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…

Sweet Jeep Relief

 

Spence here: Le Huckleberries were last seen camping with some friends over the 4th of July, at Cook Creek, a tributary of the Nehalem River. A grand long weekend, filled with (work for me, in my last few hours of being a prep-cook for an amazing Manzanita restaurant called The Blackbird), surfing, grillin’, beerin’, chattin’ and fishing! I bought an amazing fly rod from a co-worker and proceeded, on my third cast, to catch a 6 inch trout. I think that’s good luck! After the party, Billy and I packed up to make our way into Portland for some appointments. The idear’ (I’ve been reading Steinbeck again!) was to wrap up some business in Portland and make our way south to New Mexico to wrap up things there and see old friends. Well, I noticed a certain clanging coming from the hood of the jeep, trusty old Fen, and Billy and I took a look inside. A pulley wheel had started to squeal and smoke a little, but in order to get anywhere to fix it, we had to go somewhere else. So we decided to head toward Portland anyway and keep an ear out for more noise. Stopping off to watch the late night firework action on the bluff over-looking Manzanita was not to be missed, however. Amazing local-talk and hilarious old-timers accompanied several fireworks shows going off all down the coast. As we rolled into Tillamook the sound under the hood was getting worse and worse–had it not been midnight on a holiday we probably would have drove it straight to a garage in Tillamook. While wondering what the right thing to do would be, the jeep just suddenly stopped steering and the noise gave way. I managed to pull over on a great wide shoulder of highway 6, luckily just on the outskirts of town but within cell phone range. The pulley had dislodged itself, leaving metal dust and bearings on the ground. Not too good. Nothing to do but wait until the morning and have it towed into Portland when the garage was open–72 miles away–but well within our AAA towing limit. So we spent a bad night’s sleep on the side of the road, feeling the wind of the logging trucks rocking the jeep all night, headlights blazing. It actually turned out to be the least bad case scenario for what it was.

Once in Portland, our friends were kind enough to put us up (again, thank you!) while our jeep was getting fixed, (needed a new power steering pump). We had a few days to ponder our driving future as the garage was backed up with broken down cars over the holiday. We decided to skip driving across the country again in the summer and contemplated maybe we were tired of driving altogether. It was a moment to pause and think about retiring the jeep life sooner than later. Looking ahead, we have decided to give Ashland, Oregon a go-around. The Siskiyou Crest and Applegate Valley are too beautiful to miss, as well as the cute, liberal downtown, home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. With miles of trails leading right out of the town park, including hikes to the Pacific Crest Trail and world-class mountain-biking, I think we’ll have plenty to explore for awhile.

In the mean-time, it is perhaps plausible that we will just skip the “middle-man” and buy land, in order to not pay rent! Why not? The idea of putting down thousands on a deposit on a rent-able place that we do not own, have no control over; where the rent could be raised at any time and /or the possibility that the landlord just doesn’t like us–decides to keep our deposit, etc. The whole thing stinks and what will we have to show for it? If we buy land, we can at least invest in where we are, keep our stuff there, have friends visit, camp out… even if we don’t stay forever. The concept of buying land is a little problematic for me, in that “owning” land in the pioneer sense always feels a little like “from whom has it been taken away?” Let alone the act of “owning” part of the Earth. However, the lack of safe wild space in this day and age, (peace and quiet? ATV’s, logging, shooting, hunting, partiers and trash), the concepts of my own piece of “home” and just a plain old wanting of a place to hang my hat for more than 6 months at a time are issues I have been dealing with since I left my parents house. Till all these ideas come to fruition, however, the jeep will still be home for now, but I am looking forward to growing some roots in some capacity for a spring bloom.

Billy here: The 4th of July (our dating anniversary!) seems like forever ago. In the three weeks since, we have been in a kind of limbo with the jeep breaking down, putting us in a kind of existential…crisis is too strong a word…reassessment, perhaps. What does it mean to be free and also responsible? If we didn’t have the Jeep, how would our life look? If we had roots somewhere, how would that look? Literally every week it’s a new idea with an entirely new direction. Each week it gets scrapped for another idea and it’s back to the drawing board. The drawing board is a fruitful place to be and though some of us might dislike the sight of blank paper, I find it refreshing as falling snow. The possibilities are endless and the usual life scripts can be scrapped for a playful curiosity. However, it seems clear that some kind of rooting is imminent (and even perhaps immanent!), if at least for the winter.

The first day of the Jeep being fixed, we hightailed it out of the city to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and stayed at a rustic camp. Clearly, we still have itchy feet! We swung on a big old swing among tall ponderosas and swatted mosquitoes, just happy to be in the woods. We took the back roads into Ashland and have been exploring the surrounding areas since. The swimming here is divine and the views of Mt. Shasta from the Siskiyou crest are amazing. A favorite swim spot next to an old bridge even has an upright piano in a shelter that is surprisingly not too out of tune. I spend entire afternoons sitting by Ashland Creek, watching deer and listening to musicians in the park, a short walk from downtown Ashland. The Mediterranean climate suits us very well. The heat of the day is perfect for a dip in the Applegate River or in the lakes along the Pacific Crest Trail, but the dry air is still cool in the shade and at night.

I have been accepted at Southern Oregon University here in Ashland, but I am awaiting for the sediment to settle (and some grants to clear) before deciding to attend the school. The last year has been a busy season for the heart and mind, and each foray into a city, whether as big as Portland or as small as Manzanita, reminds us that we like the slow and quiet country life. I feel as jumpy as the deer and the chipmunks in the hustle of urban life. Perhaps we just need some autumn fermentation and the crisp dormancy of winter to know which trees will bloom and which ones will give fruit.

Mt. Shasta in California, as seen from atop Mt. Ashland

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.

 

 

 

Roll Out to Stub Stewart St. Park

On the rails-to-trails

Spence here: I set out last Thursday on another bike adventure, thankful the weather was a calm, 60 degree sunny day in November. (Sometimes the West Coast wins!) I told myself I was going to go on this bike trip no matter what the weather. I sure was glad it wasn’t raining and 40 degrees, or I would have had to eat my hat.

I left Portland–taking the Max train out to the suburbs, all the way to the end of the line in Hillsboro. From there, an amazing scenic bike route on mostly wide open farm roads took me to the town of Banks where the Banks-Vernonia Rail-to-Trail started. I had read varying reports on the internet about how far it was from Hillsboro to Banks, however, since I took most of a scenic bikeway loop, i.e., the long way, I am pretty sure it was about 20 miles just to reach the trailhead. Without a fancy gadget to tell me, it is hard to say. Although, this trip I did take a map of the area and it came in handy!

Stub Stewart State Park is located about midpoint of the Banks-Vernonia Trail. Click here to see the brochure and map!  The park has a neat set of mountain bike trails and a rather large, well-organized, quiet, private hiker/biker campground. I rode that first day to my hiker camp in the woods, luckily located above the creeks and valleys, (hilltops are somewhat warmer if not windy). It was a beautiful evening. By the time I got my tarp set up and dinner on the stove it was dark. I forgot camping in the winter months is a funny time warp, with darkness falling about 5:30pm. I finished my dinner with a headlamp and sat out on the picnic table for quite sometime. I watched the light fade from the hills, read a little of my book (Woman of the Boundary Waters, by Justine Kerfoot), and wrote in my journal. I was leery of all the rustling in the bushes, but it turns out the noises were only a few mice. The owls soon took over with their calls as the stars came out. I was the only one in the campground.

I had not yet used my new bivy sack and tarp set up, so I was a little nervous about how warm I would or wouldn’t be, and also, not having that perceived protection in the form of a cozy tent. I lamented at first about it… and missed my adventure captain, Billy. Once I settled down in my little ‘home’ however, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable I was. It felt good knowing I could camp like this anywhere if I had to, and I had shaved a few pounds off of my overall packing weight. With food and water and some winter clothes, my total pack weight was only 18 lbs–much less than the trip I took this summer even. I found the biking with less weight much more enjoyable. Of course, not packing a six-pack of beer helped lighten the load.

In the morning I got up at first light–eager to make a warm beverage and finish the trail to Vernonia. I arrived by 9:30am and thought about going to a little cafe for breakfast. Vernonia, as well as Banks, is super accommodating to bikers since the rail-to-trail went in and there are plenty of cute cafes and breakfast nooks, as well as craft breweries. I was having such a nice morning though, just enjoying the sunshine, the riding and the scenery, once I made it to Vernonia, I just turned right around and kept riding. I took some breaks along the way, to see the chickens in the fields, the pigs with their baby piglets, nodding to numerous cows and stopping once to pet a horse. The riding was easy on the way back, mostly flat and/or downhill-ish and I made it back to the Hillsboro train station by 2pm.

The people in the small towns of Banks and Vernonia were so kind, as were the people driving (moving way over on the road and even slowing down!) People on the trail were commenting about the great weather, the autumn colors and in general seemed at ease. In the wake of this presidential election, I was happy to see so many people out enjoying the natural areas, getting exercise, running their farms, waving greetings and smiling gently. It reminded me not to lose hope as I gaze over the political map of the United States and see abundant red states. It left me to remember that kindness, especially during this time period is the best thing I can offer. It doesn’t take that much more energy to try and smile and wave and be friendly. I’m not naive; I know of terrible political upheavals, unfair laws in practice, hatred, environmental and humanitarian degradation–most recently hearing about the unjust ways First Peoples are being treated at Standing Rock–but for me to dwell on those things all the time is too much. It is overwhelming and can be paralyzing. However, it still seems possible to have an influence, maybe even a greater one, on a daily level with basic presence and gratitude towards strangers, loved ones and my immediate surroundings. I’m not always in the right mind to do so, but getting outside, either walking or biking or just getting out and doing different things, one’s perspective is changed and empathy hopefully can sneak in there. I get out to get away, but ultimately it is the chance to shake up my stubbornness, ease my set-ness and to have another chance at being a better person.

 

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.

Bike Camp-Out: Oxbow Park and Beyond

Spence here: A few months back I decided to take my little bike on a small camp-out. My destination was to be Oxbow Park, located on the Sandy River outside Troutdale. I haven’t ever ‘toured’ before, staying overnight somewhere, only long day trips so I was excited for the possibilities. I (tried) to pack the bare minimum, as my bags, rack and handlebar bag are of second-rate-used quality from Next Adventure for a total of $30. No use getting expensive stuff if one is not even sure one is going to like said activity. Anyhow, these bags worked great and I probably won’t get fancier ones. There are many bags out there that are water proof, but garbage bags on the inside to protect my clothes and sleeping bag work well for me. I spend my money on backpacking stuff. Probably I had about 30 pounds of stuff all said and done, including water. For a list of things I brought along, see below.

My bicycle doesn’t have touring-magical-powers, nor do my legs. The gearing is a 2×8, 2 in the front and 8 in the back. Not bad for a 40 mile day with decent hills. Oxbow Park is really only 20-some miles away, but I took the long way because I wanted to see all of the Spring Water Corridor Trail. It was awesome! Even with 3 flat tires there and back (I had old tubes in there) I enjoyed myself. The route after the bike-and-pedestrian-only trail ends is very hilly, through rolling farm county. I felt like the trucks and locals were pretty respectful and moved way over for me, except for one motorcyclist who had something to prove by buzzing me while I was going 5 miles an hour up a hill. I guess he showed me his man-power!

I ended up getting lost, as I didn’t have a map and I don’t have a fancy phone, gps or the like. I did write down the directions, but I took a different turn than I was supposed to, just to see what was down the road (and to ride a 3 mile downhill!) so I stopped at a gas station to ask for firmer directions. While I was there, I picked up a 6-pack of “morale booster” and what-do-you-know, it fit in that old handlebar bag like it was meant to go there. It even is insulated! At first glance I didn’t notice.

The people at the gas station didn’t know where the park was, even though they were local people and the park was less than 5 miles away. After asking 4 people, a 5th person knew and set me up for success. I reached my camp after another ridiculously long steep descent and toured the park. A wonderful, clean, well-cared-for park with plenty of wild areas for your imagination. I spent a lot of my two days out napping and writing on the beach and trying to figure out a way NOT to ride back up that screaming hill! It looked like the only way in and out of the park so I was sweatin’ it. I even thought I might be able to convince a drift-boater-fisherman to take me across the river, as I knew the road was flat over there. I never got up the gumption, but also then I found an old horse trail on the map that I thought I could walk up. My bike has knobby tires so I figured I’d rather hump along an old horse trail than ride up that monster twisty hill. Maybe I m just a backpacker at heart. In any event, sometimes not knowing what you’re getting yourself into is all the courage you need!

I got up early on departure day and I had another flat tire. After fixing my pump! and then fixing the flat! and then missing my turn to go up the trail (it was a little overgrown) I had breakfast by the river. I managed to find the trail and it went straight up. I could barely push my bike up the grade. Once I got to the top of the ridge however, the trail was easy, open pine floor and quite lovely. It was very quiet and a perfect temperature and I decided I would like to go on another bike trip in the future if conditions were like this. I rode that trail for awhile and then reached the switchbacks. A quarter mile later, after grappling over some roots and fallen snags, I reached the dead end road that would lead me to my turn-off back to Portland. I felt pretty clever and energized for the rest of the ride. As they say, it was all downhill from there. I will probably go on another ride/camp-out this summer, when I have forgotten how much I dislike biking uphill. I will probably take even less gear and bring a friend. Biking is safer in numbers. Yee-haw.

List of gear, loaded into 2 rear panniers and a front handlebar bag:

sleeping bag

alcohol stove, cook mug, spoon, knife, lighter and fuel

food, 2 water bottles and an insulated coffee mug

extra socks, shirt, underwear, bandanna and raincoat

journal, pencil, colored pencil set, paperback book

tools and 2 extra tubes: tire levers, 3,4,5,6 allen wrenches, 13, 15, 17 cone wrenches, adjustable wrench, leatherman multi tool, chain-breaker, extra master link and patch kit, travel pump

sleeping pad, tarp tent and ground cloth bungeed to the top of the rack

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 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