Monday, June 21, 2010

First Day Of Summer

Do u feelz it? Iz it summery?

At chez Elliott, the doors and windows are open to let in the summer breezes.

A murder of crows parked in the tree outside the house.

What does the crow say?

"Aawk, aawk!"

(Although it put me in mind of Steve Allen: How's your bird? Shmock, shmock!)

(I think he's wearing my glasses...)

Friday, June 11, 2010

My First Win at Chess

My reader will no doubt recall that I had an encounter with one of Bend's infamous chess hustlers several months ago. He beat me in so few moves that I believe it is a local record.

Well, I've been practicing a lot and taking lessons.

Yesterday afternoon we met at Lone Pine Coffee in downtown Bend. While he was setting up the board for our weekly game, I said I was starting to wonder if this was worth it.

What do you mean? He carefully studied a knight.

I said that it sure seems like I've given him a lot of money for the lessons but haven't really gotten any better.

"Don't worry. These things take time, you would be surprised. People expect quick results, but grandmasters are not made quickly. It can take many, many lessons before things start to click, sometimes."

And you know what? He was right! We were only about six moves into the game when he suddenly resigned! I'm not sure what I did.

"You're a lot better," he said as he looked at his watch and scooped the pieces into their bags. He downed his cortado. "Lesson tomorrow, okay?"

You bet! I won one!

I'll keep paying him for those lessons -- they're worth it because he says it's only a matter of time before I'll be as good as him.

As usual, I paid for his coffee. He said it's traditional for chess students to do that.

A Warm, Sunny Day and Free Music? Hell Yeah!

Free concert at the Schwabbie this Sunday afternoon. Who's playing? Don't care, I'll be there. Lawn chair, magazine, sunscreen, hat, tropical shirt, and pic-a-nic snacks. There will be bare toesies in the grass. Cats lazing in a sunny window will have nothing on me.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Back from camping north central Oregon

I carried through with last week's threat to go camping because the weather was so tedious. I just got back.

This is a very long post. I've tried to make it interesting, but that's in the eye of the beholder. There are photos -- if you are reading this via email, then click on the link to see the article with the photos.

Main points: 1. The weather was always touch and go. 2. On the one day of great sunshine, I got stuck in the mud and had to abandon my van and ride my bike toward Prineville to get help. 3. I could not find the kind of place to camp that I was looking for. 4. I still do not like close, dark campsites surrounded by trees, but rather open, light and exposed sites with great views of the skies.

Here's my trip report:

Thursday: I left Bend in the mid-morning and headed directly east on Highway 20. Mellow Yellow, my 1984 VW Westfalia camper, was already stocked up with food, warm clothing, kerosene for the lanterns (mood lighting, basically, and they also take the chill out of the air in the van) and kerosene heater; and my little fiberglass camping trailer was in tow.

The wind was blowing and tattered gray clouds rushed overhead as I hurried down the road.

It takes less than an hour to get this camping site below the foothills on the south side of Pine Mountain. It's a primitive site, without water, toilets, tables or anything -- just some rock rings for fires. We like it because it is sheltered spot with a good view of the skies, it always feels snug by virtue of lava walls on three sides and a number of tall pines which give a little cover overhead; and it's quiet -- no neighbors with loud music or generators. Free, too.
It was overcast, and by the time I got set up, it began to drizzle. It rained off and on, sometimes heavily by high desert standards, for the rest of the day and overnight.

I'm not bothered by rain, Mellow Yellow is weather-tight and I know how to stay dry and warm. I just kept everything covered under tarps and dropped the legs of the awning so the water would spill easily. The kerosene heater keeps the chill off.
Dinner was rice and beans with chopped carrots cooked in a little 2-liter pressure cooker. Quite delicious. I slept well.
Friday: As usual, I awoke at 5:30. The sky was still dark and grim, but after a while it began to clear with the exception of big puffy which clouds that signal the end of a storm.
Anyone know what these pretty little flowers are? (Update 6.10.10: Steve commented, below, that these look like Wax Currants. I believe that he has nailed this plant, see wikipedia's entry at -- it looks identical. Thanks, Steve!)

I set up the solar panels to capture some free energy to keep the house battery charged (it powers such useful things as a small refrigerator, fluorescent lamps, and the car stereo for a little soft music), and I spent most of the day puttering with my gear, getting things stowed properly for the trip, and watching the skies and clouds. Central Oregon has some lovely skies.

For entertainment I brought along Paul Theroux's new book, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar. I think he's a fine travel writer.

Son Jim pulled into camp around 7:30 pm, and after we had dinner and he had set up the back of his 4-wheel drive Jeep Cherokee for sleeping, it was getting pretty cold (my IR thermometer recorded the temperature of the sky directly overhead at 23 degrees F -- there was little heat from above) so we sat in the van and talked until after midnight -- 'way past my bedtime.

Saturday: The weather was fine and after breakfast we hopped into Jim's Jeep and took a drive to the top of Pine Mountain. There, at 6,500 feet, is the Univerity of Oregon's Physics Department's observatory, open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights.

There are also some developed campsites in the shade of tall trees, with tables and toilets and stuff. No one was staying up there as it's still a bit early in the season for camping at that elevation.

At the very tippy-top of the mountain is a transmitting facility (KPOV LP-FM, 106.7, will be siting their transmitter there when they go full power later this year), and a microwave relay station: a stout tower supporting two big dishes: one points toward Bend, the other to the east. I have been told that long-distance telephone calls are relayed by microwaves, or used to, anyway -- it might all be fiber optics, now.

Such towers are alway perched on high locations, each one in line of sight of the next, each one receiving and re-transmitting our calls on to the next tower, on and on, until they reach their destination exchange.

The mountain falls steeply below the transmitting facility, and from the little parking spot up there you can see a huge view across the desert to the south. I didn't bring the camera, which I regret.

While Jim and I were poking around, exploring the area, high clouds were moving in from the south, and by the time we got back down to camp, the sky was covered with a featureless whitish-gray overcast.

Stupid Pacific warm humid cloudy shit, same as we get in SoCal. I think I heard that this bunch of crummy air was coming from the Philippines. It wasn't at all cold -- the sun's heat was getting through -- but it was boring. Remind me not to visit the Philippines.

The weather lasted like that for the rest of the day, and by day's end I was in a brown study, depressed by the mukiness of the sky.

Weather like this is neither good enough to be good, or bad enough to be good. It's boring and unattractive.

I sulked.

That night, when I climbed into the van's little bed, I figured that I might as well return to Bend the following morning.

Sunday: The sky had changed. Unlike Saturday's featureless gray muke, we now had big puffy cumulus clouds drifting along, some heavy and dark with rain, and above them a scrim of thin clouds. At least this sky had some features!

Still, it was not promising. NOAA weather radio at 162.5 MHz was promising rain during the day, and more the next day.

We broke camp. Jim had to get back to Bend for his job, and I packed Mellow Yellow for a return home.

But during the drive to the highway, I kept studying the sky and found that my amateur diagnosis of the skies was at odds with NOAA's trained professional meteorologists. I saw what looked like the tail end of a storm -- the fat cumulus clouds -- and that the high clouds were thinning.

I began to question my decision to give up. I waffled back and forth -- turn left to go to Bend, or right to Burns? With less than 1/2 mile to go, I turned on the radio and picked up a weather forecast from a cowboy music station on the FM dial, and they were saying that Monday would be sunny and in the low 70's.

That did it. It was still morning, I had a near-full tank of gas, and the road beckoned.

At the junction I pulled over and told Jim that I was continuing with my journey.

"Where you gonna go?"

"I don't really know." I extended my arms and turned around in the wind, feeling it blow on my face. "I want to camp someplace where I have skies like this! I have some camping guidebooks and a good map. Going thataway."

"So you're going to Jack Kerouac it, then."

We went our own ways.

I was surprised to find that Burns was over a hundred miles away. I still do not have a grip on how large Oregon is. It's nearly twice as wide (east to west) as California. On this trip I found that I underestimated how much time, and gas, it would take to get places.

Driving toward Burns, fat, wet clouds cruised across the sky. The views in the desert are so long and I could see miles and miles away some of the darkest clouds were dropping rain, lots of it. At one point I drove for a couple miles under one such cloud which pelted the highway with hail and big juicy raindrops. It was cool.

Burns is a nice-looking town. I filled up with gas downtown, grabbed a sandwich, and parked briefly in front of the Broadway Cafe to borrow some Internet access from their wireless access point. The cafe was closed but WAP was on, and not password-protected, so I used it to check my emails. One was from a friend, an artist, who hoped I could take photos of great skies for reference.

Looking for the same thing I was. I wished I had brought my good camera and lenses, rather than my little point and shoot.

I drove north on 395, thinking of heading to John Day to find places there to camp.

On the way, I took a couple side roads off the highway onto forestry service unpaved roads, just to get a sense of the terrain, the trees, the vibe of the area. With all the lodgepole pines, a tree that I don't find attractive due to its darkness and the snaggly, unpleasing shape of its limbs, the forest looked forbidding, dark and damp. Too close for me.

After a bit of that I drove back to the highway and continued north. Shortly thereafter I came across a junction where I could head west toward Paulina. I pulled out my map and noticed that there were several campgrounds recommended in Camping Oregon, which I'd highlighted on the map.

So, mental flip of the coin, and I decided to go thataway.

My goodness it's pretty in that area. The meadows and hills were greened up, the sky was blue, the ranches and farms looked tidy and, for the most part, prosperous. The sky stayed blue, mainly, with nothing dramatic to recommend it. I was right -- the storm had blown over, the high clouds had thinned and the day was gorgeous.

But the drive to Paulina was taking forever -- hour after hour driving through spectacular valleys, along the south fork of the John Day River, and I began to worry that I'd not find a place to set up camp with enough time to enjoy the day. I also began to worry that there might not be enough gas to get me to the next gas station -- wherever that was.

With only an hour of sunlight I came to Sugar Creek campground, which Camping Oregon describes as a "... relaxing campground in an attractive forest of ponderosa pines on the banks of Sugar Creek."

Right, well, it was a damp place. Sugar Creek provides water enough to create plenty of marshy grounds for mosquito breeding. The ponderosa pines were obscured from view by the closer more numerous lodgepole pines, the sky was pretty much invisible, and to top it off, infestations of pine beetles have resulted in the cutting of great swaths of trees. Their downed trunks are heaped in piles in and around the campsite, covered with some kind of black, viscous coating that looks like creosote.

To further fight the beetles, the lower portions of the trees still standing are sprayed with the same substance, leaving them black and lifeless-looking, the grayish needles on the branches hanging lifelessly downward, which gives them appearance of mourning veils, or spanish moss . . . or bats.

It was creepy.

There was only one other person in the campground, a lone man, like myself. His vehicle of choice was a touring motorcycle. He'd set up a small tent. We waved to each other.

In the middle of the night I was startled awake by a loud BEEP BEEP.

I lay in bed, my eyes open in the dark, wondering what it could be. What evil piece of electronics had chosen this moment to totally screw with me? Maybe it would shut up and I could get some sleep.


Swell. I'm going have to get up, in the dark, turn on a light, and wait for it to happen again so I could zero in on it and beat it to silent death with a shovel.

I'm standing now, in my skivvies, in the cold van waiting . . . waiting. . .


It's up front. Maybe my laptop computer has a low battery? I open it up and turn it on, but no, the battery is full.

So I must wait. I position myself so that I can get a good fix on the malevolent device when it goes off again.


Gotcha -- my cell phone. The display says LOW BATTERY.

What cretin designs such things to go off like that in the middle of the night?

I shut the thing off and went back to bed.

Monday: I didn't linger at Sugar Creek, leaving early at around 6:30 am. Returning to the main road, I continued westward through, Paulina -- the yellow school buses were bringing kids to school as I passed through. The sky was spotlessly blue, the day was warming.

Shortly thereafter, I reached Post (geographic center of Oregon, the sign on the front of the store claims). Post has a store, which is also a small cafe, and a gas pump outside. That's all there is. That's Post.

I bought gas and a doughnut from the pleasant woman there. The gas was three dollars a gallon. "Used to be higher until the new owner bought the place, was $4 a gallon before".

I asked if there was also gas in Paulina because I had not seen a gas station when I passed through. She told me that the store there sells gas, though in Paulina it's $4 a gallon. "Most people from Paulina come here for their gas."

History and economics lessons, a full tank and a cruller to munch on. I connect the phone to its charger and plug it into the cigar lighter and drive on.

The road from there took me into Prineville, and I stopped at the Ocheco National Forestry Service headquarters to inquire about campgrounds with huge expanses of skies. I hoped that I'd find someone who wasn't just a map seller.

But no. There were two women behind the counter, one helping the couple ahead of me. I got the young pretty one.

I like pretty women well enough, but not for camping information. She looked like an indoors gal. I told her what I was hoping to find -- big skies, light, vast distances -- and she looked helpless. She pulled out a list of campgrounds and frowned at it.

"I was at Sugar Creek last night, and it was too dark, damp, and close," I offered, hoping to see a spark of recognition, an a-ha moment in her eyes.

But no. She could not help me. She explained that the service tended to build campgrounds amidst trees. I guess that makes sense, given that they are, after all, about forests. But she really didn't have any first-hand knowledge about the campgrounds. She was an indoors gal.

She offered to relay my request to someone in Recreation, but they were all out in the actual forest so I'd have to leave a phone number. I left my number and a short note.

The other couple at the counter suggested that I might check out Big Summit Prairie. It's beautiful, they said. I'd seen it on the maps, high up in the Ochocos.

Anything with the words "big," "summit," and "prairie," might reliably be expected to provide views of the sky. But no guidebook had anything to say about camping there.

Indoors Gal showed me a map on the wall and indicated that the gold-colored areas around Big Summit Prairies were BLM lands, and that the green areas were Forestry Service lands. The main part of the prairie were uncolored, white, and was private property. When it comes to colors, she was crackerjack.

A few roads bordered the white area, snaking in and out of BLM, Forestry, and private lands.

I asked if I could buy a copy of the map. After some discussion with the other woman, Indoors Gal located a copy of the map. Maybe it was her first day on the job. Maybe people don't buy many maps?

The BLM office was right next door. Three women were behind the counter there. They looked surprised when I came in, and the air resonated with a non-work conversation left hanging while they had to deal with me.

Again, the women had no idea where one could go to be out under the open sky. They pointed out that while the Forestry Service got all the forests, the BLM didn't have any forests, so anyplace I wanted to go on BLM land should offer what I was looking for . . . but no specifics were forthcoming.

I mentioned Big Summit Prairie and it was agreed that I should be able to camp on the BLM lands there, but they could not promise that the boundaries between the Forestry lands, the private lands, and the BLM lands would be discernible.

"Wildflowers are out right now," one said, helpfully, up on Big Summit Prairie. We should have a flyer describing the flowers but we're out. They have some over at the Forestry office.

Back at the Forestry office, Indoors Gal wasn't sure if they had any publications about the wildflowers but offered to look. I turned up an Audubon guidebook for all the flowers of the Pacific Northwest ($$, more than I needed) and found the brochure in the literature rack while she was looking on a bookshelf.

This is why I don't pick the prettiest girl if I want someone with a clue.

Being as it was still morning, around 10, I figured I could drive up to Big Summit Prairie and have a look around. If I didn't find what I was looking for, I had plenty of time to look elsewhere.

I reckon I got up to the place around 11 am. The road is well-paved and smooth, though fairly steep in spots. First you climb up, then you drop down into this vast basin covered with grasses and wildflowers and brooks carrying winter runoff. Beautiful. It was like a freakin' Kodachrome image: fully-saturated greens and blues, yellows and purples.

I eyeballed some dirt roads that wandered off the main road and closer down to the prairie but hesitated to follow them for fear that I might not be able to turn around. I am a poor trailer jockey and would rather do a U-turn than try backing up. I got out and walked down one, and it led me to a spot right on the edge of the prairie, but the soil was damp. Higher ground -- that was the answer!

So, over on the east side of the prairie, on Forestry land, I spied a road heading up the hillside. The land over there is not covered with trees, but is very open, with sage and other bushes and shrubs of the shorter variety. The road wasn't much of a road, in fact it's charitable to call that dirt track a road, but it looked smooth and easy, no ruts, no wallows, not very steep. And it went up and up to the sky.

I hesitated again. Part of me wanted to go on up there. Another part fretted that I could run into trouble. I cursed myself for my timidity. I asked myself what my wife would suggest. Mrs Elliott is always the one to say, go on, let's see what's over there.

With that in mind, I turned up the road and began to climb the hill.

The road was rocky, but not rough. There was plenty of space on either side to turn around if I chose to. The day was still young. Up, up, up, I climbed until I reached a spot where I could see that the road ran into some marshy soil, so I pulled off the road and got out to see what was what.

It was real nice up there, an amazing view, but for camping, not so nice: the ground was dampish, but even more discouraging, it was covered everywhere with ankle-twisting stones. No place to camp.

So I snapped a couple shots of the van up there and climbed back and started to make a U-turn when the van stopped moving. I could hear the rear tires turning and the rear of the van settled downward a bit.

I got out and saw that the tires had sunk below the thin stony layer into a layer of slimy mud. I was stuck. I tried all the tricks I could think of to break the van free: digging ramps in front of and behind the tires to drive up on, rocking it back and forth in reverse and first gear, packing stones under the tires; I unhooked the trailer and got out some firewood to build ramps with, but the mud was clayey and slick. The tires just spun, and every time they spun, the van sank lower. I shoved some beach towels under the tires to give them something to grip on, which worked: the tires gripped the towels and sucked them right under and out the back.

The mud was like that thick red Georgia clay that Vincent Gambini got stuck in in My Cousin Vinny.  "We're famous for our mud."

I finally had to admit that I was very stuck. That I had run out of options. I don't carry a winch, the nearest thing to hook a cable to was a tree 60 feet away, and if I had been carrying a winch with 60 feet of cable I bet that tree would have turned out to be 61 feet away.

I had no cell service. I unplaced my portable ham radio and tried to hit nearby repeaters on the 2-meter and 440 band and got nothing.

So Thar I Was -- faced with the certain knowledge that I would have to get help. Me, with a fused ankle and a titanium knee. My whole time driving around the prairie I had not seen one other vehicle.

But I had my mountain bike. I knew that I could make it as far as the ranger station I had passed before beginning the climb. After the station, the road goes up, up, up, up, then down, down. Riding it in reverse, I'd have to climb up, up, then down, down, down, down to the station. And it was at least eight miles before the up, up part began.

But there was nothing for it.

I was hot, thirsty, and a bit shaky with worry. I also had had nothing to eat except that doughnut I bought in Post. So I downed a Coke, ate some of this really dense Bavarian rye bread I had, grabbed my wallet, my cell phone, put on my cycling helmet and gloves, pulled the bike off the van, checked that the tires were inflated, locked up the van, left a note on the windshield, and road down the hillside, off the way I had come.

Ochoco Ranger Station, 22 mi. the sign said. I can ride 22 miles, but it wasn't going to be easy. I had a bad feeling that this was going to be a long day. So, pedaling along I reminded myself that I had wanted a bike ride, that I wanted to see skies, that I wanted beautiful weather -- and was getting them all.

Still, I was pedaling 22 miles to find someone to pay to tow me, and that wasn't going to be cheap, I was pretty sure. It might take all day.

After about seven miles, I heard a vehicle approaching from behind. I stuck out my thumb and waggled it in the classic hitchhiker style. A large pickup towing a trailer piled high with cut wood passed me, then slowed down and stopped.

I rode up and explained to the three men inside my situation; I asked for a lift to the ranger station. The driver, fellow in his early 30's I estimate, said the station hadn't been open for years, but they were headed for Prineville.

I said that all I probably needed was a ride to someplace where I got cell service, that I would call the forest headquarters and ask for help.

He said sure. He helped me put my bike in the back of the trailer, and asked the fellow in the passenger side to climb into the rear seat of the double cab truck, where the third man was seated.

There were two big dogs in the bed of the truck.

Turned out that the two fellows in the back were the grown sons of the fellow doing the driving. They had been out cutting wood and had, in fact, gotten stuck themselves. Took them a while to dig out.

As the truck got up to speed, one of the boys commented that it was shaking a lot.

"The tires probably got mud in them," said the driver.

My Cousin Vinny again!

Town person: "Got mud in your tires?"

Vinny: "Let me ask a question, how do you get mud into the tires?"

Town person: "Oh, no, that's just a figure of speech. The mud gets around the inside of the wheel. We're famous for our mud."

Now, these were nice fellows who were giving me a ride. Still, being the cab of a big pickup with three large more rural men than I, made me a little nervous that I might get beat up or something if I acted like a Californian or other city person. When I get this way I start acting like an idiot.

When the truck started shaking again, the driver stuck his head out the window to look at his front tire. Wanting to be helpful, I stuck my head out my window, and the slipstream knocked my hat right off.

"Lose your hat?"


He slowed to a stop. I got out and backtracked along the road, looking into ditch alongside the road, but saw no trace of the hat.

Great, now I have nothing to protect my bare head from the sun with except this  dorky bike helmet. Such a thing might fly in Bend, but out here I'm going to look like a moron.

As I was walking back to the truck, the driver got out and fetched the hat off the pile of wood in the trailer.

"My son spotted it there."

"Well, thank you. This is a good ol' hat and I'd hate to lose it."

Good ol' hat? What's the matter with me? Put me in a truck with three country men and I'm talking like a TV cowboy?

See? A total idiot.

As the truck crested the pass and started to head down the other side, I saw that I had cell service. I closed the phone and thought about who I should call.

Then the phone emitted that loud BEEP BEEP that had awakened me in the middle of the night.

What the heck? I opened the phone -- it displayed the LOW BATTERY warning.

Swell. Without a phone it was going to be pretty difficult to make arrangements for towing.

Why would the battery be dead? I put at least two hours of charge on it.

One of the boys said that when you don't have service the phone uses a lot of power trying to find a connection.

I asked the driver if he could take me to Prineville? If figured that if he could drop me off at the forest headquarters I could use their phone.

He said, sure, they were going through Prineville anyway.

Then he said, "You're not stuck more than 600 feet away from an established road, are you?"

I reckoned I was closer to a mile away from such a road, the dirt track I was on being neither signed nor shown on the USFS map.

Well, he explained, the reason is that if you're more than 600 feet away from an established road is that they'll write you a ticket for $710. "Fellow was up here a month ago and had to pay $710 because he was six hundred and fifty feet away from a road."

He elaborated further, "Used to be that the limit was 200 feet but the woodcutters didn't like that so they changed to to 600 feet now."

"And it'll probably cost you two hundred dollars to get towed out."

I quickly re-evaluated my plan. I needed a charged phone battery and needed to find someone with no ties to the rangers to tow me out.

"There isn't a Radio Shack in Prineville, is there?"

"There is, downtown."

"Um, could you take me there?"

I think I saw a flicker of amusement cross his face.

They dropped me off across the street from Radio Shack. I thanked the boys and shook the driver's hand. Nice people. It is appreciated.

I bought a replacement battery ("It may not be fully charged but they usually have two bars on them.") for $30. Mind, this is a battery that would cost $5 on eBay but you take what you can get. I was lucky they even had a proper battery.

I called son Jim at work, asked him if he could leave early and come tow my ass out with his 4-wheel drive Jeep.

A hour or so later, he arrived in Prineville and picked me up at the Tastee Treet; we drove back into the mountains, back to the van, where he inspected the situation, pointing out, unhelpfully, that not only did his vehicle have 4-wheel drive, but those four wheels are big wide lugged tires designed for mud, whereas my Vanagon has a lot of weight on four skinny tall tires.

But he also allowed that it looked like I was the victim more of bad luck than poor judgment. I think otherwise: going up any road like that alone is stupid and I have learned a valuable lesson: don't listen to Mrs Elliott.

He had me pulled out and back onto the dryer roadbed in two minutes. It took longer than that to manually hump the trailer down to the van and hook it up.

Could a man have a better son?

It was 5 pm. I had just enough time to get the heck out of there and go to a nice, safe, developed campground and unwind. Someone on one of the Vanagon forums had recommended a place called Ocheco Divide as possibly fitting my description of a nice open place to camp, and that's where I set my sights on.

I got there about 7:30, with only a little sun left. But it didn't really matter: the place was deep within a lodgepole forest and the trees had been sprayed with the same shit. They looked like they were covered with bats.

Tuesday: Hell, I'm going to a place I've camped at before, along the Crooked River. I know it's open there, I know it's dry there.

And so that's what I did. I was there by 9 am. And I had a very nice day. It was overcast but warm. Stupid tropical shit.

I called Mrs Elliott that evening to tell her that I was considering spending a second day there.

"I have to come home to an empty house when I get back from San Francisco and be all alone? I'll be scared."

Wednesday: How can a man stay out camping when he knows his wife is scared? I'm back. I'm also determined to find those magic camp sites where the winds blows and the clouds scud and I'm not surrounded by creepy Gothic tree bats.

This is the best sky shot I was able to get. Took this on the way back from the Crooked River. Sorry I wasn't able to get anything better. 

I watched birds when I was out. Local journalist H. Bruce Miller once said that birdwatching is a good activity for a geezer. Feeling more geezerish on a daily basis, especially after boneheaded stunts like getting stuck in the mud, I find comfort in geezerosity.

On this trip I saw Brewer's Blackbirds, Hairy Woodpeckers (Hey! I used to know Harry Woodpecker!), Cliff Swallows, Rock Wrens, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, many Violet-Green Swallows, a Green-Tailed Towhee, Chipping Sparrows, and a Brown-Headed Cowbird.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It's quiet . . . too quiet.

I just realized that it's been a while since I last posted. My reader is no doubt suffering some kind of horrible withdrawals. I have been inconsiderate, for which I apologize. Here, for your starved D2 serotonin receptors, I offer the following maundering:

The past couple of weeks have been gray and damp. Rain is good, the desert can use every drop. But this featureless gray overcast -- well, I might as well have stayed in coastal SoCal and watched things mildew under the marine layer, week after week after week. 

I'm not kidding -- you may picture the beach communities of SoCal as sun-drenched paradises, as those are the images the chambers of commerce promote, but I'm here to tell you that stuff got mossy under the constant warm wetness. Weird fungusy shit grew on everything. The railing around our deck, my camping gear, the bikes, the woodworking tools, the freaking fiberglass top of my VW Westfalia camping van ... what wasn't covered, rusted and rotted under the sodden warmth. 

The recent days here remind me of that, except it's not so wet. Yes, it's been gloomy, yes, it's had its moments of rain, but things don't fucking rot here. 

And there have been periods of jaw-gaping beauty, too: times when the view across the desert to Bessie Butte has been filled with rainbows and virga and beams of sunlight. A kind of beauty that SoCal could not muster with its tepid, limp-dick climate.

But like when the marine layer predominated down there, the gray days here feel like they go on and on without end and I get a bit morose. And my cash flow sucks right now, so I've been dealing with my money anxiety. When that beast kicks in, I don't have much left over for creative writing.

But I soldier on, as do we all. 

Could be worse -- could be working for Foxconn

So, our weather forecasters predict more of the same for the next while. 

But I keep in mind that these are the same nimrods who said last Sunday (day before Memorial Day) would be sunny and in the 70's. 

They are not trustworthy. 

Mrs Elliott is flying to Lake Tahoe for a weekend with her friends. The annual "Girl's Week." All the other women live in SoCal and the have been eying the forecoming week's weather with trepidation. Highs in the 60's, lows in the 40's. Scary! Frigid! 

The women are all emailing each other with strategies for dealing with these unexpected lows. Scarves, layering, jackets. Mrs Elliott chills easily but after only two winters here finds their concern amusing. 

While Mrs Elliott is away, I am going to face this ongoing series of Pacific storms directly, like a man: I'm going camping. Son Jim will be joining me for the weekend, and after that I will be looking for quiet, pretty places to camp around John Day. 

I'm told there are lovely sites thereabouts. If I can find beauty and joy camping atop Laguna Mountain in the middle of a winter rainstorm so fierce that rain blowing sideways pushed through heavy cotton canvas tent material, then I reckon I can find lots to love about the high desert in this weather. 

So I'll be offline for a week, starting tomorrow. Maybe some photos when I come back. Ma Nature? You listening? Show me some sugar.
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