Monday, January 29, 2007
Today is one of those that I just have to interrupt, again, my Opal Creek musings.
I just stepped out my front door and saw my daughter's cat, Loki, sitting by the door and a tad freaked out... ears back, looking up. I peeked out and looked up and sitting at the top of the doug fir in front of our house is a bald eagle. 60 feet away (I did the math). Loki ran in, I grabbed my camera and leaning out a bit I snapped off two before he flew off. The pic here is the best of the 2. Shoot, I can retire now.
I've watched out my front window the comings and goings of the birds cleaning up the carcass of a dead ewe out in the field. A couple of days ago I watched 3 ravens get into a fist fight and wrestling match that got pretty intense for a bit. That same day two bald eagles also showed up. I got off one picture with the camera but it was a long way off (1000 feet?) and definitely not worth sharing.
This morning I saw one of the eagles land in a tree along the 1/4 mile of gravel road that is my driveway. Thats when I decided to step outside with my binoculars. Thats when I saw Loki looking like something wanted to eat him... Just now, an hour later, he went back outside. And yes, he looked at the top of that doug fir...
Thursday, January 25, 2007
"A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole [of] nature in its beauty."
- Albert Einstein
(One of the nice things I've found about writing? The cool people I get to hang out with... I mean Albert Einstein? Gidouttahere!)
Jawbone Flats is an old town. The buildings are all built from wood harvested from the forest that surrounds this humble burg. Douglas fir and hemlock specifically. The lumber rots eventually, giving in to the demands of heat and moisture and suffers the appetites of fungus and carpenter ant. The cabins, sheds and storage buildings all need fairly consistent upkeep, occasional repair. Except for the trim around doors and windows the wood remains unpainted.
I like to say that Oregon has 3 official state colors, green, grey and brown. I suspect that it was my time in Jawbone that convinced me of that bit of trivia. An average of 100 inches of rain falls here every year and it is green at Opal Creek. I mean a million shades, tints and hues of green that constantly transform in the play of a day's light and through the changes of season.
And the grey... the grey of rain, the clouds that deliver the rain, the bark of trees, the stones... muted shadings from near white to just shy of black. When the rain falls steady, falls hard and lasts for days, the grey wins. All colors are tinged in grey when the rain comes. And the rain... here is where the rain counts.
The rain is responsible for this place. The rain is the blood of this forest, cycling through, falling from sky and soaking the ground, driving the growth of the trees, wearing down the rocks and coursing its way back to the sea. (Or... it rises from the plants and returns to the atmosphere through transpiration.)
The rain fills the stream which flows through the flume-line and drives the Pelton wheel which powers the lights, the refrigerators... in this rainforest, rain is King.
And its here I learn the #1 rule of working outdoors in Oregon: if you don't work in the rain... you don't work. The counter to that of course: wood stoves. Dry heat.
Just don't hang your wet socks too close to the stove...
"Don't threaten me with love, baby. Let's just go walking in the rain."
- Billie Holiday
Friday, January 19, 2007
This photo is just inside the locked Forest Service gate and is the entryway to the Opal Creek area. Even to this day I feel a sense of relief when I cross inside that gate. The feeling of security, of being away, at least temporarily, from the crazy and bizarre happenings outside the gate in the crazy world of human affairs, is a sensation I've felt only here. I have plenty of beautiful spots in the west to spend time in nature but at Opal Creek there is something else... something that many others feel.
That gate has had plenty of reincarnations. It has been slammed by trucks trying to break through and been shot with shotguns and rifles but it has managed to stand firm against all such assaults. Much like the forest itself.
When I arrived with my old truck and all my worldly belongings I really was clueless. I had no idea of the intensity of the conflict that I was stepping into. I didn't know that I would become a voice for the trees, for the spotted owl... that once again I would be sharing sweatlodges with many people from many places. I didn't know I would work for a wild eyed en-viroh-mentalist or be host to politicians, scientists, students of all ages and just ordinary folks discovering for the first time the beauty of the Cascade's temperate rain forest. Sure, I knew I was lucky, that I was going to be able to live in splendid isolation but I had no clue how intense a ride I had signed up for...
Have you ever read Tom Robbins' Another Roadside Attraction? A psychedelic, larger than life adventure in the Northwest, its a great read and I believe it was actually prophetic for me and my life here in Oregon. In fact... well... never mind... thats another tale for another day.
I suppose I should begin to introduce some of the characters in this very interactive adventure. And naturally, I have to start with the boss, the big Kahuna (for veteran and military types the HMFWBIC), George Atiyeh. When I first met George he had a gorilla mask on and his Doberman Cody tangled with my dog Lance.
Amazingly, for someone who at one time had a very high profile (which is not good when you are a target for lots of people unhappy with you), you won't find a whole lot out about George by surfing the wwweb. A few quotes from reviews of David Seideman's Showdown at Opal Creek, mentions in newsletters, in government documents pertaining to Opal Creek, mentions in Time Magazine, High Country News... but nothing substantial about the man himself. George was the lightning rod for Opal Creek. He was the key player in a very heated controversy, orchestrating the original defense and organizing the initial group of supporters into the Friends of Opal Creek. He always reminded me of Gary Larson's "Bummer of a birthmark Hal" cartoon...
Unfortunately for George, for those of us living in camp he was our target too. Always trying to do too much in too little time, George was endlesly moving, always talking... I mean always talking... but to his credit, there was a lot of talking that needed to be done.
One day George made mention that like Roy Rogers had done with his horse Trigger and dog Bullet, he was thinking of having Cody mounted and put in the lodge. After some "creative" thinking Paul and I turned this into one of our schticks that we'd use on guests and hikers (the following conversation is a paraphrasing, simple because any of the lies... rrr... stories Paul and I would tell were always changing just a bit, being tweeked for whatever group we were dealing with, or by adding some creative, fantastical detail):
P: "Yeah Allan."
A: "Do you remember George talking about having Cody mounted and put in the lodge?"
P: (laughing) "How could I forget."
A: "Well, that inspired a fund raising idea for Opal Creek."
A: "When George dies we have him stuffed and put in the lodge, standing next to Cody. We install a voice recording of George giving his schpiel on old growth and saving the forest. We put in a coin operated switch that lets them hear George in his own voice and words. For 50 cents they get the real deal from an icon in the environmental movement about one of the flagships in the fight to save big trees."
P: "Wow. Thats a good idea..."
P: "I do see a small problem though."
A: "Whats that?"
P: "Well, now that I think about it, its really not too much of a problem because we can make even more money."
A: "How so?"
P: "You know how much George talks right? We need to put in another 50 cent slot so they can turn him off! Har har har!"
George never minded our giving him a hard time... I think he actually needed it. George is an eloquent man when he hits his stride. He has a good heart, a strong backbone and is usually ready for whatever. I am really surprised he has managed to remain so private. On one level however, now that I think on it, it is kind of natural. The Santiam Canyon, with the towns of Mehama, Lyons, Gates, Mill City, Detroit... doesn't have a large population, its off the I-5 corridor by 20 miles or so and most folks travel through the canyon heading for the mountains or the east side of Oregon.
The Little North Fork of the Santiam River is even more isolated. The road is narrow, curvy, has continuous problems with washouts and slumping and really doesn't go anywhere but into the forest and mountains. In that sense, anonymity is easier to maintain. George has had over 10 years to regain his private life for himself and his family ever since federal protection for the watershed was instituted and by all that I see he is a mighty happy man about it and enjoying his life (which has never really been a problem for him).
You did good George.
We all did good.
Opal Creek is a rich inheritance that any and all that had a hand in its saving should be proud to pass on. It is a tribute to many things, most particularly for me is the example it provides of local activism being effective even when dealing with issues on the national or international level. We can make a difference, we do make a difference. No one will do it for us, least of all the government... the little guy can win.
"To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed."
- Theodore Roosevelt
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
“Knowledge is awareness, and to it are many paths, not all of them paved with logic. But sometimes one is guided through the maze by intuition. One is led by something felt on the wind, something seen in the stars, something that calls from the wastelands to the spirit.”
- Louis L'Amour
I have to believe that is the way of things. How else could I come to such a place; a hidden, almost secret place known to only a few, but established and loved over the decades by those whose courage has been echoed in many lands, throughout the many ages of mankind?
During my short stay in the fall of '89 I didn't have much difficulty saying "yes" to the offered job. If I had arrived earlier I may have been able to stay the winter, but to spend a winter at Jawbone a supply of 6 months food and firewood must be in place. There have been winters here with 20' of snow (call it the "winter of Indian Billy", more on this to come) and winters with no snow. To survive in safety, adequate preparation is an absolute that cannot be compromised.
So after a few weeks of hanging out in Jawbone, eating good food, sharing good company, catching the last of the sun on the cold swimming holes, that fall I returned to the sunny climes of coastal central California. I spent my days camping and fishing at Perfix beach or hiking the canyons in the Sierra Madre mountains of the Los Padres National Forest or visiting Muhu Tasen, hiking and doing sweatlodge. I even managed to get in a couple of Teepee meetings run by my brother Ken.
(Note: at this point in my writing a lot of people will only have first names until I can verify they don't mind my using their full names)
I was even able to do a bit of travelling with a band of drummers around the area that ended up with us drumming at the Earth Day celebration at Allan Hancock College. I considered my inclusion as a drummer an honor... but such was the graciousness of my (inter)tribal family. They understood that we all may come to realize our native selves and they warmly shared their homes and ceremonies. In fact, I came to understand - in indigenous terms - just how lost I was. I'm Scandinavian. A Swede/Finn/Norwegian (although Grampa Semu used to say "there's an Indian in the woodpile somewhere..."). The central coast of California is a long way from Scandinavia... so I was not just thousands of miles from the resting place of my ancestors' bones but several generations away from the intimate, symbiotic relationship with nature of indigenous peoples. The return "home" will be a journey many, many generations long. The move to Opal Creek is a major step for me on that journey of generations...
So... in the first part of May 1990 I loaded up my old 1963 ugly school-bus-yellow 1/2 ton Ford pickup with all my worldly belongings and headed north towards Oregon and Jawbone Flats. Near Sacramento I lost second gear (only 2 gears left!), the truck essentially over loaded, its nose higher than its rear but I labored on.
My first, and really one of the greatest, lasting impressions in Oregon happens on I-5 somewhere between Ashland and Medford. As I'm driving along at about 50 or 55, looking like a one-man Beverly Hillbillies episode in my beat up pick-em-up, a state police car pulls along side in the fast lane and both officers in the cruiser look over at me, laugh and pull away, shaking their heads... Welcome to Oregon... hippie...
Next stop, Opal Creek.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Its a real cold morning here in Eugene. There is a bit of snow left over from the 2" or 3" we received the other day and there has been a heavy freeze the last 2 nights. The farmer who runs his sheep on the grass fields surrounding my house lost a ewe last night. The lambs are starting to get out because the feed is slow growing this year. Every once in a while a group of lambs (what I consider the teenagers) will start chasing around and it makes me laugh because there seems to be a game going on but I'll be darned if I can figure it out. They might be giving points for who can do the the highest leap or bounce. I remember when my kids were cute and innocent... sigh...
(kidding guys, I love you just like I would if you were really mine... heh...)
I do know my morning alarm wasn't the blast of goosehunter's shotguns. Thats always a plus. I slept until 7:30 and that is rare.
Every once in a while, despite some of the troubles that currently plague me, I really have to stop and count my blessings because I really do love my life. I've been blessed with wonderful friends and a supportive family. I've seen natural beauty so profound I know I was being given a gift. My experience with nature has been the anchor that has held me fast and kept me sane. I have a relationship with the land that is based on it's recognition of me. A relationship that I cherish beyond any other.
The land ultimately is all there is for us. The earth has provided us with all that we have, it feeds us now as it did when we were tiny cellular clusters striving to adapt to an environment of basic matter and roiling energy. (Or when we first *poofed* into existence, whichever of the multiple creation stories you favor.) There once was time when we all relied only upon the natural world and each other. When European's, riding the wave of Chris Columbus' "discovery" of the "New World" (I'm not one to give him much credit, in fact I've always loved Dick Gregory's "if Columbus discovered America then I can discover your car in the parking lot. With you in it..."), began to settle this land, there was a natural bounty, an abundance of resource, that was also magnificent in its beauty, laid at their feet. And there were people. People who had lived here for millenia, who recognized that bounty and beauty and who understood the workings of nature intimately. They were not seperate from the land, but part of it. They saw it as free, unfettered by obstruction save that of rivers and mountains, seasons and weather, and lived within it's parameters. The Europeans saw the land as "wild" and something to be tamed.
And it is that flawed perspective, that absence of recognition, that ails us today. How many know what stage the moon is in? Or understand the rotations of sun and earth and how they give us the seasons, how the moon creates the ebb of tide? What is considered (incorrectly) the first world, the modern world of appliance and technology, has lost whatever sympathetic relationship it had to the natural world and in its inefficiencies and toxic spewings has come to represent the antithetical force to the laws of nature, the physics of life and its living systems.
I quote Wendell Berry again:
“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do”
The earth endures. We will not kill her, we may plunder her and abuse our place here but ultimately we only harm ourselves and steal from future generations. Better that we think more like those who were in the car in the parking lot before us. We must begin to think not just of ourselves but of generations to come. It was that thinking - and living according to the wisdom of it - that provided the natural wealth that allowed the Europeans to grow so exponentially.
Enough cud chewing by me... I have to make strawbery waffles. They are way better than donuts. Yummm...
Saturday, January 13, 2007
We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all— by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians— be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.
- Wendell Berry,
"Compromise, Hell!", Orion (November/December 2004)
I don't know when I first encountered Wendell Berry's writings but I've become attached to the confident natural moral accuracy of his words. I saw Wendell speak, one time, at the university in Fresno. I took my father, Sig (RIP), and he was skeptical: "we're going to go listen to a farmer who writes poetry?" I could only respond "yup." When Berry's talk was finished my dad hung around and thanked "Mr. Berry" for a quality evening. My dad didn't impress too easily. He was a High School dropout who received his GED as an adult, midway through what I would call a successful business career, but he had a sharp mind and knew people well and had an easy attitude with strangers. He knew me pretty well... We became good friends as I got older and particularly after I had kids, our bonds deepened.
My children were small when Sig died from a stroke in his sleep, brought about by his Alzheimer's. In one of those incredibly quirky co-incidents he died in the same state mental hospital as his father, the Western State Hospital in Tacoma. But that is really a tale for another time because it is a sad one that will take some effort on my part. In fact I need to write about Sig... I've regretted not being able to speak at his funeral. I had never experienced grief like that and it was overwhelming.
The point here is that there are writers who truly have altered my consciousness and conscientiousness. Ideas are far more potent than any drug and let loose in a mind that is inquisitive and comprehending as mine was as a young man in the prime of his twenties, I must lay a lot of the blame for who I am on them. I don't want to make a list because I've too many for one short morning ramble but there are those integral to my telling here. Wendell Berry and Edward Abbey, for sure Gary Snyder... I've appreciated Barry Lopez' wonderful wordsmithing and the excellent One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is a must for any gardener or fan of natural land use, sustainability... I'll have to do a post on just "nature" writers some day ahead...
I give an incredible amount of credit for my deepening indigenous understanding to the classic Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt. I read this book on a bus in 1976 or so while travelling with the Allan Hancock College Acapella Choir through the Northwest as their photographer. I've read nearly all of Niehardt's work and he remains one of my all time favorites from all genres. It was the native history, books like Maria Sandoz' Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas that struck deep into my core being. I was effected beyond understanding... I couldn't grasp that there were minds that could not recognize another as human. All this reading and sharing of meals and sweatlodges, teepee meetings, drumming and work with tribal folks convinced me that just as individuals have karma so too do nations and societies. I won't go there yet either. I would be remiss not to include Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a book I could never finish reading, too painful for me to finish. Because I'm so dang empathetic I can't handle witnessing much slaughter and across the western frontier of a birthing nation there was plenty of it.
And I was doing all this reading in conjunction with my sociology and anthropology studies in college. I was sucking material up, I subscribed to Akwesasne Notes from the the Hau de no sau nee, the people of the Six Nations and Native Self-Sufficiency put out by Dan Bomberry (Cayuga-Salish) back then, apparently still available (can anyone confirm this?). Through this network of information I read (and thanks to KPFA/Pacifica radio) and listened to folks like Phillip Deere, John Fire Lame Deer, Jake Swamp, Rolling Thunder and of course ultimately to the one I would come to know and share much time with, Grampa Semu.
I also came to love the books of Louis L'Amour, I think the historic west's greatest storyteller, but I discovered Louis at Opal Creek so we aren't quite ready for him yet.
With my reading, the meeting of tribal folks in California, doing sweatlodge with them and brother Marty and Co. I had lain out a future route that would benefit and challenge me as a citizen of the US and as a human being. But paths are tricky, or not, and mine has never been a straight one. Forks and curves and dead-ends and low places where crawling is required, lofty peaks and subtle meadows all have been along the route...
Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked.
"Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat.
"I don't know," Alice answered.
"Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
I've just been notified by the good folks at the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center office in Portland that they have given me their blessing on my proposed project of producing a book as a fundraiser for them!
My idea, in fact this blog is a big part of it, is to write a book about Paul from the view of my 3 years living in Jawbone Flats with him as my neighbor, co-worker and co-conspirator.
The title I chose for the blog comes from my first day at work as one of "the last miners." We were going out for morning donuts. No powdered sugar or chocolate sprinkles... no glazed or jelly-filled, no bearclaws or maple bars... and they didn't have a hole in the middle either. Going out for donuts meant we were firing up the old flatbed and going and cutting some firewood and because the downed trees we were cutting were of such good size the rounds were shaped more like a donut than a short pole. They were heavy and it was raining... it always rains in the winter. And the spring. And in the fall... But they were donuts and they were our donuts. They would become heat for our homes. I swear there could be a book written just about cutting firewood in an old growth forest, about just having to stop working some times and watch. Watch a shaft of sunlight stab through the misty fog or a flurry of snow come sifting down through the old growth's mighty canopy. Beauty surrounded us, the quiet engulfing, inspiring... we'd look at each other and grin... and fire up the chainsaw and get back to work.
Anyway... the book. Paul kept proficient notes. He was one of the most organized men I've ever known. And he amassed pages and pages of notes, journal entries, songs and musings. My hope is to glean some gems from those for insightful (and inciteful) commentary (I'm laughing, you'll have to wait and see what about) from my late friend and couple those excerpts with my photography and a bit of my own writing.
There hasn't been a book about Opal Creek since David Seideman's Showdown at Opal Creek. As good a story as the Opal Creek forest saving is, it should be revisited once and awhile, just as once you've stayed there, you will be called back again. It is a place where the parts far outweigh the sum, where the elan vital is palpable. A place where the beauty can give you goosebumps...
Major props and gracious thanks to Katie Ryan and Tom Atiyeh at the Opal Creek office.
Wednesday, January 3, 2007
"Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am-- a reluctant enthusiast...a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So go out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, and bag the peaks.... and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over your enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box... I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards."
- Edward Abbey
And isn't that the truth. Part of my early meandering was based on the sense that I needed to be outdoors, in the wild places, the free places, the places removed enough that I knew human contacts would be rare if they happened at all. The central coast of California was a great place for me to start anew down such a path after my military tour ended. Wide open beaches and remote mountains, oak forested foothills, clear streams and psychedelic sunsets all were blessings upon a hungry spirit and here there was bountiful room to roam. I thirsted for discovery of new places. More than once I've found wonderful, grand places because I just had to go around one more bend in following a remote creek, over just one more knoll to see what was on the other side...
I've read somewhere that in using our public lands, 90 % of hikers utilize only 10 % of the trails. That leaves a lot of room for those of us in the other 10 % of hikers... especially when the trails I follow are only deer trails.
My habit of hiking alone always bothered my friends and family. But I had found that it is in the being alone that one gets to know one's self. And truthfully, for me, being alone was never lonely.
"The right to be let alone is the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued in civilized man."
-Justice Louis D. Brandeis
I would often spend a few days at a time - usually during the week when everyone else was working - camped up a small creek in the Sierra foothills near Pine Flat reservoir east of Fresno. It is a magnificent place with a 40 foot waterfall and a swimming hole 15' deep and at least 40' in diameter. In the winter time the roar of that creek at that waterfall when the rain is heavy is unbelievable. The flooded creek shoots out and hits a bowl of water-worn bedrock halfway down to the creekbed below, where it shoots out a second time into the big pool. The surrounding canyon is very steep and the creek takes a 180º turn here - oak and pine forest on one slope, rock and scruffy grass on the other forming a huge bowl - and it reverberates the thunder of this cascade so that the body actually feels the pressure of that constant hammering of water against stone. It never failed to make me smile.
But that same creek in the early summer when things were green and flowers bloomed... blue tailed skinks, bobcat and mountain lion, redtail hawk, newts and turtles and lots of snakes and lizards and clean water... perfect for swimming on a hot day. There are bedrock mortars there too. I find them everywhere I go in California. And because I know tribal folks, family now, these grinding stones remain a reminder of the otherwise silent history around me. And knowing the genocide that took place throughout the Sierras and the rest of gold country during the California Gold Rush I always tread lightly, acknowledging those old ones who loved and knew this land in a way that I would never be able to come close to matching. Their attachment was generations old... The bones of their ancestors were now the limbs of trees and the blades of grass. So... alone? Nah, I was never alone. In solitude I found the trivia of the day was not always exciting but occasionally was surprising and was always enjoyable.
To watch an ouzel bounce its way up a stream or river in its endless search for food... and then to follow it and find its nest, always in some remote crag pretty much inaccessible to any predator, is to wonder at the creation itself. The ouzel is a way cool bird, John Muir called it his favorite. To hear an ouzel's song is to understand why it would be Muir's favorite.
Solitude in nature is for me the ultimate meditation. Through the cycle of a day the sublime going-ons in nature is far less sublime when the details are scrutinized, when hours are spent watching who comes and goes and what they are about in their comings and goings. Life slows down, breath takes a deeper slower rhythm and you can hear everything... I learn that the fat field mouse with the nick in his ear lives in the rocks under the rootwad of that sycamore and that there are one heck of a lot more quails (sisquoc) in this canyon than I thought when I first sat down on this boulder. Contact with nature has a familial intimacy. Camped in one place long enough and I see the mouse and the cottontail rabbits, the turtles and hawks all have their routines. In fact they are, on occasion, observed to be enjoying themselves, acting like they live there... like they have a role equitable with that of any other, even the humans who so easily ignore them and occasionally shoot them.
So, while the good families that only a little more than a century ago lived in these places I've come to love and to consider part of my territory are here no more, I still share this with them, this cycle of light and darkness, this place of warm sunshine and cold water, this land, this earth that has given so much to get us to the place as a nation we are today... and I wonder... did they as they sat here grinding acorns or seeds, maybe gramma watching the babies as they splash in the shallows of the creek, did they have a sense of me, as another there, in their place, in their time?