Wednesday, March 30, 2011


                This morning when I rise, my left foot is aching a little bit.  I consider not hiking the butte today, briefly.  But the hills outside my little place are wispy with fog, and the wind is bending the trees.  I’ll have the whole place to myself today.  And the climbing is so good, it’s hard to think of not going.
                I make a quick breakfast, load the laundry and my day pack into the trunk of the car, and head for town.  And before I know it, the laundry is done, and my pack is where it belongs, on my shoulders.  I start up the steep power line trail, stepping carefully through the muddy ruts.  There are blown down trees across the path here, freshly fallen since last Sunday, at least a dozen of them.  Their huge root systems are turned sideways, their jagged, broken limbs driven into the ground.  Their root systems are turned sideways, revealing fresh earth and stones.  I step around them and top the hill, walking out into the Fox Hollow parking lot.
                Now my foot is hurting more seriously, and I stand at the trailhead, looking up at the broad, bare summit of the butte.  An injury now would mean losing the whole season.  I turn and head down, reminded of other summits long ago that were not taken.  And in the retreat, I re-discover an old gift.
                I’m descending by the easy trail, and walking slow, to favor my aching foot.  There are Trilliums blooming here, tiny white blossoms nested in triplets of dark green leaves.  The flowers, heavy with rain,  appear to look down at the ground as if they were shy.  To my right, a long steep hillside soars above me, completely covered in bracken fern.  The sun breaks for a moment, shining directly on the hillside, and suddenly all the rain drops on the delicate fronds are turned into shimmering diamonds.   Above, there are oak trees with still more ferns growing on their high, stout limbs.  This world smells strongly of damp earth.  If a hobbit came wandering around the trail up ahead, I would not be a bit surprised.
                There’s a tall, old fir above me that has broken off in last week’s sudden wind, about twenty feet above the ground.  It did not reach the ground, but landed against a neighbor, leaning there, as if beseeching him for help.  This one will surely go down in the next spring squall.  And it reminds me of the old advice: always look up before you pitch your tent.
                Today I’m reminded of the real gift of the hills.  The burn is fantastic, the views exhilarating.  But the real gift of the hills is the celebration of each moment just as it is.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

5 Rites

This little collection of yoga-like exercises is so easy to do, and gives a huge payoff.  They come from Tibet, and they can be done in a few minutes, with no equipment.  There's a little book out, but you can also find all the info you need on-line; just google "the 5 rites."

Most sources suggest working your way up to 21 repetitions of each of the 5 rites.  Here's my advice:  do three or four reps of each, until the habit is firmly in your life.  That way, it doesn't seem like a huge thing.  You'll still get the benefit, and you can add reps gradually as you go.

These rites can be seen as just good exercise, but they are designed to massage and stimulate each of the endocrine glands in turn, and the associated chakras, or engery centers of the body.  If ya believe in that sorta thing.  If you don't, try them anyway.  If you feel better, it's working.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Breakfast and Play

This morning was one of those "oh-oh there's nothing in the house for breakfast" mornings for me.  I love those times, because they usually turn into an adventure. 

A few minutes' scavenging in the kitchen left me with a medium-sized yam, assorted spices, some dark green kale and a bit of onion.  Ohhh-kay.  I steamed the yam, then put some olive oil in my cast iron skillet and browned the onions.  Then I added the kale and the yam, and stir-fried the whole assembly with a little salt and some cayenne.

And it turned out to be a lovely, savory breakfast.  You could combine this with some tofu or eggs, I suppose, but it was also great as is.   I wouldn't do this with a potato, because the carbs in a spud are so simple, you'd be likely to crash a couple hours later.  But yams have a high Glycemic Index, so it'll likely be a good "stick with you" kind of meal.

I recommend avoiding the protein trap anyway.  We don't need anywhere near as much protein as we are led to believe.  Also, most foods contain protein, or at least amino acids.  Aminos persist in the body for up to 72 hours, so if you eat a variety of foods within that time, your body will assemble what it needs from what you give it.  You don't have to combine foods to create a complete protein.

In fact, if you eat animal protein, your body has to disassemble it and re-conconfigure it to suit your human needs anyway.  When the body does this, toxic by-products result, like urea and ammonia.  And when protein is over-consumed, your body leaches calcium from it's bones to facilitate the digestion process.  So if you're concerned about bone density...

The yams had a good carb load, lots of fiber, carotenes, and the GI is high.  And the greens gave me a nice calcium boost for the beginning of the day.  You'll notice that mostly when I give recipies, I don't offer measurements, temperatures or times.  You'll figure that out for yourself, and your body will help you.

Ask yourself what you're craving right now.  What kind of tastes, what specific foods, sound good?  Think about combining things you haven't before, and keep it simple.  If you combine more than three items, you're risking indigestion, and the cooking gets complicated.  Making food should involve a sense of play, and listening to your body.


Friday, March 25, 2011


It’s time to get my driver’s license renewed.  After examining my assembled papers and consulting his supervisor three times, the fairly friendly man behind the counter at DMV crashes his stamp down onto my processing form, and I am instructed to “wait until they call you by name.”  Then they’ll take my picture.
            Meanwhile, the waiting area of the DMV contains an open-ended and engaging sampling of humanity.
            There is a young couple at the desk now, she with head covered by a colorful scarf, he speaking Arabic or Persian, interpreting for her.  They’re about thirty.  She is soft spoken, looks down a lot, and never meets the eye of the DMV worker.  He is confident, but very, very polite.
            There’s another young couple sitting next to me, filling out a form.  They’re speaking Chinese.  And on the bench behind me are three young men speaking Spanish, which stands out to me because I can understand it.
            Across the way, there’s a short, teenage girl in sweatshirt, jeans and ugg boots.  Her blond hair is tied back with a neon pink scrunchie, and she sits next to her father, a completely bald man of about forty.  The girl gets called to the desk, walks bravely to the counter by herself, though I can see her anxiety.  Funny how young people are less skilled at hiding that.
            Coming back from the counter, she walks towards her dad, a huge grin on her face.  She pulls a bright purple phone from the pocket of jeans and begins texting, fast, the way only the young can do it.  Then she’s back to dad, sits next to him, and they’re looking at her new license.  And in an instant, she transforms from a young, confident woman to little girl badly in need of comfort.  Phone back in her pocket, she moves to her dad’s side and leans into him.
            She can’t see, but he smiles, and the smile conveys a tide of years.     
            There’s an older man up at the counter now, arguing with the worker about fees.  And the guy at the information desk looks more bored than any human being I’ve ever seen. 
            “Robert?” says the graying man at the photo counter.  That’s me, to people who just read my ID.  Do you still weigh 180 pounds, he wants to know.  Umm, yes.  He smiles and says okay.  Eyes still green, hair still black, and is that still your mother’s maiden name?
            Yes, most of it, and yes, I answer.  And he takes a passable photo of me.  On the temporary license, I notice it says “record created” 1973.  It doesn’t say “the world was a completely different place then.”  But it should.
            I turn to leave, and there’s a brand new collection of faces and languages in the waiting area.
            “Number 26,” says the attendant.

Monday, March 21, 2011


                On the South East side of Spencer’s Butte, maybe 500 feet from the summit, there is a giant.  I see her every time I walk the Butte, and it has become a ritual to just lay my hand on her solid, abiding foundation as I go by, usually with my breath rushing in and out.  She is Psuedo Tsuga Metasisi, a Douglas Fir.  By my best estimate, she is eight feet through at the ground, and she is easily 150 feet tall.  She could be three hundred years old.  She stands at the top of wide ravine, with views to the east and south.  Her limbs start about fifty feet up.  They are thick and gnarled, and they all lean downwards, as if to express the weight of time she has spent standing here.
                She needs a name.  And I can’t think of one.  It should reflect an ancient wisdom, but also a timeless youth, and exuberance for living that time cannot erase, and a calm and reassuring spirit in the face of any and all emotional weather.  Because this is what she’s given me, these past several months.
                Please join me in finding a name for my latest spiritual advisor.  Tell me what you think her name should be and why.  Post it here, or on face book,  I’ll find it either way.  And if I choose your name, I will take you to her, and introduce you.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


     Sitting at my desk this afternoon, I can see enormous landscapes of cloud march diagonally across the narrow Lorane valley.  These towering clouds represent the spring weather pattern, and its here just in time; tomorrow is Equinox.  When spaces come, the sun shines through with a promise.  And then quickly, the curtain is drawn again, the sky goes black, and something comes down.  Today, there’s been hail, rain and sleet, in the space of about five hours.
            Tomorrow is Sunday, and that makes me think of a hike on the Butte.  And I realize this weekly burn up our lovely, tall hill has become a habit.  I also find I’m having something of a relationship with the Butte.  I know individual trees there now, as well as every bend, rise and rock in the trail.  During the workweek sometimes I catch a glimpse of the summit from downtown, and I find myself visualizing the summit.  My hill wears different clothes from minute to minute; strands of cold gray cloud, an icy, encompassing fog, or a brilliant bath of sunlight.
            In every case, seen from the perspective of my work day, a specific memory of the summit is evoked.  I travel in time and space for a moment and while I glimpse the summit, I am no longer on my way to a meeting.  I’m sitting on an andesite outcropping, sipping hot tea from the thermos.  I’m watching the cloudscapes from above, looking down.  Or the sun is pressing on my shoulder.
     This isn’t the first time I’ve had a relationship with a mountain.  There was Mt. Tabor in Portland, where I took my fear and fatigue when I was building a consulting business and watching my marriage crumble and fail.  Further back in time, there was Mt. Jefferson, and further still Mt. Hood, where lived out the exhilaration and struggles of adolescence in the 70’s.  In the middle, when I was thirty, there were the ancient ridges and climbs of Southern Oregon; Mt. McLaughlin, South Sister, Mt. Theilsen.
            There’s always been a mountain, and almost always, someone to share it with.   
            Outside my window, the clouds have passed by and the sun is shining again.  Far off, toward the open end of my little valley, way up high, a raptor circles, hunting.  The way I reckon it, she is directly over the Butte.  As if in invitation.  Tomorrow I’ll go.   Maybe I’ll have breakfast at the Hideaway first.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Training Day

It’s raining sideways this morning as I make my way to the Spencer’s Butte trailhead.  On the way down Amazon Parkway, I see runners along the sawdust path, even in this abominable weather.  As I pass a group of three, I can see their faces in my rear view mirror, and they turn out to be a family.  There’s a man of about fifty, running with two girls, obviously his daughters by the resemblance, and they look to be about ten and twelve.
            And as they recede in my mirror, I think “this is a fine place.”  And I’m so glad I came here to live.
            The Hideaway Bakery is built in pure Mediterranean style, with dark yellow stucco walls inside, lit by four-paned white-washed windows, set into the deep, hay bale walls.  The ordering area is a narrow alley, while most of the interior is occupied by a huge clay oven.  Embers are barely visible through a crack in the iron door.  The warmth from the oven is a presence, a hug from your grandmother.
            Outside, under the covered patio, I sit with cold hands curled around an Americano, waiting for my breakfast burrito, “with seasoned tofu, not eggs.”  When it comes, it’s remarkable.  The roasted potatoes are crunchy and rich with spices, and the tofu is chewy and tangy with a scrumptious white sauce.  And while I wait, there is a very Eugene crowd to entertain and engage me, from the toddler in an Andean knit hat who finds everything and everyone supremely interesting, to the thirtyish man who sits next to me, alone, and mutters to himself in a language that sounds something like Croatian while he reads real estate listings.
            Rain drops tap at my right arm, and the cold pushes in against the creaking space heaters.  Sitting there, sipping Espresso,I almost decide to cancel my training day today, I am so stressed and sleep-deprived.  But I decide my commitment to training wins.  If I want to hike high, windy passes this coming September, I have to pay up.  And the trail is so good, I can’t say no.
            If the afterlife is a dirt path lined with tall trees, I’ll know I’ve gone to heaven.
            I’m in an altered state this morning as I turn toward the insanely steep power line trail and move up under unstable skies.  But my energy increases as I climb.  As it always does, even though my attention is altered by many hard, hard nights.  I pass a whimsical, sprawling oak tree covered in ferns, and climb upward as the skies grow more optimistic.  At the summit, there are views, though they are drenched in the darkness of winter’s last.
            Mostly, the trail is deserted today, but there are a few familiar faces; the older man who hikes with trekking poles, and wears a wide, leather hat.  And the fortyish dark-haired woman who is always with her teenage daughter, the girl so well mannered, and the woman looking like someone I’d like I’d to meet.
            The miles flow by today like water, and I find myself having set a record.  I’ve exceeded two miles an hour on the way up and three miles an hour on the way down.  The winding, rocky, seven thousand foot ridges of Sky Lakes Wilderness whisper old memories to me as I shift my pack into the trunk of the car.  One September long ago, while passing through those rocky ridges alone, there was a crisp, icy morning when for just a moment, I could have sworn that the light in the day was coming from everything, not just the sun.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

John Muir, climbing Mt. Ritter

"After scanning its face again and again, I began to scale it, picking my holds with intense caution. About halfway to the top, I was suddenly brought to a dead stop, with arms outspread clinging close to the face of the rock unable to move hand or foot either up or down. My doom appeared fixed. I MUST fall. There would be a moment of bewilderment, and then, a lifeless rumble down the cliff to the glacier below. My mind seemed to fill with a stifling smoke. This terrible eclipse lasted only a moment, when life blazed forth again with preternatural clearness. I seemed suddenly to become possessed of a new sense. My trembling muscles became firm again, every rift and flaw in the rock was seen as through a microscope, my limbs moved with a positiveness and precision with which I seemed to have nothing at all to do."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Training Day

This morning when I step outside the cabin to get my daypack out of the trunk of my car, the wind hits me, cold, cold.  It’s still harsh and wintry out here, and for an instant I hesitate in my plans.  But I’ve decided to hike the butte today.  And this is exactly the kind of day I need for a “training hike.”
            Since recovering from the surgery, I’ve been accumulating new equipment.  Raingear, warmth layers, boots and much more.  I need to work with  them all, in all possible conditions, so that I’ll be comfortable and ready when I’m in the high country, alone.
            I’m excited to go today, happy at the prospect of climbing a hill with a pack on my back.  As I make tea for the thermos, and a sandwhich for the top pocket of the day pack, my mind spins backwards in time.  How long have I been doing this?
            I remember a weekend on a very snowy ridge on the southwest face of Mt. Hood, with a friend.  It was early season, June maybe, and the snow so deep, we only saw glimpses of the trail for two days.  We contoured as best we could, over raging streams of glacial melt water, and dodging rock fall that was positively deadly.  Finally, near dark, we camped in a meadow, on a tiny patch of bare ground.  The Sandy glacier boomed and cracked above us all night.
            What year was that?  I had borrowed my dad’s pickup truck and driven us up there, so I had to be sixteen, maybe seventeen at the most.  That would make the year 1973 or 1974.  ’84, ’94,’04.  Thirty years, and then seven more til 20ll.  Thirty-seven years.  And this windy, icy morning, as I pour tea into the thermos, as I put on double socks, and lace my boots in the same obsessive ritualistic way, as I check and re-check the contents of my day pack, the anticipation of the trail, of having my head in the wind, is exactly as fresh and exhilarating as it was thirty-seven years ago.
            At the trail head, I shoulder my pack and walk away from the car, and in less than fifty steps, I am on the trail, moving up, up under busy, gray skies.  Now the cold does not matter, is not noticed.  Now there is only a path snaking between tall trees.  Only.  The wind has shifted today.  Yesterday, cold arctic air was pouring in from Canada, the wind blowing out of the north.  Today, it’s still windy, still cold, but the wind comes from the south west, and it smells of rain.
            It’s not here yet, but it will be, probably today.  The trees are alive with it, singing and swaying high above me, throwing down clumps of thawing snow, and small branches torn lose from ‘way up on their crowns, a hundred feet above my head.
            There are not many people today, the cold has weeded them out.  The few that are up here tend to be much more friendly than the average fair-day hiker.  Or maybe it’s me. 
            The temperature drops and the snow deepens as I ascend, and at the thousand foot level, it is icy.  Now the trail is a class-four scramble.  As I emerge from the trees on the final, rocky approach to the summit, the hike becomes a study in rock, wind, ice and the constant threat of a nasty fall to my right if I should miss with a foot placement.  All the old habits kick in.  Test every step: is it solid?  Will it slip when I shift my weight up?  Where are the next three steps beyond that one?  Am I working my way into a corner?  Sequence is critical.  A good foothold is no help if it takes you into a blind corner.
            The wind intensifies as I near the summit.  Now it’s loud, booming across the rocks just above my head, and the short, sparse trees lean away from it.  It’s raining just a little, and the rain does not come down, it moves sideways, over my head, coming to ground I don’t know where, maybe in Douglas county somewhere.  This is a holy place, and time.
            As I crest the summit, the wind greets me with a hand on my chest, and stinging drops of cold hard rain in my face.  Far to the south, dark clouds reach down to touch the ground in long streamers.  Here, under my feet there is rock and ice, and they are equally hard.
            I find a notch in the Andesite just below the summit, in the lee of the raging south-wester.  The sandwich I made this morning is heaven, and the thermos of tea is an island of warmth in an ocean of cold.  Ridiculously, there is a patch of sunshine right over downtown Eugene.  Down there, maybe someone is walking past the McDonald Theatre, or the Paradise CafĂ©, looking up here and saying, “I’m sure glad I’m not up there today.”
            But I am gladder than I could say.
            On the way down, footing is tricky enough to be a little taxing psychologically.  I am reminded of a hundred descents from lofty heights, in iffy conditions, on shaky knees, testing every step, hoping it holds.  Today is not that bad, but the memories flood in.
            Now I’m past the worst of the ice, and the trail is just muddy.  And suddenly, the wind stops, the trees stand up straight, and it is silent.  Here it comes, I think, and I reach for my rain gear.  Wind comes from changing pressures, and when the pressures are equalized the wind stops.  The bitter Canadian air is washed away, the moist ocean air is here.
            And sure enough, a good old-fashioned Oregon Winter Rain starts pouring down.  I snuggle into my rain gear, my feet splashing along.