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…

Giving Thanks to the River

Spence here: (Billy is taking a writing hiatus, while he finishes up another semester of school!) In two weeks time we visited Cottonwood Canyon on the John Day River, (outside of Condon, Oregon) 2 times. Overall I think that makes at least 6 trips to the canyon for 2016. Like the Oregon version of New Mexico, we go there for big open sky and the dry, colorful peace. For the super full moon in November, we took a quick overnight trip, arriving at the campground at dark… time enough to have a soup snack and a home brew and settle down in our nylon cave. It was mild weather and the clouds parted for us to catch an amazing glimpse of the Moon, of which I put so many thoughts and feelings into. We were back in town for work the next day, tired, but on another level, rejuvenated.

The next trip was Thanksgiving time. Although Billy and I were worried about the cold, we found the weather to be rather accommodating, not so windy and fairly dry and sunny. We spent time walking, reflecting, talking about our goals for the coming year, and in general, gulping deep breaths. I laid down in a mostly dry riverbed, (the John Day had been very low at that point from a long dry Autumn), and looked up at the  grey, patchy sky for what felt like weeks. We discovered secret, silent groves of Pinon pine, walls of asteroid-looking rocks and a couple of new insect and plant friends. Thanksgiving is such a strange time, as I am torn between celebrating and being thankful for my family and my luck and the love and health in my life, yet mourning for all that humanity has created and destroyed and waged. I don’t buy the whole pilgrim-indian feast thing anymore, and instead have had to come to terms with this holiday in my own way. Much like Christmas, I get a little depressed at the ways in which our species has acted, but because I have so much to be thankful for, it seems a bit daft to be solemn. At least being outside and close to the ground and surrounded by natural things helps me to piece it together. It can never be one thing… it is always many things. It is always many many conflicting, simultaneous wonderful horrible things. It is how things go. The water flows, and I go with it or against it. Thank you to everyone in my life who has shown kindness–to me–but more importantly to everything and every being I care about. May we be able to drink right out of all the rivers again in this lifetime!

Seekseekqua

 

Spence here: Over the Labor Day weekend, I managed to wrangle (seriously, I had to wrangle it) an extra day off.  I have always wanted to check out Mt. Jefferson and the whole Jefferson Park area, outside of Detroit, Oregon and the South Fork of the Breitenbush River. With an extra day for driving and seeing the sights, we were off.

I knew the trail to the area was steep (trail 3375)  and we hadn’t been backpacking in awhile. I was still a bit disappointed in my fitness level, however, and it still came as a surprise as to how long it took us to get up the 6 miles (and 2000 feet) to the park area. I felt happy though, just to get out there, feel the late afternoon autumnal sun rays and smell the breeze. I bought a new backpack several weeks ago and really got a chance to over-load the thing with heavy food, extra clothes, books, journals and water, to test it all out. My review of the pack is simple–awesome! Mountain Hardware’s South Col 75 is a good friend to have along in the back-country. Comfortable, big, nice hip belt, great outside pockets and mostly waterproof.

The first night we stayed in a site among the boulders, hiking up about 3 miles. We had left late from Portland and meandered our way to the trail head from Genie’s restaurant, the library and a stop at the North Santiam River State Park–finally driving through Detroit and down a long gravel way. The first morning was chilly. We made coffee early and then got back in our sleeping bags with the thermos full, reading books until the sun came up over the ridge. Warming up came quickly though, as we hiked the rest of the miles up to the lake. We took our time feeding and watering the horses (I like to think of myself as a horse sometimes when I hike uphill, as it makes me feel stronger), eating fig newtons all the way up.

Our reserved back country site was on Park Lake. There are numerous lakes in the area: Bays, Russel, Scout, Park, and Rock Lake. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through the area and on our next full day we hiked along the rocks and on this famous trail.Views of the mountain were in my mouth it was so close and the shadows long with a strong warm sun. The next day however, the mountain changed moods. We woke to dark, chilly sky and a misty ridge line. By the time we thought about packing up, the rain was actualizing and the temperature had dropped. We said goodbye to the brook and the trees, glanced up and said farewell to Seekseekqua, aka Mt Jefferson, the lakes and Park Butte, (and our abandoned oatmeal breakfast) and headed down at a good trot. I finally found a good pack weight equilibrium for my knees and felt like they were healthy for the first time in years. I actually had a great time going down over loose gravel, mud, rolly rocks, wet plants and low hanging brush. We stopped a few times to pick and eat wild blueberries and Oregon Grape. At one point I was running down the trail, using my trekking poles like a slalom skier… thankful to be feeling better in my mind and body. 6 miles in 3 hours and were getting back in shape. I love the woods!

Billy here. What a much-needed foray into the wilderness! We were so happy to be on our first real backpacking trip of the year that we didn’t mind the ridiculous traffic on the highway (that seemed to mysteriously end after passing the suburban outlet malls with their Labor Day sales).

On the way, we stopped for lunch at North Santiam State Park and sat at the river bank for a bit, enjoying the sun. It was late afternoon by the time we took our final turnoff on the forest road for our trail head: late enough that we knew we may not make it very far in before setting up camp for the night. On the road, far from any other campground, a lone man was walking with a dog. Spence waved, but the man only peered in to the jeep at us intensely. We thought it seemed odd, but soon forgot all about it when we reached the trail head and tried on our fully loaded packs. It had been entirely too long, but it felt good. My pack was actually too heavy, despite my assertion that it felt light. I had journals and Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit packed, along with fresh fruit, vegetables, and more food than we could possibly eat in three days. However, it was sunny and the smell of the woods was invigorating.

Posted on the trail head was a flyer for a missing young hiker by the name of Riley Zickel, who had been missing since July 27th. His car still remained at the Breitenbush Lake trail head, according to the flyer. Spence said maybe he just decided to keep walking the PCT. This put me in a reflective mood as we ventured into the woods. The lady fern, vine maple, and big leaf maple began to envelop us. Some creature left several half devoured grand fir cones in the trail. As the trail climbed, the ferns changed to bear grass and huckleberry, and the maples gave way to mountain hemlock and Douglas fir. We struck off the path as the sun turned red to find a flat spot to camp, but the going was rocky and steep. I kept imagining how the missing hiker may have slipped off and into a ravine to perish. By the time I was really thinking of how tired and out of shape I was (and how we probably should’ve settled for the last flattish spot), we found a beautiful little camper nest off the trail with just enough space for our tent and a kitchen area. It was cold that first night, maybe because it was wet near the creek and the sky was clear.

The next day was gloriously sunny and warm. We hadn’t made it quite as far as we’d imagined, but it was only a few miles to the wilderness area up near Park Lake where our reservation was for the next night. Hikers leaving for the weekend, it being Labor Day Monday, reported being rained out the entire weekend, only to have the weather break today when they were leaving. We knew we had a little window though, because the forecast called for rain tomorrow. The hike over the ridge into the Jefferson Park was really beautiful and, after feasting on wild blueberries, the rest of the walk was more or less downhill.

We crossed stunning meadows and creeks as the mountain suddenly came into view, large and sheer. Park Lake was nestled at what seemed like the foot of the mountain, where our campsite sat at the top of a hill overlooking both the lake and the mountain. We sat at the water’s reflection. We ate chocolate and drank wine. We wandered the lakes and walked a short jaunt of the PCT around the park. The sunset was golden and the stars that night were powdered sugar and crystals.

The next morning we moved slow. It was misty and wet and we didn’t finish breakfast before it started to rain. We packed up everything wet and began our descent down Breitenbush Trail. I forgot my gloves and Spence graciously lent me his socks and carried my cold trekking poles. Raynaud’s syndrome causes the blood vessels in my fingers to constrict, so my hands overreact to cold and wet climates. I should start packing my neoprene surfing gloves everywhere! Despite being soaked and a little cold, the hike down was lovely. We ate more blueberries on the way down. I think they are the most delicious blueberries I have ever tasted in my life.

Driving back out down the forest road, I mentioned to Spence that the man we saw walking with the dog a few days ago may have been the missing hiker’s father. We stopped in Detroit for coffee and snacks and the hiker was the talk of the town. The family was indeed searching for him and they said that his father, Robin, did indeed go walking for him every day. Sadly, as of this post they still have not found him yet, despite weeks of rescue efforts, but the search continues.  I found myself deeply moved by the courage family and friends showed when faced with this uncertainty and loss.

A friend of the family, Cheryl Alterman, described the young man: “Riley was a special kid. He’s an old soul. He’s 21, but you would never know it, and his smile entered the room before he did. He is the guy that every mother hopes their daughter can marry. I know his heart is brightening up the forest.” Lt. Chris Baldridge said: “I think it’s the hardest thing for us to have to look the family in their face after getting to know them for eight-plus days, and letting them know we can’t find their child.” The father posted this moving message online from the family:

I will be leaving Detroit today with great gratitude for the love and support  we have received from the people of Detroit and from the people who have tried so hard to rescue him.

What we have learned from this very hard lesson is that Riley has shown us that the most important thing is to show love and compassion to one another. This is what we have received from you and this is what we would like to give back to you so that we all can continue on to give to each other.

Our lives have changed forever and it is our hope that due to our beautiful son Riley so has yours so that we can all share with each other and the world the beauty of the lessons he has shown us.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Erin, Robin, and Noah

Cheryl observed, “The forest was (Riley’s) favorite place, and if that was his way to go, then he’s probably in the happiest place that he can be.”

Five Mile Butte Fire Tower

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

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

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

A Tale of Two Trips to the Coast

View From Cape Meares

This is a tale of two trips to the coast…

Spencer here: The first set of pictures chronicles some of the adventures my sister and her partner and I had a few weeks ago. It was a grand time. In my journal, a stream of consciousness two pages long still didn’t encompass all the things we managed to see and do while they were here. I just hope they had as good of a time as I did!

A few highlights… We hiked out one morning to Warrior Rock Lighthouse at the end of Sauvie Island. I hadn’t done this pleasant stroll before and now I want to take Billy there. It is mostly through river area, Alder trees and farmland, and at the time smelled very sweet. The leaves were golden yellow and bright orange–a pretty good Fall showing for the Pacific Northwest, to two visitors from the Midwest, which I think boasts some of the most magnificent tree colors rivaling New England! In any event, we also managed to eek out a trip to the coast. Ryan was in the mood for pancakes, and we found some at the end of Lincoln City. Awesome! We made our way to the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport. What a fantastic find. The hotel is very strange, although could have been more strange. We had the ‘Ken Kesey’ room, (the famed author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). All the rooms were named and decorated as such, after famous literary figures. I was tempted to stay in the Oscar Wilde room. Maybe next time. We toured lighthouses, the bay, the beach, Rogue Brewery–where we became honorary ‘Rogue Citizens’–an awkward, but festive affair ending with a dollar off each beer and a ridiculous ID card. We wandered over to an Irish Pub and then landed at a local spot called ‘The Sand Bar’. We met a wayward traveler, (a ‘drifter’ as Ryan liked to call him), named Tyrone. When I told Tyrone I had a hamster once named Tyrone he didn’t flinch. We played some pool and tried to keep up with his stories as they jumped around more than steel head in Tillamook Bay. Where was he from? It was hard to tell, but he spent time in Hawaii, the Midwest, maybe Florida and had a house in Newport. He said he came to Oregon originally to surf, as he heard there weren’t any sharks. Well, that was the year a guy got his board bitten in half, with an arm attached. “There are sharks”, I said, “but you’re more likely to get hit by a bus.” This didn’t persuade him. I almost took Ryan and Al surfing. The weather was good–a little chilly–but its the Oregon Coast–its always a little chilly. I showed them Otter Rock, where Billy and I love to surf. Next time. We had more IPAs to find. Among the catching up, we did manage to squeeze in a quintessential Portland thing–riding bikes, bar hopping to local micro-brews. I love how my sister and Ryan are up for anything!

Next up: Billy and I at a secret locale… Since Billy has been super busy with school and work, he missed the epic trip to Newport. Thus, we took our own trip to the coast, near Manzanita, and we camped out a night to give him a bit of a ‘vacation’. Contrary to what it seems, Billy did not study on this trip! We got to our secret camp spot late, leaving Portland after class and were sad to discover one of our secret camp spots was taped off. It was dark and we were running out of gas, so we decided not to investigate. We found a gas station instead and continued on to our backup spot. All worked out in the end. In the morning, we hiked around on the beach at Oceanside, munching a lovely hot mid-day meal in the sunny parking lot like a tailgate party–complete with beer, wine and coffee! We then decided to head to Cape Meares lighthouse. We saw the ‘Octopus’ tree, I was caught being a tourist, and then we found an amazing little path to a secret cove. I stopped the jeep and looked down the rocks–spotting basically a dark hole in the bushes and I sniffed out the trail. Turns out it was a locally known spot–the trail itself kept up by volunteers and lovers. There were many crab shell, rock, driftwood, chalk drawing shrines and a strange human-made waterfall/drainage. Anyway, it was a good sunny spot, in which we stayed and relaxed in lawn chairs until dark.

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.
or
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.

What rhymes with San Juan?

Sunset behind the Cabin

San Juan Island etc 120

San Juan Island etc 121

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

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

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

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

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

The Wild and Thoughtful Salmon River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Weekend with a Volcano

Each of us stands at one unique spot in the universe, at one moment in the expanse of time, holding a blank sheet of paper.

This is where we begin.

-Peter Turchi

Spence here: In the early morning there was calm. The clouds, reflected in the waters, greyed then burned away, as fish jumped, making tiny wakes at the shore. Ravens and Red-Winged Blackbirds called out, the only noise for miles. The lake, perfect glass to row about, I thought. This is how I started my day, camping at Merrill Lake, on the west side of Mount Saint Helens. Billy and I had slept well in the tent, strange for us, as we are generally light sleepers at home and away, and we rose early to greet the smell of summer, now fully upon us.

We spent days hiking around Mt. St. Helens in a curious, twisty and frontal state of mind—trees filled with meaning, rocks and lichens our friends—owls called after the campfire extinguished. Billy’s sister and her girlfriend joined us on this adventure and we celebrated the full moon of May, pouring out drinks for the various deities and entities one believes in on this physical dirt. We explored canyons and caves and tubes, suspension bridges and a dog’s willingness to go along with apes’ ridiculous plans.

A highlight, besides great company, great food, fun beverages, great weather and a beautiful camp, was our hike to Goat Marsh. Billy and I both saw the little trail on the map, an off-shoot of the Kalama Snow Trail at the end of our camp road and it beckoned. Now one of my top five favorite places of all time, Goat Marsh lent views of Mt. St. Helens, old Douglas Firs, many birds, salamanders, frogs and small children catching even smaller trout with bigger smiles. Around the bend of the trail, a homemade sign said “James Dunbar, Nov. 6th, 2003”. I assumed a memorial gesture to a person who either loved Goat Marsh, contributed to its protection and/or research (the acres there are designated as a research area) or perhaps just a fisherman who loved the mountain.

I couldn’t find anything online about James Dunbar, but did yield however, an amazing story of a “Bigfoot” encounter  and how Ape Canyon, a long stretch of rock heading up the South Easterly slope of Mt. St. Helens, got its name. Apparently, in 1924, some prospectors, after mining their claim for the day, retreated to their cabin for the night. Some members of the four-man party were concerned, as they had been seeing 19” footprints in the woods near their cabin and had heard strange thumping noises, accompanied with whistling and screeching in the evenings.  Other members of the group were very excited about the wealth of their claim and wanted to stay on to further their fortune.  They decided to leave in the morning; the braver ones could come back another day. According to interviews and an article on BigfootEncounters.com, around midnight, their camp was “attacked” by “large ape-like creatures”. The attack on the cabin, included rock throwing, jumping on the roof, trying to break through the walls (the cabin did not have any windows) and breaking in the door. At first light, the attacks ceased and the prospectors emerged from their cabin to see one of the creatures standing about 80 feet away. One person shot at the creature, killing it and sending it over a 400 foot cliff, into the canyon. The miners then rushed through the woods out to their truck and sped off to town. They were interviewed by local papers after word got around of the incident, but no evidence was ever found, let alone any ape-like creatures and the cabin eventually burnt down. According to the USFS, the event was a hoax played by young boy scouts, and was subsequently disproved. I still like to believe it, as I still like to think there is a Little Prince taking care of a volcano on his planet.

Billy and I did hear large screeching/calling types of sounds in the middle of the night one night—something like a flight of cranes, but indistinguishable.  Hmm. The stories we tell each other and ourselves are always true if we believe them.

Billy here. Spending a few days near the slopes of the most recently erupted volcano helped me remember how ephemeral even the oldest relics of humankind really are. The paradigm seems to be that civilization as we know it has been happening continuously in a hierarchical evolution and we are the apex of it. Not only that, but that how things are now will continue to grow in a stable fashion and the systems we have put into place will be there indefinitely, changing only to grow in size and value. Yet, especially here in the United States, we are so young a culture, in our teens at best, that we forget that things ebb and flow, that things decay and die. A mountain range may have once been the bottom of the ocean, a desert once a jungle, and the volcanoes in our backyard are only napping, waiting to bring fire and ash to our cities.

On July 16, 1994 my life changed entirely as I watched the first fragment of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slam into Jupiter through my telescope and leave a grey scar in its atmosphere the size of the planet Earth. The largest fragment hit two days later with the force of 6 megatons of TNT, equivalent to 600 times the world’s nuclear stockpile. In addition to spawning multiple summer blockbusters about comet apocalypses (as well as sparking a lifelong obsession with astronomy in me), the event reminded all of us briefly that this universe is alive, very dynamic, and not necessarily as stable as we would like to believe.

On the planetary scale, life itself flourishes between cold periods in interglacial periods of warmth. The last glacial period ended about 15,000 years ago, which sparked the subsequent growth of humanity and its civilizations. In the grand scheme of things, this warm period of the flourishing of humanity, the recent Holocene, was a mere blip in time. At the beginning of the Holocene period, sea levels rose over 100 feet. Here we have the origin of the legends of Atlantis and Tir fa Tonn, the Lands Under Waves.

Seeing the landscapes of our local volcano, the forests swept under by lava and ash, I am reminded once again that this is all very temporary. For some reason, this comforts me immensely and helps me feel small in an unfathomably large and complex universe, in the same way that looking at the night sky does. The Earth was not always covered in superhighways, dams and strip malls. In fact, only 75 years have passed since the first superhighway was built in the United States. Compared to the roughly 3.55 billion years that life has existed on the planet, this means that life is 47.3 million times older than our current high speed regime. According to the UCSB Science Line website: “The fossil record shows that roughly every 130 million years, most of the species alive on Earth are wiped out fairly suddenly.” We might have 65 million more years, or not…but if this is fact is true, life on Earth and all of its turnings of evolution, has evolved for millions of years and been wiped out about 27 times already. This could happen 27 more times over the lifetime of Earth herself.

Older cultures remember that we are living in balance and that all we have is our daily renewals. Song and dance is a prayer that the Sun will still rise and the Moon will still give the Ocean waves. Every day thanks are offered for the gifts of love and food we give and receive. Because tomorrow the sea may take us all home and make oil of our bones.

How do you know that any person you encounter isn’t a god?How do you know that Hermes isn’t walking through your doorway right now? You don’t, and because of that, it’s incumbent on you to live with the possibility that sacredness – that which is beyond human – is knocking on your door. You have to behave with proper respect toward whatever comes into your home, your life. The Greeks call it xenia – the culture of kindness to the stranger. It’s not done out of a moral sense but because you recognize your place in the world, and the brevity of life, and the value of the people you meet.
– David Mason