I have been no stranger to the methods and techniques employed in a well planned, surreptitious raid. Not counting the numerous childhood exploits, early adulthood found me an instigator for the toppling of offending billboards besmurching the landscape, usually done after bar time in a somewhat altered state of mind. College afforded numerous opportunities to pursue my dubious ambitions, and the draft legitimized the practice. Viet Nam was a radical outpost beyond the normal spit and polish I abhorred. In the bush and eventually as company clerk, I learned the tricks to "grease the wheels", and circumvent the bureaucratic obstacles to getting something done. It was only natural that the cumulative knowledge I had acquired through the years be applied to my new found passion-bamboo.
Growing up in Wisconsin, bamboo was nonexistent. My eventual excursion into the Caribbean was an awakening of new plants and materials, fertile ground to pursue my creative energies. I soon settled in St. John, and became thoroughly knowledgeable of the existing stands of bamboo there.
I volunteer the previous information as background, possibly putting the story in perspective. There is more, but irrelevant, so lets get to the story. St John was 90% bought up by the Rockefellers back in the 50's, they then deeded most of the land to the federal government for the establishment of a park. Naturally, the existing bamboo stands were within the park boundaries, federal land. Knowing the entrenched bureaucracy that exist in such large and foreboding institutions, I was reluctant to approach the management with my proposal to cull the bamboo for artistic endeavors. Besides, the thrill of the well planned raid was, by now, innate. The alternative of raiding the bamboos was a practice that required little debate in my mind, and so it soon became reality.
My favorite sites were located on Centerline road, the main artery that connects the West coast town of Cruz Bay to the East coast town of Coral Bay. Before the park and the Rockefellers, St John was a rural agricultural island, the remains of a pervasive sugar economy that was the mainstay of the Caribbean economy through the 17th and 18th century. The sugar prices plummetted, the slaves were freed, and the land reverted back to a degree. My bamboo site had been a pig farm many years ago, the ghut (a seasonally flowing stream) had been dammed up for a pond, with bamboo holding the embankments. And it was close to the road, making my task a little less arduous.
My technique was simple-park the truck along the road, then proceed to the stands and cut out the outstanding volunteers. I had read Farrellys' book by now, and was totally in agreement with his philosophy and a follower of his advice. I culled the dead bamboo, stand cured, with little starch and water left to attract the pollilla bug. This, I rationalized, allows more room for new shoots to shoot, relieves the congestion, and provides an overall improvement of the grove. Plus, I get the bamboo for my grooming efforts. I was a good guy, not a bamboo thief, as I imagined the authorities would perceive my actions. Thus, I stored my bamboo culm acquisitions hidden just inside the foliage, until the right moment, when I could hear no car amidst the stillness of the forest. I then swiftly loaded the bamboo on the rack of the truck, tied them down, and headed out. Once on the road, no one could say where I removed my bamboo, and most people, including the park rangers, are oblivious to the bamboo stands that do exist.
My intermittant raids were a total success. I never was caught, the stands of bamboo were noticeably improved, and my adventure with bamboo proceeded unabated for many, happy years. Of course, I do have a life beyond bamboo, and that progressed as well. My new spouse had surprisingly provided a new son, and we sailed off into the sunrise for a year long cruise of the lesser antilles and Venezuela. Our return to the Virgin Islands was punctuated by a brief stay in St Croix, where we met new friends, I taught school, and of course exploited the bamboo to the best of my ability. Our stay was abruptly and rudely shortened by the devastation and aftermath of hurricane hugo, as we were ready to settle in. We eventually returned to St John, and there the bamboo plot thickens.
I soon returned to my bamboo stand, and followed my routine. I had heard a car stop on the road, but heard nothing further. As I loaded the truck, I was quickly apprehended by two park rangers, who were apparently hiding around the corner, observing my actions. I had to drive my truck full of evidence to the park headquarters in Cruz Bay. I stopped to pick up a hitchhiker along the way, as is the practice on this small island, but was informed that, under custody, I was not allowed. I apologized and proceeded to our destination.
The scene that ensued was likened by me to be not unlike the scene played out in Alices' restaurant(anybody remember that?), as officers proceeded to take pictures of the truck to be developed into 8 by 10 color glossys for evidence. Now, I was not alarmed by this turn of events, as I figured I was not a criminal, and this could be worked out. It is a small community, everyone knows everyone, and my indiscretion would be dealt with in a friendly manner. Wrong!!!!
The Park Service had recently been allowed to carry weapons, pistol and holster, as a response to the alarming increase of drug activity within park boundaries throughout the states. After some processing of my citation, I was escorted to the dock area by a recently arrived stateside "thug", who wore his holster around his pot belly with an aire of hostile officialdom. He guarded me, the bamboo thief, with an unwavering gaze. As I wondered about his proficiency with his new toy, and my chances of escape, I came to the conclusion he would not hesitate to blow me away, if given the chance. I returned his disdainful scowl. I was soon served my citation with the accompanying court date, as some lesser park service employess confiscated my bamboo. I never saw that bamboo again, I am sure they hauled it to the dump!
Now, since this is a federal crime, I was to appear before the U.S. District Court in St. Thomas, and I began to prepare my defense. As I said, we made some friends in St. Croix, some of whom were lawyers. Now some lawyers are party animals, and these Cruzan lawyers subscribed to this lifestyle, and I did meet some interesting people. One of which was a visiting U.S. Territorial District Court Judge! The thought of appearing in front of said judge appealed to me.
At the designated date and time, I made my way into the court room, amidst lawyers, relatives of the accused, court reporters, etc; and sat in front of the two arresting park rangers, there no doubt to testify as to my dastardly deed. "All Rise", and, there, emerging in full courtly regalia from the Judges' chambers, is my friend, the Judge! Yes!!!!
The very formal court proceedings waded through a melange of wife beaters, drug dealers, rapists, and a further array of scum of similar persuasions. I was eventually called: U.S. Park Service vs. John Scheer , court docket 173-4b-39g, violation of ordinance 462l-8, section 5D, stealing bamboo! Well, actually removal of vegetation from within park boundaries. Now, I knew I could appeal to this technicality, because I was not taking live plants, rather dead forest litter. And I had made a point to find out if the photographer was using color film for developing his 8 by 10 color glossies. Because I knew I could use this as corroborating evidence that the bamboo I was removing was indeed dead- no green bamboo.
"Mr. Scheer, would you please approach the bench." I stood, and as I looked at the Judge, neither of us could squelch a smile of recognition. We did, however, quickly subdue this involuntary muscle twitch, and proceeded to the business at hand.
"Mr. Scheer, you are accused of removing vegetation from within park boundaries, how do you plead?"
"Not guilty, your honor"
"Well sir, what do you have to say in your defense?"
Now, under normal circumstances, I would have been totally intimidated by the situation, and I am sure my verbal response at this point would have suffered. However, emboldened by my perceived familiarity with the Judge, I launched into a totally eloquent defense, embracing the arguments of ecological improvement of the bamboo stands, the careful removal of only dead bamboo, the improved health of the stand, with more room for growth, bla, bla, bla. I had more to say, when the judge interupted:
"Well, Mr. Scheer, that may all well be true, but the park service may have some disagreement. I would advise you to seek formal permission for your hobby in the future. It is the judgement of this court that you are hereby given a reprimand for your actions, case dismissed."
It was like the wind was taken out of my sails. Sure, I was exonerated, sure, the case was summarily dismissed, but hey, I was just getting on a roll! I sat down. The two park rangers were blank faced, but I am sure they were fuming inside. they didn"t even get to show the suitcase full of their 8 by 10 color glossies! The court session ended eventually, and I jumped back on my bike, a free man.
Epilogue: I ran into the judge again, as he recognized me riding my bicycle heading towards the St. John ferry. I ended up doing some remodeling at his house, and we are still friends. I intend to submit this treatise for his approval. I did also apply and recieve the first permit for the removal of bamboo from the park in St. John. However, the anticipated arrival of a new daughter precipitated an end to our boat life on St. John, and we ended up building our bamboo bungalow here in Rincon', Puerto Rico. The judge visited recently, and I am sure he was satisfied with my assimilation into the mainstream of society, considering my dubious past as a bamboo thief.
Note: Although the preceeding is an account of a true story, please allow for some embellishments and factual discrepancies. I has been awhile, Jo