Thursday, June 30, 2011

This, That, and some other Damn Things

Today was the ugliest day of the month (TM): bill-pay day. Ugh. $1,000 in the hole.

We just had 6 yards of garden mulch delivered to maison Elliott. After making arrangements with High Desert Mulching to have the stuff brought over in their smallest dump truck (following much discussion about wheelbase, height of truck, etc.), the guy that took the order didn't pass this bit of information on to the driver who arrived right on schedule ... in a huge fucking dump truck, one far too large to go down the little driveway beside the house. Poor fellow had to go back and transfer the load and bring it back out in their smallest truck.

It fit -- just.

So now there's this giant heap of High Desert Blend (sounds like a coffee) waiting to be strewn amongst the foliage.

This will happen tomorrow. And so will edging the lawns.

I, accompanied by the groundskeeper and my wolfhounds, paced off the lawns and determined that 240 feet of vinyl edging is needed to contain the grass -- grass which is positively bursting into the flower beds -- and bought four 60-foot rolls from Home Despot. Mind, I would have Bought Local, but after calling around no one -- get this -- no gardening center or landscaping company in Bend has landscape edging. "Call one of the big box stores," was the advice I received.

Oh well, we're working on the cheap so you do what you gotta do. If I'd had my 'druthers, I'd-a bought brick pavers.

So. Today I was feeling a little under the weather -- sore throat, gastrointestinal upset-- but after paying the damn bills, I scraped up enough energy to take apart my second-hand Spanish-American war-era Hi Lift jack (part of the tackle I've assembled to pull my camper van's ass out of stuck places) and cleaned it so (a) it can be painted some other color -- red? Mellow Yellow ivory? Black?* -- then (b) rebuilt with new bits to operates smoothly.

These jacks go by the generic name "farm jack", and like most tools used around a farm, they can, and will, maim or kill without warning. So keeping it in good operating condition reduces the chance of having a minor annoyance, such as getting stuck in sand, turn into a life-threatening (or ending) situation.

Meanwhile, Mrs Elliott had other goals today. She employed several teenage girls -- daughter and friends of an employee -- to assemble and package trinkets to take to a conference, which takes place a couple weeks from now in, um, Pittsburgh or some damn place.

While she's gone, I'll be camping. Dunno where, yet. North Fork John Day river? My son is dropping by tomorrow so we can take a drive along the Metolius to check out the camping opportunities there.

IN OTHER NEWS, the Volcano Funk Fest is at the end of July. I just found out that a previous obligation has been canceled, so I can go. KPOV's "Dr. G" tells me that the Band To See is Big Sam's Funky Nation. More than music, she assures me: they put on a show. Dr. G is from New Orleans. She knows from funk. And if the lady says that Big Sam's Funk Nation be the band, I am there.

They are scheduled to go on stage at midnight.

I'm gonna need a whole lot of coffee.
================
* Son recommends hammertone gray and fire-engine red.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Big Day Gardening Preceded by a Very Early Awakening

I woke up this morning at 2:30 am. This wasn't my idea. It seems to have been prompted by a combination of old guy aches and pains (been having a bitch of a time with nocturnal leg cramps, my doc will be looking at the results of Thursday's bloodwork and let me know if there is anything obvious going on; me, I'll be trying some Schwepp's tonic water which contains quinine tonight) combined with additional musculoskeletal aches caused by hefting around bags of compost and 16'' concrete stepping stones yesterday.

But mainly due to some anticipation of the Big Planting Day today.

Eighty-five plants to plant. Many in the front, many in the back. Mostly perennials, and a few shrubs. This woke me up early. Stupid fretting and planning.

I would not do the actual planting, my brass knee making work on ground level extremely difficult, but a guy was coming at 9 and I wanted to have everything ready for him.

I read for an hour, got drowsy, turned out the light. And returned to full wakefulness immediately.

"Screw this," I thought, and stole out of bed, as quietly as possible so as not to disturb Mrs Elliott (sleeping the sleep of the sweet and pure), pulled on my Pac Man jammy bottoms and Oregon Ducks t-shirt and drifted into the kitchen. Killed time on the Internet, eggs and bacon breakfast at 5 am, and watched the clock tick toward sane hours.

The garden plan and plant list for today's work had been provided by Karen Rossetto who works at Landsystems, that nursery out on Highway 20 just east of 27th street. I picked them to do the work because they were familiar with Libby's Garden, a lovely little spot of color near Drake Park, near the breezeway. Gardeners and landscape people unfamiliar with Libby's Garden are not worth a burnt-out match, as far as I am concerned.

Not just because I think that Libby's Garden is as pretty as pretty can be, but because Mrs Elliott's taste in plants is mainly in direction of flowers, flowers, and flowers.

Landsystems delivered the plants on Tuesday and I separated them into front yard and back yard groups, and had been watering them with the hose twice a day so they would not die before they had a chance to get into their new homes.

Because Karen did the planning a month ago, when last year's new perennials were still dormant, I asked if she could come by this morning to help place the new plants, thinking that now that last year's plants were now making themselves known she might tweak her design a bit.

So she came by at 8 am and sorted out where the plants were to go. Some existing plants were going to need to be moved.

I watched her placing plants, digging into the soil with her bare hands. "Don't you wear gloves?" I said.

"Oh no. I love getting my hands into the soil."

An admirable quality in a woman.

And there I was, wearing landscaper's gloves, feeling like a total wuss.*

At 9 am, Pedro Ibanez -- a fellow recommended by Bruce Miller -- along with a son (senior at Mountain View High), and a spare nephew (also senior, but at Summit High) came by, and we got the show on the road.

Though Pedro has a lot of experience planting and doing landscape maintenance on places like the amphitheater and the Old Mill, Karen stuck around long enough to give the Gospel According to Landsystems on how the perennials are to be planted: dig a hole twice the diameter of the container, fill it with water, wait for it to drain, place the plant and surround it with a 50-50 mix of local soil and compost, then pour on root stimulant to wake the plant up.

Pedro's English is about as good as my Spanish. I know a little gardening Spanish, he knows a little gardening English. The kids, of course, were just regular English-speaking high school kids. I split my time using pidgin Spanish with Pedro, who was closer to my age and a peer, and regular vernacular English with the kids, who are just kids -- they're nice kids, but they are still kids and therefore unsatisfying for conversational purposes.

It was fun unlimbering my Spanish, and though Pedro corrected me a few times (I used "antes" when I meant "dispues" when saying that we'd resume after lunch), and a couple other other flubs, we communicated quite well. 

So Pedro and youths dug and planted, I followed with diluted root stimulant in a big red bucket, and we generally plugged along like that for five hours. I turned on the sprinkler system to see if the digging had caused any problems with the existing lines, and we found a one place where the 1/2'' poly line had been punctured by a shovel, and three places where the 1/8th-inch drip lines had been severed or disconnected from the line.

Leaks need to be fixed, trips needed to be made to the irrigation supply house (Horizon, out on Boyd Acres) to get the required bits.

Two blue oat grasses, two ninebarks, and one "low grow" sumac -- all planted last year -- wanted to be moved, as they did not please where they were; and the five rhododendrons we planted last year needed to be replaced with new because the old had did over the winter for lack of water. Who knew that plants needed watering over winter? I thought they were dormant.

Lesson learned.

After the plants were in and the irrigation Band-aids had been applied, the boys hauled 40 two cubic-foot bags of medium bark mulch (Ace hardware, free delivery) down from the driveway to place around the path I'd created alongside the hot tub with the stepping stones  (which were probably responsible for the aches and pains which had woken me up so early this morning), and they dug up some disreputable-looking yuccas that had been lurking in the corner of the yard since we moved in, three summers ago.

I cut a low-hanging limb off a juniper, a limb which had knocked my hat off a number of times while mowing the lawn, causing me to develop a strong dislike for it; and we hauled rocks to plug a hole under the fence made by a mama skunk to gain access to her private little hideaway under the hot tub last winter.

I also modified the irrigation setup in the front so that the plants in the soil will be watered deeply twice a week while the hanging color baskets -- which have entirely different needs -- will be watered for short periods twice a day.

These guys were previously on the same circuit and that was another thing that woke me up: I saw how to reconcile these two needs cheaply and easily using parts found around the house.

While we were digging and planting and spreading, Mrs Elliott and one of her employees were doing tie-dye on the lawn for the KPOV Beatles singalong tomorrow night. Made a pretty awesome marijuana leaf banner, too, I must say!

Pedro was done at 3, and Mrs Elliott paid him (she has the money around here).

He'll be back next week to do lawn edging, something badly needed because I'm doing such a great job taking care of the lawn (it looks positively resort-like!) that it is vigorously invading the flower beds.

I tidied up, noticed that I was weary, drove to Newport Market (three blocks), picked up some kabobs to barbecue tonight and a bottle of chilled Pinot Grigio.

I am now relaxing.

My ankle, the one that was fused in 2009, is complaining, but I am not: the flower beds look great. It was a very productive day. I hope Mrs Elliott will soon appreciate the beauty of perennials, develop the patience to let them really take root, and get over her longing for SoCal's more showy but (IMHO less-interesting) flowers.

Time will tell.

Tomorrow I'll pick up a bunch of marigolds, annual geraniums, and petunias to add some color for next month's annual summer party fest here at Maison Elliott, and install a whole lot more irrigation for the new plants.

===============
* On the other hand, my son and I just finished watching Bill Burke's "Getting Unstuck," an instructional video about using chains and jacks and other manly implements to pull stuck vehicles out of sand and mud (considering that I managed to get myself stuck three times last year, it makes sense to learn how to undo my nitwittery) and he makes a point about wearing gloves at all times. "Keep your hands baby soft." 


And why not? I don't need to tear up my hands and fingernails to show how butch I am.

Small Business Owners in Bend, Beware

A little birdy has told me that the IRS has just brought five agents into Bend specifically to audit S-corps. Git yer books in order 'cause Uncle Sugar wants his money!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Two Musical Events . . .

. . . one I will be able to attend, the second I cannot. 

The One I Can Attend: The ever-popular Beatles Singalong on June 25 at the Century Ballroom at 7 pm.

For the benefit of KPOV
There will be a show to see
Bring your bong.
Seven bands will play some songs
Beatles songs to sing along
You can't go wrong!

With dancing, beer and wine and food
and a silent auction for nifty swag*

In this way we can celebrate the day!


* Including a gift certificate to a 5 day rental of a VW Westfalia camper van from Happy Campers in Hawaii!


Tickets available at KPOV.org
10/members $12 non members  $15 at the door

...Let's all get up and dance to a song that was a hit before your mother was born.

The One I Cannot Attend. Jack loves funk. And a two-day funk fest sounds about right. Something like, maybe, the Volcanic Funk Fest.

July 30 and 31 (also at the Century Center). But Jack has a prior engagement and, alas, cannot attend.

Y'all get down without me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Series of Tubes

I'm the IT guy for Mrs Elliott's company. Which is kind of like putting a basset hound in charge of financial planning. I do what I can for her, help with the occasional hardware or software glitch by generally hacking my way through the problems and using Google a whole lot to find out what others have done with similar issues.

Yesterday, the bookkeeper was unable to open the company file. The first thing I found was that the network was down. You could browse the Internet from any machine, but none of the machines or file servers were visible in the network.

The only thing I could think of doing was turn off every machine on the network, then bring them back up. That's like ten computers, and a few printers and other network-connected peripherals. This would be quite a disruption to the day's business.

So I called Paul the Computer Guy to ask for advice. Paul wasn't there but his lieutenant, Susan, suggested that I cycle the router, and if that doesn't work, turn off all the machines on the network then bring them back up. Ugh.

I reset the router and Hey Presto! the network became visible again. The bookkeeper would be able to find and open the file.

Except he couldn't because the file server was filled to capacity. It has a 1 terabyte hard drive which was suddenly 100% full. I had to figure out what was chewing up all the space and it turned out that the backup directory for one of my machines was huge.

I deleted most of the old backups and re-configured the backup settings on the rogue machine to take up less space.

Problem averted, but not solved, because no matter how I set things up, that drive is going to be full. We're gonna need a bigger file server.

At the same time, another series of tubes were being worked on: we had a couple guys in the backyard, in the rain, installing new sprinklers for our flower beds. The flower beds are an ongoing project, and I hope to bung a whole bunch of new plants into them shortly. More flowers for Mrs Elliott.

Unexpected Excitement

We had a bit of excitement here at chez Elliott last night.

Getting ready for bed, Mrs Elliott said, "Uh oh. I just took some of your Mobic by mistake!"

Mobic is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used for relief of chronic pain, usually from arthritis. I take it daily to ease the aches and pains of my fused ankle, titanium knee, and general old guy body complaints.

Mrs Elliott can take neither aspirin nor NSAIDs as she learned early on in life that she is quite allergic to such meds. They cause her to have a severe anaphalactic reaction -- very disagreeable and life-threatening.

She tried throwing up the pills with no results. "I don't know how bulemics do it."

So we grabbed our coats and wallets and drove to the ER at St. Charles where we discussed the situation with the triage nurse. Since Mrs Elliott was not yet showing any symptoms, we agreed that there was no reason yet to check in; we'd wait and see how she feels.

After an hour, no signs of trouble were turning up, so we drove home.

Mrs Elliott is sleeping happily right now.

So what does this mean? That she is not allergic to NSAIDs and has been taking Tylenol (the D student of analgesics, and fairly toxic) instead of far more useful pain meds such as ibuprofen her whole life from a mistaken diagnosis? Or that some NSAIDs are fine while some are dangerous? How does one go about testing for such a thing without ending up in the hospital?

So many questions.

All I can say is that I will paint the caps of my meds with red paint. And, as anyone who has ever gone to the ER will tell you, no one looks as pretty in a real ER as they do on medical dramas on TV.

Friday, June 3, 2011

"I'm Having My First Glass of Wine!" or Camping Alone Along The Lower Deschutes River

(This is a long one. I struggled with tense the whole time)

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional time for mom and dad to strap Aunt Edna on top of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, ram the kids and pets inside, and go camping. For rednecks, it is the time to get together with five other like-minded people with similarly large, bulky pickups and roar into a campground at 1 am to get drunk; and for Aryan Yuppie couples preparing to breed the Master Race to pull up in their little Priuses and set up expensive little dome tents and drink from expensive BHP-free water bottles. 

Like St. Patrick's Day, it's amateur hour. They don't do it out of love for the activity, they do it because they think they have to. They make it less fun for those of us who take our camping (or drinking) seriously.

Which is why I waited until Memorial Day to go. Mrs Elliott isn't in town anyway so I had no particular reason to stick around the house.

In my experience, your campgrounds are pretty quiet on weekdays. Monday through Thursday will generally be the best time to go. People start arriving on Friday mid-day and by Friday night all the nice spots in a campground will usually be full.

Which means that on Friday night, the bros will arrive after midnight in their unnecessarily large lifted trucks and set up right next to me. With full headlights and shouting and a hip hop soundtrack.

So I try to stay away from weekend camping. It's for the rubes, the punters. The only time to go camping is when the weekend is over. Period.

I have been serious about camping since I was a kid. I have preparations down to a science.

I study the weather forecasts and refine what to bring, paring the clothes down to the minimum that will keep me comfortable, plus a little margin of error in case it's hotter, colder, wetter, or drier than expected. (It turns out that I did very well this trip. I had one case of excess: a heavy fleece pullover which I never needed.)

I check maps and make lists on Post-It notes, reminders of things to bring (floss! bedding! tea! cigars!), tasks to take care of (find lug wrench!), a grocery list or two, and plaster them about the house.

I thoroughly enjoy the process!

I decided to drive to Maupin, then north on the Deschutes River Access Road and find a quite, scenic place to camp.

I chose to bring my laptop to blog on, and though I usually don't watch movies when I camp, the weather may sufficiently wet or cold that I might spend most of my time inside, so I brought the films Tunes of Glory, Unmistaken Child, Morning Glory, and I Love You Phillip Morris. (It turns out that I was never bored enough to watch a movie on this trip.)

On the trip, I brought a tidy little portable toilet, the kind used on sail boats, so I would not be tied to places with outhouses; and of course Mellow Yellow, our 1984 VW camper, has solar panels so my music, lighting and refrigerator needs are taken care of; and with a 20-gallon tank of water, a sink, a stove, a barbecue, birding binoculars, wine, a Kindle filled with books, a kerosene heater for outside, a propane radiant heater inside, and various savory food items to cook, I reckoned I would do all right.

[Some might find Martin Hogue's A Short History of the Campsite an interesting read at this point. Others may not. It's your funeral.]

Monday Morning, Memorial Day, day of departure.
The drive to Maupin and down the river was uneventful. Which is how I like my drives. Mellow Yellow ran smoothly, like a top. Nothing good can come of this.

From Maupin I turned north down the river toward to Beavertail campground, passing Oak Springs campground, where, as my reader may recall, Mrs Elliott and I spent a night last September on our way back from Astoria. My tentative goal was Beavertail campground, north of Shrears Falls and Shrears Bridge.

But Beavertail wasn't exactly what I was looking for. The campsites are set back from the river, and shrubbery blocks any view of the water. What's the point of camping alongside a river if you can't see it?

I drove a bit farther north, to Rattlesnake CG, but it too suffered from a lack of anything interesting to look at. Unless you consider bushes and road interesting.

So I turned around to re-examined the CGs I had passed on the way down, and at Jones Canyon I found a lovely spot, exactly what I was looking for: a level spot to park Mellow Yellow, a view of the river, open skies and no one else save a couple of ancient anglers trying their luck downstream.

And the site greeted me: driving from Bend to Maupin the skies were overcast. Not leaden heavy skies, but almost completely overcast. When I pulled into this site, the sun came out and I heard a heavenly choir sing "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah."
Mellow Yellow camped in site #10

That was all the convincing I needed.

The site is a "group" campsite which costs $12 more per night than a standard single site. But it was perfect. So I filled out the site reservation ticket and paid the "single" rate, thinking that if a uniformed representative of the Bureau of Land Management (United States Department of the Interior) wanted to bing me for the difference, it would be worth it.

At 1:30 I had pulled in, and now, two o' clock, I'm all set up, enjoying a midday lunch of raw almonds and, in the words of Mrs Elliott's longtime acquaintance and our friend, Michael Hill, "I'm having my first glass of wine!" (Finca el Tesso, 2009, Newport Market, $10, nice).

The sun is shining, I'm shirtless, the solar panels are keeping the house battery topped up while I listen to Kate Bush's An Architect's Dream on the stereo. Two mighty Burlington Northern & Santa Fe freight trains have power upriver on the main line; three huge locomotives pulling 100+ cars up the opposite shore of the Deschutes; with two "pusher" locomotives bringing up the tail end.

Mellow Yellow faces train across river.
There was a scene in Mad Men where Don Draper takes his family on a picnic, and when they are ready to leave Sally Draper throws their trash into the grass. He tosses his beer can aside.

It was a surprising moment for me. It reminded me of how much we have changed as a society. Or most of us.

Still, people consider campsites to be acceptable places to leave their trash. I found six huge chunks of wood tossed into the grass around the site.

Six giant cleats left by previous occupant.
Some people are pigs.
...
5 pm. Switched to a Chianti (Aquila d'Oro, ["Golden Eagle"], 2009, Trader Joes, $6). This stuff is nasty. But someone has to drink it. Might as well be me.

There is a sweet little stone beach along the river below this campsite. With a bit of shade, too. Mrs Elliott could fall asleep there in midsummer.

Mmmmm - dinner. Simple but savory. A big ol' artisanal bratwurst steamed, butterflied, and grilled. Served with Sriracha "rooster" sauce.

The solar panels are easily keeping atop of the energy requirements of my refrigerator and stereo. The house battery is charged to "Full." I am parsimonious about electrical power, and after an evening of energy-draining energy usage I will not turn on anything that consumes power in the morning until the panels have charged the battery back to full.
Harvesting the power of the sun


6:30 pm. Thunderstorm. I've camped through plenty, and like 'em. Flash of light then crashing noise. Light travels instantaneously, sound's a lot slower. Takes sound 5 seconds to cover a mile. Flash! then crash! Count the interval. 1 to 2 seconds. These electrical discharges are only about a quarter of a mile overhead.

Rain is falling heavily, but it's a heavy warm rain; ever notice how thunderstorms bring warm rain?

Bach's Concerto in D minor, BVW 1043 III on the stereo, Heavy rain and the sun is shining. Everything is getting washed. Full sun and a heavy, warm, downpour. Could it get any better? Not by this writer.

Tuesday morning, second day
5:45 am. Slept well. Conditions: skies overcast; 55°F inside, same outside; damp-feeling; lit radiant heater to "low"; overnight power usage, 17A/H, battery at 87% capacity.

[Author's note: Though I have respect for my reader and don't want cause boredom by focusing too much on the minutiae, I do want to record a few things. I normally keep a journal when camping, but I find this activity more enjoyable using my little netbook and Blogilo, a free offline blogging tool, than I do with a paper journal book.


So this is my journal entry for the trip and it will get posted (why not? I'm paid by the word, (the princely sum of 0¢ per word, a rate negotiated between my editor [me] and myself) so I suggest to my reader that he/she consider this post no more than few pages torn from my journal, not worth reading, not to be confused with one of my more serious posts.


I promise to write a serious post one of these days.]


7 am. Breakfast (butterflied sausage, two eggs sunny side up) is cooking; skies clear, sun striking opposite canyon wall, has not yet reached the river and campground.

The refrigerator thermometer showed temp just a few degrees above freezing, I set the thermostat higher to reduce power consumption, temps below 45°F are fine.

Some high clouds blew in for an hour or so, but when the sun was high enough to hit the canyon floor, at 8:30, they had dissipated, and the battery started to receive a charge.

I busied myself with various tasks, like: troubleshooting the courtesy light over the driver's door (broken, needs replacing); organizing the spare parts kit under the driver's seat (spares, mainly; things like fuses, oil filter, distributor cap and rotor, accelerator cable, alternator voltage regulator, light bulbs, and so on); doing the same for the repair kit for the camper (bits of Velcro, strong thread and needle, adhesives, snaps &c.); likewise the the little toolbox I keep my ham radio along with other electrical devices like battery chargers and bits of wire and connectors in; cleaning and organizing the two bins we keep under the refrigerator; and generally swabbing the decks.
Stuff in Box #1 - items what go on the body
Stuff in Box #2 -- items what go in body.
(Except for the nailclippers and tweezers;
sometimes you have to make
arbitrary decisions)
Items in their respective boxes

Boxes stowed under refrigerator. My job is
done.  
I'm in the habit of examining the things in the van to refine what is needed and what isn't. Storage is always tight and some items that seemed like a Good Idea a few years ago have turned out to be less than useful. I typically have several "go back" items after every trip.

Only the items necessary for surviving the imminent zombie apocalypse are kept, viz:

"Hi-Lift jack in place of rear bumper.
"Very Road Warrior," commented son, approvingly

















The weather is warm enough that only shorts and hat are required while I putter around. The van's cotton rug got pretty soaked in yesterday's downpour so I spread it on one of the site's picnic tables to dry.

Cumulus with wispy clouds -- sure sign of rain!
Ate lunch at 1 pm, 80°F inside the van with open doors, a gentle breeze, mostly clear skies with the exception of a rather heavy-looking cumulus with a gray bottom and wispy clouds at its leading edge drifting in a westerly direction to the north of me. Weather generally comes from the southwest or west around here, this coming from the easy is probably the backside of an area of low pressure, bringing in moisture from the south.

The battery is nearing full charge (98%) and once full I'll turn on music.

3 pm. Because the cumulus have become more prevalent, are looking ominously full of moisture, and the wind is getting gusty I decided to batten down the camp for a possible repeat of yesterday's lovely thunderstorm. The cabin's cotton rug was not 100% dry from the soaking (cotton takes forever to dry) but I figure it's a good idea to bring it in from campsite's picnic table so it won't get any wetter.

Inside, snug, music is playing and "I'm having my first glass of wine!" Chianti, Aquila D'Oro, 2007, Trader Joes, $6. Pretty nasty stuff.

3:20 pm. Heavy rain with strong gusts. The clouds are coming from the east, so they are not storm fronts, but the heavy gusts are indicative of thunderstorms -- strong updrafts sucking in air from below.

Snug in Mellow Yellow, Pablo Casals playing Bach's "Bourries I and II", Suite No. 3 in C, BVW 1009 on the stereo.

3:27 pm. Rain has stopped though the sky remains dark. Have not seen another camper nor anyone from the BLM all day. ghost colony by Tape Deck Mountain on the stereo. Train's a-coming upstream.

5:00 pm. The wind has dropped, the sky is completely overcast, the clouds coming from the southeast. More of the same low pressure area, I assume, not knowing anything else to explain this. The van's little propane barbecue is heating in the sporadic rain while a cheese and spinach flank steak dry-seasons. Cup of tea in the pot.

Patti Page singing "Cross Over The Bridge" on the stereo.

6 pm. Full, brilliant sun, upstream wind has died along with the thunder to the south. The thunderstorm has stopped sucking in air. Björk's "Army Of Me" is on the stereo, a cup of tea and a nibble of cheddar within reach.

I'm trying to catch up on my reading. I'm up to May 9th's The New Yorker.


By nightfall, the gusty wind was causing continual flareups from the kerosene heater, which sits outside, so I shut it off and closed the van's sliding door.

Wednesday morning, 3rd day.

It was raining steadily when I went to bed last night, at 8:30.

That's so early for me that I reckoned that I'd probably have a wakeful period in the middle of the night between "first sleep" and "second sleep," as our forebears who lived before artificial lighting and who went to bed at nightfall called them. But no -- I woke up at 5:30 with a full bladder, dealt with it, set the little inside propane heater to "low" and returned to bed. Woke up at 7:30.

Conditions: battery 87%, temp inside 70°F; mostly cloudy, rain-bearing kind of clouds; no wind except for slight down-canyon draft. Hot tea beside me. Did not hear any trains last night. Breakfast was leftover flank steak and a couple eggs.

10 am. Skies more heavily overcast, small rain sprinkles. I rearranged the camp so that the kerosene heater shines directly into the door of the camper, allowing me to reserve the camper's propane for cooking and morning heating duties only; and placed the table supporting the little gas barbecue next to the heater so it is within reach without leaving the van. Alternatively, I could have set up the awning over the side of the van, but when it's a dark day, a day like I have today, I want as much visible sky as possible.

I gaze at the geography. There is a thin strip of green trees and shrubbery along the river's banks. The canyon is several hundred feet deep, a winding V-shaped notch cut into the rock by the river's erosion. The rock is the color of burnt brick and is probably volcanic in origin. Generally, the canyon walls slant directly into the water, often with no level ground which could be called a beach -- only a river's edge.
The river access road is cut into the side of the canyon, a flat ribbon winding above the river.

[Note: this road on the east side of the river might well have been the right of way for a competing railroad -- according to this link,  two railways used the river's course from the Columbia river to North Junction.]

Debris shelf along east bank of river, probably
flood deposits from when the
river had the power to move debris.
In some locations, a shelf of level ground, perhaps an alluvial fan built at the mouth of a side canyon, or the shoreline flood deposits of the old Deschutes before it was de-nutted by damming -- create flat land where a campground can be built.

It looks like Jones Canyon CG is built on the rocks, gravel and sand washed down Jones Canyon.

10:30 am. Snug in the van's little living quarters, the warmth of the heater keeping the damp away even with the sliding door wide open. Birds are singing, and the sky is lightening to the north, down-canyon. Birds don't bother singing when the outlook is gloomy. So I listen to their songs with hope that I'll see sun today. But if not, I have plenty of kerosene.

A small white utility truck fitted with train wheels drives up the railroad track on the other side of the river, inspecting the route for possible problems: rocks on the railbed, washouts, downed power lines, anything that might derail a freight train.

He drives by three or four times a day, upstream then downstream, then upstream and downstream again. I wonder how long this guy's route is, how much time he drives the same way then back again and how much time he spends cooling his heels between trips, so as not to get run over, and where he might sit it out at the end where his home isn't. In his truck, radio on, thermos of coffee and bag of sandwich to keep him company. Or at the counter of Mae's Cafe, watching the Budweiser clock go around a few times, before Dispatch tells him that another train is headed this way, and so he drives up and down the canyon again, to check that the way is clean before the train gets too close and might get stuck midway up the canyon, blocking access to a bit of track that needs repairing or a boulder that needs shoving aside.

11:30 am. No change in weather, still mainly overcast though there is a patch of blue to the north. The solar panels eke just over an amp out of the light. It's really quite pleasant, a cup of tea, reading, perhaps a cigar later? For midmorning snack, almonds.

12:30 pm. Lunch. Smoked salmon that Mrs Elliott purchased for me before leaving. The day she left she opened the refrigerator and surveyed the contents.

There's plenty of food, she said, as though she wanted to reassure herself, or me, that I would not suffer from hunger in her absence.

That she does this amuses me. I usually buy my own food; but I find it charming that she pauses to assure herself that I will be comfortable while she is away.

She could be mother of the world.

Sun's coming out slowly, from behind a scrim of thinning clouds. The solar controller is harvesting six and a half amps out of the panels; I've never seen it pull this much before. Battery is at 86%, only 1% lower than when the day started; that it has not been drawn down farther by the refrigerator is entirely due to the controller's ability to tease current out of the panels in less than full sun.

None of the NOAH weather channels in the 162MHz band reach the bottom of the canyon; nor do cell phone towers. I could turn on the van's radio -- the AM band reaches everywhere -- but the outside world, the commercial world of braying voices, would be an unwelcome intruder here.

So I have to make my own weather forecasts based only on my observations. I suppose I could get a barometer, but I've gotten pretty good at reading the clouds and wind and birds. The birds were right, of course -- they announced an end to the rain before the clouds were willing to commit.

Little camper, big outdoors
Now we have blue skies and white, plump post-storm clouds lazily drifting across the sky. There is enough moisture that if the day heats up I might hear a thunderstorm or two, but it's very peaceful now.

Proof of other mammilian life forms
Except for one Oregon State Trooper who drove down-canyon then back up, there has not been a single car on the road all day. The campground is mine; I appear to be only mammal, the other members of the animal kingdom sharing this area with me have been a couple flies and a bunch of birds, mainly crows and seagulls.

2 pm. I'm having my first glass of wine! Chianti Classico, 2007, Lamole di Lamole, Trader Joes, $11. It's tolerable. Better than no wine, but nothing to write home about.

It's raining again. Not seriously, not like it means it, not the dreary drizzle of a storm that has hunkered down like an unwelcome relative on the sofa in the rec room, nor the heavy downfall of a summer storm, but slow, fat drops. Without strong breezes I don't feel a thunderstorm is in the making. The wind seems to be from the west or northwest. Chunks of unsettled air drawn up from the south and wrapping counterclockwise around that presumed low pressure area, is my guess.

A large work truck on rail wheels stopped across the river. Through my binoculars I watched the crew -- three men in orange vests and hardhats -- do some trackside cleanup: strap together four railroad ties and hoisted them onto the truck with a crane, gather debris from past railroad work: a tie plate and some spikes. Spring cleanup, maybe.

2:30 pm. The rain falls, though slowly. It's not cold. The riverine air is heavy with the fragrance of growth. I found the air of Hawaii to be overly thick and humid. This, by contrast is rich without being overpowering.

Strong upcanyon winds now. I see thunderstorms in my future!

I switched wine to a robust Spanish riojo: Marqués de Cáceres, 2007, Trader Joes, $12. After them two rasty Chiantii, this wine is nice. Sweet, at first, then rough. The way I like my women (TM).*

7:30 pm. I took a nap and awoke refreshed. I wish that sentence was true! I never wake from a nap refreshed; instead I am muzzy-headed, confused, a feel anxious. No idea why. It's how it always is. It took me two cups of tea and at least a half hour to feel better.

A chubby bratwurst on a bed of mushrooms, asparagus, and onions for dinner, the sky a uniform gray, wind downstream, strong enough at times to rock the van. To avoid flareups I moved the kerosene heater just inside the open door. It's pretty powerful, and the van came close to overheating.

Behind the canyon wall to the west, the sun was setting; the sky overhead mostly blue with fat cumulus clouds underlit in baby aspirin orange.

Read a bit on the Kindle: a couple chapters of Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order followed by Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire.


At 9:30. turned off the heater, set it outside, carried the trash to the campground's dumpster, poured water into the kettle and re-loaded the tea ball with fresh leaves in preparation for the morning, checked the battery (86%), unfolded and made the little bed, undressed, and set aside the morning's clothes (clean underwear, Capiline longies, jammy bottoms with pictures of buckaroos and chuck wagons on them, warm shirt and fleece vest), and went to bed. I was falling aspleep in moments, listening to a passing train, a sound I find comforting.

Thursday, 4th day.


6:30 am. Wake up. Conditions: 55°F inside van; battery at 80%; overcast.

I lit the little heater and the burner under my kettle.

I had not heard the refrigerator's fan for a while and considering that the battery was only about 6% lower than it was last night, I wondered if the refrigerator had shut down due to low battery voltage condition, but the panel voltage shows 12.0V which is plenty high. Maybe it stopped working? But after a bit, it ran a normal cooling cycle so I guess it just didn't need to work very hard during the night.

A 6% drawdown overnight is quite good considering that there has been so little full sun. And yet thanks to the LED strip lights I installed last month, I enjoy bright lighting in the van with little power consumption. It's the music -- the stereo and subwoofer amp -- that is the big power draw. Even with no, or soft, music playing they draw 3 amps which means that for every hour I have the system on after dark, the battery is drawn down 3 amp/hours or 2% per hour (I spent the money a few years ago for a heavy and powerful Trojan deep cycle battery rated at 130 A/h and do not regret the expense as it provides a nice reservoir of power for our comfort).

9 am. Breakfast: two rashers of Hempler's uncured bacon, two eggs. The eggs come from uncaged chickens who live at Celebrate The Seasons off Reed Market Road. Their yolks -- I like my eggs sunny side up -- are far tastier than those in store-bought eggs.

Cleaned up the galley, rinsed the sink drainer out outside.

"You are the busiest little man I've ever met," the seated Mrs Elliott frequently says while observing me go about campsite chores.

It's true, I like the tasks that the camp needs and I discover; lacking such things on a vacation I go a little crazy; I get bored and frustrated.

8:50 am. The sun is midway across the river.

9 am. Full sun. More tasks: re-hang the cargo organizer strapped to the back of the passenger seat, finding more "go backs" in the accumulation of pens, notebooks, Planisphere, flashlights, pad of Post-Its, multitool, sharp folding knife, and (a personal favorite of mine) a sign which says in big letters:

Caution.
Occupant may be
armed, naked, drunk
or all three.
Do not disterb.
(Not a typo. Literacy is considered a sign of weakness in some circles.)

I've found the sign to be quite useful in reducing the number of strangers who wander into my camp to ask about the solar rig.

10 am. Two rangers came by. Couple of nice, chatty women. Introduced themselves to me, we shook hands.

(Mrs Elliott: this is not a movie about park rangers, neither resembled Katy Perry; they looked more like Melissa McCarthy.)

Regarding the six huge chunks of wood that I had hauled and neatly stacked by the road, one explained that there are no campfires here starting June 1 until October 15, and asked if I was going to take my wood back with me.

The wood was in the site when I arrived, I said, and showed them the flattened spots in the grass where I found them.

They thanked me for doing the work.

We arrived at a fair price for my solo occupancy of a group-rated site.

"The weather is going to get nicer and nicer," one commented. "I hear it will be 80 in Portland this weekend! You should stay a few more days. No one camped last weekend because it was raining."

"Well, then there'll be a bunch of people and I'll get elbowed out of this nice site."

She allowed that was true.

You'll probably be pretty busy then, I said.

She laughed. "Job security."

They told me they hoped to see me again.

After they left I took the bedding out of the van and hung it out to air, then slid underneath to inspect for oil or coolant leaks. Everything dry, no trouble here. However, the dipstick told me that the oil had gone down from the midway mark between the two notches closer to the "add oil" mark. Can't imagine I'm dripping or burning oil. It bears close watching.
This is our little Oriental market butane backup stove
kept in case the camper's propane runs out.
Who can see how the stove has been modified?


2 pm. The clouds have built up and the wind is gusting in preparation for the traditional lackadaisical rain. Plenty of moisture aloft, but not enough solar energy to generate the decent cumulonimbus clouds needed for a proper thunderstorm, which I regret.

Another cup of tea and a Rocky Patel cigar. Bruce Miller has corrupted me, changed me from a former smoker to a once-a-week cigar smoker. At least he turned me on to a decent cigar brand.
Van needs an ashtray. Add that to my list of improvements.

3:30 pm. I'd like to stay another day, but can't for two reasons:
  • Mrs Elliott has been told to expect me to call her tomorrow when I climb out of the canyon, and if she does not hear from me that she should call the Wasco county sheriff's office, and though I could drive into cell phone range and do that,
  • It would not be satisfactory because the rangers made it pretty clear that (a) I should not be in a site intended for groups, and (b) they expect a lot of campers this weekend.
In my experience, your weekend campers start arriving late Friday afternoon and if a bunch of burly rednecks and their extended families show up looking for a site that can hold up to 16 people (the legal limit), they have the right to boot my ass out.

So, sigh and alas, I'll be out of here tomorrow morning.

3:45 pm. Surprise, surprise, the expected downpour has started. Just as I start to close the van's door to keep out the rain, I hear a burst of laughter from the river. It is a fellow in a boat and he laughs the same way I do when caught in an afternoon desert shower. I laugh out of delight and it sounds like he did the same.


4 pm. The battery in the iPod is dead and I forgot to bring a cable. Grumble, grumble. 

5:40 pm. Goddamn it, I bonked my head again. Living in the van is like living aboard the Spray, the restored 37-foot oyster sloop which Joshua Slocum sailed around the world as documented in his seafairing book, Sailing Alone Around the World (1900). Like the Spray, Mellow Yellow has a tiny cabin; the floor area is barely four by five foot square, and there is some low overhead. If one is not careful, it is easy to bonk one's head.


I do so fairly frequently, which causes Mrs Elliott to giggle.


Also, like the Spray, Mellow Yellow is snug. It's been raining, off and on, for two hours but the kerosene heater keeps the damp out.

Tonight's wine is Paniloco, 2009, Carmenère (Chile), Trader Joes, $4. A decent camping wine. "I'm having my first glass of wine!" and tonight's meal is grilled steak.

After dinner I cleaned the little barbecue thoroughly and packed it away, along with several other items I no longer need -- the solar panels, the roll-up table and camp chair -- to lessen the morning's chores. Mrs Elliott does not like me to start packing the night prior to our departure, preferring to delay any end-of-trip tasks until the morning. But I like to make my departure morning's tasks lighter, and do as much as I can in the evening.

This time there's not so much to do, but on more extended trips in summer, a lot more gets set up to create chez Elliott outdoors: awning, porta-privy, a washstand, and other campside furniture and decorations.

Friday, 5th and final day.
6:30: Conditions: clear sky, 45°F inside, battery 77%. Considerably colder inside cabin, propane heater goes to high setting. I had the foresight to lay out my morning clothes last night in the order they go on, so I was able to dress quickly, so I am warm while the tea steeps.

8:45 am. A passenger train? A locomotive pulling five or six shiny silver passenger rail cars just went downstream.

I waited until the sun struck camp to allow some items to dry out before being loaded in the van, which delayed my departure, but by 10 am I was on my way out.

I found non-ethanol gas in Maupin, which seems a nice little town.

Here are some more pictures I took:

Downcanyon -- rainshowers. Kerosene heater, lamp, and solar panels in
foreground

Downcanyon -- sunset. 

Mellow Yellow, chillin'

I had a great time. This is a pretty area, and I was fortunate to have weather sufficiently unattractive to keep people away, yet mild and interesting enough where I was never uncomfortable nor despondent. It was a peaceful time.

I learned that the Deschutes is forceful along this stretch. It has a strong voice and makes a continuous roar. And it has a leaden & heavy & sullen appearance; I am certain it has taken more than a few lives.

But from the bank (and although rafters and boaters may disagree with my opinion) the river here is about as interesting as a big irrigation ditch. It feels too tame for the canyon it built.

We camp on the Crooked River south of Prineville and I find it lively & rambunctious in comparison to the heavy deadness of the Deschutes here, even though it has been just as tamed by damming.

The John Day? Well now. I have driven along its south fork for a fair piece and found it to be as pretty a little river as one could hope for, though I did not find camping on its banks. I wonder about the north fork, up near Kimberly. Need to go camping thataways and find out.

================

* "The way I like my women,"  -- a stupid running joke I invented which amuses me. The reader is cautioned that the adjectives in no way describe the lovely Mrs Elliott.
 
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