The Puddle Jumper that Didn't

Author Will Owen and his manager

Author Will Owen and his manager

Once upon a time I was a fairly young man, attending a Junior College near Sonora, California. A darling young woman and I happily cohabited in the ground floor rental of a two-story year-around cabin up in the Sierra foothills, in Long Barn, a small community of many, many weekend cabins and a very few others occupied by actual residents. Weekdays were generally idyllic, but with the coming of Spring the weekends were a zoo, with every kind of off-road vehicle grunting up and down our one-car-wide streets and dirt bikes swarming like large bees over any unfenced open space.

There was one kid in particular who had discovered a nice jump zone in our yard – he would tear past the kitchen window, hit the small rise just after the back steps, and see how far he could fly to the flat area maybe fifteen feet below. He typically did that just a few times a day, until I flagged him down and asked him to please not do that anymore. He appeared perhaps an hour later with his large and surly father, who explained bluntly that as landowners they had the right to ride or drive wherever they damned well pleased, whereas I, as a mere renter, had no rights at all. After this, the kid made a point of ripping off as many laps as he could in a day, usually starting around sunup.

One midweek morning we woke to a ghastly stench: the septic tank had stopped taking contributions, which were now filling up our shower. The woman upstairs had called the landlord, so when we left for school we left the door open for the landlord’s crew, not to mention some fresh air. The place was cleaned up perfectly when we got home that evening, but there was an open pit in the lower yard full of sewage, some obviously recent. There was also an apologetic note from the landlord asking us to use the plumbing as little as possible – the waste truck people had been called, but as these things happened so often early in the season they couldn’t be there until next Tuesday …

And so it was that as Saturday was dawning, the peaceful mountain air was torn with the rip of a two-stroke bike engine accelerating past the kitchen window, a scream from the engine as the bike cleared its hurdle, another scream from the rider, and a most satisfying splash.

We told the enraged father that, as mere tenants, we had no say in or responsibility for the digging of that pit, and neither the right nor obligation to install fencing or post a warning. We gave him the landlord’s name and phone number, and suggested that this was properly a dispute between landowners. And then we went down to the lodge and splurged on one hell of a breakfast.