13 October 2014


Most days Ed and Reub and I go on multiple short walks. Sometimes these excursions are ordinary and once in awhile they aren't.

A couple of weeks ago we came upon wood rat nests on and above the path, not far from the house at all, a one minute walk.

Funny, private little creatures minding their own business, kind of like me.

Wood rats are pack rats. I take them offerings: bay leaves, acorns, a pop-top, a green bean. These objects have moved a few inches, all of them, as if they have been examined. The green bean was mostly consumed. I feel appreciated, but I am not certain.

I imagine a little rodent, dressed during the day in a tiny mid-18th century French gown, blue, enjoying haricots verts, waiting for nightfall, when she changes into the attire of a lady bandit... oh never mind. It's probably not so. But there is no proof, really, that she's just an ordinary rat. We do not know for sure.

Here's the thing...

Today I set out with Ed and Reub down the path.

I squinted...in the middle of the path which is used almost exclusively by myself and my dogs, and just 20 feet before we come to the rats' abodes...

...is a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

I was born and raised breathing the fumes of the Pabst brewery's hops in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I can't help but think I am being given an offering. A perfect gift, but from whom?

Call it the remnant of a kid's unfulfilled experiment in the woods. I don't know, though. Seems like the kid would have finished the beer, or hidden it. And that expiration date, does it mean the 22nd of this year, or will this can last until 2214? You tell me.

But I know this. That PBR was totally meant for me, no matter who left it. I wish to believe that it was offered by my friends, the Dusky-Footed Wood Rats. I don't know where they got it.

09 October 2014

Ride at dusk

It was near Fossil, OR, that we spent a few days on a ranch. One afternoon, just as the day was turning to dusk we rode up into the hills. There were three of us: a handsome wrangler named Colton, John, and myself.

Okay, four of us if you count Colton's dog, who was curious about the black and white magpie scolding him nearby. Oreo-like creatures, both of them.

Up and up we went. In the distance there was the screen of an outdoor theater. Colton said it was hard to get to, but if you had an ATV or 4 wheel drive vehicle you could catch the occasional movie shown there under the wide empty expanse of the central Oregon sky. Makes you want to go, doesn't it?

 Actually, there's enough drama in the landscape that no movie could hope to match.

 Late afternoon sun turned the world golden.

 When the moon began to rise, we knew it was time to head down.

 Back to the ranch with its wooden buildings and neatly stacked piles of hay.

 In the waning light John brought out his guitar and played to a rapt audience.

 Finally it grew dark and the huge moon rose in all her glory. It was a great day.

01 October 2014


You could visit Wheeler county in central Oregon for the sheer beauty of its wide, lonely landscape.

There are towering rock formations,

and sculptures as impressive as any artist could dream up.

But aside from the spectacle of the place, there's another reason to slow down and spend some time there.

Embedded in those rocks are millions of fossils. Weather and erosion cause them to appear magically, as if you were looking at old photographic film being developed in a darkroom.

It's high and dry now, but plants and animals were captured by violent, muddy ash-flows back in the day when the area was a semi-tropical landscape.

Now they come slowly but continuously to the surface.

You can collect leaf and invertebrate fossils for non-commercial use on most public lands and all road cuts, but there is only one specific public fossil-hunting bed, and that is located behind Wheeler High School in (where else) Fossil, OR. For a 5 buck donation to the school you can borrow some gear and climb around in the loose, sharp rocks above the football field.

 It's just like hunting for treasure.

Metasequoia sp, now extinct: my very own astonishing little post card from 33 million years ago.

24 September 2014

Dusky-footed Wood Rat

I took Ed and Reub out back of the house on the path through the neglected tree plantation and we, all three, stopped at this pile of crap messy stuff in the path. What?

The dogs were interested, noses to the ground. I held them back.  Each twig was eight inches long, quite precise, pockets of pine needles added for softness.

I looked up...buncha stuff up there too. How long had it been there?  I don't remember to look up often enough, so I don't know.

A nest above.

And a nest below. Perhaps you do not find this as riveting as I do.  Seriously, though. What the heck?

Wikipedia pic. (This guy is nocturnal & I am unwilling to sit out there at night to get my own photo.)
John tells me that this is the work of a species of rat native to western Oregon and parts of California, the Dusky-footed Wood Rat. Not the nasty-looking Norway rat with its teeth and bare tail, sneaking over on ships and so forth, no. This fellow has furry ears and tail and has survived against owls, hawks, bobcats and coyotes for a long time.

The Dusky-Footed Wood Rat is a pack rat, but you might have guessed that from her giant house. Lady rats live on the ground, the fellas live up in the branches. The pile on the ground looks too well organized to have fallen from above, although that may have been what happened. 

I guess I should put out something shiny for them, so that they can carry it off to one of their houses. Also, I should put out bay leaves, because in California they collect them and line their houses with dozens of fragrant leaves to repel fleas. 

Just like this sign. Don't like diamonds, not really.
 Lover of shiny things and bay leaves, I am beginning to wonder if this is my totem animal, not the tortoise I always thought I was.

18 September 2014

Not being Christie

The old border collie lay at the door of The Thicket Cafe and Bar in Ukiah, Oregon, ignoring us as we passed to go in.  "That's Pete," the bartender commented. "He's waiting for Christie to get off work. Used to be her boyfriend's dog, but when he up and left, Pete wouldn't go with him."

Pete lifted his grizzled head to examine the faces of all outgoing customers, just to be sure he didn't miss his person-of-importance. He turned down my offer of a treat, sighing as his head sank back to a rest.  Not Christie...why give precious attention to a person who is leaving? No. She's not Christie. 

Not being Christie is mainly what I remember from Ukiah, Oregon.

15 September 2014

Antelope and bioterrorism

When we drove through Antelope, OR, population 48, there were people out visiting in front of modest homes, the temperature cooling and the shadows lengthening in the late September afternoon sun.

It would've been fun to stop at the recently re-opened Antelope Cafe, given them a little business, soaked up some tiny town atmosphere, but we had to move on. At the edge of town a herd of antelope raced away. What a quiet, remote place.

Does Antelope, OR, sound familiar to you? Maybe. Nearby Big Muddy Ranch was notable for being the location of John Wayne/Katherine Hepburn's movie Rooster Cogburn... until it became infamous as the site of the largest and first confirmed bioterrorism activity since 1945.

I say "infamous" but who really remembers this?

A drive-by greeting to 2,000 followers, by Baghwan Shree Rajneesh. He owned a fleet of Rolls Royces, several aircraft, and a landing strip on Big Muddy Ranch. Photo by Samvado Gunnar Kassatz ©1982, used with permission.
In 1984 the cult of Rajneeshpuram, in an insane attempt to lower voter turnout, added salmonella to the salad bars of 10 county restaurants, and in glasses of water handed to two county commissioners: the Rajneeshis were trying a creative way to elect 3 of their own to the County Circuit Court. They sickened 750 people.

The Rajneeshis also had the largest wiretapping operation ever uncovered; the NSA could take lessons from these guys. There's even more; if you don't believe it, go here. Crazy. If this stuff happened now, in a post 9-11, post-anthrax world, there would be a national panic attack.

It did happen, and is now a weird little footnote in national history. Antelope has returned to quiet solitude, and people forget. Well, maybe not the 48 people who live in Antelope; I bet they remember.

13 September 2014

Shaniko, OR

It was hot and dusty; we'd been on the road for a good 4 hours when, feeling the need for ice cream, we came upon Shaniko, OR.

Shaniko's heyday was in the early 1900's when it was a thriving center for the wool industry. It contains some charming old buildings, many abandoned and for sale.

Interested in buying it? Go here.
This hotel was fixed up by a wealthy history buff from the Portland area, but after contentious dealings with the locals, he closed it.  The flap was interesting enough to be a New York Times article a few years ago.

Still, you can get ice cream from a little shop owned by the mayor, and you can find antiques and t-shirts down the road.

 It's a pretty great place to take pictures.

 If you like old weathered stuff you should take a stroll around Shaniko.

 Were they just pulling my leg, or was this for real at some point? I thought maybe it was true.

 Then again, a ghost town that contains yarn bombs shouldn't be taken too seriously.

 Cups and bowls on an old chuck wagon.

 Ceiling of a sheep herder's wagon.

 Every old western town needs a jail.

Step right in.

I love this wood stove. Maybe being in jail would have been cozy.

 I was crazy about a fire engine, which seemed like it ought to work.

 But like Shaniko itself, although it had a lot going for it, somehow it just didn't run.

Shaniko is one of those places that is just on the edge of survival. A hundred years have passed since it was a bustling town, and mostly it is in pretty tough shape. 

Yet there are those who live there, love it, and try to make a go of it. This rustic little cabin is nearly ready to be rented out for intrepid visitors with a taste for the old West.  I'm tempted to try it out next year. At least I know I can get ice cream if I need it.