Saturday, September 28, 2013


Autumn is coming to my little cottage. Evening falls earlier; the sun has set by 6:30 and the light is completely gone an hour later. Geese that have summered in the north are returning to the pond to feed and rest and discuss amongst themselves the next leg of their journey. The song birds have all but disappeared save for the few species that winter over. The mornings belong now to the crow and the jay, both raucous birds, strident and bossy.

Sweater weather, my mother called the cool mornings and equally chilly evenings. Mid-day finds me in shirt sleeves still, but I've changed out the bulk of my summer clothes for warmer ones and there are socks on my feet for the first time since May.

I am often melancholy at this time of year - not sad, really, just reflective, remembering with poignancy the excitement of spring and the warmth and lengthening light of summer days. It's true that my melancholia is always tempered with memories of days so hot I could not move and nights so warm that sleep was impossible. Still, there isn't a season I don't like which is why I remain a New England girl. It's just that fall brings with it an end of the growing season; an end to the roses and phlox, the plethora of garden vegetables, the long, lazy evenings bright with stars and cricket music. It brings, too, a hint of winter, of long, cold nights, of snow and ice and freezing rain.

Now, when the leaves of deciduous trees are great splashes of color against faded blue, when the air at noon is still mild and hazy, when a few small birds still search the roadsides for seeds and great swirls of starlings paint designs in the evening sky, now is the moment to admire and hold close. Too soon it will all change.


From WWW's site come ten questions and from me a break in the trip posts.

"My 10 Questions for you:"

1. Who wrote the last email you responded to.
2. The first line of your favourite song or poem.
3. Your favourite meal in the whole wide world.
4. Describe in 10 words the view from the window in the room/location where you are right now.
5. Your last holiday - where to and who with.
6. Your best time of the day.
7. Your favourite toy as a child.
8. Your greatest fear.
9. The last snail mail you sent and to whom, card, letter or note.
10.Describe what you're wearing right now.

1. A friend from Australia. We've been exchanging near daily emails for thirteen years.
2. "Whose woods these are I think I know..." Robert Frost. It was one of the first poems I memorized as a child.
3. Steak (rare), fresh asparagus, and mashed potatoes. As children we were allowed to choose our birthday dinner. In our family of six, steak was a twice a year treat. I've eaten that same meal on my birthday for as long as I can remember.
4. Maples wearing autumn shades, sunflowers nodding, sunshine lying across grass.
5. To Oregon to visit my eldest son and my two sisters with journeys to the Pacific coast and three separate central Oregon eco-systems.
6. Morning and evening, dawn and dusk.
7. My wood-framed chalkboard. I drew whole worlds on it.
8. That I might have to endure a long, wretched death.
9. A note to my son with my favorite photo of our trip together.
10. Blue jeans and a fleece. Haven't fit into these jeans in 14 months but they buttoned today! All that hiking :)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Big Wide Wonderful World

35 million years in the making.

B was trying to explain the nature of the Painted Hills as we jolted along a gravel road. We had come down out of the fir forests and lakes to an arid stretch of land bordered by the ever-present volcanic peaks when we came round a corner and I saw this:

My first glimpse of the painted hills.
"Stop!" I yelled and he laughed, bringing the van to a halt. I jumped out and snapped a photo. "That's fabulous," I said, climbing back into the van.
"This is just the beginning," he promised.

And it was. Every turn we took showed more of the huge mounds formed over the last 35 million years by volcanic eruptions and a subsequently changing climate. At one time this land was a vast river floodplain populated with prehistoric animals - horses, elephants, saber-toothed tigers, and camels (!), and lush with tropical plants and trees. The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument occupies a part of the area where, in 1864, amateur geologist Thomas Condon unearthed the first fossils. Since then paleontologists have been mining the region for them. The oldest plant and mammal fossils date back 44 million years. Others have been dated to about 7 million years ago. The river basin was once home to the Sahaptin, hunter/gatherer peoples who occupied the land long before the arrival of the first Europeans. 

The sun was omnipresent and hot. I carried an umbrella for protection and shade. We stirred dust with every footstep. 

The first trail took us to a visitor's shelter where we could sit and look out over the vast expanse of valley that led to the toes of the giant clay hills, each with its own striped bands of color - the black of lignite formed by decaying vegetation, red and orange from mineral deposits, gray from stone deposits. 

Below is one of the signs posted along the interpretive trails we walked. It's impossible to imagine this land as a tropical forest as the bottom picture illustrates.

Hard to imagine saber-toothed tigers, too!

We spent the better part of the day walking along the various trails that led to ever more spectacular views. We saw the fossil beds, and hills that held 44 million-year-old rocks. We returned to the visitor's center for lunch, resting and cooling off in the shade of the few deciduous trees in the area. Then we drove back in among the hills to watch how the setting sun changed the look of the landscape. 

We camped a second night at Ochoco Lake. We talked at the campfire about this land formed of fire and ice and the impermanence of everything, even things as vast as volcanoes and glaciers. Time - such a tenuous concept - is still the great changer.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bit by Bit - A Wilderness Trip in Stages

The Dodge Prospector, our wilderness home for seven days.
One of the best things about traveling is coming home with a different viewpoint, a broader vision of what life is like beyond your own doorstep. New England has waterfalls and I've seen some of them. That didn't dim the wonder of the spilling water at Proxy Falls, just off McKenzie Pass in central Oregon.

A forest path leads to the place where water tumbles headlong off a basalt cliff, plunging 226 feet to a stream below. It looks more like bridal veiling than water and its thunder is in distinct variance to the quiet of the surrounding forest. The creek that feeds it has its start on a shoulder of North Sister, one of the Three Sisters (North, Middle and South) Volcanic Peaks that make up part of Oregon's Cascade Range. Eldest son, B, and I were exploring this part of the country just 65 miles from Eugene where he makes his home.

Proxy Falls
We planned to camp at the Lava Camp Lake Campgrounds the first night. We were making our way along Mckenzie Pass, a narrow road that twisted through the Willamette National Forest following what, in 1860, was a covered wagon route that emerged from a forest to cross a 65 square mile lava flow. Because of the difficulty of crossing the lava beds, alternate routes were eventually charted by the early pioneers. The highway we were on followed the original wagon route.

Just above the current highway is part of the original wagon road.
On either side, as far as the eye could see, the road was bordered by great chunks of dark, broken lava. I half expected a Hobbit to step out from behind one of the murky slag heaps. Imagine jolting your way across this mountain top in a wagon on wooden wheels!

Shortly before sunset we reached the Dee Wright Observatory, a small stone enclosure built during the Great Depression by the CCC and named for the crew's foreman who'd been a forest ranger for 24 years. From this vantage point we could see Mt. Jefferson, two of the three Sisters (North and Middle), Belnap Crater, and Mt. Washington.

From the windows you can see various volcanic peaks.

Another view of the Dee Wright Observatory built of lava rock.
 It grew steadily colder as the sun sank behind the spires of countless Douglas firs. We made camp overlooking the lake. Our fire was one of two; we never saw or heard our neighbors themselves as their camp site was some distance from ours. Supper was a quick affair. We snuggled under quilts and blankets in the van until the call of nature forced me out of my warm nest and into the chilly dawn. B estimated that the  overnight temperature dipped into the 30s. Wrapped in a fleece, a hooded sweatshirt and a canvas barn coat, I watched the sun draw the ghosts of a mist that had settled on the lake overnight into its beams, dispersing them into the day. Small birds chirped; otherwise the woods were silent.

Like a scene from the Hobbit.

Following the interpretive trail through giant walls of lava.
On the road after a hot breakfast, we spent the morning exploring the interpretive lava trail and in the afternoon met up with a former student of mine who now lives with his wife and children in Bend. There was no room at the campgrounds where we'd planned on staying the night so we got a hurried takeout supper and ate it on road. Just as the sky grew dark we pulled into Ochoco Lake Campgrounds in the Ochoco National Forest. Only two campfires still burned though the park was half full. We found a spot and parked the van. Our nearest neighbors were already asleep in their tent so we tried to set up camp quietly. The van doors squeaked - ur-urk! ur-urk! every time we opened them and banged shut with a slam whenever we closed them. The fire crackled and popped, and we had to stifle our giggles over too-fat s'mores and the antics of our neighbors to the left, a threesome of happily noisy older men regaling each other with memories of other trips.

Campsite at Ochoco Lake. 
The next day we set off for the Painted Hills. But, since it's ten o'clock p.m. and I'm still trying to shake the effects of the day long plane ride home, you're welcome to come back in a day or two to hear about them.

Here's a teaser...