Archive for December, 2020


December 29, 2020

I almost missed seeing him. The old man. He was on the other side of Forest Service 24, at the junction of the spur road to the Salmon Lakes trailhead.  Lot of miles on him. Then again, I always say to myself these days, who am I to talk? I not only look old, I am old.  When I was 61, one woman told me I didn’t look a day over 55.  Didn’t look a day under it, either. 

Anyway, I had come down from working the day in the Swan Lake Trailhead area. We hiked in that morning, bushwhacking a “shortcut” in snow, 27 degree temperatures, wind, and climbing 300 feet through a jumble of biomass, some alive, much not, to reach the trail on Winchester Ridge.  We then hiked south a mile and a half, picking up where the last crew had quit.  We cleared the trail all the way to the Waldo Mountain Trail, another 2 miles.  It had been a long day, cutting out logs by hand, moving them off the trail, going on to the next log. We then had to hike out nearly 4 miles with tools. 

When I reached the car, I took off my gaiters, boots, and outer socks and put on some old running shoes. My feet thank me for doing it. On my way out the bumpy narrow road, a large pickup came the other way. I pulled over as far as I dared, and so did he. I had to look up to see the driver. 

“There’s an old guy up ahead who had car trouble and is walking out.” He didn’t say anything else.  I muttered something about the pandemic, not really wanting anybody in the car, didn’t ask for more information, and hoped by the time I got there he would have been picked up by somebody else. I knew nobody else would be driving up there, however, not this time of year, and not with a significant snowstorm heading our way in a couple of days. We were lucky we got our work done. There would be no more logouts in the high country this season. 

Highway 24 up from Oakridge to Winchester Ridge is about 25 miles, gaining 4000 feet, the last 12 on dirt with a lot of washboarding, awful dust in the summer, trees that sometimes should be cut out and aren’t, and other logs cut out with dreadfully little clearance to get through. The paved stretch is no joy, either, although this year the Forest Service paved over a nasty sunken grade that would wreck alignment if one hit it wrong at just about any speed.

I was tired and kept counting off the miles passed without seeing the man, about one every three minutes, maybe four, given the conditions. I turned at the Salmon Lakes junction and there he was, almost hidden, with gray jacket, a long beard and a good sized pack. If I hadn’t been looking, I probably would have missed him. I let the car roll a few yards further, wondering what I should do, then hit the brakes and backed up. The last thing I wanted to do was have a stranger in my car, but for the last few days it sounded like he was as far away from Covid as anybody in the country, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I left him there. It would bitter cold up here again. 

Even if there were no snowstorm coming. He got up and shuffled over to the car.

“I can take you down to Oakridge,” I said. 

“That would be great,” he replied.  “My phone doesn’t work up here.”  Nobody’s does, I thought.  He put his rather large pack in the trunk, with all my gear, and I put him in the back seat, opening all the windows. It was 50 degrees, I had on my face shield and a mask, and he was masked. 

The man had gone up further on the road than we had, all the way to the Winchester Ridge trailhead. His vehicle wasn’t starting, and he had walked all the way back down from the trailhead. He had slept out a couple of nights but at least had decent gear.  On the other hand, he had only covered six miles downhill in a day. Other than the pickup, mine was the first car he had seen.  How he had missed me and the rest of the crew going up that morning at 8 was not clear.  But if he weren’t out standing on the road, most drivers, who are checking right in front of them, would have missed him. We see what we expect to see, and we don’t expect to see a person standing by FS 24 up there at that hour.

II was a cold ride down, even with the heater running full blast, but I knew the road, where the potholes were, the sharp turns, the sunken grades, and where I could gun it.  Because of the noise, we didn’t say much, although periodically, I closed my window to get warmer.  He asked about what we were doing and seemed surprised old guys were doing that sort of work.  I have been surprised, too.  I didn’t learn too much about him. Most people who go off on their own usually are fairly taciturn. We were in Oakridge 25 minutes later, where it was a lot warmer, and I dropped him off at a store’s parking lot. He retrieved his gear, thanked me, and that was that. Hopefully, his wife hadn’t called Eugene Mountain Rescue.

There are people who disappear into the woods, some to escape the hassles of society, others to hide from whatever or whomever they feel they need to.  I wonder how many I have driven by or hiked by and never have seen. 

Were I out there with car trouble, and trust me, I have been alone, way out in the back of beyond in a mess of tertiary Forest Service roads, I would want to be treated the same way I had treated this man. I have been glad my car has both started and been serviceable, so I could easily return to town..  One of the Crew last year was scouting a trail in the Diamond Peak Wilderness, on one of the many dirt roads leading to trailheads when he wrecked a tire.  He walked several miles to a hill where he knew he would have reception and had a long wait before he got help. I always note places like that; the backcountry horsemen do, too, map them each year, and call them convenience stores, because they can call out from there. 

I also carry an In-reach, which isn’t fast at sending messages, but at least allows me to send emails home.  I also leave behind a very detailed agenda of where I plan to be, and when I reach the car at the end, send that message as well. The car has food and water, and I usually have a blanket in my pack, plus a day’s supply of my medicines.  I hope I never need it.

I think the man slept a lot better that night, wherever he ended up. I bet his wife did, too.

I know I did.


December 19, 2020

It started to rain as the last car before mine left the clearing, deep in the Willamette National Forest. My car was idling, because It’s a good rule in the woods to make sure that all cars can start before the second to last one leaves. 

We had hiked in 2 miles that morning, with packs, heavy tools, including chain saws, up some nasty uphill sections, worked another 2 miles cutting out logs, cleaning up debris, and then returned the same way, up where we had gone down, down where we had gone up, the last part a barely marked trail steep uphill and eventually to the cars.  As usual, the trail had more ups than downs. 

I took one last look at the forest across the North Fork River and headed back to the car.  The rain began to be a little more insistent. I had cooled off while waiting for others to arrive up from the trail, and I was cold, but as I drove out the bumpy, barely passable road, the heat came on, and my shivering began to abate. I had a 6 mile drive back to the main road, which was a Forest Service road, and then several more miles to a state road. We hadn’t seen anybody out on the trail the whole day.  The rain was serious now, and I smiled.  We had gotten our logging out done in favorable weather to do it, and now we were getting rain.  

Part way out, an annoying branch stuck out into the muddy track. I had hoped to remove it by hand on the way in, but it was wedged in with other branches.  I stopped the car, took out my hand saw, made sure my gloves were on, since I was alone, should I cut myself, and cut it back.

By the time I had finished driving back down the long downhill grade, getting out of the car twice to throw some large rocks off the road, and a third time to cut off another a branch that was impeding traffic, I was warm and drove across the bridge over the roaring North Fork on the gentle downhill into Westfir.

Another time, I wouldn’t mind having my tent pitched somewhere out there, my teepee style cook tent nearby, be making dinner so I could finish the dishes before dark, and then retire to my tent to read or just listen to the patter of the rain. But not tonight. 

I’m one of those who likes short days, darkness, clouds, and rain.  I called today’s weather “favorable” for logging, because rain does make cutting more difficult and dangerous, but it is not “bad weather.” Today, an article appeared in the Times about the dark days coming and of winter in general, and most of the comments were about the days lengthening, soon to be brighter times, spring, and then summer.  

I remember years ago seeing an ad for Venezuela as “The Place with Eternal Spring.”  I cringed. Who would want eternal spring? Many do. Not me. This year, I walked every morning during the early days of the pandemic. I would circle Alton Baker Park, about 5 miles, and I counted the wildflower species I saw, 65 one day.  Spring is nice, but it always has summer hanging over its head, sometimes butting in early (April in Tucson, and in 1989, March, when it hit 99 the second week).  

Summer is frankly overrated. Three years out of the last four here we have had west Cascade fires, last summer having them so bad that we were housebound for 10 days with air quality about 700. We were the lucky ones; ten miles to our east, there were evacuation orders; over 400 houses were destroyed. The daylight was orange when it wasn’t dark.  It was supposed to be 95, but it was 25-30 degrees cooler—one silver or orange lining—because of the blocked sunlight.  We limited going anywhere to a quick trip, wearing a face shield for the pandemic and an N95 for protecting our lungs from the small particles, and then closing up.  We actually opened the house into the sealed tight garage, which hadn’t been opened in days. It provided cleaner air. In 2017, I slept out in smoke in the North Cascades for three nights, on a camping trip. I wonder what it did to my lungs.

One summer, only a month passed between not being able to hike because of snow in the high country and not being able to hike because of fires.  One month. Record heat comes in summer more than winter, and it is worse.  To me, it isn’t fair that we can have our rainiest month be dry because of a blocking high pressure ridge. This is not uncommon.  But to have July or August wet because of persistent storms?  Only one year I can remember; the post-Pinatubo year of 1992, when the Boundary Waters had three days over 80 and a lot of rain.  I learned that summer how to work comfortably in the rain for days at a time.  I’ve been cold doing trail work in the winter, but I warm up.  In the summer, I have to be sure I carry a lot of water and drink it. I don’t cool down as easy as I warm up.

In Tucson, I looked forward to June 10, when the earliest sunrise occurred, and from then on it would rise later; to the solstice, when the day length started to shorten, and to July 6, when the sunsets started to become earlier as well. More people die from heat than cold, the body can deal with ambient temperatures 140 degrees below its inside temperature but only about 20 above it.  I can hike, snowshoe, or just walk in pouring rain, heavy snow, and freezing temperatures and be comfortable.  At 95 and humid, I have a great deal of trouble carrying gear uphill and cutting out logs. I’ve already drunk a liter of water, and I need to be careful.

No, when in December the sunlight drops in the afternoon, clouds move in, it gets dark, and I know it will rain, I like it.  I know people have Seasonal Affective Disorder and they use light therapy.  It’s a good idea.  

For me, enjoyment seeing the dark skies to the west that are coming, or the sudden darkness in the afternoon that presages a brief, heavy shower.  Being in a tent at night in the rain, dry and comfortable, nothing to do, nowhere I have to go, is how I help myself fall asleep at night.

Mike S.

Eugene, OR

Dec. 18

Times Pick

I will be a contrarian and say I like the rain and the dark days. They belong, too.

I think summer is overrated; last summer came with wildfires, smoke that kept me in the house for 10 days, and a concern of evacuation. Three of the last four years there have been significant west Cascade fires. I led a volunteer crew yesterday into the damp woods to repair a trail, creeks and rivers roaring with the water that finally came.  It was lovely.

Mind you, I counted 65 different species of wildflowers on my  spring walks, I am an avid canoeist, and autumn is my favorite season. But leaving the trail yesterday with dark clouds overhead, an early sunset, and rain starting to fall, I was happy.

Reply745 RecommendShare



Dec. 18

@Mike S. 

…And this post is making me smile, too. Thank you, Mike. This column is eliciting many lovely responses.

Reply49 RecommendShare

Claire Elliott


Dec. 18

@Mike S. 

I’ll be a contrarian along with you.  My backyard is a cathedral of old Douglas firs.  Standing amongst them in the rain and mist is wonderful, a sparkling infusion of sight, sound, that intoxicating aroma of fir.  The air is so crisp and cold and sweet.  I remember, looking up at the dripping branches, the 10 days of hazardous air that kept so much of the Willamette Valley housebound in September.  Cold rain and freshly washed air works for me.

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Dec. 18

@Mike S. 

I love your post.    I also love the dark cool days with  

rain and drizzle all day.    It is a great time to spend sitting by the fire,  reading and listening to some good music, and doing lots of thinking.

The  best time in Alabama is October until about January 1.    Spring is nice but the worst time is the middle of Summer when it is hot and humid.    The only thing good about Summer is flowers and butterflies.

With best wishes.

Reply59 RecommendedShare

Patrick Henry


Dec. 18

I’m from Maine and feel the same way.

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Normandy, France

Dec. 18

@Mike S. 

Greetings from Normandy, 

We too have those aplenty, and indeed they are quietly beautiful days of introspection, slow & awesome in their own priceless way.

Wouldn’t swap them for extra sunny days.

Be well.

Reply29 RecommendedShare


Dec. 18

@Mike S. Me too!  I love cold, cozy days of rain…summer is fine, but winter is a time when all of the glories of theater, crafting and cozy reading come to the fore.  A walk in the rain is one of God’s glories.  Hail, Winter!

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Dec. 18

@Mike S. I agree 100% My teenager today told me that he loves the mist and the rain and prefers it to sunny days. 

Looking out at my misty december afternoon, i am grateful for my warm house, and plenty of food and drink. and the privilege of loving the rain.

Reply21 RecommendShare


Sammamish wa

Dec. 18

@Mike S. I love the fresh clean air that comes with the rain,   It gives us our beautiful cathedral of evergreens.  Tea, a good book and intermittent walk in the misty rain isn’t half-bad.

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Dec. 18

@Mike S. 

I like rain too when I have a warm house to return to. But try surviving in a camp during cold weather, foraging your own food, if it’s raining all the time. You have to start a fire just to dry out your firewood!

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Deez Eyes

Dec. 18

@Jon And that Egan’s point. Rain, cold, wind, and clouds are easier to enjoy when you know you have a warm house and food in the cupboards to return to! The explorers were rugged and strong characters. Can we imagine getting through what they endured?

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Eastern WA

Dec. 18

@Mike S.–Here in NE WA we don’t have very many rainy days, but many cold cloudy and/or snowy ones in winter.  Perfect for walking the dogs up the mountain and then reading by the fire.  

When my son, raised here, lived on the Big Island of Hawaii he emailed me the first fall that it didn’t seem normal to live in a place without seasons.  Maybe it’s genetic.

Reply9 RecommendedShare


Dec. 18

@Mike S. Unite, lovers of winter! You’re right; it belongs, too.  I’m sorry it makes some people depressed (are they sorry that I suffer from allergies and inflammation and too-muchness all summer?) but there it is – the weather has never arranged itself for our convenience.

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Dec. 18

@Mike S. As  fellow Willamette Valley resident, I agree.  We can’t have our gorgeous springtime without the dark days of winter.  Politically we could never have imagined how valuable democracy is without the last 4 years.  Only a few more days before our days begin to get a bit longer.  I will treasure every day instead of wasting the moments I have.

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Dec. 18

@Mike S. Three days to winter solstice on Dec 21st. Likewise, I revel in the sparkle of it.

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Dec. 18

I agree that summer is overrated. With continuous temps over 110 degrees and the hottest July and August ever reported; the driest year in decades; and forest fires in June and July, all here in Southern Az, yes it is indeed overrated.

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Mike S.

Eugene, OR

Dec. 18

@Jon Yes, but to have it start to rain after dinner is eaten and the dishes cleaned is a real treat.  I had that in the Boundary Waters a couple of years ago, and I lay in the tent reading, dry, nobody within miles of me, and totally at peace with the world.

That said, I’ve been where you mention, too!

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Mike S.

Eugene, OR

Dec. 18

@Susan I lived in Tucson 37 years before coming to the PNW. I missed the seasons, which were warm, almost hot, and awful hot. What amazed me were the occasional rainy days that people complained about….

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Mike S.

Eugene, OR

Dec. 18

@AzSunflower I lived in Tucson for 37 years. I saw it get hotter and hotter.  This year sounded like it was awful. I figured 1989 and 1994 would be beaten, but their records were smashed.

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11h ago

@Mike S. I am a rain person I like the fresh air and it is nice to be out when the fair-weather humans are not

Reply2 RecommendShare

Mike S.

Eugene, OR

@Aubrey You understand 🙂


Vancouver WA

Amen brother.

The North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River

From the forest clearing from Highway 58, then 19, then 1919, then 660.

Technical C class log out on the North Fork Trail. The log did not slide, much to our surprise and good fortune.

Incoming rain in late afternoon. It would rain again later that night. Fall Lake, BWCA, 2018.


December 8, 2020

I’m not sure why I did it, last Sunday afternoon.  I was tired of doing zooniverse inputting, I had answered 16 algebra problems online, and I didn’t feel like doing any more of them either, so I googled my pediatrician from 60 years ago, Frank Disney.  I wasn’t sure what I’d find, so I added, “rochester ny” and hit return. 

I had remembered Frank Disney as the elderly man (he was two years older than my father) who visited me at home when I had strep and lay febrile and miserable in my bedroom.  When I got my well-child exams, I went to the pediatric practice about 2 miles from home, and saw Disney or his partner Burtis Burr Breese.  My mother once told me that when Disney treated my brother, he told her, “I can’t make him half well for you, so if he gives you any trouble, just have him go out and play along Route 20.”  She loved that line and it became part of our family lore.  Later, Drs. Breese saw me at home; they each had their own style, and I liked both of them.

Disney and Breese founded the practice after the war.  Disney had been working at the blood bank in Rochester early in the war, shipping hundreds of pints to New York City every week, and then was himself sent to the South Pacific from 1943-6.  He was discharged as a Captain, and that is all he listed on his CV.  I have read much about that particular theater of war, and I wonder exactly what Disney did there and where exactly he was, knowing that it was a difficult place not to become ill, let alone die in war, and he was still in the area several months after hostilities ended with Japan.  Not a word, which was typical with the Greatest Generation.  

Disney and Breese practiced at a time when they made house calls every evening, hoping they could get useful information by phone, assuming they could get the operator.  That’s where I intersected the practice. I remember more than one house call, when I was sick, got a shot, and the next morning awoke feeling well.  And while I didn’t learn this until today, I did not form antibodies to that particular strain of strep, and there are many strains of Group A.

At least 35 articles came out of their practice in the 1950s and 60s. The physicians were interested in Group A Streptococcal disease. I am part of multiple data sets. Carriers of streptococcus were uncommon, about 4% of people, but my brother was one, and from the information they learned, he was treated, which perhaps finally ended my long history of periodic strep throats, one more of which would have led to a T & A.  They sampled their patient records every 15 days to randomly study their practice, a superb approach today—simple, not difficult, and effective.  They did this with pen and paper, no computers, just good minds. They were doctor-scientists-humanists, words of honor. 

I now realize how lucky I was to have my strep throats treated by experts, so my risk of complications of rheumatic fever and acute glomerulonephritis was minimized.

Disney knew that house calls were not efficient, but from the interview I read, he learned much about the family dynamics and the child from being in the house and seeing the interactions. I made house calls occasionally as a neurologist, and I agree completely.  When he and his partners realized that white counts and cultures were important to diagnose and treat strep, they had the children come to the practice.  Still, somewhere in the recesses of my mind there was one of their ancillary workers who came over and cultured the recesses of my throat.  I can’t swear to it, but I think it happened.

Disney thought it would be a great idea to charge parents an annual fee for unlimited visits. He was only about 50 years ahead of his time. The other pediatricians in town were not at all interested. 

He was interviewed in 1996 about his life and practice. Disney remembered when he was a young boy, in the early 1920s, when a child could not go to a store without a doctor’s note saying s/he was not infected with poliovirus.  In short, the country was more sensible in the 1920s than it is in the 2020s.

When the Salk vaccine came out for polio, the practice was besieged by parents wanting the vaccine, wanting to know when they could get it.  When the Sabin vaccine appeared, I was in the first cohort to get it, and I remember where I ate the coated sugar cube in the southeast corner of the junior high school by Twelve Corners, which still stood, when I drove by there in 2013. 

The same occurred with measles vaccine:  the parents wanted it immediately. They did, after all, know what these diseases could do.  There were measles epidemics about every 3 years in most cities, which I did not know.  Apparently, an epidemic was enough to give temporary herd immunity until it dropped low enough, probably below 80%, for it to again infect anyone who hadn’t had it.  I remember having measles; it was the sickest I have ever been.

I sure wish we had Frank Disney around today to tell us that pay per visit is not an efficient way to practice, although it certainly may be more lucrative. Or to show us that good science can come out of a working medical practice in Brighton, something I tried to do years later and thousands of miles further away, with not at fault injuries and chronic pain, with right hemispheric stroke patients, who were awake but kept their eyes closed, and with the fact that female spouses came into the exam room when their husband was being examined three times more often than men did for when their wives were the patient, and that depression was—and is—a major concern of the practicing neurologist.

I really wish Disney could tell people about measles and polio, that having a note from the physician to go to the store was once thought by Americans as necessary, was considered neither a hardship nor a violation their constitutional rights, because you didn’t want a family member to get polio.  

That’s up to me to say for him in the Age of Covid to all of those who are alive because of people like Frank Disney. 

Diamond Peak from the Fuji Mountain Shelter, 7 Dec 20. The author is alive today, able to take a different, tougher, longer route to the shelter, because he never had rheumatic heart disease or kidney failure, known complications of streptococcal disease, because of the expert treatment he received as a child.