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

Five Mile Butte Fire Tower

Spence here: Its been a peculiar summer in the Pacific Northwest. At times it still feels like Spring, with Fall soon to follow, nipping at our heels. One or two days of 90 degree weather in June, has been closely followed by cloudiness, 65 degree days, fog and wind the rest of the time. The mountains have magnified this pattern, and although we had good weather for most of our trip on Mt Hood, the rain and cold threatened at many turns. In the sun, when it shone, and out of the wind, I felt my body warming as I laid in the wild flower fields surrounding the fire tower we rented for a few days. But in late afternoon, the breeze would shift, become chilly, and the view from the tower too awesome to resist. Billy and I would retreat to the glass-enclosed tower, which felt like a boat in the sky. It would sway a bit with the whipping wind and creak like an old knee. The Five Mile Butte Fire Tower is built 40 feet up off the ground. Its current incarnation was built in 1947, but there has been a tower there since 1920. The area is popular for mountain-biking, but the hiking is just as spectacular. I was thrilled to finally stay in a tower, equally as cool as sleeping in a lighthouse, which is also on my list of fun. This tower had a solar panel, so we had an overhead light for the night time. It also had a nice propane stove with an oven. I could see how snow-shoeing in and staying over during winter would be cozy and quiet. There is a wonderful old wood stove and a huge shed stocked with firewood. We had to pack in our own water, and on day 3 we decided to hike down to 8 Mile Creek and filter water to bring back up. We probably had enough but it seemed like a great hike and a way to explore Five Mile Butte.

We had a few days before our reservation at the tower and a few days after, so we took the opportunity to explore more of the southeast side of the mountain. Our first night, on recommendations from friends we drove down highway 42 toward Boulder Lake. It being the 4th of July weekend, we decided to backpack in to avoid some crowds. We ended up going around Boulder lake, past Little Boulder Lake and camping at Bonnie Meadows. We were the sole humans there camped by an amazing little creek filled with fish. We spent a wonderful afternoon, eating snacks and laying in the dirt in the bright sunshine. It eventually turned very cold, even too cold for the mosquitoes, so a roaring fire kept us up past 9pm. We bush-wacked a little bit to find a neat trail back the next day, circumnavigating the area. We day-hiked some trails with magnificent waterfalls and had many second breakfasts and second lunches.

After our fire-tower adventure, the weather turned. We decided we needed some time to think about what to do next, so we headed into Hood River to contemplate life at Pfreim… our favorite craft brewery! Heading back to the mountain, we stopped to hike up Cooper Spur. We drove a crazy dirt road 20 miles up to Cloud Cap Saddle and even though rain was intermittent, hiked up a glacial ridge to see the mountain personally. The rains really came down soon after getting back to the jeep, so we drove some more to find a secluded spot in the woods to spend the night. We cleared the back of the jeep and decided to sleep in it. Even though it was a little cramped, the temperature inside the jeep was so inviting… wine, snacks, good books and deer tv out of the windows. We fell asleep listening to all the creatures and the dripping dropping. When day light came again, we decided we still hadn’t had enough fun, so we drove to Lookout Mountain and climbed to the top during a foggy, cloudy, rainy late morning. I suppose one would want to climb that mountain when one could see a view, but I would say it was still very magical, at times peaceful and simultaneously electrically spectacular. Glimpses of Mt Hood felt especially well-timed and powerful as clouds eerily flowed over us and into us. What a way to spend an anniversary with the most magical creature I have ever known.


Spence here: Hello once again from Couple-o-huckleberries-land. Transpiration has occurred, and like old friends, it always feels good to meet again. We have been busy the last year with changing jobs, school, urban and wild adventures, art shows and relocation to Southeast Portland. Celebration!

I have been occupied, becoming a bike mechanic and have found another great shop to learn and work. I find myself throughout the day replaying Lloyd Dabbler quotes, “…yeah, they actually pay me for this.” I come home filthy and it’s pretty fun. My new commute is by bike 16 miles round trip right on the Willamette River and is good for my disposition.  In the interim, Billy and have both had solo art shows and one fantastic farewell to the tiny houses art majickal show. I feel humbled and thrilled to have showcased my art at Miss Zumstein’s… see this link to my art page: LifeofSpence Artword.

Leaving the tiny houses was a very difficult decision. The love and care put into the building and creating still stand however, for others to admire and hopefully find inspiration in small spaces. In our new house we are able to spread out a bit, spend all day in the kitchen cooking up savory delights and beer, and living with all our instruments under one roof. I spent an hour in the bath tub the other day and it was all I thought it could be.

A few choice adventures have included bike trips to the Columbia, the Sandy River, the Clackamas River, hiking Powell Butte, visiting downtown during the height of the blossoms, and coastal exploration. We’ve been finding excellent free camping a long the Wilson River, the Nehalem River and Mt. Hood. We have recommitted to blogging on a somewhat consistent basis once again, so check back when you can for more photo ops and adventure stories! As always, thank you so much for reading… see Billy’s post below and enjoy our site revamp!

Farewell Tiny House Art Show:


Urban adventures:

Billy here. My first real year of college has been truly inspiring and I have had the pleasure of working with some exceptional instructors at Portland Community College. I was proud of PCC for creating a controversy by hosting the White History month this April for all to learn about the history of white privilege and systems of oppression in response to current events. School has been consuming my thoughts and energy and it has been absolutely enriching and engaging. From drawing to forest ecology, I have learned a lot this last year and am excited to continue this academic adventure. I have only been out of school a month and I am already ready to start again! But I am also excited to see what the next couple of months of summer will bring. Spence and I have been playing music and I am picking up the electric guitar again. Next year’s moon calendar is on the drawing board. We bottled our first batch of summer brew: cherry cider made from urban foraged organic cherries. We have some nice hikes on the docket and perhaps another big road trip.  Stay tuned!

Here are some links and pictures of a sampling of art I did in school this last year with my inspiring art instructor Sasha Miljevich:

Final 3-D Design Project

Final Drawing I Project video on YouTube

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


-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.

Singing for Rain Harvest Festival Prefunk

A Posting Update: Next week we will be on hiatus, hopefully enraptured in the Enchantment Mountain Range–backpacking in Washington State. Our next post will be Sunday, September 6th! Because of school and work restraints, we will be only posting new adventures every other week for the Winter Season. Thank you for reading.

Billy here. This morning the sun was ruby red behind a haze of wildfire smoke blowing in from the West. We heard the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest have kicked up to an such an  intensity that it has been declared a federal emergency. The smoke has been getting thicker all day and now I am wondering about our backpacking plans next week; located a little too close to three different complexes burning over one hundred thousand acres. One of these fires claimed the lives of three fire fighters on Wednesday. I think of my friends who are volunteer firefighters in New Mexico. I think of the loved ones of the young fire fighters who were killed. I think of the people who have lost their homes and every material thing to the fires. Not going backpacking doesn’t seem like such a tragedy if it does turn out that way.

This summer is on route to being the hottest ever recorded in the history of Portland. This month, only 0.12 inches of rain has fallen so far, with a 39 day stretch of no rain spanning the early summer. Back in January, with the record lack of snowfall, I was already foreseeing the summer turning out scorching and burning. Oregon is on her fourth straight year of drought, with no real respite in sight.

Meanwhile, in my little life, the next couple of weeks will be busy, with school starting soon and two art shows to produce in the next few months, I have my work cut out for me. But I know in my bones that it’s important to keep my mind and heart open to the big picture – to not get lost in my little story. Things don’t often go as planned.

Tangentially, on a walk the other day, I had an interesting interaction on Killingsworth Street. I had been thinking about the Black Lives Matter movement and the rampant racism in Portland. A man lay in the grass and said something to me that snapped me out of my thoughts. I didn’t hear what he said because of the traffic. I stopped, turned around and listened. He liked my hat. Everything about him seemed gentle and kind, but unrelentlessly honest.

“Where did I get my hat? I…I think someone gave it to me.” I clearly remember getting it on Hawthorne street, so why did I say that? Was it because all the rest of my hats were gifts?

He said, “That hat’s never been given away.” His tone was gentle and clear.

I wanted to give it to him, perhaps to make amends for the fib he saw through. He wouldn’t take it.

“I’ll get it another way. What I want is the end of the race.” Did he mean the human race? The white race? The rat race? I was intrigued. I lay down in the grass next to him and listened to what he had to say.

It didn’t make sense rationally –was he a poet, high on weed, mentally ill, or maybe Jesus (or all of the above)? Maybe I met Jesus, then I could tell you that he is a black man. He said there was no room for him at the table, that for too long in the house there has been rape and molestation, that his mother and father were upstairs. I didn’t comprehend what he was trying to say intellectually, couldn’t follow his highly metaphoric train of thought, but my heart heard it and suddenly I found tears in my eyes. He smiled gently because he knew the truth: that it was I who was the fool, not he. Madness and sainthood is a knife-thin line and, boy, he was sharp. I clasped his hand, looked him right into the iris, and told him he was a good man, and I felt it to be absolutely true, even if he was mad.

“I do think this hat would fit you.”

He seemed pleased, so I handed it to him. I told him to take care, and he responded the same. “The both of you,” he said. Damn, did he mean my duplicitous nature, or the fact that I am two genders?

Many ancient cultures have traditions of kindness to strangers, because they could be gods or goddesses disguised as human. I’m telling you, Jesus is a black man.

Wildfires and climate change go hand in hand with social justice and equality: they both require that we start treating our world like it matters as if our lives depend on it, because they do.

Spence here:  In our own little neck of the woods, tonight, we attended a party. A fabulous gathering, hosted by the next door neighbors every year called “Dirt Don’t Hurt”. It is a pre-harvest festival sort of party. There is always a great band or two made up of neighborhood musicians, potluck food made from everyone’s’ garden fare, good beer and funny outfits. I opted to not go as Pinocchio, although, still managed to work in suspenders and shorts.It is a great excuse (like I need an excuse) to get reflective, as this marks a year in which we have lived back in Portland. If you asked me, I would say it feels like no time has even gone by. But that also, would be a fib. Much has been accomplished in a year, and there is much to be thankful for–least of which–landing in this quirky neighborhood of urban gardeners and farmers.

Tuned to a more somber note–we knew it would come–the burning. I am only surprised it took until August to begin in earnest. I woke up and walked out into the light from the cabin and there was an eerie tone. Not altogether unpleasing, but an uneasy feeling, of which I have felt before–and remembered that smokey air/light dissonance. People commented on it throughout the day, but more out of a sense of uncomfortableness about how to handle the situation. I did not grow up with forest fires of this magnitude in the Midwest. They still scare me in my dreams. I tried to handle my thoughts more eloquently–talking with folks about the news and writing a song about it before I went to work.

Yesterday, I drew the Five of Cups Tarot card. In one of the sets Billy owns there is a human figure holding a mask down by her side, as if to say she is serious but not hiding and willing to be honest and exposed. I looked up the meaning and from what I could gather the Five of Cups is sort of a “Debbie-downer”–only seeing the cups that have spilled, not seeing the cups which have remained standing, located behind me. Billy mentioned though, perhaps it is more about not seeing through the mask of fear. I included these thoughts in my song. At the very least, this week I am trying to see the excellent opportunities we have in front of us this Fall.

P.S. Thank you to our good neighbors for their photogenic yard!

What rhymes with San Juan?

Sunset behind the Cabin

San Juan Island etc 120

San Juan Island etc 121

Spence here: Our tour started with a stop in Edmonds, Washington. Our good friends bought a house and had a baby in the course of a few months last year and I regret we have not been able to visit until last week. It was wonderful catching up–they even fought the yawns, staying awake late to chat, sacrificing precious new parent sleep time. I was very humbled by their love and dedication, and overwhelming hospitality despite a tough work and newborn baby schedule.

We took the car ferry from Anacortes, Washington to Friday Harbor on the San Juan Island. I love a ferry! (That should be a t-shirt!) There are several smaller islands among the chain, but our friends’ lovely cabin was to be our destination. “We’ll have to come back here!” Everything you see in the pictures is as lovely as it looks. Moss covers the rocks, inland, among the trees and little footpaths. Rocks house cute insects and closer to the shore, clams, mussels and oysters. Gulls, grebes, cormorants, eagles and osprey (with babies!) greeted us daily. My eyes were partying through binoculars every eve. Barnacles add texture to everything in the sea, and the people add a flavor too. I could write many sonnets about the island and the generosity of our hosts, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll just say it was everything I thought it could be. Sunny, breezy and full of the smell of the sea.

We had a picnic lunch with smoked salmon and home brew, overlooking a small fleet of pleasure-cruisers. We had dinner at Roche harbor–pizza and beers–while waiting for the full moon to rise over an invigorating, captivating local outdoor version of the Shakespeare play, Cymbeline. We walked along coastal hills, a lighthouse and historical placards and saw orca whales, otters, seals and fish flying up out of the water. Picturesque sailboats splashed by in the foreground of snowy Olympic mountains. Were we dreaming? No. We hiked up a mountain and tried to keep up with our playmates who are over 30 years older than us, and who pretty much smoked us! We toured a sculpture garden and caught up on the news of our joint New Mexico friends. We even took a nap at a mausoleum! Bedded down in the grass like deer, in the shade of curving madronas, we were hidden from other photographers and visitors. I stood in the middle of the broken column and felt a portal–I’m still not sure if I went anywhere–it is to be determined. We had a beer on the ferry on the way back and really expensive sandwiches! Did I mention it was sunny and 80 degrees with a slight off-shore breeze everyday? Seriously, who has this life? Thank you dear ones for an amazing trip. I look forward to the end of August, when it is possible we may see our friends again and return the favors. Love.

Billy here. What can I add to what Spence has said about our wonderful trip? He really has said it so beautifully.

Except I will add one anecdote. When we were seated at the chairs over the ashes of the dead in the center of the strange Masonic mausoleum, our hilarious hosts began to chant as if in a seance: “Ohwa! Tagoo! Seim!” Faster and faster they chanted it while Spence and I looked at one another with morbid wonder, until it became apparent that what they were saying was: “Oh what a goose I am!” We all fell into laughter, because they really had us going for a minute that they were going to channel some spirits!

The Wild and Thoughtful Salmon River

Spence here: Back to where the Huckleberries roam! Although, it is too early in the season for the huckleberries, (but luckily it is time for blueberries!) I felt happy to wander down familiar paths this week in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness. I have taken my family on The Old Salmon River Trail and Billy and I have walked the lengths many times. What a magnificent forest–I feel, one of the kindliest places I have ever been–and I am proud to call the trees there my friends! The forest floor is cool and shady, the glacial-fed river always slightly breezy and refreshing, and the logs of old growth giving new life to trees, ferns, mushrooms and other kin.

My thoughts wander the depths of the galaxy lately–from low as the worms to high as the hawks. Billy and I celebrated our five years of dating anniversary! High! I am thinking about the next five years, and what we will make of it. I am very excited. We talked about an epic journey, perhaps a walk across North America. We are continually talking and moving towards simplifying our lives and conserving (and intelligently using) resources. I have begun to research ideas for building walking rickshaws. I enjoy our talks as we take a run together, walk the trails or play cribbage. I have been slowly making improvements to our music studio–beautifying the place with shingles. Billy had a great idea for the mural on the side of our house, which is turning out wonderful. More pictures of that will be included next week. We also brewed some Blue Fig Gruit this week! My internship at the bike shop is pretty fun and I am learning much.

On the low side of things, I am still lamenting over my dog bite. I got bit by the neighbor’s dog a few weeks ago and the bruises are still bothering me. The doctor I went to asked me if it was provoked! (Uh… No! Why would I provoke the neighbor’s dog?) Anyway, it has made me afraid of other dogs and this makes me simultaneously uptight and sad. I had a dream the other night about walking into the fighting ring with my future demons. The orator of my dream said not to worry this time because the fight was to be practice for much harder times ahead. What it all means, I don’t know. I read a book recently however, which talked about our being our authentic selves. When we are, we have no need to worry, as our path will open up to us as it needs and our struggles will be known and we will be supported by the people we love.

The clouds rolled back into Portland this week, giving us a little break from the heat. I am not worried so much about impending doom, but will try to keep the clouds in mind, as protection from possible blistering troubles! The water of the Salmon River refreshed my energy and celebrating another important milestone with my beau has renewed my empathy and openness. Let us try to carry that forth at least another week!

Billy here. Each day I feel so lucky and happy to be alive in the world and to be able to share my life with Spence. I was thinking on the river trail about how wonderful it is to be alive. Once, when I was a kid, I ran through a sliding glass door. Sometimes in my life I take it for granted that I’m still alive and I could’ve died then (or any other time for that matter, such as the time I was living in Las Vegas and learned on the news at my lunch break that I had missed a gun wielding hijacker by minutes on the road I took to work). Just as I was having this thought of taking life for granted, I slipped and fell to the ground, as if the forest were there to remind me again – hey, life is short and you could miss it! Sometimes I spend a lot of needless time worrying or just thinking too much. My grandma used to say that some people were just too smart for their own good, but you don’t even have to be smart to think too much.

I was going to talk about watersheds and the importance of clean water. I was going to ask if people knew where their drinking water came from or the headwaters of the nearest creek or river. While this is important, it’s just that I feel knowing something isn’t as important as enjoying it and respecting it. The limits of our knowledge don’t touch the depths of our hearts. I will never truly know the depths of the people or places I love, because they are more complex than what is possible for one mind to grasp. This is not to say that learning is in vain, but that the joy, respect, and participation we put into our experience is just as important as critical thought. And maybe critical thought alone is dangerous!

On that thought, let us pause to enjoy the fruits of the summer: blueberries and figs that go into our home brew, the strains of yeast that ferment them, the herbs that preserve them, and the water that gives us life! A toast to summer and may we loosen the grip on our hearts!

Parks and Wreck

Billy here. The theme of the week has been getting out into the city and exploring the art that is out there – the art that exists intrinsically everywhere, the art that has been made by humans, and the art that is waiting to be made. In my twenties I absolutely demonized humanity. I thought that no good came out of industrialized life (still wavering on that one) and that most of what humans have done on the planet is destroy its integrity and biodiversity. I was a rebellious (and mostly self-destructive) misanthrope. But the older I get the more I am aware of how ignorant I am!

Over the last week I devoured a collection of essays by Gary Snyder, a poet and ecologist, published in a book called A Place in Space. This reading has revitalized and given words to my childhood heartfelt conviction of a dire need to reconnect with our place within nature without doing away with our cultural evolution. The confines of a rigid patriarchal traditional society can be questioned in today’s world. We can mostly now, depending on the region, look at what worked and what did not, being relatively free to live outside of traditional or religious imperatives. But some of what we have lost is a sense of place and our connection to the food web.

The world has changed drastically since the 1950’s. In social avenues, this has been largely positive. The civil rights movements have shaken up white male privilege, though not nearly enough. Change is generational, they say. In technological ways, the computer, the internet and space exploration have completely remapped our world with mixed results. However, in economics, military and subsistence, the world has changed in ways that are primarily not positive: massive deforestation and pollution in the name of progress and development, species extinction and invasion of habitats, and the deepening of a physical and cultural genocide that started with the dawn of imperial industrialism, to name a few. Capitalism has become dominant and modes of thought that are not geared toward “progress” are highly discouraged. Progress in capitalistic terms seems to be expansion, and expansion was gained historically first by outright slavery and then by fossil fuels and wage slavery. Unlimited expansion in a finite world is literally impossible and a sure recipe for population overshoot and die off. There is no such thing as sustainable development. Development, in principle, is not sustainable.

This is such a quick turn for the species Homo sapiens. In a mere sixty years, the planet has changed more rapidly than in the entire history of humanity – another mere blip on the timescale of the Earth. The entire closed system of the water cycle – recycling the same water repeatedly – turns water around from the bottom of the ocean, back up into rain and snow, down into the aquifers, then back up again takes an estimated total two million years. Homo sapiens evolved out of Homo erectus roughly 1.8 to 0.2 million years ago. Our entire existence on the planet does not span one cycle of water, a cycle that has happened roughly 2,300 times already on Earth.

And what does this have to do with art, you ask? Art, as well as story, music, and dance, is a thing that has evolved with us out of the incredible being that is Earth. It is, like the birth of rational thought, something that emerged out of nature. We are intelligent because nature is intelligent. We are creative because nature is creative. So why isn’t expansive growth a part of nature? Well, it is, just like invasive species and cancer! But it isn’t sustainable, and this is a word that has been diluted in the last ten years…this calls for the work of trickster, of art…to remind us that dominance is ephemeral, and the only thing that lasts is water.

Humanity, like any other species on Earth, is capable of creating beauty and terror both. The two are braided together. On hot drought days like these, a feeling near panic starts to build, but I try remember the songs, the ones I learned on the wind and from the owls as a kid. That’s what keeps me going. It’s not hope,  because hope is a kind of waiting, but something more active than that, something we have to do everyday. Something like determination. Or love.

Spence here:  Summer is here in full bloom. I am shocked to learn that Multnomah County (the county encompassing Portland) is currently under a fire ban. I am aware it gets dry here in the summer–this is not a mystery–but I have never heard of a ban here in 15 years. Our summer started early–in April, and we were at 15% of snow pack–so I get it, but that doesn’t make it any less unbelievable for such a lush, vibrant, and (seemingly) wet forested area.

In any event, Billy and I braved the heat for a few days and hit the pavement, scouring for “art”. It seems there is an “Art Walk” almost every week of the month–First Thursdays, First Fridays, Second Tuesdays, Last Thursdays–we are lucky to have an abundance of favorable supportive venues. Many of my favorite pieces however, were found on the abandoned blocks of town! I love to turn the corner of a building and find a painting, intentional or not, on the side of something dilapidated, that takes my breath away, with intricate colors, complicated shapes and enough juxtaposition to fill 100 fancy magazines! There were a few formal galleries downtown, showing some really amazing work–Blue Sky Gallery (I got lost in their photography), P:ear Gallery (for homeless youth) and The Everett Street Lofts were among some of my favorite spots.

Something downtown, however, turned my heart and my stomach into depressed, confusing knots: the contingent of homeless and mentally ill folks. This has always been a part of any city-scape, and especially Portland, maybe because of the mild winter weather, I’m not sure. But as the city grows exponentially, it seems the homeless and mentally ill populations are growing right along-side. Everywhere we turned, so many suffering people, many ironically acting like zombies with physical ailments, schizophrenia, most malnourished, drugged up or just plain broke. I never felt particularly in danger, but just filled with an overwhelming sense of loss, anger, sadness and powerlessness to do anything about it. Only a couple people asked us for money and no one was really bothering anyone, but just the sheer numbers of people suffering was enough to make me want to get the hell out of downtown.

This city is only working for some people. The unemployment rate of People of Color between the ages of 16 and 19 in Portland is 55%! Compared to the national percentage of homeless People of Color (7%), Portland came in at a whopping 24%. There isn’t a single neighborhood left in Portland where Black or Native American people can afford a 2 bedroom apartment. (All statistics came from the City of Portland 2015 Housing Report and the Urban League’s latest report, State of Black Oregon).

I appreciate the efforts people are making towards connecting the dots, but it seems they are few and far between. Some individual artists have paired up with good organizations, such as the Oregon Conservancy Foundation, and Willamette Riverkeepers, as well as a gallery holding space for homeless youth (P:ear Gallery, some of my favorite pieces were there!) There is the amazing Sitka Center on the Oregon Coast, blending art and ecology, and Caldera Arts, and some public water reclamation sculptures. Sadly, a gallery I was looking forward to was closed for the holiday, Quintana Galleries, housing Indigenous Art. Nike, Adidas, Intel, Wieden-Kennedy–these are the corporations making big money off artists in the form of advertising. But how does this affect the actual health of our communities? Sure some of the stuff is super slick and cool, but how is funding a $50,000 party downtown helping anyone with real world problems? When art is soul-less, who is it really for? Maybe I am struggling to connect the dots myself.

It was good to get out there and see what people are doing and talk to people trying to get by–it was good to listen. It is inspiring to see people continue to smile and be friendly who have nothing but a raggity backpack. It is easy to get disheartened. But we can’t afford to. We have to keep doing things we love–putting art out there which heeds a call of responsibility and love. We have to embrace creativity and intelligence of all species in order to change this shit around. Today I spent most of the day painting. This week I sent off several poems to different magazines, in hopes that someone will read my work and feel something of an inspiration, regardless if it gets published. I wrote a new song and wept when I sang it to Billy. I went out this week to try to find genuineness and heart and it was successful in that we found some–even if it was unintentional or difficult.

Roses for A History of Pride

crazy stamens

Billy here. Forty six years ago today, police raided a little gay tavern in Greenwich Village, arresting patrons and seizing the alcohol. This was not the first time this had happened. Queers were routinely rounded up and arrested for as little as wearing the wrong clothes. There was a law on the books enforcing the wearing of at least three garments appropriate to one’s “actual gender”. But this night in 1969, there was an electricity of defiance in the air. Customers who usually fled the bar at the first hint of a raid instead gathered close, waiting for the right moment without knowing why. Mark Caldwell’s book New York Night: The Mystique and Its Mystery describes the scene:

Gradually at first, a small train of scuffles flashed like sparks along a fuse. A drag queen, shoved by a cop into the van, hit him over the head with her purse. When he clubbed her in response the crowd began first shouting, then beating the sides of the paddy wagon. A hail of pennies began flying out of the crowd, clinking off the van and falling at the cops’ feet, a silent but contemptuous reminder of the payoffs they’d been pocketing for years.

Then the bomb went off. A lesbian – never afterward identified, either by herself or by anyone else – balked when the police locked her in handcuffs and tried to push her into the van. At one point four cops at once were clawing at her as they tried to force her, flailing and screaming, toward a patrol car, but she burst out and fought them all the way back to the bar entrance; at one point, according to one witness, she pleaded with the crowd: “Why don’t you guys do something?” Suddenly, a man pried a cobblestone from the pavement and heaved it across Christopher Street, where it clunked onto the trunk of a police car. This was the first volley of bricks and cobblestones…

The cops were pushed and trapped into the bar, Stonewall Inn. Molotov cocktails were tossed. When the riot cops were called in they met a front line of men with arms linked, advancing with chorus-girl kicks, apparently chanting:

We are the Stonewall girls!

We wear our hair in curls!

We wear no underwear;

We show our pubic hair!

This event sparked other riots and has gone down in history as the Stonewall Riots, igniting the gay liberation movement. On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride parades kicked off not only in New York, but also in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, starting a tradition of Pride being held around late June to commemorate the anniversary of the riots. These first Pride Parades took great courage – it had only been two years since the riots, and policies were yet to be changed.

The last five years has seen a huge turnaround in the support for queer rights and acknowledgement. In Barack Obama’s second inauguration speech in 2013, he linked civil rights, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights, mentioning Stonewall and LGBTQ issues for the first time ever in a presidential inauguration speech.

And a few days ago, on June 26th, the Supreme Court ruled to legalize gay marriage throughout the entire nation. This is a happy step for all people interested in the integration of all of us into a whole and just social fabric. I know that it is far from over. I know that after the victory of the North in the Civil War and the abolishing of slavery (happy belated Juneteenth, y’all!) the infamous hate group, the Ku Klux Klan, formed in the backwoods of Tennessee as a backlash. So let’s celebrate, let’s be proud, and let’s keep a watchful eye on the extremists in the backwoods who now feel that their religious “freedom” to hate is being impinged upon by the freedom to love!

We can now walk the streets without being arrested. Hurray! But none of us are truly free until my black trans sisters stop being murdered faster than any other group in the world. I love my queer tranny husband. I’d die for him and our love. But I’d rather not! We are going to keep fighting for our freedom to exist. Isn’t that the American way?

Spence here:  I will begin with an aside: we may have taken liberty with some of the names of the flowers in these photos, but some of the names of the roses at the garden were pretty inventive…About Face, All the Rage, Liverpool Echo, Drop Dead Red, Pinocchio, Easy Going, Strike it Rich, Rockin’ Robin, Vogue and Montezuma to name a few! Also, recently we have been inspired to name our new band, Crazy Stamens. I might not be kidding, so don’t steal it.

While Billy and I were walking around, taking time to literally smell the roses and try out our new digital camera, the Supreme Court made a monumental ruling guaranteeing under the Constitution, rights to same-sex marriage–even Arnold Schwarzenegger said it was “the right decision”! I loved what Justice Anthony M. Kennedy had to say in during the ruling:

In forming a marital union, two people become greater than they once were.

I think this quote is important because it eloquently illustrates, in part, my feelings about why I wanted to marry Billy, but also because it is what should be true for all people when thinking about getting married. I am so happy everyone has been openly given this chance.We took the opportunity to celebrate with mimosas, tears and texts to family. I really thought it would be another 20 years at least for this victory. It has taken people standing up and courageously claiming space by being themselves and being positive examples of what love can look like. Part of why this is so important is because of visibility–not to “flaunt it”, or “rub it in” or make others feel uncomfortable–but to let people see and understand that they already probably know some gay people, and that we have the capacity, just as anyone else, to make a loving, committed difference in people’s lives. Granting these rights will give more people the opportunity to do so, with pride.

Otters Don’t Pay Rent

Spencer here: This week, in between two jobs and two house-sitting gigs we managed to sneak off to explore more of Portland’s parks, specifically along the Columbia River. On a gorgeous sunny day, we finally discovered Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area. I have been hearing of these lakes for years, only to now understand what they are about and where they are within Portland. I love this small, unassuming, 205 acre, quiet place. After oogling over some amazing nature sculptures at the park’s terminus, we took a wide path, part of the 40 mile loop, which runs throughout metro Portland, and turned left into the woods. Immediately, it was calm, cool, shady and breezy. The smell of the cottonwoods hit us and I was very relaxed. Too bad if someone tried to make an air freshener out of that smell it would be like cat litter or gross bathroom candle. Anyway, while walking and enjoying my 64 minutes of freedom before another work shift, I was contemplating something I had watched on Youtube that morning by Mark Boyle, author of a book called The Money-less Man. In an interview, he was describing how humans are the only species on all of the Earth who have to pay money to live. He is quoted as saying “We don’t expect the birds or the fish or the otters to pay rent.” (What a noble plight “homeless people” take on in imitating other species! Literally, if someone does not have money, it is pretty impossible to find a place to “be” without some enforced statute of limitations.) While watching an actual otter cross the pond through binoculars, floating, eating, sniffing and genuinely enjoying the sun and good health, these thoughts resonated within me once again. (I remember several years back reading a book called The Man Who Quit Money, by Mark Sundeen, about a similar character named Daniel Suelo of Utah. I became obsessed with the chance of running into him while traveling through Moab! He actually lives outside of Moab most of the time in hidden caves).

I have begun researching the concept of living without money more earnestly lately, as I am also reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s brilliant book Braiding Sweetgrass, (which Billy had read a few months ago). In one of her essays she writes about the “Gift Economy”. Unlike bartering, this concept is based in randomness and excludes obligation and expectation. It is akin to the river–a constant flow of giving and receiving. I guess I appreciate this, in that sometimes even volunteering can sometimes feel like an unbalanced proposition. Sure, there is an exchange that may seem beneficial, but in my experience, there is also high potential for abuse, as a structure for goods and services. I am not saying that helping, or work or effort is bad, I am only trying to expand the conversation to include all forms of exchange environments. I also am interested in a sense of purpose, more than I am in “work” as we define it these days. I am thinking of when we help a stranger because it is a kind thing to do, not because we will gain from it.

I have found a couple of amazing websites for more insight and information on a life without money, experiments and ways of life: “(Un)Certainties”, and  “Zero Currency”. Billy and I have contemplated living without money for a long while and have had lengthy conversations about what it would look like for us. I believe, (and have believed this for a long time), that as long as there is capitalism, there will be extortion of people, places and things, and motivation for people to abuse power and privilege. For example, as long as people can make money on oil, there will campaigns for ridiculous and dangerous pipelines through pristine wilderness. We are all in it, however, whether someone opts out or not, which is one of the criticisms both Suelo and Boyle have faced. Just because one opts out of the money system, one is still intricately involved with it, as by-products such as extra food, free clothing, free gear and hitch-hiking still involve some sort of participation. I don’t know the answer, but that doesn’t stop me from seeking it every day. Right now, I feel like I don’t have time for ‘work’, there is too much to do.

Billy here: The last few days we both have been thinking a lot about values of work and money, especially since we are both working for dollars again (more than we actually intended, in fact), and are both already feeling tired from getting over another bug.

A couple of years ago I read Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, whose subject is the making of art, the gift exchange, and how this creative gift exchange has changed since the spread of capitalism. A gift exchange requires movement, a flow, where something is given and something else is given in return, not necessarily right away or for direct exchange, but because a gift relationship has been nurtured. Something given, it feels to be common sense, should not be sold, but given again. There is a vital difference here. Something that is given away is imbued with a special feeling, an appreciation and sense of community. There is love in the gift.  All art, Hyde stated, is made out of this heart of giving, if it is true to the spirit of art. In contrast, money is easy to keep, to take inward and to feel protective over. In today’s world of capitalism, it is easy, dead easy, to close up and ask, “How can I make money off of this?” The question outside of a money system would have been, “How can I give people heart with my work?” I ask myself frequently about the usefulness of money in every capacity, not just in the creative world. It is not that money is inherently evil, as my sister says, it just is. It’s a form of energy, true, but it’s dangerous because it contains all the values of a culture, for better or for worse.

So everybody’s gotta pay rent right? It may be complicated, but even a few generations ago, the first people on this continent didn’t understand how anyone could possibly own land. How do we claim rights to water that has flowed before our grandparents were born, water that nurtures all living things? How do we claim rights to the soil that harbors more microorganisms than we can know in a lifetime? Even in feudal Europe, everyone, even peasants, had access to common resources such as water and firewood. In my humble opinion, to say that someone owes someone money just to have a place to live on Earth is downright bonkers. I hope that someday it goes in the same category as servitude, like serfdom. Now, of course, it has gotten complicated. Even the most well meaning person who wants to have a little piece of Earth to live on may go through the process of buying land and now owes a bank mortgage. So back to medieval feudalism…the church had one cardinal sin that I would have to stand behind, the sin of usury, which was to make money of off money, that is, the charging of interest. How things have changed! I would say that the very foundation of our modern capitalism now stands on usury!

The gift economy, in contrast, has been practiced in many traditional cultures as the exchange of goods and services which is offered in the spirit of mutual benefit and the upholding of reciprocal relationships. Ideally, no one is left out and the gift keeps moving, so the moochers and tyrants are hopefully nipped in the bud, for they cut off the flow.

Who has the most money in the world? The top four banks of China, getting rich off of factories that feed material consumption all over the world. Berkshire Hathaway, who started a multinational conglomerate holding company with stock in everything from Dairy Queen to IBM. What does a conglomerate holding company do except make money off of money, that is, off of other people’s work? Next on the list include the cutthroat bank J.P. Morgan and, of course, Exxon. I believe that the way the system is set up, it appears that banks give out energy that feeds the world, but in reality, it is the opposite, we are all working to feed the banks. They make billions, and we struggle to make rent on land they pretend to own.

Spence and I are not there yet, but the gift economy is something we want to move toward. I feel that our lifestyle of living lightly and with as little money as possible is very close to this ideal, but we still have one leg on each shore, so to speak. What is keeping me on money island? Is it that I want a place to have a piano? I think this is possible without money. Is it the feeling that we are valueless if we don’t have money? What makes you feel valuable? What does making a living mean to you? Does living mean making money? Or does living mean something else?