Category Archives: oregon

Into the Desert: Borax Lake and the Fish That Live There

Two BLM intenrns and an ODFW biologist prepare traps to rescue Alvord Lake Chub from a shrinking pond in the Alvord Basin.

The two BLM interns from The Chicago Botanical Garden both had the look of someone who has been in the desert one day too long.

Their bloodshot eyes surveyed the bleak landscape in the way you’d expect someone who had seen the same featureless view every day for months and months.

I rode in the government truck with them down to a spot in the lower Alvord Basin just a few miles from the Nevada border. We stopped and opened a gate in a fence and drove off into the sage brush for a long distance, before a small, dark tree began to take shape in the distance.

Continue reading Into the Desert: Borax Lake and the Fish That Live There

Into the Desert: Alvord Basin

There is a small, cold desert east of here that I have seen in my dreams for decades.

The Alvord Desert

It sits high up on a plateau created millions of years ago when basalts flowed over the area in giant, motlen floods .

It sits in the shadow of the snowy mountain, which catches the rain, leaving it parched and flat and featureless.

I had seen the Alvord Desert far below the East Rim Lookout on Steens Mountain the previous evening. The twelve-mile-long by seven-mile-wide playa looked exactly as I had seen it in my dreams, a vast, sandy nothingness stretching away to the south.

Continue reading Into the Desert: Alvord Basin

Into the Desert: Steens Mountain

Mount Washington along the Santiam Pass

I sipped hot green tea as I drove over the Santiam Pass at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

The air was still night-cooled, and the tea felt good on my throat, raw as it was from so much smoke from a brutal summer of forest fires.

The familiar landscape of a pass I’ve driven maybe a hundred times gave way to the the suprising landscape of a big burn as I neared the top. The Whitewater fire had burned parts of the forest on either side of the road, and I noticed the mosaic pattern of the burn left swirls of green amidst the blackened earth.

Dropping down into the high desert, as I have called Central Oregon since I first visited there, is always exciting in the way it transitions from the deep green of the Cascades to the beige and sage of the high and dry country. Continue reading Into the Desert: Steens Mountain

January Roads

It’s easy to not like January. It’s bleak, it’s past the grand family holidays of December, it has 31 days, and it represents the coldest, hardest, deadest part of winter.

No flowers will bloom until late February, and the daylight, while remaining infinitisimally longer each day, is dulled by steel-grey skies in the long and relentless march to Spring.

I made a playlist for myself but with her in mind. She likes to sing in the car, so I picked every other song to be one she could sing along to.

Continue reading January Roads

The Theory of the Wolf

The wolf is an extraordinary creature.

At once man’s oldest accomplice and his oldest nemesis.

There is some evidence that ancient man used ancient carnivores, some distant relative of the wolf, to help him corner large and unruly sources of food, like woolly mammoths, the protein from which, in turn, increased the size of our brains, which led to more improved hunting techniques and eventually the idea to domesticate wolves into more predictable hunting partners.

As species, we traveled two very distinct pathways through history. Continue reading The Theory of the Wolf

I leave it up to you


Omakase is a Japanese word that means to entrust. As in, I leave it upto you.

It’s a culinary tradition wherein the chef chooses the courses based on what is inspiring to him or her.

Entrusting someone is hard work. It’s casting aside all your cares and worries and believing that the person you’ve entrusted will at least meet your expectations, if not surpass them.

A week after one of the worst elections in my lifetime, if not US history, my friend Aaron put together an Omakase gathering for sixteen guests. Continue reading I leave it up to you

The Back Story

WanderlustIt all started with an insatiable wanderlust.

And a girl who wanted to go along for the ride.

We have traveled to dozens of countries together. We’ve lived in seven cities in five states. We’ve moved 26 times in our 20 years together.

And it’s time to come home for a while.

Every adventurer has a home base. And for us, that home base has always been Salem, Oregon. If you’ve seen it, you know it’s the perfect place, sandwiched between the Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range, full of rivers and lakes and trails. A perfect place for an adventurer to keep his or her legs fit and eyes ever looking towards the next vista.

Continue reading The Back Story

Coming Home

The Columbia River Gorge
Mt. Hood as seen from The Dalles, Oregon.

There is a point on U.S. Highway 84 heading West where the road seems to descend into this big gouge in the landscape, past millennia of accumulated sediments in the strata gouged, revealed and polished by successive glacial floods.

It dips down from the arid and Martian-featured landscape of the Columbia plateau and the Channeled Scablands to where the big, blue river rolls peacefully toward the Pacific.

It’s this point where I feel like I’m coming home. Where the landscape transforms from wide plains to steep walls traversed by mountain goats. Where green oasis appear wherever streams and rivers meet the mighty Columbia.

Continue reading Coming Home

A day in the city

I spent Thursday in Portland hanging out with some really good friends. Some are long-time city dwellers like Jason, while others are newbies to the big canyons of concrete, glass and steel.

It was a rainy and damp trip up the I-5 corridor. The perfect drive for contemplating the future. The drizzle melts everything into a boring turn-of-whatever century Dutch landscape, so you can focus on anything other than the scenery.

I found a parking spot on 4th and Couch and walked the half-a-block to my friend Jason’s studio. One of dozens of artist dens in an artists’ collective building, I could tell his distinctive touch on the wall outside his suite.

Surrounded by SUGs and other collectible plastic figurines and bottles of Schlitz beer, and in a veritable shrine to Apple computers, Jason is about as at home in the city as anyone I’ve ever met. He fits into the mess of humanity as well as anyone and yet stands out as an artist in a city full of wannabes.

We walked six blocks in a heavy drizzle to The Roxy. It’s not great food, but it combines two of our favorite things, breakfast and Steve Buscemi. We’ve been fans for a long, long time.

He drinks coffee and I drink green tea. We both ordered the Steve Buscemi, a wood chipper’s favorite of corned beef hash and fried eggs.

He’s disappointed I’m moving to Alaska, and I don’t blame him. We’ve been best friends since fifth grade, and our families have vacationed together in Montana the last few years.

But our conversation runs to other matters and the grittiness of city life in a town known for its roses.

We walked off the Steve Buscemi in a hard drizzle that was trying for rain. Downhill and across Burnside to the south end of the Pearl, a haven for hipsters and artists who are sometimes one in the same.

I told him we’d see them every year still, we hugged and I drove to southwest Portland.

Jordan is a lot younger than me, but we’ve been friends for many years. He suggest we meet for coffee at 5th and Stark. He suggests we meet in half-an-hour. I don’t want to wait that long, so I go on a wild goose chase looking for his apartment off Barbur Boulevard.

We venture back downtown to Stumptown Coffee and sit in low-back chairs and sip on large cups of coffee and tea as the rain falls in earnest outside. These new Portlanders show up one by one and we chat about life in the city. Having all come up in Salem, a mere 45-minutes and a world away south of Portland, we’re fascinated by life here.

Anya rides up on her bike and takes off her skater helmet and shakes out her long blond hair as the boys tease her about tire spray.

Jordan sips an Americano while David drinks tea. Jordan check his iPhone while I ask David about the new ink on his wrist.

They are young and in the heartbeat of society. The big city is their playground, their backyard and their workplace.

I’m envious in the tall foyer of Stumptown Coffee. The smells of coffee and leather and maybe a little cigarette smoke and patchouli oil on the dress of the girl who brushes past me. I love the smells and sights and sounds in the big city. The traffic moving by and the way rain coats swish and heels sound on metal grates.

I love the way they relax in too tight clothes and plan their next social interaction. They’ve been friends for a long, long time, and it reflects in their gracefulness. It’s a city dweller’s peace in the chaos, and I’m forever hoping to experience it someday myself. I get a taste now and then, but it’s in these moments that I live vicariously through their innocence and exploration.

There is nothing like a day in the city. Sure, throw in a visit to Powell’s City of Books and a late-afternoon beer at Henry’s, and you’d have the perfect day. But a Steve Buscemi and a few cups of green tea and hours of conversation on a rainy day are just as good sometimes.