Tuesday, December 11, 2012


A good forest draws one deeper, deeper than one should go, farther from the main road than common sense allows and often with the taint of fear mixed in with all that ones senses can take in.  With each step it shows you something new, which makes you take the next, which makes you take the next...

I walked out the door and soon discovered that, in my new town, I had taken a road that I had not intended to follow.  I continued knowing that if this was not satisfactory, I could retrace my steps.  This took me to a tall tooth of a rock, seven feet high and three wide, with an inscription from a 120 years ago when this was the corner of someone's field and not just a intersection of two streets.  It is an interesting legacy that the current homeowner has acquired.

Not much farther on I passed the West River Cemetery, which is a cemetery with no graves.  I was not sure exactly where I was, but the creeks that crossed the road flowed to the east - my right.  I must be west of the Wepawaug River, which would only be a creek where I grew up.

I found that good forest to the left of the road, a trail drawing me up onto a hilltop.  There was a broad hollow on the far side and it seemed a good idea to enter it.  An occasional stone wall and the complete lack of any flat ground, along with the constant stone outcrops and rocky soil led me to believe that this was once pasture.  Twice, I came across stone foundations from farm buildings gone.

 I walked to the eastern boundary and turned back in because the forest was not yet done with me.

I walked more northerly, much farther than I thought possible without running into a house or road.  I crossed the drainage which seeps into a creek, which flows into a pond long ago dammed with a fine stone barrier, which runs into a swamp, which seeps into the Wepawaug.  I came to a road without seeing another soul and turned back.

It is a good forest.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Six Points of Normalcy

Time slips by and I don't manage to get my canoe in the water on a day that is ideally calm for a paddle.  Instead, I walk south towards the ocean, and then west when I get there, and then south again as the shore goes that way.  This takes me through one of the lowest of neighborhoods, one that is about a block wide with ocean on one side and a large wetland on the other.  All the way along are piles of remnants - carpeting, wood, furniture and just plain stuff.  The water flooded the ground floor of anyone who had a ground floor.  My camera stays in my pack, no one needs me taking photos of their problems.  Once in awhile I can see through an open door - the sheetrock stripped, the floor pulled up exposing the joists so that the crawl space and structure can dry out.  At least two houses are just plain gone.  Soon, they will rebuild and repair so that they can knock down the walls and pull up the floor and throw out the furniture again, and again, until the house falls down.

I reach Silver Sands and walk the beach until Iget to the first boardwalk that takes me back to firm land on the opposite side of the marsh.  There is no damage to anything unless it is man-made.  When one walks off trail in the forest, a fallen tree is a fallen tree.  It is only damage if it should happen to fall across a road or trail or campground. 

Nature happens to everything.  
Damage happens to man.  
Change is natural.  

Even here, following the hurricane, I am hard pressed to find damage in places where we have not made something.  The marshes didn't change appearance one bit, surviving their total flooding as if it was just a normal occurrence.  ...that's what I think about when I walk.

Just as I get to the main road, a large 6-point whitetail buck crosses the street with no more hurry to its step than my own.  It sees nothing out of the usual.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


First, I've decide to continue this blog.  Even though I am no longer at Smoke Farm, it seemed to make sense to continue logging my terrestrial explorations in the same place.  Of course, Smoke Farm contributed so much to what I am continuing to do that, in a sense, it is still "notes from Smoke Farm".

Today -
I came prepared without a map, but with my compass on a lanyard around my neck - the antithesis of a boat anchor.

There are trails here, but no signs to direct me to them, so I walk up the hill into an open deciduous forest that has already dropped its leaves - an orange mat punctuated by the countless grey boulders that define the close-up view of the woods in this region.  I figure that I will eventually cross a trail and I do, although it is the pawings and scat of white tailed deer and old stone fences from when this was a farm.  The newest and the oldest of goings.

I find a trail and it heads to my left and to my right, either of which is as good for me as the other.  The trail becomes an old farm road.  It leaves the forest for a patchwork of old farm fields defined by more stone fences.  And then, it becomes a trail again, just as the rain begins.  The rain in a bare tree forest where the leaves are on the ground creates noise that is out of proportion with the rainfall.  It reminds me of the loafing shed at Smoke Farm and how the tin roof made a light sprinkle sound like a midwestern thunderstorm in full roar.  As I near the stone foundation of a house, I hear a branch crack.  I pause.  Then, I take a step or two and a very large white-tailed deer, a doe, bounds out of the brush and down the trail ahead of me with its very long white flag held high.  It is that out-of-proportion rain sound that enabled me to get so close, the rain on leaves hiding the sound of my feet, which to a deer make noise that is out of proportion to the size of the animal.

The vine does not always win

The trail ends at a road and I backtrack until I am bored with retracing my steps - something like 50 yards.  I go cross country again finding and following deer trails, because deer trails are usually the path of least resistance when going off trail.  It goes well until I near those farm fields.  The brush grows dense and I find myself greatly relieved to know that the Pacific Northwest does not have a monopoly on plants with large sharp thorns.

I come out into a field to find a man walking slowly in a big circle.  He is my size.  When he sees me he puts out his hand and we shake.  I have large hands, but not compared to him.  "I'm Yugo," he says in deep voice with a heavy accent from somewhere in the place formerly called Yugoslavia.  He is the assistant gardener at the community plot that lies some hundred yards distance.  We talk briefly and I head off into the forest again.  I suspect that I will see him again.

White-tailed deer

The trail follows a ridge and then drops down to a pond.  There is a picnic shelter with a group of men warming themselves at the fireplace.  One comes over and we talk about deer.  He slept nearby last night and they heard deer moving about all night.  It starts to rain again and I continue and a couple hundred yards further on I surprise two more does, who eye me cautiously rather than run off.

Monday, September 24, 2012


I hurry my breakfast as I always have.  I have places to go.

The Closing - Sept 23

Those that stayed the night are here for breakfast and an even more casual time of chatting on yesterday's talks.  I pack my art when most of the guests have left.  S asks me if it will all fit in the car.  I reply, "I don't know".  It never has, but this time it does.

My plans of leaving change and I decide to spend the night.  G gives me one of the most heartfelt goodbyes yet.  M also sits to have one last talk with me.  I think that I might have met - and remember - a hundred people or more just through Smoke Farm.  I doubt that I will return to Seattle in the future, but there is no question on my mind that I will return to Smoke Farm.

When everyone is gone, I build a campfire.  It is the only campfire that I have built during the year.  I read a bit, but I see it as a distraction from what I should be paying attention to.  I settle into my sleeping bag, on the wood deck, in the free air, about 8pm.  It is dark.  I listen to the farm.  I think of the birds and animals that I would like to see once again.  And, I think of a couple animals that I do not want to see at night.

Sometime early in the morning, still in the blackness, I am laying on my right side and my ear picks up the padding of something walking on the deck.  I look over my feet and spot a dark shape some 20 feet away.  This was not there when I settled in.  I clunk my feet on the deck and the feral house cat darts off.


I take K, N, and S on a short hike before the action begins.  N is the resident artist for the symposium and he has created a set of origami figures to be distributed about the farm as markers.  He asks me to take him to some significant places.  We have enough time for the squatters cabin.  Then we continue farther up to the beautiful twin cedar stumps.  On the return we stop near the Grave of Vitus Bering where another one of my favorite stumps stands.  N leaves a figure at each.  Perhaps he leaves a few more, but I am busy watching where I am going.

The symposium starts at 10.  A more interesting and personable group of people could not be found anywhere.  As an inter-disciplinary artist, I find the symposium to be more to my liking than most any other gathering at Smoke Farm.  Burning Beast, as much fun as it is, is about food - it feeds the body.  The Lo-Fi Arts festival does a great job of feeding the heart.  But, I find that the symposium feeds my body, my heart, and my mind.  It is a delightful day of people that I wish I could spend more time with.

Ceremony - Priming the Pump

B shows up in the kitchen while I am making coffee.  He is all focused on getting started sweeping out the loafing shed.  I convince him to go on a hike with me to the squatters cabin.  When we arrive we find that someone has been there.  The two glass gallon jugs that sat on the corner shelves are missing and a crumpled Pepsi can has been left on the desk.  This is not the act of anyone that I have taken to the cabin - I am careful about who I take to my favorite spots.  It remains a mystery of who was here and how they found it.

Done with that, I have a chore to do.  One of my favorite moments at the farm was a winter day when, standing on the river road against the DNR hillside, with no creek or winter drainages anywhere near, I realized that I could hear water running - gurgling - dripping.  Wet defines winter (almost as much as "dark") at Smoke Farm and on that day I could hear the water flowing down the hill through the rocks and thin soil and between the roots and dead wood (it is not unlike the sound of water passing through a well maintained beaver dam).  The sound of water running was everywhere.  So, from my field pack, I remove a pint canning jar, fill it with river water, and replace it safely padded inside the pack.

low down.  the log over the ravine

I head up to the slough and turn left up the hill hoping to pass through the woodpecker forest once more.  It is a steep hike and brushy at times, but I have found this route to be the easiest, or at least the most pleasant way to the top.

the bench just above the woodpecker forest

the final slope

 It has variety, both in vegetation and in steepness.  I stop at the false summit that is just 50 yards inside the forest.  I look over at the true top, maybe 300 yards off and 25 feet taller.  The true top is clear cut.  I decide that I have no reason to go there. 

the hilltop

This hilltop in the trees is what I come for.  I never noticed it before, but the tallest point on this forested summit is a western red cedar stump, one of the old ones. I set up my camera to take video.  I remove the jar and pour the water on the ground.  Then I sit down for a spell and watch the video.  There is no ceremony.  It is just the act of pouring water.  I realize that the ceremony, the dance that the not present anthropologist would have recorded was the difficult hike up the hill.  My chanting was little more than the occasional, "fuck" every time I ran into the thorns of a blackberry vine.  The task is complete.  I have primed the pump for a winter at Smoke Farm.  Winter can begin.