I watched a thunderhead build momentum over the Siskiyou mountains all day on Thursday. Up and up it went, 20,000, 30,000 feet into the sky, white, billowy protrusions folding and unfolding from its anvil base along a column that seemed to stretch from the earth to the high heavens.
The gleaming-white column softened and turned pink and then peach and then salmon in the glow of the setting sun. I drove along the upper Rogue River trying to think about fish and fat salmonflies, but my mind was on that cloud and its ominous intentions.
When you walk through the canyons of Chicago on a blustery day, not that Chicago is any windier than other American cities, you can feel like the walls are closing in on you.
Maybe it’s the hordes of people scrambling from the trains to their jobs at some perch high up on those canyon walls.
Maybe it’s the ambient noise of elevated trains, taxis and heeled shoes clipping the sidewalks.
Whatever it is, five-years-ago, I was a mess of a human being.
Daily panic attacks as I rode the trains to and from downtown Chicago. Elevated blood pressure. Irritability. Lack of creativity. Inability to be mindful. The list could go on.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love Chicago. I did. I had an amazing job working with some of the most talented people in public radio. I got to look at that amazing architecture every morning and afternoon. And I was part of this vibrant, thriving city for three years.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” ― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
September and October have been two of the heaviest travel months of my career in conservation so far. I have seen the sun rise in Washington D.C. and set in Portland on the same day. I’ve traveled to the political heartland, and I’ve driven thousands of miles around Oregon.
With the demise of creative music and extremely limited options among the mainstays of the music industry, I have been listening to books on tape, or, more correctly, audiobooks.
A flat, steel-gray ceiling hangs low over the town of Enterprise as we leave headed north into the Zumwalt Prairie.
It doesn’t bode well for seeing the menagerie of raptors the region is famous for.
As you ascend the ancient volcanic plateau that houses the 330,000-acre prairie, agricultural production gives way to Idaho Fescue and Bluebunch wheatgrass.
Small cliff faces of exposed Columbia River Basalt line the road, and before the rain begins to fall, we see several golden and bald eagles, a Swainson’s hawk and a dark-morph red-tailed hawk.
As we level out onto the Zumwalt, the Findley Buttes, three shield volcano cones that managed to force their way up through the Columbia River Basalts, rise before us and dominate the landscape. Continue reading The Zumwalt in Spring→
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.
There is a small, cold desert east of here that I have seen in my dreams for decades.
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.
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→
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.