Chasing an Eclipse in Valleys and Canyons

After the Eclipse

Spencer here: This week has been remarkable. Billy and I took some time to chase down a fabulous partial eclipse. As soon as we got out of “town” I felt a weight off my shoulders. I could feel the blood pumping back into my heart and hands. Most of the camping gear remains stowed in the Jeep, so we basically hopped in and peeled out! We took I-84 east towards the John Day River. Billy had researched the weather patterns across the state for the day and somewhere in eastern Oregon it was said to be partly cloudy…that was the best we could hope for as the wind, rain and blanket of clouds are back for the duration of winter. After a sweet jaunt down a two-lane called 97, we came upon some small towns and eventually the Cottonwood Canyon State Park. It is one of the newest parks in Oregon, and though it is a beautiful canyon, the campground is sparse. It was too cloudy to get a good look at the sun, through our eclipse glasses, so we headed back west and followed the movement of the clouds. Taking a break in Sun Rise Cemetery, outside of Wasco, for lunch, was a really calming, thoughtful, yet chilly endeavor. (I like how the sign to the cemetery divided and capitalized both “sun” and “rise”).  At first, I wasn’t sure if the “locals” would really appreciate us hanging around their dead elders, but actually I find cemeteries are quiet, peaceful places to be present. I have always liked hanging out in them.

Just then, the clouds parted a bit and we caught a teasing glimpse of the eclipse.  I managed to get a look on the side of the road, but this picture was more intriguing. I viewed the moon sliding over the sun through milky cloud cover. We finished our snack and decided to head further west down a lovely road called 206. The sun finally broke and came out in full force at the Deschutes River Recreation Area. The air felt warm and we got a grand look. Billy noticed the sun had a sunspot, and sure enough, the headlines the next day said the sunspot was one of the biggest in 20 years. Back at the Cottonwood Canyon Campground, we set up in a little open site, had dinner and a nice little warming fire. I told Billy more about the dream I had had the night before.

There was a man in my dream. He was magical. He could fly and walk through walls with ease. He was a tender artist, who made pottery to give away to all the townspeople. So generous and kind was he, living in harmony with all life. But the town started to grow. In my dream, time was accelerated and went by fast. Development and capitalism took hold of the town and the people started working more and paying less and less attention to the good food they had been growing, the kindness in which they treated one another and the generosity that had made the town special. People slowly started to forget about the man and his pottery, and his kindness and his good heart. They forgot and then stopped believing altogether that he could fly and walk through walls. I lived in this town also and witnessed the decline of character. In some periods of the dream, I was the man–we were interchangeable–and as he aged he lost faith in the people and in the town. He started destroying things with the little power he did have left. I suddenly was not the man, but again my own person, however, soon I also started to destroy things. I used my flying abilities to play bad tricks on the people. I walked through walls to steal from them and take their important charms and relics. I piled them high on the top of a building and danced among the items, throwing them off the building into the sky. I was not happy doing this, but felt a deep black evil creeping in. Slowly, my powers diminished. I couldn’t fly anymore and I had to break the glass to get through the windows. In one of the last buildings  I broke into, I found a woman there staring at the magic man’s last remaining piece of pottery. (All the others had strangely self-imploded.) I asked her what she was waiting for. She said, “I’m waiting for it to break in my hands.” I said, “It will break when its ready.”


Billy here. I feel so excited to have seen one of the largest sunspots ever recorded with my own eyes! An amazing photograph of the eclipse and the sunspot can be seen here:

Astronomy Picture of the Day: Sunspots and Solar Eclipse

One of the most exciting things about the sky for me is the reminder that we are just travelers in space, all the time. Our stories are small really, in the grand scheme of things. When things start to feel tight and hurried, stressful, even scary, we can just look up and remember there is a whole universe of wild animals out there, evolving just like us on planets beyond our imagination. One of my favorite accounts of an eclipse ever is recorded in Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk.

An inspiring story about astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti can be read here: about the Futura mission. Samantha, who will be prime operator of the largest support vehicle docked on the International Space Station,  will be up in space for six months maintaining the microgravity laboratory. One of her tasks: to educate children about nutrition and the food cycle via the recycling of carbon dioxide. Here’s to women taking the lead on the final frontier!

Chasing the eclipse across the Cascades was an adventure I needed. It is good to get out into the wilderness often for me, outside of our controlled environment that is the city. I remember old things: to sit by the fire and watch for meteors, talk to plants, listen to plants, listen to the river, watch for bighorn sheep and to remember to breathe. To sit with the people that we love and witness them for who they are and appreciate their beauty. What else is there to say?

At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world. We were the world’s dead people rotating and orbiting around and around, embedded in the planet’s crust, while the earth rolled down. Our minds were light years distant, forgetful of almost everything. Only an extraordinary act of will could recall to us our former, living selves and our contexts in matter and time. We had, it seems, loved the planet and loved our lives, but could no longer remember the way of them.

– Annie Dillard

99 Square Foot Living


Goblet Storage

Spencer here:  Yes, we are still documenting our tiny house-capades. The house is a really fun, cozy space, and it is beautiful to witness what my beau and I can create together. This week we focused on some of the details. We installed a folding writing desk, made curtains, a shoe rack and put up some trim on the inside.  Everything will eventually have its place and we are slowly figuring it out. The futon we bought is working out well. The heating source we are using, (a small cube heater) will soon be replaced by the quaintest wood stove I have ever had the pleasure of being in the company of. Our wonderful friends and roommates picked it up for us as a literal house-warming present. One, nice, rain-free day we will acquire the pipe and install the stove. The fuel will come from all the little wood chunks left over from our construction project, (there is a lot!) After that, I am assuming we will continue to have construction chunks, because our next project is to convert the shed next door to an art/yoga/music house. Free stuff found on Craigslist continues to flow in–thank you so much friends!

I am excited thinking about new projects. We are busy here, but as Billy mentioned last night, there is a productive contagiousness that happens. I am focusing on paying bills, finding a job that has a little more meaning, and making ends meet, however, I cannot forget what gives me joy. I think fixing up the shed to make room for art will feel meaningful and be a nice addition to the property.  I am also looking forward to expanding my ideas of an art show in the spring. I am considering the type of show which would incorporate all my interests. I thought including “one of everything” would be a nice way to encompass the depth of my thinking about a particular theme. I am still brain-storming said theme, but want to create pieces in many mediums for the show–painting on wood, drawing on paper, sewing into paintings on fabric, a nature sculpture, photography, a music piece on the drums, a short film and some stencil/screen-printing work to name a few!  Right now I am very interested in the work of Zack Pine, Andy Goldsworthy,  and Katie Holten.

Billy here. We have been sleeping better as we are getting settled, keeping the moonlight and cold away from our eyes and bones. I am working the logistics of getting a real upright piano again. Also, I have been gathering data for making next year’s astronomy calendar. Every night that it is clear, I make note of the night sky. This brings me happiness!

There are the sounds of constant traffic from the highway just behind everything, like an ocean tide: the brash cry of the rooster, the caws of crows, a few peeps of the smaller birds, but mostly this wash of automobile. An airplane or the icy whine of a machine adds to the fervor of the tide at times. This is impermanent, I think to myself, the huge nest humanity has built in the valleys – and of course! All of it is impermanent. Living in the city. Our lives. We are all just witnessing the orchestra of it. The reedy calls of the crows, the beeping of reversing trucks, the bus brakes, the starting of cars, these are all little motifs in the underpinning of the symphony today. Every so often a great diesel labors or a helicopter, creating a Wagnerian brass section. The leaf blower comes in like a french horn, the rooster an almost naive trumpet. One brisk dog bark is a sudden violin stab. How much time do we have to make music?

Sometimes I feel lazy, like I could just play the toy piano all day and make up songs instead of working. I could make bread and beer, toasting to life. But there are winter errands to attend. The cave must be outfitted.  Domestication is such a sweet hibernation. We are softened so comfortably by this agriculture we have been working on for the last 10,000 years.

When I saw the first light of the sun this morning hit the trees, I saw my shadow and thought it was the tail of the cat! Sometimes I notice a shadow of something moving in what I swear is the spirit world, as when we remember a dream or déjà vu comes over us, but the practice is to know the specters of your own mind and how to tell the difference between them and the outside world. Then sometimes too, the shadows belong to material, waking things that our mind displaced.

The mind plays tricks on itself. I think I am working by making money, planning my budget and pointing at some branch in the future, thinking: “Ah ha! There! That is where I will begin to be happy!”  Then I laugh at myself. Because we all know better. Sometimes I feel lost in the human artifice of capital. What is all the running around for, other than to make another lap around the track? The sheer joy of it. This is what makes something drudgery or livelihood. It’s not so much that work is love made visible, but that work disappears and becomes livelihood when it is something aligned with our hearts. Livelihood doesn’t mean piles of money, but sustenance of the body, heart and soul.

Maybe playing the toy piano all day is what I am supposed to be doing after all…

Different trees grow various heights and then perish and evolve into another species.


They reach their limbs – their souls – a little deeper into incandescence’s well


and then tell the world by their marvelous appearance what that life is like.


Yes, try to do that before you part this wondrous place we are visiting;


bring us some good tidings of silence beyond any silence you have already heard.

– Hafiz

Autumn at the Salmon River

Rock in Midstream


Billy here. After finishing the cabin, we both needed a day retreat to the river. Since our favorite river, the Clackamas, has a wildfire still smoldering, we went to the Salmon River, another beautiful water creature near Mount Hood. All the bustle of the city and getting ready for the winter has busied my mind. It was good to sit down by the river and just be. I feel that a sense of the whole (river or anything else) moving as one doesn’t show itself until I unfocus the eyes and pull the mind away from a particular point of view. I like how water moves. It is the most powerful creator on Earth, shaping life and carving landscapes. It does all this without force and so is the greatest teacher there is. Water absorbs, it moves around obstructions and yet has the greatest strength of all on the planet. When I am at the river all the whorls of stress that have been created by habit, all the little anxious thoughts, get spun down like flax until the mind is just a fabric of awareness. All the sylvan creatures remind me of where and when I am, just a little monkey in the autumn woods on a planet around a little ordinary star. Nothing matters so much that I need to worry my heart. What is a big deal to the clusters of galaxies spinning like bubbles in the river? Not even death!

The paradox is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what ought to be.

– Richard Feynman

Spence here: “It was in the early morning hours when I fell into a phone call…” The night before we went to the river I had one of those tooth-falling-out-dreams. Except this one seemed even more severe, as the entire top row of my teeth came out in one swoop. In order not to cause alarm to the people I was with in the dream, I held the teeth in with my tongue and just nodded and smiled a small smile. Later, in the dream, my friends (whom I don’t recall actually knowing) told me how really well-behaved I’d been and how sweet it was that I let everyone talk over me and left my opinions at the door. I woke up with my tongue on my teeth and realized I was so tired I had forgotten to brush. Paul Simon’s “Gumboots” was the soundtrack in my head.

We slept in a bit on our one day off together and then decided to go to the Salmon River. We picked up my friend Kim and after second-breakfast, took the road to the mountain. I love the river. It helps put into my pocket what really matters–a light breeze, good snacks, friends, love, leaves, sticks, stones and my favorite knife. Did I tell you, I got a job? I worry I should have set my sights a little higher. Who is that guy who rock climbs and shoots photos for a  living? What about the bicycle mechanic who only works three days a week and then goes to help tune bikes in France at the Tour de France? I can’t recall the person’s name who makes surfing videos all day and then gets paid half a mil to design board shorts.  How do these people find these jobs? Perhaps they are all just better at convincing companies to pay them for fun. Perhaps they just have an outlook which defies the leaf falling off the tree? Anyway, my point is not rooted in reality. Sometimes a trip to the river helps me to see that nothing is. I like to be a kid at the river. I sit in the dirt, I try to make campfires, I watch for fish, birds, deer, snakes and the Yeti. I appreciate tree snags, lichens, tree-root caves, cold splashy spray and asking my friend if she’d “drink the water if”… questions! (Kim almost always says “yes”!)

I am not having a mid-life crisis or anything, I am just tying to find a perspective that works for me. There is much for the city to offer me and I am making other plans. Maybe I will have an art show in the spring or work on the play I am writing–there’s always something to build or fix–there’s music to be invented. Our little backyard cabin is getting closer to completion (see our new “Our Tiny House” section for more photos). Fall is swinging and soon the time change will darken the evenings all together. The rain has started up and I like the way it sounds on the roof. All over the place is my mind and motivation. I am as scattered as the fallen leaves on the river path. Being outside helps remind me the feeling of chaos is exceptional and to be expected.

Our friend’s parents just came and went into town. One evening the dad says to me out of nowhere, in no particular context, “Be here, now.” Like some kind of parental bumper-sticker. “Okay”, I said.


A Lunar Eclipse and A Tiny House

Autumn Art 001

Does not all sway to a rhythm that began long before we stood upright?

We are in the mountains home, just guests. Guests of the sky, the streams, the giving soil we nurse from.


Billy here. The clear skies and warm air are keeping autumn at bay for now, but the race is on to finish our little winter home, because when the rains come, they are likely to stay. Today we just finished the back wall and yesterday enclosed the cabin. Time has been scant for everything else, including writing this blog, but soon we will be ready to move in! Just in time for the lunar eclipse…

Wednesday morning at 3:55am (Pacific time) is a total lunar eclipse, the second eclipse of a tetrad. The full moon is rising now as I write this, a large moon near perigee. It has been a longtime mindfulness practice of mine to be aware of the movements of the moon, planets and stars as much as possible. This has turned into a lifelong love of astronomy and, as of last year, I have been making a calendar to help keep track of it all. In order to distribute the calendar for 2015, I have also been involved with the local Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC), taking letterpress classes and such. The IPRC is an amazing warehouse full of fun tools, a zine library (they say it’s the world’s largest) and really lovely people. Hopefully I will gain the resources to get the calendar produced in time before the new year.

There is a peace that comes over me in autumn, knowing that winter slows us down and grounds us. The farm across the street cut their corn this week. Squash and hazelnuts line the kitchen counter. The squirrels and crows are frantically running with nuts. I hear the crows drop them from the power lines every time I walk down to catch the bus, trying to crack them open. Each night the swan, the eagle and Pegasus rise higher in the sky, flying over the treetops, chasing the sun. Now the full moon rises, chasing the sun so close it will be caught in our shadow at dawn.

Spence here: I knew Billy saw and heard the squirrels and crows dropping the nuts on the pavement! That is one of the myriad subtleties I love about Billy. There is truth that goes unsaid between us, only because it needn’t announcement, yet, like love, all feelings and events are there. Some say like faith.

The moon rising tonight is very large. I appreciate the light and reflection through the tall cedar and spruce, entering our new, little, east-facing shack. As early as tomorrow we will “move in”. We’ll view the lunar eclipse and wish well, another amazing Autumn. We purchased a new futon this week and I’m excited to get cozy. We have much more to do, but since Billy finished the back wall on the inside, we will be able to complete the remaining tasks while inhabiting the place.  The inside smells like cedar. We are looking online each day for fun free finds–more wood for the side walls, an armoire, a tall dresser and maybe a trunk and some nice rugs to tie it all together. There has been a lot of support in raising this abode. I appreciate the patience of our friends, who wait not in vain, for our eventual birth from work and building. I kidded the other day about sending a post card to Southeast Portland, (we live in Northeast), since I never make it out of my neighborhood. I haven’t even talked to my parents in weeks! It will be nice to make this transition and have some more time for cooking, drawing, reading, correspondence and painting.

Autumn sometimes lulls me or depresses me with nostalgia. Also, sometimes it can make me anxious, as I remember the growing fear of cold, dark mornings before grade school, waiting for the bus. Waiting for the alarm to go off. Falling back. The end of summer. Sad that I equate the smell of Autumn with that fear of youth, but I have other good memories of it as well–cider mills, donuts, crunching leaves on forest walks with my family. Hot afternoons, where the tress glow orange and red and my mind drifts to more romantic ideas of life. Life how it can be, sweet and ready for harvest. Still, Fall is my favorite season.

I wrote this poem, which I turned into a song, exactly one year ago, when we were living on our friends’ land in New Mexico.  I hope it conveys a sense of Autumn for you all.

A Time of Gifts


I have friends at all my homes

Being away

Is a time of gifts

Rain in the fall

Is a time of gifts


Colors collide in the canopy

I miss Michigan

Windiness on the peninsula

I miss my folks again


You let it be known to me

I’m nowhere now

It will be shown to me

In the hours away


I have friends at all my homes

Unsettled mind

Can be a time of gifts


Never known

To feed the squall

Cold in the fall

Is a time of gifts


Colors collide in my memory

The seasons will slip into deeper and colder sloughs

The time to take care of you

Will be a time of gifts

What is shelter?

Windows are done!

Old English hus “dwelling, shelter, house,” from Proto-Germanic *husan (cognates: Old Norse, Old Frisian hus, Dutch huis, German Haus), of unknown origin, perhaps connected to the root of hide (v.) [OED]. Hide “skin of a large animal,” Old English hyd “hide, skin,” from Proto-Germanic *hudiz (cognates: Old Norse huð, Old Frisian hed, Middle Dutch huut, Dutch huid, Old High German hut, German Haut “skin”), related to Old English verb hydan “to hide,” the common notion being of “covering.” In Gothic only in gudhûs “temple,” literally “god-house;” the usual word for “house” in Gothic being razn.

Billy here. The etymology of the word house suggests an old relationship with shelter as a  sacred, living thing. A skin as shelter not only connects us to the animal world but reminds us that a house is a living layer of ourselves. For nomadic people this could mean that we shed our skins often!

In the modern world, it is easy to forget this relationship not only to a place, but to the very material of our house. Often houses once were reeds, boughs or literally hides of animals, now they are composites of phenol formaldehyde resins, glass-reinforced plastic, vinyls, petroleum products and milled wood trucked in from miles away. There is a heavy distillation process to make these types of houses that removes us from our relationship to our place.

Since I was a kid, I wanted to make a house out of the natural materials of my local environment, to eat the food that was available in the natural world around me and to foster this relationship with my home: the world I live in. So at this juncture in time, this means converting a shed to a salvage cabin in our friends backyard and eating the eggs and veggies raised by the local urban farmers as much as possible. I’m not there yet, but every day is a process in learning. We have been hunting for secondhand house tools, such as a typewriter, writing desk and piano. It is interesting to me to adopt these things, a whole lifetime that may have been spent on the antique Remington typewriter, for example, whose spirit we are inheriting. How much more rich, like befriending a human with an equally complex past, to get to know these old things with which to write and play?

It seems that the city of Portland is becoming gentrified more rapidly than ever. The other day at work several people I talked to in depth were upset about not being able to afford rent anymore. Houses all over the east side are being demolished to make way for double condos, some only blocks away from us. Let me be clear, when I first moved to town I stayed in a punk collective house with at least six other people. I’ve lived in basements behind water heaters, transitional housing with shared bathrooms and even in my car. So I’ve never really been one to afford rent even before it cost upwards of $500 for just a room in a house with four others, but neither do I want to spend that much money on rent. It’s a kind of capitalistic feudalism I refuse to play too much into. But I don’t mind sharing the cost of living in a space with friends, of returning to a kind of gift exchange economy. I hesitate to even call it economy. So in a sense, where we live becomes a part of not just the place, but the family we adopt when we share a space together, canning food and sharing stories. They say home is where the heart is, but as Rilke said, I would like to step out of my heart and into the sky, to expand my heart until it is the whole world.

Spencer here: Walnut, maple, pine and cedar trees. I find myself among them all day, outside, working on our shelter. Although the trees next to me have not provided the wood to build our home, they are one and the same–kin. I don’t forget that. The rain comes and goes, luckily. It seems the last few years have been an intensive building/repairing time for me. While we were in New Mexico, I had the opportunity to build and fix much–sheds, outhouses, bikes, cars, furniture, fences, compost bins, trailers, solar electricity and plumbing. I enjoy the feeling of “getting ready for winter”. I didn’t realize that was what it was, until we lived rurally and we really had to do that.  We stocked up on groceries, hauled water, chopped wood, worked on insulating windows and doors, bought or repaired warm boots and clothes.  We had to decide what would be okay if it froze, or was left out during the monsoon season. I like this preparation. I think I would like to get involved in more of it–canning, food dehydrating and cellar preparations. However, I feel like we are sort of back in it. As much as I complain, I really love it. The reasons are plenty–but most of all I feel useful, hardworking and occupied. There is a lot to ponder. The rains will come and stay here for several months. How is our roof? What can we do about the dampness? How can we insulate? What will we do for heat? I like to think about these basic needs instead of money money money.

Always, we are on a budget. I figured we could fix up the “cabana” for about $500 in materials. We are close to that now, having spent at least $400. The good news is we are close to moving in. Today was a very productive day. We are ready to frame our door, and most of the rest of the house is enclosed. I look forward to making coffee, or sipping warmed up wine, in our little cabin, with the windows open, watching it rain, as we retreat–write, play music and be.

“Housed everywhere, but nowhere shut in.” Gaston Bachelard. That is the moniker for our blog these days. It is not a coincidence we have chosen this quote. We have spent a lot of time thinking about what we want our life space to feel like, look like, and how its systems operate–a place which feels natural and doesn’t require a ton of resources or upkeep. As part of our goal, it will be worth it here in Portland, living in a 10ft by 14ft house, without having to resort to working overtime at jobs that make money, but don’t necessarily “pay well.” (I consider writing, music and painting to pay well in other life ways.) Before we left New Mexico, we created a collage together of all the things we wanted in our ideal home and land. I struggle sometimes, worrying if we are on the right path, moving back to the city. Sometimes it seems like it will take so long for us to finally be “home” on our own property, building our own dwellings in accordance with the sun, the moon and the four directions. This isn’t just Feng Shui, this is a calling we have both listened deeply to, which is something we want to manifest. However, there is much to learn and we are learning it day by day. Practical skills, how we work together, how our ideas can flow and what designs are appealing to us more or less each time we complete a project. All important, but also I need not forget, it is important to be present in the moment, and be at home within each other. This is what we are learning the most and I have all the patience in the world for this lesson.