Monday, April 25, 2005

Cabin Life Continues

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Bradley left this morning, and I followed him as far as the end of the Dutch Henry Road and then we parted ways. He was heading back to Portland, I was going down to Grants Pass to get my mail, check my e-mail, post to the blog, shop for food, and do laundry. It was a long, tiring day. The ride out to Grants Pass wasn’t as bad as I imagined it might be. The first ten or fifteen miles are head-jarring with bumps and ruts and dips and rocks and sticks and puddles and holes. But the ride gets progressively better, the dirt road eventually turning to gray crushed stone, and then to pavement, and then to smoother pavement. Aside from the bumpiness and muck, it’s a lovely ride through the mountains, climbing and descending, climbing and descending, and perpetually winding. There are almost no straightaways longer than a few hundred yards. In some parts the road hugs sheer drop-offs into deep, steep canyons and the view stretches on for miles.

Eventually the road crosses the Rogue a couple of times and snakes through small river towns, and then it comes to I-5. First exit is Grants Pass. It took me just under two hours to get there. Seemed shorter coming back, probably because the road was less muddy after a whole day of sunshine, and I was more familiar with the terrain. At one point on the return trip, my car skidded out a bit in mud while taking a turn, but for the most part, it handled just fine on the rough road. I worry about the tires and springs and shocks wearing out, though. I might have to get them all tuned up before I make the drive back east in the fall.

Grants Pass was pretty much as I imagined it would be—a modern town with a historic downtown district which is quaint and western. I quickly found the post office, and got my keys to the P.O. box. The postmistress said, “Boy, you have a lot of mail! We had to put it all in a cage for you. Wheel around back and we’ll stack it on the loading dock.” By the time I pulled the car around, all my boxes and letters were stacked and waiting for me. I loaded up the car and Thule box, and then went to look for Dutch Bros. Coffee, which, as Lang promised, had free WiFi. And a mean iced chai. I checked my various e-mail accounts, posted to the blog, chatted with a couple of people, and then went to find the garden store. There, I bought $80 worth of stuff: starters of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, honeydew melon, watermelon, and herbs. I’m pretty sure I have seeds for peas and lettuce and carrots. And I plan to buy more vegetables when I head in again. I felt rushed. Couldn’t wait to get out of there and get back here. Four days in at the cabin, and I already can’t handle the noise and commotion of a town, even a small, slow-paced, western one. I did see many beautiful women, though! Hmm. After the garden store, I found a laundry place and did a load. Then I gassed up the car and a 5-gallon can for the power tools. The visit ended with a trip to Market of Choice, a really great supermarket. It rivals Whole Foods and doesn’t cost nearly as much. The section of bulk and dried items is one of the biggest I’ve seen, and the store has loads of organic stuff. It even had the Barbara’s Cheese Crunchies that I love! I’m much relieved to have such a fine grocery store to shop in. Again, I was in a hurry to get done and back on the road. I didn’t relish the thought of finding my way back and having to unlock and lock the gates in the dark. Of course, I waited in line, got ready to unload my carriage, and the checker said the debit/credit machine wasn’t working. I had to leave my carriage, drive to a bank, and use the ATM. By the time I returned, the machine was up and running again. Civilization can be so cruel. I almost aborted the shopping mission, but I didn’t want to have to make the drive any time too soon, so I bit the bullet. Tonight, spooning some Ben & Jerry’s, I was glad to have been patient. In the end, I made it back with plenty of time before darkness fell.

About a quarter mile before the first gate, I was welcomed by an owl! It flew to a tree near the side of the road, and I shut off the car, got out with the camera, and tried to snap some photos of it. It was too shadowy up in the trees so late in the day, and with the autofocus, I just couldn’t get a good shot. But I enlarged the photos and read up in my bird books, and as far as I can tell, it’s either a spotted owl or a barred owl. Both nest in coniferous forest. The spotted is considered rare and the barred numerous, but I’m leaning toward the former, not only because it seems the right size (a barred is around 21 inches, a spotted 18), but because the bars on the barred owl are pretty pronounced, and I thought I was seeing spots rather than bars. Below are the blurry pictures. Maybe a better birder (Lang?) can offer an opinion. Of course, I didn’t have the binoculars with me. I really need to remember to take them with me on all trips and walks. I hope to see it again, now that I know where it hangs out.

Approaching the cabin, I was also greeted by the local deer family. They’ve been coming around every day, and the most I’ve counted is seven. Two look pregnant. This is one of the younger ones, maybe a yearling.

It was fun to open mail. Genna S. sent me a huge book of New York Times Crosswords, and not the ridiculously hard ones! Thanks, G$! My sister Barbara sent Gussie his favorite soccer ball, which I’d left at my mom and dad’s. I can’t wait to mow the garden area, so he can chase it around in there. Roz Maiden, my replacement at school, sent me a batch of school mail, within which was an announcement that one of my creative writing students, Olga R., won a poetry contest. Go Olga! I had letters from dad and Neil Curry and a few students. It felt nice to know that people are thinking about me out here. Neil is coming to visit next month, all the way from England! He’s flying into Portland and then taking a bus to Medford or Grants Pass, where I’ll pick him up. That’ll be good action! I hope he plays cribbage. If not, I’ll teach him. It’ll be fun to have company, and I’m sure he’ll want some quiet time for writing and walking around, too. If all goes well, I’ll have my garden completely in shape by then, and perhaps some chickens, too. I’ve decided to convert the lower smokehouse, which isn’t functional because the pipe is completely full of dirt, into a small coop. It’ll be quite easy to secure; all I need to do is repair the door and add a chicken wire window to it. I can move nest boxes and roosts from the old coop. I found a feed store in Merlin today that sells chicks, but I prefer older birds. I can’t heat the young ones, and they won’t give me eggs for three months! I’ll have to find some mature, egg-laying hens. Her chicks were barred rocks, though, the breed I’ve always wanted! I’m hoping I can convince her to sell me two of her own mature hens, which I think she has, because she told me she sells fresh eggs. Keeping my fingers crossed. I also found another contact at the south side of Grants Pass. I’ll call there tomorrow about hens.

I cooked my first dinner here tonight. Bradley had prepared all the dinners while he was here. He’s a good cook, too! I made a meatloaf, because it was easy and I was tired from the long day on the bumpy roads. Rosemary, garlic, a little onion, pepper and salt, some Asiago cheese, breadcrumbs, an egg. I reheated leftover mashed potatoes and peas to go with it. With salad and a nice piece of seeded baguette, it was, as the Boydens say, “good action.” Gussie was all tuckered out.

I don’t think he enjoyed the ride much at all, especially having to wait in the car while I went inside places. It was only in the 60s, but I have a black car, and it gets warm. There’s no way I can take him into town when it gets hotter. It’ll be downright deadly to leave him in the car. I guess I’ll leave him in the cabin with the door opened to the deck. 

After dinner I unloaded my boxes of books and other stuff. I’d sent myself a whole box of assorted teas, which I arranged in the South African tea box G$ gave me. Such a nice way to store my tea. To my dismay, I don’t have a decent teapot. I thought for sure there’d be one here, but there’s just an old one, stained with iron deposits. I thought I’d mailed myself my Revere copper-bottom pot, but apparently I put it in storage. It wasn’t in any of the boxes I mailed to myself. I’ll buy one and make it one of my donations to DHH.

Garden work commences tomorrow. I need to mow first. The grass is out of control in there, and I picked up a tick on my pants just walking in there this evening for a handful of rosemary for my meatloaf. Once I’ve trimmed the grass down, I’ll till the beds and get my starters planted. I’d like to work out paths somehow. There’s one hole a bear dug on the southeast side of the fence. I need to patch that up and then I’ll turn on the juice and put out the bear licks, too. The licks are cans that I’ll fill with peanut butter and oats and hang on the electrified wires. When Mr. Bear licks it, he gets a jolt in his tongue and then has second thoughts about going near the garden! Those Boyden brothers are pretty crafty!

I fear I won’t get through even half a chapter in the Lewis and Clark book tonight. My eyes are closing here where I sit in the cozy recliner.


Friday, April 22nd

Finished this piece tonight. I’m thinking it might work as a chapter or section in a longer collection about living here:

Some Thoughts on Silence

Or, not quite silence. Inside the cabin there’s the tick of the wood stove; the buzz of two carpenter bees trapped between window and screen; an almost inaudible hiss from the propane fridge; a tapping in the tall, black stovepipe of heat and smoke passing flue toward the eye of light at the pipe’s end, and then light, day. And in that day, if I step out onto the deck or walk the path to the woodshed or the garden, there are shrieks and screeches and twitters and whistles; the whump, whump, whump, whumpwhumpwhumpwhump of a male grouse drumming its wings for a mate. Then a kind of hilarious cackling, the distinctive call of a pileated woodpecker. Then his woody hammering reverberating through the tall firs and madrones. Another sound, more constant but hardly noticeable, comes from the meadows, the garden, the edges of woods, the blackberry bushes, the apple trees, the eaves of the cabin—a simmering, seething, soothing buzz. Buzz of bees and flies of countless species, millions of them, all transmitting across the wires of breeze, full of meaning I can’t comprehend.

These are the sounds we do not hear in cities and suburbs, or even picnicking at the park, where we’re busy talking or listening to music or radio commercials or TV shows or movies; or hearing blaring horns; the grinding of gears in the engines of trucks, buses, vans and cars. Think of all the noise you hear in a single minute in New York City—jackhammers, brakes, barking of dogs, subways grumbling underfoot, metal doors closing on rollers, hydraulics hissing open, sirens, shouting, crying, laughing, horse shoes and boot soles clomping, heels clicking, sneakers squeaking, flip-flops flapping against heels. Of course, you won’t find a pileated woodpecker in most cities, though you might find a red-tailed hawk or a peregrine falcon. What do they think of all that noise? But even in the country, most of us, so unused to long periods of quiet, do not listen to the land around us—insects, birds, animals, wind, water. In a moment of rest, maybe we hear the drainpipe dripping, and we think how it sounds like someone clearing his throat over and over and over. Or we delight in sudden summer thunder, the promise of electricity in the air, dark clouds, heavy rain, wet streets steaming. Or we hear a bird call, but don’t know a sparrow from a sapsucker. Or, windows open, spring or summer or early fall, just before sleep, we hear the crickets and are reminded of camping trips we took as kids. We’re hearing nature, then, and that’s a good thing.

Listening to the natural world, I’ve learned, takes practice. In most places I’ve lived, I’ve tried my hand at it. I remember the sound of snow falling in the little parcel of woods I played in as a boy, in Rumford, Rhode Island, my twig fire vaporizing the flakes with its flames. Snow does make a sound as it settles on woods, and it’s the sound of smothering, of cold sleep, dreams and death. Later, north of Boston, in my brownstone apartment, I came to hate the fierce, ferocious, toothy screaming of raccoons on the fire escape. Shining a flashlight through the closed window, I’d expect to see the creatures from the movie Alien, hot spit dripping from fangs. Instead, black eyes ringed with white, these little narrow faces, looking either annoyed or interested, like an old couple peeking through the shades at some commotion in their yard. And it was their yard just as much mine. Iowa gave me a degree in listening, my major in winged things. In that flat landscape, I saw more crows gathered in one place than anywhere previously. Trees and lawns decorated with the black crepe of their wings, the black shivs of their beaks, the black shining gems of their busy eyes. It was a sight that haunted me, and later I wrote this poem:


For almost as long as the silence
that opens across this flat land
like the hand of a waving giant,

I have been carrying myself back
to the clearing where four roads
meet to look for the crows

I noticed when first I came here.
The black shapes lifting like ash
into evening, dark against dark,

were more than I had ever seen
in one place together, as though
they had come from some solitude

too wingless to bear, and banded
for the exchange of caws that might
break the deep quiet. So I find

myself returning here without hands,
accepting what depends on silence,
the multitudes that pile into one.

It’s been eleven years since I wrote that poem, and I no longer recall what I had in mind with the line “accepting what depends on silence.” The subject is “I,” the referent to what is “multitudes.” I may have simply liked the way the line sounded, the echo of the low E in “depends” and “silence,” but maybe there’s something to the notion that creatures—crows or people—when gathered en masse, rely on silence. We call that “getting away from it all,” solitude, the antithesis of multitude.

I came here to find solitude. Meanwhile, I’m tuning in to the din of this remote forest. At the pond I delight in the bass croak of a fat green bullfrog and in the higher peeps of other amphibians I’ve heard but haven’t yet seen. Out of a white PVC pipe, diverted creek water splashes into the pond, a steady pouring like a waterfall, a sound which drowns out the smaller sounds I know are there but which I cannot hear: rough-skinned newts everywhere hauling their poisonous skins through the grass along the pond’s edge, flies zipping here and there, a Mountain Chickadee shaking a thin limb as it takes flight. In the garden today, a baby garter snake slipping between blades of grass, a sound like string pulled across a leaf. Right now, beyond the airy hum of the solar inverter, I hear bats squeaking as they pass the window, bats quick and hungry and cleaning the night sky.

And there are some creatures that have made no sound at all. The other night, returning to the homestead from a trip into town, dusk falling, I saw wide wings drop through the fir trees lining the road and then alight, a fat, squat body I knew could only be an owl. I shut off the car, took the keys from the ignition to silence the beep the door would have made otherwise when I opened it, turned on my digital camera. When I stepped out, the owl didn’t fly. It spun its head. Dark eyes. Watchful. Wary. I thought for a second of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, the part when, at a Minnesota lodge on a trip to dodge the draft, Tim holes up with the old man, Elroy Berdahl, who owns the lodge. One night Elroy points to an owl and says, “Look, there’s Jesus.” Look, there’s Jesus, I thought. And then I tried to photograph it. The pictures came out blurry but clearly outlined, like pictures of miraculous sightings or UFOs. But it was a spotted owl, a miracle of evolution and holy to me then and there, and maybe that’s why O’Brien’s line came to me. When I tried for a closer look, a better photo, it flew, and flew as silent as a god. No flutter or flap or yelp of alarm. It could have been a chunk of the night detached and moved. And even when it landed again on the branch of another tree, talon touching wood made no scrape or scratch; the branch never shook.

Other birds have made up for the owl’s reticent silence. Down at the river the other day, fishing beneath an osprey nest, momma, annoyed at my proximity to her lofty digs, which may or may not have held fledglings (I’d left binoculars behind), cried persistently until I moved upriver. Her cry was like a seagull’s, but tinged with wildness and sharpness as if to say, “I have talons. I catch fish with my bare hands. This is my river. Move along. Now.” So I did. Later that same day, stepping through the sliding door onto my deck, I nearly collided with a hummingbird, which zoomed by like a giant bee, gave a squeak like a warped bicycle tire rubbing on metal, and darted away. I’ve since IDed it as a female Rufous. Another cry I’ve heard, like a sound clip out of Hitchcock, comes from the throat of a peregrine falcon. Or two of them. For the first few days I wasn’t sure what I was hearing: an injured hawk? an eagle? But on Wednesday Michael Bornstein, a biologist with the Bureau of Land Management, startled me in my garden, where I had the mower unit raging, earplugs in my ears. Michael, dressed like a biologist in a white hiking shirt, khaki pants and Gortex boots, explained that he was here to check on a pair of peregrines known to have nested last summer along the cliffs on the Kelsey Creek trail. He was hoping they were back, and he was going to try to call them out with a recording he’d play on a tape player. He returned a few hours later, sweaty and scratched and in need of a tall glass of ice water, which I offered. He’s seen them, all right. And his taped call had worked! Driving him out to the gate, I asked him to play the tape for me. No mistake: that was the call I’d been hearing. Michael and I parted with wishes that the peregrines would nest and not move on elsewhere.

So not really silence. Quiet. Hush. Peace. Tranquility. This is what I’m hearing. The woods make a music both ceaseless and ever-changing. At first light I hear the riffs of the Steller’s jays, blue-winged, black-crested, and as boisterous as the blue jays I’m used to back east. Last night, as soon as darkness fell, a spotted owl—the same I’d seen the other evening, or another, I don’t know—launched forth its three-note hoot, a sound full of promise and hunger. With cupped hands and joined thumbs, I returned the call, and we kept up this conversation until I tired of not knowing what we were saying and went to bed. There are other instruments in this ceaseless symphony I have yet to identify. Do lizards make sounds? Do digger squirrels? What does a mountain lion sound like when it yawns and shows its big teeth?

Since arriving here, the thought has crossed my mind that I haven’t listened to my CDs or to the radio or to my iPod, a marvelous music player capable of holding more songs than I’d ever have time or inclination to play. I love my music collection. Before coming here, I listened to music two hours a day on my commute to work. Maybe another hour at home. On weekends, I went to hear live music at coffeehouses, bars, concert halls. I’ve been here a week now and have not turned on any of the various music players available to me. Why? Am I afraid I’ll miss something? Or would it be like adding a kazoo to a string quartet—music that’s just out of place? Maybe I’m still so new to wilderness living that I don’t want to miss anything. I want to hear every creature, every bit of passing breeze, every drop of water dripping.

Aside from Michael Bornstein’s visit and two passing planes and the various phone calls I’ve made or received, the outside world has not intruded on my solitude. I haven’t read a newspaper in over a week. I haven’t listened to the radio except on my one ride into town. Even then I tuned in only long enough to hear the weather forecast and to learn that there’s a new pope at the Vatican. I don’t miss the endless palaver of news, the exaggerated importance of every event deemed worthy of broadcasting on radio or television. I don’t miss the noise of the so-called civilized world. Running errands in Grants Pass the other day, I couldn’t wait to leave. The city sounds were cacophonous to these ears of mine, which had become accustomed already to quiet. Not silence. No, silence is what the dead hear. This place is living, and I am living in it.

Sunday, April 24th

Well, my three days of sun were just perfect. I worked hard in the garden and around the house and homestead, getting many chores done. I mowed all of the garden area (took me almost all day), rototilled three big beds, planted all my seedlings and some seeds I had (carrots, cilantro, peas, arugula), weedwhacked the fenceline, and set the electric fence. The way the latter works is this: there are three wires at various heights attached to the main fence. When I turn on the 12-volt charger, those wires are electrified. The battery is fed by a solar panel. There’s a needle that tells me whether I’m charged up or not. If not, it means something has fouled the charge by touching the wire. This is why I must weedwhack around the fence. Any stray piece of grass touching the wire, and Mr. Bear has an invitation to come in and sample my produce. Aside from using Roundup (which I really don’t want to do), I can’t think of a good alternative to keeping the weeds in check. A controlled burn would work, but also dangerous, and I don’t have the flamethrower unit to do it. Weedwhacking must continue. Another garden task was to do some heavy weeding on the ever-bearing strawberry patch, which was completely overrun with thistle and mint and other invasive nasties. I got it all cleared out after many hours of pulling and shoveling and raking. I plan to mulch it this week. Then I should have strawberries well into the summer! It’s nice to have the garden all cleared up and mowed. It’s a great off-leash hangout place for Gussie, who occupies himself for hours digging at the holes made by ground squirrels. He comes away with a filthy snout and paws, grass all caught in his beard. I’ve given him a couple of baths after these adventures, but it’s so much work, and messy, that I think I just need to let him be a country dog: dirty. I’ve been experimenting with letting him off-leash. Yesterday we went down to the river to try to fish again. Gus was a real nuisance to have on the retractable leash on such a steep trail. And when I tied him up down at the river, he was distraught. He wanted to explore so badly. I let him loose, and he had a good go of it. I struck out with the fishing again. Bradley says the fish may have all headed down to the ocean again, but that I should keep trying. He says I should try for Chinook salmon in Kelsey Creek where it empties into the Rogue. That’s next on my fishing agenda. I let Gus go off-leash all the way back up to the cabin (a steep hike of a little over a mile, and a real aerobic workout). He ran through poison oak, of course, and so I gave him a bath and used the Technu on him. Technu is a product that washes off poison oak oil. The stuff really works. I lathered myself with it afterward. No sign of poison oak rash yet; knock on wood. Today, I continued the off leash experimentation here around the cabin and also up at the pond. During the latter jaunt, he wouldn’t come back in the car, so I drove back down and he ran alongside. I was careful to go slow and not run him over. Apparently, he wanted to make his own way home and not get a ride.

Here he is one of the trips when he did want a ride:

I let him off-leash again late this afternoon while I was washing the muck from my car. Again, he stuck around, and came inside. I think he’s learning. My philosophy is that if I keep him locked in the house or on the leash all the time, he’s going to bolt whenever he gets the chance; but if I let him wander around often, it won’t be a big deal and he’ll stick around. I think my philosophy is sound. He doesn’t obey a “Come” command, especially when he’s off galavanting, but as long as he’s not running off and getting lost, he’ll come back to where I am and where the food is.

I wrote my first poem this morning, out on the deck, coffee steaming in a mug on the table beside me. I was intrigued by the mists, which were once again snaking up out of the canyon I look out upon. Here’s the draft, though it may be finished:

Mists of the Rogue River Canyon

Giant white snakes
     made of water and wind,
           or the breath of everyone

from here to Portland
     taken away and hidden
           in ridges of fir and pine, shapes

made by things I know—
     a pelican; a mushroom; the letter
           O (ocular occurrence, ocean

foam); smoke ring blown
     by a god. I see them
           most often early in the morning

or late in the day,
     when the light and I are lazy,
           my next task as unclear

as a cataracted eye.
     For how long have the mountains
           had this habit?

And if not upon my making
     sense of them, upon what
           do these huge serpents prey?

I could say what science
     might—that mist is nothing
           more than liquid turned to vapor—

but where does that leave
     the god but with an empty pipe,
           foam and pelican at the coast,

and the O, now a U,
     unimpressed by the serpent
           and all those people breathing?

I didn’t think to photograph the mists in the morning (I was too into writing the poem), but they were back again late this afternoon, but with less dramatic shapes:

It felt good to write a poem, even a simple meditation on nature. I’m reminded that all I need to do is take pencil to paper, and it happens. I need to stop working so much on the homestead and start writing more. One obstacle to that: I fried the solar inverter the other night. I tried running my laser printer on it and had the laptop plugged in, too. Sparks flew, the fuse blew, smoke issued out. I tried changing the fuse, but then came more smoke and the smell of cooked wires. It’s shot. I’ve been in contact with Bradley, and we’re sending it off to be fixed (provided it’s still under warranty, and we need Frank to check on that). In the meantime, I’m losing battery juice by the letter even as I type this. I’ll try charging in my car on the ride to town tomorrow (yes, I bought a car DC/AC inverter for the laptop), but I don’t know if two hours of driving will fully charge even one battery. We’ll see. I’m thinking I may break down and buy a second solar inverter, my donation to the residency program: this way, if one craps out, the writer can still write on a laptop. Provided it doesn’t break the bank, I’d be happy to do this.

After three days of sun and warm temps, we were back to rain showers yesterday and today. At least it’s not a steady, gray rain. The sun appears, then another squall comes through, then the sun appears again. My garden is liking it! I tried to catch the forecast tonight on the radio, but all I heard was music and commercials. NPR comes in loud and clear, but it was playing classical stuff. No weather reports.

Here are some photos from the last few days.

A sampling of wildflowers I saw on the trail to the river. I need a wildflower guide to ID them.

These wild irises are everywhere. I think I’ve seen a million of them. No lie. And I don’t tire of looking at them! I’m reminded of Louise Gluck’s book of poems by that title. I want to read the title poem again, but I didn’t bring it with me.

It’s hard to see, but this is a whole field of purple wildflowers.

Gussie running on the trail.

This is a shot from where I park my car --- looking toward deck of cabin and the garden in the distance.

With the return of the rain came the return of the mud.

Spider web between deck rails. … “till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul!”

The moon rises over Rattlesnake Ridge (named by Lang Cook, a previous resident, who saw lots of rattlers when he hiked along it). Each night it’s been beautiful. Here’s a shot when it was still pretty light out.

A night shot.

And another.

After I shot those moon photos, I came inside and took this one of Gus. That couch is comfy! It’s my preferred writing spot inside. Check out the propane lamp burning above it. It’s so cozy to walk around and light them when it gets dark. The one above my bed is bright to read by, too. No need for the Peltzer headlamp, as I thought. It’s a wonder, too, to shut off that last lamp, watch the mantle go from bright white to red to darkness. Then my eyes adjust and I’m looking straight up at the skylight showing the stars. So, every night I sleep beneath (a small square patch of) the stars.

Birds I’ve seen so far (I haven’t been actively birding at all). Several others have flown by at time when I was without binoculars and so could not ID them. I’ve heard warblers, too, but again, haven’t been actively watching. I plan to soon.

Pileated Woodpecker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Spotted Owl
Steller’s Jay (a pair are nesting in the fir outside the side door)
Rufous Hummingbird
Wild Turkey
Ruffed Grouse
Common Merganser
Peregrine Falcon (heard by me; seen by BLM biologist)

Today I fired up the wood cook stove in the cabin. This is a different stove from the one I use to heat the place. That stove is two feet to the left of the cook stove. Bradley and I worked on the cook stove a bit while he was here, and he assured me that it’s in fine working order. He said that last year’s residents didn’t use it at all. I lit a fire in it today, and heated the teapot (yes, I found one!) for tea. Having both stoves going gave me plenty of hot water, too. The fire box is sort of small, so I’ll need smaller pieces of firewood, but I think I’ll use this stove sometimes for cooking simple dishes and for making tea and coffee. It’s an old beauty. Before electricity or natural gas, this is what people cooked on! Those poor women. They must have been master firekeepers.

Nine days in, five of them in complete solitude. I did see six or seven men in drift boats pass by on Saturday, but I only said “Good morning” or nodded as they passed. The first few boaters didn’t even see me standing there casting the fly rod. The last man asked, “You hiking?” I replied, “I am.” He must have wondered why I didn’t look too trail-worn.

The solitude is strange but not depressing. There is much to do around here to keep me busy; indeed, I haven’t rested or read much at all. If I’m not cooking or cleaning or doing dishes, I’m working in the garden, mowing, fixing stuff, clearing the road and trail, keeping the pond trimmed and clear of debris, washing clothes, hanging clothes to dry. The cycle repeats. I’m enjoying cooking on the Weber and the little propane stove, and have made some good meals. Last night I made a big batch of oatmeal-raisin cookies from scratch. Had no walnuts, so used sunflower seeds, which gave them an interesting and not unpleasant taste. On my shopping list: walnuts and chocolate chips. Cookies are a must-have at any writing residency. Blue Mountain taught me that. Tonight for dinner I had a pan-fried chicken breast topped with chopped olives and scallion (from the garden), steamed carrots, fried potatoes (I copied Garrison Market’s style of fries, which are sliced wedges, lightly salted), mesclun salad with homemade vinaigrette, and Greek pita. Not bad for being way out in the wilderness.

Dana, if you read this, you’re probably laughing. You know I’m serious about my food!

Okay, must turn in. Early start tomorrow, as I’m heading in to town to mail off the broken inverter and to do all my other errands. Till next time….


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The first four days...

Friday, April 15, 2005

I’m Here!

Bradley and I arrived around 2 pm after a nice ride down from Portland. The sky, patchy with clouds and fog, spit on us a bit, but for the most part it was bright and mild, the sun breaking through over the mountains. We stopped in Roseburg to gas up and have a lunch, and then we pushed on to Riddle, the exit off of 1-5 to get to the cabin.

In Riddle there are lumber mills stacked sickeningly high with timber, what were once majestic trees.

The road in from Riddle is paved for about 30 or 40 miles, but it’s a winding drive through beautiful country. Rivers and creeks and conifer trees abound.

The road climbs pretty steadily up into the mountains, and at the higher elevations we encountered snow, which was a foot deep in small stretches on the shady sides of the passes. Somebody had already blazed tracks through the snow, and with Bradley in front of me in his Toyota 4x4, I made it through easily in my CR-V.

In one 40-foot stretch, it was touch-and-go; I came to a stop, my tires spinning. But I reversed and drove forward, and I was out. It was pretty exhilarating. At the Dutch Henry Road the pavement turns to dirt. The last ten miles to the cabin descend into a deep canyon along this dirt road.

A couple of miles down it, we had a most unfortunate encounter with a couple of good ol’ boys. They were driving around in a huge pick-up fitted with chains. It was this truck which had blazed the tracks through the snow. Bradley got out to investigate, and it turned out that driver was a local guy interested in the castle, which is going up for auction next month. He and his buddy were driving around drinking beer (it was 1:30 in the afternoon). Bradley, thinking it best to just let them know our deal, told them about the residency. They took note of my New York tags. “My son wants to be one of them writers. Doesn’t get it from his old man,” said the driver. The man talked nonstop, and it became clear after about two minutes that all he wanted to do was get in and see our place and have an open invitation to come down there and fish. Bradley did his best to evade, hemming and hawing and explaining that I’ll be down there to write and that I’ll want my solitude, yada yada yada. But the good ol’ boy couldn’t be dissuaded from trying. I was eager to get extracted from this inauspicious meeting, but it went on for nearly a half-hour. We finally said goodbye and dropped down to the gates, where Bradley and I commiserated. I fear I haven’t seen the last of these critters, and it worries me to know that people know I’m in here. Bradley says it may be good that they know I’m here, because they’ll be less likely to come snooping. I don’t know. One measure to increase my peace of mind: we installed two new killer locks on the gates. When we finally pulled up to the cabins, it was about 2:30 and the weather was clear.

We unloaded our stuff, turned on the water to both houses, checked out the garden, tried with no success to get the phone working, and then parted—Bradley to go prepare our salmon dinner, me to set up my house a bit. I cleaned out the moldy fridge and tended to Gus, who twice got loose and romped around the huge yard. At around 7:00, Gus and I drove up to the upper house, flashlight and camera in hand. The salmon dinner was delicious, huge fillets Bradley had caught and cleaned himself on a fishing trip last summer in Puget Sound.

He prepared them with some fresh rosemary from the huge shrub of it in the garden, and we had asparagus and rice to go with it. Gus got to sample some salmon skin, which was, no surprise, much to his liking.

After dinner we toasted our entry with a couple of Cuban cigars, compliments of Sharen, and a cribbage match.

It was nice to play with someone who counts quickly. I won, two games to one. We plan to resume the match tomorrow night. Gussie was all pooped out, as was I, but here I am back at my cabin, and it’s 1:00 am and I’m still up. When I got back here tonight, I put away all my clothes and got my bed all set up. It feels nice to lay here and see my bedroom all done. I’ve got a fire going in the stove, and a propane lamp burning above the bed. Through the skylight directly above my bed, I can’t see any stars, for the clouds have rolled in. It will likely be raining when I awaken. It’s bright and cozy beneath the lamp and the skylight, but now it’s time to sleep.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Seven deer inch through the meadow below the barn. They wear their winter coats. One yearling sports a softer tan. They all appear to be does. I see no horns. Two of them are fat-bellied. There is plenty of food for them now, but they may be pregnant. I’ll have to ask Bradley about that.

It was a chilly 39 degrees when I arose, and the mercury has only crept up a half-degree. But no rain falls, and that’s a blessing. It’s been raining on and off since we arrived. Yesterday we turned on the irrigation water. “No leaky!” — despite the pipe being lifted in one place by a downed tree. While we were up by the spring, we stopped at the pond, and Mr. Bullfrog was up on the bank. He’s a huge guy that Bradley and Lang transplanted here last summer. The pond and ground is full of rough-skinned newts, purported to be one of the most toxic creatures on earth. Their skin is highly poisonous. They can be picked up, but not licked or eaten. I asked Bradley about their natural predators, and he said that there’s one type of garter snake which through natural selection developed immunity to the toxin. Where can I find these snakes? The newts are too numerous and nasty (constantly mating) that I don’t think I’ll swim in the pond. And I’m afraid Gus will chomp down a newt before I can stop him, and that’ll be that. After turning on the irrigation system, we fired up the rototiller, a monster of a machine, and brought it to the garden. We tilled one bed, but it was too muddy, so we quit, covered the motor with a garbage can, and left it there for a dryer time. After lunch, I fired up the generator and vacuumed the place. The floor was a mess and I was tired of stepping on wood splinters. In the afternoon, Bradley came up with all the fly-tying equipment and gave me a lesson in tying the tried-and-true Rogue River fly pattern, one which can’t be found in fly shops because it’s a Boyden invention. He assembled the vice on the kitchen table, spread out all the feathers and threads and colorful chenille, and tied up a beautiful fly on a #6 hook.

He’s a good teacher, and I think I’ll be able to do it on my own. We rigged up the house rod and reel, too, mine being too small and the line too old and without backing. Then we geared up and hiked down to the river to fish. The trail is steep, descending into the canyon, and it’s beautiful, big forest. Huge firs, lichens, mosses, madrones, live oaks, and an early assortment of wildflowers.

We picked bay leaves going down, yerba Buena coming up. I’m drying some of the latter for tea. We found a few deer ticks on our pants, much to our dismay. The river was high and colored, and we fished it hard, but not a single strike. Just above the swimming hole, there’s an osprey nest. It was occupied, with young, last year, and appears to be again. The ospreys were flying pretty close to us, and I thought I could see fledglings in the nest (didn’t bring binoculars).

I saw one fish surface and turn not far from my fly, but I don’t think it was going after it. I think it came up for some real food. Bradley said it may be too late for the steelhead, that they may be downriver already. But I’ll keep trying. And I’ll try for a Chinook in the mouth of Kelsey Creek. By the time we walked back up, I was exhausted. It’s a steep trail, about a mile long. I’m out of shape from too many days sitting in a car and lying around hotel rooms. I need to walk more and get in shape.

So much for it not raining. It’s coming down again. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Another wet, misty morning. Bradley leaves today, and I plan to follow him out as far as the road to Merlin and then Grants Pass. I need to take care of a few things. My long distance calling card PIN isn’t working, so I’ve been unable to make LD calls on the radio phone. I was also unable to program autodial into the phone’s mic, so I’m bringing it to Sis-Q Communications to have it reconfigured. While I’m in town, I’m going to retrieve my mail at the P.O. box, do some shopping for food and supplies, get online, let Gus see some dogs and people, and then head back in. I don’t want to have to make the drive back in the dark. It’s a long trip on bad roads with poor signage.

I’m looking forward to a day off! Bradley worked me middling hard, but it was good, muscle-flexing work: clearing one trail of fallen trees; moving firewood; mowing around the perimeter of the garden (I have a lot more mowing to do!); tilling a bed; and “various and sundry” other maintenance jobs and instruction. All in all, he gave me a great orientation to the place, though it’s a lot to remember, and I’m sure I’ll find myself at some point thinking, “Didn’t Bradley show me how to do that?” But a day off. Yes. I’m looking forward to that. But first I have my own chores I want to get done. I need to mow the whole yard. The grass is high and it’s an invitation to ticks. I’ve already found several. Last night I got in bed under the lamp to read, and there was a tiny tick on the comforter! I’ve been searching myself before showering, of course, and searching Gus, too. He’ll need another dose of Frontline next week. I also want to get the garden beds tilled so I can plant. I hope to pick up starters and seeds today. I’d like to get the grass mowed beneath the fruit trees in the garden, too, so I can let Gus romp off-leash there. I’ve been reluctant to let him run around too much. It’s muddy and wet. And the woods are lovely, dark and deep, but full of potential dangers, not the least of which is poison oak. All I need is for Gus to run through some of that, and next time I pet him, I’ll have it all over me. So, it’s a leash for now. I’m not quite sure what Gus thinks of the place. I think he’s waiting for us to pack up in the car and move on to the next place. Nine days of doing that became routine for him. I took him swimming up at the pond yesterday, and that put a smile on his face. He jumped in three or four times, and seemed oblivious to the rough-skinned newts. I can’t wait to show him the river.

It was a bit warmer this morning: 41 on the thermometer when I first got up. My morning routine is to wake, get the fire going again in the wood stove, start water for coffee, let Gus out to do his business, and then have some breakfast. After that, Bradley has come down and we’ve gone off to work the day away. Soon I’ll be constructing my own schedule, and finding more time to write and read and garden and watch birds and photograph wildflowers and mushrooms and critters.

The radio phone has been a nuisance so far. We couldn’t figure out how to dial out for t he first few days. Yesterday we straightened that out, finally getting in touch with the company that provides service. But I can’t make LD calls. And I can’t make a collect call, either. So, I’ve been unable to contact family and friends. I did receive two calls yesterday! Lang called to see how the installation was going and to offer his regrets on being unable to attend. And Neil Curry called all the way from England! He’s planning to come stay a week in late May, a great time to come. The weather will have improved, and the place will be lush by then. The birding, Bradley tells me, will be phenomenal. Neil likes his birds as much as I do. I’m excited to be hosting somebody, though I hope he’s not too put-off by the primitive amenities. I don’t think he will be.

No pictures in this post, sorry to say.

Till next time,