‘This Is Our Home’
Phillips worried that the Jeep would be set ablaze as had many other abandoned vehicles. She told us, “I went to the CHP and showed a man there this picture [above] and begged that it be removed because the next thing that would happen is that it would be burned and we hadn’t had rain yet…Over the next weeks it was shot with bullets, all the windows smashed, parts torn [off], license plates removed, etc.” Whip-its were dumped partially in the Jeep.
Towards the end of October, the Jeep was set on fire.
Then the CHP tagged it again.
Eventually, to make matters worse, other people began dumping garbage, containers of used motor oil and Whip-its (Nitrous oxide containers–people inhale the contents in order to get high.)
The community was frustrated. The County wasn’t responding. The CHP wasn’t helping. Then, on November 13, some local folks–Elmer Stillwell, Melissa Boll, Vonai Hartzell-Graham, Lisa Todd, Amanda Geoffroy and another unnamed man—decided to roll up their sleeves and fix what they could. “Some of us took the Whip-its to Eureka. Melissa took the motor oil and we took the garbage that way it all didn’t fall on one person,” Stillwell said.
Stillwell, whose family has lived in the area since before written history, said that he just got tired of seeing the land he loved trashed. The Native American side of his family only left the area “when my first great-grandma was rounded up when she was two years old and taken down to the Round Valley Reservation.” Other, than that, he said, they’ve built their homes in these hills.
Most of the people who removed the trash, including Stillwell, belong to Locals on Patrol (LOP), a group of Southern Humboldt residents who try to enforce rules like no loitering and no littering in Garberville. (See here for an article that followed the group on a walk through town.) For years, Stillwell said, he’d tried to ignore the build up of trash and people not following community standards.
“I didn’t come to town,” he said. “I didn’t want to be around that.” Then his cousins who helped start LOP persuaded him to join the Patrol. At first he didn’t think he could. He was going to school to be an EMT and didn’t have much spare time.
“Once I came out, then I came out more and more,” Stillwell explained. It felt good, he said, to work together to fix things. “My family has been here for generations and generations,” he explained. “This is our home.”
However, though the trash is gone, the Jeep along with at least four other vehicles are abandoned in various places on the road heading east out of Garberville. There is more work to be done.
With this election, Stillwell said, everyone is angry and fighting with each other. He wishes they’d take that energy and work on projects in their own community like cleaning up trash and the abandoned cars. He paused for a moment and said, “Sure what happens in the country is going to affect you but not as much as what happens in your own town.”