The Folding of Wings

Fresh Tiny Houses!

Billy here. We just watched the swifts fly down into a neighbor’s chimney at dusk. They all moved like a sea creature and finally swirled quickly, folding their wings and fluttering in like crumbling paper. Every year before the fall equinox the swifts fly through, nesting in old chimneys. Every year I can hardly believe it’s fall again, but sure enough, the heat of August burns off and the mornings turn cool and dewy.

We finished painting our tiny homes before fall, one of our goals for the year. In the picture you can also see Spence’s artful salvage shingles. It’s been a really nice summer with lots of time for art, finishing up our little homes, settling into our new jobs, and some nice backpacking adventures. Now is the next adventure for me: going back to college! Thus we are officially on the off-season publishing schedule of the blog: every other week or so instead of every Sunday. My first day of school is Monday and my brain is on overdrive, keeping me from sleeping.

The best cure for an overactive brain is some quiet river time. So, knowing that school, work, and art deadlines will keep us occupied practically until next summer, we decided to head to a new river spot on the North Fork of the Wilson. We packed lots of snacks, homebrew, and journals. There are plenty of forest roads to explore near the Forest Center, and the 22.6 mile Wilson River Trail is lovely, though we only hiked a small portion of it.

While out on the river, I wrote down some details of the setting of a graphic novel I am planning on writing. I tried to let my mind unfurl and catch the wind. Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a poem in her novel Always Coming Home that says what the wild river says better than I can:

Listen, you people of the Adobes, you people of the Obsidian!

Listen, you gardeners and farmers , orcharders and vintners,

shepherds and drovers!

Your arts are admirable and generous, arts of plenty and

increase, and they are dangerous.

Among the tasselled corn the man says, this is my plowing

and sowing, this is my land.

Among the grazing sheep the woman says, these are my

breeding and caring, these are my sheep.

In the furrow the seed sprouts hunger,

In the fenced pasture the cow calves fear.

the granary is heaped full with poverty.

The foal of the bridled mare is anger.

The fruit of the olive is war.

Take care, you Adobe people, you Obsidian people, and come

over onto the wild side,

don’t stay all the time on the farming side; it is dangerous to live there.

Come among the unsown grasses bearing richly, the oaks

heavy with acorns, the sweet roots in

unplowed earth.

Come among the deer on the hill, the fish in the river, the quail in the meadows.

You can take them, you can eat them,

like you they are food.

They are with you, not for you.

Who are their owners?

This is the puma’s range,

this hill is the vixen’s,

this is the owl’s tree,

this is the mouse’s run,

this is the minnow’s pool:

it is all one place.

Come take your place.

No fences here, but sanctions.

No wars here, but dying; there is dying here.

Come hunt, it is yourself you hunt.

Come gather yourself from the grass, the branch, the earth.

Walk here, sleep well, on the ground that is not yours, but is

yourself.

-Ursula K. Le Guin

Spence here.  As the blue light fades from this day, the whish of Swifts subtly suspends in the breeze. Earlier, I was lamenting the sounds of industry, neighborhood power tools, jet planes and sirens near our northeast Portland conglomeration of shacks… I am still trying to tune those sounds out and tune in the crickets. It is a difficult balance, but one that probes me as much as it irritates me.

Recently, Billy and I visited a river I have not been to in awhile, the Wilson River, en route to Tillamook, Oregon, along the tracks of the Tillamook State Forest. We ventured down a dirt road I have only glanced down; to a little area known to OHVers called Diamond Mill. The day we went was an overcast weekday and this seemed to thwart most 4-wheelin’ atv-having moto-crossin’ folk. Peace was ours at the tributary, the North Fork of the Wilson River, for a short while. Of course the engines came later, but the people were very nice and it was time for dinner anyway. The day was spent journaling, brainstorming, unwinding and exploring. I brought my fishing gear, but the rivers are very low right now. While there is probably fish to be had somewhere, it seemed the wrong time for these rivers. Fishing, anyway, is kind of an excuse for me to go sit by a river, any river really, and take deep breaths, so I really didn’t mind the lack of an actual event.

I’ve found this week to be most inspiring. The cooler air, smell of cut grass and football fields make me feel home again. After finishing painting the cabana and music studio, (which is a big project I am glad to have done before winter rain) we started things off by taking long walks, playing Frisbee and going to the river. I went running, (physicality always conjures up more ideas for new artwork for me) and since then have been investigating the building of my latest sculpture/shadowbox. We then watched a series of black and white films by Jean Cocteau, one of Billy’s favorite directors. We attended a visual art reception for the show entitled “Dark Matter”. I found several paintings in the gallery to be very accessible, encouraging and within my capabilities. The difference between me, Billy and these artists in the show is only their contacts and nerve. Our talent and craft is on par with much we have seen lately, and this is not a knock on those participating artists, but a motivating foot forward for me personally, in the “I can do that!” department. Back to back, we attended another art opening, different in that the show focused on the street art of children from the refugee camps of Syria and Gaza, but none-the-less inspiring. Always, these events give me insight and gratitude for what I have and the choices I am empowered to make in my life.

I am excited to work on the pieces for my personal art show in February, but all these events are just great excuses to continue being creative. One of the things I have been struggling with this week is to bridge all the ideas I have for my show into a comprehensive concept. I should look no further than life itself as a whole. The simple bridge we sat under to read and watch the wildlife this week by the river, to the Swifts in the evening, to the shiny lights of the stars and the art galleries, to all the inhabitants surviving in the harsh climates of war and desert—being creative is a skill we cannot afford to demean, lose or squander.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness: The Enchantments

Spence here: On the last day of our hike through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, descending 5,000 feet in elevation to the trail head, I felt pensive. The golden hours were filled with walking, snacking, chatting with new friends, and picture gathering, as a vivid Autumn day passed. The sun had not been so hot and bright since we first headed out, 3 days before. Saying goodbye to the plants and animals and thinking about the busy city life ahead slowed my hiking pace to a crawl. Every hike softens me and I am not eager near the end to get “back”–even though rich food awaits my belly in town! The wilderness teaches me, as it has always done. I learned about Larch trees up at the high elevations, (a Conifer which changes color and loses leaves in winter). I learned about the Mountain Goats, which happily walked through our camp twice a day, curious and unafraid of us, to get to the marsh, where an abundance of snake grass awaited. I watched as the mist rolled off the peaks of the Enchantments, down the cliffs, across freezing pools, onto my skin, making my hair feel coarse. Climbing high on rough slopes, I had the sensation of thinking of nothing else, but the movement of my legs, the coordination of my hands and the weight of my pack. I felt so grateful for the positive performance of my knees and back, after worrying the trip would be too much up and down. After also worrying too much about the rain, the cold, the smoke, and coordinating all the friends–to be hiking and existing up there with focus, and with joy was a great lesson. Things can be simple if I let them.

Everyone deliberated much about going on the trip–checking forest fire risk and air quality reports on the hour. For most, the four days of welcomed retreat were a sacrifice. Kids and partners left at home, time taken away from work and overall “adult” responsibilities abandoned. I can say that it was surely worth it–the whole experience–from the drive to our friends’ house, to the rugged miles of “up”, to the craggily peaks, cold evenings, and amazing new friends, to the bad rest area free coffee! Thank you to Cory and Julie, and baby Adelaide, again, for your amazing generosity and hospitality. I think one of the best parts of the trip was getting to spend more time with them.

The seasons have changed. I felt the transition as we were leaving Portland, but in the mountains, things had already morphed. Little pockets of sun burnt umbers and siennas mixed with yellow branches and cold mornings. Leaves whisked down the path, as the wind had a noticeable bite. In the town of Leavenworth, Washington, where the trail head is located for the Snow Lakes zone, deciduous trees had changed and outdoor patios had a festive glow.  The town is surprisingly authentically German Bavaria. Windows spilled over with flowers and picturesque scenes were painted on the buildings and above doorways. We ate at the sausage shack (they even had veggie snausages!) before and after the hike, partaking in homemade sauerkraut and a flowerful bier garden! We just missed the open hours of the authentic German bakery, but managed to hit up another fun sweet haus, filled with gigantic gingerbread cookies. Billy and I, as usual, imagined living there in our self-built strawbale house on the outskirts of town, smelling the high alpine air for the rest of our days. It could happen!

Billy here. When we got to our friends’ house north of Seattle, their power was still out from a storm that had blown through, knocking down limbs and power for miles through Washington. When we left for the trail head the next day, there was still no power and rain pelted us the whole way. The young ranger at the trail head asked us if we knew about the weather and we stopped in our tracks, even audibly letting out ignorance. He told us that backpackers last night experienced torrents of rain, even a little snow, and 60 mile an hour winds. We all seemed to feel undaunted by this unanimously, as the weather seemed to be lightening. Spence and I were so excited to be backpacking that we practically power walked up the first half of the way to Nada Lake, a somewhat grueling climb of nearly 4,000 feet. The wind whistled through the trees in certain bends of the switchbacks and an osprey curiously eyed us from across the creek. Snow Creek fell down out of the mountains near us in a jade and turquoise rush.

Thought by thought, I was stripped of the worries my mind spins incessantly. Little one year old Addie had helped. Playing with her that morning before leaving almost instantly turned me giggly and mischievous, hopping around like a frog. The seed fluff of the flowers letting go for the end of summer did the same. The air was so cold and pure it was, as I told a new hiker friend in our group, like sucking on an ice cube. Some parts of the trail are overgrown with thimbleberry and flowers. The wind would kick up and white little faerie seedlings would take flight, filling the air with pure lively joy. Autumn came overnight in the mountains and with it a sense of possibility.

Though base camp near Nada and Snow Lake was often cold and rainy, including the steep scramble up into the Enchantment Lakes area itself, our spirits were high and the weather never reached the drama of the ranger’s warnings. A family of mountain goats foraged near us, loping like werewolves or unicorns (or were-unicorns). In the night they galloped through our camp, partying like, well, animals. They were so used to humans that they were unafraid to forage right next to our camp. The billy goat would tromp right into our camp, between us and the little baby kids, who bleated like kittens.

Though the hike was definitely steep and hard, I was surprised at how good it felt to be out in the elements using my muscles and getting tired. Perhaps I was also feeling the happiness of the land getting rain after such a hot, dry, and literally burning summer. But the weariness of the muscles seemed to bring on a relaxation of the spirit. The snake grass on Lower Snow Lake grew like scratches on the surface of the water – burnished copper, tarnished green.

Over the last several weeks the word palimpsesthas been going through my head. I wasn’t even sure what it meant – though I had looked it up some months ago when I first began studying the Book of Kells. According to Oxford, it means either:

1. A manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
or
1.1 Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
It is amazing how our minds work: how we know almost nothing consciously and then are reminded by our subconscious or our dreams of what we can know – an experience beyond ourselves, all palimpsests, every one of us, written upon the surface of the Earth in skin just as the plants are written in solar cells of  chlorophyll and the rocks are written in mineral, the same manuscript written through the eons on the molecules of this planet. We walk outside of ourselves and our cities to remember who we really are, not just human, not just minds or egos or somebodies, but inks on the pages of the living book of life. We will be rewritten someday. And that is the beautiful way of it.