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

Mono Lake and the Oldest Trees in the World

Billy here.

Our friend Machete met us in Ashland with Max and parted ways with us to wander the national forests of northern California with sheep herder nomads, living off of sheep milk and foraged plants.  We took Max home to New Mexico via California and our first stop was Mono Lake in the Eastern Sierras near the Nevada border.

Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America, anywhere from one to three million years in age. It has a thriving ecosystem containing birds, brine shrimp, algae and alkali flies. Amazing carbonate structures called tufa, a type of limestone, formed pillars under the surface of the lake around springs bubbling up through the lake. In 1941 the city of Los Angeles began diverting the tributaries that fed Mono Lake, which caused the water level of the lake to drop over 40 feet over the next several decades and the salinity of the water increased to almost three times that of the ocean. The ecosystem of the lake was on the verge of collapse when efforts began to be made to conserve the lake and the now exposed and eroding tufa pillars in the late ’70s; however, any real checks on water diversion were not solidified until the ’90s.

In the time it took the lake and tufa to form, one to three million years, the entire existence of homo sapiens (about 200,000 years by current conjecture) could have happened five to fifteen times over and yet one city nearly destroyed it in the space of one human lifetime.

Our next stop was the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, home of the oldest trees in the world.  Here is a description from the National Park Service website:

Great Basin Bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) are remarkable for their great age and their ability to survive adverse growing conditions. In fact, it seems one secret to their longevity is the harsh environment in which most bristlecone pines grow.

Bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park grow in isolated groves just below treeline. Conditions are harsh, with cold temperatures, a short growing season, and high winds. Bristlecone pines in these high-elevation environments grow very slowly, and in some years don’t even add a ring of growth. This slow growth makes their wood very dense and resistant to insects, fungi, rot, and erosion. Vegetation is very sparse, limiting the role of fire. Bristlecone pine seeds are occassionally cached by birds at lower elevations. Bristlecone pines grow more rapidly in more “favorable” environments at lower elevations. They do not achieve their legendary age or fascinating twisted shapes.

While bristlecone pines are the longest-living tree, scientists debate what is truly the oldest living thing. The creosote bush that grows in the Mojave Desert may be older. The cresote achieves its age by “cloning” new bushes from its root system. Yet bristlecone pines surely deserve our respect for not only surviving harsh conditions, but thriving in harsh conditions.

In this forest grows the oldest living non-clonal tree, Methuselah, at over 4,600 years of age. This tree was sprouting at the dawn of civilization, when city-states were forming in Mesopotamia and writing was first being developed.

It seems the oldest and wisest of us have survived so long, not in spite of, but because of the harshest of challenges.  It reminds me of the theme of the Free Cascadia Camp Max participated in: the journey of the salmon. In the words of the organizers:

Salmon spawn in the pure headwaters of creeks and streams, and then transform their entire physiological system, morphing from freshwater fish into saltwater fish. In their new forms, they delve deep into the mysterious cold waters of the ocean, sometimes traveling tens of thousands of miles before hearing the call to come Home again.

Their return restores fertility to the land that would otherwise be lost downstream forever, and in this way, they nourish the entire watershed to which they return. The way to finding Home lies within their ability to listen to something hidden within their DNA and their psyches, which leads them to the ancestral home-waters of their lineage.

But the life-way of the salmon and the Salmon People has been brutalized by the effects of colonization and genocide.

Salmon populations struggle to survive in polluted, warm waters, with many of Empire’s tools creating serious challenges to the successful completion of their journey Home.

In many ways, the link between the people of the land, the fish, and the ecosystem at large have been broken.

And all the people suffer from the dehumanizing and earth-alienating effects of historical and continued colonization.

Now is the time to rewild ourselves, to remember our inherent indigenous relationship to land and place, and to dedicate our lives to right relationship to the Web of Life.

We, like the salmon and the bristlecone, in order to survive in a quickly changing climate due to our own careless expansion, have to be willing and ready to undergo painful transformations and arduous conditions of being.

spence here! with a twist of fate, we were to deliver max to new mexico. i was excited to get a preview of my soon-to-be mountain desert home, as well as a glimpse of the territory we would be hiking through in california. our first stop to pick up max in ashland was pretty fun.  i wish i hadn’t drank 4 cups of coffee and then waited to eat, as i apologized to everyone for being crabby and hungry.  but ashland is beautiful.  sunny and warm but still lush.  the town is quaint.  we saw renaissance era singers in full renaissance garb, perhaps practicing for the biggest renaissance festivial in the united states, held every year there. coming from holly, michigan, which also boasts a champion renaissance festival, i am curious to go back and witness said magnificence in ashland.  how big are their turkey drumsticks?

we continued on to washoe lake state park, located alongside lake tahoe, on its eastern flank.  because of the significant hills and buttes, however, we didn’t actually see lake tahoe, and washoe lake was less impressive. it was still my first taste of the high desert. i loved the dry air and cool evenings.  i also love coyotes. in the morning we cruised on to see mono lake.  i really loved the sun-baked hills and tufas. the salty lake was clear and smelled like the ocean.  there were sea gulls! it seemed like a mirage at first, and something one would love to splash into in the middle of the desert. but as we came to the water’s edge, it was obvious that it was more like a sea, and less like a pleasure lake. brine shrimp and flies and a clay-type mineral sandy shore. i was impressed and saddened. the story of los angeles diverting the tributaries is depressing. i feel like water sources and drought have been on my mind all summer, as most of the united states is undergoing another terrible year. (think peanut crops in texas, 50% snow for california, illinois loosing most crops of corn and soy, etc.) this is  something people from orgeon (and michigan) typically don’t worry or think much about in the same way as in other places. water is and has been and probably will continue to flow all around us, as well as falling on us–rain, snow, sleet, ice–with moss, mud, mold and moisture everywhere.  the whole reason i ended up going on this trip in the first place is because oregon received a late snow in april. however, the rest of the country is thinking about it, and suffering–each year  getting worse.  now i’m thinking more about it and how my ways of living impact other places and beings.  how can we be excited about the future when so much of our resources are taken for granted, spoiled, exploited, trashed. i want to be more positive and talk about the fantastical things that humans are trying to do, and good-hearted-ness i believe our species possesses, but sometimes when faced with a huge on-going environmental disaster, i forget the good.

i was reminded of one such good citizen however, the ranger at the ancient bristlecone pine forest.  we drove up and up that day, from mono lake, through hillsides, cliffs, dry pinon pines, sage, rocks, dust and heat! i was, of course, grumpy and worried about overheating the brakes and the engine of the van simultaneously, but when else would we be able to see the oldest tress in the world! the creature of that land did not disappoint! we arrived at the visitors center and met our fair ranger.  this woman had been a ranger there forever.  you could tell, as she explained all her favorite paths and individual trees to each visitor, over and over again, with increasing excitement! equally as exciting–max bought a cool souvenir hat, and we took many pictures. there was a plethora of information on the scientific method of dating the trees, based on the analysis of patterns of tree-rings, called dendrochronology.

i’ve been more inspired to think about the sciences lately because of our journey. i have been thinking about the adventures i took with my family to desert places, such as flaming gorge, dinosaur national monument and craters of the moon.  where has my curiosity about the world been hiding all these years? probably where its been for most people after a certain age, under a pile of bills. i’m starting to get it back!