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.




Fun: Pass it on!

Spence here: While floating by Billy in a tiny yellow inner tube, beer in hand on the Clackamas River, I said obnoxiously, “Fun: Pass it on!” A few moments later, I floated into a dicey current and almost lost my glasses! However, neither did I lose any glasses or beers and truly, our recent camping trip was a success in every category…excellent company, great conversation about making out after puking, sunny weather, crisp, cold water features and beers, meteor showers, sand in my hair and sleeping outside without a tent. The Clackamas River never disappoints. Our friend Jane, (credit Jane for the action photos!) pushed the envelope, jumping off a gigantic log into the middle of an icy, swift current without hesitation. Her small dog bravely stood watch as lifeguard on sharp rocks, as well as napping 6 times a day. I kept pretty close to shore to guard the sandwiches and make leaning rock sculptures. Billy sacrificed his skin to the sun.

Sometimes, in the name of “Adulthood” I lose track of what is important! Sitting in a river with my friends and enjoying all that nature can offer in healthy ways of ‘takin’er easy’. The hot afternoons are slowly slipping into Fall. I noticed the shadows were a little longer than usual, the leaves a little yellow and the smell of campfire more of a welcome source of warm and less like a rampaging threat. We slept out like kids, our sleeping mats in the sand making indentations. We stayed up late watching the Perseid meteor shower, spying a particularly amazing meteor, which looked like a flaming, crashing spaceship. It felt perfectly normal to wear my clothes and shoes, socks too, into the river to cool off, knowing everything would dry on my person by dinner.

We hiked in an obscene amount of gear in the name of “Fun”. Since the camp spot is only a couple miles in, it is worth it to bring two coolers, books, journals, the “big tent”, floaties, binoculars, 3 bags of chips, the two burner Coleman camp stove and a ukulele! My mother would probably call this march the “Grapes of Wrath” syndrome. It is also worth it to set up a gigantic tent one has no intention of sleeping in if one can help it–as the weather is too good to be inside in any capacity, “just in case”. The summer is slowly waning… Have fun! And without haste!

Billy here. There are few things I love more than sitting by the rapids perched on top of a certain boulder at Alder Flat. The water melts off the glacier, so much water, and froths over rocks. I like to watch a certain part of the water flow down, hit a rough patch and swirl or broil, then flow further down. The more I watch flowing water, the more I feel that things start to unravel and make sense at the same time. The muscles loosen and the smell of the air gets through to the blood. Everything seems to be found in how the water flows. It is always different water flowing and making the same forms depending on the rocks around it. It gets caught in the pattern of its environment. Some water shoots up, some goes around and some gets caught in an eddy near the shore for a while. It all gets back to the ocean eventually, even if it evaporates and rains down somewhere else. It could take one drop a million years to take another’s path.

Drawing labyrinths in the sand – there is something shimmery about the labyrinth – an optical illusion masks the seed of something integral to life itself. To tell a good story is to organize the experience of life – in a way that weaves the heart and mind together in a unified whole. The lines of the labyrinth shimmer like the grooves of a record. They have recorded a song. What does the song sound like?

The Clackamas River

Spence here: It is official! Welcome to the new home of Coupleohuckleberries! I am very proud of our site, and it is always fun reading through our past adventures. So far, the month of March has been filled with evolvement, sprouting and stretching. As my mom would say, “peaks and valleys”. We started off right, taking a few “stay-cations”, as a grand friend was in town and we became tourists of our own city once again.

Step 1: Go out to eat.

Step 2: Wander aimlessly in cool, quirky Portland neighborhoods until one is hungry again.

Step 3: Repeat.

Having multiple beverages with breakfast always signifies a serious vacation for me. Followed up by an overnight camp out on the Clackamas River and a feast with our neighbors to celebrate the Spring Equinox–culminating with the release of our own art websites… Check mine out here:


The over-nighter to the river was chilly and reminded me it is still only March. It didn’t rain though and we had ample time for drawing, investigating fresh water pools and photography. We even had our first camp fire of the year. There’s also something about sleeping in a tent for me, which invokes excitement, possibility and overall child-like smiley-ness. Walking down the path to Alder Flat, we watched our steps as brownish-red little newts lay amongst the leaves and pine needles. I finally acquired a handy tree guide for western trees and spent some time studying the family names of Alders, Cottonwoods, Poplars, Firs, Cedars and Hemlocks.


We live a charmed life, its true, but its not all $50,000 roof-top parties and donuts. I struggled through extra hours, rain and wind at my delivery job with an ill-timed bout of depression and 2o-something bossy co-workers. My body is not what it used to be, as flexibility wanes and arthritis is starting to have perfect attendance. This week I also received a couple of rejection letters from publishers. Was it F. Scott Fitzgerald who received over 300 hundred rejection letters before finally publishing The Great Gatsby in 1925? Well then, 298 to go.

I had a dream in which I caught an evil spirit in my hands. Grasping the dark, twig-like bundle of energy, I brought it to my lips in order to kiss it over and over again. In the next dream, I explored an old house, which to my surprise had glorious, colorful, small, spirits peeking out from between the woodwork. I think the work I have done the last few weeks is good and I have that to fall back on, as well as Billy’s unwavering love and support. I am planning a few new sculptures and now a new spirit painting, which will really feed me for the month to come.

Billy here. Spring is here! All those things we planted last year, for better or for worse are sprouting up!

It reminds me of the Navajo story of the two wolves, one good and one evil. A boy asks his father which wolf will win over humankind, and he answers, “The one you feed.”

So we are choosing to feed our creative pursuits seriously! It’s absolutely frightening, because it’s what has meaning, as opposed to the simplicity of punching the clock on some other job. It feels incredibly vulnerable and yet so empowering. So before I lose my nerve, here is the official unveiling of my new website!


Sharing your creations with others feels incredibly dangerous and terrifying. It’s like falling in love and trusting someone to treat your heart gently as a raw egg. A Texan art curator once said that if you can’t walk by a piece of art every day and get something out of it then it’s not for you. This is tricky, because sometimes you get something out of it, but it’s a hard feeling. You still get something out of it, even if it’s not pleasant. It’s growth. Making art and music is like that. It breaks my heart, making it. But if I didn’t make it, my heart would turn hard as stone.

There was a funny egg in the dozen we bought at the farmer’s market. It was as hard as a rock, and after boiling it, it would not break even after being banged against the concrete. Such an egg or a heart is not good for nourishment. Was it a decoy?

It was great fun to have my best friend in town for five days and see the city with new eyes. We walked the city over, through wind and rain, laughing. There is no better cure for the winter sadness than getting out in the weather and laughing with friends. I am reminded that it’s about people, all the people, the animals, plants, minerals, insects, and stars. We keep bringing each other back to the surface of the water to breathe.

I was feeling mad about some internal weather a bit ago. So I took a walk. Everywhere I looked people were happy. A guy was teaching his four year old how to skateboard. A woman was walking, grinning and bobbing her head to music on her earphones. A dog panted with excitement out a truck window. I couldn’t be mad with all this happy sunshine around. Come on up, they all said, it’s time to breathe above the water! I can start to feel what they mean, those uncanny philosophers, when they say that breaking through to eternity is not some future time or forever time, it’s being right here, right now, each and every moment. That’s eternity. That’s being in love with existence itself.

Hideaway Lake

News Flash! As of next week we will be changing our website to www.coupleohuckleberries.com!

Spence here: Last night I awoke to the wondrous sound of pattered rain on our little shed roof. I had echos of little anxieties left over from living in New Mexico, where it hardly ever rained: Is the rain cistern leaking? Did I leave out my tools? Is the laundry on the line still? Are the windows closed? Funny, that it has been sunny enough in the Pacific Northwest lately to foster forgetfulness in the weather. This morning it smelled like worms again!

I have been pulling double shifts of work. I work 6-8 hours on the computer building my art website, building/mending around the house and then go to my delivery job. I am proud that I am able to stick up for myself in this vein to others recently. A neighbor came over and I popped my head out of the cabin to say hello; it was about 10:30 a.m. I had been working since 7 a.m.. “Sorry to bother you, you must have been sleeping,” they said. Normally, I would have just shrugged and gone back to my business, but I piped up this time, excitedly, “Oh, no I have been working on my art website.” If we go looking for credibility, it seems, we shall only find it really within ourselves.

The Clackamas River trip, up to Hideaway Lake came just in time. I failed to realize until our first stop at Big Eddy Day Use how wound up I had become. Seriously, we need to be going out to the river at least every other week. We played on the rocks, took deep breaths and stared off into beautiful light mirroring pools. The first part of the day out there I felt like I was looking for something. I was searching the ground so intently, as if I had lost something. I only understood later my eyes and mind were hungry for what I was seeing–every detail became important to save for later, until Billy and I had a good hike and a good laugh and I relaxed.  On our way around Hideaway Lake, deep into the Mt. Hood National Forest, I recollected our first visit to that lake a few years back. It was one of the first camp trips we took after I had knee surgery. The hike around the lake had seemed too far, as well as walking to the trail head for Shell Rock Lake, less than half a mile away. I remember feeling so tired and achy, that even getting back up the hill to the van seemed somewhat perilous. I am so happy my legs are getting stronger and I can enjoy the “Walking Way” once again, as well as the “Running Way” and the “Biking Way”. Being a human minority among the trees, plants, water features, moss and other inhabitants brings me comfort and a sense of forgiveness for my human flaws which can not be aptly expressed. No wonder my Dad carries a smooth rock in his pocket–is it for remembering this?

P.S. Why would someone take the time to carve “Nude Bench” or “Not a Step Mouse” into a log? Weirdos!

Billy here. The whole world is sprouting up now. Even my dreams are opening up to the wind, ready for pollination. Last week our day trip to the river and hike out to the lakes on the Clackamas River awakened me from the winter crystallization of the mind. I remembered as a kid being moved by classical symphonies on my jambox. The first record played after I was born was Claude Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun. As I grew older, my most treasured and emotional moments were those with my ear to the speakers at low volume listening to works of composers from Bach to Stravinsky. I would listen to whole symphonies in a single sitting, turning the tape cassette over eagerly and propping myself back in front of the stereo. Only once in the last year have I given myself the leisure, the therapy, no, the necessity of just sitting and listening to a piece all the way through. It’s time to make time for what matters again. Reading fairy tales and poetry. Playing piano for the joy of it. Drawing things that fascinate me.

Something has given way in the last couple of weeks. I put my notice in at the cafe job that has slowly been losing meaning for me over the years and am looking for submissions calls, fellowships and artist grants. I am starting to have confidence that if I do indeed follow my bliss, my livelihood will present itself. The first gentle spring rain is falling after two weeks of dry sunny weather. The air smelled of earth and wood this morning instead of exhaust. Out of last year’s decay push up curious crocuses.

I can feel that this summer will be hot and dry here in the West, and I am called to attract water, to live lightly on the ball of my foot, to know where the wind is blowing, and if needed, to be prepared to fight fire.