Sweet Jeep Relief

 

Spence here: Le Huckleberries were last seen camping with some friends over the 4th of July, at Cook Creek, a tributary of the Nehalem River. A grand long weekend, filled with (work for me, in my last few hours of being a prep-cook for an amazing Manzanita restaurant called The Blackbird), surfing, grillin’, beerin’, chattin’ and fishing! I bought an amazing fly rod from a co-worker and proceeded, on my third cast, to catch a 6 inch trout. I think that’s good luck! After the party, Billy and I packed up to make our way into Portland for some appointments. The idear’ (I’ve been reading Steinbeck again!) was to wrap up some business in Portland and make our way south to New Mexico to wrap up things there and see old friends. Well, I noticed a certain clanging coming from the hood of the jeep, trusty old Fen, and Billy and I took a look inside. A pulley wheel had started to squeal and smoke a little, but in order to get anywhere to fix it, we had to go somewhere else. So we decided to head toward Portland anyway and keep an ear out for more noise. Stopping off to watch the late night firework action on the bluff over-looking Manzanita was not to be missed, however. Amazing local-talk and hilarious old-timers accompanied several fireworks shows going off all down the coast. As we rolled into Tillamook the sound under the hood was getting worse and worse–had it not been midnight on a holiday we probably would have drove it straight to a garage in Tillamook. While wondering what the right thing to do would be, the jeep just suddenly stopped steering and the noise gave way. I managed to pull over on a great wide shoulder of highway 6, luckily just on the outskirts of town but within cell phone range. The pulley had dislodged itself, leaving metal dust and bearings on the ground. Not too good. Nothing to do but wait until the morning and have it towed into Portland when the garage was open–72 miles away–but well within our AAA towing limit. So we spent a bad night’s sleep on the side of the road, feeling the wind of the logging trucks rocking the jeep all night, headlights blazing. It actually turned out to be the least bad case scenario for what it was.

Once in Portland, our friends were kind enough to put us up (again, thank you!) while our jeep was getting fixed, (needed a new power steering pump). We had a few days to ponder our driving future as the garage was backed up with broken down cars over the holiday. We decided to skip driving across the country again in the summer and contemplated maybe we were tired of driving altogether. It was a moment to pause and think about retiring the jeep life sooner than later. Looking ahead, we have decided to give Ashland, Oregon a go-around. The Siskiyou Crest and Applegate Valley are too beautiful to miss, as well as the cute, liberal downtown, home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. With miles of trails leading right out of the town park, including hikes to the Pacific Crest Trail and world-class mountain-biking, I think we’ll have plenty to explore for awhile.

In the mean-time, it is perhaps plausible that we will just skip the “middle-man” and buy land, in order to not pay rent! Why not? The idea of putting down thousands on a deposit on a rent-able place that we do not own, have no control over; where the rent could be raised at any time and /or the possibility that the landlord just doesn’t like us–decides to keep our deposit, etc. The whole thing stinks and what will we have to show for it? If we buy land, we can at least invest in where we are, keep our stuff there, have friends visit, camp out… even if we don’t stay forever. The concept of buying land is a little problematic for me, in that “owning” land in the pioneer sense always feels a little like “from whom has it been taken away?” Let alone the act of “owning” part of the Earth. However, the lack of safe wild space in this day and age, (peace and quiet? ATV’s, logging, shooting, hunting, partiers and trash), the concepts of my own piece of “home” and just a plain old wanting of a place to hang my hat for more than 6 months at a time are issues I have been dealing with since I left my parents house. Till all these ideas come to fruition, however, the jeep will still be home for now, but I am looking forward to growing some roots in some capacity for a spring bloom.

Billy here: The 4th of July (our dating anniversary!) seems like forever ago. In the three weeks since, we have been in a kind of limbo with the jeep breaking down, putting us in a kind of existential…crisis is too strong a word…reassessment, perhaps. What does it mean to be free and also responsible? If we didn’t have the Jeep, how would our life look? If we had roots somewhere, how would that look? Literally every week it’s a new idea with an entirely new direction. Each week it gets scrapped for another idea and it’s back to the drawing board. The drawing board is a fruitful place to be and though some of us might dislike the sight of blank paper, I find it refreshing as falling snow. The possibilities are endless and the usual life scripts can be scrapped for a playful curiosity. However, it seems clear that some kind of rooting is imminent (and even perhaps immanent!), if at least for the winter.

The first day of the Jeep being fixed, we hightailed it out of the city to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and stayed at a rustic camp. Clearly, we still have itchy feet! We swung on a big old swing among tall ponderosas and swatted mosquitoes, just happy to be in the woods. We took the back roads into Ashland and have been exploring the surrounding areas since. The swimming here is divine and the views of Mt. Shasta from the Siskiyou crest are amazing. A favorite swim spot next to an old bridge even has an upright piano in a shelter that is surprisingly not too out of tune. I spend entire afternoons sitting by Ashland Creek, watching deer and listening to musicians in the park, a short walk from downtown Ashland. The Mediterranean climate suits us very well. The heat of the day is perfect for a dip in the Applegate River or in the lakes along the Pacific Crest Trail, but the dry air is still cool in the shade and at night.

I have been accepted at Southern Oregon University here in Ashland, but I am awaiting for the sediment to settle (and some grants to clear) before deciding to attend the school. The last year has been a busy season for the heart and mind, and each foray into a city, whether as big as Portland or as small as Manzanita, reminds us that we like the slow and quiet country life. I feel as jumpy as the deer and the chipmunks in the hustle of urban life. Perhaps we just need some autumn fermentation and the crisp dormancy of winter to know which trees will bloom and which ones will give fruit.

Mt. Shasta in California, as seen from atop Mt. Ashland

Midsummer’s Creatures

 

2017 iPhone pictures 139

Billy here: We’ve been living in the state forest in our Jeep for about three months now, during which time I finished my last term at Portland Community College and earned an associate degree. Going to school and living in the car was challenging at times, as when I needed to finish an art project for exhibition or finish online assignments. But mostly it was amazing to have resources on campus, such as a gym, non-gender single showers, a library, computer labs, and even digital pianos. I feel grateful for the opportunity to attend this great school, which, in addition to employing caring and motivated teachers, is a sanctuary campus for immigrants, hosts its own farmer’s stand, and is active in creating safe spaces for gender nonconforming folk, among many other things. Without grants and scholarships, this opportunity would not have been possible for me (anyone interested in my final art projects can see them here).

Spence started a job in Manzanita on the coast six weeks ago, which has been a kind of weekend home base since. The same weekend he started the job, he exhibited art in a Trash Art Show fundraiser for the non-profit CARTM, a fantastic organization that operates out of the dump and recycling station to re-purpose materials for art and raise awareness about waste and consumption. His beautiful pieces (and amazing salvage lumber-strap tie) can be seen here. The folks here are lovely and welcoming, so much that I nearly got a job at my favorite coffee shop and feel like I have known the local weirdos forever. But, ultimately, we don’t want to settle on the coast, so after a stint down south to visit friends and family in New Mexico and Austin, we are off to find the land where we want to put down roots and cultivate food, art, and music. I am taking, at the very least, a semester off from school, to recharge, decide where I want to finish my bachelors, and find a more permanent home base.

I won’t romanticize living the Jeep. There are times when I just want to find the bird guide and it’s under my clothing bag, under the seat, the last place I’d look. There are times when I just want to go to bed instead of rearranging the whole car to sleep. There are times when I just needed to submit a school assignment and all the small town cafes were closed. There are times when I just want to make dinner completely from scratch, but don’t have access to a full kitchen and oven. There are times when I feel genuine fear that the young, swearing drunks, whom just started a bonfire down the road and are gunning three large pickups, are going to mess with the two queers in the woods with no phone signal. ┬áThere are times I would just rather not drive anymore.

But overall, the experience has enabled us to be outdoors most of our days in the forest. We wake up to the trills of hermit thrushes and go to sleep to the hoots of barred owls. We see the different microclimates of each slope where we camp: where the salmonberries and thimbleberries fruit first, where the foxgloves bloom, where the bells of the salal are draping, where the dry “piney” mountain scent is on the air, and where the biting gnats like to feast on bare ankles and hands! Nowhere is the siren of the law or the beeping of the garbage truck! Only logging trucks, trash, bullet shells, and the throng of recreationers, waterlogged from this year’s oppressive winter, remind us of the presence of humans. One of our favorite camp spots, however, affords us so much solitude that we felt quite comfortable taking solar showers naked in the open with water from the creek. The sun, thrushes, and sparrows wake us every morning. Nighthawks and eagles soar and dive overhead. Elk and deer graze nearby and newts and frogs hide in the riparian pools and crooks of skunk cabbage.

The night of the summer solstice, we heard the raspy, rising whistle of a strange bird, a sound we had heard only once before at Alsea Falls. Spence diligently chased the sound as I watched the fire and came running back to tell me he spotted the source: two small, fluffy, white owls with dark eyes! As he rummaged for the bird guide (rargh!), I saw a third owl deliver a chipmunk to each of them and they began to devour the chipmunks, ripping them with their beaks! They bobbed around, making circles with their heads, and jerking the little rodents apart. We had never seen such a thing! Spence did research later and learned they were juvenile barred owls. We settled next to the fire, glowing with our good fortune, and silence settled around us. Suddenly, to the north of the road (where we nearly camped), a sound arose like Black Cats exploding, then a sound like a large truck peeling up the gravel, then several great wooden cracks, followed by the crushing of branches and shrubs. Then silence. A tree had fallen in the forest of its own accord. We were finally around to hear it! Later that night we heard the adult barred owls hunting, hooting, and screaming like monkeys above us. What a midsummer’s night!

Spence here: Just as I could start to smell the dank, moldy basement essence emanating from my shoes, the sun came out and saved us all in the Pacific Northwest. Let’s celebrate! I want to first congratulate Billy on getting his Associate’s Degree. It is an important chapter in his life that he humbly has worked very, very hard for. I am so proud of him. In June there was also my birthday, which sheepishly I usually spread out through much of June. This included a celebration in the big city, following up a celebration in a small city. I always wanted to stay in the hotel/hostel that is The Norblad, in Astoria and we really had a shockingly royal time, complete with fuzzy white robes. More important than all of that has been the amazing wild life we have seen in the past 48 hours–juvenile barred owls, (hear their call here!), frogs resting on skunk cabbage leaves, bald eagles flying over highway 205, and the Clackamas River alike, a tree cracking and falling of its our accord in the middle of somewhere (I am glad we weren’t camped on that ridge), as well as fish jumping, bats, sphinx moths that look like humming birds, actual humming birds… More over, another event involving a group of diverse friends was our newest little friend and his “Blessing Way” celebration–not quite a baby shower, as the intent is much more significant. It is a ceremony linking our friends with this new life and welcoming him in this circle of connection and love. I am feeling very thankful to be reminded we all have this web of support and how lucky we all are. P.S. We drove on the beach for the first time on the northern coast of Oregon and it was fun, but strange. I only saw one person actually walking there but many many trucks.