It is 8:44 p.m. June 8th 2023 and I am standing on the Starvation Creek to Wyeth bike trail talking into my phone to make note of what just happened. It is getting dark. I delivered a cup of hot noodle soup, plus a cup of hot coffee, and a package of Pop-Tarts to a man lying on the asphalt near the holy circle…
A man who threatened to kill me.
About an hour ago I was riding my bike and approaching a place along the trail where I go to pray, the holy circle – when I noticed a fire maybe 100 ft ahead of me. It brought alarm, as there should be no fires here, and so I needed to intercede to prevent disaster.
Under the dense canopy of forest, I sped quickly towards the place where I encountered a man who was building a brisk fire at the edge of the woods. I rode my bike up to him and urgently asked “Brother, what are you doing?!”
He turned towards me, immediately affecting a challenging posture; anger radiating from his eyes. “F*ck off! Leave me alone!” He replied.
But his glazed-over gaze told me that something was amiss and unbalanced, that he might not be of sound mind. The man in front of me, so punctuated by instant aggression bore evidence of having been living outside for quite some time. Not to judge, but to inform myself on who I was trying to communicate with; I assessed a male just about my height wearing an oversized worn out, dirty and tattered tan Carhartt coat. Not jeans but trousers, and tennis shoes. Everything looked like it had rolled down a hill and tumbled in gravel. As I checked him out, his blue eyes stayed laser focused on mine, fists clenched, under a head of wild and unwashed hair.
In my mind I’m thinking…‘I’ve helped unhoused people in shelters, food kitchens, and on the streets but this man is different.’ He showed a willingness to harm me in order to defend the flames created.
This was dangerous.
He was unhinged and building a fire out of what looked at first like garbage and sticks. A closer peek at what was in the fire showed the burning of a small day pack and its contents; a red Aleve pill bottle lid, makeup items, a booklet and what appeared to be identification cards. I surmised it to be a woman’s backpack. There was also a generous amount of dry fir needles, which acted like miniature matches, pushing the flames and embers upwards.
He was using his foot to brush even more needles into the burn pile, taunting the fire to spread farther into the dry grass and underbrush.
We have had no rain for over a month, resulting in a forest that is parched and thirsty. A forest fire takes only a spark, so I was on high alert. And one was growing right in front of me and needed to be extinguished – now!
The man yelled “Get away from me!” as he swung his arms to emphasize the warning.
I would not leave but asked again “Dude! What are you doing?”
He responded with “F*ck off! This ain’t none of your business! You need to leave!”
With only a few feet between us, and me still somewhat straddling my bike, putting out the fire was all I could think about.
“You can’t have a fire here; this place is holy ground” I told him.
“F*ck you!” He hollered “you need to leave, or I’ll kill you!” becoming very combative and coming toward me with a stick of lumber, but I only moved back a little.
This man would fight me for his fire.
He twice threatened that he would kill me. His eyes told me that he was obviously either on something or completely lost in his heart.
I asked, “Do you want me to pray with you?”
“I want nothing from you, F*ck you!” he responded “Just get away from me!” – shouting as he stood next to the fire, a piece of half burnt lumber gripped in his hand as a weapon to support his threat.
He stood next to the fire as I withdrew, his shoe almost in the flames. I rode back down the trail to the holy circle, about 100 ft away if only to figure out what could resolve the situation.
Although I could see him, he was consumed with what was playing out in his head. His arms flapping occasionally, but never stepping away from the burning pile at his feet.
I began walking the holy circle and praying over him, praying for him, and praying for his rescue and redemption.
I prayed and I prayed and then I tried to get through to emergency services. Still in the woods, a message was left with the Hood River fire department duty phone because they did not answer. My voicemail telling them there is a transient man lighting a fire in the woods, where this was occurring and my phone number to call back. I mentioned that he had threatened to kill me.
Next call was to the Oregon State Police where I reiterated the same thing, and the officer told me to call 911. This after I explained that this man told me he would kill me.
Apparently it was for me to work out…