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.

The Many Ruins and Waters of Wy’East


Spence here: The many ruins and waters trip this past weekend was only three days long, but felt like a two week vacation. When we returned to Portland, I was surprised to recall how much we explored, however, it never felt hectic or rushed. We started out with a plan to go east and find a place to catch the lunar eclipse, which could be viewed Saturday morning, early. From there we had a jumping off point, but no set road. Billy had never been to Maupin, Oregon, so all the more reason to go, where the Deschutes River runs cold through pleasing rounded brown hills. High desert smells, plants, coyotes and friendly fishing people abound there and oddly enough, a nice old preserved cow horn, which came to be in our possession. The towering canyon walls were sadly too vertical for our needed view of the moon, come morning, and so we snacked-up and proceeded to a new favorite camp spot of mine on the John Day River called Cottonwood Canyon.

Perpetually chasing waterfalls, we detoured to White River Falls State Park, driving by the Warm Springs Indian Reservation traditional fishing platforms. A large ring-necked pheasant greeted us at the entrance. A steep trail took us down the canyon slopes towards a defunct power station (in operation from approximately 1910 to 1960). It set up a great photo extravaganza, as I took the whole roll of 35 mm film, which I was saving for the rest of the trip. Worth it. The canyon stretched on in the sun and dramatic dark cloud play and we savored the exploration like little kids. Behind every rock and pipe was a new plant, flower, photo op and smooth gray sand ripple. The White River eventually flows into the Deschutes River. We probably could walk the whole way, we pondered.

Losing time, we finally headed out to Cottonwood Campground. It was a bit busy and very windy when we arrived. I argued with the wind setting up the tent, but once staked out, proved to be an excellent palace for napping and gin rummy. We rose at 5:00 a.m., made a small fire and watched the Earth’s shadow move across the moon, with only a few birds and spirits watching. The rest of the campers had decided to stay in bed! While watching stars fade and tracing the hillside contours in my journal, I realized I am still wrapped up in the Western entanglements of hope and fear. What to do but realize and try to breathe.

A little while later we took a chilly stroll towards the John Day’s banks and I fished for a spell. I can’t recall ever being so relaxed in the past month as right by that river in those moments. I only caught snags, lost my favorite lure, and had a knot or two fail me, but the grin stayed on my face and a weathered elk bone accompanied Billy and I back to the Jeep in my jacket hood. Billy and I were engaged around this time last year during a lunar eclipse. Had it been a year already?!

We decided to head back along a rural route, taking Monkland Lane. Billy had spied an old church on the way out and we stopped to snoop. More ruin porn. I guest-i-mated this church was built around 1880. It still had a few recognizable pieces of hardware, which I was tempted to nab. A creepy, boarded-up, dilapidated convent-state hospital-looking building over saw the small town, but there were houses near, so we decided to skip getting close to that.

We had excellent talks in the afternoon, chasing sun patches and sitting around the fire at Bear Creek Campground, in the Mt. Hood National Forest. It was good to prioritize and give volition to the original leanings and plans about coming to Portland. A unique time to be up that high without snow, we took the chance to hike around Trillium Lake, another popular fishing haven. The fish were jumping, a Bald Eagle watched us close and the skunk cabbage was coming to life. Spur of the moment soon after, we drove up to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. I had never been up, and the history and views were imaginative. I can understand why there are so many groups formed in the area who talk about and research the Sasquatch. What a habitat. The snow is up there year-round, but this year, we could tell from exposed shale and dry patches, it is going to be a very hot summer.

You don’t run down the present, pursue it with baited hooks and nets. You wait for it, empty-handed, and you are filled.

– Annie Dillard

Billy here. The three tribes of the Warms Springs Reservation are the Wasco, the Walla Walla and the Pauite. The Wasco were fishers who lived along the Columbia River and spoke Chinookan.The Chinookan word for the Columbia River is Wimahl. The Walla Walla, known today as the Warm Springs tribe, spoke sahaptin and lived along the tributaries of the Columbia, frequently interacting with the Wasco and moving from summer to winter villages. The sahaptin word for the Columbia is Nch’i-Wàna, which, like the Chinookan name, means essentially big river.The Paiute spoke a form of Shoshonean and lived in the high plains of southeast Oregon. They migrated further for game animals as they were not primarily fishers.

The Columbia River is the jugular vein of the Pacific Northwest. It is the fourth largest river by volume in all of North America, spanning two thousand kilometers from its headwaters in British Columbia . Under tribal care, the historic salmon and steelhead annual numbers were estimated to run up to 16 million fish. The current annual run is less than one million fish. Thirteen salmonids have made the threatened and endangered species lists. Now over 450 dams are in the Columbia River Basin and a nuclear power plant still operates on the river.

Only in the last 200 years has tribal life in the Columbia Basin been completely disrupted by the coming of European settlers. In 1855, white dude Joel Palmer negotiated treaties in order to clear the people from the land for Oregon territories. The tribes relinquished around ten million acres of land with the promise that they would still be able to fish, hunt and harvest the meager lands of the reservation. Because of forced assimilation and ecological degradation by settler agriculture, dams and other practices, their traditional ways of life were no longer as workable as they once were. In 1957, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers finished building the Dalles Dam, inundating and completely destroying the ancient fishing village and inter-tribal trade center at Celilo Falls that had existed for perhaps 15,000 years. I am finding myself very emotional over learning this fact. Maybe because on some level I knew already before reading the Wikipedia article on Celilo Falls that “Celilo was the oldest continuously inhabited community on the North American continent.”

And maybe I knew the story already because it had happened a thousand times to every tribe on the continent over the same decades that saw the dropping of the atomic bomb, the first drilling of oil, and the witch hunts of the “Red Scare” and the “Lavender Scare”. What have we lost? And is the price of modern convenience and security worth the destruction it has caused?

Slopes of ‘Defiance’

Spence here.

I wrote the following poem after Billy and I got off the John Muir Trail in 2012 and went to New Mexico. I was really disappointed at that time, with the fact that my body (after two knee surgeries) and my mind (stubborn as always and over-confident) were not ready for backpacking. I fell ill and we had to retreat from the Sierra Nevada Mountains back to Mammoth Lakes, on a 4 day trek, over two mountain passes. It actually took me a few months of resting in New Mexico to get back my strength and to recover from my depression at my “failure”. I had taken much for granted then. I think back on all we did and how I felt and I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn many lessons—I think even more so than if we had finished the hike. Often I think of that time in comparison to how much healthier I feel now. This afternoon, Billy and I and some friends were atop Mt. Defiance. It was a great path up (we took the back route from Hood River and Forest Road 2820), steep but interesting. I appreciated walking on soft earth and rocks instead of the concrete of the city. Also, since we have been getting back into doing yoga every day, and perhaps because I bike a lot for my job, my legs felt springy and fresh. It was very chilly on top of the mountain, with fresh ice falling all around us from the radio facilities built up there—no snow however. While I felt happy and without fret about being outside, walking, breathing, following a path, it did seem a strange time to be up there. Almost all years that trail is snow-covered until June or July. This week we have been talking a lot about the changes we have gone through, as well as the city of Portland, our friends and the planet at large. Time is flying by and paying attention has become even more important to us. We have been talking about what might be next in this adventure, specifically for the summer. I wanted to post this poem because it reminds me to be patient–be excited–but be listening to my heart and my body, about what I need best on the next leg of this life trip.


Mountain Moral

My mind was cloudy on the path.

A storm rose over monster teeth.

A darkened sky flew

O’er our backs,

With rain and current through your hair…

Earlier that day,

I lost the way:

Intentions of eminence and self-gain.

Mountains we had yet to climb

I imagined we ascended,

Our glory in future photographs.


A gentle way.

A clear way.

Moving with curiosity and rhyme.

A journey sought with spirit

Claims a strength


Not an ego will defeat the foe.

A tender way,

Guided by wonder and beauty.

Sun shines

O’er our backs

The teeth quickly ascended,

A humbleness lightens our packs

And hearts.

Billy here. What a busy week! My last day working at the cafe was followed by a fun night out with my co-workers at the brewery where Spence works. Fun times were had by all and I have had lots of thoughts since then that are still jumbled at the river mouth about what to do next. I feel what to do next, of course, is simply to create space and love. It’s easy to get caught up with all the hows and issues of worth. I am trying to let the words settle to the silt and the let water clear while my brain sifts the possibilities. Next week perhaps more will be clear to me.

Spence and I were talking about how we just simply want to live simply. I said that the birds don’t have save-the-world complexes, they just live their lives. Of course, there is the whole rigmarole of humanity’s modern presence destroying the life form we call Earth. But in some way, didn’t this destructive “development” process arise because we wanted to improve the world, to save it? It’s ironic to me that “development” is still called that, even though it has been clearly and scientifically linked to destruction of the habitats of all life. So, does it not follow that the other cultural paradigms that surround so called development are also just as destructive even though we value them in our society?

The hike up to Mt. Defiance today was beautiful. To see the fruit orchards with the snow capped Mt. Hood behind them was stunning. We were like children who hadn’t seen the world, oohing over the junk shops, the sheep, the big country trucks. It was nice to get out of the city for the day. But it was sobering to see the viral grey patches of clear cuts dot vast swaths of the land. I thought of the sea lions being washed ashore dead in California and the droves of sea lions crowding Oregon looking for food. The warming of the Pacific Ocean has affected the food chain from the bottom up. Our friend, who works as an environmental engineer, said that water in streams near polluted sites is almost unaffected if it is lined with intact trees over 100 feet. As I walked up the scree slopes of Mt. Defiance and watched the clouds part over the Columbia Gorge, I kept thinking that my responsibility was precisely to follow my joy, for my joy is the thriving of the wilderness, both in my heart and in the world. We are always learning how to thrive, but I suppose we have to heal ourselves before we can heal anybody else, much less the world. If we can heal ourselves, one cell in the Earth, then that’s a start. But for me, the first step is learning to live with less, because humans are taking too much.

A little economic aside: The median per-capita income globally is $2,920 according to the Gallup poll. You only need an annual income of $34,000 to belong in the worldwide elite. More than half of the richest 1% live in the United States. We are actually the 1%. If the annual world income of $70 trillion was divided evenly to all the estimated eligible workers (not children or elders), the average income should be just under $18,000 dollars. An interesting site on the principle of the ecological footprint can be found here: Ecological Footprint. North America takes up far more resources, therefore a larger ecological footprint, and a larger income than all the other nations by far.

Trying to live with less in this country takes courage. We are told everywhere in this country that if we do not make money, produce something or leave our mark on the world somehow, we are flawed. Don’t let the paradigm get you down! Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to just stop making and taking so much. The world can hardly breathe with all the noise.

“Lost” Creek Campout


Spencer here: There are over a million places called “Lost Creek” in the United States alone. If you Google it, a “Lost Creek” seems to pop up in every state. It is not to be overlooked that our species and its culture has such a perpetual name for so many places. It is also not to be overlooked that Billy and I ended up there last week, in the Mt. Hood National Forest, near the Zig Zag and Sandy Rivers. Our quest to seek out Bagby Hot Springs (I’ve still never soaked in them!) was thwarted again because the road was closed. I forgot it was closed because of the fire recently, (36 Pit Fire, started by target shooters) which ripped through 5500 acres of the Clackamas River Ranger District this summer. Then I remembered back in October, smelling the smoke from Portland and the air felt heavier and foggier, as the ash hung in the valley of the city, yet no one seemed to notice.

We took a detour–a quick drive through the town of Eagle Creek, over to highway 26. It was a chilly day, but not raining and I was in the mood to explore. We stopped by the Zig Zag Ranger Station and picked up some copied maps, which proved to be very silly for actual navigation, (and I chastised myself for leaving all my sweet maps back at home!), but I still love every time I stop into a ranger office. I learn something and I like to talk to the rangers about their favorite places and the conditions. Ramona Falls is very close to Lost Creek, and is a place very special to me, for its significance to Billy and I. Consequently, I always go to the falls and not the other surrounding areas. It was cool to see all the different micro-climates and drive down roads I have wondered about in the past. The area was bustling with gnome-like, bundled mushroom hunters on hundreds of little foot paths–tis the season! After driving on some not-so-great hole-y roads, (even with a jeep they were rough), we camped on Lost Creek in a closed campground called Riley Horse Camp. Gourmet snacks ensued and I was beginning to feel better getting out of the city. The dripping moss and weathered trees made me forget all about my boring job and the mounting anxieties I feel about working it for the rest of the year, getting tied down with bills, material goods, and other grand obligations of capitalism. In short, I was at Lost Creek because lately, I feel lost too, and sometimes I just want to go somewhere I don’t feel lost, like the woods.

Recently, I read a New York Times editorial (The Meaning of Fulfillment) about the meaning of fulfillment! It was written by a 66 year old, who felt she had only gotten to this point later in life–perhaps because it was later in life. I want to disagree with the assumption we only are fulfilled near the end of life, mostly because I am stretching for it right now and it is a bit heartbreaking to seek something totally achievable yet ethereal. Why wait! Be fulfilled now! Like a QVC pill or exercise gimmick. Which brings me back to my boring job. But it also brings me back to gratitude and faith. I can be fulfilled now, if I continue to focus on what is important for me, and resist speeding up to catch all the others. I have great moments of this legendary arrival already. I just need a reminder to go my own pace, with my adventuresome beau by my side and a song on my breathe, through the mossy woods… and they don’t make an app for that.


Billy here. It’s Halloween time, which means bundling up the fruits of the year and leaving a cup out for the dead. The mushrooms come out in droves this time of year here in the Pacific Northwest. We spent Hallow’s Eve on the creek bundled in a wet tent, surrounded by fungi. I felt cradled in them. They grew so many places that there was a massacre of them underfoot from all the gnomes collecting them.

We read placards along the Lost Creek Nature trail that described the Mt. Hood eruption, whose mud slides buried this area around 200 years ago. The mud killed the trees, which eventually decayed and left perfect tree shaped holes in the ground called tree wells. Now they are mostly filled in with moss and plant matter. The Multnomah (the tribe native to the Portland area) called Mt. Hood Wy’east. Samuel Hood, the man the mountain was named after by invaders, was an Englishman who never even saw the mountain. Wy’east and Pahto, or Klickitat, were sons of the Great Spirit Sahele who fought over the woman Loowit. Wy’east was turned into Mt. Hood, Pahto into Mt. Adams and Loowit into St. Helens. Shortly after the last eruption, the Multnomah were almost completely wiped out by disease after contact with the Lewis and Clark expedition a few decades before.

The Multnomah people lived off of fish, water birds, elk, berries and primarily wapato, commonly known as broadleaf arrowhead or Sagittaria latifolia. This wetland plant was the staple of indigenous diet here in the Willamette Valley and yet before today I was not familiar with it. It is not found in grocery stores, but its edible potato-like tuber is high in protein, iron, B vitamins and potassium. Arrowroot powder, though it sounds similar, is derived from tropical plants such as cassava. It is astounding to me that something so basic, so simple as a mother plant at the foundation of a diet can be so lost and disconnected from us.

So there we were at Lost Creek, becoming something else, voluntarily or not, along with everything else decomposing and growing out of itself. And all I could think of was all the mushrooms: how they transform and enrich the soil, the entire food web literally from the ground up, and how spores can survive in space.