Sushi and Scotch

spence here…  billy just said to me, “can you believe last week we were having sushi and scotch in candy kitchen?”  no!  i can’t believe it… mostly because i never eat sushi.  but i did! one of our new friends who is staying in new mexico for a spell, named jericho, made  fabulous seaweed sushi rolls and tempura veggies for one of our last nights there. needless to say, our trip down to deliver max back to new mexico was a success. we stayed for a 5 days and killed two bottles of scotch and several bottles of homebrew. every afternoon we watched the thunderstorms roll in from miles away (as it is the “rainy” season in the desert right now), and hoped the sky would deliver rain to our part of the desert.  sometimes the clouds circled us all day with a cold breeze, however the rain would never reach us–evaporating before it came to earth.  sometimes it just blew the other direction from the hill we were on. sometimes it caught us by surprise in the middle of the night, with lightning shows brightening our pitch black tent. like most areas of the southern united states, the high desert where max lives has been under a drought the last couple of years, even under desert standards.  his house is in a little community called candy kitchen, near ramah, new mexico, halfway between gallup and grants. situated at 7500 feet, it is cooler than most deserts, and i was surprised at how many types of plants and trees there were. the cliffs, outcroppings and rocks seem to emerge from my imagination.  the towering el morro national monument gives one a good idea of the scenery and formations of the area.   i appreciated those eking out a living in such a harsh, dry climate, but especially with the drought becoming worse everywhere, and not much rain even during the rainy season, there was a lot of talk about how sustainable it really is to live there. it was also difficult to see a bit of the native american reservations there, and feel their struggle as well–not only with the climate conditions, but also dealing with local racism and separatism. what an interesting place, where queers, native people, mormons, and off-the-grid desert freaks all co-exist.

the house where max lives sits on a nice ridge, in the middle of 30 acres. it has solar panels and water cachement (with an 1100 gallon capacity tank).  there is a composting toilet and compost for most of the trash. the old spartan aircraft trailer we’ll be staying in for the winter, sits on the other side of the ridge from the house. it overlooks much of the rolling rocky cliffs, sage brush, pines and juniper. the sky is expansive, the clouds complex and the storms dramatic, as compared to the mellow and mild treed claustrophobia i sometimes feel in oregon. the next door neighbors, among a few others,  have managed to keep a real nice farm going out there, despite the conditions. they have a large garden, sheep, chickens, dogs and a pig! the dogs! the dogs! seeing so many was unexpected. i mean, i knew people had dogs in the country, but there are an abundance of people out there who have kennels and random pets that come and go all over the place. luckily, they all were friendly. in the summer, the only time they can really be active is at night.  so between the howling of the coyotes, the wolf sanctuary down the way and the packs of loose pets, it got to be a bit too much to sleep.  billy assured me though, that once inside the spartan, and during fall and winter, there would be less noise, less barking and activity. we visited the local cafe, ancient way, and finally had pie!  thank goodness. thanks max!

the way back up from new mexico was like the breeze of a blast furnace, as my mom would say. hot! we departed candy kitchen and drove up through the 4 corners area. our first stop was an eery collection of ruins from an ancient southwestern civilization. it was called hovenweep, near cortez, colorado.

giving up their nomadic ways, the people of the hovenweep community settled in little ruin canyon. there once was a decent water resource there, from springs and seeps, and a stream that fed the canyon. they raised crops like amaranth, corn, beans and squash.  they built towers out of the rock, for homes, to store their grains and for ceremonial purposes. as many as 200 may have lived in the area, with other communities a days walk away (apparently there were many other ruins found surrounding this community).  speculation about where and why they were there and why they left abounds, but it probably had something significantly due to the drought in the area around 1290.

after our sunny afternoon at hovenweep, we continued onto the extremely-not-as-cool-as-i-thought-it-would-be moab, utah.  again however, the scenery was fantastical. red rocks, arches, canyons, crazy skies and the winding colorado river. i loved the drive there and we stopped to take it all in and get a few pictures. the town of moab, my dad informed me, used to be a quieter, cuter, smaller, cooler place. now it just seems like another touristy strip where people can rent and buy and pay for extreme adventures.  4×4 hummer tours, mountain bike trails designed for you to “rip it up” and wild ride-of-your-life rafting…once again,  it just seemed as everything was geared for our consumption. i’m sure not everyone there is like that, and it would be cool to mountain bike or float the river, but it was the attitude i didn’t appreciate. i guess i was just dispappointed, since i had heard a lot of good things about the place.  in the evening, we camped along the colorado river in an enormous canyon. the ground was like a hot plate, even throughout the night and we struggled to sleep, as it never cooled off like in the high country.  i did get to dip my head in the colorado river though, and we saw an amazingly large otter  (besides me). bats, lazuli buntings, a crescent moon and ants everywhere.

awakening like zombies in the morning, after what felt like being in a george foreman grill all night, we pushed on to one of billy’s secret hot springs places, diamond fork, fifth water hot springs, in utah. the area was lush again, with a rushing stream and cottonwoods and box elders everywhere! (included with that were the box elder beetles, which got into everything and hitch-hiked with us all the way through idaho). we camped at a wonderful little walk-in spot called dry canyon.  luckily, it wasn’t dry and i dunked my head again in the red ribbon of water! we cooked some beans and played cribbage all afternoon, with a nap or two in there for good measure. honestly, though, it was too hot to think about hiking for a couple of hours to sit in hot water, so in the morning we decided to blast on again through salt lake city.  i was surprised at the polygamy at the ihop, amongst strange bill boards for bioidentical normalcy, the clean museum and breaking free from one’s porn-afflicted lifestyle.

Billy here. We made it back to the Northwest from a whirlwind week through the Southwest. In our next post we will talk about the queer wedding outside Seattle which we attended this weekend. In a few days we will be taking off again to hike the John Muir Trail in California.

Going back to the desert was surreal, especially in such a short amount of time. The land was welcoming and the people wonderful to see after being away for a couple of years. But there was something sad in the air and land too. The small white community in between the Ramah Navajo and Zuni Reservation is very different from the rest of the United States, where the First People have been either forcibly moved away, killed or made invisible and the only remnants are little memorials recounting massacres, smallpox, relocation or religious indoctrination. Going to the little Pioneer Days festival in the Mormon town of Ramah was strange. There were many Navajo and Zuni there, but I still felt so much separation in the community. There is a hard unspoken remembrance of the history, not only of war, theft and forced conversion, but of something much more sinister as well.

The Trinity Site, the first atomic blast in the world at the largest military installation in the United States, the White Sands Missile Range is here in New Mexico. The city of Grants, New Mexico is about an hour from Candy Kitchen and was once the Uranium Capital of the World. Through the 1950’s to the 1980’s the Grants area was the largest producer of uranium in the world. The miners were, of course, mostly Navajo, Zuni, Mexican and African American. The first one to discover the uranium in 1950, a young Navajo named Paddy Martinez, worked as an impoverished miner scout under the railroad industry until he died, while earning corporations a killing. The operations boomed, busted, saw another boom after the 1973 Oil Embargo, and started winding down in the 1980’s with falling uranium prices. The mines have mostly been closed since but in the last couple of years uranium mining corporations have been trying to move back in to New Mexico. Strathmore Minerals announced to its shareholders in 2009 that Roca Honda, a project in the Grants Uranium District, may be one of the best sites of undeveloped uranium in the United States. And in 2009, Uranium Resources, Inc. announced intentions to file a petition for a review on whether or not a proposed site in Churchrock, New Mexico is Indian Country and therefore under the jurisdiction of a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency. Also in 2009, Strathmore, after having signed a joint venture agreement with Sumitomo in 2007, submitted a mine permit application and expect to have it approved in 2013. They are meeting a huge opposition from the Tribes, whose sacred sites are in some of the proposed mining areas. Grants, New Mexico is now mostly a prison town, running most of the state’s prison systems, but they seem eager to get back into the lucrative business of uranium.

Robert Gallegos, once a miner in Grants, published this poem in the 1982 collection, Ambrosia Lake:

we live and die to mine
to eat as we are eaten

in the mine there is the music
of the train
and the whistle of the miner
as he walks down the track

deep in the stope there is a song
whose verses are buried in the muck
and the slusher keeps humming
while the skips knock on the guiderails
as they go up and down the shaft

it’s just a shallow mine
this open grave
wherein will rest a miner
until nothing is left but bone
white as the day moon.

Having said this, I must also say that it was good to taste fresh sheep milk again, to smell the juniper, see the ants take over the hillside and reconnect with my friends here. But wells are going dry. Farmer’s market hosted meager produce from all the gardens failing. The monsoon season hasn’t started yet.  There is an old legend of a curse on Candy Kitchen from each of the tribes that were supposed to live there after white people displaced them. It is simple: may your homes never be finished. To my knowledge, this has been the case for every person living there. Needless to say, this time being back, I felt a distinct and painful realization that as a settler I do not belong there, as beautiful and as instructive as my time spent there has been and will continue to be each time I visit. It is a magical and harsh place and part of my heart will always be there. I could talk more about New Mexico but I wrote a whole blog about my time there already called Western Rambler and my friends have already heard me talk about it for years!

On our way back to the Northwest we stopped at Hovenweep, an old site of Anasazi ruins. I thought it was very interesting that at both Mesa Verde and Hovenweep droughts forced abandonment of the farming civilization within a just few years of building completion. It was also ironic that the garden exhibit grown by the National Park to show crops grown during habitation failed this year due to the extreme drought going on in the States as we speak.

Through all this what I keep coming back to is re-connection to life and our place on earth. We returned to the Portland area and landed on Moonridge Farm, where my sister works hard every day. The cherries were heavy on the limbs outside the house, every bloom in blossom, the air heavy with water and fruit, grass and birdsong. We ate fresh eggs, tomatoes and basil. We laughed and my sister’s face glowed with strength. Little Diego is growing up a healthy goat. The blueberries taste sweet. Resilience gives me hope.

Mono Lake and the Oldest Trees in the World

Billy here.

Our friend Machete met us in Ashland with Max and parted ways with us to wander the national forests of northern California with sheep herder nomads, living off of sheep milk and foraged plants.  We took Max home to New Mexico via California and our first stop was Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierras near the Nevada border.

Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America, anywhere from one to three million years in age. It has a thriving ecosystem containing birds, brine shrimp, algae and alkali flies. Amazing carbonate structures called tufa, a type of limestone, formed pillars under the surface of the lake around springs bubbling up through the lake. In 1941 the city of Los Angeles began diverting the tributaries that fed Mono Lake, which caused the water level of the lake to drop over 40 feet over the next several decades and the salinity of the water increased to almost three times that of the ocean. The ecosystem of the lake was on the verge of collapse when efforts began to be made to conserve the lake and the now exposed and eroding tufa pillars in the late ’70s; however, any real checks on water diversion were not solidified until the ’90s.

In the time it took the lake and tufa to form, one to three million years, the entire existence of homo sapiens (about 200,000 years by current conjecture) could have happened five to fifteen times over and yet one city nearly destroyed it in the space of one human lifetime.

Our next stop was the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, home of the oldest trees in the world.  Here is a description from the National Park Service website:

Great Basin Bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) are remarkable for their great age and their ability to survive adverse growing conditions. In fact, it seems one secret to their longevity is the harsh environment in which most bristlecone pines grow.

Bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park grow in isolated groves just below treeline. Conditions are harsh, with cold temperatures, a short growing season, and high winds. Bristlecone pines in these high-elevation environments grow very slowly, and in some years don’t even add a ring of growth. This slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion. Vegetation is very sparse, limiting the role of fire. Bristlecone pine seeds are occassionally cached by birds at lower elevations. Bristlecone pines grow more rapidly in more “favorable” environments at lower elevations. They do not achieve their legendary age or fascinating twisted shapes.

While bristlecone pines are the longest-living tree, scientists debate what is truly the oldest living thing. The creosote bush that grows in the Mojave Desert may be older. The cresote achieves its age by “cloning” new bushes from its root system. Yet bristlecone pines surely deserve our respect for not only surviving harsh conditions, but thriving in harsh conditions.

In this forest grows the oldest living non-clonal tree, Methuselah, at over 4,600 years of age. This tree was sprouting at the dawn of civilization, when city-states were forming in Mesopotamia and writing was first being developed.

It seems the oldest and wisest of us have survived so long, not in spite of, but because of the harshest of challenges.  It reminds me of the theme of the Free Cascadia Camp Max participated in: the journey of the salmon. In the words of the organizers:

Salmon spawn in the pure headwaters of creeks and streams, and then transform their entire physiological system, morphing from freshwater fish into saltwater fish. In their new forms, they delve deep into the mysterious cold waters of the ocean, sometimes traveling tens of thousands of miles before hearing the call to come Home again.

Their return restores fertility to the land that would otherwise be lost downstream forever, and in this way, they nourish the entire watershed to which they return. The way to finding Home lies within their ability to listen to something hidden within their DNA and their psyches, which leads them to the ancestral home-waters of their lineage.

But the life-way of the salmon and the Salmon People has been brutalized by the effects of colonization and genocide.

Salmon populations struggle to survive in polluted, warm waters, with many of Empire’s tools creating serious challenges to the successful completion of their journey Home.

In many ways, the link between the people of the land, the fish, and the ecosystem at large have been broken.

And all the people suffer from the dehumanizing and earth-alienating effects of historical and continued colonization.

Now is the time to rewild ourselves, to remember our inherent indigenous relationship to land and place, and to dedicate our lives to right relationship to the Web of Life.

We, like the salmon and the bristlecone, in order to survive in a quickly changing climate due to our own careless expansion, have to be willing and ready to undergo painful transformations and arduous conditions of being.

spence here! with a twist of fate, we were to deliver max to new mexico. i was excited to get a preview of my soon-to-be mountain desert home, as well as a glimpse of the territory we would be hiking through in california. our first stop to pick up max in ashland was pretty fun.  i wish i hadn’t drank 4 cups of coffee and then waited to eat, as i apologized to everyone for being crabby and hungry.  but ashland is beautiful.  sunny and warm but still lush.  the town is quaint.  we saw renaissance era singers in full renaissance garb, perhaps practicing for the biggest renaissance festivial in the united states, held every year there. coming from holly, michigan, which also boasts a champion renaissance festival, i am curious to go back and witness said magnificence in ashland.  how big are their turkey drumsticks?

we continued on to washoe lake state park, located alongside lake tahoe, on its eastern flank.  because of the significant hills and buttes, however, we didn’t actually see lake tahoe, and washoe lake was less impressive. it was still my first taste of the high desert. i loved the dry air and cool evenings.  i also love coyotes. in the morning we cruised on to see mono lake.  i really loved the sun-baked hills and tufas. the salty lake was clear and smelled like the ocean.  there were sea gulls! it seemed like a mirage at first, and something one would love to splash into in the middle of the desert. but as we came to the water’s edge, it was obvious that it was more like a sea, and less like a pleasure lake. brine shrimp and flies and a clay-type mineral sandy shore. i was impressed and saddened. the story of los angeles diverting the tributaries is depressing. i feel like water sources and drought have been on my mind all summer, as most of the united states is undergoing another terrible year. (think peanut crops in texas, 50% snow for california, illinois loosing most crops of corn and soy, etc.) this is  something people from orgeon (and michigan) typically don’t worry or think much about in the same way as in other places. water is and has been and probably will continue to flow all around us, as well as falling on us–rain, snow, sleet, ice–with moss, mud, mold and moisture everywhere.  the whole reason i ended up going on this trip in the first place is because oregon received a late snow in april. however, the rest of the country is thinking about it, and suffering–each year  getting worse.  now i’m thinking more about it and how my ways of living impact other places and beings.  how can we be excited about the future when so much of our resources are taken for granted, spoiled, exploited, trashed. i want to be more positive and talk about the fantastical things that humans are trying to do, and good-hearted-ness i believe our species possesses, but sometimes when faced with a huge on-going environmental disaster, i forget the good.

i was reminded of one such good citizen however, the ranger at the ancient bristlecone pine forest.  we drove up and up that day, from mono lake, through hillsides, cliffs, dry pinon pines, sage, rocks, dust and heat! i was, of course, grumpy and worried about overheating the brakes and the engine of the van simultaneously, but when else would we be able to see the oldest tress in the world! the creature of that land did not disappoint! we arrived at the visitors center and met our fair ranger.  this woman had been a ranger there forever.  you could tell, as she explained all her favorite paths and individual trees to each visitor, over and over again, with increasing excitement! equally as exciting–max bought a cool souvenir hat, and we took many pictures. there was a plethora of information on the scientific method of dating the trees, based on the analysis of patterns of tree-rings, called dendrochronology.

i’ve been more inspired to think about the sciences lately because of our journey. i have been thinking about the adventures i took with my family to desert places, such as flaming gorge, dinosaur national monument and craters of the moon.  where has my curiosity about the world been hiding all these years? probably where its been for most people after a certain age, under a pile of bills. i’m starting to get it back!

Down By the River

spence here:  an excellent time has been spent in limbo. we’ve  made the most of it, by taking a vacation from our vacation!  we went to breitenbush hot springs for a good ‘ol soak to start things off. lyndi was originally supposed to meet us there with our food box, as we would have arrived there on foot, through jefferson park (accessed by the south breitenbush river trail 3375, which connects to the pct, a beautiful trail, one of the best in oregeon…just don’t  hike it before august!).  since our trails were snowy we couldn’t hike there obviously, so lyndi happily drove us all down to soak and eat there anyway.  it was a bright, sunny day and not too many people were in the pools. i worked on my tan and my fear of being naked.

we liked the river so much that day, we decided to spend some time at one of our favorite spots on the clackamas river, alder flat. we hiked in and camped for five days. since it was during the week, we didn’t see too many people–a nice ol’ fisherman, (who showed me his catch of the day at 6 a.m.–i was up anyway!), some good-hearted city folk and a random gentleman with a cool mesh tent and a mountain of firewood. we turned in early because of the mosquitoes the first night, gnats on the second night, and marathon games of cribbage the rest of the time. i read siddhartha, by herman hesse, teaching stones to talk by annie dillard, and wild by cheryl strayed (the new book just out about a woman who hiked 1100 miles of the pct in 1995–thanks mom!).  why hasn’t anyone in my whole english degree seeking lifetime of reading “made” me read siddhartha? its now on my top 5 favorite book list.  all the books were a perfect compliment to sitting by the river.  i tried to listen to what the river was saying as much as possible. i agree that knowledge is teachable, whereas wisdom is learned by living.

the river is a gift and i tried to take it in every minute i was there. being from michigan, water will always be a part of my life and heart. i could stare at it for days on end without ever getting bored–it  always has a something new to share.  the clackamas river contains some of most important historical information about the world, not to mention its emotional capacity. every drop collected and moved through the land, absorbs what it has moved through… the people, the actions, the feelings. this is not a new concept to me, but i have recently watched a really cool you tube video about researchers and their claims that water indeed has memory.

will the river remember me? how about the snow that we trudged through? will it melt away and remember our attempts? does the ocean recall our joyous surfing trials? i’ll remember.

tomorrow, we will be on our way to the desert, where water will be even more precious to me. we’ll be back at the end of july for our friend’s wedding and to start our hike at lake tahoe. thanks for reading.

Billy here: For the last week all we have been doing is sunning by the water, eating, walking, playing cards and reading. It has been a lovely relaxing time! I reread my favorite translation of Beowulf (by Frederick Rebsamen) and also reread The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. As soon as I cracked the latter book on the river bank, I mean before I even finished reading the first paragraph of the preface, a snake and I startled one another suddenly. An interesting thing, for the snake and I keep meeting through the years in many ways, and especially recently. But it was around this point at Alder Flat when I thought about the beginnings of work on a graphic novel. This was something on my mind when I was doing work earlier this year for the art show, but a story and mythology is slowly forming in my mind. I hope that over the winter the story will solidify more.

I spent a lot of time watching the rapids in the river and felt the inertia of the eyes – when the movement of long gazing at water continues after looking away from it. The silver hair of the mountain flows down in rivers. The way the light shines through the ripples on the riverbed is like subatomic beings – appearing to move cohesively together and then suddenly winking out to join the next or last ripple. If you look at the rapids, you might think water is made of droplets, separating and splashing into the air, but if you look at the calm river, you might think water is made up of smooth waves. Out here at the edge of the alders near the river, the dark cedars delicate arms arch up toward me from the forest. The wind brings the fresh scent of water and the towering trees surrounding us. The stony flat is lined with yellow and white flowers, each stone worn smooth with water. Insects of all varieties came to me. Many bit me. Walking here from the car we saw no fewer than six tiny frogs leaping out of the path.

This Alder Flat is magical. Even the falling leaves take wing and fly off in the shape of birds. Sometimes the wind plucks tiny, perfect rafts from the trees and floats them down the river for the insects. All day long and every day I keep seeing the fleeting shadows of a human or an animal, only to turn and find the trees – or the dapple of the sun in the windy boughs. The trees are taking shape and speaking. Each sound of the leaves has in my mind the coming of fantastic animals. Each shadow has the shape of shifters and beast. In the bluff across the river rises a giant lizard sphinx, forever standing guard in the sandstone.  Too little time is spent looking beyond what is initially perceived and then assumed to continue in the fashion that the mind expects; and too little time is spent examining the exact curve and person-hood of each alder, cedar, hemlock and spruce.

I watched the water for hours on end. I am thinking that we immigrants are forever indebted to the people of Turtle Island for the grave dishonor, murder and theft that our ancestors acted out. We have all suffered for their violence and greed. We will be working to restore dignity and honor of all the people for generations to come. I am thinking that we practice art not to be cultured, but to remember who we are and remembering who we are is remembering eternity, to participate in the universe and the world as part of nature, not as separate from her. This is the great mistake of the Industrial Era that is literally burning the forests and searing our crops across the continent as we speak. To take more than we need from the web affects every one in the web, of which we are a part.

We came back to the city for a couple of days to pack the van and take our friend Max back to New Mexico, where we will be for a week or so, and one of the first things I read in the paper is about the huge fires and extreme drought that is covering over half the country. The most precious resource that we have, the one thing that is life itself, we are so disrespecting that we pour our toxins, refuse and human waste into it. This week we sat near rushing water and next week we will be in the desert. If water has memories, what do you remember when you drink water?

Thwarted by Snow!

hello all!  spence here:  i have one word for the oregon high country right now… SNOW!

when we last left off, billy and i were heading up the trail from eagle creek to wahtum lake.  finally, i have enjoyed the beauty, mysteriousness and loneliness that is wahtum lake. we climbed higher and camped it out at indian springs, as clouds rolled in and sprinkles came down.  along the way we crossed a few melty patches of snow, but nothing that caused us to be alarmed or even think twice.  it was colder at wahtum lake and indian springs than where we had been, but not too cold bundled up in our tarp-tented nest for the night. in the morning we climbed up to waucoma rigde and hiked a breath-taking trail all day.  a waterfall below looked small but echoed through the ridges while we hiked. we saw fresh cougar scat, lots of muddy prints on the trail and bear-scratched trees everywhere. our destination was lost lake, however,  after rounding the corner near buck’s peak, we were squarely confronted on the east side of the ridge by a huge snow drift, slumped over 5 feet in our trail.  it extended about 100 feet we guessed. other clumps of snow were clinging to the ridge opposite us, but besides that, there wasn’t any snow anywhere.  how could this be? we could see lost lake below us, sparkley, the day was warm and we knew we were only about 3-4 miles away from it.  we decided to go up and over the drift to see how bad it was on the other side. the trail was cut into a steep ridge with trees and thick underbrush and mud all around.  going higher  to bush-wack around the snow was impossible.  i used my trekking poles and kicked steps into the bank to climb up it and then billy used my poles to also get up the steepest part.  we walked along the top of the snow bank, careful not to slip down or fall through, which i did a few scary times.  we cut up through the thick forest to avoid some blown down trees and that was even crazier. we finally got over the drift after about a half-hour and saw another one almost as steep and as long. we decided to keep going, as we had good spirits and ambition to make it the lake.  after climbing up and over a few more of these drifts, however, we came upon another one that was the most severe. i again kicked steps into it to get us up and over but coming down off of it was really sketchy.  it was so steep and melty, but crusty and unpredictable.  i kicked some more stepps down, but they weren’t great, and when billy tried to get down he slipped.  down the snow and down the trail and right off the trail.  i tried to stop his fall and grabbed his sweatshirt by the chest, but luckily his feet landed against a well-placed tree to stop his fall. we both looked down beyond the tree and i saw a mess of fallen branches, brambles, rocks and then nothing where it must have eventually dropped off. we took a minute after that to re-assess our progress, or lack of progress, and the severity of the situation. we had gone about 200 yards in an hour and a half. we looked at the map and saw that most of our trail was going to be on the east side of the ridge, and also some of it higher in elevation and turning to be on the northeast side.  the drifts had only seen about an hour of sun a day, with all the treecover and even then, being on the east side it had only been in the morning. no wonder it hadn’t melted. the trail ahead before lost lake wound intself between two pther peaks. it would be dangerous and most importantly, not fun, to continue.  after billy slipped, i lost heart and worried for the first time about our safety.  with reluctance we made a plan to go back and change our course.

i was able to get cell service to my friend emily, who happily picked us up in cascade locks. oh boy, and char burger. we decided to come back with her to portland to re-group and do more research about the rest of the trail conditions, before continuing elsewhere. we found more dis-heartening news, that most of oregon was still snowy above 4500 feet.  several trailjournals of southbound pct hikers confirmed this, as well as the crater lake website and postholer satelllite maps. it had not melted as everyone had hoped. most southbound hikers had given up and went to hike the sierras in california. i guess in retrospect i knew this was a possibility, but something about going out there to try was worth it. i wanted to see it myself! i asked the mountain spirits and the bear spirits permission to hike in their sweet world, as we were once welcomed as equals, so far away in time. i asked for our ineptitude to be forgiven.  i asked for humble lessons…i received all of that and more.

with that said, i still have been really disappointed lately and we have been kicking around other plans, including an early trip down to new mexico. our hike through the lake tahoe area and the john muir trail still stands for august and i am looking ahead to planning those sections.  california has received about 50 percent of normal snow this year, which may negatively affect food crops and water availability down there, but does make for easy hiking.  all of the pct hikers heading north have passed through those sections without much to report. were regrouping and taking what we have learned to heart, keeping the nuggets of info for the next leg.  thanks for everyone’s support. thanks lyndi and emily and julian for being flexible and holding our packages and just being totally awesome.

Billy here. The first few days on a trail, especially this one on Eagle Creek, have my mind buzzing with loops, cycling through old regrets, stuck on terrible pop songs, bitten by little parasites of shame. The chaos and static of humanness are still dusting off. The songs of the hermit and varied thrush are the only gossip. But after making it further down the PCT than I’ve ever been, even only a couple of days away from the city, the human noise in my mind began to slough off. The word “scenic” doesn’t describe accurately the journey over the Waucoma Ridge as the wilderness opened up thousands of feet below us to the west. “Scenic” implies some sort of distance as a viewer, like one watching a television or looking out a car window. This was more that actually stepping into the lives of mountains. They took us in and mesmerized us and ultimately humbled us. Through the cute squeaks of pikas we trekked only to just past Buck Peak before the depths of the snow drifts turned us back. We crossed at least five deep and long drifts of snow over the course of well over an hour. It took sliding off a drift and right off the trail to deter us from trying to continue. The only thing that stopped me from sliding down the ridge entirely was a tree that I was able to firmly plant my foot against and leverage myself back onto the trail. A good thing: unknown to me, Julian had asked the trees to protect me and our journey when he dropped us off at the trail head.

But it was there on the Waucoma Ridge that the urgency of the creative story came back to me. Thomas Berry’s word rang in my head: “What we need is another story.” Stories have the capacity to bind, create and destroy. They are the glue of society. We tell ourselves large and small stories everyday: that this or that person thinks this or that of you, that this or that religion is bad or good, that trees and rocks aren’t people, that we cannot live without money, that if we did such and such thing someone would hate you, et cetera. It seems that the Western paradigm is built out of an oxymoronic combination of christian, scientific and industrial (that is capitalistic) thinking. One led to the next – original sin, shame and at the same time a disregard for earthly life in hopes for a heavenly afterlife led to a disassociation from mind, body and spirit as well as a distrust of the heart that set the field for science (pure mind at the expense of all else) and industry (immediate gratification and comfort at the expense of all else and others). The human mind has been a problematic boon for all of history. We who live in the comfortable cradles of civilization, less challenged by life as the wild creatures we were, must keep our minds busy with diversion: games and entertainment but also art and science. Comfort affords time to do things other than merely survive. So as I walked up the Benson Plateau and the forest turned dark and misty like an old German fairy tale, my mind began to slough its distractions at last. The trees all had faces, gnarled and gnomish, strangers, sure, but very much people. Suddenly all my mind loops, the inner chatter – “The human mind, reflecting back on itself, the human mind, mind, mind…” – lay splayed on the trail behind me, like tape pulled out of a tape cassette into a tangle by an impish cat, except this was the work of the trees, smiling little gremlins that pulled my mind out of itself for an instant – out of the mirror against mirror of the human thinking trap.

I carried a Zuni snake fetish in my pocket that Julian had given me. It had been in turn given to him in New Mexico. At one point I thought I lost it, but I had actually accidentally put it in my trash bag in the bear vault. I felt great remorse for this act of carelessness and asked the snake what I could do to remedy my actions. Instantly I saw striped, masked snake beings in my head dancing and they laughed at me, asking if I was serious, then answered me with only a cryptic, “Follow the rainbow!!” and then slithered off, still laughing. It seemed too cliché to be taken seriously, but then again, what if I did?