Rose City, Rip City, Bridgetown, Stumptown, Etc….

the colors of autumn

Spencer here: Mission accomplished–I think–we landed in Portland anyway.  Billy promptly went to work Monday morning, getting his old job back, and I inquired about some of my old jobs. Perhaps it was the Universe saving me from immediate burn-out, but several of my previous employers had just hired people a few days before we got back into town. So I started in earnest to find another job. In the meantime, there was plenty to do at our friends’ house. We had several fun offers from lovely friends to stay for awhile on couches, backyards, in army tents and in basements, but settled quickly at my best friend and her partner’s place. They bought a new house (new to them) and I am just the “houseboy” for the odd jobs needed doing, such as building a barn out of a car port, fixing fences, feeding cats, walking dogs, and wearing short shorts in the hot tub. Billy and I started work right away on the “stage house” in their backyard. The house is part porch, part stage, but soon it will be our our little “cabana house”. Working with salvaged materials is one of my favorite things and so it was a quick decision to turn the “stage house” into a livable little room for Billy and I. (Portland’s sky-rocketing rent also had a lot to do with this decision). We put on a new roof right away before the rain threatened and currently we are putting in windows and a “Dutch” door. It is a lot of work, but ultimately will give everyone a little more space and will be a cute and cheap way to live for awhile. Thanks friends for all your love and support and opportunities for us.

Work on the “car port conversion” was also high on the list of priorities. We framed the steel beams with wood and started putting up ship lap siding salvaged from an old barn. In a week we had one side done. Next, I framed in the window and door, more trips to salvage windows, trips to Home Depot and the ReBuilding Center. I got skillz that almost pay the billz (or at least work them off!) (The following pictures were taken by our official “Team Car Port” photographer, E.F.P.).

While our landing in Portland has been reasonably soft–open and generous friends and family, a place to live, jobs and great weather, I couldn’t help but to feel a little winded and depressed. It was a long journey across the country, yet it seemed to fly by. And Portland continues to develop and change rapidly every day, whilst everyone complains and big businesses make lots of money building condos and boutiques and bars. Walking down Alberta Street, I could hardly remember where my favorite burrito place was.  (But thankfully, it is still there!) It felt like a long time ago since I lived on NE 19th, and it was.  In 2002, I moved to Portland from Michigan and hidden around every corner here is a memory. Neither good or bad, I just remember the feelings I had being here and the busy pace that is out of my league. It also seems ages since we left here, but we were only in New Mexico for two years. I think the city hasn’t changed so much as I have changed. I’m slowly grasping the things I learned and the gifts I received being in a small, rural community in New Mexico and I get why Billy has talked it up all these years. Coming back to a city really has reflected all this to me in an important way and I long even more for the day when Billy and I can work hard on our own land and property, in a rural place.

For now, Portland has a lot to offer for both of us and I’m starting to feel better about being here again.  Setting good goals and not losing sight of them while we are here, and not taking things too seriously, I think we can make the best of it–do all the things we always wanted to do here but were too distracted to take advantage of. Besides, I missed our friends, the art, the music, the rivers, the trees, the funny people, the great public transportation, the amazing library system and yes, the rain too! (But now I miss waking up to birds and sunshine on 30 acres!)

Billy Here. There are new songs in the city: the number 6 bus swells with a machine string orchestra led by an orange gypsy melody on the violin and the shower lets out a diva metallic tone through the pipes, while the drain ooh-la-las a chorus up from below. Yesterday I watched a spider diligently weaving its web on the bus stop at dawn, stopping before placing each segment carefully on the strands. Every night the people mingle on the street in our neighborhood to watch the swifts spiral into a chimney at dusk on their way down south. Goats silently munch lawns in the yards. Roosters crow in the back yards. Sirens ring through the air, with the hydraulics of buses, bass lines from cars, mopeds, sports games at the city park, skids at the intersections, and airplanes taking off at the international airport less than five miles from our house.

Things are different here than when I left, but the development is no surprise, in myself or the in city.  There are things I miss, to be sure, such as my wonderful friends and family. The library is celebrating its 150 year anniversary and regaining my library card was my primary impetus to get my Oregon identification back. I finally joined the Independent Press Resource Center and plan on taking advantage of their workshops before I start school next fall. But there is still this feeling of dangerous lull that is simultaneously the tyranny of speed, a complacency with being too busy to be present that comes with the urban culture. This is everywhere though, even in rural New Mexico, perhaps due to the desire for people to make social change happen at a rapid pace and the sheer amount of labor it takes to survive in a rural environment. But it takes effort to center and slow down, to make intentions and focus enough to follow through with these intentions. We had a wonderful Autumn Equinox dinner party with my sister and her girlfriend, during which we passed around a drinking horn filled with chocolate porter and spoke of gratitude and intentions: to be present, to be gentle with ourselves, to give ourselves space to be creative, to spend more time in the forest and near the rivers and to appreciate what we have now. I find myself longing for the solitude of the wild, but where am I now, and what choices have I made to be here? Why curse myself with wanting to be other than where I am, somewhere other than present in my life?

The lessons we learn from the wild become the etiquette of freedom. We can enjoy our humanity with its flashy brains and sexual buzz, its social cravings and stubborn tantrums, and take ourselves as no more and no less than other being in the Big Watershed. We can accept each other all as barefoot equals sleeping on the ground. We can give up hoping to be eternal and quit fighting dirt. We can chase off mosquitoes and fence out varmints without hating them. No expectations, alert and sufficient, grateful and careful, generous and direct. A calm and clarity attend us in the moment we are wiping the grease off our hands between tasks and glancing up at the passing clouds.


-Gary Snyder, from The Practice of the Wild

Surfing at Otter Rock

Jane Time

Billy here. Within hours of reaching Portland, we were invited to go surfing with our old “gang” out at Otter Rock. We stayed the night down an OHV road in the woods and went surfing two days in a row in absolutely glorious weather. The last couple of years, having lived mostly full time in the Southwest, our surf expeditions have been relegated to just a couple of weeks out of the year during a road trip. So every summer I forget how much I’ve wound up tightly the neuroses of civilization around me until I get back into the water. The first few sessions out I realized just how anxious I’ve been in life, my heart was tight and my breath was short. I felt like I was trying too hard. By the time I was almost too tired to surf I was finally letting go and catching waves. All the words and attempts to be in control mean absolutely nothing. A feeling of space and freedom opens up. I laughed and cried at the same time as the waves pummeled me and I was only as big as a human again. One of billions of little animals running around on a planet around a common star. There is something about surfing that involves your body so completely in letting go, the mind protests, but in order to be on the ocean with any kind of grace, it has to relinquish control. Nature is too big, the ocean too big to fit into a brain. The ego caves and all is left is just being there on the board and the water moving, curling, pulling, crashing. I close my eyes now and I feel the breakers crashing over me. There is nothing else in the world when you are on the water. All the petty things in life, the dramas, the anxieties, they are pounded into the sand and you are left bare, windburned and serene.

The following photographs courtesy of our surf team photographer, Maren Fulton!  Thanks!

Spence here: We pushed on to Portland and then to the coast. I was tired, but just couldn’t fathom missing any more opportunities to get out there on that “daisy” board (the green surfboard we have looks like the side of the “Mystery Machine”).  The first time out in the ocean after a year always amazes me. I really feel like a little kid. The cold, creeping up through my wet suit, (which does feel like a super hero outfit) as I enter the water, the sand ripples underneath the arches of my feet, the random wonderful strangeness floating by and then the “big one” that pulls me up and back and down and through. The burning of salt water on my lips and in my eyes brings me back into focus and the next wave I properly duck dive. I feel pure joy, pure elation, pure optimism for surfers to catch the wave they’re going for and pure frustration when I miss my wave–pure exhaustion after 4-6 hours in the water. Surfing really is the best exercise and the best reason to eat at Rogue Brewery afterward. I missed surfing but I missed our friends the most. Conversations with them pick up right where they left off, as if the last time we hung out was last Saturday, instead of last year. Thanks friends! Thanks for stashing our gear all year! Thanks for the journey, the food, the beers and best of all, the company!

Of all the surf spots on the Oregon coast, so far my favorite is Otter Rock near Devil’s Punchbowl, north of Newport. The beach is large, with nice breaks throughout the day and plenty of room for everyone–SUP riders, longboarders, bodyboarders, kayakers and groms. We ended up staying late on the beach this trip and meeting more friends. We had a BBQ and wine in a bag, cheap beer, a nice fire and a lot of laughs. I went to sleep with plenty of sand in my sleeping bag, yet, no “surf butt”. Today was a good day.

From Bison and Wild Horses Toward Portland

From Theodore to portland 118

Spence here:  Travelling through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the town of Ashland, WI, was not to be missed. It is the town of my mother’s and aunt’s birth, where they grew up and ultimately where my mother met and married my father–home to the Ore Dockers of Ashland and the Lumberjacks and Lumberjills of Northland College. Perhaps this is not so important to some, but for me it is of utmost importance, as a reference for part of my beginnings.  So much so, I really wish we would have had more time to stay and look around.  Tomfoolery was in order, however, in Bayfield, WI, at “Big Top Chatauqua” with my aunt and uncle. (Happy Anniversary!) I need to spend more time with these amazingly energetic people than I have been able to over the years.  The Swedes and the Fins really know how to vacation!  More generosity was thrown upon us like royalty by my family, as we made our slow way west.

Perhaps it was all the recent goodbyes, or the fact that we were leaving the Great Lakes Basin, not to be seen again for who-knows-how-long, but it was hard not to suck up the depressive energy of sprawl that is most of North Dakota along the I-94 corridor.  When one realizes that most of a motels’ inhabitants are living there full time, it is not an uplifting experience. The state in general has so much more to offer than the gas station at Valley City, thankfully. We were on a course to the southern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We landed at the park with ample time to set up a beautiful camp on the Little Missouri River. How many others had set up camp in that very spot? Over how many years? The abundant wildlife we witnessed, in no less than one hour of being there was thrilling–bison, rattlesnakes, wild horses, prairie dog towns, crazy flying ants–even blooming cactus–and a treat of rain. The bands of the “Makoshika” (land that is bad) were displayed in blues (bentonite clay), dark brown (from a swampy wet era), black (lignite coal), red (when the coal caught fire and burned for decades) and finally light brown (recent earthy layer).

The Helena National Forest (Aspen Grove Campground) turned out to be one of my favorite places, on our way up to Glacier National Park. The rolling hills turned to deep forest, slanted rock and gushing creeks. Exhaustion was starting to creep in, however and I was not having the miles of dirt road we had to venture to get there because of construction. Once these peaks and valleys were traversed, we ended up having a lovely campfire, watching the sky fall, and a quiet place to sleep. Thank you Aspen Trees.

A tour around the east side of Flathead Lake excited me for what more lakes and mountains were to come. But sadly, Billy and I confessed our exhaustion levels to one another outside the Apgar Visitor Center upon arriving in Glacier. We decided not to explore the back country on this trip, but make it a reconnaissance mission. A rocky drive instead, up to Bowman Lake on Glacier National Park’s west side was rewarded with amazing views, yet the campground partiers, mosquitoes and deer flies trumped our hopes of a peaceful camp. My fantasies about living on private property on the border of Glacier actually were fed on this bumpy road, however, and I wondered aloud happily how no one would be able to get in or out of the area in a heavy snow year! The beauty of Glacier National Park surpassed what my tender memory held (I had visited Glacier in my youth) but it was different than in those years…I remember my dad stepping in glacial mud, as we played on the edge of a glacier near Logan’s Pass in t-shirts and shorts. This time, the glaciers were becoming extinct. Our shuttle driver lamented about how anyone denying climate change must be sitting in an office somewhere with a window overlooking new condos.

Missoula, MT held a place in my heart, albeit it was made up of pictures I saw on the internet.  The actual city was cool enough, but sprawled for miles, surrounded by dry brown bear hills. I admit, I was hoping for something smaller, as my quest to find a liberal, quaint, small town to live out my days has been part of my road west. I didn’t mind the “tomb-like” atmosphere of the Tamarack Brewing Company pub, since their amber is one of the best I have ever tasted!  But I felt again like maybe a “city” of woods and creeks with a population of two humans and a plethora of other species sounded the best of all.

Onto Lolo Pass and a wonderful hot springs soak.  The Jerry Johnson hot springs became my new favorite. But why name it after Jerry Johnson? And who is Jerry Johnson?  I still have not found out. We soaked for a few hours and talked to an old amazing hot springs care-taker. I could see Billy and I doing that in our old age. In fact, the whole corridor down the Lochsa River was just enchanting. I learned about two trails I would love to have the honor of hiking, The Nez Perce Historic Trail and the Lolo Pass Trail. Placards on the highway told a snipet of history about the amazing peoples, the Nez Perce Indians, (as the French called them, but also known as Nimiipuu), but their sad stories and the not-so-amazing Lewis and Clark exploits.  One information booth told of a time when Lewis’ horse had fallen down the steep  cliffs. A quote from Lewis remarked the tough terrain and miserable winter weather was at fault for almost killing his horse, not the overwhelming burden of cargo the horse was carrying (his wooden trunk and writing desk!) We decided to skip staying at the Lewis and Clark State Park in Washington later that day and drive directly to my best friend’s house in Portland. Hurrah!

When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

– John Muir

Billy here. Spence’s dad gave us a book to read upon our departure called Coyote Warrior: One Man, Three Tribes and the Trial That Forged a Nation. It follows the history of the Garrison Dam of North Dakota and the three tribes whose ancestral home was destroyed by it in the 1950s. Before this dam flooded their villages, these tribes, also home to Buffalo Bird Woman, were one of few the remaining intact self-sustaining indigenous cultures in the United States. We found ourselves driving just south of this very place and stayed a night at the Wagon Wheel Inn in Valley City. That night I dreamed of a girl in a raincoat who was my child. She was hung, killed and turned to stone. The local merchant tried to sell the stone of what remained of her back to me. I cried out in grief and woke up suddenly.

We then camped a night in Theodore Roosevelt National Park along the Little Missouri River. There the bison, wild horses, rattlesnakes and rainbows came out to greet us. The arid scrub was alive with ants and nighthawks, wildflowers and grasses of all kinds. It is hard to believe that the petrified wood here was from redwoods, date and palm trees. It is somehow comforting to know that this feeling of devastation in recent centuries is just a tiny blip in earth time: that if the entire earth’s age was reduced to 24 hours, recorded human history would merely be the last few seconds. But with our loss of connection to the languages that tie us to our land is our loss of the land itself. Along with the extinction rates of species on the planet increasing 1,000 fold since humans arrived, also is the observation that nearly half of all languages could disappear with the dying elders by the end of the 21st century. And yet, here there are still robust wild horses of all colors living on the grassland.

We drove across Montana into the northern Rockies to see Glacier National Park, home to pristine glacial lakes and icy blue creeks. We hiked to Avalanche Lake in a wonderful summer rainstorm. There the granite peaks towered above us like gods. But I was struck by the lack of snow. The placards of the park had more sobering news: in the beginning of the park’s history there were 150 glaciers and now there are only 25 left. It is estimated that they will be all melted in a mere six years.

As we left Montana on our way to our new home in Portland, Oregon, we drove through Lolo Pass and soaked in hot springs at dawn in the Sawtooth Mountains. There in the spring, watching deer literally bounding through the meadow in the first beams of morning, I wondered, what does it mean to be human really? Aren’t we just an expression of nature, like a lichen taking hold on a rock or a virus? But how do we remember to remember this, that we are intricately woven into the blood vessels of the planet, every day, all of us, in the smallest thoughts and actions we make?

The Largest Freshwater Lake in the World

Grand Marais Point

Billy here. Traveling west through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we explored Pictured Rocks National Park on Lake Superior (in Ojibwe gichigami or Great Lake). We traveled the entire shore from the tiny fishing town of Grand Marais down to Marquette, finding huge ravens, wild raspberries, eagles, waterfalls and hidden lakes. Our first glimpse of the lake was a calm glassy morning in Grand Marais, where old, tiny fishing shacks lined the streets. I thought of the incredible cold in winter time and smoked fish. I thought of the terrible winter storms that could whip up waves as high as 26 feet. This lake contains a spirit so great that many lives and generations have lived with it. The Anishnaabe word for spirit is manitou, but it could also be understood as “The Force” that binds all living things together, the gichi manitou, the Great Spirit. Small animals are called manidoowish and insects are called manidoons, both meaning little spirit. When I visit a place, it is helpful for me to familiarize myself with the language of the original peoples that lived there, because I feel that this language is a part of that place and in fact the initial human relationship with that place. I feel a great longing to visit Northern Europe and understand how it feels to be with the land there, to hear the languages in the remote villages, because this is where my ancestors were buried before coming here to escape the Second Reich of Germany. Some of my ancestors, of course, were buried here on the Great Lakes too. Each place we visit is a part of us, its stones the bones of our grandmothers, its streams the blood of our future children.

The heavens and the earth are my heart. The rising sun is my mouth. My lips dare not lie to you. My friend, I ask the same from you. Do not deceive us. Be strong and preserve your word inviolate. I am old, but I shall never die. I shall always live in my children, and my children’s children.

– New Corn, Potawatomi

The nitrates in Lake Superior are rising each year. This is slowly changing the ecology of the lake. Being the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, Lake Superior alone contains 10% of the world’s surface freshwater.

We obtained a backpacking permit and hiked into Beaver Lake, which we used as a base camp to hike along the beautiful shores of Lake Superior via the North Country Trail and circumnavigate Beaver Lake. A forest ecosystem grew up over sand dunes along the lake. Streams tumbled into waterfalls. Loons and the wind on the lake filled the air.

Spencer here: Lake Superior–grand, glassy, chilling and alive. When it shimmers, my mother always says, “makes you want to jump right in!”  Often I agree, but on this trip, I thought better of it. At times the lake can look and feel like the Atlantic Ocean–crashing waves and stiff wind. So cold,  it feels like November, not the middle of August. The morning we spent in Grand Marais, walking along the break wall, it was flat, calm and sober–the water temperature 35 degrees. Maybe I was reading into it, but I thought the lake also felt watchful. On our trip we have seen so many people with kayaks, canoes, jet skis, boats, atvs and even water jet boots!  As I said, it is good people can get out there and experience the out-of-doors, I can’t help but wonder, however, if people are still missing the point of wilderness.  When I see Lake Superior, I feel the wildness. It lures you and entices you and breaks your heart–but it teaches you if you listen. It teaches, yet it is a mutual learning: slowing down to a glacial pace and letting go, things I need to work on honoring myself.

The problem is that the people who go there [to wilderness] don’t care about the wildness; they care about the other human values of our culture: money, gear, family, friends, having fun. Most people who do go into the natural world are going for recreation, not contemplation.

-Jack Turner, Author and Teacher

I too, get caught up in backpacking gear talk, thinking about what cool canoe to buy, finishing a long-distance trail, getting to the top of Mt. Whitney. I also think about the stuff falling out of our Jeep, organizing, driving and cramming in the fun.  Billy and I often make reference to this behavior as “Peak Bagging”, which is an awful term that lends reference to the hordes of people every year who try to conquer wilderness. Really all we need is to take a long hike through the woods.  Walk until our legs ache to stop and our minds actually do. Then we become nature and in turn natural. The fun comes without effort.

With the ice in Lake Superior only just melting at the end of June, it would be a long winter for us if we stayed in a small town like Grand Marais, however, I can’t help but to daydream about it. Perhaps I am in the mood for it, as I have been desiring a more isolated existence these days. That might seem funny since we just came from rural New Mexico. My experience there was brilliant, although very different from what I had originally thought it would be. I am grateful for the time I had to write, play music and paint, however, we were busy bees there, just like anywhere else–helping neighbors, attending gatherings and working customer service jobs. I learned part of what I need to do is choose not to be busy because it will find you anywhere! Carrying all this forward, across the country to where we will eventually land will be a challenge. Most of my friends work extraordinary hours in the city to keep up with skyrocketing rent, mortgages and new family members. While on occasion I envy their stability, I wonder how I will fare when I get back and take up the slack of my responsibilities. Eventually, it is our goal to not have to “get back” to the city.  Sustain ourselves in nature, perhaps near a small town, as artists. How? How? How?  Staring down over the cliffs at Pictured Rocks helped me to be worried about something else for a change–Billy getting ever closer to the edge to take photos and get a good look! We really stretched our legs on this segment of the trip. I tried to stretch my ideas of what  “home” might look like as well. The town of Marquette started winning me over at the end with a fantastic food co-op and Dead River Roasters coffee shop.