Archive for the ‘UNPUBLISHED OUTDOOR WRITING’ Category

THE OLD MAN

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.

ANOTHER SIDE OF FAVORABLE WEATHER

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

21 REPLIES

Julia

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

Eugene

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.

Reply121 RecommendedShare

Aubrey

Alabama

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

USA

Dec. 18

I’m from Maine and feel the same way.

Reply19 RecommendShare

Theobroma

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

Alex

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!

Reply19 RecommendShare

PB

Canada

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

Patty

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.

Reply22 RecommendShare

Jon

Washington

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!

Reply8 RecommendedShare

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?

Reply15 RecommendedShare

Susan

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

Flaneuse

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.

Reply9 RecommendShare

Marie

Oregon

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.

Reply18 RecommendShare

Siebert

Tenseven

Dec. 18

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

Reply11 RecommendShare

AzSunflower

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.

Reply8 RecommendedShare

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!

Reply4 RecommendShare

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….

Reply6 RecommendShare

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.

Reply5 RecommendShare

Peter

canada

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 🙂

PacificNWesterner

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.

FULL MENTAL AND PHYSICAL DAY IN THE WOODS

November 27, 2020

I should be colder than this, I thought, standing on the frozen dirt road with a thin coating of snow. I’ve got jeans on, 2 shirts, and a thin windbreaker.  It was 27 (or -3 C), and I had my back to a brisk wind that so far had not worked its way through my balaclava or under my hard hat.

One way to Winchester Ridge Trail was downhill to to Swan Lake then climbing out, steeply in places, to the ridge. Others had told me the bushwhack from the parking lot directly to the trail was flat and we’d get to the ridge in about a half mile.  I looked upward at the route and had my doubts, as we gathered our tools and headed east on to a trail that quickly disappeared.  

My GPS showed several contours in our direction, so I assumed the worst—that the contours were real and what I had heard wasn’t—and noted my altimeter.  I estimated at least 400 vertical feet—120 meters— of climbing. Some think that sort of knowledge is not part of the wilderness experience, but I have long used an altimeter when I hike, along with maps, which most definitely are part of the wilderness experience.  I want to know where I am, where I am going, about how far it is, and how much I have to climb or descend. Altitude on a trail can often be a surrogate for one’s location, if there are good contour maps.  The trail was gone, the trees angled up, the bushes scraped my jeans and left a coating of snow. At least hiking uphill, I was staying warm, so long as I didn’t fall.  Fortunately, Winchester Ridge Trail came earlier than what my Gaia app told me, and I didn’t have to cross two more brown contour lines. We were on the trail, heading south towards Waldo Mountain junction, about 2.5 miles away.  We didn’t know what was out there, log-wise, but we’d find out in about a half hour, when we reached the previous stopping point.

I have my watch altimeter and my Gaia contours set to metric. My GPS reads English. My car speedometer and odometer is set to metric. I didn’t think I would keep it that way, but I do. Making a meter of elevation is a lot better than a foot (nearly 3.03 times as better), and I play around with the numbers on the trail, the way I look at the rocks, trees, sky, and wildlife. To me, being in the outdoors is a full mental experience. 

I had all my essentials except for a lot less water than I carried in summer, which was a blessing.  I usually carry a Pulaski without a sheath.  Sometimes, there is one, but it tends to come off if I am going through brush, and putting the sheath on and off again several times, I finally decide it’s easier to carry it without one. If I start to slip, I am supposed to throw the tool, assuming my flailing arm in an attempt to balance me is capable to doing that on short notice.  The first time I was hiking out with the Crew, I threw it on one bounce into the calf of the guy in front of me.  Fortunately, nothing happened, but I felt stupid and apologized. That’s why one should follow well behind on the trail.

We reached the first log, and as I in the rear approached, the two working on it waved us on to the next one, 20 yards further down the trail.  As I came up to the log, I scouted the area using the acronym OHLEC—Objective-Hazards-Lean/Bind (we weren’t tree fellers, so only bind mattered)-Escape route-Cutting Plan. The first log was across the trail, 12 inches in diameter, too long to try to pull it parallel to the trail, but it had promise that with one cut, we could pull the remaining end to the side.  There were no significant hazards, the log would probably have top bind, but not severe, the escape routes weren’t an issue for a log near the ground, and we opened the cut slightly to accommodate our later pushing of the log to the desired direction.  My partner and I, both of us newly certified to do what we had already been doing all summer— the previous year as well— for that matter, bent to the task, or the saw.  

The top bind or compression wasn’t enough to catch the saw, and we cut through the log quickly. I kneel a lot on the ground, because I prefer the ground to bending over, and I think I cut better with the saw closer to eye level.  Besides, my back is happier that way.

We stopped briefly to let the first cutter crew go through on to the next log, and then finished the cut, put a strap around the log, stepped back, and pulled the remainder parallel to the trail. It was done.  I now was quite warm and took off my windbreaker.

We headed on, leapfrogging, to the next log, 20 inches in diameter, in a pile of branches. I call these things a mess. In order to figure out what to do, we had to first remove the branches, some of which had 3 inch trunks of their own and were both difficult to cut and to throw aside. Once we got the area cleared, we looked at the log and decided we probably would get away with one cut, but might need two.  

As we started cutting, the saw moved well. Sawdust was being generated, I allowed my partner to take as much of the saw as he wanted, and I pulled back as far as I could. Each stroke counted more that way. Half way through, there was a little bind. I pulled a hard plastic wedge out of my pocket, stuck it in the kerf, or the cut, and pounded it in with the back of the axe.  The stuck saw was resting against my leg, and as I pounded it, I could feel it start to move, as the bind was relieved. 

We cut further, and as we got near the end, we slowed the cutting speed and shortened the arc. The sawdust became reddish, as we entered the bark, and we stopped sawing. While we could cut through, the log might take the saw into the ground, and dirt is one of the worst enemies of a vintage cross cut saw.  I removed the handle, and my partner pulled the saw through the cut, then replacing the handle. 

I finished the cut with my KatanaBoy 500, a one man saw, and while that shouldn’t touch the ground either, it is less easily damaged than a large crosscut and also replaceable, unlike the vintage crosscuts, which were handmade with different steel that no longer exists. The log dropped slightly.  Because of the ease of the cut, we decided to make a second cut, figuring that we could do it almost as fast as trying to rig up a way to move the log. I like moving logs and saving a cut, but I have my limits.

We would later have lunch on a splendid rock overlook with Waldo Lake in the distance to our east and the Eddeeleo Lakes below us.  We would finish the trail in sunshine—although still cool—and split up the crew on the way back, some re-taking the “shortcut” back down to the cars, others, like me, taking two trails, one that descended, the second ascending to the cars. 

Our way was 4 minutes faster.  

Frosty morning on the crosscut, Winchester Trail, Waldo Lake Wilderness
Three pushing. Often, we use our legs.

Waldo Mountain. The old lookout is barely visible at the top. We logged that out two months earlier.

STRANGER IN MY OWN LAND

November 11, 2020

Two days after the election, the Crew had a job up on Shale Ridge on the North Fork of the Middle Fork (yes, it is called that) of the Willamette River. This was just outside of the Waldo Lake Wilderness, not far from the Three Sisters Wilderness, so chain saws were allowed.  We had four crews to deal with about five miles of trail.

I knew a guy from the Club who had recently led a hike in that area and asked him what sort of condition the trail was in.  He mentioned rotting bridges over streams and big tangles of logs and brush over the trail. I’m amazed these days that I have “connections” to learn about who has hiked where, who hadn’t put out a campfire, who is doing what in the Forest. I passed the scouting information on to the crew leader, before we all drove up separately and had our “tailgate session” at Constitution Grove. That is where we discuss the day and safety. I was with two crew leaders, one with the saw, the other, like me, a swamper helping.  We started towards the river and soon found plenty of work.  Constitution Grove has many Douglas firs, about the same age as the nation, so they are massive, and have signs on them with the name and state of someone at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The area was named in 1987, the 200th anniversary.  I saw a John Dickinson from Delaware and wondered whether the high school in Wilmington was named for him.  It was.  I scouted a basketball game there one night, 55 years ago, my senior year in high school, when an injured player from our team spent the season as a scout and asked me to help him.  We’ve been good friends ever since.

It was nice out in the woods. Nobody spoke about the election, not a word.  The vine maples were shedding yellow leaves, when they weren’t slapping us in the face when we tried to cut them out.  Vine maples are small, but more than one guy has said his worst injuries out here were caused by them.  We had to use our arms and legs, logs as pry bars to move some of the cut logs, and I spent part of the afternoon on my knees crawling 30 feet, cleaning up enough branch debris so the sawyer could get in to cut.  As we were walking back to the vehicles at about 3, it started to rain. Perfect timing.  The drive down was almost magical in the rain, trees ablaze in color on both sides of the road, getting dark, the needed autumn rains here.

I needed that day, because I feel like I neither know nor understand America any more. I shouldn’t be surprised. I was alive during the McCarthy era, although I don’t remember, “Have you no shame?”  words that are every bit as relevant today as they were then.  We have endured the last few years with people who have no shame.  Nothing is sacred, and while political correctness has its flaws, there ought to be some verbal lines people in power simply do not cross.

I remember the Civil Rights workers (“outside agitators”) who were murdered and buried at another Philadelphia, in Mississippi.  Here in Oregon, outside agitators came in with guns and took over a wildlife refuge.  Got away with it legally, too, with only one dead, when he tried to run a police blockade and pulled a gun.  Whole thing was streamed.  I remember “activist judges” being decried by The Other Side, before the Supreme Court stopped a vote count, called corporations people, and other courts started practicing medicine.

We had Spiro Agnew, the first in a line of vice presidents so bad one wanted the president to survive: Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, and Mike Pence, although Quayle now thinks the president should concede. Agnew was the one who coined the “Silent Majority,” which was believed to truly be in favor of the policies promulgated by the Nixon Administration.. 

No, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all by our assault on the environment by James Watt and a host of others, reaching a climax now, when there are oil leases in ANWR, and they now want to log the Tongass. This is insane, but perhaps a majority of the country doesn’t agree with me.

The flag has long been co-opted in that if one wearing it or flying it, especially in the bed of a pickup, he (yes, he) is patriotic, even if he didn’t serve in uniform, let alone overseas in unfriendly territory, doesn’t know the words of the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, can’t name the thirteen colonies, the first state, or hadn’t been to even half the states.  

I didn’t like Nixon, and I was glad to see him go, that August day in 1974, before I returned to the night shift at the Denver General ER.  But Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, and back then there was bipartisan legislation. A few Supreme Court justices nominees got turned down, and stupid things said, like Sen. Roman Huruska’s famous words supporting mediocrity, but by and large the Senate was an important deliberative body. 

Now, we have a rare few senators who think the president should concede, while the majority leader feels he should take all this purported concern about the vote to court and it isn’t clear if the Secretary of State really thinks there will be a second term. The President won’t tell the GSA head that Mr. Biden should now have his own office and get morning presidential briefings, as Mr. Obama did for Mr. Trump and Mr. Bush did for Mr. Obama.  

The guys in camo have already demonstrated in Salem, probably with a few more outside agitators, but I hope they don’t really think that Biden’s nearly 400,000 vote win here should be contested or any of the now six million plus margin of victory Biden had on the west coast and the five plus million nationally,  So far.

I am trying to find humor where I can. Knowing that there is now an unofficial unofficial (not a typo) Fraud Street run (to go with Philadelphia’s Broad Street Run) from Four Seasons Landscaping to the Four Seasons Hotel, is good for a laugh.  

As is McConnell’s saying it was a good election for Republicans, even though he thinks the presidential part of it should be decided in court.

As were the protestors shouting “Stop the Count” in Detroit and Philadelphia, even as they were shouting “Count the Votes” in Phoenix.  Can’t you guys make up your mind?

Part of me is worried that the craziness will intensify, but nobody seems to be counting on Covid’s increase to up the ante.  Maybe the current leaders aren’t concerned, but the people lined up in their cars at Autzen Stadium getting tested for it are. One in 70 in North Dakota is currently infected, 1 in 16 has tested positive, and Covid positive nurses are allowed to care for patients now.  A major hospital in Idaho was recently on diversion, and we don’t yet know how many long haul Covid patients there will be in the country, let alone what exactly they have, or whether it is treatable.  Right now, the country is giving up. I’ve got to be more careful, even in the woods.

During this time, the president said that doctors were making a lot of money off Covid.  Considering that many physicians have had to stop elective surgery, change their whole practice about seeing patients, and hospitals furloughed nurses, there may be those making money off the disease, but they aren’t wearing PPE and risking their lives.

Thursday, we go back up the North Fork to do trail work.  It may rain.  We will get wet and muddy, logging out the trail and repairing tread. Bridges are out, crossings may be dicey, and there are over 200 logs to take out. It will take months to fix.   I’m looking forward to it. It’s November up here, and maybe things are starting to be what they are supposed to be.  

One can hope.

Cut through, then push this 400+kg log to the side of the trail

This is a several hour job to fix. Nature reclaims her land. Most of these trails need to be cleared every other year; if not cleared in a decade, they may well be lost. In some places, that may not be a bad thing.

SAW SENSES

October 15, 2020

Steve and I looked at an 18 incher blocking the trail in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.  It had been down for awhile, the bark gone, which was nice, but needed to be removed. We both looked at the log, with enough space underneath to probably have a slight sag or top bind, meaning the cut from the top might start grabbing the saw as it cut through compressed fibers.  Well, that’s what wedges are for, to keep cuts or kerfs open.  He took the sheath off the 6 foot crosscut, and each of us took a handle.

We confirmed that we wanted to cut mostly straight through, and it didn’t matter which side we started from.  We both got into position, which for me was kneeling on the ground, worked the teeth a little bit into the log so they grabbed, and started sawing, pull smooth and hard, relax for partner, smooth and hard, relax, over and over again, 20, 50, 100, 200, 150, 100,….

It went well. First, I could feel how smooth the cut was. I could hear the saw sing a little, and could see the kerf, or the line of the cut, staying open, not closing, and I noted a good pile of sawdust accumulating with a few “noodles,” thin strips of wood that occur with a good saw.  Still, about half way through the log, I was thinking we could use a wedge to keep it open a little more, and Steve suggested it aloud.  I pulled an orange hard plastic wedge from my back pocket, because I like having wedges immediately available, and with a nearby axe, pounded it into the top of the kerf.

When a wedge opens up the kerf, anyone holding the handle of a saw that is in the cut can feel a decrease of compression: the saw is loose again.  We cut further, and finally got to the end, the log’s dropping part way to the ground.  The saw was wedged in the kerf, so I took off the handle, so I could pass the rest of the blade to Steve to pull it through the narrow space.  There was a time when I took a couple of minutes taking off or putting on a saw handle. Now, it is almost automatic.  Sawing with a well-known instructor, I once removed a wedge prematurely, which was met with one of those comments, “Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that,” because getting the saw out would be more difficult. Stuck saws are bad.  Sawing into the dirt is a sin. 

We started on the other side of the log, had the same experience, and that end dropped, too.  Sometimes, when both cuts are made, the log drops and if there is a downhill, immediately rolls off the trail without assistance.  That is nice. The trail was flat, and the cut log was still held in place.  I stuck a wedge between the cut part and the rest of of the log, hit it once with the axe, and the whole cut log dropped to the ground.  That was real nice.

We still weren’t able to push it, however, and weren’t sure how stuck it was.  We both sat down on the ground, put our legs against the log and pushed. This is easier on the back and allows one to use the strength of the legs.  The log shot forward about 6 feet.  That was super nice. We finished pushing it off the trail, and Steve sheathed the saw, ready for the next one. 

There are probably thirty folks on the Crew, but each work party has somewhere between 3 and 8. The first group I ever went out with had about a dozen, but this summer it has been mostly 3 or 4.  With three, one can get relief at the saw, which can’t happen with two. With four, one can have pairs leapfrogging each other.  With more, it is possible to do serious trail clearing.  The amount of sawing can still be considerable, as it was last week, when we worked solidly for about 6 hours, excepting a short lunch break.

I’ve been on the other side of a saw with many different people.  When I started, three years ago, any time someone asked me if I wanted a break, I said yes.  This year, I stopped saying yes and began offering my services. I’ve noticed a significant drop in the number of times my technique wasn’t optimal; indeed, one of the crew members told me the other day I was “so ready” for the saw certification class coming up, for which he had recommended me. 

A month ago, in the Diamond Peak Wilderness, the two of us were cutting out a log, when he was trying to give instruction to another guy in the crew.  He started pulling the saw to his left.  I can now feel when my partner’s technique isn’t quite right, and I said to him, “Hey boss, you’re pulling left.”  

“Really?”  

“Yep.”  He was.  It was the first time I had ever told anybody, although I had seen it happen often.

Along the way, I have found people with whom I would share a saw any time and a few where I would just as soon limit my exposure.  Earlier this summer, one guy, who is a lot larger and stronger than I, told me that I needed to give him more saw, meaning that I was pulling more and not letting him pull it back. That seemed odd, since once we are done pulling, we relax, keep our hands on the handle, allowing our partner to pull the saw. With the new position, my hands were slammed into the log every time he pulled back.  I said maybe it was easier for him, but not for me, thinking that this wasn’t supposed to be a competition to see who could slam the other’s hands more.  

A couple of others tend to pull the saw to one side.  The saw has some flexibility, and if it is pulled to one side, it doesn’t cut cleanly through the log, making work harder.  One can’t simply close one’s eyes and pull-relax-pull. The saw must constantly be sight aligned with the kerf, which is the best real-time information we have as to what the bind of the log is.  If there is top bind, meaning the fibers are being compressed, as the saw cuts from the top, the fibers in the log will tend to compress or grab the saw, stopping progress.  If the kerf is opening up, we are cutting through tension, the opposite, and the cut will be easier, which one probably has already noticed.

Not only do I have more endurance, I hear, feel, see, and now beginning to sense what is going on. I can feel different types of wood as we are cutting, the difficulty caused by binding, I can see the noodles of cut log when the saw is sharp and the wood the right consistency, I can monitor sawdust, and I can see the change in color that heralds the end of the wood and cutting into bark. I can hear the cracking suggesting that the log is almost cut through.  Later that day, Steve wondered what he was feeling, looking over at my kerf.  I showed him the knot that we were too close to, apologizing for guiding us there.  I should have started the cut about an inch away.

It’s clear now what I need to take in the woods and where everything is. Indeed, my day pack has changed in part from the one I have used with the Club to one I use doing trail work, which is comfortable, and in which I have a better first aid kit, marking ribbon, extra wedges, clothing, lubricant, hand sanitizer, isopropyl alcohol, emergency supplies, a lopper, and a hand saw, food and water, and my Katana Boy 500 mm strapped to the back.

The author (back), Diamond Peak Wilderness. The wedge is keeping the kerf open, which is tending to close due to top bind or compression.

The author with one type of 2-man crosscut saw, S. Willamette Trail, March 2020.

Occasionally, it is possible for two pairs to cut simultaneously. Waldo Lake Wilderness.

CAMPFIRE STORIES, FEATURING…THE FIRE

September 7, 2020

We pulled up to the empty campsite on Knife Lake, just east of the Eddy Lake portage, and I hopped  out of the canoe to check it.  Mark and I were doing a sweep of the District during a week’s time, checking permits, people, campsites, picking up litter, digging new latrines and covering old ones, but mostly taking a long canoe trip and being paid for it.  Earlier that day, we came upon a group of seven young women and an older man leading the trip.  Mark said to the guy, “I want your job.”  When the guy heard what we were doing, he said, “I want yours.”

I saw something on the site that I still vividly remember, nearly three decades later: a fire was burning well outside the fire grate, the flames high, fed by the wind, and about to reach the grassy area nearby.  Fire inside the fire grate is almost friendly.  Fire outside the grate, burning uncontrollably, is not.  

We both used our hats to get water, shovels, and Pulaski to gradually get the fire under control and then out. Had the summer been much more drier, this fire would have been off to the races. There was no Knife Lake Fire that year, and we continued our trip uneventfully towards Fraser Lake.

Later that summer, I did a trip on the Kawishiwi River and fully a third of the sites we visited had a fire area with outright active fire or warm ashes.  

I was taught that a campfire burns itself out overnight.  We left sites that way.  Finally, one time I decided to check that proposition and burned myself on hot ashes.  I learned what has been said for a lot longer than I have practiced—put the fire dead out, drown it, and don’t leave until the ashes are cold to touch. 

Five years after the Knife Lake incident, I was on a volunteer trip with the late Mike Manlove.  We came into Good Lake, and at the first site there was a tent up but nobody there and a fire burning. I still remember the leader of the trip’s coming back to the site while we were there and apologizing. As Mike wrote him a $100 fine for an unattended fire, the man was upset and embarrassed, saying he had spent over four hundred nights in the Boundary Waters and nothing like this had ever happened. I wonder how many unintended fires he had during that time.

Back then, I was pushing 200 nights and knew clearly that on day trips, one was better off not building a morning fire. Drowning it would make it harder to start that evening.  Eat a stove heated breakfast and save the fire for evening.  I’m now over 300 days, will never hit 400, and I still canoe that way.

Three years ago, I took a backpacking trip to the coast with one of the premier leaders in the Club. The area was nice, but the trip didn’t work for me. I learned that the leader’s sleep schedule and mine must be in synch.  Ours weren’t. The leader sat around the campfire drinking whisky at night and slept until 9. By 9, I have been up for 3 hours, eaten breakfast, taken a walk on the beach and was ready to go somewhere else. 

That’s not a criticism of the leader. But when we were leaving the site, he kicked some dirt over where the campfire had been and scattered the logs.  I went over and put my hand on the ground.

It was hot.  Ouch hot. That is a criticism. Shameful. That is a criticism of the leader.

It wasn’t easy getting water, since we were on a bluff over the ocean. I did work my way down to a stream for two trips and got enough water to make the area cooler.  I had to move quickly, however, because others on the trip were leaving the camp for their cars, and I didn’t want to miss my ride home. I left the site better, but worried for a full day that maybe the fire had burned under ground and would come up somewhere.

I was stunned: how could a leader leave a fire area hot?  The prior day, we left the campsite about 10, and I realized that I had not checked the campfire, perhaps because I hadn’t sat around it and assumed the leader would have put it dead out.  Wrong assumption.

I haven’t been on trips with this leader since.  I invited a Club member on a canoe trip with me in 2017; he drank Canadian Club at night and slept in the next morning.  It spoiled the trip.  We got on the water late, and the best time of day had passed.  Paddling lakes in the early morning is special.  The wind isn’t usually up, birds and other animals are more likely to be out, and there is a stillness that won’t last but a couple of hours. 

Two weeks ago, I was with the Crew doing trail work in the Diamond Peak Wilderness when a two young women backpackers came by us, having hiked up from Corrigan Lake, one of several nice lakes on the west side of that wilderness.  They commented that they had put out an abandoned campfire that morning on their way out. They knew it was there because they saw it the prior night.

“Why anyone would have a campfire in these temperatures is a mystery to me,” one said. I thought there was a campfire ban, but it was beginning the following day. Still, talks of imminent campfire bans are a good reason not to have campfires.

We thanked them for their help and continued working our way towards the lake.  I then remembered that the Club had had a backpack into Corrigan that very week.  The same leader was leading that backpack, mentoring another, and I wondered whether it had been their campfire. 

When we returned to town, it wasn’t clear to me whether they had had a campfire.  I wrote a board member with my concern, not proof, because others could have been at Corrigan, although not many, since it is a small lake.  I mentioned my concern and the issue on the coast three years prior.  I also mentioned that I had heard that one fire almost had gotten away from that same leader up in the Cascades. That was hearsay, and I admitted that.  I got a reply that the board member had seen pictures on Facebook of the group with two different campfires.  He took that information to others and the Club now bans all campfires.  If one wants to build a campfire, we can’t stop them, but it is not allowed on a Club trip.  That may not stop people, but it protects the Club.  I can think of three other violations I’ve heard about on Facebook.  Be careful what you post.

And put the fire dead out when you leave the site. Fires start fast, and it only takes seconds for a fire to be high enough in a tree that you will never reach it.

Corrigan Lake with Diamond Peak

BECOMING A TRAIL WORKER

August 15, 2020

A few mosquitoes flew around me as I left the Hemlock Butte area parking lot and started on the trail to Vivian Lake.  I was first; the other four workers were finishing getting their gear together, bug nets on, saws and Pulaskis together for the log out of the trail, clearing the path of fallen trees and branches that had accumulated over the winter.. I was going to the first blowdown, still outside the Diamond Peak Wilderness, and would wait for the chain sawyer behind me.  We would use the chain saw to clear blowdowns outside the wilderness, the first several hundred yards of trail; two man saws would be used further along, once we entered the wilderness.

We hoped to clear the main trail to the junction of the Divide Lake Trail and then clear the latter all the way to the Pacific Crest Trail.  If we had time, we wanted to clear a few miles to Vivian Lake, although that seemed like a tall order.

I got to the first blowdown, an 8 inch hemlock across the trail, and waited for the sawyer. The other three passed by on their way to the wilderness boundary, where a few big logs awaited them. We would be there soon enough.

The sawyer cleared the first obstacle and the next, and I threw the cut logs off the trail then moved on.  When I reached the third, an easy log across the trail, I kept my pack on, since I expected the cutting to be quick.  The sawyer arrived, and he looked at the log, planning the cut standing on the opposite side from me.

I looked up above the log and stopped cold.

There was a large log perpendicular to and resting right on the one we were going to cut.  I yelled over to the sawyer, telling him he might want to move to my side of the log.  He looked up at the larger log and nodded.  He moved over to my side, started up the saw and began cutting.  It didn’t take long.

As the small blowdown was cut through, two things happened in quick succession:

  1. The small log dropped on the trail.
  2. Immediately, the larger log dropped rolled down right over the trail, bounced, went airborne, and landed 15 feet below, against a tree.  

The whole sequence took maybe 5 seconds.  

“Thank you!” The sawyer called.  I nodded.  

That was the first time in nearly eighty times out in the woods with the group I can truthfully say I called a problem before it became one.  Most of the other times I had seen as others had, or there was no need for concern.  This one would have been nasty and might well have ended the day for us. 

The sawyer’s helper is called a swamper, which doesn’t exactly convey desire or respect, but it is the noun, and the verb is “to swamp (for)” someone.  Sawyers concentrate on logs, and they depend upon swampers to keep them safe from harm. It is another pair of eyes to look above for dead trees that may come down or tension loaded spring poles—small trees bent in a U-shape— that can do a lot of damage to one’s self-image if cut improperly.

A short while and two cuts later, we stashed the chain saw and entered the wilderness, dealing with two moderate size blowdowns (16 inches, 40 cm in diameter) using 2-man, 5-foot crosscuts. There were a modest number of blowdowns needing to be cut before we reached the junction of the trail to Divide Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail, and headed towards Divide Lake. Here, we had to cut out several large downed trees. We did some leapfrogging, where two would work on one blowdown and the other two worked their way up the trail. By the end of the morning, we had cleared the lower half of the trail.

We stopped for lunch.  Trail work is a special kind of hike. We don’t usually cover a lot of distance, but we see and hear much more in the woods, because we spend so much time in the same place. High in the sunlight were spider webs. There were signs of past storms, of trees leaning broken off, or cut in two.  There were shade tolerant wildflowers on the forest floor.  On wet days, there are small pools of water on low spots of the trail. Around us, we could see new growth. 

I have a special relationship with the ground, be it the forest or a floor. I often sit on it, kneel on it, lie on it.  When I saw patients and examined their legs, I knelt on the floor to do so. I had two chairs in the exam room, and often the patient and family member sat in them and I sat on the step stool.  I was closer to the ground and had eye-to-eye horizontal contact.  I didn’t try to talk down to my patients, figuratively or literally.

We do trail work because we like doing good, and we enjoy being out in the woods with a bunch of other like-minded people.  I still do “normal” hikes, but I enjoy helping make the trails accessible for everyone.  I enjoy eating my lunch without often snide comments about what I am eating, and I enjoy a day where we aren’t talking politics, only tension and compression, the latter causing saws to bind.  We approach a log, check how it lies, whether we can move it without cutting, or with a strap, or with only one cut, or needing two.  We look above, below, and around for dangerous objects. We try to anticipate what the cut log will do, where it is going to go, how to get it off the trail, and whether there is room for it somewhere else.

Only then do we saw.  The first time I did it, I lasted about 30 seconds. Half the time, one is relaxing, allowing the saw to be pulled by his or her partner.  The other half, one is pulling. Relax, pull, relax, pull, several hundred times, dealing with the bind, which pinches the saw and unless a wedge is pounded in, stops work.  

What was a first for me this day was when asked if I wanted a break, I said no, I was fine.  And I was.  I wanted to finish the cut we were doing, and then I would rest.  It was the first time working that not only did I have more endurance than someone, I had the most endurance of the small group we had, which I hadn’t realized, until somebody said they couldn’t keep up with me.  I had never heard that before. 

That sort of stuff doesn’t come easy. It requires a lot of work, good technique, pacing oneself, and time in the woods doing this.  I will not have days like this all the time.  I would suck wind sawing the following week, and I would learn that I don’t have the legs to hike, push logs, and be out in the woods 5 days out of ten, without taking a few days off.  But two weeks later, I would have my first “second wind” while sawing, and finished a 23 incher. 

I had called a hazard that otherwise would have been unseen, and I was able to hold my own sawing. I was doing my own definition of good and enjoying it.

Underbucking a log or cutting from underneath. Notice the kerf-the cut–on top. It started coming together and binding the saw (top bind). On the bottom, the kerf will open up, allowing the cut to finish.
Author (right) using a D-handle saw to cut a small log. This is too much for a handsaw and too little for a two-man saw (Crossing Way Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness 1 Aug 20)..

Author (right) sawing a large Douglas fir. The orange wedge keeps the kerf open. I carry two in my pocket, which Ian, the other person, adopted. It saves time having to find one in a pack when one knows a log will need it. One of my modifications to the work gear. Diamond Peak Tie Trail, Diamond Peak Wilderness.
This mess will be done in a few days. Notice the extreme top bind on the large Douglas fir log. This is going to spring up when cut through and is a hazard that will need some discussion before we tackle it. The lowest log can be pulled off, the middle log may need two cuts, although if it is dry enough and short enough, one will be sufficient (Diamond Peak Wilderness).

Hiking out the Hand Trail (Mt. Washington Wilderness), on the first of what would be three days clearing the 4 mile (6.5 km) trail. Three Sisters in the distance, volcanic rock from past eruptions on the left.

“Tailgate session” before work in the Covid era. Scorpomanders (Scorpions from Eugene, Salamanders from Salem) doing a joint project at Patjens Lake Trail. The loop is about 6.5 miles (10 km), half in the Mt. Washington Wilderness. We used chain sawyers outside the wilderness and crosscut saws inside. We cleared it in 5 hours (11 Aug 20).

THE ONLY TIME IN MY LIFE I WAS A RINGER

June 12, 2020

I had forgotten about this event for a half-century.  Or I had repressed it.  Anyway, while I was doing my morning 5-mile walk through the park today, just having seen my thirtieth different wild flower species (a Golden Iris), I thought of how this would be a lost summer for the young men who were on the canoe tripping staff at Camp Pathfinder, Canada, where I learned to canoe trip, nearly 60 years ago. One only has a few years when one is strong, has time, is willing to and can work hard, get muddy, sunburned, wet, cold, bitten by bugs, and travel by pack and paddle through of the most beautiful country anywhere.  I took 25 trips all over Algonquin Park in 6 summers, paddled to South River Village one year and spent two weeks up in Temagami in 1964.

I don’t know what brought the memory deep out of my hippocampus, but this morning I thought of a canoe race I was in 54 years ago–my only canoe race, a two man one, international competition (after all, we were in Canada).  

We staff members at Pathfinder had days off, where we either had to paddle two miles to the car dock from the island camp, or if we were lucky, caught a power boat.  Once there, it was 2-3 miles to the Park Road, and then we hitchhiked into Huntsville, about 40 miles away.  We did our laundry, had ice cream, great food (although it was great at Pathfinder, too, and lots of it), then had to retrace our route back to camp. One night, I went to the local night club at Hidden Valley, a nice hangout, which was still there in 2013 when I came through.  Back then, if one went to H.V., it would be a real late night getting back to camp. Somehow, we all did.

One weekend, and my memory is obviously very flawed, considering I hadn’t thought of this event since LBJ was president, Justin W. and I were approached by I believe the mother of two boys at the camp.  She was a rich socialite.  Her name would be immediately recognized in the clothing industry if I wrote it, but she wasn’t the story.  Justin and I were.  There was to be a canoe race on a lake nearby.  It may well have been Lake Muskoka, but all I remember was a big lake with powerboats.  Justin and I were handed paddles and a canoe, and I can’t remember if we wore PFDs.  We probably didn’t, because back then we thought we were immortal, rather than teenagers.

Justin and I weren’t great friends, and that summer, he was a loose cannon, one day holding on to a rock formation along the park road, head slumped over like he had hung himself. Cars stopped and people actually got out to check on him.  He was lucky he wasn’t cited by the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police).  He was a strong guy, so he took the bow for power, and I stayed in the stern for steering.  I can’t remember the number of canoes, but there were several but probably fewer than 10.  The water was calm, and when the gun went off, we exploded into a fury of foam, power, and testosterone.  Justin was amazing. Normally, I can overcome most bow paddlers from the stern, but he was giving me everything I could handle, and I didn’t want to waste anything on steering if I didn’t have to. My arms were aching like they never had ached before or since. I think the race was about a half mile, certainly not more than a mile.  

We won comfortably, but not a blowout.  Thrilled, we headed back to shore, arms quivering from the effort, but heads held high, very proud of ourselves.

Here is the part I don’t remember.  At first, I thought the camp leaders were present on shore and we had to leave, but a day later, my memory had changed a little. It turns out that thinking about something changes it neurologically, just like observing something in nano space changes it, too.

I think Justin and I got the trophy.  I think so, because I have a vague memory of our having come back to camp with it.  

Briefly.  

Because I also remember, and this memory is fairly clear, that we were not going to keep the trophy, and I have a vague recollection of giving back the hardware.  

How I wish I could remember this, and now as an old adult, wonder what in the world had been going on with the socialite and the canoe race.  I do remember our being told that we had no business being in that race.  That was before the term “ringer,” but today someone would say that she brought in a couple of ringers to win the race.

Today, we recognize a ringer as someone who shows up for a pick up sport who played for a Division I NCAA school. In basketball, he dribbles through your legs and you wonder what happened. If you shoot, he blocks and you have a leather sandwich. 

Justin and I talked about the race only briefly afterwards.  I remember his saying that we were racing against trappers and real woodsmen, and we beat ‘em all.  Thinking back, I wonder if the competition was a bunch of middle aged guys with beer bellies who couldn’t tell a J-stroke from jaywalking, or thought the bow was something you did after a good performance.  But I like to think we beat tough competition.  Of course, today, there would be video and posting on Instagram or Facebook, but back then it was a lot better, because we could make up a better story, sort of like I am doing here.

The following year, 1967, was my last at Pathfinder, and I was head man on four canoe trips.  I thought it was only two, but years ago, Pathfinder put them all on line, and I found my name as “Mike Smith in charge” four times. I decided to check on the trip I had with Justin. I went on Pathfinder’s Web site and found the trip about a minute later. Bless the guy who did this; what a great service to past canoe trippers.  There it was, a two day 12-man trip to McIntosh and Brûlé lakes, a loop I had forgotten about, and which I had mixed up with my last trip that year. On August 7, Justin was second man to me on that trip with four staff, four canoes, 12 men, the Blackbear-Ink portage, my first time over the miler, and the 1 mile Nature Trail portage which I would carry again four days later on my last trip as a staff man, and not again for 46 years, when I carried a canoe over it on a day trip.

Without putting it down.  I texted my wife, saying something like “That mattered.”  She texted back an eyeroll icon with “if you say so.”

The trip Justin and I took was for one purpose: to get every camper still in camp out of camp for one night so the staff could have a break.  That time of year, the long trips were underway, and the camp had fewer kids present. We took the last 8, along with four trip staff.  These guys weren’t into canoeing, but we got them out and back, and Justin was superb. He made sure there was no nonsense, and he helped the third and fourth men on the trip as well.  Nobody swamped, I checked the box “No” on the return where it asked, “Was there any profanity on the trip?” (not until the first portage, anyway) and  the staff had a great night alone in camp.

I gave Justin an AAA, the top rating, for the trip.  He told me he didn’t deserve it. I assured him that his presence was valuable.  He was great. I wonder if we spoke of the canoe race. We probably didn’t.  Too bad.

I’ve got to send in a donation to the Algonquin Campership Fund for Pathfinder. And I think I will send this to the current owner.  Maybe he can give me more information on the great race. Or be glad he wasn’t around when it took place.

I’d never add that trophy to go with winning the 5-10 hp power boat race on Honeoye Lake in 1960, and a bowling trophy at Clover Lanes in 1963, which was still there, too in 2013, but closed in 2016 to make way for Whole Foods.  I got a clock for winning my age group in the 2nd Annual AAN (American Academy of Neurology) 5 km run in 1992, but that and the other two were national events.

I’m still undefeated in international canoe race competition.  

The author back again in a red canoe.. Camp Pathfinder canoe dock; August 2013. Note the red neckerchief I am wearing

Day trip to Little Island Lake (and others). Author in blue shirt in back. I camped at this site nearly a half-century earlier.

THE JOYS OF CURIOSITY AND COUNTING

April 25, 2020

I miss hiking.  I miss snowshoeing, my last one five weeks ago now, when I soloed into Arrowhead Lake in the Diamond Peak Wilderness with nobody out there.  I knew I would not be going any time soon, and I fondly remember that special day.

Snowshoe tracks on Arrowhead Lake, Diamond Peak Wilderness March 2020

I am fortunate enough to be able to go out and walk, and nearby Alton Baker Park, straddling Eugene and Springfield, has miles of trails in meadow, oak savannah, and riparian zones.  I  cross Alton Baker to get to stores by the UO, and I’ve walked the entire 16 mile river bank loop on both sides.  Occasionally, I do a loop from Knickerbocker Bridge to Autzen Bridge and back through the park coming home.  It is about 4 miles and goes along the Willamette and then the canoe canal.  For the first week, I did my usual walks that I had done before.  

Then I decided to add more distance, going further downstream to the deFazio Bridge.  Because it is spring, I started counting the number of different wildflower species I saw.  I have a good app from the brother of noted trail writer William Sullivan.  For the past two years, I have used the app and a few other books to identify well over 150 species of wildflowers on my hikes over the course of the season.  I almost hit 200 last year.  In the park, I could usually hit 20, and one memorable day got near 30.  

Mind you, many of the wildflowers are weeds, but many of them are pretty, and I’m a non-native here, too.  I started by walking through a neighborhood over to the parking lot by Autzen stadium, past Cuthbert Amphitheater, where I have seen a couple of concerts, down to the duck pond, and the center of the 1 to a billion solar system model, and then upstream along the river to Knickerbocker Bridge and back home.  It is somewhat more than 5 miles and fairly quiet.  There are interesting birds, too.  Two of us are making an analemma at local noon throughout the year near where the big “Sun” is. I get to see rushing water leave the duck pond to go to the Willamette, then the Columbia, and finally the Pacific.  Or the atmosphere.  

But I couldn’t have imagined what I was going to see in the way of flowers.

With wildflowers, like birds, or stars, observing is quite simple: you look, if you don’t know what something is, you try to find it in a book or ask somebody, and eventually, if you see it a lot you know what it is, and after a while know its habitats. What you need is curiosity more than anything else, and I was lucky enough to have a lot instilled in me when I was a kid.  It ranks up there with reading as one of the greatest gifts I’ve received.  In Tucson, I did birding on my neighborhood walks, being called the Bird Man, and 20 species in a day was great.  The Christmas Bird Count included my neighborhood, and then I would push 30 species. I found that telling the difference between a pyrrhuloxia and a female cardinal was easy, whereas earlier I thought it impossible.  Verdins had different calls, depending on the time of year; we had rock wrens in the neighborhood and I heard an occasional canyon wren, in addition to the ever-present cactus wren, the state bird. I am very auditory; I remember people by their voice rather than their face, and I do birding the same way. I may not see a spotted Towhee, but I sure can tell when I hear one.  Lately, however, I have been spotting them more easily.  It’s practice and knowing what to look for.

Two weeks ago, I saw twenty species of wildflowers on a walk for the first time this year.  As I walked through the neighborhood, I saw a non-native pale blue violet growing outside someone’s yard.  By Autzen Stadium, I saw my first California poppy, and by the Science Center I saw the first camas of the year, a lovely five blue petaled plant.  I found a stretch near Frohnmeyer bridge where within 100 yards there were over 20 different species. I saw Hooker Fairy bells and realized the past couple of years I had misidentified a Woodland buttercup.  I went nearer the river and saw a Money plant, 4-pealed pink flowers. Larkspurs and Plumed Solomon seal were everywhere, along with Trilliums and Fringe cups.  Someone picked an Iris that I needed for my count, but a week later two more sprouted.  Near them were a cluster of Fawn lilies.   I learn more each year from the mistakes I have made.  Last year, I learned about salsify flowers, this year, I realized there were three kinds of geraniums with different sizes and leaves. I am picking up on grasses, too.  A few days later, I hit thirty species and ended the day with about 35. I figured that would be the top number. 

Camas

The app is great: I open it, make sure I have the right part of Oregon, the right week, and the right elevation. That decreases the flowers to about half, or 1800.  Wildflower (vs.  conifer, other tree, grasses, etc.) color, number of petals, size of blooms, whether leaves are alternate, opposite, apical or basal, the environment (Disturbed, alpine, rocky, riparian) bring the numbers down often to a dozen, sometimes to three or four. Then I can look at a map, read the description, and see if this is the plant.  

As the weather got sunnier, the counts rose.  I hit 40, then 45, and even 48, getting a sow thistle, Persian speedwell, and yellow oxalis in the last 20 yards, when I wasn’t expecting anything. That’s the other thing about observing; you have to always hope there is something there and at the same time be happy just to be looking and seeing what is there. Sort of like fishing.  I identified a Torlinga crabapple tree, then looked at my feet where I was almost standing in a patch of Lesser Periwinkle.

Today, I was musing how the single dogwood blossom I had seen for the past week had finally gone. For whatever reason, I looked up, which apparently I had not done, being more interested in ground blooms. There above me the whole tree was abloom. Fabulous.

Dogwood

A lot of times, I need to try different colors of the petals to make sure I am not missing something else.  I don’t identify everything but close to 90%.  I write them down when I get home and count them when I am out there.  I count a lot of things, always have, every day, often without thinking and often without knowing what I will do with the counts.  I watch the birds, too.  The other day, a Canada goose landed on the duck pond. As he landed, his feet extended and briefly, he was skimming the water like a water-skier, minus tow rope.  I had never seen that before.  There is a lot of interesting stuff in nature, but one has to look, and it helps if one both knows what one is looking for and at the same time, have the joy of looking for its own sake. One memorable morning in Nebraska, dancing cranes made the whole Platte River bounce for about 2 seconds.  I saw it myself.

https://michaelspinnersmith.com/2018/04/09/the-morning-the-platte-river-danced/

Canada geese young

This past week, I topped 50, then 52, reaching 56.  Some wildflowers are starting to fade. Oregon grape will be gone soon.  Someone picked the iris and the salsify, but I found another salsify near the river and two new irises have appeared.  The Wild roses are blooming now, and one of the plants I could not seem to identify turned out to be Miner’s lettuce.  That gave me 57 for today. And it was raining.

I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a chance to go back up Spencer Butte and this summer into the high country.  Trail work also means a chance to see new wildflowers.  But I am so happy I started looking where I hadn’t looked before.  

It’s remarkable what one sees.

Ladybug on English plantain
Fawn lilies
Plumed Solomon’s seal
Hooker Fairy bells
Red Columbine

DAYSRUNTOGETHER

April 7, 2020

As I began to write this, Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, asked for a nationwide draft of doctors and other health care workers.

Ah, the draft.  I was number 56 in 1969; one brother was number 139; the other was a staff sergeant in the Marines at Da Nang. I ended up going to medical school, joining the reserves there, then spending two years’ active duty aboard the ‘Lou, the USS St. Louis (LKA-116), with two deployments to the western Pacific and having seen just about every country that bordered the Pacific north of the equator.  Just about.

The draft ended in 1973, so if I had not joined, I never would have had the experience of being a medical officer in an organization where medicine was not the top priority.  It had to be that way in the military, but ultimately that was the reason I left. But I never regretted my service. Not once.

In the interim, I have often wanted a draft, and we likely would have been a lot more cautious about entering conflicts if we had one.  A lot of young men—now women—need a time in their lives when they have to follow orders.  A big reason we got out of Vietnam was that everyday America was taking part in the war. People in the military weren’t heroes then, other than the real ones who got “The Medal” or one of the Stars. When I returned home, nobody spat on me, but nobody treated me any differently, either. I was just a young man in the military.  Just about everybody had to do it, unless they had bone spurs or some other often minor condition.  

It was a couple of decades later before Veterans Day actually had meaning for me.  I realized I was a veteran, not something that had often occurred to me for at least 15 years after my service. Really.  

Now we are in a pandemic, with doubling times of deaths recently in the 3 day range, starting to lengthen now to 4-5 days, having doubled 14 times total as I write this, with only four more doublings before we hit 100,000.  You can see why 200,000 (one more doubling after that) is on the table. And NYC needs help, badly.

From what I see and hear, there are times I am tempted to pull out my old bag and go to volunteer, since I doubt there will be a doctor draft any time soon.  Even as out of date as I am, I could certainly screen, talk to families, answer calls (with my upstate New York accent), help with intubations, and probably a few other things.  

But that’s more romantic—and a lot crazier—than reality.  I would likely get in the way, probably get sick, not unlikely become a ventilator candidate, which I would refuse, and die alone, my last days becoming part of the problem I wanted to help, 3000 miles from home.  I’d rather do it here, but as of this writing, we have had our 10th doubling for cases (1024) and our doubling time is about six days. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a huge outbreak by June, but the doubling time is gradually lengthening. Our growth factor (new/prior day) is often under 1, which is good.

I’ve never been a hero, and I am not about to be a martyr, either.  We need to have a solid volunteer corps where people can immediately go to where they are needed, starting close to home. I might be good talking to families who want information.  When I practiced, I did not shy away from talking to families of dying patients.  I didn’t like it a good share of the time, I certainly didn’t get paid extra for it, but that was my job, and I made sure I did it.  I’ve been on both sides of the white coat, and I know how important it is to actually speak to a doctor about an ill family member.  But I doubt anybody will be interested. I am good at knowing when care is futile and when there is no ethical reason to continue, but many others know that just as well and are current.  

That leaves me one other spot on the left coast: the USNS Mercy. After all, I once served on a ship.  I know how to enter and leave one (if not in uniform one faces aft, where the flag is, then one faces the officer of the deck and requests permission to come aboard.) I know the numbering system on board, so if something is deck 2, frame 46, I know it is two decks below the main deck, port side and up forward to frame 46.  This is not rocket science.

I would have a place to stay, no worries about commuting, would be available for all sorts of duties.  After all, that stuff is not easily forgotten.  My hair is short, I line up my buttons with my zipper, I can say “Sir” easily, and most of all, I have this skill.

The Navy wants no COVID aboard the ship. That is impossible.  It will happen. And I recognize that.  But with hundreds of thousands of retired military in southern California, my ending up on the Mercy is not going to happen.

So, the days run together. I have lengthened my morning walk from 3 miles to 5, much along the Willamette River, which is flowing well if a bit low from another dry winter.  I wear a mask now—just a balaclava, so long as the mornings are cold—and count the number of wildflower species I have seen.  I hit 23 today, which is good for this time of year in a limited habitat. The towhees are zzzzttting, the scrub jays calling, with an occasional Steller being seen, cormorants are on one of the river islands, herons are close by, and there aren’t a lot of people out there.

It’s a good time for those few of us who dislike crowds.  I feel sorry for those who can’t be in large groups, especially because life may change after Covid.  I don’t know whether I will ever tutor again in person; I won’t be carpooling to the high country for hikes or for work parties on the trails.  But I spent my first year here not carpooling, and lately, I have been hiking alone, rather than with the Club.  Those are my best hikes, my best snowshoes.

Up in the high country, it will be quieter this year. The new requirements for trail reservations at some of the busier trailheads are not going to be rolled out as soon as planned. The trails may get a rest from the crowds this summer.  I worry about fire season, but if few are in the high country, that removes a large risk.  

Coming home after my walk, I spend time checking the numbers of the epidemic, seeing if I detect any changes. I also do some algebra problems on line and go to zooniverse and pick a couple of projects to help out,  My lap is open for a couple of the lap cats.

I would love to help, and maybe I will get a chance to, but unless things hit the fan big time here, I am best suited to take care of myself and be one less problem, one less case.

Milton’s Sonnet 19:

“…“God doth not need

” Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best 

 “Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state 

” Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed 

 “And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest: 

 “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

English Daisies
Following the CDC (a huge disappointment overall in these times) guidelines. Elections matter.