Sunday, June 30, 2013

Notes from the trail

Important lessons learned on the Rogue River Trail.

When you reach my age (64 and closing in fast on 65), you tend to dream up things to do to prove to yourself you’re not really getting old. Many of which are: (a) unrealistic, (b) delusional, (c) potentially fatal (d) not even things you could have accomplished when you were young.

My original plan for the summer involved walking the length of the Oregon Coast Trail, some 360 miles, camping along the way and seeking spiritual enlightenment. This plan ran into some immediate problems, the first of which was my inability to interest anyone else to tackle this project with me. Responses ranged from: “you must be high,” to “sounds great, can I have your golf clubs?” to “you wouldn’t know spiritual enlightenment if it jumped up and bit you in the yin or yang.” Okay then, perhaps it was time to try plan B.

My son Rob, who initially thought he might come along on the Oregon Coast Walk (I think he decided someone needed to be on the trip who knew CPR), suggested we scale back a skosh.  After some palavering (like negotiation done while hunkering), we decided to take a week, jet boat up the Rogue River and hike, camp, and fish our way along the trail. I jumped at the idea—a chance to reconnect with my son, eat freshly caught trout and sing campfire songs (turns out neither of us knew the words to Kumbaya). What’s not to like? Plus, if I could get spiritually enlightened in three weeks, I could be 1/3 enlightened in a week, right? 

It was a great experience, one I would recommend to anyone who wants to spend time away from cell phones, television, people and light pollution. The scenery is eye-popping, the air is clean and it’s amazing how you can learn to love food that only requires adding boiling water. Here are lessons learned and more pictures. 

Lesson #1.  The jet boat up the Rogue River can transform otherwise mature adults into a giggling, gasping, gaping 3rd-grade class. I’ve never heard so many grownups scream whee!!!in my life. Here we are admiring turkey-buzzards snacking on a dead sturgeon. 
Not a big  fan of carrion? We also saw ospreys, eagles, deer, otters, river seals and the occasional dinosaur. 

 Lesson #2.  Hauling a 40 pound pack up a rocky trail is hard damn work. I’m reasonably fit, but damn. Schlepping a backpack 360 miles for 3 weeks? My initial critics were right, I must have been high. We didn’t hike any killer distances.
The two camps we stayed at were between a mile and two and a half miles away from the lodge where we caught the boat home. .  

 Lesson #3.  If you’re going to wash your clothing in a fast-moving creek, be sure to grip it tightly. Some lucky rafter is now the proud owner of a pair of 38-30 cargo pants that descended from heaven via a stream-fed waterfall.

Lesson #4.   You learn amazing things about people you’ve known all of your life when you camp with them. 
I learned that my son, who never picked anyting up off the floor in all the years I lived with him is an accomplished and conscientious outdoorsman. 

He can light a campfire with wet wood in a torrential rainstorm, pitch a tent like a pro (is there a league for that?), and identify all kindsof plants and animals. 

For example, he knew instantly that this was a deer. I was under the impression it was some kind of horned fungus.

 He also insisted we leave our campsites cleaner than we found them. Who knew the kid who grew accidental biology experiments under his bed would be so tidy?

Lesson #5.  Sodden is an entirely descriptive word for a certain state of being. It rained hard for one day and most of another. When I awoke on Wednesday morning, everything I had with me was saturated. I was ready to break camp, hike to the lodge and thumb a ride back on the jet boat. Rob calmly spent an hour and a half starting a fire, making us coffee and telling dad to mellow out. 
Lesson #6.  Nobody likes a hardhead. Thursday morning Rob even allowed as he could be convinced to go hole up at Paradise Lodge for the final night. The tipping point was the realization that we were out of coffee and would face a decaffeinated scramble to catch the boat on Friday after breaking camp. Both of us craved a shower, a meal someone else prepared and drinking a beer (or eight) on the deck and watching the rafters float by. Sleeping on a real bed after 4 nights on rocks and dirt? Near orgasmic. I recommend this place. It’s a tad spendy but includes meals. And the view is phenomenal.
Final and best lesson.  I may joke about it, but there certainly was an element of spiritual enlightenment in my trip up the Rogue River. Even as an agnostic, I felt a level of inner harmony and peace that seems impossible to accomplish in the confines of a city. You look at the sheer cliffs, magnificent trees, abundant wildlife and star-packed skies and wonder whose plan this might have been. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Last Day of School

The Last Day of School

Carolyn J. Rose

The last day of high school.
The seniors have already graduated and gone and many of the others took their finals in advance and headed off to summer jobs and family vacations or long days of just hanging out.
The halls aren’t crammed between classes.
The classrooms echo with farewells and promises.
Even the sunlight through the trees seems to have a different shade and slant.
Walking to the office to turn in my substitute keys, I cast my mind back to the June days of my teen years when I would count down the hours, the minutes, and even the seconds.
My thoughts then would be on the rising level of the water in the pool we scrubbed and whitewashed on Memorial Day. Fed by a spring now dry, it seemed to take forever to fill. And it was cold—muscle-numbing, breath-catching, toe-curling cold. But it represented summer—afternoons of sunbathing, listening to the static-ridden signal of WMGM from New York City for the hits of the season, and wondering who might come down the road and dive in.
As school days dwindled down to the final one, moods shifted. Those we now refer to as slackers did less and became more disdainful of the educational process. Those hoping for college scholarships hunched over their notebooks and drilled with their vocabulary cards. Those with confidence joked. Those freaked out about finals joked more. Everyone talked about summer plans and speculated about what teachers would do after the final bell.
Everyone was aware that all that was familiar and mundane would be behind us in a few days. When we returned in the fall, there would be a sense of strangeness. There would be harder subjects to tackle and perhaps a few new teachers or new classmates. We would find seats in classrooms we may never have entered before, or get involved in new activities with new friends.
And, until tedium set in again, we would be energized and somehow renewed.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lessons Learned from Estate Sales

Carolyn J. Rose

A few days ago a neighbor and I went on the prowl for yard sales hoping to find a small stroller I could use for Bubba’s outings while her torn ligament heals.

We didn’t find the stroller, but we found a generous woman who gave me a front pack dog carrier she no longer used because she had a new one. It needed a little mending, but it worked well and Bubba seemed to like it. And the woman seemed to like that I took it off her hands and spared her a decision about whether to put a price on it or toss it out. 

On the next block, we found an estate sale and walked through a split level house with a shop stacked high with the kinds of things my father would have hung onto: rusty lawnmower blades that might work on another mower one day, hoes and shovels with broken handles that might get fixed when someone got around to it, jars of screws and nails that might be needed for a project some time in the future.

Upstairs there was evidence of sudden and unplanned-for departure: boxes of cereal and cans of soup bought on sale, a candy thermometer still in its plastic wrapper, a new package of napkins. Alongside these were things that were far from new: a battered strainer, warped cookie tins, an ancient pressure cooker. And there were oddities: seven lazy Susans, several bags of mismatched stainless steel utensils, a frying pan with a broken handle.

In a way, walking through the rooms of the house was like walking through a graveyard. The stacks of items, the racks of clothing, the books and Christmas ornaments, the recliners, and the pictures on the walls were like inscriptions on tombstones. They told me about the people who had lived in that house. The items gave me clues to their age and beliefs and relationships. They gave me information about what these people were planning and hoping for.

I came home and looked at my house and all it holds with fresh eyes. And for the next few days I’ll be asking myself, “Why are you keeping that? How many blue blouses does one woman need? Why don’t you admit you’ll never lose those six pounds? What were you thinking when you bought two of those? Are you really going off and leaving such a mess in the kitchen? If you can’t stuff in another shirt, isn’t it time you emptied the laundry hamper?”

That estate sale reminded me of my Uncle Donald’s saying: “There are no pockets in a shroud.”

I can’t take it with me.

And I may well be embarrassed by what I leave behind and the condition it’s in.