Jared in a suit. The surprising thing to Jared was that they often hit the same towns year after year.
He eventually had to quit because he outgrew the suit. He moved on to rodeo. Fortunately he never passed as a horse or bull. He was too big to ride in any of the speed events and it didn't take him long to figure out how to stay on any horse or bull for as long as he wanted. He ended up as a clown, but that only lasted a year. The bulls caught on faster than the carnival attendees that it was Jared in the suit and whenever he was out there they were on their best behavior. This made the bull riding less than exciting.
Jared moved onto lumberjacking. There was a rumor that he found a huge ox frozen in ice that turned out to be blue after he thawed it out and named it Babe. When questioned about it Jared just smiles. Since Jared is a quiet man you can take that to mean whatever you want.
Lumberjacking did get Jared involved with the USDA Forest Service, which in actual fact is in charge of regulating the lumber industry. They are the ones who tell lumber companies that it's okay to cut down trees. They also have a scholarship program as a way of silencing young lumberjacks who become too nosey about how they decide which bits of National Forests come under the axe. Jared won a scholarship.
While in school he fell in with two groups of undesirables. The first group was convinced that civilization was on the brink of collapse and they'd better be ready with lots of guns and the second was concerned about the environment. Jared got along fairly well with both groups because he too was concerned about the environment and the gun people wanted to him to be on their volleyball team. He liked blocking and spiking.
In college he developed his own philosophy on survivalism, a balanced, realistic and holistic love of the environment and a killer jump serve. He was quickly on is way to earning a PhD in Forestry and talking to Todd that Monday morning. His one regret about his most recent promotion was that it brought him to Washington and put him back in a suit. At least his business suits weren't as itchy as the bear suit had been.
"Why are you late anyway?" Todd asked. "Out with your buddies building a compound or loading shotgun shells?"
Actually Jared had been harvesting corn on his small farm. He grew the corn to make ethanol for his pickup and the generator he used on his house. To Todd's question he smiled and said, "no."
He made his way to his own office and sat down to read his email and listen to his voicemail. The phone rang.
"Jared, this is Seth, please come to my office."
Jared got up and stepped out of his office. Todd gophered up in his cube.
"Told you," he winked. "Seth is going to load shotgun shells all over your butt."
"How did you know…"
Seth stuck his head out of his office, ten feet away and said, "and bring Todd with you."
Jared turned to Todd. "Seth wants you."
Jared waited for him and they walked the length of two cubicles to Seth's office together. Todd was just as tall as Jared, but where Jared was square Todd was rounded. From the top of his coppery hair to the soles of his sensible shoes he was fluffy with no sharp angles.
"I don't know how we're ever going to afford everything this year," Seth began almost before they were in the door. "I wish there was a god so I could pray to it, but I don't even have that consolation. Sit."
Seth had been sitting himself and when the two others sat he stood up. Only when they were sitting was he actually as tall as they were. Not only was he short, but he probably only weighted as much as Jared's right arm and was prematurely gray. He looked like an old, disillusioned Gary Coleman who had had his stomach stapled and forgot which doctor had done it so he could get it removed, and oh what was the use of getting it removed anyway, might as well just wither and die.
Seth handed Jared a plane ticket. "There's a conference in Florida on the everglades and I need you to go. Never mind that you're so big that I had to get you business class and still you're too heavy so I had to get you two tickets. We'll never make budget this year."
"Didn't we just start a new fiscal year, and didn't we have money left over from last year?" Todd asked.
"Exactly. We didn't use it so this year we don't have it. If this conference had just been three weeks earlier we would have been able to book you two first class tickets," he shook his head.
"Florida in October big guy. You'll get to keep that tan that much longer," Todd said.
"I'm not a wetlands expert," Jared said.
"You're the best tree-man I have and it looks like it's going to be mostly cypress talk anyway."
"Any particular stance I need to take?"
"Same as always, 'say no and deny everything,'" Todd said and punched Jared playfully. It hurt his hand.
"Exactly. Todd you deserve a gold star today, here." Seth handed him a ticket. "You can work on keeping your tan too."
"I burn. Why am I going?"
"Besides trees they're going to talk bacterial contamination and mutation with the rising water levels due to global warming."
"Rising water levels? Florida is trying to come up to meet us," Todd said.
"Exactly. You leave tomorrow and the conference lasts until Sunday. I suppose you'll need the rest of the day off to pack."
"Yes please," Todd said.
"You can take off at noon, and I'll expect you to do all your work that you owe here by remote while you're gone."
"Hey, big guy, we're going to be there for Halloween. What are you going as?" Todd asked Jared.
"Hadn't thought about it."
Todd was looking at his tickets anyway, "Hey, how come I don't get two seats, I'm just as tall as Jared?"
"Have you ever been camping?"
"Yes of course."
"Did you use a sleeping bag?"
"A down one or polyfill?"
"A really nice down one, my wife bought me."
"And when you packed it you stuffed it into the bag into a tiny space, right?"
"Oh yeah, it came with this little stuff sack about this big and that big bag fit right in,” he held up his hand as if he were holding a newborn puppy.
"Do you think you could have fit two bricks in that stuff sack?"
"No, they'd never fit and they'd tear right through the bag. It was very thin nylon, I think it was nylon. What does this have to do with airline seats?"
"Jared is a brick sleeping bag."