Up to a point a man's life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him; then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be.... Everyone has it within his power to say, this I am today, that I shall be tomorrow.
~ Louis L'Amour
Sometimes, when I look back at my time living at Opal Creek, it all seems mundane. The flowing of days into weeks and months and years... the passage of people, the revolving of seasons... it all blurs like when trying to glimpse something small in the distance...
But then I think and ponder and I know that when I look close, when I stop the flow of time and grasp the moments and examine them in the context of that day or that season I understand how full and rich those days were.
People who visited and stayed and came back again (and sometimes again and again and again), whose names I knew but have forgotten, the volunteers like Ken and Steve who helped as they could, who visited often and whose portable mill sliced some of the lumber used around camp, all those people helped save a forest that became world famous precisely because we all cared.
Too many names to remember but all their contributions, be they great or small, all were necessary elements that lead to eventually getting former Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield to sign legislation saving Opal Creek for all of us, for those who had come before and for those yet to come.
I remember hosting 20/20 and Chris Wallace (son of CBS' Mike Wallace and now a full time talking head at Fox). He and his small crew stayed at the lodge for at least 2 days and absolutely fell in love with the forest. We hosted a group of scientists from Lake Baikal in Russia. They too, fell in love. They loved drinking the water out of the creeks, they loved the quiet and the place and they left glad to have come, touched by the beauty they encountered.
(The cover of The Book of Elders - The Life Stories & Wisdom of Great American Indians, Sandy Johnson w/ photos by Dan Budnik)
In 1991, in the autumn, we hosted some tribal folks from the Warm Springs Reservation and with them were two elders... Grandmothers Sylvia Walutaluma and Nettie Queahpama. One of the two was in a wheelchair (and I don't remember which). A wheelchair though that needed some repair. So, up to the shop with the chair. Some lubrication, a bit of air in the tires and a nut or screw here and there... good as new.
We barbecued salmon (including a couple of "dogfish"... ), had a sweatlodge, it was a wonderful time for all. Before they left one of the Gandmas saw me splitting some cedar into small sticks for kindling (and splitting cedar this way is fun because the western red cedar splits so easily). She asked if I wouldn't mind making some of those cedar sticks for her because they were perfect for jerking salmon. I proceeded to split a big bundle for her, a large box full I believe and she was tickled.
My ex (Hi Darcy! Didn't think you were getting out of this did you?) and I had our baby Robin who was only a couple of months old at the time. A few weeks after their visit we get a surprise... Sylvia and Nettie had made a cradle board for Robin! It hangs on my wall and will hopefully be a treasure for my daughter when she grows up and gets out on her own (and being a beautiful blond it'll be another 20 years before that happens! Of course... she can't run away to Or'gon and marry some wild man living in the woods like her mom did... she can stay home and do that... ;).
I mean life was good. People came and went and we stayed. And when they came their needs were met. We cooked great meals and quite often with a whole crew in the kitchen. Barbara and Georgia and Susie and Jan and just too many to name and me (I was the barbecue man) and oh so many good people and meals! And leftovers! Discussions and education and yes, even occasional celebrations.
I can see from the long view how as we grew our circle of supporters we saw that good things were coming. We worked hard at repairing camp, keeping the lawns mowed and watered through the summer. (Mowing all the lawns in camp was no small chore with a power mower. Paul measured the distance with a pedometer... 7 miles of lawn mowing)
People would come around the corner of the road walking into camp and we could watch them stop. And look... totally awed that way back here, deep in the woods and far up the river was a well kept slice of Oregon history surrounded by a nearly pristine western Cascades low elevation temperate rain forest. In the summer it would be hot in the sun (which makes it real easy to see why god invented forests, for the shade...) and people would be swimming up and down the river, backpackers hiking through, headed maybe into the Opal Creek basin or up Battle Axe and into the Bull of the Woods Wilderness Area. Maybe a group of kids from one of the colleges or Universities would show up and help us for a day, hang out overnite and leave the next day.
Or during school we'd have John Borowski from Philomath bring one of his groups in or maybe Calvin bringing in a group of students from Chemawa in Salem... we'd drive the old flatbed and the Green Pig down to the gate where we'd load up packs and ice chests and sleeping bags into the pig and load the kids onto the flatbed where they would stand in the back and get a great ride through a wonderful, beautiful forest and end up in this magical old mining camp.
Man... those were the days. And the funny thing is we won. There are still caretakers there who carry on the tradition handed down over the decades... "keep camp alive." Adam and Pete are there now... two nice young guys who understand maybe a bit more than others before them how pivotal their roles are as caretakers and how precious the short time we get.
Opal Creek, though saved, isn't done teaching. It is now a certified labratory of study where I know what we will find is that we know so little and that for every question we answer we will only raise 10 more... and I know that somewhere will come acceptance of nature as law in how we build our societies, our civilizations.
Nature as science, nature as spirit...
... and somebody to mow the lawns.
No memory is ever alone; it's at the end of a trail of memories, a dozen trails that each have their own associations.
~ Louis L'Amour