Borer Beetles and Paintball

9 07 2011

Back in the late 90’s, my friends and I were avid paintball players.  We had all purchased our own equipment, and paintball paraphernalia became a common birthday present among all of us.  To this day, I still have some blue JT paintball gloves that (sort of) fit, and on the (roughly yearly) occasions when I manage to get back out on the field, it’s still a very nostalgic experience to sort through my old equipment, remembering where this barrel came from, when John gave me that harness and when I bought my blue and black bag at the store with the full intention of using it for paintball.

However, one aspect of paintballing in Los Osos was the fact that we (at the time) had no designated field for paintball in the immediate vicinity.  What there was was a big clearing (a couple acres, maybe) surrounded by old oak trees at the bottom of a steep cul de sac behind the local Nazarene church; and a dozen people or so had been using the area for impromptu paintball games for a couple of years before any of my friends had even heard of paintball.  Most of my friends and I had our first paintball experience in that clearing, and as more of started getting involved, the group started growing and the games became more regular.

But there’s always a catch, and in Los Osos, the catch was usually the environment.  From the Banded Dune Snail to the Snowy Plover, the Central Coast had long been a place for contention about protecting endangered species at the cost of development or public park acreage.  I was never thrilled about these species and their supposed habitat as a kid because, hey, snails.

These two things finally intersected during a Saturday morning paintball game.  We had halted the game to allow for some nature walkers to pass through the clearing (as we always did), and they made various comments about our militant garb and our destruction of the beautiful environment.  When one guy, Royce, asked politely (as I recall) how precisely we were harming the environment (which consisted of standard-issue oak trees spotted with dirt and bushes) with biodegradable paintballs, they drew our attention to some nearby trees that had some faded (from last week, we maintained) paint splotches.

“See these?  This is a common coloring of the borer beetle, and you are shooting up its habitat.”

A couple of us laughed involuntarily at these poor people, who had not only mistaken paint for a beetle’s residue (?), but also seemed to think that we were traumatizing the poor insects with our safe and enjoyable fun.  As I recall, one of the older guys diffused the conversation and the group went on its way after a few parting shots.  From then on we starting receiving frequent visits from sheriff’s deputies who maintained that we were technically “allowed” to be there (as we heard it, the owner of the property was apathetic to our presence), but that complaints by local neighbors mandated at least their asking us to leave.  Depending on the deputy and her/his attitude, we would generally comply, though not without (fairly justified) grumbling.

And then, this morning, I saw this article:,9171,2079574,00.html

I’m not sure I can ever forgive those nature walkers now.

Can’t, er, “Bury” Tales Like These

29 12 2009

I drove down to the inlet in the old convertible.  I had a good book and some good candy, and I dropped the top almost before the engine stopped rumbling.   It was the summertime, but the weather was gray and cool.  I kept my sweatshirt on, even though I didn’t plan on getting out of the car.  I had picked my backdrop for the book carefully, and for the next few hours I wore away the enamel of my teeth and memories with sugar and fiction.  This wasn’t escapism per se, but given another few weeks of August, who knew where I’d end up.

It was a good day.  I knew I’d head home soon and walk into the kitchen, immediately smelling the boiling water on the stove.  Right now, I could smell the marginal scent of bayside refuse and saltwater.  It made the taste of my sour candy that much more acute, but I still resented it.  I needed a clean breeze to go along with the Alaskan story I was reading, but Los Osos tends not to oblige that desire very often.

And so passed one of my most memorable days of the year.  Not because of what I did, but because of what it was.

It was my last day to myself.