Three years ago, my friend David Lane and I decided to do
our own elk camp. The idea was to hunt for cow elk to put some meat in our
freezers and limit our reliance on store-bought meat.
That first year we borrowed a friend’s wall tent and set up
camp in the absolute worst spot a person (me) could possibly pick. The spot was
in the bottom of a canyon that saw just a bit of sunlight each day and seemed
to concentrate the cold each night. We didn’t see a single elk that year.
We stayed in a hotel in Burns the second year. My two boys
joined us for that hunt. We’d get up early, drag our gear to David’s truck and
head for the hills with some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in our packs
and some beer in the coolers. The weather was far more conducive to camping
that second year, with temperatures in 60 and clear, sunny views for days. My
son Cole managed to surprise a cow elk, or vice versa, and she ran away
unscathed. The rest of us saw no elk that year.
This year we stayed in an Air B&B. Mostly because I
wanted to support the local economy in these rough times but also because our
hunt was shortened by everyone’s work schedules. This year was an in-between
year, with cool, mostly clear weather but a lot of snow left on the ground from
a big fall storm a few weeks previous. We saw no elk this year.
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
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→
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→
I once ran a marathon in almost the same time it took me to walk up a hill in search of small gamebirds known as chukars.
Chukars are mythical little creatures, undoubtedly the inspiration for wingsuit flying and possibly the Phoenix.
Originally brought to Oregon from India in the 1950s, they live on hillsides with slopes that seem to defy mathematics, they can run up hill faster than any hunter can go, and they dart away suddenly, as if carried away by the very hands of the gods.
I’ve perspired before. It’s a skill I’m rather gifted at, in fact. I rained down on those parched eastern Oregon slopes, and all the water from the turbulent Deschutes River a thousand feet below me couldn’t quench my thirst.
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.