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...

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