Last May, deep in the Owyhee River Canyon in southeast Oregon, I held an Obsidian spear tip in my hand. Then the guide took it back and placed it high on a tree branch so that the next group of rafters he took down the river would be able to see it.  Obsidian and other artifacts in the nearby caves had been looted, and nothing remains. Had the tip been put on the ground, somebody would have picked it up and kept it.


Obsidian point, still down in Owyhee Canyon

A day later, I saw a field of boulders with petroglyphs, wondering as others have wondered, what they meant.  In ancient times, some were defaced to rewrite history, but far too many, a few dozen, showed scars from petroglyph vandalism, sold for profit, forever lost from view. The scarring was ugly, detracting from what should have been a sacred site.  Instead, somebody profited greatly.  Maybe I should be grateful: so far, they haven’t had gang vandalism, often called “tagging,” as if such were a game instead of wanton desecration.






Rewriting history


Removing history


Allowing one to wonder

I often stood high over the cliffs of the Canyon and marveled at the views, watching out, of course, for cow pies, since it is possible to graze cattle on public land for a pittance, but if I happen to hit one of those cows while driving on a public road, I am liable.  Those in rural America often say they know how to care for the land better.  I’m not convinced. They know how to use the land, to be sure, especially for profit. The land knows how to care for the land better.  And some land should be left alone or visited very seldom, with strict leave no trace rules.


Owyhee River Canyon, about 20 miles north of Rome, Oregon, with lava and sandstone cliffs.  It is possible to stand inside some of those spires and see the sky.

Earlier this year, I hiked Fall Creek, a nearby trail along a beautiful creek with many pools.  At the turn around point, where there was an old road, there was an abandoned fire ring with a pile of trash in it.  This is caring for the land?  Going somewhere, getting drunk, tossing your bottles on the ground, and driving home?


Fall Creek trash

Last week, in Umpqua National Forest, I hiked down to the bottom of Picard Falls, a beautiful cataract, and found a Dr. Pepper bottle. Suddenly, the place was less pristine.  No, it’s not wilderness, but why can’t people take out what they bring in?  I brought out the bottle.  I find bringing out trash that somebody left an odious job, but it is one I feel compelled to do. If a place is littered, people tend to litter; if clean, they tend to keep it clean. When I returned to the car, I found a crushed Coors can. The rural folk drink while driving, too.


Picard Falls, Umpqua National Forest, Oregon

On the drive over Patterson Mountain on the way home from the Umpqua, I saw a cubic yard of trash dumped on the side of the road.  I will haul out trash, but I have my limits, and so does the trunk of my car.  I doubt this was from a homeless man in the South Valley. The individual was almost certainly male, white, and probably between the ages of 25 and 45.  They voted Republican, because they don’t believe in regulation, big government, or recycling.  They get hurt by Republican policies but still don’t change. A disproportionate number of them died in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars started by Republicans who even they now say were a bad idea. They were devastated by the Great Recession, which also occurred under a Republican administration. The Dow has increased 1.5 fold under Obama.  Unemployment fell. Those are facts, not opinions.

Closer to home, I hike up Spencer Butte from Martin Street every week with other Obsidians.  It’s part of our responsibility to clean up the trail.  Today, I was the hike leader and almost walked by a bagged bit of dog poop. This is not uncommon.  I guess people who do that think so long as they bag the poop, they and their dog have completed their collective work.  Now, it is somebody else’s job to pick it up.  Maybe.  Or maybe an animal will rip the bag open.  I shudder to think of how much dog waste is in the woods, which infects the water with Giardia.


Spencer Butte, walkable from downtown Eugene, although one saves time by taking the bus, which runs every half hour.

There are orange peels at the top of Spencer Butte, which won’t degrade, beer cans, clothing someone doesn’t want, and an occasional cigarette butt. I am frankly grateful when someone actually leashes their dog, which is the rule, but which is usually not followed, leading to an occasional dog fight or some dog putting his nose in my pants where I don’t want it.  I have cats, and I don’t want the smell and the germs of a dog in my house. Mind you, I’m not against dogs, for they are dogs. I even spent the money I earned for being executor of my father’s estate—$23,000—to neuter pit bulls in Tucson. What a waste.  No, it is not a dog’s fault to be born a dog.  It is the people who breed them, those who buy the puppies (without an apostrophe which is on the road sign) and don’t train their dog properly whose fault it is.

The idea that people will regulate themselves properly is a fantasy of the Ayn Rand cult. They won’t. I don’t care if it is in the woods or doctors; people won’t self-regulate.  In a perfect world, I’d leave the Owyhee alone, for those who live in Jordan Valley would ensure that the beautiful canyon remain as it is, that residents would carefully make a living from the land by not destroying the special parts, controlling access to the river from Rome and further upstream, the money going to the land.  The community would set its own rules for rafting, such as hauling out all human waste.  Actually, however, the rafting company already does that.

In a perfect world, people would take out all the trash they brought in to the woods, and no littering or dumping would occur.  Dogs would be leashed and all their waste collected and removed.  No dogs would be allowed in the wilderness areas. Campfires would either be at designated spots, or campfire rings would be destroyed after use and the rocks scattered.

For Ayn Rand, it was all about “me.”  For those who care about the land, it is all about future generations.

I know that, and I don’t even have children.


Owyhee River Canyon, Oregon

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  1. denisehelmkay Says:

    Happy Birthday to YOU.  We have now lived long enough to see how many forests are actually NEW GROWTH from the clear-cutting of our formative years.  I know there is a percentage of our population that doesn’t even know what clear-cutting means; nor New Growth.   I miss very much those ancient trees I once knew in some of these forests.   Do they even know what PEARL HARBOR Day represents?   I am very disheartened at times and maintaining a frame of mind towards HOPE is getting more difficult. 

    Denise Helmkay helmkay@aol.com

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