17 May 2016


The day we go in search of wild horses on Steens Mountain is clear and cool, a perfect morning for a hike even if we never come across anything more than hoof prints in the hard, volcanic,  high desert dirt. 

Scanning the hills, at first it looks like it might be a herd of cattle out there: little dots of slowly moving color in the distance.

Some of them are cattle, but mostly it's wild horses. Leaving our dusty car at the side of the gravel road, we walk slowly towards the group.

We pass near a mare with a very young foal. I doubt this baby is more than a day or two old.

The protective father makes sure we come no closer. At the same time he remains very alert to the movement of the herd on the hillside. It's likely that he is a banished young stallion beginning his own family, watchful of everybody. With no one to comb and bathe him, he still shines like copper.

They move near one another, hide their baby in the sage brush,  and decide we are no threat.

Meanwhile the herd on the hillside is aware of us, bands together, and heads away. It is the cattle, recently branded, who seem most fearful. The horses put the cows between us.

This band of mustangs is named after the lead stallion, Atlas. That's Atlas on the far left, with a map-shaped white patch on his side. The other horse in a leadership position is the pinto on the far right, maybe a mare. She probably has a name, but I couldn't locate it on the Facebook pages devoted to the 200-plus horses on Steens Mountain.

They stream over the ridge, Atlas the last to disappear into the 127,000 acres of high country where they roam. They were like a vivid dream, evaporating with time and distance... I won't see them again but can't forget what they were like.

07 May 2016


Freshly returned from a late-spring trip to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in central Oregon, I've been looking at the photos. It seems that things come in twos this time of year.

We were told that there are more deaths from owl attacks than rattlesnakes, which I do not believe, but still...it's true that they are well-armed and defensive, so I stayed a good distance away when taking this shot of a mama great horned owl. There was no way of knowing about the owlet until the pictures could be seen on a big screen. Nice surprise!

These two wild mustangs are calmly grazing in one of the most beautiful places anywhere, South Steens Mountain, Oregon. They were so unconcerned and robust that I thought they must be a rancher's open-range grazing livestock. But no. Soon afterwards we saw many other wild horses and I took a zillion pictures, which I may share later.

A wild stallion and his mare.

I love prairie dogs. Those feet were made for diggin' and that's just what they'll do. After taking 10 minutes to edge closer and closer to these two, we got a pretty good look at one another.

Without prairie dogs, what would burrowing owls do? These little owls take over the abandoned burrows of ground squirrels and badgers, which seems very esoteric, and so no wonder their population is dwindling? At Malheur we found them more than once, though. The male is a little smaller and he works quite hard, bringing food to the Mrs while she takes care of the brood.

Traveling in Malheur is a dusty affair, and the VW needs a good hosing. But first check out the synchronicity between an old juniper and our back window, a matching twosome.


There's never been a better reason to put off washing the car.

04 May 2016


We have just returned from a four night stay at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in central Oregon and it is hard to know where to begin. In any ordinary year I would just post a bunch of amateur pictures of waterbirds with fabulous names: avocets and willets, ibises, bitterns, and stilts. Then cliff swallows. Yellow-headed blackbirds. Golden eagles. This year the group collectively saw 72 species of birds, which is quite a lot for 5 days of laid-back bird-watching.

But this is not any old year for the Malheur, and anything that I may say about what I saw is colored by what I felt. 

Photo by my husband, John.
Say. Saw. Felt. Confusing. What is the difference.

The Malheur refuge was occupied by misguided anti-government extremists early in January of this year. One of them is dead and most of the others are in jail right now. Many in Oregon feel that it was handled as well as it could have been.

But it is still terrible, and there are lasting scars in that area. There are ranchers who, at the time, were sympathetic but misrepresented, and others who were targeted by angry armed men and who now feel paranoid. There are more than one or two citizens diagnosed with PTSD. And there is an ugly race this month for sheriff. Everything is badly bruised.

 How do you enjoy a place like this?

Well. It is helpful to accept small beauties in a great landscape.

Conversely, there are great beauties in very small landscapes. 

 It is possible to love them both, two opposing ideals, and hope for the best. May Malheur heal, and Burns, OR, become a viable community once again.

21 April 2016

Hope is the thing with feathers

When John came home from work today he said he had just seen something amazing: a pileated woodpecker diving before him, just yards before he turned into the driveway.

John James Audobon, Plate #111 Birds of America

Woody Woodpecker was pileated, quite special, and we're glad to welcome his species to the neighborhood.

I love birds, but hardly know anything about them, even though I regularly feed them, hear them, see them, and find them dead. Next week this time I will be in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge with a group of 16 birders, and so I should soon know more.

Coincidentally I have two photos in a local art and poetry exhibit, only there because the curator is a friend and thought to invite me. The exhibit is inspired by Emily Dickinson's poem #314. She did not title her poems.

Dickinson's first line "Hope is the thing with feathers" is the focus of the art and poetry of this show.

The poem, and a few more photos:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

01 April 2016

Just for fun

Happy April Fool's Day!  Did you get fooled by anybody today?
In honor of comedy, here are a few photos that make me smile.

Our downtown alleys are graced with artwork and poetry, but somebody felt left out.

It IS a kind of curious-looking motor bike. I don't blame the alpaca for looking.

A thank you note from a bunch of middle school students. Take that, Kobe Bryant!

I found this dog running loose and so I brought him home.

We freaked each other out.

It's always good to carry a camera because you just never know when a mushroom is going to smile for you. They don't often do this. I swear this is not an April Fool's joke!

There are classier images at the Friday My Town Shoot-out, where this week's topic is "Funny." Have a look:

10 March 2016

Between parties

Winter solitude-
in a world of one color,
the sound of the wind.
Matsuo Basho

In the Cascade Mountains of Oregon the slippery winter roads are sanded with red volcanic ash. It works pretty well, giving tires the traction they need and causing the snowbanks to melt into strange sculptures this time of year.

Log jams are everywhere, left behind by the high waters of the season.

It's March, and while the daffodils are blooming in the valley, it is still winter's last hurrah in the mountains.

This year we nearly missed winter completely in western Oregon. El Niño brought us rain but no snow in the valley. So I was happy to see the white stuff this past weekend when we spent a few days in the mountains.

It was like being late to a big party. Most people had already left and the  celebration appeared to be completely over.

The major players had all gone home, the skiers and snowmobilers had hung up their gear. Even the ice was melted off the lake.

 Perhaps it was too late for winter's party. Cold and quiet except for rustling branches and the drip-drip of melting snow, it was, however, nice and early for spring's big bash.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes...
Matsuo Basho