Jack Sparrow and the Devil’s Canyon


I’d been planning for several weeks to lead Ian’s school–24 kids from kindergarten to grade 6–on a hike up nearby Poly Mountain. I could begin in the classroom with a slide show of pictures I’d taken from my roof of last June’s fire on the mountain, and then we could make our way into the burn area to see the damage and the beginnings of regeneration. On the way it would be fun to check out the secret tree house on the hillside that was miraculously saved from the flames.

I’d noticed that the design on the large pirate flag hanging from a high branch next to the treehouse kept cropping up everywhere from pickup trucks to clothing.

Exploiting this new fad with a long story might distract the kids from the difficulty of negotiating the steep game trails leading up the slope. Maybe something about Captain Hook.

Then I remembered Ian’s talk of the Pirates of the Carribean movies and their hero, Jack Sparrow. That name was appealing enough to overcome my aversion to anything associated with Disneyland. I rented the movie of Part 1 and found myself enjoying its preposterous plot devices and prolific film and literary allusions. My pirate tale could bring Jack Sparrow to this improbable place.

Making up stories is as hard for me as remembering them, so I knew I had to do some preparation. A few days before the scheduled hike, I wrote it out in outline, and while swimming and doing housework worked on memorizing it.

Whose flag is that?

A pirate’s?

Yes, do you know of any pirates?

Yes, Jack Sparrow.

Do you know that this was his house for a while? Do you want to hear about it?


OK. You remember that Jack has two things he wants–his ship, the Black Pearl and treasure. You remember he was trapped under the Ocean in Davy Jones’ locker.

Well he escaped, and I wont bother with details of how. He was three miles down in the water in total darkness waiting for the next thing to happen. Then he saw a small bright point getting larger as it approached and turning into the shape of a weird looking fish, lighted from inside. This must be a lightfish, he thought, the kind that lives near the bottom of the ocean and gets energy not from the sun but out of the hot water bubbling up from the molten center of the earth. The closer it got, the less he felt out of breath.

The fish swam up to him and uttered bubbly noises that gradually he was able to understand. “Hello” it said, “I see you can use some help. I can use some too, so maybe we can be useful to each other. My name is Spinoza. I need to explain some stuff to you first.”

Suddenly a strong beam of light came out of Spinoza’s nose, which the fish directed downward. Jack saw a huge cliff to his right which rose above him and extended below to the flat sea floor.

“What’s that,” asked Jack.

“That wall you see is the edge of the North American Plate. It’s a huge chunk of the earth that extends down here to the bottom of the ocean. On it sits most of California and the western USA. The sea floor down there is the top of another plate, the Pacific Plate, which is slowly creeping under the North American plate and pushing it up.”

As he stared at the base of the cliff, Jack saw the edge of the sea floor slowly disappearing under it, scraping off bits and pieces as it went. And the whole cliff was moving upward ever so slowly.

“All along the border of these two huge moving plates,” said Spinoza, “the land up above is rising and the ocean floor is moving sideways. Those earthquakes that keep happening in California come from this movement because sometimes it’s blocked by chunks of hard rock that get caught and then suddenly break loose.

Now come with me.”

Spinoza swam upward and Jack followed. Eventually the darkness around them gave way to sunlight from above and he knew they were approaching the surface. Breaking through and breathing the air again, Jack saw a ring of mountains surrounding a flat shelf of land, behind a small bay. In the middle of the landscape was a huge complex of buildings he’d never seen anything like before. A long brown rectangular building with rounded corners facing the ocean was bordered on each end by a large white dome.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“This is the Devil’s Canyon,” said Spinoza, the lightfish. It’s a very powerful and dangerous spot. For thousands of years, this was where the local Chumash Indian sorcerers held ceremonies during the Winter Solstice to bring the sun back from its fall into the ocean. The Spanish who drove them out called it Diablo Canyon. Those buildings you see there now were built by the Power Company for another kind of sorcery to produce electric power. The power flows from the building through those wires to provide electricity all over the state.”

“What kind of sorcery,” asked Jack.

“Well here’s the devil’s part again,” said Spinoza. “Inside those two domes are nuclear reactors. They’re like atomic bombs that are contained in pools of water to keep them from exploding. Instead they get superhot, and then in the long building between them, the heat is converted into electricity. The problem is if the water in those pools ever leaked out or something else went wrong, those nuclear reactors could explode in a huge fireball that would spread super poisonous radiation all over San Luis Obispo county. It would kill all the animals and humans that lived here. For years, some people have been trying to get them to close this plant because it’s located in this earthquake zone over the border of the two moving plates you saw down below. An earthquake here could make the reactors break and the bombs explode. But the power company that runs it wont close it because they get money from the government to keep it working and money from the people they supply this electricity to. The company is called Pigs, Goats and Elephants.”

As Spinoza was explaining all this, Jack kept trying to remember where he had heard the name “Diablo Canyon” before. Suddenly it came to him. Once when he was captured by Barbosa, he overheard that evil pirate planning a scheme with his crew of undead sailors. They were plotting to set off a charge of dynamite at the border of the two plates at the bottom of the sea. That blast would create an earthquake. The earthquake would wreck the domes at Diablo canyon and spill the water inside, causing the atomic bombs to explode and poison all the people and their watchdogs. The poison wouldnt affect Barbosa and the undead, so they could come in and steal all the gold and jewels and treasures that people kept in their huge mansions on the mountaintops and in the vineyards of San Luis Obispo county. Jack remembered that the date they had set for doing it was October 10.

Swimming in the ocean, Jack realized he had to do something. He wanted to steal that treasure himself, and not let his enemy Barbosa have it. And he also didnt like the idea of killing all the people in the county to steal it. He needed to warn them and get that atomic reactor shut down before the time bomb went off that would cause the earthquake that would make it explode.

But of course he couldnt go to the police or the newspapers or television reporters because he was a pirate, and as such he’d be recognized and locked up and sentenced to death by hanging. So he decided to go ashore and make his way toward town and find a good place to hide and figure out what to do next.

Jack Sparrow snuck into the forest behind Diablo canyon and crept through the hidden canyons of San Luis Creek until he came to Poly Mountain, which he decided to climb for a good view of the area. As he made his way along some game trails up the mountain, he discovered a huge oak tree and a treehouse 20 feet up with nobody around.

He climbed the ladder and saw that it was waterproof and securely attached to the branches.

Although from it he could see down to the city, it was so well camouflaged no one the outside could see in. Jack pulled his pirate flag from his pocket and hung it from a branch outside. Inside it was spooky but cozy.

On a table next to the bed, he found a portable radio. He turned it on and heard a woman named Rachel from an organization called Mothers for Peace. They were the ones who’d been trying to get Pigs Goats and Elephants, the power company, to shut down the Diablo canyon power plant because it wasnt safe. She was talking about how the plant shouldnt have been built above an earthquake fault right near the border of those two plates–she called it the “Subduction Zone.” But neither the plant owners nor the government would listen.

Jack Sparrow decided to make contact with Rachel. But how? He sat down on the bed and scratched his head. Then he felt a lump. He reached under the mattress and found a cell phone. He dialed the number of the radio station and asked to speak to Rachel. When she answered he said, “I need to meet with you. I have information that evil creatures are going to create an earthquake on October 10 that will destroy the power plant and cause a huge atomic explosion. We need to work together to get it shut down. Please meet me at my treehouse on Poly Mountain, but only late at night.” And he gave her instructions how to find the difficult trail that would lead to the tree.

That night Rachel found her way up the trail. Jack had his spyglass out and saw her coming and helped her up the ladder. Inside the tree house he told her the whole story. They started to write it out to send to the police and newspapers and television in hopes that the plant could be shut down in time.

But neither of them knew that Pigs, Goats and Elephants, the power company, always spied on Rachel. At this time the spies were a man named Jerry and a woman named Patricia. They followed Rachel as she went up the mountain at night, and when they saw her go up into the tree house, they decided to get rid of her and whoever she was working with. They hiked over to the other side of the mountain near the P and got there just as the sun was coming up. They set a fire in the dry brush that the morning wind would blow toward the treehouse.

The fire spread, got bigger and bigger, the flames reaching 30 feet in places. It was heading fast for the oak grove that held the tree house. Jack Sparrow and Rachel had no idea of the danger they were in. What they also didnt know was that Jerry and Patricia, the spies who set the fire, were being followed by other spies–Will Turner and Elizabeth. Those two had gotten married and settled down in San Luis Obispo county. Because they were concerned about the children they were going to have, they joined Mothers for Peace. Their job was to follow anybody who was following Rachel to make sure she was safe. So, as soon as the fire started, they called the fire department, which sent in the bombers and helicopters and ground crew you saw in the pictures.

Jack and Rachel stayed in the treehouse as the fire burned and the firefighters fought it, hoping they would be saved but also afraid of being discovered. The firefighters put a fireline around this oak grove and stopped the fire right at the edge–you can see where the burn starts right through those branches. But they never came inside here or noticed the flag or the ladder or the treehouse.

After the fire was out, Jack decided some drastic action was necessary. He went back to the ocean near Diablo canyon and swam underwater to where the power plant had a huge pipe sucking in water to cool its pumps. He let himself be drawn in with the water, and found an escape valve that let him out of the pipe inside the plant property. He used his pistols to shoot holes in the windows of the main office, which set off an alarm. Then he ran and climbed the fence and got to the mountain above the plant, and learning a lesson from Jerry and Patricia, set a fire that the wind headed toward the plant.

Meanwhile up in the treehouse, Rachel was on the phone with the newspapers and tv stations. She said, “you didn’t believe it when I told you that Diablo Canyon plant is dangerous. Well, look there’s a forest fire heading toward it now, and somebody got in and shot holes in the office windows. That place needs to be shut down before an accident happens that kills us all.”

The media sent reporters and a helicopter to check this out and confirmed it was true. They got the story out to the people, and Pigs Goats and Elephants were forced to shut down the atomic reactions and take the plant off line from producing electricity. This was on October 9. They said the shutdown was only to make small repairs and make sure the fire was out. But on October 10, just as Jack Sparrow expected, there was an earthquake right under the plant, which made the reactors crumble to pieces. Fortunately they were shut down, so nobody was hurt.

Except for the evil Barbosa. He had set off his dynamite under the ocean at the border of the two plates in order to create the earthquake. The earthquake happened but the plant didn’t blow up and his scheme to steal all the treasure from the rich people in the county who would have been killed by the explosion never went forward. He was so surprised and angry that he had a heart attack and died.

Pigs Goats and Elephants decided it would be too expensive to build a new nuclear power plant, and also that an earthquake location wasn’t the best place to do it, so instead they built windmills and solar panels to make electricity in a way that was safe and clean.

Jack Sparrow got together with a couple of his men and staked out the rich people’s mansions, disabled the burglar alarms when they were out of town, and managed to make off with plenty of treasure.

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