Friday, June 9, 2023

Hike to Grayback Meadows

    What a hike it was!
    I and four other hikers started up the O'Brien Creek trail, which is very steep, but I was hiking well enough even with a 25-pound pack. (I am training for a backpacking trip in August.) After about a mile and a quarter we took a side trail to a cabin erected in 1944 for emergency use for hikers and, more probably, hunters. We rested there a while, then followed a sort-of path up the hill through the beautiful Grayback Meadows to some rocks overlooking the snowy peak of Mt. McLoughlin, where we had lunch and looked at flowers and admired the view.

Just before leaving the lunch spot. Note the snow.

When it was time to go, Cheryl suggested it would be easier to continue up the slope to meet the Boundary Trail and return to the trailhead that way than to slip-slide down the meadow the way we had come. So we started up.
    7000-foot Grayback Mountain, where we were hiking, still had thick banks of snow above us. That much snow in June is a gladsome sight, but, of course, the snow is melting fast, and the slope we were climbing had turned into a steep marsh with rivulets of snowmelt gushing down in sheets. So it was both a steep and a slippery climb. Oh, my God, it was hard to get up that hill! And me with a 25-pound pack. Thank goodness I was hiking with poles. They pulled me up the mountain.
    When we finally got to the Boundary Trail, we took a moment to congratulate ourselves,
then turned right to go back to the O'Brien Creek trail.
    I thought the hard part was over.
    Not true! The storms of last sinter had hurled winds down the mountain, toppling trees in a long, wide swath. We clambered over big logs, trying not to scratch bare legs on broken knobs. We walked down logs like walking tightropes, then had to jump off at the end. Maybe the hardest thing was climbing through tangled branches of two or three trees that had fallen together. What a mess it was! We would get through one net of tangled tree trunks and branches and find, just ahead, another mess. It didn't end until we were almost to the side trail to the cabin.
    The only treacherous thing after that was a steep section where the trail was covered with slippery pine needles. I went down once, as my right foot slipped, but I half-stood again before I hit the ground, only to have the weight of the pack push me down again, and my left foot slipped. Once again I righted myself before I hit the ground and this time managed to stand. The hiker behind me said it looked like I had done telemark turns on a ski slope.
    It was a hard day's hike and a barrel of fun. And the wet meadows and gushing streams—more full than I had ever seen them—seemed to refute drought and filled my heart with gratitude.
Approaching O'Brien Creek

    As we drove together back to my car, I asked my fellow hikers, who hike together weekly, if their hikes were always like this. They laughed. "Yes," they said. "There's always an adventure."

Friday, June 2, 2023

In Search of Cosmo the Crow

    Samantha Swindler, a features writer with the Oregonian, visited me last week. She thought I could provide some background about the Applegate in connection with a podcast she's producing.
    The story concerns Cosmo, a pet crow of a woman in a small Applegate neighborhood. Cosmo slept in the house, asked to be let out in the morning, came when called, and was as beloved a pet as any dog.
    But one neighbor (we'll call him Neighbor B, to distinguish him from Cosmo's "owner," Neighbor A) said the bird terrified his children—swooped down on them, attacked them, even drew blood. He said Cosmo terrified and chased his dog. This man grew so irate he called the cops, who told him that he could, legally, kill an annoyance animal. Neighbor B threatened Neighbor A to do just that.
    Instead, he and Neighbor C, who also considered Cosmo a menace, managed to capture the bird and take him to Wildlife Images, an organization that takes in injured wildlife. As soon as the folks there determined that Cosmo was neither sick nor injured, they released him, whereupon Cosmo flew to an elementary school and terrorized the children on the playground.
    Somehow Cosmo got back home (I'm fuzzy on the details here), where he slept in the house of Neighbor A and terrorized the neighbors' children, as before. Not much later, Neighbor D, who liked Cosmo, saw him at her house at about 4:30pm. At 6:30 Neighbor A started calling Cosmo to come home. No Cosmo. 
    No one has seen Cosmo again.
    Neither Neighbor B nor anyone else will admit to having killed Cosmo. 
    There is no body. 
    It is an unsolved murder (seemingly) of a pet bird, as there is no evidence of foul play by a dog or another wild creature or of collision with a moving vehicle.
    At first I thought the story was petty—fun for an amateur sleuth like Samantha, but not important. The more we talked, however, the more I changed my mind. 
    In the first place, it's a good parable for why we shouldn't make pets of wildlife. No matter how friendly they become, wild animals are still wild animals.
    In the second place, it's a parable for human relations. The four-household neighborhood is now rife with suspicions and accusations. For instance, when Neighbor D's dog went missing, then came back wounded, she accused Neighbor B of having shot him. (The vet said it was not a bullet wound.) 
    It's also a classic example of the importance of empathy. Cosmo's "owner" couldn't see that her pet was a horror for someone else. ("Not my sweet-tempered Cosmo!") Neighbor B couldn't empathize with Neighbor A's love for her pet. ("It's just a damn bird!") No one apologizes to anyone because no one tries to step into someone else's shoes, and anger and suspicion fester.
    Samantha is willing to arrange a mediated meeting among the neighbors, but that doesn't look likely. Neighbor B won't talk to "that lady from the press" any more. At this point, Samantha doesn't have an answer to her murder mystery, and in the neighborhood hatred and distrust live on. 
    How are we ever going to make this a better world?

Thursday, May 25, 2023

A Most Embarrassing Experience

     On May 18 I started out on the East ART trail, my usual memorial hike. (See post on May 21, 2020). The beautiful East ART is probably the most popular trail in the Applegate. It's a hike I always enjoy.

    Though maybe not so much this year.
    It wasn't because I was carrying a 14-pound pack or meant to do the whole eleven-mile there-and-back hike (I'm training for a backpacking trip), and it certainly wasn't because it wasn't good hiking weather or the flowers weren't as beautiful as usual. It was because, about two miles in, I began to realize I was going to need a sheltered spot off the trail to discreetly dig a hole for the obvious purpose. But there was no such place on this steep hillside through an open forest. I kept walking, growing more and more anxious, and kept looking, but my bowels were telling me it was urgent. Suddenly I realized I had better step off the trail right then
    Two steps off the trail and diarrhea struck. My underpants were immediately as full as a baby's diaper. My shorts were besmirched and so were my legs. Shakily, trying to balance on the steep hillside, trying to keep my boots clean, I stepped out of my soiled underpants, then my shorts. I took a stick and scraped off as much of the mess as I could, but in the end I folded the underpants into a small ziplock bag I fortunately had with me and zipped it tight. I would just throw it away. I used the toilet paper on my legs, then poured water onto a large handkerchief I had by great good luck brought with me and washed myself clean. I folded the shorts into a packet with the clean parts on the outside and put it in my pack.
    All this time I was in dread of seeing hikers coming down the trail. I kept thinking, "This is the most popular trail in the Applegate." I didn't know what I would do or say.
    To avoid the indecency of hiking two miles back to the trailhead without any clothing on my nether parts, I buttoned up my long-sleeved shirt and tied the sleeves around my waist. It made a very passable skirt. No one need know I wasn't wearing underwear under my hiking skirt. I climbed the six or eight steps back to the trail and shouldered my pack. Then, since I was feeling fine and was decently clothed, I decided to continue with my plan to hike from one trailhead to the next and back again. So on I went, marveling at my good luck that no one had witnessed this embarrassing episode.
    Not five minutes down the trail I passed a man and his dog. Thank God for whatever had detained him for those crucial ten minutes.
    The rest of the hike was just fine. The flowers were spectacular. My skirt held together. I had just enough water left not to get dehydrated. Every time I passed a hiker, I smiled and said hello, secure in my secret that I had just experienced one of the most embarrassing and difficult episodes I have ever had on a trail.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Diminishing wildlife

     One day last week I was asked, by a man who used to live here, what changes I had seen in my fifty years on this land.
    "Not much," I said blithely, "thanks to Oregon's wonderful land use laws" —no sprawl in the Applegate, no new residences on my mountain. I live here as remotely as ever (except that I have electricity now).
    But that's not what he meant. He meant changes in the wildlife, as in, less than there was forty or fifty years ago.
    I hate admitting the diminishment of wildlife.
   But I haven't seen a porcupine for decades, those wonderful strange creatures Mary Oliver called a "thornbush" and "a plump dark lady/wearing a gown of nails." I cringe to think there might be no more porcupines in these mountains.
    Nor have I seen an opossum for as long. I haven't seen a skunk, either, but am just as happy not to, and, anyway, I know there are skunks around. Some people hold no more love for a 'possum than for a skunk, but the opossum is America's only marsupial, and I can only hope 'possums still live in the Siskiyous.
    My questioner said there are fewer fence lizards now than when he lived here before. I still see them, but as many as before? I'm not sure. I do notice that there are fewer frogs, but I am so grateful that there are any at all that I can't spend energy regretting the low numbers. 
    I haven't seen the fisher for years, but I only saw it once in earlier years, anyway, so who's to say that the fisher population isn't as strong as ever? I saw the ringtail cat recently, the second time in fifty years. I haven't seen the cougar, but I only saw it once, thirty years ago, and I'm pretty sure it's still around. I still see plenty of bears. 
    I haven't seen fish in Pipe Fork for many years, though I used to see German browns in those cold, fast waters.
    Everyone knows that songbird populations are plummeting, but birdsong in my forest was always more sparse than birdsong during the Middle Ages, when the woods resounded with trills, calls, and melodies. How I would love to have walked through those woods! But is there less birdsong now than thirty or fifty years ago? My heart sinks, but, probably, yes. 
    It breaks my heart to admit it, but I don't hear my owl much any more, either. 
    And so it goes. I think that because I'm a poor records keeper, I have turned a blind eye to what seems to be a diminishment of wildlife. Not seeing evidence of that decrease—or not admitting it—is preferable because the reality is too painful to bear. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

The Planets

     I heard the planets last week—not the music of the spheres but Holst's famous suite, The Planets, with the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra.
    Holst wasn't depicting the planets as the heavenly bodies astronomers study, I learned from the program, but as the ones astrologers study. It would be hard even for us, with our more scientific knowledge, to depict the celestial bodies in music without resorting either to astrology or to Greek mythology: Mars as the "Bringer of War," Venus as "The Bringer of Peace," and so on.  
    I found Holst's interpretations delightful.
    But Martin Majkut, the RVSO music director, had gone two steps beyond the music. Scientifically, he brought in Ashwin Vasada, a NASA scientist working on missions to Mars, for a pre-concert conversation.
NASA photo of Mars, from Rover
Vasada added to the music the honest-to-goodness planet that scientists know. He was fascinating.
    Artistically, Majkut brought in Adrian Wyard, to project his, Wyard's, video accompaniment to The Planets on a screen behind the orchestra as they played. Wyard's collages of his original animations and NASA media of each planet were perfectly synced with the music. The visuals were spectacular—the real planets, real space photos, perfect animations to match the music. It was a great show. 
    But we are a vision-dominant species. Given simultaneity of what is to be heard and what is to be seen, we will always give our first attention to the visuals. While the imagery did "add a new dimension to the experience," Holst's music did not "retain center stage," as described in the program. Instead of hearing music with visuals as an added effect, I was watching a video show with musical accompaniment. I enjoyed the experience a lot, but now I want the orchestra to play the music again, without the video, so I can let the sense of hearing dominate and the sense of sight, for a few hours, recede. I want to see what my imagination would hear in the music.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Making Coffee

    In many households, as in mine, the coffee grinder is one of the first noises of the day. But here in my house, it is not a harsh electric sound but the mechanical grinding of an old-fashioned iron-and-wood coffee grinder.

    This beautiful antique used to sit on a shelf in my childhood home, not as a kitchen tool but as a picturesque curio. When I was a child, my mother bought ground coffee or, if I remember right, even the horror of Maxwell House instant coffee. After my parents' deaths, I took the coffee grinder home as a quaint antique and childhood memento. I wasn't even drinking coffee at that time.
    My son, however, is a coffee aficionado. He roasts his own beans, is particular about the green beans he buys, and can wax rhapsodic about different kinds of coffee the way other people talk about wine. Once when he came to visit, bringing his own beans but not his electric coffee grinder, he took down my old-fashioned coffee grinder and, without doing anything more to it than wiping off the dust, ground his beans. After all those decades, it didn't need a thing to make it work. Such is the simplicity of a coffee grinder.
    Now I use it myself as part of my morning ritual, turning the iron handle that turns the mill inside the box, grinding the beans between iron grates. The turning motion and the grinding sound are mesmerizing and meditative, returning me to households of my ancestors, who must have ground coffee in exactly this way, those women in their kitchens, I in mine.
    Suddenly the sound changes, breaking my reverie. No more beans are falling between the teeth. The crank turns more easily; the sound is lighter. I stop turning the crank and open the wooden drawer at the bottom of the grinder.

The aroma of fresh-ground coffee tingles my nostrils. I scoop my grandmother's silver coffee measure into the ground coffee beans and make my coffee. Tomorrow I will do it again.
   Building a fire in the stove every morning, grinding spices in a mortar with a pestle, grinding coffee beans in a wooden box—these tools, these actions connect me in my modern life to days, even centuries ago, when many things were slower and quieter. I like starting my day with that reminder: that slower and quieter can still be acquired and are still good for the spirit.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

One Snowy-gray Afternoon on the East ART trail

    When I wasn't able to ski last week, deterred by road conditions, I decided to hike the East ART trail instead. The trail was snow-covered, but it was lovely to walk in and out of the snowfall and to watch the dark clouds come and go. At one point I stopped on the trail to admire the Bishop Road draw, forested, narrow, and loden-green deep below me, while the gray cloak of clouds, hovering low over the mountains, spread the subtle undulations of subdued light into the afternoon.
    A small red-tail hawk was flying in slow gyres over the valley, the red tail gleaming as he banked and straightened. He gyred upward, then sailed towards me on a swing of the wind. Closer now, he circled upward again and then again in slow motion, disappearing in the mist, reappearing, and disappearing again, like a mystical reading in a seer's magic sphere.
    Oh, the grace of his flight in the gray silence of the afternoon!
    I was thinking I had never seen a hawk dive—had never witnessed Hopkins's "Oh air, pride, plume here buckle!"—when suddenly I heard a whoosh, as startling as a train whistle, and felt the air stir across my side as a crow dove to a landing near me. Pausing only a moment, he rose up and attacked the hawk.
    The hawk turned, struck back, and the crow flew back over the valley where I had first seen the hawk, the hawk following in pursuit, the smaller bird after the bigger one. Was it, "You can't get away with that, you bully!"? Was he seeking revenge? Do animals seek revenge? Can adolescent birds also be immature and quarrelsome? Do they, too, carry grudges? Why did the crow attack the hawk in the first place? Was this an old fight between them? Or am I misreading the whole episode, which was actually a game between hawk and crow, the way wolf pups bite and tumble in play?
    As they flew over the valley, the hawk gaining on the crow, the crow suddenly took the offensive, turned mid-air, and attacked the hawk, who flew off in one direction, the crow in another, the whole thing as silent and slow as a dream.
    Dd the hawk depart a sullen loser: "I'll get back at you another day"? Or did he give a cheerful, "See you next week for another game"?
    Oh, what do we know, what can we know, about the motives and psychology of hawks and crows?