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Showing posts from August, 2013

A Summer Less Ordinary, Part II: The Way It Ought to Be

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This was the summer I did right. Up until this year, I have never finished a summer regret-free. There's always been something to mourn as the days begin to shorten, the leaves change, and the heat dissipates: opportunities missed, chances not taken, seasonal fruit not consumed in adequate quantities to trigger satisfaction. And to be honest, there were a few moments, particularly in the fruit category, that I did not fully exploit this summer; but only a few. Fruit, for instance: I could've done with one more flat of Hood strawberries. And I only went out once to pick blackberries, though I still might hit the vines one more time before the berries start to shrivel. But I've had raspberries, peaches, Hermiston watermelons, corn on the cob, and blueberries by the pound. I've also been to both major Portland beer festivals, early enough that I was able to taste every beer I was interested in-- and I had the privilege of introducing my now-21-year-old son to these

A Summer Less Ordinary, Part I: Road Trips

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F or most of my life, summer has been a season without accomplishment. I have to qualify that statement with this observation: my childhood summers were fun, productive times when I engaged in all the usual outdoor activities, riding my bicycle, playing little league, splashing around in our wading pool and, when I got older, walking to the municipal pool to beat the heat in a chlorine-rich environment. As I moved into adolescence, though, my interests shifted more to inactivity: television, books, and writing. Yes, I was writing, plowing through reams of notebook paper creating several different science fiction worlds; and when I wasn’t writing science fiction, I was reading it. Movies were rare treats, television offered little to amuse me, so I stuck to my books and my pen. This included family vacations. I missed a lot of scenery keeping my nose buried in a novel or a notebook. I also managed to get myself carsick in the process, particularly when we’d be traveling up

Then Again, Maybe You CAN Leave!

This is my last reference to the Hotel California. Really. Amy and I did not arrive in the Rogue Valley together. She drove down with Alex and Sarah, who were concerned that I was not in the car, and were fearfully wondering that something had happened to our relationship. She straightened them out, and now I shall do the same for you. The phone call came Saturday. We'd been driving all day, had stopped at the QFC for some groceries, and were about to drive the final mile back to the house, when I realized I had missed a call while we were shopping. I didn't recognize the number, but a voice mail had been left, so I pulled into a parking space and listened as a principal asked if I was still interested in a full-time elementary music position in the Reynolds School District. Needless to say, I called her right back and set up an interview for the earliest time she had available: 4:15 on Monday, well past the time we had hoped to be on our way down to Southern Oregon for our

But You Can Never Leave

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 Welcome to the Hotel Medford. Actually, it was a rental cabin located in the hills above Jacksonville, and we only just grazed Medford a couple of times for a Harry & David run and a burger at Jasper's. But all the time we were in the Rogue Valley, I was keenly aware that, once again, I was in a place that had been both traumatic and formative, and that I was there voluntarily. Medford was where I learned I could not truly come home to Methodism in Oregon. It was where the family demon of authority issues dragged me into a depression so deep that I finally acknowledged it was a problem for me; where injuries sidelined me from running for the first time since I took up the sport; where my first marriage headed up the ramp toward divorce; and where my son Sean was born, and nearly died. All this happened over the course of less than a year. It was also, and remains, an incredibly beautiful place, a part of Oregon that has a character and culture all its own, that fost

Two Miles High, Part VII: You can check out any time you like...

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The worst years of my childhood were spent in Emmett, Idaho. They were my middle school years, difficult for any young person: hormones, uneven growth spurts, voice changes, mood swings, and acne work together to make this the most awkward and least attractive phase in human development. I had all those problems, and more: I was the Methodist preacher’s kid in a Mormon town; I was an utterly un-athletic nerd; I wore thick glasses; I was overweight; and I was an introvert. It was as if my genes had conspired with my circumstances to paint a bright red target on my forehead, and filled my glands with a pheromone uniquely appealing—and enraging—to bullies. I was tormented mercilessly. And I hated it. Moving to Oregon and beginning high school anywhere that wasn’t Emmett was a gift from God. And yet, for all that misery, Emmett was a watershed. I experienced my first adolescent crush in Emmett, to a girl who led me on then cruelly dashed my hopes, laughing at my misery. I discovered

Two Miles High, Part VI: The Long Way Out

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Friday morning, 6:30 a.m., we were both awake, and I set our goal: to be fed, packed, and on the trail by 8:00. We almost made it. I knew we had many miles to go before we slept. I figured that it would take us about four hours to cover the 7.7 miles to the trailhead, then another hour to drive to Driggs and have a quick lunch. It would then take us, according to Google maps, seven and a half hours to drive through the Sawtooth Mountains to Emmett, Idaho, where I had booked us a room in a bed and breakfast called the Frozen Dog Digs. This was the fourth time we had broken camp as backpackers, and we worked efficiently, filtering water, deflating air mattresses, compressing sleeping bags, retrieving bear bags, eating a quick breakfast, and finally loading the packs, which were inexplicably bulkier than they had been two days before. By the time we hoisted them onto our backs and set off, with one final glance at Buck Mountain’s reflection in the lake, it was 8:30. The Te

Two Miles High, Part V: Mega-Midi-Mini-Micro Charisma

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We expected charismatic megafauna. That’s why we took bear spray, attached bear bells to our packs, put our food in a bear can, put anything else that might have any attractive odor to it at all in a bear bag and hung the lot from   a tree. It’s also why, even with the bear spray, Amy insisted on sleeping with one of her trekking poles, as well, which she dubbed “Pokey.”   As much as we didn’t want to see a bear, Amy wanted badly to see a moose. Three years ago, when I first took her to Idaho and we made an abortive trip to Yellowstone (the roads in May were just to icy for comfort), she left disappointed. Coming up the canyon trail, we’d met many other hikers on their way out who’d talked about how many bears and moose they had seen.   We saw neither. A young hiker we met on the way out pointed to a pile of manure on the trail and announced it was moose scat, but given the number of horses we encountered, I rather doubt there were any antlers involved in the production of th

Two Miles High, Part IV: The Mountain Is Our Father

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Lakes, creeks, rocks, wildflowers, butterflies, marmots—and, of course, mountains. The Alaska Basin Loop trail was, I announced, “a smorgasbord of Tetonic delights.” It was also longer, and harder, than I had expected.   The trail was deceptive, climbing steadily, but never steeply, for the first two miles. The haze had finally cleared, so the views were astonishing. In fact, I took more than a hundred pictures over the course of this four hour hike. We crossed shallow streams, rested on enormous boulders, and climbed ever upward. Always before us was the craggy splendor of Buck Mountain. “Wouldn’t it be cool to walk along the bottom of that mountain?” asked Amy. I still wasn’t sure how close we’d get, but I agreed. And then, after more than an hour of constant climbing, I caught a glimpse of where the trail was taking us: to the very place where the basin ended and the mountain began. We were going to find out just how cool it would be.   We stopped to rest and snack on

Two Miles High, Part III: Orange Sky at Dawn

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The day dawned orange. That may not seem extraordinary to you. Around the world, sunrises and sunsets are often tinged with red and orange. The difference here, almost 10,000 feet above sea level, is that the orange lingered. We were up by 6:30, having discovered that our brilliant plan of saving space and weight by forgoing pillows in favor of rolled-up rain coats had left much to be desired. The following night, we would find that our brilliant substitute plan, using Ziploc bags filled with underwear and wrapped in our down vests, would yield similar results: anything not actually a pillow will eventually feel more like a rock. Retrieving the bear can, having breakfast, breaking camp, and repacking bumped our departure time from this location to 8:30. The sun was well up in the sky by now, and everything was still orange. We knew what was causing this: the huge fire in the Sawtooths that had led us to change our hiking destination. What we hadn’t bargained for is that th

Two Miles High, Part II: Up the Devil's Stairs

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Despite being unacclimated to the altitude, not yet broken in with our packs, and including the steepest climb, the first day was the easiest. We crossed over into Wyoming and the Jedediah Smith Wilderness as soon as we left the trailhead parking area. The first 2.7 miles of the hike, through woods and meadow, were delightful. Every twist in the trail revealed new treats for the eyes. I discovered fat huckleberries, a trail snack I always cherish, as well as translucent red berries I thought might be a different variety of huckleberry, but which had a slight off taste that kept me from trying anymore. And yes, my mother did teach me never to eat something I found in the woods unless I knew what it was, but I'm still alive and well, so there. As we hiked up Teton Creek, we had this view behind us: It's a view many a landscape painter would be proud to portray, but it was nothing next to what lay before us: I had no idea at this time that I would be making intimate acqu

Two Miles High, Part I: Smoke Gets in Our Plans

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It was August, 2007, and I was grieving.   I'd been engaged for almost a year, but it was becoming clear to me that relationship was coming to an end. Marriage plans had been indefinitely postponed, and finally the decision had been made to put the engagement on hold. There was a final vacation together, at Lake of the Woods, and then I drove my children back to Idaho Falls. Dropping them off with their mother, I pointed my car back west, with an eye to doing some solo camping at Pettit Lake, a beautiful alpine spot in the Sawtooth National Forest my family had visited many times in my childhood. There were some hitches in that plan: for the second time that summer, I'd gone camping without my tent; the road to the Sawtooths was blocked for several hours by a traffic accident; and once I finally made it to Pettit Lake, with the sun already setting, I found the campground both far more developed than it had been in my childhood, and all booked up. Undaunted, I drove into th