Thursday, May 17, 2018

When I Saved My Sister from a Wolf

     Last week I alluded to the time my sister was bitten by a malemute, but I could just as well have said "a wolf" because she was bitten by a wolf at the same time. Since I've mentioned it, you deserve to hear the story, so let me tell you about the time I saved my sister from a wolf.
     In the summer I turned fifteen my family made a car-camping trip from Atlanta, Georgia, to Fairbanks, Alaska, all seven of us in a station wagon. One late afternoon on the Alcan, when the weather threatened rain, my mother prevailed upon my father to make an exception to camping out and let us stay at  the White River Lodge. 
       Mom and Dad quickly made friends with the proprietor and his wife, Dan and Erica Nolan, who enjoyed showing us their place, including a pet wolf, Wolfie, on a chain in the back yard, and some eaglets Dan had rescued and was raising. Erica showed Mom some new wildflowers, and we all slept well in real beds that night.
     On the way back down the Alcan, two weeks later, we stopped by the White River Lodge to say hello to Dan and Erica. Dan and Dad disappeared into the cafe for coffee. While Mom tended to our two-year-old brother, my three sisters and I asked Erica if we could pet Wolfie again. We had already made friends with him, so she just said, "Yes."
       We were petting and admiring Wolfie when a big malemute named Cindy came charging into our small group for her share of attention. She frightened my seven-year-old sister, Laura, who, backing out of the way, tripped over the wolf's chain and fell. As soon as she went down, the malemute jumped on her with a snarl. At that, Wolfie joined the attack.
       In that flash of chaos and panic, of growling canines and screaming children, it was I, I am proud to say, who rushed in to save Laura. Nor has my memory unduly enlarged me to heroic proportions, as my mother's journal corroborates my story: "Diana, being closest to Laura, rescued her." By the time Mom, Dad, and Dan arrived, I had dragged Laura to safety, and she was no longer in danger of being torn to shreds by a vicious wolf and snarling malemute.
       She had a gash across the back of her head and claw scratches on her ear. While we doctored those wounds, Dan and Erica expressed again and again their apologies and embarrassment. It was the nature of the malemute to jump on what was down, Dan explained. The dog and the wolf were only acting as their natures demanded, but, he said grimly, Cindy would have to be shot. We said, no, no, please don't, it wasn't her fault, but Dan said he couldn't keep a dog that attacked his guests. As I remember, we heard the shot as we drove away, but here I must be corrected by my mother's journal. It says we learned later that Dan gave Cindy to a neighbor. I do remember correctly that Wolfie was sold to Walt Disney and starred in Nickie of the North, making him the only Hollywood star I have known personally and certainly the only one who has bitten a member of my family.
       After we were well on our way down the Alcan, Laura said something felt funny in her hip. Mom pulled down her pants and discovered the worst wound of all, where the wolf's fang had gone deep into Laura's flesh without even tearing the denim. The closest doctor was a hundred miles away, in Whitehorse. Fifty miles from Whitehorse, we had a flat tire. Fifteen miles later a second tire blew, and there we were, stuck on the lonely Alcan in a burned-out forest with a child who needed a doctor. Dad picked up the tire and stuck out his thumb. The first car that came along stopped for him, answering the unwritten rule of the Alcan never to pass anyone in trouble, and, indeed, every driver that passed us (there weren't many) as we waited for Dad to come back from Whitehorse stopped to ask if we needed help. 
       It seemed like an infernally hot and long wait to the six of us stranded by the crippled car. The only relief in the blackened landscape was its undergrowth of bright purple fireweed. In fact, it was only three hours before my father was back with a patched tire. Fifteen minutes later we were on the road.
       In Whitehorse the doctor told us that Laura's wolf bite should have had stitches but that the best we could do now was to keep the wound open and clean so it would heal from the inside. So, three times a day for three days, we stopped to sterilize instruments and treat the wound. The healing was quick and full, and even the scar didn't last long. Laura does still have a long, straight, dead-white scar under her dark hair, a sort of badge about which she can say, "This is where the wolf bit me." What I have is a story I can introduce with, "Let me tell you about the time I saved my sister from a wolf."

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Attacked by Dogs

            A couple of weeks ago, as I was taking my normal walk through the woods (BLM-managed public land) and up the mountain, I saw a tent in the woods with a man tying tarps around it. He was gray-haired, and his campsite was neat, with a carefully constructed wide entranceway, lined with logs, so I decided he wasn’t dangerous and approached closer, loudly crunching sticks underfoot. When he didn’t look up, I called out, “Hello.”
            Two little dogs leapt from the tent, barking hard. The man, startled to see me, grabbed the dogs and put them in the tent, then turned to greet me. He told me that friends of his ex-wife had suggested he could camp there and that he had a job waiting for him in Gold Beach, as soon as got his truck fixed. His truck was at the other end of the trail, on the old logging road. Down the path he had a kitchen site, with another tent, a firepit (carefully lined with metal), some coolers and storage bins, and a pole-constructed table with some Christian magazines. Small logs tied horizontally in the trees designated the space as a room. He had taken a lot of trouble with this temporary home.
            I pass his campsite, of course, whenever I take my walk. He’s sometimes there and sometimes not. One time I saw trash strewn around the kitchen site. Food cartons, well licked, lay open on the trail. The compost bucket and coolers were ripped open and strewn about. I surmised a bear. 
            Last week I was again taking my usual walk, passing, of course, the campsite again. The first tent looked battened down, and I wondered if maybe the man were gone again, but then I saw smoke curling from the campfire as I got closer to the second tent. Everything was quiet. Then I saw that the man was sitting next to the fire, reading, so I said, as I had before, “Hello.”
            Too late alerted to danger, the two dogs charged from the tent and onto the path. They ran at me, baring their teeth, barking their shrill barks, making feints of attack. If the dogs were doing what they instinctively do in defense, so did I. I screamed at them to STOP! QUIT IT! GO AWAY! GET AWAY!. The more I screamed, the more they thought they needed to protect their territory from this terrifying monster. The more they barked and charged, the louder I screamed, backing away, kicking at the dogs. I think I certainly could have sent a dog flying except that I didn’t really want to kick a dog, so my kicks were bluster. The man came running up the trail, snatching at dogs, saying, “You got them all excited,” as though I weren’t supposed to be defending myself, but doing what instead? I also noticed that he wasn’t saying, “Don’t worry. They won’t bite.” As soon as he caught one dog and grabbed for another, the first one jumped from his arms and charged me again. One dog was in front of me, the other behind me, both barking and snarling and showing their sharp little teeth. The man was zig-zagging around. I was backing up, screaming and kicking and flailing, and then I tripped backwards. As I fell, I was remembering the time my sister was bitten by a husky dog because she also tripped as she was running backwards, and it’s the nature of the husky, the owner told us later, to jump on what’s down. I was fervently hoping the same was not true of yappy little dogs, but I was expecting one to jump on me at any moment, so I sprang to my feet with more alacrity than any 73-year-old woman could possibly muster. The man finally got the dogs in his arms and put them on a leash at the tent. I was breathing harder than I ever do while climbing a steep mountain trail, and I had a hard time calming myself, not because I was still frightened but because by now I was pretty mad. 
            The man asked me if I was all right, and I said yes, but I was still trembling. “How am I going to walk through the woods?” I asked.
            “You got them excited,” he said again, as though the whole episode were my fault. But I had calmed down, so we chatted in a friendly way for a bit. He told me about the bear that had gotten into his food supply while he was away for a night. I said I had noticed and that he had done a good job cleaning everything up. I asked what he was going to do with a set of good-sized logs lying next to his kitchen. He said he was building a barrier for keeping his food from animals. 
            His camp in the woods is looking more and more permanent. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Preparing for the GR20

            Today I’m going to hike the Baldy Mountain trail with Mike. Both of us will be carrying 20-pound backpacks. Yesterday I started on my usual walk from my house, up the mountain and back down for about an hour, with a 20-pound pack, then stretched the hour’s walk into three hours and forty minutes by making a loop to the top of the ridge, down to the paved road, and back up to the trail through the woods to my house. When I got to that trail, instead of turning onto it and heading home, I went back up the mountain to the top of the ridge before finally heading home – just for the sake of doing it.
            The previous day, I hiked, with Mike, up Table Rock Mountain, an hour and a quarter, with a pack. The day before that, I hiked up Bolt Mountain – four hours, with a pack. The day before that I hiked, with Mike, the Eliot Ridge trail, seven hours, twelve miles, some exceedingly steep. With packs.
            All this is necessary because Mike and I are going to be hiking GR 20, on Corsica, touted as the most difficult trail in Europe. Seven hours on the Eliot Ridge Trail is still three hours short of the longest day on the GR 20, which is 125 miles with a total elevation gain of 41,000 feet and is done in fifteen days. If I’m going to do it, I had better be ready.
            Here’s some of what the guide book says about the GR 20.

“The GR 20 is a tough, steep, and rocky trail that is generally followed in a blazing sun.”
 “The GR 20 is a slow and often difficult trek, but one where the scenery is so magnificent that you wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else.”
“The first day on the GR 20 is a shock to the system. …The ascent is unrelenting, uphill all the way, climbing higher than anywhere in Britain, then climbing further, scrambling across a rocky hillside.”
 “The mountain ridges are very exposed in severe weather conditions, and sudden lightning strikes have claimed trekkers’ lives.”
“Every year there is at least one casualty along the course of the GR20 and a number of accidents.”
 “Only minutes after leaving the Refuge de Carozzu, there is a steep and rugged descent into a gorge … A steep and rocky ascent, sometimes holding snow well into the summer, leads to a high rocky gap. … The descent is very steep and rugged, taking longer to complete than some might imagine."

         On the third day, It takes five and a half hours to go three and a quarter miles. The next day it takes eight hours to go the same distance.
            Reading all that and more, I got worried. I needed to be ready! Late spring snows kept me from hiking until mid-April, but I was skiing, which I figured was pretty good keep-in-shape exercise. As soon as the snow was too thin for skiing, Mike and I started looking for places to hike. The Illinois River Trail was an easy beginning of the training regimen because it isn’t steep and we weren’t carrying packs. The next week we hiked the Charlie Buck Trail, very steep. (Mike carried a pack. I didn’t.) When I got home, I was hobbling. My feet hurt badly. They were throbbing. It was not a good sign.
            The problem is hallux rigidus (rigid big toe), an arthritic condition. A soak in Epsom salts helped, but I can’t take Epsom salts on the GR 20. Would I really be able to put my boots on day after day for yet another strenuous day of hiking, for fifteen days? If I were going to do it, I would have to up the ante for training.
            Two days later I climbed Charlie Buck again, by myself and with a pack. Three days later I climbed Stein Butte (five hours, some steep) by myself, with a pack, and the next day I did the same thing again. The next day I hiked a couple of miles on the East ART (East Applegate Ridge Trail) with some school children; then Mike and I hiked the Little Grayback Trail (with packs). The next day I hiked Stein Butte again (with a pack).
            My poor feet. The Stein Butte trail is a killer. My hiking boots are worn out. Mike went with me to Mt. Shasta so I could try on boots at a recommended shoe store. When I found some that I thought would do, I left them at the store to be stretched in the toe while Mike and I climbed Castle Crags (with packs), a very steep climb over a rocky trail, very beautiful and good training for the GR 20 except that it only took four hours, a short day on the GR 20.
            My podiatrist has suggested a foot sleeve for support on each foot. She recommended taking Advil or Aleve (“Experiment to see which works best,” she said) to counter the pain from the pounding my feet take on the downhill. She approved the foot cream I had bought and suggested that whenever possible I should soak my feet in cold water after or during a day’s hike. Armed with new boots and a supply of medical aids and well trained by day after day of strenuous hikes in the Siskiyous, I am full of determination to hike the GR 20and enjoy it to boot. And I have one last resource. Instead of thinking, as I pick my way down a steep rocky trail, “Ow! My feet hurt so bad!” I’ll be thinking, “Well, it’s not so bad. They’ve hurt worse.” I’ll be thinking about that glass of wine at the refuge at the end of the day’s hike and about the swimming hole promised by the guidebook. I’ll be thinking about Mike’s banal but wise advice: “Just put one foot in front of the other.” I’ll be thinking how wonderful it is to be on Corsica, in all that splendid landscape, doing what I love.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Citizenship, Rules, and Human Relations

            When the organizers of a music festival called Apple Jam chose, for their next venue, a piece of property eight miles up the road I live on (and two miles from my house), the residents were alarmed. We signed petitions to ask the county not to grant the permit, and we filled the courthouse at the hearing.
            That is the citizenship part: that so many of us were willing to take the time and the travel to come to town for a hearing that concerned us, and that the governmental process permitted that kind of citizen involvement.
            At the hearing, the parliamentarian explained in detail which laws were relevant and how the applicant had met those requirements. Then, one by one, people came up to speak for or against granting the permit. We residents talked about the dangerous situation with traffic on our narrow, winding, two-lane, shoulderless road, with 2500 Apple Jam people going up and down it in RVs, camping vans, pick-up trucks, SUVs, and other cars. We talked about the difficulty of getting emergency vehicles, either to the site or to residents. We talked about fire danger, drugs and alcohol use, people turning up the wrong driveway looking for the event or asking for water or gas, the creek as prime habitat for the endangered coho salmon, and so forth.
            Then things took a surprising turn, and this is the human relations part. The man who had submitted the permit and who, it turned out, had started the Apple Jam several years ago, asked, at the end of his testimony, whether, if he withdrew his application, he would get back his deposit. He said that the festival people had already listened to the community and didn’t want conflicts, so they had found an alternative venue and would withdraw their application if they wouldn’t lose their money.
            Suddenly we didn’t dislike the Apple Jam folks, after all. Suddenly they were just musicians who wanted to have a festival. Suddenly it sounded like a good idea, nothing different from hippie festivals I myself attended back in the day. But we had never thought the Apple Jam itself a bad idea, only that the chosen venue was unsuitable.
            Then the rules. The parliamentarian suggested that the applicants, instead of withdrawing their request, could continue the process and let the permit be either denied or granted, after which they could, if they so desired, not use the permit. The money, he said, was only a deposit, so the part which had not been spent already in putting forward the process would be returned. The applicant agreed to continue with the process, though it seemed superfluous now. I don’t quite understand why the parliamentarian didn’t just let the applicant withdraw the application, as he had expressed his willingness to do, and let the process be at an end.
            But the process ground on. The three county commissioners spoke to the issue, a motion was made to deny the permit, and a vote was taken: two for the motion, one against (on the grounds that the applicants had met the criteria as specified by law). The permit was denied.
               The residents were relieved. They excited to have won.
            As I left the courthouse, I met the organizer who had offered to withdraw the application. I shook his hand, thanked him for his generosity, and wished him luck with the festival. Then, as a reciprocal gesture of generosity and thanks, another of the neighbors on the road suggested that we would take up donations from residents to help defray the costs the festival people entailed for having to go through the application and hearing process. We all smiled, shook hands, wished everyone well, and went home.
            During that short time we had had to notify everyone on the road about the proposed event and to organize our protests, there were mumblings about getting a lawyer to help us stop the event from happening here if the permit had been granted, a lawsuit that, I think, would have gotten nowhere, since everything was done legally.
            No one during that time mentioned talking directly with the Apple Jam folks themselves. It seems like such an easy solution, now. We know, now, that they were receptive to community relations. It was they, not we, who looked beyond the rules.

            What I am left with is a feeling of gratitude, not just for the outcome of the citizenship process but also for the lesson the Apple Jam folks taught me: that while citizenship is a good thing and rules are necessary, human relations based on genuine respect and generosity of spirit trump everything else.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Paean to the Madrone

            When I first came to the Siskiyou Mountains, almost fifty years ago, I, like everyone I know who first comes here, marveled at the beauty of the tall, red-trunked trees throughout the woods. I thought them so beautiful! But I quickly learned that long-time residents didn’t think so highly of them. “Madrones,” I was told dismissively, “– they’re weed trees.”
            Now I, too, am a long-time resident, and I see that madrones do sprout around cut trunks like weeds and that maybe if you’re in the timber business, you think they take space in a forest that would be more useful for growing Douglas fir. Some people think the only good madrone is a dead madrone, since it makes the best firewood – longer burning than fir, pine, or cedar; cleaner than oak (less ash); less deadly hot than manzanita. Nonetheless, I love madrone trees, with their four-star beauty – visual, tactile, olfactory, and audial.
            No tree trunk in the forest is more beautiful the madrone’s. The shaggy old bark, found mostly at the lower end of the tree, dark brown, sometimes almost black, contrasts with the smooth skin growing under it that is replacing it, pushing it aside, leaving it behind as the tree stretches upward.

This new skin is orange-red in one tree, orange-green in another, pink in another, sometimes almost white. The old bark splits and recedes to make way for the new, a woolly coat over silky-smooth shoulders. To run your hand down a madrone trunk is a journey of textures: smooth as silk, scaly as a lizard’s skin. Some new skins blend pinks, oranges, reds, browns, and greens so thoroughly they run together as in an oil painting. While hiking, I entertain myself for miles trying to find words for these colors.

            The madrone is the ballet dancer of the woods. Its elongated trunks dance around other trees and themselves; its sinewy limbs stretch into pliés and arabesques. 

Sinuous limbs bend with ease and grace into chevroned shapes, stretching for the light (scientifically) or for the joy of being alive in the forest (anthropomorphically). Sometimes the skin of the madrone is stretched so tight, I can see the muscles underneath, sinewy and rippling. Sometimes the tree demands ritualistic homage for its shape, its color, its textures.


            In early summer Madonna-white blossoms on female madrones emit a tropical scent. By autumn those blossoms have given way to Christmas-red berries. I have decorated a holiday table with madrone berries. I have strung madrone berries as beads. I have seen bear scat on the trail full of seeds of madrone berries.
            Many trees produce music when the wind whistles through them or rustles their leaves. Sometimes on a windy day, the tall firs and pines seem to talk to each other with their creaks and squeals as they rub against one another. But the madrone is the only tree I know that produces music all on its own.
            I heard this delicate serenade one hot, dry day in September, when I was standing in a wood of mixed conifers and madrones and heard a thin crackling, like a shower of very fine, broken, crystal glass or the violins at the beginning of The Rite of Spring: ch-ch-ch-ch. If the crows’ feet that break out around smiling eyes made sound, it would be like that. But nothing was moving. As though in an enchantment, the tiny music seemed sourceless. Suddenly, then, I broke through the veil of mystery as my eyes focused on the madrone trunks in front of me, with their layers of older, darker bark, shaggy and brittle, curls that had dried and hardened, and the newly split, green bark beginning to curl back, exposing the beautiful red underneath. What I was hearing was the tinkling music of madrone bark splitting.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Spring Snow Surprises

              I awoke this morning to a beautiful snowfall whitening the world outside my window. Snow had been predicted at 5000 feet, but here I am at 2600 feet, surprised and delighted at this last gasp of winter.
           However, it hasn’t made me recite the Lord’s Prayer, as another mid-April snowfall did, in 2007. I was in graduate school then, and I was driving across the mountains to Lincoln City, on the Oregon coast, to give a lecture for the AAUW. As bizarre as it was to be making a slow and treacherous way through a snowstorm in April, it was equally bizarre, to me, to be reciting the Lord’s Prayer as I did. My professor in Old English had given his students an assignment to memorize the Lord’s Prayer in 10th century English. He wanted us to learn to pronounce Old English with the inflections and rhythms of native speakers, as though Old English were still the living language it once was, with all the beauty of its intonations and vocabulary. Memorizing the Lord’s Prayer, with its gracious prose, he thought, was a good place to begin.
            The Lord's will, which I had asked to be done as I drove over the snowy hills, must have been that I arrive safely at my destination, but not necessarily that I arrive on time. I was supposed to be at the meeting place at 6:00 for dinner, but the program chair had estimated I would begin my talk around 7:15, so it wouldn't matter if I were a bit late, or so I told myself as I watched the minutes click by faster than the miles. Later and later – past 6:00, past 6:15, past 6:30, 6:35, 6:45, 6:50. Finally, at 7:05, I walked into the meeting. People were so relieved to see me they broke into applause. With that sympathetic an audience, my talk went well.
             I stayed the night with my host that night and awoke the next morning to a thicker snowfall and three inches of accumulation. I left early, anxious about treacherous roads and about arriving in time to teach at Rogue Community College, but not so anxious about the roads that I couldn't enjoy the beauty through which I was driving and not so anxious about the time that I couldn't stop at a viewpoint to stand in the snowfall and watch the ocean foam white onto the beach. With the rocks and seaside vegetation also white with snow and a white sky hulking overhead, I was looking on as monochrome a landscape as I have ever seen. But the roads were as dangerous as before and the hills as steep, and, again, as I drove, the Lord's Prayer rose to my lips:
            Fæder ure, thu the eart on heofunum. 
            Si thin nama gehalgod. 
           Gewurthe thin wylla on eaorthan 
           swa swa on heofunum. 
            Urne gedæghwamlican hlaf sylla us to dæg. 
            And forgyf us ure gyltas 
            swa swa we forgyfath urum gyltendum. 
            And ne læth thu us on costnunge, 
            ac alys us of yfele. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Cliché of Spring

            Spring is a cliché. Spring is such a cliché it makes me laugh, makes me shake my head in wonder that it happens every year the same, as though Nature has no tricks up her sleeve (the wily old woman; she has plenty): nothing new for this year, just the same old beginnings to tell us again that life is new.
            First the manzanita begins to bloom – tiny snow-pink bells ringing their silent peals between the evergreen leaves of the bushes: spring is coming, spring is coming, spring is coming; take heart, take heart, take heart. Winter and spring have been playing hide-and-go-seek for a month or so, but spring, inevitably, will win the game.
            Then the frogs begin to sing. Sing? Croak, crrrrreak, rivet, beroomp. Is that a song? Call that monotonous, unoiled, joyful croaking a chorus, maybe, a choral reading, the rhythmical combination of voices, but there is something undeniably unmusical about it. Far from the sweet strains of the violin, far from the dips and flights of the flute, far from the primitive evocation of the drums, this music can surely only be music to the ear of the frogs. But they revel in it, and so do I, so I’ll take their part and call it a song.
            And then, a few days ago, to complete the cliché, I saw lambs frolicking in the pasture – lambs, the tried and true symbol of spring, life recurring, life recycled.

            Clichés became clichés because they are true, because they hold in their almost hidden depths some essential truth of life, of human nature, of the quality of being and living. And so it is with spring. Summer, autumn, and winter are accepted as they come, one after the other, as the inevitable recurrence of the seasons, but somehow with spring the very cliché itself is that we are startled anew each year. The stillness of winter gradually passes into the activity which is the trademark of spring: bears begin to stir into life up on the ridge, sap rises in the trees, and my own blood runs with renewed force, my senses awaken to some primitive stirring of life in nature to which my being responds. My eyes look up. I stretch my muscles as I crawl out of hibernation and step outside the house into warm sunshine. I come to life. My heart expands with the warming weather like the swelling willow branches. My spirits rise with the new bird song, and I laugh at the frogs. I sing with them. I burst into life with the cliché of spring housecleaning. I wash the windows and beat the rugs. I bring out the shovel and the wheelbarrow. I put peas in the ground. Renew, renew, renew; the cycle has begun again.