Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Vacation Stage 3: The Final Hours Elapse (Part Three)

So, now we are up to yesterday. We woke up early, had a bagel and a cup of coffee in hand by 6:30, and were east-bound on Highway 126. Our destination was just east of Blue River, Oregon: Ollalie Mountain Trail.

We arrived by 8:30, after 14 miles on a gravel road that mostly went up. It was a much wider gravel road than the one we drove Tuesday, but it seemed just as infrequently used. At the trail head, one guy in an ancient Land Rover was cooking breakfast. He seemed not to want to be disturbed, which was great, because I didn't want to disturb him. Monkey and I got our shoes on, swung our pack up, and hit the trail.

The first mile and a half of hiking was nice. Some good elevation gains, some picturesque bear grass. The only drawback was the ubiquitous Cascades mosquitoes. They are heinous in the summertime, but, as long as we kept a good pace and frequently re-dosed with OFF!, we were okay. The problems began after the two-mile mark, where we expected to find a trail marker and a right-bearing trail. After three miles, we realized we had made an error. We came to a downed tree (one of many) and beyond that, we saw the trail, flat and running through a meadow, seem to peter out. We decided to turn around, since we were supposed to be climbing a mountain, and we hadn't gained more than ten feet in the past mile and a half.

A mile back up the trail, we found our mistake, as the trail did jog off to the right, but was poorly marked by a tiny sign about ten feet off the trail that had weathered to the same gray color as the dead, bark-less tree it was nailed to. So, with little comment but a shrug, we headed up the way we should have in the first place. A friend of mine always says, "Sometimes, you have to get off the trail to get on the trail." I think that is terrible advice, but, in this case, that seems to be exactly what we had done.

We knew we were on the right trail, now, since we immediately began to gain elevation. Before long, we were switching back through a meadow, huffing, puffing, sweating, and loving it. As we reached the summit, the trail swung halfway around the mountain, providing us with great views of the western valley and magnificent views of the summits to the east and north, the Sisters and Mount Jefferson. However, the view from the summit was worth every errant step we had taken: a nearly panoramic view from nearly 6000 feet of the surrounding Willamette National Forest.

A weathered lookout shack still stands at this summit, along with the remnants of a concrete helipad. This used to be a fire lookout, and a spectacular lookout it was. the shack is cinched closed with a wire and tension strap that keeps the shutters over the still-intact glass windows and the door, but campers sometimes unleash the strap and spend an evening on the mountain top. It must be a wonderful place to wake in the morning, and, save for the normal wear of time gone by with no maintenance, the shack is in pretty decent shape. Maybe some other time, we might choose to wake up on this gorgeous summit.

Summer Vacation Stage 3: The Final Hours Elapse (Part Two)

Tuesday, banking on a sweet weather forecast, Monkey and I headed back to the coast. Unfortunately, the weather was just about the same as the day before, with the coastal range socked in by a heavy fog bank. No matter, however; while this might preclude any spectacular vistas, we still had cool and pleasant weather for hiking.

This day, we had chosen the Cape Mountain area for an eight-mile loop. We were challenged right away on this trail (before we even got to the trail head), as the drive up was on a treacherously narrow gravel road. Lucky for us, it appears that not many folks frequent this trail, so we saw no one on our drive up.

The trail is meant for man and beast, and the first leg of our hike, on the Princess Tasha Trail, is named after a particular perished rider's favorite horse. We didn't see man or beast on this entire trail, however--unless you count the several garter snakes and lizards we encountered. Overall, this trail had a lot of elevation gain (and loss and re-gain), which is something Monkey and I both look for in a hike (which is HARD to find in Nebraska), but it was not very spectacular. Honestly, for me, the coolest part of the trail (besides the always lovely stream crossing) was the snakes and lizards (and some odd white plant that seemed to be unfolding itself from the soil before my very eyes, but Monkey thinks I was hallucinating--a flashback?).

At the end of the day, ruminating over our PB and J, we decided that tomorrow's hike, in the Cascades, would be the best of our week.

Summer Vacation Stage 3: The Final Hours Elapse (Part One)

Let's call our trip east Stage One, our foray to CoMO (as short as it was), Stage Two, and this, our current experience in the Beaver State, Stage Three. I sit here, a Rogue Brutal Bitter at my elbow, as the hours in Eugene tick down. Early tomorrow, we will be heading back east, stopping overnight in Twin Falls, Idaho, before continuing on to a short visit with friends (Suh-weet and Queen of Spades, if you recall) in Fort Collins, and then a week's stay with the Ambassadors in Allenspark. I don't know what kind of connectivity we may have once we leave the relative civilization of Eugene, so these my be my last posts this month. We shall see.

Needless to say, this has been a wonderful visit, between seeing old and dear friends, attending a great concert, quaffing some tasty adult beverages (two favorites: Widmer's Belgian Style Ale and Bridgeport's Black Strap Stout), and hitting some longed-for mountain trails, my stay in Oregon will only be topped by the time soon spent in Colorado, I bet. Let me catch you up.

Monday, Monkey and I drove to the coast for a hike around Heceta Head. Monkey and I had been there before, back in 2005, but we hadn't hiked this particular trail. We started in the fog-bound morning, hiking from a day use area, along the beach for a mile or so. It was magical, walking on the beach, which is so different from the East Coast beaches I am used to. The beaches here are much longer from dune to surf, the dunes are much bigger, the flotsam and jetsam at the water's edge is different, and, well, it is almost always (in my short experience) foggy as hell. We could barely see to the breakers from the water's edge, really. It was so foggy that we almost missed the turn off from the beach, up the brush-covered fore dune, to the Hobbit Trail.

We scampered up the trail, and ascended about five hundred feet (maybe more) through foggy, cool, mossy rain forest. At the lighthouse, we paused for a snack, and to look at the Brandt's cormorants and gulls on Parrot Rock. I've seen guillemots and muirs here, too, but, with no binoculars and low visibility, it was hard to make out much. From the lighthouse (the last built on the Oregon coast, by the way), we doubled back on the trail, and then crossed Highway 101, over to the Valley Trail, which was made more daunting than its name implies by the "Cougar Sighting" sign at the trail head.

But, the sign didn't have a date on it, so we didn't know if a cougar was sighted any time recently, or if they just put these signs up because cougars might be in the area. At any rate, I did spend some time on the trail trying to devise a suitable escape plan, should a cougar attack, but the only plan I could devise involved self-sacrifice, and me yelling "Run!" at Monkey. Not much of a survivable scenario there.

The cougar preoccupation notwithstanding, the east side of the highway was beautiful. Lush, green, dotted with foxglove and other flowers. The short loop around the creek was particularly pleasant. Having traversed back to the north, we crossed the highway again, and headed back to our vehicle. The last hundred yards of the trail, a dense canopy of moss-covered pines, twisted and bent into surreal positions, prompted Monkey to wax fittingly poetic, as she said, "It looks like Dr. Seuss in here." And at that moment, I could just imagine the Lorax hopping out from behind a tree.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fanning the Embers of Love

I will apologize for the lack of photos. We've taken a few, but I left the USB connector at home, so they'll just have to wait.

Portland this past weekend was much fun. A great lunch at Ping on Friday (followed by a better dinner at Toro Bravo) was made even better by the company. The concert on Saturday was pretty good. I am not a huge Andrew Bird fan, and, after Saturday night, I am still not, but, well, the man can whistle and loop multiple tracks like nobody's business. The Decemberists, on the other hand, well...!

This was my third opportunity to see Portland's favorite lit-rock collective. My first chance was a dynamite Blue Note show with Okkervil River opening. I fell in love with both of those bands that night. My second visit with Colin Melloy and his cronies was, again, at the Blue Note, during the Picaresque tour, and, honestly, I was a little disappointed. Unfortunately, I can not put my finger on exactly why, but no matter. The outdoor venue in Troutdale, OR, where we saw the band this time was easily bigger than the Blue Note. Hell, it was as big as all outdoors! And we were not close. I really thought that, by night's end, I would have thrown over my years-long love affair with a band with the best vocabulary since REM (my bias might be showing on this one). Boy was I wrong. Joined by Becky Starr of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond (two diamonds--go figure), the band came out and played their new recording, the song cycle (I don't know what to call it) The Hazards of Love in its entirety. That alone is impressive--an hour plus of rocking and cooing, of belting and crooning, with nary a break.

They left the stage afterward and soon returned to play another forty five minutes of older tunes, from "July! July!" and "Billy Liar" to "O Valencia!" The additional female vocalists returned for a spot-on cover of Heart's "Coming Straight On For You," before the band called it a set. Of course, they had an encore in them, The Crane Wife's "Sons and Daughters," through which the audience was challenged to keep a message in its heart: the song's ending refrain: "Hear all the bombs fade away...."

As Monkey and I navigated our way back to our friends' house in Portland, I was filled with the satisfaction of knowing my love for Colin and company was safe, and that I had found a new fascination in the powerful vocal work of Shara Worden. This women can belt out a tune. My Brightest Diamond is going to get a long hard look from me.

As if that weren't enough, I got to spend some of Sunday helping in the construction of a chicken coop. How's that for living vicariously?

Stay tuned for news of today's hike along the fog-bound coast around Heceta Head.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Coming at you From the Left Side

Greetings from Eugene, OR!

Arrived yesterday afternoon after a relatively uneventful flight (except for the part where that four year old spilled water all over me, but it was only water--no big deal). After a short tour of our digs, Monkey and I met a couple of acquaintances for dinner at Bepe and Gianni's, a pretty nice Italian restaurant here in town. By 9 pm, I was feeling pretty sleepy, after an early wake up, a long day travelling, the two hour time difference, a handful of dramamine, a plate of ravioli in a bechamel, and one (yes, only one) glass of wine. By 9:30, I was sawing logs.

Today, an early run (so much cooler and less humid than NE) and then we're off for more visiting of old friends in Corvallis, just north of here. Tomorrow, we're off to Portland for more visiting, and Saturday, Andrew Bird and the Decemberists on their home turf. Should be spectacular. I will keep you posted!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Slow Roll at the Top of the Backside

Does this sound simple?
--Sonic Youth, "The Sprawl"

A short breather at Monkey House Nebraska before heading to the Pacific Northwest and then the Rocky Mountains. I am psyched to get out of the flatland and into the mountains, and, of course, I really can't wait to see Monkey again (she's been away since the second (it seems so much longer)), but I am also starting to feel that "the end is near" feeling, and I am getting a bit melancholy about that. So far, this has been a good summer, relaxing, adventurous, and I expect it to get even better tomorrow, when I touch down in Portland. However, it seems that we've reached that point that we reach every year, and, each time I look at the calendar, I think, "Wow, I need to get ready for school." Is it a guilt factor, growing from having too much time without a work schedule? Is it a natural function of comparing the list of "planned to do" and the list of "actually done" and discovering that one list far outpaces the other? Or, is it a more deep-seated, Freudian fear, one in which, when I see the calendar move to mid-July, I think, "Ugh, only a few more weeks, and my mom's gonna make my brother and me wear matching denim pant suits to school on the first day...again!"

These are, of course, rhetorical questions. Just the pondering of an (occasionally) over-reflective neurotic. Feel free to discuss them amongst your friends, if you have little else to do. Otherwise, take them for what they are: further evidence of the complicated psychological cartwheeling that this boy imposes upon himself (subconsciously), on a semi-regular basis.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


I've little to say except to divest myself of two bits that struck me as funny/curious yesterday.

First, while out running a few errands, I found myself at a light behind a Chrysler 300. A nice car, I guess. It looks luxury model-y. The curious thing, to me, was that the car had a license plate border that read "BMW of Lincoln." Really? That doesn't jibe, does it? I mean, if you are going to sport a "BMW of Lincoln" border on your plates, shouldn't you be driving something other than a Chrysler? You know, like, what, a BMW or something? I decided to take a cue from the dude in this vehicle and went right out and put a "Lamborghini of Ceresco" border on my Honda!

In the same span of ten minutes, I was listening to the sports radio talk shows. The comedian/actor/whatever Jay Mohr was sitting in for professional grumbler Jim Rome. In one of his rambly bits, Mohr was discussing the late M Jackson's memorial service. He pondered (I paraphrase): "Why did the casket look like a chafing dish?" I found this amusing and somewhat true. Did you see this monstrosity of gold and general opulence? Honestly, Jacko's casket outdid the sepulchre of many a Renaissance pope. And those dude's knew how to spend some church money on ornament. A chafing dish! And, a very expensive, ornate, gaudy chafing dish, at that. You are NOT going to keep a trough of instant potatoes warm in that chafing dish, let me tell you.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Personal Connection

A year ago this time, I was regaling you with the long story of our trip to Italy. I have been thinking a lot about this trip, since it was such a wonderful experience, and we are at that point (an anniversary) when the human mind tends to reflection. In addition, I am currently reading Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence, which takes place in Renaissance Florence (and 15th century India, as well). It is an enjoyable read, thus far, and far more accessible than I expected (I'd never read Rushdie before), but the most exciting aspect right now, for me, is his description and mention of places in Florence that I have seen with my own eyes.

I always spend some time discussing with my students the strategies that good readers use. One of the primary strategies in comprehending and enjoying any text is making a personal connection, finding something in the text that you can equate in some way with your own life experiences. As I read the first section of the novel, which takes place primarily in India, I was making connections, but, for the most part, those connections were between the text and some other text I had read or seen, but, once the story shifted locales, the novel has taken off. When Rushdie writes of the burning of Savanorola in the Piazza della Signoria, I can picture the square exactly as I saw it (and imagine the Dominican monk horridly en fuego in the center of it). It is a vivid reminder of the power of personal connection and a pleasant stoking of the memories of a place that I hope to one day visit again.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Household Chores

A brief respite before we are back on the travelling caravan that is Summer 2009. Heading to CoMo for a wedding this weekend, then it's off to Eugene for ten days with Monkey (who is already there), before driving back and stopping in Colorado (Rocky Mountain National Park) for a week with the Ambassadors.

But, before that, it's painting time. It seems that if it's summer around here, I must be painting something. This year, we're painting Monkey's office. We had some of the living room paint left over from when we moved in, and she decided that would be nicer than the (I don't know) avocado (?) that was in there previously. It has been a longer task than I expected (isn't it always), which has included a brief foray into the bedroom to paint some awful closet doors with the white semi-gloss I got for the trim in the office. I must say, despite the annoyance of the detail work (I am meticulous on the edges), and the dearth of joy in a job done without my favorite painting partner (and queen of the roller brush), that the room looks a hundred times nicer, brighter, and cleaner.

Unfortunately, all that painting has cut into my usual routine of reading for eight hours a day (okay, an exaggeration), but I'll be back to that soon enough, I guess.

By the way, Monkey has the camera, and she sent some photos from the road (she and a friend drove out to OR). In Chapell, NE, she found this monstrous ice cream cone in some one's back yard.

That's all for now, a cheese sandwich is calling my name.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Back in the Middle

A longish visit to the East is over. I'll miss the ocean for another long while. Spent a good amount of time with the family, and we managed to get in some time with Monkey's peeps, too, before flying out on Sunday evening.

We returned to a warmish house and a garden bursting with greens. The squash are growing like monsters and the beans are coming in, too. As well, the lawn took our hiatus as an opportunity to shag up quite a bit. After mowing yesterday, I decided to take a longish bike ride down to Roca and back, a round trip of about 24 miles.

The weather was not too warm and the terrain was extremely level. Still, my out of practice legs were burning on the way back. I took a short break at the halfway point to eat a sandwich, do a little writing, and watch a farmer mow a field. The rest of the day was spent reading and cooking dinner.

Man, it's a hard life.