By Paolo Bacigalupi
Read by Caith Donovan
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The Tamarisk Hunter
by Paolo Bacigalupi
“The Tamarisk Hunter” originally appeared in the environmental journal High Country News. It was inspired by the only thing that really matters in the Western U.S. — water.
A big tamarisk can suck 73,000 gallons of river water a year. For $2.88 a day, plus water bounty, Lolo rips tamarisk all winter long.
Ten years ago, it was a good living. Back then, tamarisk shouldered up against every riverbank in the Colorado River Basin, along with cottonwoods, Russian olives, and elms. Ten years ago, towns like Grand Junction and Moab thought they could still squeeze life from a river.
Lolo stands on the edge of a canyon, Maggie the camel his only companion. He stares down into the deeps. It’s an hour’s scramble to the bottom. He ties Maggie to a juniper and starts down, boot-skiing a gully. A few blades of green grass sprout neon around him, piercing juniper-tagged snow clods. In the late winter, there is just a beginning surge of water down in the deeps; the ice is off the river edges. Up high, the mountains still wear their ragged snow mantles. Lolo smears through mud and hits a channel of scree, sliding and scattering rocks. His jugs of tamarisk poison gurgle and slosh on his back. His shovel and rockbar snag on occasional junipers as he skids by. It will be a long hike out. But then, that’s what makes this patch so perfect. It’s a long way down, and the riverbanks are largely hidden.