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?


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.

All Over the Map: Winter Introspection


Spence here: Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we had the unique opportunity to go back to New Mexico. Part of the reasoning was to retrieve the musical instruments and tools we didn’t have room for in the Jeep the first go around. Billy also joked that we “left our dreams behind”, in that we indeed left our manifestation collages in the old Spartan trailer on Max’s land. As part of our work through the book The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, we each made a collage of what is important to us, and then made a collage together, representing everything we would want to include in our ideal Home. In returning, I also secretly wanted to complete our 8,500 mile loop for 2014, as you can see in the above photo, taken of our route. I was delighted as well to take inventory of all the musical equipment we’ve collected over the years. Between Billy and I, we have enough instruments to outfit any kind of band! (2 basses, 2 bass amps, drum kit, keyboard, accordian, electric guitar, backpacking guitar, steel string guitar, ukulele, violin, djembe drum). It will be so good, one day, to get all of them into the same room–we still didn’t have space to bring them all back! Part of the impetus in building/remodeling the shed in Portland is to have a musical gathering safe house–perhaps that is what we should call the building. Right now it is named ACME (Art and Creative Musical Experience).

I really appreciated landing in New Mexico after some time, to be able to reflect on our experiences there and to reconnect with friends. I love the kind of weirdness, magicalness and love we’ve found there. The people are one of a kind and I had missed them more than I knew. The love we felt returning is something some people only feel maybe a few times in their lives–we have the luck of feeling it all the time–radiating out from the “Land of Enchantment”. The importance of accepting my “weirdness” on this level is not only healing, but inspiring.

As I went through some belongings I had stashed in New Mexico, I came across some photos of some paintings I had done. I gave them away to friends down there, in thanks for all their love and support, (see the photos below.) I also came across the following poem. I hope everyone is able to take time this winter to reflect on the year’s activities, if not every days’ activities. I want to carry with me the magic I have felt from New Mexico and its inhabitants, as well as the intimate presentness I have intended to cultivate year-long. At the risk of sounding like a resolution, I am currently working on the issue of patience. As Billy and I continue to work on finishing the cabin and constructing the music studio, may I learn the art of “In Process” and not the finality of “Finished”. Undone is not yet a goal. Next week, more talk about The Dreaming and Songlines, from Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines.

We find the time slips by fast on this hill, as well.

Max is gone.

The roof should hold up another year or so, and the porch?

The water tanks are low

But will we be here to see them fill?

When monsoons pour out the dippers

And night skies change eyes.

Too bad summer gives me itchy to go do go.

Explore the mountains as they allow,

Like looking under rocks and feasting on the squiggliness.

It is mostly the smells I love

Following invisible waves to foreign sills

Could just be in my genes.

winter in portland, oregon

 remembering our seasons in new mexico

 manifestation collage

Billy here. It’s hard to believe how much a year can hold in its arms. Everything on the planet! There was a lot of griefwork. My grandmother leaving. Some hardship. And also a lot of beautiful times. Spence and I celebrated our private marriage. I finished an acoustic album.We visited our families across the country. We saw fireflies in the Ozarks and sailed on Lake Huron. We spent time with old friends, sang, drank and cried.

Since the first time I stayed in New Mexico years ago, it felt more like home to me than any other place. It is the spirit of the land and the people. They all welcome us as family. Now we are welcomed in the mossy grey of the Willamette Valley by loved ones and I am so grateful for all the acceptance and love in my life.

I want to spend a lifetime giving back. It seems there is nothing else to do but give back. Not just to the human people, but to all the animal, plant and mineral people who have lifted us up to where we are now. We are not here because we’re better, but because we are the youngest held up on a foundation of over 600 hundred million years of plant and animal evolution with billions of years of bacterial wisdom behind that again. Bacteria speak in flashes of chemical. Even rocks change form and speak, but it may be a long time before science “proves” it. We all got here together and we are coexisting now. But humans are the teenage sorcerer’s apprentice and it’s easy to get carried away with the little self, with mental gymnastics and cleverness of all kinds. But when we get back down to it, all that is important is giving back. Giving songs to dawn. Giving space. Giving thanks. There may be no such thing as perfection. But all we can do is keep diving back into the whetstone.

Farewell to the Blue House on the Hill

Billy here. We have spent a lovely few seasons in Candy Kitchen, New Mexico with neighbors who are now our family. Over the last year or so we have been taking care of Max’s house on the hill and recording an album, Human Thinking Animal, which is now out on the internet! You can listen to it on Soundcloud here. We built a little shower shack we dubbed the “Cleanhouse” because we wanted to use the solar shower water for cherry tomatoes and peppers we would grow in the shower shack. We never quite got as far as growing anything yet or even hooking up the water catchment, but the showers were wonderful! We released the album, said farewell for now to our New Mexico family and hit the road with our jeep packed for the summer’s adventures to visit friends, family and large sparkling bodies of water. So now that we’re back on the blog roll, we’ll be posting every Wednesday!

Spence here: Our last month in New Mexico was a whirlwind. I am exordinarily proud of Billy for getting his album done, in the midst of visiting friends and family, packing and house detail. I feel really honored to have had the opportunity to play on the album.

What can I say except that I am a changed person from when we first landed in Candy Kitchen, NM. The generosity of the people there is unlike any experience I have had. A true neighborly feeling of care and consideration, as well as an “anything goes” attitude about people’s differences makes it a unique piece of planet. I want to thank each friend and neighbor for all the help and love extended to us while we were there (and while we continue to be gone, as guardians of Max’s land, some of our stuff and our mail!) I appreciate what the desert has taught me as well as the people. I appreciate the space I had to teach myself some things also. I have never had so much time and space for art and creative thought as I have had in New Mexico. There are so many amazing gifts I can take with me, however, one that I am thinking of in this moment in particular is the feeling that people everywhere have the capacity to be this generous and open. The fact is, we all have this within ourselves to create our worlds and walk the talk. Since my experiencing this tenderness over the last two years, I know we can extend that hand of kindness and community wherever we go. Still, I already have a heavy heart and miss the people. We shall be back!