The Weeks in Pictures

Spence here:  “I was looking for a job and then I found a job…and heaven knows I’m miserable now.”

…The immortal words of our generation from The Smiths–I may have been known to repeat them a time or two. After landing in Ashland for a little over a week, I acquired a job at the Ashland Food Coop. At first, as per usual, I was excited to find something so soon and considered myself lucky. Although, Billy and I were still in Ashland seemingly on a trial basis, what better way to sink in one’s teeth than to try and connect with the community and make a little cash while I’m at it. The first few days were hectic at the job–people were nice but it is a very large grocery store–a size of coop I’m not used to. It was extremely busy and crowded–good for an economic standpoint, but usually not very good for workers. Long story short, I hurt my wrist trying to keep up and by the end of the fourth day I was toast. That night, I joined Billy for some libations at our friend’s place and I had a meltdown. My health was not worth this job.

Fast forward a couple weeks and my wrist has still been giving me trouble, although its definitely on the mend. We spent a glorious week up at Wildcat Campground, on Hyatt Lake, located in the newly created Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, east of Ashland. Summer temperatures have reached over the 100s in the valley, and Billy and I were happy to stay in one place in the cool of the mountain forest, to discuss our options–while swimming, hiking and reading. What a nice life! (I realized I had missed the smells and sounds and warm water temperatures of a nice inland lake–similar to the lakes in my youth.) We talked about still driving to New Mexico, but ultimately I felt like it was a big risk to take with an old jeep on our hands. So Billy took the opportunity for a time-out to go to Texas on the train instead to visit family, while I took a time-out and stayed on, exploring more of the monument. I continued wandering back roads, day-hiking many miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs through the area, and tried to regroup. While the dry mountain air and breath-taking mixed forests, diversity of wildlife and trail access have certainly drawn me into the area, the human community aspect of this place is just not there for us. Not that people aren’t nice and all–for they most certainly are welcoming–Ashland just seems to have a gap in the kind of art, music, weirdo and queerdo contingent we’re looking for. It seems as if there was more of an anchor here–a fun job, or school classes Billy was more interested in and/or cultural art/queer community–or if it was at least cheaper to live here–which it definitely isn’t–we would be more likely to stick around. Ashland is great, but maybe it is not great for us. Time to break up… it’s not Ashland, its us.

After the magnanimousness of the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse has surpassed, it is onto a new horizon. Many of the classes at the University of Oregon in Eugene, still stir Billy to giddy moments of spontaneous dance, so perhaps we’ll seek our treasures there. More interesting jobs, a more livable wage and price of rent, more opportunity and still wonderful waterways and mountains to explore. I am excited this weekend, however, to shift my attention to witness this solar eclipse and just enjoy the love and company of Billy and some friends. Our time apart while Billy was in Texas, although brief, deepened and reaffirmed so many more of my feelings for him and the strength of our relationship. I struggled with the decision to not go with, and it was the first time I have felt lonely in almost a decade. But it is good sometimes, to have such feelings and know my heart is in the right place, at the right time, with the right person–and everything else is sure to follow that lead. Billy’s post coming soon…

Midsummer’s Creatures


2017 iPhone pictures 139

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

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

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

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

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

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




Life’s Next Assignment

We were not seeking to escape. On the contrary, we wanted to find a way in which we could put more into life and get more out of it. We were not shirking obligations but looking for an opportunity to take on more worthwhile responsibilities. The chance to help, improve and rebuild was more than an opportunity. As citizens, we regarded it as an assignment.” –Helen and Scott Nearing from their 1954 book Living the Good Life

Spence here: Back on the road; as Billy and I decided to move out of our rented house in Portland and live in the national forest. Our reasons were noble enough: save money on rent, be able to go to school in the spring without much to tie us down, get outside more after a long and cold, wet winter, be healthier and more mindful about food, drink and exercise, seek out a different way to live. We have gained insight over the course of the first month: the presence of mind when one has to deal with immediate concerns, such as food, water and shelter. We have been having amazing conversations, dreams, visions and ideas about what life can look like, where to go after this: what is working and what is not.

Mostly, we have been spending time on the coast, or at school. All of our needs are met between these two ranges and I think I am healthier because of it. I admit, the rain and uncertainty were really stressing me out at first. We had to figure out our systems and road rhythms. Perhaps also, it was the plethora of mishaps in the beginning which soured my mood; such as my 20 year old coleman stove finally breaking, mice in the jeep, a cracked radiator, a jeep flat tire, logging truck headlights at 3:45 a.m… or it could be just good old life transitions, which I look forward to but also struggle with. A big question was where to camp? We started by staying in some of the ‘family’ campgrounds for around $20 a night, but quickly realized this would not be much of a savings, not to mention fulfilling more of the ‘wild’ experience we were craving. Over the last few weeks we have found some really great free dispersed camping spots in the national forests. This, and a break in the weather have really lifted our spirits.

I had a dream last night where I visited an intentional community, living high in the mountains. I climbed the rocks to enter and the rocks became sculptures and furniture. Everything was oversized and made of old varnished picnic-table wood. The ceiling was a circus tent. The people who welcomed me had on stage make-up, and were literally two-dimensional. There were other people there however, who were three-dimensional called “myss” (pronounced sim-misses), who were transgender and fluid. They were open, spiritual dream leaders. Only when I accepted and revealed my whole self in the dream, did I also become “myss”, have magic powers and fly. Only then, did the community become 3-D as well. I need to remember in order to find “home” I have to be open and optimistic and arrive with my whole self. Additionally, I can no longer carry around the suitcase of preconceived judgements about people I haven’t even met yet.

Things about the road life are often very interesting and funny, although not always ideal. The driving, for one. However, I am optimistic this journey will lead us to a discovery we would not have come upon otherwise. For now, I love going to sleep with the peeking crescent moon, rain on the tarp and elk curiously stomping around in the dark . Waking with the sound of the first bird, clouds in the trees and my snuggling accomplice.

P.S. Praise to our friend and former housemate who also hit the road in April for an intense 2-5 year walk across the country. And to our friends everywhere who are steeped in grand adventures this spring. Cheers.

Billy here: It’s been a while! School has kept me occupied, sometimes more than I’d like. I’ll be finishing my Associates of Science from Portland Community College in June. It will be good to have a break. I’ll admit it’s been a tough season. The winter was bitterly wet and cold, I lost a dear friend, and I became increasingly disillusioned with the insulation of city life. School has kept my mind busy and it needs a good unraveling! It became clear we needed to untangle our hearts and minds before we could see where it is we are going.

Taking off a layer of insulation by moving into the jeep was the first step. It’s not perfect: we’re using gas to get places and propane to cook. We are aware of exactly how much we use, however. We hear the sounds of trees falling and chainsaws buzzing when we camp near timber sale areas. The Tillamook Forest is feeding Portland’s new condos. Whether we live in a house or a car, the resources are coming from somewhere. I took to heart what a Torres Strait Islander once said: “Understand what you have got on the plate in front of you, and your roof over your head, where it comes from, how it got there and what it took to get there.” I don’t think there is such a thing as opting out. We are all on a journey with the land and it’s up to us whether or not we go along with it. I believe that the Universe is alive and moral, that everything is related and space and time determine the nature and meaning of relationships. If I am sped up in an environment full of human making, I feel disconnected. The disconnect created a gap in my consciousness somewhere and I’ll admit it has manifested in depression over the last couple of years.

So here we are, trying to figure out how to be alive and connected, not knowing exactly where to start. I reject the patriarchal systems of domination that Europeans  spread, so I’ll also admit I feel like a cultural orphan. But when I drink spruce tip tea under the tarp and the drooping hemlocks, I have a feeling we are the ones who orphaned the land. I believe that life asks us for meaning, not the other way around. We must respond by being responsible to our conscience and our creativity that the Universe gave to us, in order to unfold. I think that is what is meant by being fruitful. The whole land blossoms. How can we live like that?


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.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness: The Enchantments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Good News… A Snow-Capped 40th B-day Adventure

Billy here. I’ll keep it short today, for there are lots of pictures and they speak for themselves! To celebrate 40 years of Spence’s life, we went up to our local Cascade mountain range for a backpacking trip. Armed with five days of food and Volume One of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, we hiked up through the Pole Creek Burn into the Three Sisters Wilderness. It’s sobering to see the effects of wildfire and volcanic activity, then to see the brilliant wildflowers of the alpine meadows. Life is short! And the meadows still blossom every year! Let’s look at the picture books!

Gallery: Fishermen’s Bend, The Pole Creek Burn Area, Demaris Lake, Dee Wright Observatory Area

Gallery: Golden Lake

Spence here: I came home to find our cabana had been decorated for my birthday by our lovely housemates.

Birthday Cabana

What a great piece of cake, so-to-speak, to end a whirl-wind birthday adventure weekend. 40. No longer in my 30s. People ask me if I feel any different. Yes and no. I always feel a shift when I hike into the mountains so it is hard to pinpoint it on a birthday. But marking these passages of time is something I am fond of so I instinctively get reflective. Something is different, in that I feel more compassionate in general and I have more gratitude for everything in my life.

The hike we took was not the one I anticipated, but ain’t that the way? Our plan was to go around the North and Middle Sister mountains, (see Three Sisters Mountain Range) traversing between the Middle Sister and the South Sister, near the Chamber Lakes area. I should have known the snow would still be ever-present, even in a low snow year. It was a miracle we could get up there at all in June. I wonder when I will stop trying to breach the mountains in early summer–I am eager. Needless to say, we didn’t make a loop. As we got closer and higher to Camp Lake on our second day, we lost the trail several times, ending up in snow fields, checking the compass. After Billy found the trail again, I hiked up another snow bank which was blocking our way and my view. Cautiously, I leaned over, a bit from the edge, to gather info about how to proceed. What I saw was our trail, about a 30 foot drop below me. Perhaps we could have kept going, finding alternative routes, but I didn’t really feel like I wanted it to be that kind of trip. I chalked it up to another lesson of hitting the mountains in early June and we “settled” for hiking the Green Lakes Trail, heading south. I type “settled” in quotations, because the trail was fantastic! Snow fields and mountain passes, making way into water falls, making way into streams and creek-lets, making way into alpine pools and lakes. We heard and saw strange black woodpeckers echoing in the Pole Creek Burn Area, a curious yellow warbler at Demaris Lake, deer in Park Meadow and only a few hikers around Green Lakes.

We averaged about 7-10 miles a day, exploring the eastern slopes of the Three Sisters. Our first night, we slept without a tent and we stayed awake most of it, watching meteors and the Milky Way. It was chilly at night, but 80s and sunny during the day, with plenty of fresh water running. The food we had packed in haste turned out to be really gourmet, with fresh carrots, kale from the garden, cucumbers, apples, cheese, butter and foraged pine-needle tea. Another added benefit of carrying bear vaults, is that they keep food fresh and cool, without getting crushed in our packs. Of the trip, one of my favorite moments was crossing a creek, barefoot, near Park Meadow and walking on the trail a ways without shoes on fresh damp earth. Another highlight, waking up with the best partner I could ever ask for, on my birthday, hiking a nice 7 miles through scent-filled forest and afterwards, drinking the largest Dos Equis Amber mug of beer I’ve ever seen. We drove home via McKenzie Pass on HWY 242 and even stopped by the Dee Wright Observatory. Coming home to a welcoming committee of best friends wasn’t too shabby either. The bad news is… I can’t think of any! Cheers!

Gallery: Green Lakes Area

The Portal is Open

Rando 022

Spence here: The full moon on Tuesday, June 2nd marked a significant date. The Sun and our Galaxys’ rotations were aligned on that day and it was the last full moon before my 40th birthday. To me, it sincerely feels like this would theoretically open up doorways, pathways and portals. It is one of those days, where if we keep our hearts and our senses open, perspectives and feelings about our lives will shift… it may be slight, or it may be huge, but either way, I think if we are not paying attention this week, we will miss “it”, whatever “it” is. It may be a message or an omen or we may catch ourselves doing things a bit differently… maybe it will be about fear? Maybe this shift has already happened! Am I paying enough attention? I worry, as I have fallen down the slippery slope of over-booking busy-ness and I need to step back soon and regain my footing!

Our New Outdoor Kitchen Guardian

It has become very clear to me that I am seeking an opportunity. I have always been looking, but now I am, in earnest, seeking to learn and travel and contribute and to be welcomed. You might say we are already in this place, as Portland has been pretty opening to us since landing here once again. But I am seeking out a new place, perhaps because of my adventurous curiosity and interest in travel. This place I am seeking, although may it not be quite “home”, will feel like one of our many homes in spirit, land, ways and people. I need it to be a chance to learn about the kind of magic we really need right now: art as life, learning about edible plants, wild forest garden-tending, nomad-ism, open hearts, work that contributes to an actual sustainable infrastructure (one that doesn’t rely on outside economic systems)–a set-up to which we are invited to co-participate, which is already off the grid, slow-speed, and inclusive of people who are queer. Here’s the other thing–in order to get there, I have a strong feeling we will have to prepare to walk. We need to get our travel systems in place… build our rocket stove, build our ricksha, pare down our kitchen, tool and art kits. We shall need to get our food in order, recipes for travel and water systems. We are close, but this will be more than a back-packing adventure. The whole thing will be a living art experiment that will succeed and feed us beyond what we even thought was possible. Perhaps it will ultimately look like an artist-in-residence situation, in which we can make significant ecological contributions by making art, learning as we go along, being our sensitive selves, being kind, and being gentle with the land. I am focused and I am ready and open. We just need an invitation, an omen or a sign about where to go.

Something about Portland, even though many aspects of it are fantastic, doesn’t feel like this is where we are supposed to be for the long haul. Its not that it is bad, or that cities are bad, but perhaps I need a fresh start in a small place, on a smaller scale, filled with people who are interested in a transitional way of life. There are many people in Portland doing good work, but as things get more expensive here, bigger, faster, trendier, and more populated, it is hard to feel like it is “our” city. I feel happy with several projects we’ve completed here and the re-connections we’ve made with our friends and family. We have many more commitments and things we want to do here, but as my time seems to get shorter on this planet everyday, I want to make the most of it and see and experience more of our Earth’s truly magnificent nooks! I am excited to learn what we can and make preparations for our next big adventure, wherever that may lead us.

Free-range Backyard Chickens

For my 40th birthday weekend, we will be away, in the forest somewhere back-packing, discussing and rejuvenating. We will not post next week, but be on the lookout for our next big post, where I will be slightly older (we all will!) and supposedly wiser!

You can’t evaluate what you never permitted to happen.

Set aside an occasional block of time for creative play. Twenty minutes here and there is not sufficient. An afternoon is good, a day is better, and a period of several days can reap rich rewards. Think of this period as a time for true recreation in the sense of re-creation. You make time to step back, to give up control and let the inner you reach the light of day. The results may be disorienting at first, even shocking. That’s perfectly fine…The more doors you open to your inner self, the more you can push back the arbitrary borders that have been set up to define you.

– Jos A. Smith

Our Music Studio

Billy here. Today is one of those glorious early summer Portland days where you want to just sit on a patio somewhere and sip on a cold IPA made from sparkling Willamette Valley hops. Instead, I walked the five miles (round trip) to the library to pick up my hold on The Book of Kells…and to get a six pack of locally brewed Imperial IPA.Our homebrew is still in the fermenter, waiting for a free block of our time to bottle. Well, I am still captive to convenience for now! A few weeks ago I would’ve waited to buy beer, but now I have some extra pocket cash since I’ve been earning a paycheck.

Water Urn

I’ve just finished reading The Moneyless Man by Mark Boyle and it has me thinking about time and money a lot more than usual, especially now that Spence and I have new jobs and we have much less time for the work that doesn’t pay. What’s funny about being able to buy things in this country is that you can get almost anything you want at any time of the year if you have enough money, regardless of the environmental (or personal health) cost. I think this has been my main bone to pick with capitalism: that the federal dollar price is a fraction of the high environmental and humanitarian price. Not to mention that the federal dollar is taxed and used to bail out mega banks and fund the U.S. military industrial complex. According to Wikipedia, “The U.S. military budget is higher than the nine other biggest military budgets in the World combined.” The United States is by far the largest exporter of weapons in the world. Top buyers include countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This means that the United States is making money off of armed conflict everywhere. Sustainability has been a buzz word for quite some time, perhaps in reaction to the fact that the United States is perhaps the most unsustainable country on the planet. The Federal debt is now around $18 trillion dollars and increases by over $2 billion dollars every day! This reflects an energy hungry country that only seems to want to grow. But we are quickly running out of resources with which to grow. Perhaps a generation ago, growth and security did seem to be the right goal, but in the midst of today’s exponentially speeding transformations, we must reexamine our priorities almost daily.

What would your life look like without money? What would you be doing with your time? If you had no money in your bank, wouldn’t your community be the most important thing to you? With California on the brink of agricultural collapse, we may all have to start thinking about locally sourced food on some level. What would it be like to join in for the harvest like old village times? Does time really equal money, and if so, wouldn’t Bill Gates live forever? Most of the people in my life have died under the age of forty from causes ranging from cancer to a car crash, often quickly and without much warning. This has been a powerful lesson in living for today. Money can’t buy health, a long life, love or even the quality of life. I love fine food and drink as much as the next person, but I can tell you without a doubt that when we were living in rural New Mexico making only a few hundred dollars a month, we ate like kings partially because our neighbors produced so much food.

Spence and I have been seeking our own convictions to live how we see fit. If anything, I think he is right that we are losing our fear. Comfort is easy to want, especially if that is what we are accustomed to, but what makes us truly feel alive is living with the freedom of any other living creature, such as the birds in the trees. It will take leaping off the cliff, so to speak. Can we give up the convenience store, eating out, the car, and all the other things that come at a high price to the health of the whole ecosystem? My guess is that one way or another, we may have to at some point, and why not sooner than later…and voluntarily? What does utopia look like to you? And are we still telling ourselves it’s impossible? What’s holding us back?

Pickin' Blue-grass

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?

Ribbons and the Maypole

Our lovely landmate’s herb spiral in progress – check out her business Pride and Joy Landscaping at!

Spence here: I felt it fitting I finished reading River Horse this week, while sunning myself, “fishing” at the Sandy River. The book is one of William Least Heat-Moon’s best. An adventure in every sense: crossing the continent by river from New York to Oregon: one part travel and one part philosophy to two parts history and humor. Least Heat-Moon documents his own journey in his 22-foot C-Dory, Nikawa (which means “river horse” in Osage), with comparison to other famous river goers, mostly Lewis and Clark, and Native American inhabitants, then and now. Heading west, with a cast of hilarious supporting characters, Least Heat-Moon teaches the reader more about North American rivers than any classroom could, as he lives and breathes the weather, floods, droughts, nature, culture and the Army Corps of Engineers.

On many levels, the river, as an entity is always in my thoughts and my dreams. Since I was little I have been obsessed with boats and the water, significant as adventure and pathways. Now as an adult, I see the ribbons in the weave of what captivates and motivates me: the ease at which water flows and finds the way, the floods of our lives and the drought, the ownership and controls human-kind has tried to place on mighty ones, in particular rivers of the West.Not only do I think of the wildlife and natural detriments to which we may not even comprehend, but I think of the peoples affected by dams, locks, dredging, dikes, levys and channeling. What once were rich fertile flood plains for farmers are now dead dirt clods trapped behind earthen mounds to keep the rivers out, while taxpayers spend millions of dollars subsidizing farmers for fertilizer and irrigation, towns for flood damage (some being build actually below the natural river level), and commercial shipping agents to keep their barges afloat, which actually only makes up about 8% of the traffic on these rivers.

A few summers ago my friend and I backpacked a gorgeous loop around Mt. Rainier in Washington. On the second night, we camped about 100 yards from the Carbon Glacier, the lowest elevation glacier in the contiguous Untied States. I had visited glaciers in my childhood, as my family and I had gone to Glacier, Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks, but I never comprehended the significance and deep meaning until the Rainier trip. To watch a river being created from a glacial source, tumbling down a rocky slope, sometimes just a trickle at first, sometimes coming out as a torrent, as the Carbon River seems to, is pure magic. It is a leap, for me, a colossal contrariety in the nature of all things, to dam such a course. I don’t think the blockages we impose upon ourselves are any coincidence. In any event, history has proven how unsuccessful the taming of wild rivers actually is.

This weekend we are heading up to Mount Saint Helens to celebrate the beginning of summer. When I went up to Loowit the last time, in particular June Lake, I had an amazing dream–so vivid and real I knew it was not just a dream. While ‘sleeping’, all the creatures in the forest gathered with me, as the many ancestors of the land in the form of skeletons congregated under a large canopy by the lake to discuss the future of the mountain and what I was going to do about it. Often, I think about this dream, the feeling of the land up there as an unstable place, geologically and spiritually and I wonder what sort of powers these ancients think I have to be able to do anything to change our current homo sapient course. We will see what they have to say to me this weekend!

If nature undoes immediately what we work years to do, then we’re not doing it right.

–William Least Heat-Moon

Billy here. The roses are blooming here in Portland! We don’t have many pictures for you this week, but next week after camping for three days near our local volcano we hope to give you more, so stay tuned! This weekend is the halfway point between spring equinox and summer solstice. This seasonal point was celebrated by British peoples as Beltane, the ancient festival welcoming the beginning of summer. In traditional northern Europe, there were only two seasons, Summer  or Light Time and winter or Dark Time. Beltane literally translates roughly to ‘bright fire’ and marks the coming summer sun with bonfires and relighting the home’s hearths at the central community fire. This ancient dousing of the home fire and relighting was significant. The home hearth was kept burning all year and was only ritually put out to be re-lit and renewed communally at festival times. Pauline Bambry, anthropologist and researcher of Beltane, says:

“Beltane is a rural pre-Christian prehistoric tradition which saw communities come together after long winters of isolation. It marked their connection not just to nature but to each other. That need to belong to something or someone hasn’t changed. We can be just as isolated living in the city or in a town as the ancient Bretons were in their round houses.”

Beltane is sometimes celebrated on May Eve or on the nearest Full Moon, which this year is today! The full moon of May is also called Flower Moon, Milk Moon, or Corn Planting Moon. Around Beltane the land spirits and faeries, or aes sídhe (pronounced “ays sheeth-uh”), were said to be out and about, just as they appear around Samhain or Halloween time and Midsummer’s Eve. Aes sídhe means ‘people of the mounds’, as they are the old ones, the indigenous pre-Celtic people Tuatha Dé Danann, who retreated to the mounds that dot the Isles. Could this be somehow be etymologically linked to the Nordic seiðr practice of magic (pronounced roughly “sayth”)? Offerings of fruit, milk and baked goods were left to the land spirits. Bonfires were lit and ashes were spread in the fields and on faces. Livestock were driven between two bonfires to ritually purify them, which had a practical purpose of ridding parasites and lice from livestock that had been kept in close quarters all winter before they were put to pasture. People checked the fences and roamed the boundaries of the village with torches in what was called ‘beating the bounds’. Folk donned flowers, woven wicker, and antlers; and, of course, danced around the famous May Pole decorated with colorful ribbons. In old times, the pole was actually the living old World Tree at the spiritual center of the village, but the old trees were felled when Christianity swept the British Isles.

These connective tissues are being revitalized today. The old festivals are making a comeback among folk with European ancestry, not just in Europe, but in the States as well. I would argue that now more than ever, with so many of us living in urban settings, we need festivals to celebrate our connection to each other and the Earth. We need one another to survive in communities. We need to feel the connection to the seasons in order to actively participate ecologically in our world.

The biggest challenge we face is shifting human consciousness, not saving the planet, because the planet doesn’t need saving; we do.

–  Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez

To celebrate Beltane we will be camping with loved ones near the Fire-keeper of the Northwest, Loowit, also known as the volcano St. Helens. If you get a chance, I highly recommend reading Joseph Bruchac’s retelling of the myth of Loo-Wit the Fire-Keeper. In it he tells the story of Loo-Wit and the two sons of the Great Spirit: the chief of the Klickitat, Pahto (also called Paddo or simply Klickitat) who became the mountain we now know as Mount Adams and the chief of the Multnomahs, Wy’East who became the mountain we now know as Mount Hood. They quarreled over control of the land and possession of the beautiful Fire-Keeper, who gave fire to all the villages and lived on the Bridge of the Gods across the Big River Wimahl (the Columbia’s Chinookan name). The Columbia River is one of the most heavily dammed and ‘developed’ rivers in the nation.

Though she was asleep, Loo-Wit was still aware, the people said. The Creator had placed her between the two quarreling mountains to keep the peace, and it was intended that humans, too, should look at her beauty and remember to keep their hearts good, to share the land and treat it well. If we human beings do not treat the land with respect, the people said, Loo-Wit will wake up and let us know how unhappy she and the Creator have become again. So they said long before the day in the 1980s when Mount St. Helens woke again.

– Joseph Bruchac