Saturday, August 12, 2017

To the Woods Again

Ten years ago some of you heard me say that I wish to live only until August, 2017, to see a total eclipse of the sun.  Most of you said, “What eclipse?”  Now the entire country is gripped in captivity to a current fashion called “Eclipse Mania.”  I might have had to find another reason to live until August 21 if it were not for Michael Angerman and his longstanding invitation to his home near the Line of Totality.  So it has come to this.  Rain or shine, I shall be in Corvallis, Oregon, and a day early to avoid the onslaught of raucous eclipseites that Corvallis expects.    

Nine hundred miles is a long way to drive for a two-minute moon-shadow that will darken the day, if it is not already darkened by clouds.  So I will combine a projected end of life with and extension—a return to the north woods around Oakridge, Oregon, near Corvallis, to retrace treks of that 2011 winter shown in the remainder of this blog.  I hope you will join me here and leave comments or responses to the email.  

What follows in this blog post are memories of that winter adventure with hope that you will, as I, try to visualize summer transformations.

“Round and round and up and down we go again,” if you’re not too dizzy.  If you’re ready for another string of emails and blog posts that attempt to suck you into another vortex of Shanronness and Chubby Checker.  

You don’t have to buy the philosophy of going to a damp, whiskey-drenched, ex-logging town, but you can, I hope, enjoy the trip.  Many of you have said to me things like, “The challenge of immensity and extremes bring out your best,” or “What will you do when all the world settles down?”  I will spin tales about the good old days.

Above Oakridge, Highway 58 goes where the snow is eight feet deep.  We headed up there—me, my little pickup, and my spirit.  No one, to my knowledge, brought antique wooden Nordic skis from Norway and worked them in fresh snow far from the ticket-paying crowd—none but me.  I brag about my skis because if you see me ski, there’s not much style to brag about.  

together in paradise
aghast, ashamed
heads bowed     

We sang old timber songs back at Berkeley—forestry undergrads, filled with logging romance, believing we were stronger and smarter than those literature ninnies dabbling in “fuzzy studies.”  We could handle cold, and would stand out there as though we had lived and worked and logged in wet so long that we were no longer capable of distinguishing it from dry.  I’m a sissy today by comparison.  And more of a sissy tomorrow.  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Return from the Woods

Tomorrow morning I will head for Southern California, away from the dense, damp woods of the Oregon Cascades.  Leavings are hard; I seldom feel good about them.  No exception here.  I wanted to walk in the woods of a town with hope and optimistic plans, but found that mixed with delusion.  

Maybe the town will return to quiet country living, like it was before the railroad came in 1910 and changed it into a thriving lumber town.  A wave came to Oakridge, rose and broke, and some say it can happen again.  It will rise again for another kind of ride—on mountain bikes, these minority optimists say.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Larison Rock

I started early this morning because it’s long way to Larison Rock.  You may remember my heading there on February 20 and turning back about halfway because the snow became deep.  I called it a Ginkgo Walk and suggested that my pictures taken along the way might serve as canvasses for your haiga.  Many of you responded, and I posted your haiga on March 5.

Today, again, on that north-facing slope, above Oakridge, I ascended the trail to a ridge, then south along the ridge, in land dominated by old-growth douglas fir and cedar.  The trail climbs from 1,300 feet to 3,700 and I expected snow again near the top.  But this time I went prepared. 

It was raining when I started on the snowless trail, but I carried snowshoes in my pack for the upper, colder, snowy part.  I wore rain gear, and knew that boots and gloves are never completely waterproof.  It didn’t matter in the rain, but temperature would surely drop with elevation, and if it dropped much below freezing, then wet feet and hands could become targets for frostbite. 


The green lush woods with their fresh-smelling moss and little trickles of rainwater are a nice change from when I walked here on dry ground.  Uphill exertion reduced the cold, and I enjoyed the deep green of a rainy forest. 


This old douglas fir was burned some hundred years ago in a forest fire.  It has recovered and wrapped itself around the wound, making a homey nest for forest creatures and a rhododendron to guard its entrance.


Halfway up, rain gave way to falling snow, and old snow gained a depth of two or more feet as expected.  Wind had brought down needles and little branches onto the snow, giving it an old appearance.   I put on the snowshoes, and trudged ahead, much slower now.


My feet and hands were wet, as expected, and I knew that they would not stand much decrease in temperature.  It was about twenty degrees, much warmer than the twenty below I had withstood in International Falls, but the difference was in having wet gloves and socks.


 I didn’t actually make it to Larison Rock.  I had half a mile to go, and my toes were going numb.  I had an hour’s walk back to lower temperature.  It’s not so much cold that freezes toes, it’s wet and cold combined.  So I turned back just a half mile short. Anyone who has seen frostbitten toes and felt the precursor numbness, or rather not felt their toes, would be proud of me.  Maybe I have returned from all these hikes because making the goal is not my goal.  I just go until it feels wrong to keep going. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Duck Feet

Snow shoes today.  Big wide feet of an Oregon Duck.  I started on skis, carrying snowshoes in my pack, but the trail would likely become too steep for skis.  The repaired ski boots worked perfectly, and I was happy to have beaten another modern scene and avoided change.  Eventually, the terrain turned steep, and nobody had broken trail.  I left the skis behind a tree, to retrieve on return, and continued on snowshoes to Marilyn Lakes.

If a person goes through what I’ve been through to visit quiet snowy woods, she ought to learn something. All the stuff I gather, just to get through.  Paraphernalia for lost and desperate souls?  What did I learn? 

Sensual curves of eight-foot deep snow
What do they hide?


Snowshoe tracks

Heads will roll
I feel it coming
Mine will soon roll

Shadows on snow-covered Marilyn Lake

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cascade Haiga

Thanks to all who sent haiga based on pictures I’ve posted here.  I have not intentionally left any out.  Please let me know if I have.

My understanding of haiga: 
When a photograph leads an inquiring mind away from its literal content, and such thoughts become words in the haiku form, the poet is like a hiker leaving a trailhead.  The words do not just describe the picture, but lead the reader along a path, deeper into the woods.

fits like a glove
my new winter jacket
is green

this spring
I hope to sprout
a green thumb

Wet tree shivers above
Its chilly head becomes you
     Steven Radice

our skype call
new snow on the mountains
your loud free voice

I fall in love
with winter
my changed perspective

deep cobalt blue
in the firs, snow
branches reach skyward
     Susan Rogers 

jet trail
so white so sure
I watch it disappear



Two churches
for every bar
salvation abounds
     Lois P Jones 


Cold Toes, meet Warm Water.
Warm Water, meet Cold Toes.
Oh! You know each other?
     Steven Radice 


the fixed place
is perennial
yet life
will break again
somewhere else
     Kathabela  (This one is tanka)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Deep Snow

I suppose another Nordic ski-day in deep snow is like another walk in Pasadena, on streets as similar as Catalina and Mentor.  Snow is still white and clings to trees like it did a few days ago skiing to Gold Lake and shown on my blog post, “Snow People.”  If I do it tomorrow in a different place, the pictures will look about the same, and life becomes mundane.  How many exciting sights and insights come from deep snow?  I venture to conjure that they are limitless, in the same way that insights from Catalina and Mentor Streets are to inquisitive minds.

Many of you observe more on a walk to the mailbox than I do along the Pacific Crest Trail, suspended eight feet above the ground on two thin boards that keep me from sinking.  If you were there today, your writings might bear much more than you see here.  But you were not there.  Nobody had been on that trail for at least three days.  See in the pictures below how the trail is barely discernible, having only a slight trough to show that somebody had traveled on skis.  The picture at the left shows my tracks today.  I know they skied and used poles because the imprints of their poles are also barely seen as small regular dips in the foot of snow over them.  And it was only one person, otherwise the pole imprints would be closer together.  This person might have been on snow shoes, not skis, you say.  No, because snow shoes leave big footprints that would appear as big dips, not the linear railroad tracks left by skis.  

These were the initial things I thought about while starting from Willammette Pass on a hiker’s highway as long as Interstate Five.  I could follow it all the way back to Pasadena with enough time and stamina.  I’d continue south atop of the Cascades as I did today, then along the crest of the Sierras as I did last summer, then topping the San Gabriels, and home.

I did not worry about getting lost because my tracks are as clear as a railroad in the desert, and the light snowfall today will not cover them completely.  Also, the trail is marked with blazes on trees and small blue tags that are mostly intervisible.  Someone had the foresight to put the markers at least ten feet above the ground.  Walking on snow this deep is a bit like walking on a frozen lake, I’d fall through and get nowhere without something to spread my weight.  The skis are doing that like little bridges, bending under my feet, springing back when I lift a foot.

My destination is Rosary Lake, where I expect to find an old woman with a string of beads; each bead reminds her of a prayer.  But about three miles in, and almost to the lake I fell over sideways in the snow and lay there puzzled as to how it could happen.  An easy stretch of trail, no obstacle in view.  I rolled myself out from thick snow, pulled myself up on a tree and sat on my skis.  I found that my boot had come apart, and its thick rubber sole that attaches to the ski was severed from the rest of the boot (see picture).  Without the support of a well attached boot, the ski had moved of its own accord, not allowing me to steer it, thus the fall.

I sat there in deep snow for some time considering the ramifications of this mishap.  I was three miles in and would turn back without reaching Rosary Lake; that much was clear.  I could remove the ski and perhaps make it back on one ski, though I had never skied on one ski.  I could use the skiless foot for some control.  But the boot was no longer a shield against the snow and walking on a boot in this condition would push snow in against my foot.  It would begin getting cold, and over three miles, frostbite was inevitable.  I carry some chemical heating pads in my daypack in case of emergency; they produce heat for about five hours, long enough to hobble back.  I could put three of them inside my sock and outside my inner sock.  But then it seemed that with snow pressing in, their heat would melt the snow and perhaps cause more cold against my foot than if I didn’t use them.

The first idea that comes to mind in a dangerous situation has seldom worked for me.  I have to stew about a problem like this before something practical comes to mind.  I guess if a bear were chasing me it might be different, but in this case, I told myself to stew.

Let’s try skiing on it just as it is, I decided.  The trail has been uphill most of the way to here, it will be downhill going back.  Maybe I can slide along, maintaining control with the poles and the good boot, allowing the broken boot to stay flat against the top of the ski, keeping snow away from my foot.  Controlling the descent with only one good boot would not be easy, but maybe I could do it.  Then before getting up to try this solution, I stopped myself and stewed some more. 

There is one more thing I can do to make the downhill trip safer.  My skis are the old wooden kind, and have one advantage over modern skis.  Modern plastic skis gain traction for uphill with little ridges on the bottom that dig into the snow.  The ridges are shaped for minimal impedance to downhill sliding.  It’s a tradeoff with modern skis between uphill mobility and downhill speed, and the tradeoff is fixed at the factory.  Wood skis do not have ridges, but depend on wax for uphill traction.  Waxes come in different stiffnesses, and choosing a wax depends on the temperature of the snow—too soft a wax and the skis build up snow going downhill and sliding comes to a stop—too hard a wax and you have no traction going uphill.  So I thought that instead of using a normal wax for this snow temperature, why not use a softer wax, instead?  Snow will build up on the skis and allow downhill travel like a hiker, one step at a time.  It would be slower, but safer, and compensate for having only one ski with which to control my descent.  So I got out my packet of waxes and used the cork block to smooth a coat of soft wax on both skis. 

And so it is that you read this.  Otherwise, well—Safe living is for the young.

Those bristles poking through the snow are not grass, but tops of four-foot to eight-foot trees.  Notice the slight dip in the trail where somebody skied several days ago, before a foot or two of new snow.  A blue tag on a tree marks the trail.

My trail left behind.  I will follow it home.

The trail is more distinct here, easier to follow.

Under this log, a person might find refuge.

The forest is very quiet today, no birdsong, no scurry of squirrel, only day-old tracks of deer.  So I took this picture of my only companion.

Who lives in this safehouse with insulated roof and unscalable walls?

Skis keep going, I follow.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Oregon in the late 1800’s had one major impediment to logging—lack of transportation.  That was removed by the railroad, and loggers spread out into the limitless forest of oldgrowth douglas fir.  Humans increased and the big old trees decreased, replaced by fast-growing young trees that are still being harvested in limited numbers.

Now the predator is returned.  Not lack of physical transportation, but government regulations prevent logging.  I think of it like Yellowstone National Park, where in 1926 wolves were removed.  Elk increased and willow, which elk eat, decreased.  Now wolves have been brought back, elk decrease, willows increase, and other species come back that were driven off by lack of willow.  

Here in the Oregon woods, one species in particular tries to increase with the removal of wolves (loggers).  Tourists come here to enjoy the quietness and strenuous exercise available in forests so different from their native high-rise wilderness.  They like it natural, free from big clanking logging machines.  The new regulations provide nicely for their needs, and towns like Oakridge poise with amenities the travelers want.  Such has been the talk around here for the past twenty years—talk that has brought little fulfillment.

The same governments that stopped logging and encouraged Oakridge to develop tourism have made tourism nearly impossible.  Parking is not allowed in the national forest, which owns all the forest except for a few spots of private land.  They say that permits for parking can be purchased, but only during certain hours at locations far from the places where parking is desired.  Three kinds of permits are available depending on where you want to park and they are not all sold at the same place.  I have found a few ways into the national forest by parking on private land and walking or skiing to a few places.  Most of the national forest is unavailable.  The US Forest Service has, in addition, locked gates on most of the old logging roads to prevent entry, and in many places, has shoved piles of dirt to prevent entry, or scarified the roads to make them impassable.

The talk in every cafĂ©, bar, and store is of deception and over-regulation by state and federal government.  For example, residents can no longer heat their houses with wood, and visitors cannot burn wood, even though dead wood is plentiful.  Only on days when permission is granted in the previous day’s newspaper, is wood burning allowed because of supposed air pollution.  So residents who traditionally burned wood as their only heat, now have to install electric or gas heaters.  And visitors who enjoy the ambiance of a wood fire must do without.

I could cite more examples, but am getting tired of so much anger and frustration.  Tomorrow I will get back to nature.  I keep learning ways to sneak around the officials that protect us.  Sorry to have bothered you.