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.

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