Thursday, December 28, 2006

of caveats, big trees and etc...

In thinking about this project- the blog and writing about Opal Creek - I felt a need to stop with the writing of my trip to Jawbone and give some background of how I came to be offered this tremendous opportunity. I'm not going to take you back to the womb but as an adult I feel certain steps, actions and encounters prepared the way.

I was in the Air Force from 1970 until 1974. My 4 year tour started and ended in Texas and was instrumental in my maturing. I was very fortunate and avoided VietNam and drew a year's duty in Takhli, Thailand. I was a 23 year old white guy who had never been east of the Mississippi River. I had heard from the older guys in my squadrons who had gone to Thailand that it was worth expending some effort in finding duty there and while stationed in Clovis, NM at Cannon AFB the chance arose and I volunteered. I worked in photo reconnaissance as a lab tech, processing strike film from F-111s. I had been trained in two photo fields; first as a photo equipment repairman and then as a photographer/lab tech. We were a mobile unit, all modular, self contained with generators, air conditioning, even our own water tanks. We could be set up or torn down in about 6 hours. We could process color or black and white film, do printing, copying, had a maintainance shop... except for the occasional whacking of the top of the head ducking thru the low doors of the walkways connecting the trailers it was a sweet set-up.

When I left the states in 1973 it was early March, springtime. When I landed at Takhli RTAFB, Thailand it was summer. It was still March but when the transport plane doors opened it was bright and it was hot. And hot is an understatement. Everything outside was so bright it looked like it was all overexposed by at least one full stop.

I adapted quickly and loved my stay. I made many Thai friends and lived off-base as much as possible. I ate the local food and disdained the chow-hall (except on Sundays, when it was hamburgers and fries...). I loved my fried rice, monkeyball soup and panang curry. To walk the main strip at dusk with the lights coming on, the bands warming up and the street full of people and food vendors... and the delicious aromas... wow. Satays and chik-a-bobs (shish kebab) fresh off the bbq grill... mmm... and top an evening off with some bahmee wan... mmm...

We worked right next to the flightline and many a night's break was spent having a meal and cig on top of the trailers watching the rice bugs under the street lamps and enjoying the quiet without fighter jets blasting their engines coming or going or being tested in the revetments. The sound of incoming F-111's was the sound of work. Pilots would stop in and drop off the film from their bombing runs over Cambodia, we'd process it and every hour or so run the developed rolls down to the de-briefing room where the pilots would score their strikes. Most pilots were nice enough guys - for officers - and only a few were real cowboys. Interesting bunch those pilots.

But I'm digressing. When in Thailand I had an epiphany. It was a very real, palpable experience of connection. So different was that culture from that of hometown USA I experienced an intense empathy and love for the Thai people and their beautiful, hot country. My conscience bloomed and the notion of helping to bomb short, poor, brown people became unacceptable. Though while I was convinced by those older and wiser to not rock the boat, to "enjoy my stay" and simultaneously stay out of trouble, my "career" as an activist had sprouted.

The first hints of my blooming activism appeared while I was attending Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. I had seen a Native American fella around campus and introduced myself one day. We became good friends and through him I met Grampa Semu Huaute. At the same time my brothers in arms - Marty, Al and Jim - and I had begun doing Sweat Lodges and we were having a blast. Young, healthy and full of ourselves, we accepted the gift in the spirit it was offered and would hike miles into the mountains of the Los Padres National Forest to be able to sweat next to running water and spend time in the hills and woods. We also participated in the protest by the local Chumash of then Cali governor Jerry Brown's plan to locate an LNG port at Point Conception, west of Santa Barbara. To the Chumash and other tribes Pt. Conception is the Western Gate, the point where the souls of the deceased depart for Shimilaqsha, Chumash realm of the dead.

Around 1980 I moved to Fresno and hooked up with Fresno Wildlife Rehabilitation. Cathy and Dave Garner had a shoe-string budget, great hearts and a wonderful program with lots of good volunteers helping them and the wildlife out. I raised baby birds, cared for injured adult birds, learned how to feed a dove and a hummingbird... helped the Garners at their place in the country... major props to Dave and Cathy because now, 20+ years later they are still going strong. (well probably not as strong as back then but I won't even get into the "old age" schtick, lets just say they are still active and leave it there soz I don't dig my self a deeper hole with folks I admire as people, friends and as people who make their dreams work for them)

And here, to pause a bit... you can probably see that as my conscience is blooming, the influences around me are becoming very nature oriented. And the nice thing? As a photographer a lot of this is recorded on film and I'm loving the anticipation of digging into my slide files and digitizing many of those images and bringing them online. There is a story to tell here, and as a fellow Oregonian who has shaped my view of the land and whose writing I admire greatly, Barry Lopez says, in his essay Landscape and Narrative:

The power of narrative to nurture and heal, to repair a spirit in disarray, rests on two things: the skillful invocation of unimpeachable sources and a listener's knowledge that no hypocrisy or subterfuge is involved.

I try and avoid the hypocrisy but rest assured there is no subterfuge here.

More in a bit...

Monday, December 18, 2006


I've landed. I'm in Jawbone Flats, the center of human activity, the heart of the canyon. My friends are here and my... but this IS a gorgeous place. The "street" of Jawbone is a gravel road lined on both sides by cabins that are nearly seven decades old. Sided with board and bat, the cabins are the faded grey that all wood left outside will get after some time and all cabins have metal roofs. Heating is provided by wood burning stoves. Electricity is generated by hydro-electric with a Pelton wheel which drives a 20,000 watt Westinghouse generator. And towering above camp on all sides are the mountains; every inch covered with the green that makes the Northwest such a treat for visitors.

Pretty cool... I'm off the grid. (Thats not a first for me... in hanging out with Grandfather Semu Huaute at his inter-tribal cultural center Muhu Tasen - Red Owl - down in Central California, we cooked with propane, heat was provided by wood stoves and there was no electricity). I'm getting ahead of myself here... this initial visit is just that - a visit. I'm here to see if I actually want to live and work in this run-down, isolated, backwoods burg.

I've been given cabin #4 as my temporary home. A small building that rests close to the edge of the Little No. Fork of the Santiam River (which by the by, is the result of the combining of Opal Creek and Battle Axe Creek) with sparse furninshings and a bare bulb ceiling light it is a humble place and smells like wood (which is not a shock as it is entirely built of lumber). This time of October the days are still warm but the evenings up here in the mountains (Jawbone is at 2500' elevation) get cold. I eat with the others and after a bit of meandering settle in for the night. I'm a fair hand with woodstoves and when done getting mine started I grab a book, lay down on the bed and crawl into my sleeping bag. With the sound of the river running quietly in one ear and out the other and the book merely a distraction, I am asleep in minutes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Opal Creek... on the way...

I headed north out of California in mid October, looking forward to my drive and curious about my destination. I hardly knew anything about the place and didn't have an inkling of what I was soon going to be waste deep in...

I knew about where I was heading - east of Salem, Oregon - and I had some very basic directions... you know the kind. The "go 22 miles and turn left at the mailbox with 3 red reflectors" kind... so... I drove straight north on I-5 turned right at Salem and headed east towards the hills.

The next instruction was to turn left at the Swiss Village restaurant and drive until I came to a locked gate and then I had to walk another 3 miles to Jawbone Flats (the cabin in the first pic eventually became my home for the duration of my stay). It was hot and dusty and I didn't have a clue where the heck I was. I did manage to make my right turn and my left turn without error, which considering it was a 1,000 mile drive was pretty dang easy! But the road up the canyon of the Little North Fork of the Santiam River was a twisty sucker and when the pavement ended I hit the gravel road and bounced my way along for the next 8 miles or so on the washboard surface. And I wondered every mile of that drive up the canyon if this was really the right road and did I really want to consider moving to Oregon from my beautiful Cali central coast and damn this road goes on forever and dammmn... thats a looong way down...

I eventually arrived at the gate and parked my old truck ('63 Ford stepside, shortbed, ugly as sin but attractive in its own faded school bus yellow, scratched and rusted way. Afficianados of old functioning but ugly trucks would have loved it!), grabbed my backpack, unloaded my dog Lance (and Lance will get his own section soon enough, he was truly a dog of legend and I'm eager to give him some recognition) and started walking... not knowing, not having anything close to a clue, that I was soon to fall in love.

And I found myself in an immaculate forest with a moss carpeted floor under a canopy of massive fir and hemlock trees that reached high into a clean blue sky, and mixed in with these was an abundance of ferns and maples changing into their autumn colors, alder, wild huckleberries and plants I didn't recognize. The sound of the Little No. Fork of the Santiam River was a constant refrain, really the only sound except for my shoes crunching in the gravel...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Opal Creek... getting there...

When I was living at Opal Creek (1989 thru 1992) a good friend of mine - Greg Burke, I've linked to his photography under the 'friends' links - showed up with a group of folks from Bend, Oregon to spend the weekend at our big lodge. He was amazed to see me living in the heart of what at the time was Oregon's biggest front in the battle between saving or cutting old growth timber.

Well, to tell the truth, so was I. I mean here I was living in this beautiful old mining town which was inside a locked gate 10 miles up a gravel road deep in the Willamette Nat'l Forest... how the heck did I get there?

I was living in Santa Maria, California, driving forklift and truck for a large hardwood lumber company (JE Higgins as a matter of fact). Due west of Santa Maria is the Guadalupe Dunes. In 1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife report called the Nipomo Dune Complex “the most unique and fragile ecosystem in the State of California” and ranked it #1 on a list of 49 habitats in need of protection.

The dunes are a magnificent pile of sand, the highest dunes anywhere along California's coast. I used to spend copious amounts of time there, camping near the top of the dunes, hiking, taking photographs, fishing and just enjoying my splendid isolation. Just to the south of the dunes is what the surfers used to call Perfix Beach. A beautiful stretch of wild coastline that was no less than a 2 mile walk from whichever direction you decided to hike in from and home to a magnificent, right-left break, often with a good curl or even small tubes. And you could camp right on the beach. Seals, deer, coyote, mountain lion (!), pelicans and nine million species of shorebird. Dolphins and an occasional humpbacked whale... all lived or visited. I was in good company.

My friend Mark brought what he described as a very close friend of his from Texas out to California. That Texas friend was Paul, soon to be known as Tincup (see previous post). Like I say... it was a two-mile walk, from anywhere, to get to Perfix beach. When the sand was dry it was loose and gave way underfoot, making hiking a task. I was fishing the surf for perch one fine autumn day when I see my friends way up at the top edge of the dunes.

When they finally got down to me Paul was winded. Heh... now thats an understatement... he was huffing and puffing! And the first thing he did when he was on the beach? He lit up a cigarette. And I wondered at the time, what the heck was this soft, out of shape property manager doing hiking all this way? He came to meet me.


Little did I know that Mark first would find Opal Creek, invite Paul when a job opened up, and then invite me when another opening was available. In October of 1989 I made my first trip to Opal Creek...

Saturday, December 9, 2006

In Memory of...

Paul "Pablo" “Tin Cup” Flores

- Last miner, First caretaker

On September 5th, 2004, Friends of Opal Creek mourned the passing of our long-time friend, dedicated employee, and inspiring mentor, Paul Flores.

Known to many as “Pablo” and a few as “Tin Cup”, Paul dedicated much of his life to Jawbone Flats, both as miner for Shiny Rock Mining Co. and caretaker for FOOC.

A memorial service was held in his beloved Jawbone Flats on Sunday, September 12th.Friends and family from all over the country gathered to share tears, stories and laughs, all reminiscent of Pablo. The service was led by Calvin Hecocta, spiritual leader and long- time friend of Opal Creek.

In the weeks preceding his passing, Paul wrote the following tune, and played it for the staff in Jawbone Flats:

….You don't know why I want to
visit the trees
You don't know why I need to go
up and be free
You don't know what I feel
when I see what I see
You don't know why I like these
big g*!?dam trees
Take me home to Jawbone
When I die bury me here
Where men are men
And the women are welcome
Take me home to Jawbone

In loving memory, Paul Flores–
July 28th, 1950—Sept. 5th, 2004

From the Fall 2004 Opal Creek Newsletter

I miss you amigo.

I'm walkin,
walkin' down the road with you

...I'm pleased to have made your acquaintance,
I know we'll see each other soon...

... we'll stop by the river,
and maybe smoke a bowl...

... take a dip and perhaps
sing a song or two...

... the dogs will start barking,
howling outa tune...

... kinda like the times
when I use'ta sing with you.

Friday, December 8, 2006

the Last Miners of Opal Creek

I think I'm getting the hang of this.

This image is another in a series of 10 I will be posting in the next few days, taken late this summer and fall at Opal Creek.

Opal Creek (for those of you outside Oregon) is a clear mountain stream that winds and cascades its way though an heavily forested, exquisite valley comprising more than 30,000 acres of low elevation, temperate old growth douglas fir, hemlock and cedar. A very, very special place. A place I am intensely proud to have had a hand in saving.

A place where the water is as pure as any on earth. Waterfalls and solitude. The place where my daughter was born and raised the first year of her oh-so-wonderful life. That place has a lot to do with who she is today and with who she will become. I find it interesting that she was one of three baby girls born in the Little North Fork of the Santiam River canyon that year. The mothers of all three girls were intricately interwoven members of the Opal Creek community.

I like being able to say that my daughter was born next to the river, under the full moon, nursed her first day by a host of wonderful, beautiful godmothers and raised in a hidden, forested valley by a band of cranky old miners.

In fact, those miners were the Last Miners of Opal Creek. It was on their watch that the momentum to save Oregon's Uncut Gem turned the corner and ended any future threat from logging. And their positions were made possible by the work of the miners before them. There is a proud community of men and women, an historical association of good folks, who all were given the gift of living there, working and loving there. Many babies were conceived and raised there.

The mountain's spirit can be... well... a bit on the old-man coyote side of humorous.

My daughter was there this year on her 15th birthday.

May she visit it still when she is my age... and may I spend many more birthdays there with her...

... sigh...

More later.

What hath I wrought?

Well... good morning or good day, good eve perhaps, after all, in the cyberwwworld it can be just whatever old time you want it to be. I'm new to this so bear with me while I figure out the mechanics of this blog-o-sphere stuff.

I've needed a place to throw my own rants and a place that I can call home for awhile now and, well, I guess this is it. I'll be adding links to my favorite haunts, discussing news and trying to drum up some new business for my new business.

"What business is that Allan?" you may well ask (and at this point I'm probably talking to myself but part of my insanity is that I don't care!).

Why, thanks for asking! I was just waiting for someone to ask that question!

I'm a photographer, at least I used to be. And I want to make it my vocation again. And that, dear friends is a large part of this donut. Hopefully, it isn't the hole in the donut. So take care, come by whenever, eat the donuts if there are any... and, thanks for stopping by...

Oh... and if you are so moved by the beauty of the images I provide here, they are for sale. Contact me!