Tree Secrets

Companion piece to IG photos @ t3killahbee.

Thinking about the human thirst for new adventures, for new anything, always…. I caught myself in a downward spiral last week wishing for new as I bemoaned continued work and finance challenges, disruptive neighbors and alleyway visitors, the uptick of violent crime in my neighborhood, the slow demise of my primary mode of transportation allowing escape from these troubles and from the crumbling city. Electrical issues with my car threatened to derail a much needed getaway after finally securing some legitimate V.O. work. And I was already feeling lukewarm with regard to revisiting the campground I’d been attending for many years, now overwhelmed by a patronage considerably shifting the atmosphere with an abundance of gear and volume. Yet, with a shoulder healing still from dislocation, I was not going to be carrying a pack this time. Unable to secure the limited privacy of my regular campsite, I felt the need to get further out in the wilderness, further away from the type of campers I expected to encounter from the city. However, this was not the time. And my expectations for the journey began to talk me out of the need to make it.

I felt frustrated that I could not invite friends very easily either without knowing if/when I might retrieve my vehicle. I did not want to pressure them with the timing or responsibility for the drive out, and some of my camping gear was actually still in the trunk of my car at the shop. And even though I wished for some time alone in the outdoors, I do have a few friends whom allow for both stimulating conversation and, more importantly for me in the forest, quiet. Moreover I thought a friend or two might provide a buffer against the neighbors I anticipated onsite from recent experience. As I considered whether or not even to bother with travel when the variables had tumbled out of my control, I got the call from my mechanic, rode my bike a few miles to retrieve my car, and then returned home in a slightly better frame of mind, ready to pack up the car. I made it out of town less than an hour later. Apparently I still wanted to get out.

After stopping in a small town briefly to locate firewood and a NW forest pass, I found only ice and a solemn admonition against campfires from a local businesswoman. Not balking at her explanation, I had noticed the news of early drought and increased fire risk. And after last year’s miserable experience through September with toxic air quality and nowhere to run from the multitude of forest fires and smoke in the Cascades and well beyond, I felt that I could sacrifice a camp fire if need be for the safety of the community. In truth, my experience with the all-permeating, suffocating smoke last fall has dampened my enjoyment of the crackling fire and woodsmoke somewhat. From the tone of the local business operators, I gathered that there was still some lack of communication and interagency cooperation over pandemic and fire suppression protocols. The Forest Service offices were still closed.

New Campsite

I made it to camp in the late afternoon, found my site and began to scout for places to locate a tent and hammock. I noticed a small stand of old growth providing shade against temperatures in the mid 90’s. My former favorite site had not included nearly so nice a stand of trees, though it offered a wonderful open stretch of river access. This site offered a much smaller window of river access, but far more private and well shaded. Moreover, there was a very smooth stretch of sand to test out a new bug mesh bivy sack I had bought in preparation for lighter backpack travel (only 12oz. weight) once my shoulder healed. As the light fell, I started a fire with an abundant supply of wood left the prior weekend by a party celebrating a 40th birthday, apparently by splitting a bunch of downed trees from the Winter/Spring winds. I guess they hadn’t got the news in town. Lucky for me.

The metal fire ring well contained anything less than a bonfire anyway, and the camp host had swept away everything but sand from a nearly 10 foot radius, so I felt comfortable enjoying the amenity despite conflicting governmental directives, a common theme of late. I was informed by a new camp host that fires were OK on Federal, but not County lands, so far. I was pleased to discover that he was not the same host who likely had a hand in the late night theft of my cooler a few years before, nor was he the extremely nosy host who had interrupted my visits with friends for the last 2 seasons with arbitrary assertions of host authority. Freed from host intrusion anxiety, I enjoyed the fire well into the evening, drinking and listening to music as the stars brightened. I began to think I might enjoy this new camp site.

Having opted for only a mesh tent shell because of the warm evening and the presence of so many stars, I arose early the next morning with the sunlight. I decided to get moving early before the heat rose and before people thronged to the trailheads nearby. I drove a few minutes up the road, rather fearful of the cars I expected to encounter at another spot now overwhelmed with exponential population growth. To my surprise and unparalleled joy, there was no one else at the trailhead at 7 am. Ecstatic, I could not decide whether to rush up the trail to avoid any human confrontation potentially compromising this joy or to take my time to enjoy a moment of peace more immediately in a place that would not again see quiet the rest of the day.

I felt that I had been gifted a special experience for my effort. With the shift in attitude generated by this feeling, I noticed more clearly the light peering through the trees as it climbed the ridge, the different blue-green hues of rushing water between the exposed cedar roots, the rainbow palate of lichen painting the walls of the canyon and stones lining the trail. When I arrived at the Falls still in disbelief at my good fortune, my solitude was confirmed, and I sat quietly in the sun on the hillside absorbing every bit of sight, sound, and good feeling that I could. Humbled by the cathedral I was able to envision again without the conveyer belt of chatty Kathy’s up and down the trail, I saw the place anew, and it looked even more gorgeous than ever before in the last 20 years. I laughed to myself at myself as I enjoyed this unexpected moment of bliss to the full.

All to Myself

As I gave thanks again and made my way back down the trail, I felt so fine that I picked up every bit of trash I saw along the path, and there were many bits. Rather than continue my inner diatribe against the thoughtlessness engendered by a throwaway culture, I wanted to allow others to enjoy some inkling of what I had just felt and continued to feel. Towards the end of the trail, I greeted the first human I’d seen that day…who did not even reply. In fact he seemed rather afraid of me. I then recalled recent press and social media regarding discrimination in the woods and could only assume that he, like many others, was intimidated by the resonant boom of my southern intoned morning greeting. Saddened for a moment at the thought that I superficially represent an assumedly racist point of view because of the way I look and sound, in the next moment I remembered that many others face far worse responses. Considering further, I had to admit that I rather enjoyed the ability of my tone to quiet obnoxious trail conversations from silly busybodies. However, this hiker did not fit that description, and he might have simply been of a similar quiet mindset in our shared environment.

Returning to camp after this brief 5 mile hike, I had the entirety really of a beautiful day to spend along the river…which I did. After some limited journaling with a nerve damaged right hand still not allowing prolonged control of a handheld writing utensil, I began reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, first on the hot sand, then by the river, then in the hammock. I looked around camp to note the size, complexion and distance of the trees nearby to determine how they might be interacting at this very moment, talking to one another, critiquing the campers possibly. Mixing a few Hemingway Green Isaacs throughout the day, I maintained hydration and relaxation until again the sun fell behind the ridge line.

Just before sundown around 10 pm, I threw together a bowl of rice, beans, chicken, sour cream and salsa instead of opting to spend more time with meal prep as I most often do. Too hot to eat too much, I enjoyed the freedom from meal prep to set up the bivy sack (12 oz.) that I wanted to test here before relying upon it in deeper wilderness. Definitely a snug fit with a mat and a sleeping bag, I still nearly fell asleep within minutes in the ultra lightweight backpacking shelter which allowed for unobstructed star gazing without exposure to bugs and bug bites. Excited by the possibilities of traveling even more lightly, I returned to another glorious (and safely girded) campfire to reflect about past trips to the area, friends with whom I’d shared it through the years, the beauty of the subtle differences between the many adventures.

I allowed myself a little more time in the sack the following morning, still trying to determine my plan for the day. I was undecided whether I wished to remain at the site until the 2 pm checkout, again basking in the the sunshine, dipping in the icy cold river, reading in the hammock or whether to strike out on another hike earlier in the day in hopes that the temperatures would not quite reach the 90’s. Feeling the soreness of sleeping on the ground for a couple of nights as is my constant condition, I opted for a morning yoga session in the sunshine which gave me both relief and energy for the day. I would indeed be hiking to the mountain lakes nearby.

Talking Trees

Settled upon my direction, I still left time to read further up on the Hidden Lives of these trees surrounding me. A book I had been given as a Christmas gift and had forgotten until another friend reminded me, my timing for beginning it was impeccable. I had not given the working processes of trees so much consideration since my days in the Redwoods, but Wollheben’s perspectives had reopened my eyes to the depth of interconnection largely unnoticed among nonhuman life. Everywhere I looked I began to see the landscape differently, noting the seamless synchronicity of growth and decay perpetuating the forest life around me, not just of trees but of everything in the forest. With the other campers in my area vacating their sites quite early, I scouted those nearby to determine other possibilities for future trips and found a few I had overlooked for some years. Listening for a clean start to my car and cleaning a layer of fir pollen from my windshield, I gave thanks again to this new favorite as I putted slowly away from camp on the dirt road.

Arriving at today’s trailhead, I noticed trash strewn everywhere along the ground from the parked cars to and around the trailhead. The garbage can at the trailhead was overflowing, and refuse littered the ground for yards around it. Silently uttering “more garbage from garbage people,” I decided to change my entry point for the route rather than begin the hike in my current critical mindset. As I humped it up the steep hillside minutes later from a lesser known point of departure, my frustration passed away quickly, supplanted by a far more engaging view of Mt. Jefferson in the distance. Climbing over the saddle, I began to notice snow and ice along the trail which pleasantly surprised me, given the news of early drought. Aware of the desiccating forest floor and its portent, I was actually relieved by the challenge of ice flows in my path requiring more concentration and careful footing.

When I reached the mountain lake, I encountered another who corroborated my impression of the balancing force of time in the woods as we commiserated about our challenges during the COIVD pandemic and our gratitude for the opportunity to be where we were in the present moment. Wishing him well, I then planted myself in the sun, encountering no one else for some time. I leapt from the rope swing into a lake surprisingly warm despite the snow through which I had just passed. Cautioned about the extreme cold of the water by this fellow traveler, I was surprised at how comfortable I found the temperature. After 25 years in the Northwest, I was pleased to have confirmation of my acclimation to cooler waters. Taking in the breeze, the swaying branches overhead, the shimmer of the water, its cool, blue depths; I reminded myself that this was indeed one version of a Heaven that I could imagine. Chuckling again to myself, I dismissed my early trepidation about crowds, trash, noise; and simply enjoyed the moment that I had found, rather than any I had imagined.

Happy Camper

As I returned along the well groomed, downward slope of the PCT, I allowed myself to look more closely again at the forest in transition: trees of the same and different species and subspecies, young and old, in different states of growth and decay, all connected underground and managing the integration of the whole through quiet electrical impulses far too slow for human register. I reveled in the subtlety of such slow moving power as I pondered the masses of intertwining roots along the trail: sustaining nutrients collectively, sharing light, protecting each other from pest invasion, synchronizing reproduction for optimal success in light of the most challenging probabilities imaginable. Seemed like a community I would like to join.

Electrified by the magic of shifted perspective, I was reminded again of what I must have come out to relearn, that my expectations are often my greatest limitations to the experience of anything really new or different. Adhering too strongly to what is really only conjecture (no matter how informed) of the past, I prevent myself from being able to experience anything genuine in the moment for my focus upon the anticipation of future unfolding. Here, I again nearly allowed an inherited focus on the perfection of circumstance beyond my control to determine my perception, and hence my agency. Thankfully, the trees spoke loudly enough to wake me from my self-absorbed slumber with a reminder that old things may indeed become wonderfully new with a change in one’s point of view.

Thinking about Memorial Day

Headstone of Lt. Col. Willam H. Tuttle

6/5/21- Sun, Clouds, Rain all moving through today. Cooled off a bit. BBQ last night and light until nearly 10 pm. Bike ride home in the early evening breeze. Fantastic. Freedom.

As I was strolling through Lone Fir Cemetery on Memorial Day, of course I noticed the American flags dotting many of the graves. I figured I might honor the sacrifice my countrymen had made in service to our nation by taking a closer look at some of the headstones along the beautiful pathways for which I’d found new appreciation during quarantine. Get some details, imagine the lives, the circumstances, the challenges. Fortunate enough not to have lost anyone too close to me in armed conflict, I did have a great aunt whom we called “Sister” who had lost her first husband, Jesse, to artillery fire in World War 2. No one ever really discussed him or her loss (considered poor manners in the South), but I recall even as a teen just beginning to feel the pull of desire, of love, that the thought of losing one to whom I might be attached so strongly was unbearable. It must have had singular effect upon her life. I felt for her.

As I walked through the graveyard, more inviting than intimidating with its spread of heritage Cedars, Oaks, and Firs, I noticed in particular the grave of one William H. Tuttle, born 1837, deceased 1885, 1st Lt. Col. Infantry, California Division. The lettering still intact on the headstone situated over 135 years ago, initially I wondered what Portland must have looked like then…perhaps much like the cemetery in which these remnants of old growth that used to blanket the entire city remain. When did William finally arrive in Portland? What was his journey across the Western landscape like at that time in North America? Vast, wild, unsympathetic. Almost 50 years was a significant lifespan then. Times were much tougher all around, especially after the cataclysmic American Civil War. I contemplated a battered war survivor on the Lewis and Clark trail struggling to build a new life upon the destruction of his old.

But then I recalled the California Division listing, and I began to wonder if he weren’t part of the post war, rough-riding rangers of the Western frontier throughout Reconstruction. What lands had the California division secured for Westward expansion, for the Southern Pacific Railroad? What Natives had they exterminated for settler comfort, freedom? What liberties taken upon the heads of others in service to this notion of American freedom? My mind jumped to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and to consideration of whether this William Tuttle was a man of either the Kid’s or the Judge’s disposition, or somewhere in between. Was he a man disingenuously led and without much in the way of post-war alternatives joining ranks with a new division for a brighter future, for any future? Was Tuttle beneficiary to an early iteration of the GI Bill? Was he an evil son of a bitch who was all too happy to be afforded the opportunity to wield the decisive sword of God over lesser beings? Or… was he a man molded by rough circumstance and motivated by hunger to clear the land of whatever might stand in the way of his Gold Rush dreams for some type of better life? All possible.

I thought of the beautiful day again, my freedom to enjoy it, and my intention to pay respects, accentuating my commitment ironically by imagining life trajectories some might criticize harshly. I pondered the oft repeated notion hurled defensively at any less-than-laudatory comment upon the military’s contribution to freedom, that there would be no freedom without military sacrifice. I very much appreciate the dedication many men and women have shown to protecting American freedom as represented to them by our nation’s military. Yet, time has surely revealed the military’s many abuses of that implied promise of protecting freedom, both towards civilians worldwide and within its own ranks. I must then realistically consider that these freedoms bespoken, and for which I am very thankful, are conditioned upon grievous harm inflicted across many populations. I would not deny that armed conflict as a last resort can be necessary, and those who stand the front lines are to be praised for selflessness, sacrifice and bravery. But often these matters are not so clearly presented, and the dogma behind them disingenuously applied by those who sacrifice little and stand to gain much from the suffering of others.

And then there was Sister, like so many across our nation today I believe, emphatically pro-American right and might, her a proud DAR & UDC member, never missed a day of work at Fort Rucker for over 25 years. I think that this consistency might have been her greatest happiness, her unacknowledged definition of freedom. She never thought much of me; told me as much before she passed. The excess and entitlement of the 1980’s which I represented to her through the ease of my life in comparison with hers must have seemed ridiculous and unfair to her. Then again, she never really got to know me, nor I her. The generational divide over race, among other things, hindered open, honest conversation. Still I still wonder if she might have made a greater attempt to know me, to have been kinder generally, if she hadn’t lost her first love in service to the freedom that she never seemed to emulate. Thoughts of Memorial Day.


5/29/21- Sunny Saturday, Cool in the morning, Jorge Behn in the background.

A recent experience allowed me to consider more closely relationship with strangers in the greater world. The day began like any other at the Mulberry…. I was awoken before 6 am by my upstairs neighbor stomping her way up and down the stairwell in preparation for travel to what I hope was a better morning, for her at least. After channeling my disgust with a morning trip to the bathroom and a few F-bombs out the window in her general direction, I returned to bed to passively stretch since there would be no more sleep with the jolt I had just received. Already considering how this might affect my energy level and temperament for my first real paid directed session gig, I practiced breathing out my frustration through a morning meditation by the end of which all the fucks I gave about the neighbor or her heedless behavior were gone.

Recovering from a rude awakening through conscious effort, I prepared my gear, ride share, and attitude to situate myself in a better place for success. Since my car was still in the shop after almost a week due to a painstakingly slow electronics troubleshooting process, I had been prepared to find alternative transportation. Having reserved the ride early, I was pleased with myself for the comprehensiveness of my preparation. As I finished a double check of my apartment upon cell notice that my driver was arriving, I found that I was ready and without having been rushed. I felt pretty good about this start.

I walked outside to a message that my driver had arrived and would be leaving in 3 minutes, but I saw no driver on the corner I had specified for pick up. I texted that I was on the corner I had specified, to no response. Less than a minute later a black Prius screamed around the block to return with a swerve to my point of departure. Noticing the erratic driving, I anticipated something interesting.

Speeding away from the corner, cutting across 2 lanes of traffic in a matter of feet, Ross began to explain that he had been waiting for me in the alley way. He reiterated vociferously that he had arrived at the correct location as listed by the site GPS, Mulberry Alley and 12th Avenue, though I had specified the corner of Mulberry Avenue and 12th Avenue. In a friendly manner, I waved off his unsolicited advice, familiar with the rideshare’s often erroneous reliance upon GPS, claiming “No harm, no foul.”

But he refused to let the matter rest and proceeded to coach me on the proper way to list my location for pickup to an area in which I have resided for over 20 years. My internal monologue told me not to bite, not to take his silly bait, to maintain the calm I had purposely sought this morning to enhance my preparation for performance. I looked at my Google map to double check the location to which he had just pointed (and from which I had seen him peel out, yes in a Prius), and the street was in fact Clay, as I knew. Since he would not cease with his diatribe, I informed him that he had actually been on Clay Street.

Of course this set him off…he had to maintain the right of his point of view. I told him that it did not really matter to me, and might we ride in silence…to which he raised his voice the he was SIMPLY TRYING TO HELP ME. I laughed inside as I considered the ridiculousness of the situation in which I found myself. When he began again, I mused aloud that an alleyway might not be the likely first choice for pickup when there was a recognized avenue by the same name. To this Ross screamed at me to get out of his car. Surprised, but kind of relieved to bring the situation to resolution, I informed him that he was a fucking asshole, gathered my gear, and proceeded along my route on foot as I texted my new working partner of my experience and requested a pickup.

Humping it up Division to work out extreme frustration, really, the will to violent response, and to address the breach of service with Lyft, I then began to fret over the path my day had just just taken, what it might mean to the recording session to which I had been looking forward with great enthusiasm. Despite the forecast of rain, the sun had peaked out in comfort. I breathed deeply, attempted to process the encounter as I walked on, speculating as to my role in the interaction.

What could I have done to avoid such an encounter? I had started out so well with this intention. I did not want to bring any kind of contentious attitude to a new working partner. I did not wish my burgeoning resentment to derail a real opportunity and the possibility of future collaborative connection. Yes, I could have kept my mouth shut, and I tried. However, Ross’s persistence summoned my own. Anyone who knows me knows me.

However, once Steffen and I linked up, the day changed tenor dramatically. Easy going and kind, he allowed me to relate and process the experience for a few minutes before we arrived at the Sandbox recording space. I found that by the time we arrived, I had shifted gears, readily embracing his workflow ideas for the directed session and the wealth of knowledge I was already beginning to assimilate.

The session went amazingly smoothly: I was satisfied with my performance, I made new friends, they treated me to celebratory cocktails for the session! I was much relieved. After the long session, when Radio cab, decimated by the ascent of ride sharing, could not save me from Lyft, Steffen and Hannah joked with me on the porch while we awaited a driver who never showed. Shortly before 11 pm, and with slight trepidation I called Lyft again, rather than risk the imposition of spending the night with my new friends. As the driver arrived, they admonished me with smiles to be on my best behavior, Hannah now sharing that they had not known what to expect when I had told them I had been evicted from my ride on the way to their home that morning. Recalling my well ingrained southern conversational fallbacks of Sports and BBQ, I talked Blazer playoff stats with Rod all the way home and thanked him for a far different experience, to which he responded with surprise that I had ever riled anyone up so much.

I laughed, well knowing from personal experience that I could easily rile someone up enough to have them ask me to get out of their car, though I appreciated the corroboration here. But today, I was not the instigator; Ross, your bad attitude ain’t on me. I appreciated the grace to notice the difference between the experiences as my living situation has allowed much consideration of conflict mediation recently. Thank you Universe for a good day even if informed by a shaky start.

Hell, let’s call him Alias…

5/28/21- Overcast Friday, but balmy. Gratitude for good work done. Dylan thoughts.

Alias….anything you please. Reminded by the celebration of his 80th birthday to delve back into my Dylan collection, I am again amazed by the lyrical genius and pathos of this extraordinary storyteller, musician, human being. Though I likely intend to return for a closer look at other of his works, I was struck in particular this morning by the soundtrack he created for perhaps my favorite Western film of all time, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Having just reviewed the film a month ago after years of interval between viewings, and even though Amazon sold me a later Director’s cut missing perhaps the best scene of the movie, I was again gutted by the narrative of friendship, betrayal and the choices we make when pressure comes to bear. I enjoy this punishing clarity.

I consider the music that Dylan created for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid some of his gentlest, most subtle commentary upon human vulnerability and relationship. It is evocative of wide open land, expansive skies, flaming sunsets. When I hear it in the film, I want to LIVE IN THE SOUND that it creates. Images arise of partners in the best kind of crime: outlaws enjoying their incorrigibly wild freedom from the oppressively regimented, commodified future coming with the westward advance of the Santa FE Railroad. When I hear this music, it reminds me of the quiet confidence, gentle ferocity, the sensitive audacity of Billy as played by another idol of mine, Kris Kristofferson.

Dylan’s touch to this Peckinpah classic simply sends it over the top; it complements the storytelling so well that it is indeed part of the story. The surprising softness of it capably holds the space for the emotional conflict presented by two long time friends placed in opposition to one another by the shifting pathways of their responses to a quickly changing and unforgiving world. Despite the deep connection they’ve shared from many adventures survived, and likely enjoyed, they must make choices, like all of us everyday, to respond to, to survive the greater momentum of larger society. Songs like Cantina provide an even greater depth of feeling for the viewer, the tension of regret and resolve bonding the characters even as they dispense with one another. The title track, Billy, allows the audience to feel the nuanced affection these apparently very bad men feel for one another from their introduction in the town square. When Billy is taken the first time, the resigned abnegation of self he displays walking, arms splayed to his captors, is accentuated undeniably by Dylan’s background ditty.

I could go on, but you probably don’t care about westerns anyway. Not sure Dylan did so much even, considering the wealth of what might be considered more serious work through the career of one of the most talented lyricists I am likely to experience in my lifetime. Doesn’t matter. The magic that his sound lends to this film is akin to the beauty of the deep, soulful stare of Harry Dean Stanton, another longtime favorite of mine, like the long anticipated embrace of an old friend tinged with a haunting sense of foreboding for its ephemerality. This hits me in the belly, heart and head all at the same time. Even as I write about it, the feeling that the images his music conures, tightens my chest, wrings the water from my tear ducts, and a then moment later like a trickster, it calms with similar incontestability, the consoling warmth of the memory of better times. But I reside with a Cancer domiciled Moon, it’s easy for me…:) Thank you, Bob Dylan, for your brilliant sensibility and for the talent with which you express it. Happy 80th Birthday. Thank you for music that has enriched my life beyond measure.