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. There 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.