Slopes of ‘Defiance’

Spence here.

I wrote the following poem after Billy and I got off the John Muir Trail in 2012 and went to New Mexico. I was really disappointed at that time, with the fact that my body (after two knee surgeries) and my mind (stubborn as always and over-confident) were not ready for backpacking. I fell ill and we had to retreat from the Sierra Nevada Mountains back to Mammoth Lakes, on a 4 day trek, over two mountain passes. It actually took me a few months of resting in New Mexico to get back my strength and to recover from my depression at my “failure”. I had taken much for granted then. I think back on all we did and how I felt and I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn many lessons—I think even more so than if we had finished the hike. Often I think of that time in comparison to how much healthier I feel now. This afternoon, Billy and I and some friends were atop Mt. Defiance. It was a great path up (we took the back route from Hood River and Forest Road 2820), steep but interesting. I appreciated walking on soft earth and rocks instead of the concrete of the city. Also, since we have been getting back into doing yoga every day, and perhaps because I bike a lot for my job, my legs felt springy and fresh. It was very chilly on top of the mountain, with fresh ice falling all around us from the radio facilities built up there—no snow however. While I felt happy and without fret about being outside, walking, breathing, following a path, it did seem a strange time to be up there. Almost all years that trail is snow-covered until June or July. This week we have been talking a lot about the changes we have gone through, as well as the city of Portland, our friends and the planet at large. Time is flying by and paying attention has become even more important to us. We have been talking about what might be next in this adventure, specifically for the summer. I wanted to post this poem because it reminds me to be patient–be excited–but be listening to my heart and my body, about what I need best on the next leg of this life trip.


Mountain Moral

My mind was cloudy on the path.

A storm rose over monster teeth.

A darkened sky flew

O’er our backs,

With rain and current through your hair…

Earlier that day,

I lost the way:

Intentions of eminence and self-gain.

Mountains we had yet to climb

I imagined we ascended,

Our glory in future photographs.


A gentle way.

A clear way.

Moving with curiosity and rhyme.

A journey sought with spirit

Claims a strength


Not an ego will defeat the foe.

A tender way,

Guided by wonder and beauty.

Sun shines

O’er our backs

The teeth quickly ascended,

A humbleness lightens our packs

And hearts.

Billy here. What a busy week! My last day working at the cafe was followed by a fun night out with my co-workers at the brewery where Spence works. Fun times were had by all and I have had lots of thoughts since then that are still jumbled at the river mouth about what to do next. I feel what to do next, of course, is simply to create space and love. It’s easy to get caught up with all the hows and issues of worth. I am trying to let the words settle to the silt and the let water clear while my brain sifts the possibilities. Next week perhaps more will be clear to me.

Spence and I were talking about how we just simply want to live simply. I said that the birds don’t have save-the-world complexes, they just live their lives. Of course, there is the whole rigmarole of humanity’s modern presence destroying the life form we call Earth. But in some way, didn’t this destructive “development” process arise because we wanted to improve the world, to save it? It’s ironic to me that “development” is still called that, even though it has been clearly and scientifically linked to destruction of the habitats of all life. So, does it not follow that the other cultural paradigms that surround so called development are also just as destructive even though we value them in our society?

The hike up to Mt. Defiance today was beautiful. To see the fruit orchards with the snow capped Mt. Hood behind them was stunning. We were like children who hadn’t seen the world, oohing over the junk shops, the sheep, the big country trucks. It was nice to get out of the city for the day. But it was sobering to see the viral grey patches of clear cuts dot vast swaths of the land. I thought of the sea lions being washed ashore dead in California and the droves of sea lions crowding Oregon looking for food. The warming of the Pacific Ocean has affected the food chain from the bottom up. Our friend, who works as an environmental engineer, said that water in streams near polluted sites is almost unaffected if it is lined with intact trees over 100 feet. As I walked up the scree slopes of Mt. Defiance and watched the clouds part over the Columbia Gorge, I kept thinking that my responsibility was precisely to follow my joy, for my joy is the thriving of the wilderness, both in my heart and in the world. We are always learning how to thrive, but I suppose we have to heal ourselves before we can heal anybody else, much less the world. If we can heal ourselves, one cell in the Earth, then that’s a start. But for me, the first step is learning to live with less, because humans are taking too much.

A little economic aside: The median per-capita income globally is $2,920 according to the Gallup poll. You only need an annual income of $34,000 to belong in the worldwide elite. More than half of the richest 1% live in the United States. We are actually the 1%. If the annual world income of $70 trillion was divided evenly to all the estimated eligible workers (not children or elders), the average income should be just under $18,000 dollars. An interesting site on the principle of the ecological footprint can be found here: Ecological Footprint. North America takes up far more resources, therefore a larger ecological footprint, and a larger income than all the other nations by far.

Trying to live with less in this country takes courage. We are told everywhere in this country that if we do not make money, produce something or leave our mark on the world somehow, we are flawed. Don’t let the paradigm get you down! Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to just stop making and taking so much. The world can hardly breathe with all the noise.

The Clackamas River

Spence here: It is official! Welcome to the new home of Coupleohuckleberries! I am very proud of our site, and it is always fun reading through our past adventures. So far, the month of March has been filled with evolvement, sprouting and stretching. As my mom would say, “peaks and valleys”. We started off right, taking a few “stay-cations”, as a grand friend was in town and we became tourists of our own city once again.

Step 1: Go out to eat.

Step 2: Wander aimlessly in cool, quirky Portland neighborhoods until one is hungry again.

Step 3: Repeat.

Having multiple beverages with breakfast always signifies a serious vacation for me. Followed up by an overnight camp out on the Clackamas River and a feast with our neighbors to celebrate the Spring Equinox–culminating with the release of our own art websites… Check mine out here:

The over-nighter to the river was chilly and reminded me it is still only March. It didn’t rain though and we had ample time for drawing, investigating fresh water pools and photography. We even had our first camp fire of the year. There’s also something about sleeping in a tent for me, which invokes excitement, possibility and overall child-like smiley-ness. Walking down the path to Alder Flat, we watched our steps as brownish-red little newts lay amongst the leaves and pine needles. I finally acquired a handy tree guide for western trees and spent some time studying the family names of Alders, Cottonwoods, Poplars, Firs, Cedars and Hemlocks.


We live a charmed life, its true, but its not all $50,000 roof-top parties and donuts. I struggled through extra hours, rain and wind at my delivery job with an ill-timed bout of depression and 2o-something bossy co-workers. My body is not what it used to be, as flexibility wanes and arthritis is starting to have perfect attendance. This week I also received a couple of rejection letters from publishers. Was it F. Scott Fitzgerald who received over 300 hundred rejection letters before finally publishing The Great Gatsby in 1925? Well then, 298 to go.

I had a dream in which I caught an evil spirit in my hands. Grasping the dark, twig-like bundle of energy, I brought it to my lips in order to kiss it over and over again. In the next dream, I explored an old house, which to my surprise had glorious, colorful, small, spirits peeking out from between the woodwork. I think the work I have done the last few weeks is good and I have that to fall back on, as well as Billy’s unwavering love and support. I am planning a few new sculptures and now a new spirit painting, which will really feed me for the month to come.

Billy here. Spring is here! All those things we planted last year, for better or for worse are sprouting up!

It reminds me of the Navajo story of the two wolves, one good and one evil. A boy asks his father which wolf will win over humankind, and he answers, “The one you feed.”

So we are choosing to feed our creative pursuits seriously! It’s absolutely frightening, because it’s what has meaning, as opposed to the simplicity of punching the clock on some other job. It feels incredibly vulnerable and yet so empowering. So before I lose my nerve, here is the official unveiling of my new website!

Sharing your creations with others feels incredibly dangerous and terrifying. It’s like falling in love and trusting someone to treat your heart gently as a raw egg. A Texan art curator once said that if you can’t walk by a piece of art every day and get something out of it then it’s not for you. This is tricky, because sometimes you get something out of it, but it’s a hard feeling. You still get something out of it, even if it’s not pleasant. It’s growth. Making art and music is like that. It breaks my heart, making it. But if I didn’t make it, my heart would turn hard as stone.

There was a funny egg in the dozen we bought at the farmer’s market. It was as hard as a rock, and after boiling it, it would not break even after being banged against the concrete. Such an egg or a heart is not good for nourishment. Was it a decoy?

It was great fun to have my best friend in town for five days and see the city with new eyes. We walked the city over, through wind and rain, laughing. There is no better cure for the winter sadness than getting out in the weather and laughing with friends. I am reminded that it’s about people, all the people, the animals, plants, minerals, insects, and stars. We keep bringing each other back to the surface of the water to breathe.

I was feeling mad about some internal weather a bit ago. So I took a walk. Everywhere I looked people were happy. A guy was teaching his four year old how to skateboard. A woman was walking, grinning and bobbing her head to music on her earphones. A dog panted with excitement out a truck window. I couldn’t be mad with all this happy sunshine around. Come on up, they all said, it’s time to breathe above the water! I can start to feel what they mean, those uncanny philosophers, when they say that breaking through to eternity is not some future time or forever time, it’s being right here, right now, each and every moment. That’s eternity. That’s being in love with existence itself.

Hideaway Lake

News Flash! As of next week we will be changing our website to!

Spence here: Last night I awoke to the wondrous sound of pattered rain on our little shed roof. I had echos of little anxieties left over from living in New Mexico, where it hardly ever rained: Is the rain cistern leaking? Did I leave out my tools? Is the laundry on the line still? Are the windows closed? Funny, that it has been sunny enough in the Pacific Northwest lately to foster forgetfulness in the weather. This morning it smelled like worms again!

I have been pulling double shifts of work. I work 6-8 hours on the computer building my art website, building/mending around the house and then go to my delivery job. I am proud that I am able to stick up for myself in this vein to others recently. A neighbor came over and I popped my head out of the cabin to say hello; it was about 10:30 a.m. I had been working since 7 a.m.. “Sorry to bother you, you must have been sleeping,” they said. Normally, I would have just shrugged and gone back to my business, but I piped up this time, excitedly, “Oh, no I have been working on my art website.” If we go looking for credibility, it seems, we shall only find it really within ourselves.

The Clackamas River trip, up to Hideaway Lake came just in time. I failed to realize until our first stop at Big Eddy Day Use how wound up I had become. Seriously, we need to be going out to the river at least every other week. We played on the rocks, took deep breaths and stared off into beautiful light mirroring pools. The first part of the day out there I felt like I was looking for something. I was searching the ground so intently, as if I had lost something. I only understood later my eyes and mind were hungry for what I was seeing–every detail became important to save for later, until Billy and I had a good hike and a good laugh and I relaxed.  On our way around Hideaway Lake, deep into the Mt. Hood National Forest, I recollected our first visit to that lake a few years back. It was one of the first camp trips we took after I had knee surgery. The hike around the lake had seemed too far, as well as walking to the trail head for Shell Rock Lake, less than half a mile away. I remember feeling so tired and achy, that even getting back up the hill to the van seemed somewhat perilous. I am so happy my legs are getting stronger and I can enjoy the “Walking Way” once again, as well as the “Running Way” and the “Biking Way”. Being a human minority among the trees, plants, water features, moss and other inhabitants brings me comfort and a sense of forgiveness for my human flaws which can not be aptly expressed. No wonder my Dad carries a smooth rock in his pocket–is it for remembering this?

P.S. Why would someone take the time to carve “Nude Bench” or “Not a Step Mouse” into a log? Weirdos!

Billy here. The whole world is sprouting up now. Even my dreams are opening up to the wind, ready for pollination. Last week our day trip to the river and hike out to the lakes on the Clackamas River awakened me from the winter crystallization of the mind. I remembered as a kid being moved by classical symphonies on my jambox. The first record played after I was born was Claude Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun. As I grew older, my most treasured and emotional moments were those with my ear to the speakers at low volume listening to works of composers from Bach to Stravinsky. I would listen to whole symphonies in a single sitting, turning the tape cassette over eagerly and propping myself back in front of the stereo. Only once in the last year have I given myself the leisure, the therapy, no, the necessity of just sitting and listening to a piece all the way through. It’s time to make time for what matters again. Reading fairy tales and poetry. Playing piano for the joy of it. Drawing things that fascinate me.

Something has given way in the last couple of weeks. I put my notice in at the cafe job that has slowly been losing meaning for me over the years and am looking for submissions calls, fellowships and artist grants. I am starting to have confidence that if I do indeed follow my bliss, my livelihood will present itself. The first gentle spring rain is falling after two weeks of dry sunny weather. The air smelled of earth and wood this morning instead of exhaust. Out of last year’s decay push up curious crocuses.

I can feel that this summer will be hot and dry here in the West, and I am called to attract water, to live lightly on the ball of my foot, to know where the wind is blowing, and if needed, to be prepared to fight fire.

Art Not-So-Casual

Spence here: This week I have been doing a lot of walking! The weather has been excellent for this, as Portland has seen an amazing sunny February. Sadly, climate change is probably to blame, our Earth reacting in quite the topsy-turvy way, while folks in the East battle severe temps in the negative degrees. I have been hard at work this week on amassing photos, information and design ideas for my new professional art website. Previous to this, I helped Billy and his sister put together an art submission for the upcoming Transgender Art exhibition at Waterloo Arts in Cleveland, OH. With this recent project, as well as my focus lately on poetry submissions to several magazines, and my rediscovered love of real film photography, something has shifted in me to pursuit my art whole-heartedly. Writing an artist autobiography as an exercise for the workbook The Artist’s Way, I realized just how much creative work I have been involved in over the last 20 years, and it is time to put it all together. Billy and I have been especially busy the last few years, and I haven’t been giving myself much credit along the way. I think taking this next step will help me solidify what others have known all along, that my profession and my livelihood is creating. On my website, I hope to show the myriad of possibilities I like to pursuit through art and connecting to the natural world–via paintings, drawings, sculpture, photographs, collage, music and writing. I hope to also have photography prints and drawings for sale. I have worked on my website logistics so much this week, however, that I do not want to spend the last remaining sunny hours before going to my delivery job working on a computer right now, so that’s the ‘haps for this week…. In an unrelated NEWFLASH! Billy and I have decided to move our blogging publishing date to Sunday morning. It seems to fit our new schedules, and I am sure this will be a lovely addition to your Sunday morning routine of drinking hot beverages, since now you will also be able to meander through our updates. We will be back next week with our usual philosophical selves, hopefully with links to our new art websites. Until then, for real, this week we are going to the river. Cheers!

Billy here! Yep, I quit my day job again. It might seem crazy, but it’s something I do every year and I live so fanstastically below my means that I find it relatively easy to live without much money. It’s simply not what is important to me. I save up a nest egg, quit the money and start the adventure. This time the adventure is isn’t a backpacking trip or moving across the country (again), but working the real job. That’s right, both Spence and I realizing our worth as creative humans and we are out to find a livelihood!

Last week in the early light of dawn on the inner east side of Portland, the sun gleamed on the skyscrapers downtown and I heard Beethoven’s Fifth blaring. Not just in my head. I look over and the streets are empty save for a man wearing camo pants, skin the color of the earth, holding a wrapped and feathered staff in one hand and a little yellow jambox in the other, defiantly empowered by the “Dum dum dum DUM!” emanating from his jambox and filling the empty streets. That was the dawn of the day I decided not to make money at a job that has lost its meaning for me. What ensued at work that day was truly a grand finale of meaninglessness. What’s the point of making money if the job is disempowering? So, not one to waste time or life, I put in my notice yesterday. I have faith in a universe that nourishes creative livelihoods!

Next up, the unveiling of our websites!