Tag Archives: Oregon

In the tempest

Lightening over the Siskiyou

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.

Continue reading In the tempest

Canyon Country

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.

Canyons of Chicago

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.

Canyons of Chicago

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

The Zumwalt in Spring

Dark rain clouds hang low over the Zumwalt Prairie in May, 2018

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

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

A Hard Walk

These slopes are impossibly steep, impressively rugged and home to the mythical chukar

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.

My colleague David has been telling me about chukar hunting since I started working at ODFW more than a year ago. Continue reading A Hard Walk

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

The Landscape of my life –


I was thinking about the different places I’ve lived and how landscapes have influenced me over the years.

The first landscape impression I have is of Austria’s Rax mountain, which towered over the village of Richenau, where I lived until I was seven.

I recall hiking on the mountain’s central plateau as a child and staring down the rugged edges into the Höllental, which was like something out of Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings.”


I have loved mountains ever since.

The second is the verdant Willamette Valley, a green swath running north to south between the Cascade mountains and the coastal range in western Oregon. The volcanic peaks of Mounts Hood and Jefferson to the east, along with the Three Sisters and the flattop of Mount St. Helens to the north form a boundary of sorts, while the wild Pacific Ocean to the west hems you in to the wide valley from which it is very difficult to escape.


The third is the bleak lava fields of the western part of the big island of Hawaii. I spent seventh grade living up on the slopes of Hualalai with my parents and my brother and sisters, and though I was fascinated with the lush vegetation and dank lava tubes near the school I attended and the smell of rotting guavas near the bus stop, it was the dry flats with their moonlike appearance that impacted me most. I loved to read the dates of the most recent lava flows on signs posted along the highway and imagine the stark blackness of the cooled lava highlighted by the vicious red of molten rock flowing toward the ocean. Living in Hawaii is to experience the slow and formidable creation of the world that we know.


The fourth is the crown of the continent, a portion of north central Montana where glaciers scoured out a gem of massive granite walls and deep valleys carved out by dusty blue rivers. Glacier National Park looks nothing like it did when I was a kid and visited with all the wonder of the discovery of the dawn of the world, a time when glaciers and dinosaurs were synonymous and where the ice, even in early summer, was thick and hearkened back to an age when it covered the world.The glaciers are all but gone. A few cling to rocky precipices thousands of feet above your head, but they are trickling away their lifeblood summer after summer.


The fifth is the tundra, which has two very distinct personalities. The tundra that I lived with every day was that which clings to the Chugach mountains high above Anchorage, Alaska. In the spring, the tundra runs wild with the life-giving spring runoff. In the summer, you can watch it almost shimmer with the brilliance of millions of tiny plants clinging to the sides of the otherwise barren mountains. I would take walks in it and rest upon its carpeted softness and wonder if the caribou could taste a difference in the millions of tiny plants that make it up. The second tundra is the flat tundra of the northern realms. outside of Barrow, on the edge of nowhere, the tundra runs beige and dry in summer as snowy owls hunt for lemmings in the 24-hour sunlight. In the fall, the tundra follows the pattern of leaves farther south. It turns a brilliant shade of rusty red with orange and yellow highlights. I’m convinced there is not a painter alive who can mimic the magic of the northern tundra.


And the last, or, I should say, the latest, is the city, sprawling, as it does, from wilderness to wilderness as an organism complete with a vascular system of pipes and wires that connect one part to another. In its own way, the city is as breathtaking as the country side. Where the mountains greeted me upon waking in Anchorage, now the skyline meets me, seemingly rising out of Lake Michigan like a range of mirrored peaks. The difference becoming more defined at night, when the skyscrapers light up with the brilliance of millions of watts of electricity to draw your eyes upward as they would be toward the snow capped peaks in daylight. And if you wander the canyons of the city, they overflow with life at almost any hour. And this is probably my favorite detail. There is no loneliness in the city. Or at least there does not need to be any. The city is like a hive of the best of humanity, the highest achievements in food and lifestyle and community. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. The city can exhibit the basest of human behaviors, the lowest forms of community and food deserts. And all of this, all of this is contained in just a few square miles so that it is condensed and anywhere you look, there is always something new, some detail that went unobserved the last time you looked there. Always there are new faces and interesting stories, and that is why the city is the most fascinating landscape for me. It truly holds more surprise and more adventure per square inch than any landscape that I’ve lived in or near in this short life so far.