A Year’s Turning on the Oregon Coast

Spence here: {Billy is taking another hiatus from posting, as he is swimming through mid-terms in school.} Over the holidays, my sister sent us some remarkably accurate, thoughtful gifts! Among them is an amazingly raw and beautiful and tragic and fun and under and overwhelming piece of poetry in the form of a book by Michael J. Wilson, called A Child of Storm. What follows is a pipette of the poem “Study (Three Seasons”:

The nervous system is the figure of a tree

feathered and dropping then rebuilding itself

January is a purple bruise–the coldest month–a diamond mistaken for ice

You were pale and falling into a hole that you were filling up…

January is a full stop

a wrap everything up and hold it–hold it–hold it month

A moment of hardening–sap freezing into copper holding–

all that energy holding–wait–wait–wait–

That great release of spring–

We escaped town and went to the Oregon Coast to witness solstice and the great dark times of winter. We were rewarded with two days of full sunshine. A brisk, slanted breeze held us up on the beach, but back at the ‘warming hut’ (our rented yurt) we slept on bunk beds (I got the top one!) with the heater blasting and made epic egg-in-a-hole-in-the-breads, one after another. On our last afternoon, parked at an overlook called Roads End, we finally stopped our fidgeting and succumbed to a glorious, sleepy, hazy dream–we napped sitting up in the seats of our jeep, with the sun pouring in and a view of undulating 6-8 foot waves spread out before us. Hunger woke us up a bit and we ventured further down the beach to Neskowin to watch Venus and the Knife of Time rise over Proposal Rock.

As the snow came down back in Portland in buckets, we ran through Billy’s 2016 journal of days and hysterically cackled at our fortunate lives and our unfortunate, ridiculous, insulting whining. Because what?! We really have it too good to be true.


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

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.

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?

Song for a Magnolia

Song for a Magnolia

‘Song for a Magnolia’ (48″x29″ Acrylic, Gouche and Archival Gold Ink on Salvaged Barn Wood) 2015

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you

in spite of everything,

don’t do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your

heart and your mind and your mouth

and your gut,

don’t do it.

-Charles Bukowski

Billy here. This week Spence and I collaborated on a piece we call Song for a Magnolia. It’s the first time either of us have worked on a painting with anyone else and we both found it really delightful.

Sometimes it feels awkward to share things. There’s usually a feeling of not being good enough. My inner critic always pipes up after making art or playing music for people, “Well, that was all right I suppose, but it sure wasn’t perfect!” Oh, the old childhood issues. It’s a pungent realization that I am stingy with what I love sometimes out of fear. I could play my digital piano plugged in to the amp sometimes, so that the people around me could hear the music I make instead of playing on the headphones all the time. But there’s that stinginess. And that’s all it is. It takes generosity and vulnerability to share what we love the most, to expose our heart. Vulnerability gets a bad reputation in our culture. It’s so much more hip to be cynical, hard, mysterious, knowledgeable, snarky…in short, invulnerable. But the ability to open is actually the most courageous thing we can do. Without it there would be no life. So here it is, the imperfect things I do and am.

Being a perfectionist, it’s so incredibly difficult to release things out into the world that aren’t perfect, which is everything! You want to suck everything back in and hold on tight. Spence is really helping me relax in that way. There is no such thing as perfection. Even the supposed perfection of musical pitch is a clever cultural fudge, as properties such as the Pythagorean comma show. Physics itself is more complex that we want it to be. Things don’t line up to the patterns we see. The practice, the process, the path – that’s all we have. Everything else is temporary. If I don’t keep playing, painting, sharing, and getting feedback from sharing, then I will never get better at all. Is the work toward perfection a waste of time? Maybe only if it makes us a closed and bitter person.

Well, I’ll never be perfect, thank the stars! So that means I have a lifetime of work to do and I’ll never be bored. Meanwhile, I’d really like to give my ears to the music that is the world around me with the kind of attention I would give to a symphony.

What’s needed is to rouse confidence in your ability to give…Rousing confidence starts with appreciating yourself as you are, extending warmth to yourself so that you can extend it naturally…to others.

– Madeline Bruser, The Art of Practicing

Spence here: I love that Billy and I joined forces this week to create this piece. It really was a true collaboration, in which we came at it with all our ideas, even painting simultaneously at times. Working together exposed the myriad of ways we go after a project, our rhythms, our strengths and things we admire about each other. We have co-created much in our lives, but until now have never painted together. I am looking forward to more–we learn to accept and embrace what we both bring to the table each day. In this reflection, I feel as though I am becoming a better person. I honor and appreciate the chance to be vulnerable and timid and to grow and change, (without sounding too corny), like the blossoms of the painting as they gather layers.

A 50 year-old Magnolia tree (the stump is about three feet in diameter), once stood in our friends’ yard before they bought the home. As it “threatened” the numerous shotty carports built underneath it by the previous owners, they thought it a good idea to chop it down. Actually, almost all of the trees in the yard were chopped down, previously. Our friends are in the process of returning the land to a more natural setting–getting rid of the football field effect has been step one. Planting an orchard, creating berms and planting native plants all around have been some of the latest steps. In homage to the old tree, and trees everywhere, taken out for our convenience, protection, aesthetic, ignorance and/or safety, we offer up this painting, which now hangs in beloved friends’ living room.


Spence here: Here we are in computer-land again! Although, as you read this, we will be wandering the outback somewhere in eastern Oregon, tracking down a lunar eclipse! Put your fears in a box and set it on fire! Guess this is an apt Easter post, although by accident. Happy Jesus Zombie Day, as they say in Portland! Instead of bunnies, our house got chickens this week!

I made up the word “nexit”, although I’m sure someone somewhere has already been using it for the name of some drab, highly successful business venture/merger. (Since then, that “someone” has changed their life, bought a 3 story house in a gentrified neighborhood and now they talk about real estate all day.) Anyway, I haven’t the heart to “Google It”. My own meaning of “nexit” has come to the surface as a cross between what’s next and an exit strategy. Billy and I ponder what it looks like, “exiting” society as we know it. We talk about what’s next as a step towards an alternate living situation which encompasses all that we care about–leaving a light footprint, being in nature, working with the land and creatures as opposed to domination, as well as how to sustain one’s livelihood by doing that which brings joy. Every year we understand more and get closer to our reality. This is valuable work, and in the meantime, we have come to acknowledge and embrace the nomad-life and it feels good. We like to live outside of the rules and bounds of “the everyday” and have been continually exploring. We have no other choice–we get twitchy feet, literally have restless leg, and personally, I get fussy thinking about routine and domestication. I have come to realize I prefer to shake it up because I learn from it and enjoy the new scenery. I had a therapist once tell me I “escape” to keep me grounded in reality. I admit, there are stories out there about me and the tantrums I have had in the past when moving all my stuff…if I like traveling and exploring so much why does it bring me such anxiety? Shedding/growing is like that. Anyway, we’re not getting rid of all our stuff, I guess until we’re dead, as we have plenty of heart-felt musical, arty, valuable tool-y items. However, I think this summer we will travel light, whatever we end up doing, and that feels really good.

I am brain-storm-y this week, in that I have ideas but nothing I could really set down as a plan. This is okay actually–it matches my mood and the recent spring weather. DICHOTOMOUS. It has been sunny, then see-your-breath-cold, then raining, then hailing and hot and sunny again. Sort of like my blood and all the thoughts flowing in my head, like the rivers which are too swollen and fast and murky to fish in. I have to wait a little bit before it is time for casting, or I’ll never catch anything. Might as well sit on the banks for now, get my tackle in order and crack open a cold one. By the way, we bottled our Valentine’s Day home-brew, so it might be a few weeks for that yet!

I am pleased with the direction some of my art is taking me this week. I’ve really been using my dreams more to guide my thinking and my actions; which can make life strange in a good way. I am not seeing everyday-normal things much anymore, as really looking for alternatives. This is how I like it. What is good for others may not be good for me and that is okay now.

Be conversant with transformation.
– Rainer Maria Rilke

Billy here. This week we both have been making art projects, bread, tortillas, beer, and making a little music, though not nearly enough! Even still, I feel like these processes aren’t grounding me enough. Spring is rolling the sky up and cracking it open. My dreams are mossy and dark. Things are shaking up and I feel the rumblings of arctic, the ocean rushing into rifts of ices opening explosively. I feel the dryness of the mountain orchids, the thirsty snowless slopes.

For eons, nomadic folks have migrated to follow the food sources or escape rising seas, ice ages, or droughts. Our ability to survive was in our negotiation of transformation. Many have said that we are always in transition and I believe this is true. Life is a dynamic equilibrium that thrives on adaptability. Our heart fails if it cannot adjust to different rhythms. I had a dream last year in which I lived with a family whose home was being flooded. They were living in my hometown on my street, but they were a different family, who I seemed to know just as deeply as my waking family. They warned me as the flood waters rose that the only way to survive was to be flexible, to not be attached to any one way of living.

The spring festival of Ostara in pagan Germanic Europe is the root of Christianized Easter, which was celebrated around the full moon after the Spring Equinox. The goddess Ostara or Ēostre was dawn herself, the springtime and fertility. She was connected to hares, baked goods and the renewed laying of eggs. This weekend we are taking time out to contemplate the lunar eclipse this spring full moon and also our summer adventures. It seems like an apt time to revitalize. I have five months and a whole summer until school starts in September. The seeds saved from last fall must be picked through and now we decide which ones to plant! More thoughts after we return! In the meantime, here is the art we have been working on this week, including a recording of a piano improvisation.

Hideaway Lake

News Flash! As of next week we will be changing our website to www.coupleohuckleberries.com!

Spence here: Last night I awoke to the wondrous sound of pattered rain on our little shed roof. I had echos of little anxieties left over from living in New Mexico, where it hardly ever rained: Is the rain cistern leaking? Did I leave out my tools? Is the laundry on the line still? Are the windows closed? Funny, that it has been sunny enough in the Pacific Northwest lately to foster forgetfulness in the weather. This morning it smelled like worms again!

I have been pulling double shifts of work. I work 6-8 hours on the computer building my art website, building/mending around the house and then go to my delivery job. I am proud that I am able to stick up for myself in this vein to others recently. A neighbor came over and I popped my head out of the cabin to say hello; it was about 10:30 a.m. I had been working since 7 a.m.. “Sorry to bother you, you must have been sleeping,” they said. Normally, I would have just shrugged and gone back to my business, but I piped up this time, excitedly, “Oh, no I have been working on my art website.” If we go looking for credibility, it seems, we shall only find it really within ourselves.

The Clackamas River trip, up to Hideaway Lake came just in time. I failed to realize until our first stop at Big Eddy Day Use how wound up I had become. Seriously, we need to be going out to the river at least every other week. We played on the rocks, took deep breaths and stared off into beautiful light mirroring pools. The first part of the day out there I felt like I was looking for something. I was searching the ground so intently, as if I had lost something. I only understood later my eyes and mind were hungry for what I was seeing–every detail became important to save for later, until Billy and I had a good hike and a good laugh and I relaxed.  On our way around Hideaway Lake, deep into the Mt. Hood National Forest, I recollected our first visit to that lake a few years back. It was one of the first camp trips we took after I had knee surgery. The hike around the lake had seemed too far, as well as walking to the trail head for Shell Rock Lake, less than half a mile away. I remember feeling so tired and achy, that even getting back up the hill to the van seemed somewhat perilous. I am so happy my legs are getting stronger and I can enjoy the “Walking Way” once again, as well as the “Running Way” and the “Biking Way”. Being a human minority among the trees, plants, water features, moss and other inhabitants brings me comfort and a sense of forgiveness for my human flaws which can not be aptly expressed. No wonder my Dad carries a smooth rock in his pocket–is it for remembering this?

P.S. Why would someone take the time to carve “Nude Bench” or “Not a Step Mouse” into a log? Weirdos!

Billy here. The whole world is sprouting up now. Even my dreams are opening up to the wind, ready for pollination. Last week our day trip to the river and hike out to the lakes on the Clackamas River awakened me from the winter crystallization of the mind. I remembered as a kid being moved by classical symphonies on my jambox. The first record played after I was born was Claude Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun. As I grew older, my most treasured and emotional moments were those with my ear to the speakers at low volume listening to works of composers from Bach to Stravinsky. I would listen to whole symphonies in a single sitting, turning the tape cassette over eagerly and propping myself back in front of the stereo. Only once in the last year have I given myself the leisure, the therapy, no, the necessity of just sitting and listening to a piece all the way through. It’s time to make time for what matters again. Reading fairy tales and poetry. Playing piano for the joy of it. Drawing things that fascinate me.

Something has given way in the last couple of weeks. I put my notice in at the cafe job that has slowly been losing meaning for me over the years and am looking for submissions calls, fellowships and artist grants. I am starting to have confidence that if I do indeed follow my bliss, my livelihood will present itself. The first gentle spring rain is falling after two weeks of dry sunny weather. The air smelled of earth and wood this morning instead of exhaust. Out of last year’s decay push up curious crocuses.

I can feel that this summer will be hot and dry here in the West, and I am called to attract water, to live lightly on the ball of my foot, to know where the wind is blowing, and if needed, to be prepared to fight fire.

“Red Priest” Love Spring Rising

Spence here: Alongside trees and flowers, magic also started to bloom this week, as Billy and I spent some time brewing, creating, music-making and cavorting.

We kicked the week off by moving into our music studio. Both Billy and I have enjoyed some creative solitude and practice time already in the space. The first night, we sat on the cozy bench, cheering and conjuring up possibilities–movie nights, outdoor seating nooks, roof ideas and where to put the typewriter! Something about a new space always excites me and my mind wanders through all the time-continuum of potentialities. I have something to tell all of you–I am a dreamer. I realized this while playing drums in our studio yesterday. I like to imagine where I will be, what we will do next and how or why we will get somewhere and this spurs me on into life. While playing guitar, I moved similarly through the past, which explains why I spent most of high school staring out the windows or writing poetry. Luckily, I found a partner who also reflects these sentiments, looking out and up, and by doing so, looks in.

Finally our brew is in the making. We boiled up the wort with help from several “friends” hanging around in the kitchen on a heart-breakingly sunny day. It feels good to make acquaintance again with the sun at this latitude. Adding raspberries to the fermenter in the final moments created pleasing colors for this St. Valentine’s Day. Our brew now sits in our homey studio, awaiting bottling day, a few weeks away. Bloop. Bloop. Bloop. We call it “‘Red Priest’ Love Spring Rising”.

For our big night out this month, we attended an Australian film called “Charlie’s Country“, shown through the Portland International Film Festival at Cinema 21. (Billy also got to see “The Boy and the World” from Brazil, but alas, I had to work). The film is essentially about our main character, Charlie, who is an Aboriginal fella, trying to find his place among an ever-changing scope of new White history.  I really appreciated the pacing of “Charlie’s Country” and the effort to illustrate the dichotomy which has become life for native (and some non-native!) peoples everywhere–how to embrace the present and move forward, carrying important beliefs, intentions, history and old ways ahead with optimism and a prideful cultural expression. What is it about a person (or community) living simply, co-creating with the environment they live, with indigenous knowledge, that is “lazy”, “unproductive”, offensive or even threatening? Why is there always some bureaucratic intervention? I know there is more to it than this…my simple quandary enveloped in a web of complicated interrelations. How does “living” come to mean what or how a person earns, i.e. “A Living”? As opposed to just living, alive, like being? I enjoyed the scene in the movie where Charlie and his friend are leaving the community to go live in the bush and the car they are driving runs out of gas. They just start laughing and then start walking. I also liked when Charlie catches a fish and talks to it right before eating it. He lived in the rain, the sun and the dirt.

After the movie we walked quietly to the MAX station and took a nice train ride home. Its hard not to be reflective after a movie like “Charlie’s Country”, but that is why I like to see and hear such creations. I wondered who was living in all those blocks and blocks of apartments we passed–who is tucked away in there out of view–artists, party-store employees, bankers, shamans, doctors, lawyers, witches, hacks? I was thinking about work, and how we all have our “real work” to do–the work that sustains us and doesn’t feel like work. I just wish that didn’t include monetarily prioritizing each others’ endeavors. By any stretch of judgement, Billy and I had one of the best weeks of our “real careers” so far this year!

Billy here: It seems that the city of Portland itself is bipolar, which might be why it attracts so many eccentrics. As the depressive listless state of winter lifts, spring comes in manic and we are all swept up with it! I am surprised to find the quince and cherry already blossoming. The camellias have already bloomed and are dropping. Spring has reared her head early and by summer’s end her feet may have worn a path of drought. But for now the people are smiling and the flickers singing. As the Northeast and Midwest is being blasted by yet another snow storm, the West is balmily preparing for what looks like will be yet another heat stricken summer.

On our magic day of brewing herbal beer, the sun dried out the moss and we flung the windows open for the first time this year. We listened to the ensemble Red Priest play the music of Bach as if possessed themselves with the mania of spring. The morning of brewing I was still enthralled with the movie I went to see the night before at the Portland International Film Festival, The Boy and the World. It seems strange to try and write about the animated movie, since most of it was wordless and none of it was subtitled. At first I thought it was going to be a sweet little hand-drawn movie about a kid, but as the world it painted and played with music combed out my memory of the English language, my perceptions changed. The charming childlike world of the rain forest gave way with surprise when the industrial world invaded in collages of magazine print, riot cops, textile factories and barges of clothing to be shipped overseas. Then the indigenous uprising came forth in a battle between the rainbow phoenix of the tribes and the black bird of the military industrial complex. The only words spoken were the sparse indigenous words of the parents and the lyrics of the peasant music, but with such simplicity and honesty this art explained globalization and colonization that a child would understand it. I loved the humorous collages of pasted magazine eyes and lips for the TV/advertisement propaganda personalities. This is now one of my favorite films in its creativity, its non-linear spiral of surreality, its ability to create an emotion-scape without words, its unapologetic critique of industry and imperialism, and its hope. It was so inspiring that everything after seeing the movie I recognized as art: the train ride home, the city on the river, the reflections in the window glass downtown, the roars and beeps of the city. That is what good art does, it puts us right back into the Dreaming that is always art infinitely creating, out of itself, literal dreams and the dreams we forgot, until they become reality.

In other news, today, keep your hearts perked for the black new supermoon! This will be the nearest new moon until 2020 and will affect the spring tides strongly. A ‘black moon’ is a relatively recent term explained in this helpful article about today’s particular moon on Earthsky.

Hopefully by this time, another year’s winter has ground us down for remaking. Are we ready to plant something new?

City Sundries

 The Rush to Get There

On this morning in the year 2007, a violinist gave a concert in a subway station in Washington, DC.

Leaning against a wall, alongside the usual litter, the musician, who looked more like a local kid, played the works of Schubert and other classics for three-quarters of an hour.

Eleven hundred people hurried by without slowing their pace. Seven paused a bit longer than a moment. No one applauded. Some children wanted to stay, but were dragged off by their mothers.

No one realized he was Joshua Bell, one of the most esteemed virtuosos in the world.

The Washington Post had organized the concert. It was their way of asking, “Do you have time for beauty?”

-Eduardo Galeano, Children of the Days, A Calendar of Human History

Billy here. Schubert isn’t always necessary to have beauty in our lives, it is all around us in the mundane things. A trash heap often has a symmetry of form that stuns me. I try to ask myself often, “What is beautiful around you right now? What calls you back into the world around you and away from rushing by in your head?” I forget to ask myself and then I have killed time. But isn’t time a friend, something with which we could grow old? In these long, dark winter evenings where we recharge for the summer’s adventures, are we itching to be somewhere else, or can we allow a space for pause – for something spontaneous to unfold?

Waiting in the doctor’s office on a routine visit, I read a bit of an article in the National Geographic on memory. The average adult human brain has something to the order of five hundred to a thousand trillion synapses. “Every sensation we remember, every thought we think,” says writer Joshua Foer, “Alters the connections within that vast network. Synapses are strengthened or weakened or formed anew. Our physical substance changes. Indeed, it is always changing, every moment, even as we sleep.”

Each moment is an adventure unfolding. It is our relationship to the moment that awakens time in us, a moment as mundane as eating eggs for breakfast or waiting for the bus. I find myself closing up when I get greedy for excitement or exotic places, when I feel like I know where I’m going. The minute you know where you’re going something crazy happens. A storm cancels the travelling plans. You get sick. Or you bust your knee dancing, like Spence did. Life smacks you back down to the drawing board again and again, until maybe we could get the gestalt of things, the life of it all, instead of painfully agonizing over the technical details. And then, when I catch myself agonizing, I could try not smacking myself with chastising thoughts about how overwrought and ineffective my way of being is!

And just for fun, in conclusion, here are my top favorite reads of 2014:

  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff
  • The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
  • Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder
  • Living, Dreaming, Dying: Wisdom for Everyday Life from the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Rob Nairn
  • The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing As Meditation by Frederick Franck
  • The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor
  • Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence by Gregory Cajete
  • Coyote Warrior: One Man, Three Tribes, and the Trial That Forged A Nation by Paul VanDevelder
  • Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future edited by Melissa K. Nelson
  • Transformations of Myth Through Time by Joseph Campbell (I have to add that after reading thousands of pages of his other work, including the entire Masks of God series, this transcription of his lectures was such a refreshing, accessible and succinct overview of his amazing life’s work – if you’re going to read one book by Joseph Campbell, this might be it)

Spence here: Sometimes I am saddened by how fast time goes. I think, “gee, my nephew is 12 and the next time I see him, he will probably be on his way to adult-hood”. Or sometimes I wonder what I could be doing more for struggling communities in Somalia, Pakistan, Australia, New Mexico or downtown Portland, for that matter. What can I do for the trees, plants and other species affected by our human existence? But then I get sick myself and realize that there are small things I can do for all these struggles and the biggest thing I can do is have compassionate for our collective existence. I can praise health. Sometimes I have deja vu, and I remember it has all happened before and will all happen again somewhere else. Or is happening right now, somewhere else, I’m not sure.

Today, Billy and I had a city date. I am always thankful when the bus ride is uneventful, the sun is out and we discover new books, new parks, places we haven’t been in a long time. But the catch is to be thankful when things aren’t so awesome.  Such as the man in the doctor’s office, causing a scene, the way my head aches because we are not quite so over the colds we got or the way the wind whips into my hood, whistling into my ear ache! The other day I wasn’t feeling so hot and I decided to take the whole afternoon and lay around, like the dogs do.  I ended up feeling better in health, but with a twinge of guilt. Besides having a lot of house chores I could be helping with, there are other projects I would like to see completed. But what is the point of “completed” without a sense of joy in it?

I think I am doing better with January. I was actually thinking today that this winter thing might not be so bad. Here is the fun list of projects I thought of this week, which I would love to get going on. May it inspire you to make your own list, or just enjoy what comes.

  • Find a trout fishing book about what flies to use in certain circumstances–make drawings and paintings of them and then try your hand at tying some!
  • Make a fly-tying bench
  • Work on poetry manuscript and research possible publishers, attend a reading
  • Work on screen play and book of short stories
  • Make a picture frame for that picture of Billy and I we like so well
  • Go for a city hike with a full backpack
  • Practice knots for camping and boating
  • Research fly-rods and other fishing equipment for the spring–its almost time!
  • Finish construction the the music studio

2015 Forecast: the Sorcerer of Trois Frère

Sorcerer of Trois Frères

Sorcerer of Trois Frères. Photo credit: Courtesy, Department of Library Sciences, American Museum of Natural History

Getting into harmony and tune with the universe and staying there is the principle function of mythology.

– Joseph Campbell

Billy here: The Twelve Days of Yule are over. The Full Moon after Solstice shone bright through the fog and the squeals of trains on Sunday night. The Sorcerer of Trois Frères, the cave drawing from the Pyrenees pictured above, has been on my mind all through Yule time. In a small village in England called Abbots Bromley, a tradition remains of what is called the Horn Dance. This dance involves reindeer antlers passed down through generations all the way from the 11th century.  It was once also danced many years ago on Twelfth Night, the Christianization of the last day of Yule, in the first week of January. My intuition tells me, under no scientific lead whatsoever, that this dance is a remnant of the same mythology of this ancient cave painting said to be around 15,000 years old.


Sir Benjamin Stone’s Pictures – Festivals, Ceremonies and Customs. Published by Cassell & Co. London. 1906. Wikipedia Commons {{PD-1923}}

The first full moon after Winter Solstice once marked the beginning of the New Year in Pagan times, which was Sunday evening this year. The days are lengthening and it’s time to begin preparing to plant for spring. Our friends on the land here have built a chicken coop for spring chickens to come, a little hoop house and a circular garden plot in between our cabin, the main house and the barn.

In the gloom and cold of these midwinter days and nights, it’s easy to lose our way, especially if we get sick, but there is always the promise of the shedding of antlers. Old projects can be finished and new ones begun. There seems to be something auspicious in the air, new beginnings, but new beginnings planted in a very old and fertile soil…

The astronomical calendar is done! Perhaps I will be selling them on Etsy?  What’s next? What is the lesson of the antler magic? Perhaps the coming Spring will bring some answers…

March 2015 001

Moon Calendar 2015 by Billy von Raven


There have been lots of dreams of late about the making of art and the livingness of all things: rocks, clouds, lakes. Aboriginal artists have said that they are simply marking spirits that are already there when they paint. We all want to make and share what people call art or be creative in some way. The marks left by simply being are what we call art, but art encompasses all of being, not just the marks left behind. Art is not just a record of the experience of deep presence we had at some point in time, but the deep experience and connection itself, some sort of playfulness with it. I resonate with what Joseph Campbell said about there being no meaning to life in actuality: there is rather only experience, engagement with the world on every level. Though that engagement could be what we might call meaning. In our present materialistic society we value the product, the piece of “art” or the record of deep experience, over the experience itself. Artist and art therapist Shaun McNiff summarizes it well: “Can you imagine people feeling that their prayers, spiritual exercises, and meditations must be exhibited in a gallery or commercially published?” I keep fighting the urge to “make something” of myself and my projects and instead slow down to simply enjoy the process. Drawing is a way of being present, a way of touching the feelings within me and beings around me with awareness. One resolution: to draw more as a way of being present!


Spence here: Billy had a good idea to post more of our sketches and artwork from the last year. I like he reminds me to look back in a way that helps us move forward. The mask of “productivity” is constantly donned in our household, however, it is in hiding behind that I forget to enjoy my life. Today, I shed the itchy feeling that “something” should get done, and less my own irritation about what it means to have worth. I have been obsessed with the continuity of construction where we live–hurrying up to create a space in which to create–I think sometimes this has caused me to actually lose focus instead of reaping the satisfaction of process and patience. Besides, we have made good progress, and the reprimanding voice in my head lacks credit and a pat on the back, which is what we need to push us ahead to finish. We are almost there–just a few more days of work on the music studio–insulation, trim work and paneling. In the summer we will replace the roof and work on a sitting area/patio just outside the door for folks to gather. It will all come about, just at the right time, no time sooner.

I heard it mentioned the other night we are over the hump of winter. I did not feel it until just now. Even though we have celebrated the Solstice and New Year’s, I didn’t get it. Our holiday felt heavy to me. Winter is a hard time for some, I think. I appreciated and enjoyed filling out my holiday cards, as I always do–thinking about loved ones and how lucky I am–but also I felt more ladened with worry about plans, the cold, money and that ever elusive value of “work”. Like a dog behind a fence, I dream about the other side, but have lost the cognition leading to the series of steps to opening the gate. I have many skills but lack confidence and belief. This week I am working on finding them again. Going through my own journals helps me realize I “work” all year long to get ready for now. Too bad, in a capitalist society, one does not get paid for “now”, but it won’t stop me from working on it.

Twenty-fifteen feels very much like Coyote energy to me–even though in the Chinese Zodiac it is the year of the Sheep. I think (and secretly hope) life this year will be enlightening, with a side of mischief, which we will laugh at along the way. It feels like behind every rock or leaf is a smirk–but a gentle one of recognition and constant learning, but by way of “The Fool” in the Tarot Cards, with a sprinkling of magic, as always. Good luck! Here are a few of my sketches, from the “Land of Enchantment”, New Mexico.

 Part of inhabiting the mystery is shedding the idea that you have to work and work, and rush and rush, as though if you worked harder and faster, you would find the answer. These inclinations have to do with a desire for permanence. Inhabiting the mystery means embracing impermanence. You can’t hold on to anything. That’s just the way it is. You want to go deeper, but maybe this awareness of impermanence is as deep as you can go. At the very least, it’s real. Everything else is an illusion.

In a deeply experienced life, things are always entering us and becoming a part of us. This table goes inside. The river goes inside. These words go inside. All of our immediate experience goes inside us and simply vanishes there. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that enough?

– David Hinton