Wednesday, December 14, 2011


"A" joins me today for another stiff hike.  We've not met before, but as most everyone I've run into at the farm, we will get along just fine...I don't worry about such things.  As we ride up I find that "A" also knows plants and mushrooms much better than myself.  I tend to learn such facts only when I need them...he comes prepared.

The day is overcast and a few degrees warmer than it was two days back. 
Frost is absent from the trees and brush as we walk out to the squatter's cabin. 
A flicker greets us from the barn. 

We're going to walk the same hill that I walked on Monday, but instead of climbing straight to the top, we will go up about halfway and walk across the slope until we are over the north fields.  There is no other way to get a feel for the lay of the land other than to travel it, particularly here in the northwest under the dense tree canopy.  No map, no aerial photograph will show what we will find. 

After a short steep start, we get into the salal and fern level and begin picking up deer trails that run cross slope.  It's easier walking than on Monday, mostly because we aren't going straight uphill.  "A" starts spotting mushrooms and I start watching for them also - since I have someone that can tell me what they are.

barrel mushrooms
something in the oyster mushroom family

There's some variety to the hillside as we walk.  The large trees are mostly Douglas Firs, there are a few stumps, and some alders, of course.  The ground is steep, but it eases up in places.  The understory can be salal and fern, or just waist deep fern, or fern and Oregon grape.  It is, however, a full trip with a diverse variety of lichen and fungi...more than we can take in on a single walk.  As we near a ravine that forms the edge of the clear cut above the north fields, we find ourselves in a stand of dead alders, a stand that has more fresh woodpecker activity than I have ever seen in one place.  There are chips on the ground and holes in everything.  Some, the rectangular holes, are recognized as pileated woodpecker signs, but other have been here as well.  It may be worth returning to just to sit and see what shows up some day.

lichen, but I can't find my copy of Pojar & McKinnon
I have identified this as the crazy looking orange stuff - don't eat it.

We get into the edge of the clear cut, but it is often choked with blackberry vines.  So we retreat back to the deep ravine deciding that clambering over logs is better than crawling through thorny vines.  As we're dropping down in, we find a very cool fungus.

log is about 4 inches across - click on this for a bigger view - it's cool.

White rooty tendrils cover most of the wood, but notice that the tendrils radiate out from small holes.  I'm not sure what made the holes, but perhaps this is an insect/fungus dependency.

At the bottom of the hill we find the remnants of a logging road and a couple very fine cedar nurse stumps. 
It was an outstanding trip.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Out with the neighbor kid

My neighbor J comes with me to the farm today.

As we reach the Stillaguamish valley, the heavy overcast melts away to clear skies.  We find the farm deep in frost, the temperature below freezing, ice on puddles but not in any running water.  It is cold enough that the rime on the tree branches is not becoming forest rain. 

With an assistant for the day, I plan one of the hikes that heads into steep and difficult terrain.  It is one that I would do alone, if the days were long and the nights not so cold, but with the sun dipping behind the hills by 4pm, it would not be a good place to turn an ankle alone.  We head out to the squatter's cabin, seeing a several eagles along the way.  Coho salmon are running and they seem to bring a great many more eagles than when the pinks come up in September and October.  At the turn uphill from the river, we change from our lowland rubber boots to hiking boots. 
From the squatter's cabin, it is 50 yards of salmon berry and dense brush until we reach the edge of the tall evergreens.  There, the brush changes to ferns and salal.

It is steep, very steep.  When we can find a deer trail heading up, we follow it, otherwise we weave in and out of downed branches and trees, and around boulders, seeking the easiest terrain, when we can imagine it.  About half way up, the salal suddenly disappears and is replaced with a thick cover of Oregon Grape.  We also find a few non-native Hollies and one or two Himalayan Blackberry vines.  But mostly, it is the plants that we should find in a northwest forest.  We notice no stumps.

The neighbor kid, J
I notice something white near my feet and pick it up.  One to two inch long hairs of ice are clinging to a branch in a dense clump.  In fact, I thought it was animal fur when I spotted it. They are amazingly delicate, although we discover that they can be pushed and sculpted by gently pushing them with the finger.

They can also be made to disappear by blowing warm breath on them.  I've seen a lot of rime and hoar frost before, but never like this, never in the forest.

When we crest the hill, we find cedar stumps again.  Perhaps the steep hillside was too rocky for cedars to survive, but here they are again at the top of the hill.  The top is an old clear cut.  We walk to the high point for a view.

After some coffee and cookies, we return the way we came.  I had been careful to look behind me, so I would remember what the scene should look like if we come down in the right place.  It's harder on the legs, but easier on the lungs than the climb was.  We find the drainage that created the blow-out on the diagonal road...just another piece to some puzzle that I haven't created yet.  It doesn't seem to run with water anymore.  We come down just a hundred yards from the squatter's cabin intersecting a deer trail that, for some reason, I remember and recognize from a month ago.  I wish I knew how that part of the brain works.

To finish off the day, we hike up to the upper beach where we find a bird kill site, a dismembered coho salmon and a drift boat coming downstream.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

You only have one chance

You only have one chance to experience a place as wilderness.  Returning to that spot, it will never be the same, it will always be a reunion. 

The first time I came to the farm, S. asked me if I wanted to look around and I responded, "no, this will do just fine."  I walked much of the land before looking at any way of not peeking under the gift wrapping, but instead preserving the discovery for a time when I would be standing amongst it.  As time goes on, I create my own stories for what I find, the squatter's cabin being the best example.  I think out loud and share my theories on who might have built it.  This is where I differ from the scientists that I've worked with.  They do not have that luxury, their facts and conclusions are up for peer review.  While my creations are up for peer review as well, they need not be facts. A friend of mine coined what I do as "personal geography" - as good a description as any.  I map what interests me, I collect what I find - but I find what interests me, and I am particularly good at filtering out disturbances that do not count, in my mind.  I can create my own wilderness even in places that are no longer wild.

S. is at the farm today and sheds a bit more light on the squatter's cabin.  But, he is clearly careful not to ruin any surprises for me.  The cabin was attached to a mining claim, but both of us acknowledge that that does not mean any mining took place.  It does not, in my mind, look like something a prospector would build.  But, if there was a claim, there might be a record, and a record would have a name.

I head out to collect another piece of wood.  This one takes on mystical qualities.  It was almost unmovable two days ago.  Today, I can lift one end with just fair effort.  Then, as I trundle it towards the road, I need to adjust it, and once again, I cannot so help me lift it.  I sit back and wonder how to get out of the fix.  With no brain solution, I go back and pick the end up without much trouble.  When the time comes, it drags me on my ass, quite unapologetically, to the bottom of the hill.

I return to retrieve my pack and tools and finding sun penetrating the forest, I take time to sit up against a cedar for awhile, glad to have brought a thermos of coffee out.  I am tempted to sit here until the sun goes away.  But, curiosity takes me to the last piece of wood, one that I only noticed two days ago as it is partially buried.  I load it up.  When the time comes, it drags me fully out of control to the bottom of the hill.

Out of gas, I rest in the sun, and then go and walk the creek, this day taking the far side.  There is a lot of beaver and deer sign.  They like the same trees - the beaver cut down a cottonwood, the cottonwood sprouts a hundred shoots, the deer come and eat the shoots.  It looks like the beaver are coming to the creek overland from the river as most of beaver sign is on the river side of the creek (the creek parallels the river through much of the farm).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Raining in the cottonwoods

It is raining in the cottonwoods under what is soon to become a sunny sky.  The night frost is melting from the branches.

I head in to get a second large piece of rotting wood for a sculpture project.  I hope to return it sometime when I no longer need it.  I don't like the idea of taking from the forest.  It is a loan.  I hope the forest will understand.  I ponder about how often I think, "my dad used to say..." when I am in the forest.  As I hang onto the ropes that I use to guide the 300+ lb piece of wood down a steep slope, I fetch his memory of hanging onto the plow horses when they got turned toward the barn (my great-grandfather was rather late in buying a tractor).

My heavy work done, I don't have the gas to haul another piece, so it must be time to wander.  I head to the lower beach.  The creek is down a foot, and so it stands to reason that the river should be somewhat lower.  On my last trip I was unable to see the beautiful colored rock installation from the Lo-Fi Arts Festival and I want to check to see if it might have been under water.  At the beach, I scare up two killdeer and three ducks, clumsiness on my part.  A hawk stays perched on the far side of the river and watches me.  The sun did not arrive today like I said it would.  It remains everywhere a steel grey day, a November day that is so very common in the northern tier.  The installation is completely gone.  The water is low enough that it should be fully exposed, but it is nowhere to be seen.  I can't even find a hint of the colored stripe pattern.  High water from rain has already reached the edge of the forest once, and it is clear that the Stillaguamish carries a tremendous amount of gravel when it runs high.  Fresh gravel covers the silt patches where I checked for animal tracks.

up the creek

Just as I am about to leave, a guy from the Stillagamish tribe arrives to check for coho salmon.  I ask to join him.  We walk up the creek, both of us noticing how much it has changed at where it exits the hills.  Where there was a small pond, there is now a foot high ridge of gravely sand.  The restoration seems to be taking this year.  Kevin finds two coho as we ascend the creek.  We find G. with his back turned, head in his camera, and we stop for a moment or two trying to figure out how to not surprise him too much as he won't hear us coming with all of the tumbling water.  We go until it is unlikely that the salmon could pass any farther.  Then, we return and follow the creek most of the way to the river, checking under woody debris and in pools for more fish.  I point out snipe when we flush them (3 total).  Kevin only sees one because he is looking for fish - the two cohos that he pointed out to me I would never have seen. Gravel is returning to the bottom of what was a ditch this summer.  Beaver are working a new dam, higher up than the one I'd found earlier.  These are all good things for the salmon.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

It's older than I thought

Friday - November 2
The leaves are off of the cottonwoods - spindly bushy trees at this time.  It is surprising how much the view increases and how short the distances actually are, the openness inviting shortcuts.  Cloudy skies in town slowed my start, tamping down my early morning routine, extending my coffee and breakfast.  I saw six swans on wing and two eagles as I approached the farm where it is sunny and calm.  Dressed as I am for the forest, dressed in common sense and respect, it is shirtsleeve weather as I head for my first appointment at the squatter's cabin.

A shadow passes through my eye...a large bird, a not infrequent occurrence, and I look up to spot a mature eagle flying down river to perch in a nearby tree.  It is a completely normal and usual happening when I get to this point on the road.

When I reach the fork where I turn uphill, bird calls delay the turn.  I drop my field pack and continue toward the north field in hope of seeing what is calling.  I spot two young eagles on a high branch in the tall alder that is a landmark on my maps.  The tree overlooks the fields and a bend in the river.  A third eagle comes in and lands lower down.  Then a fourth joins the first two.  Then a fifth larger and more mature eagle, possibly concerned with my presence, flies past heading upriver.  The landmark tree now has a name.  I return to the fork in the road and two more eagles are calling unseen from up the hill in the direction that I must go.

Vanguard Satellite Fired - Successful Coup in Burma

I work on my list of missing data for the cabin - roof details, interior elevations - shelves, nails etc., and the locations of some debris.  When I think that I have gotten most of the stuff, I carefully begin to look under things for clues about the builder.  There is a wad of newspaper stuffed in a knothole on the "boulder" wall (one side of the cabin faces a cabin-sized boulder).  I carefully ease it out and take it out in the light where I can gently unfold it.  It is from the Seattle Daily Times for September 26, 1958.  The year lines up the date penciled on the wall, 6/14/1958.  This also explains the lack of plywood in the construction (there is one small strip of plywood near the door where a repair would have been likely) and the high quality fir studs and 1x10 shiplap that seemed a bit out of place for a 1970 build date.  It also dovetails with the razor blade box that I found, which would've been hard to find in a drugstore by 1970.

If the cabin is an artist shack, it is not a Fishtown derivative, but instead, a generation earlier.  There was a well-known art movement working in the Stilliguamish, Sauk and Skagit valleys at that time as well as several famous writers that were going into the Cascade forests to write in seclusion.  I would expect the builder would be at least 70 years-old.

This is about all the discovery I can stand for a day.  So, I pack up and head down to the cedar forest where I take a series of portraits with the forest women.

Mother and son

Before ending the day, I walk the lower farm.  Of note, the colored rock installation is no where to be seen on the lower beach.  Unfortunately, I did not get around to plotting its location.  It is either just under the high water or the river has washed enough fresh gravel (the river has been higher than it is today) onto it to make it disappear.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I am glad for my rubber boots today.  The lower parts of the farm are becoming wetter and holding more water from each of the fall rains.  The creek is just a few inches under the log bridge, which means it is nearing 4 feet deep.  There is a bit of hail and snow mixed in with the grass and as I arrived the cleared hillsides well below a 1000 ft high were white.  But, the sun is coming through as the clouds part.  As I walk the hallway of golden cottonwoods, I cannot help but think of how fortunate I am to be here.

I spot a mature bald eagle down on a gravel bar just as I reach the river, and this time I have spotted that eagle before it sees me.  It is not so much that I have sharp eyes as much that I have a good memory and that large dark shape was not on that gravel bar last time I was here.  I drop some of my gear, crouch and sneak closer, taking a photos when there are views.  Eventually, I am discovered and the bird flies to the far side of the river.

As I continue up the road, the eagle spots me first.  This time it sits high in a snag topped alder on my side of the river.  It leaves.

I head straight up to the squatters cabin to continue measuring details.  I am also planning to lay out a string grid inside the cabin to help map the artifacts that remain.  If I am lucky, I will finally find the witness post again.

interior with string grid in place

...a couple hours later...
I have my numbers and photos, so I pack up and drop back down to the grove.  Here, I leave my gear and begin searching for the witness post that stands near the corner of the state property.  I flush two deer as I walk, the first two deer that I have seen while on foot.  I catch partial glimpses of them as they move towards the cabin.  I find pink flagging that runs true north-south and note that the ground feels and looks as if a road or a tractor trail has been here before.  I also have a hunch that someone altered the drainage on this hillside at some point.  I wander south looking for the witness post, but don't find anything other than some nice large cedar stumps.  I end up back at the grove (I'm starting to recognize individual trees having been here a few times) and try once more, this time not thinking about it too much, because that is kind of how I found the post the first time.  Again, I don't spot the post, until I am heading back towards the grove and catch the orange marker to my left.  I find the monument in the leaves and from there, I walk a line directly east until it intersects with my own trail to the cabin.  The cabin lies just 50 yards from the boundary.

corner monument - a witness post helps you find this

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rain Day

It was a full moon last night on a cloudless sky, a moon so bright that most of the stars that one might expect could not be seen.  I slept in the moon, choosing to not complain about the light, but to take it in.  When I got up in the middle of the night, the forest had become a grey toned scene, black shadows with the greys being the same as tarnished silver.  Only Orion was there, sideways over the ridge on the far side of the valley.  It seemed a shame to go back to sleep.  I heard the first winds come.  I heard the first brief rain fall.

I worked for an hour in the shop building another specimen box.  When T, T and K showed up with their carpentry students, I loaded up and headed to the squatter cabin for a few more measurements.  It began to rain hard as I reached the log bridge.  My field work would not last long today.  I measured shingle locations for each row of shingles-
When my hat, jacket, pants and notebook were drenched, I descended.  I enjoyed the sound of rain in the forest very much.  If only it wasn't so wet.

November 10 - Bird Day

I head straight out to continue work on the squatter's cabin.  The valley is windy with an overcast sky that won't last long.  There are fresh mule deer tracks and the creek is now knee deep and flowing.  At the point where I can see the river, a mature bald eagle passes on its way upstream.  It perches not far off, just long enough for me to get my camera out and not long enough for me to get a photo.  When I get up to the perch point, I find a huge pile of bear scat, which I flag for later collection.

I carefully measure and draw the exterior details of the cabin with hopes of someday connecting the construction to someone.  It is not a prospectors cabin and it is too nice for a hunter's shack or a teenagers party fort.  Note the green stripe that has been applied using asphalt roof shingles.  It does not make up for a shortage of cedar shingles, but instead covers a row of cedar shingles (imbrication is the basketry term) is a decorative feature (there is another green stripe at the bottom).  Also, the roof shingles are brown, not green.

The building is 12 x 14 feet, the construction is 2x4, 24 inches on center - everything (walls, floor and rafters) with 1x10 shiplap sheathing, tar paper and then sawn cedar shingles for the siding and asphalt shingles for roofing.  The windows are salvage (they are mounted sideways).  There was a stove at one time.  The cabin rests on 3 split cedar beams that are roughly 6x6 inches.  The beams sit on rocks.  Although not perfect, it was a visually pleasing cabin and built with that intention.  Whoever built it, had a fairly decent knowledge of carpentry...this wasn't their first project.

Right now, my theory is that this was built by a writer/artist in the circa 1970 and possibly by someone connected with the Fishtown artist community (mouth of the Skagit River) that existed then.  There were more than a few artists doing such things then.

Anyway...bird day.  When I get my head out of the bush and out of my notebook and tape measure, I find that it has become an amazing fall day.  As I return to the shop with gear, I flush a snipe from the road.  It is a beautiful bird, but one rarely sees it on the ground and once flying, they don't stay in sight for long.  I turn and watch it land 30 yards behind me.  I head back out to pick up the bear scat and half expect to find the snipe again.  It flushes when I am just 4 feet away and speeds around the corner.  As I get to the river, I here a dunk....dunk, and I turn to see the silhouette of a pileated woodpecker just 10 yards away.  It flies to the far side of the river as I reach for my camera. Returning with my bear scat, I flush the snipe again.  This time I watch as it flies a circle through the golden cottonwoods.  It is reluctant to leave this spot.
where the woodpecker went

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Historical Archaeology

I come up for an overnight, but find the farm winterized with the water turned off to prevent frozen pipes, and for the life of me, I cannot trace the plumbing back to the missing valve.  So, it will be a day trip this time.

I head out to the lower beach, the wandering ritual of greeting the farm in order since a short trip to Chicago and the resulting "airplane head cold" have kept me away for too long.  The farm is beginning to be an integrated art project for is becoming a piece of daily life.  Last week when I could not get to the farm, I worked steadily boxing specimens that I had brought home with me.  My "empty" time is spent thinking about how to approach new finds and new ideas that the farm has germinated. 

I find those scrapes again on the road on the way to the river.  Scrapes are outside of my knowledge base and I cannot tell if they are cat or deer or something else.  I need a track with a scrape to get there.  I almost forget to slow up and walk soft as I reach the river...I scare a young eagle off of its perch on the far side of the river.  The salmon run is finished now and there are just a few carcasses left at the water's edge.  In exchanged there are a dozen or so complete backbones laying in the rocks.  There are few tracks today, just some deer and coyote.  Recent rain has wiped the slate clean, but the reduction in free food is also bringing fewer visitors.

I drop a sample pear tree branch (there are 4 pear trees very close to the location of the Dan Baker homestead site) at the barn and head out to look for the squatters cabin.  There is a cool down valley wind with an overcast sky that doesn't look like it will last the day.  The trees are still brilliant in fall colors..that is those that are out of the path of regular winds.

This time, when I go to the cabin, I take compass bearings, pace distances and record additional CMT's (culturally modified trees) and landmark trees (like a 3-1/2 foot diameter maple).  I have very little trouble finding the cabin this time...but, yes, it is very hard to spot from 50 yards away.  In fact, if you weren't looking for it, you would not notice it.   It is built up against a boulder that is nearly the same size as the cabin itself.

note the green asphalt shingle decorative stripes

I photograph and measure the exterior features.  Once inside, I just stand and study everything that I can see without touching.  I expected to find a name somewhere on the wall, but I only find a date, 6/14/1958, which is too old to be the construction date in my opinion.  The Smoke Farm visitors have left the interior unpilfered and I find a few scraps of newspaper on the floor.  I can't find a by-line date, but I am fortunate to have a piece of automobile want ad.  There is nothing newer than 1971 listed, which doesn't confirm, but does line up with my original guess of a mid-70's build date.  It is a successful exploration and the only thing that I don't find is the state land corner monument that I ran into on my last visit.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


The wind blew downriver all night and continues today.  The clear sky went overcast before the sun made it above the ridge on the far side of the valley.

After breakfast, I work in the shop for a couple hours until I feel motivated to make my rounds.  I start by visiting the gravel bar where the creek exits the hills.  There is water flowing in the creek, finally.  There are fewer fingerlings...they have someplace to go. I have someplace to go, but their someplace is more important to them than my someplace is to me.  I follow the creek to the cottonwood poem and transcribe it as a favor for A.

Tree     Words
1          someday
2          you will find
3          in a desert or a
4          valley of sparkling
5          surfaces
6          hungry though
7          fed         your common rations of bland
8          cereals hard tack
9          evaporated cane (?)
10        a still slender puddle
11        your memory will work again        you will stand +
12        before two bodies of water two mountains
13        of grass
14        two friendly tableuaxs +
15        unable to enter either - you
16        - out there will sit down here
17        + wait
the sentinels

I follow deer trails and beaver drags through the cottonwoods, coming across a set of sentinel posts - tree trunks planted in the earth...not trees.  These were put here for flood protection.  Now, they wear an interesting collection of fungi.  I come out near the upper end of the lower beach and go out to check the guest register zig-zagging between silt patches.  Coyote, raccoon, deer, seagulls.  A mature bald eagle flies over.  Two immatures follow a minute or two later.

I walk down to the far end of the lower meadow.  I find two pieces of art installation tangled in the trees.  They are parts of a painting that was washed away by last winter's flood.  I debate whether to collect them, but for the time being, I decide to leave them untouched.  When I cut back into the cottonwoods, I end up at the small beaver dam....I always end up here when I cut through these cottonwoods - without intention.  There are fresh trimmed branches.  When I come out of the cottonwoods, I can see the barn, and like a workhorse with a weak driver at the reins, I head straight for it (my dad tells me these things).

the shop/barn/studio/hideout

October 25

I work on my secret crazy project, successfully moving the heavy object back to the shops and just a bit self-satisfied at how procrastination has led to a least for moving it.

I take the midday hours to work on specimen boxes.  Then, I head out upriver.

It is an extraordinary fall day.  The leaves have turned and gold bands and smears are all around.  As I walk the river road towards the north fields a bald eagle and I are surprised to find each other just 20 feet apart.  I don't know what that eagle was doing, but there was no way I could sneak up on it with all of my crunching through the down leaves.

I find a BIG cat track near the USGS river gauge.  I take a cast that captures both the front and hind paws.

I head to the upper beach.
I haven't been here in well over a month.  It is smaller today with the higher water that rain from the preceding days has brought.  Like the lower beach, there are dead salmon all around.  But, there are fewer sand and silt patches for visitors to leave a record in.  I spot a large coyote track and a 3-toed bird track that I do not recognize (goose like except for no webbing). 
spawning humpies aren't good looking when they are alive

Map note- it is 32 strides from the middle of the cottonwood posts to the river bank.

I march back across the field.  I notice a clearing above the road as I return.  Something to investigate later...something you never notice, and then you do.

I continue working in the shop until the sun drops below the ridge.  After dinner, I clean off the BIG cat track so that I can see the pads clearly and measure the lengths and widths.  It is a cougar track.  It makes my day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Lost Cabin

I start the day finishing up boxing Specimen 12, an artificial shelf fungus made by my friend Anne.  It and several others were mounted in the cedar forest for two years.  It is a big box and a bit more complicated than most.

I have collecting to do today and I take a wheelbarrow out with me preferring not to drive a vehicle if I can avoid it.  Little is discovered when one drives.  Walking, even when toting something heavy, there is always the chance to see, hear, or feel something important.

I stop to write at the old fence line.  Leaves are gold and falling.  I have seen the tracks of a very large raccoon and a large mule deer.  A humpie thrashing on the gravel bar below alerts me to its life and short future.  I had something I thought was worth writing when I got here, but I can't remember what it was.

I was thinking about the moisture and how the meadows are always damp with dew in the marginal hours of the day.  How a ground fog develops in the evening, sometimes coming up the valley against the river.  But here, up against the base of the forested hill, the damp comes down from above.  It descends in a slow flowing roll picking up more wet as it passes through cedar and brush.  In the fields, the moisture is at foot, something you walk through and pick up on your boots and pant legs.  Here, you stand in a slow flowing river of cool damp that is coming over, going past and washing through on it's way to the lowest spot in the valley.  You cannot see it, you can probably not measure it, but you can feel it, you can feel the weight of it all.

the office

I collect as many of the bird feathers that I can from the kill site that I saw on Sunday.  They are spotted and some have buff coloring.  If I could reassemble the bird it might have striped patterns and a buff patch.  I think it might be a northern flicker that has been taken by a hawk.  A second smaller bunch of feathers that I saw on Sunday is gone. 

I pace distance to the trail that leads to the squatter cabin.  Then, since I am here and prepared, I measure and record some CMT's (culturally modified trees) that are along the path.  Then I try to walk up to the cabin, having said in my last post that I could find it in the dark.  But, it completely eludes me.  I know that I am within 50 or 75 yards, but I cannot find it.  This irritates me a little, but is also an important detail ("T", who is pretty comfy in the woods told me that he can never find it from below, but only by coming down on it.)  The cabin is very difficult to see, even when one knows about where it is.  This is how someone could build such a structure without getting caught.  I do find a state DNR witness post, which although I am not certain, hints that the cabin is probably on state land.

a favorite nurse stump
 My wheelbarrow project needs more thought, so I return to the shop to work until dusk, which is when the rain comes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 16

Three of the girls arrive at the kitchen as we prepare for the day.  To give A some space to get some of his studies in, I talk the girls into a walk to the beach.  It is a grey day with the clouds low as they typically are in this valley.

Northern Flicker
Spider webs are easily spotted as we walk, even from long distances with the strands jeweled in beads of dew.  We find a recently dead and rather large mole in one field while walking to examine some fruit trees and joke that M would bring it back with her if she was here - a joke that only becomes funnier when, upon returning, M asks if we brought it with us.  At the beach, I find some small tracks - four toes, no claws - at the beach (it turns out to most likely be a feral cat) and B spots a line of mouse tracks in the mud.  We return to the kitchen hungry.

Afterwards, the 7 kids with 4 of us adult types hike out to try and find the "prospector's cabin".  It seems that few people take notice of the forest landmarks whenever they come out here.  I have never been there, only heard of it, and those that have been there don't seem to ever remember how to return to it.  It is a bushwack up the steep 2nd growth forest with no small amount of brash bashing.  We have someone with machete love in front, which is not the most efficient way to get through the forest for the machete wielder usually plunges headlong into the worst tangles without taking 2 seconds to look for an easier route.  Eventually, I watch this parade from the side as I weave through natural thin tracks.   Everyone is enjoying the adventure one way or another.

I am expecting a decaying log shelter, but it is not nearly that old.  It is a small frame one room cabin, not yet engulfed in vegetation.  It looks to me as a cabin built by a squatter, perhaps a hunter, perhaps just someone trying to live in the woods.  It probably dates to just before houses were built at the edge of the property...maybe 30 years.  The farm denizens have not taken much from it, if anything.  As we descend, I find a fairly obvious cedar peel (obvious to anyone that has studied the archaeology of cedar peels).  It is not a skilled peel...kind of a mess, but maybe someone's first attempts at such things, and it is big.  It might be that the cabin builders decide to try their hand at cedar basketry.  The scar depth shows an age that I guess at 20 or 30 years.  It is a very obvious landmark for anyone trying to retrace the route...if you spot that cedar you can find the cabin in the dark.

October 15

Today begins one of M's kid camps, this time for 7 junior high aged kids - 3 boys and 4 girls.

Smoke Farm sunrise    

I have the first couple hours of the day to myself.  I make/eat oatmeal and coffee and make a quick trip to the lower beach.  K arrives at 9:30 with the others coming in gradually.  It is M's usual well planned out operation that seems to not have a plan other than respond to the kids moods and ideas.  It works well, although the energy level, the molecular motion of 7 kids that age is stunning.  I remember having fun, but most of the day is a blur and it goes on until late with Ky leading a brilliant chain story telling event at the campfire.

October 14

The greeting ritual changes today - an acknowledgement to the other half of my totem animal, the reinbeaver - castor terrandus.  Instead of wandering the farm and looking for change, I set up in the shop with a need to finish something now that I have several projects trundling in form or thought. 

Just as I start the USDA drives up to check on some of their work, neither of us expecting each other.  I join them and tour the gravel area where the creek comes out of the hills.  As I figured, their intent is to have a section of braided stream there, although that braiding will probably be completed this winter.  I return to the shop while they head up to the north fields to check on some recent work.

I have the copper sheet necessary to finish my specimen boxes and I spend several hours snipping, folding and hammering text into the copper, then fitting it to the boxes.

When the time comes, I head out into the cottonwoods, finding SK's braided grass surprisingly close, if one does not use the road.  I head to the upstream end of lower beach, which takes me to the pear trees and three maples that we found interesting on my last trip.  They are near the first homestead cabin on the land, which has long disappeared.  I sure would like to core these trees to get an age on them....if I had a coring tool.

art critic

The river is up a bit more, which shrinks the shallow cobble beach more than one would expect.  There are a great many more dead salmon, some near the water's edge, some on a line that suggests a slightly higher river level than today, and many back up against the forest where, I suppose, raccoons have dragged them.  There are hundreds of seagull tracks, many crow prints, and I pour a cast for great blue heron track... a 6 inch long print, as long as an eagle, but thinner and with the hind toe offset to one side.  It takes almost all of my plaster.

I return to the shops to work for a hour or two.  Then, when it is time for dinner, I swing out to the beach and retrieve the heron track before going up to the bunkhouse.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


I make breakfast.  Coffee, without a proper pot, is made by adding grounds and boiling water to a 1.5qt canning jar and waiting for the grounds to sink.  A hillbilly french press.  It is a surprisingly fine strong brew.  The main course are spelt flour waffles made with duck eggs that D has brought up.

We hike back out to the lower beach, but in the reverse direction that we took yesterday.  Our first stop is to photograph SK's installation of woven grass. The weavings are now sprouting new growth and we need to photograph the changes.  A and D notice some trees of importance.  They have found 3 oaks (or were they maple?) planted in a perfectly straight line and not far away, 4 very overgrown pear trees.  We are not far from were an 1890 map shows a homestead cabin and I will need to map this area at some time, if for no other reason than to force myself to closely examine it.

As we head up river toward the north fields, we detour into the cedar grove where A had installed some artwork.  We spend quite a while in here.  I explore the old cedar stumps.  A hunts fungi.  D is a newcomer and takes in as much as she can.  Everyone looks at everyone's discoveries.  This spot never fails to please.  I even find a level spot where I can pitch a tent someday.

When we head up river, I spot the witness trees that mark the odd intruding corner of public land - two aluminum plates.  We rest when we get to the most upriver river bank, a place where a logjam has rammed itself into the bank and where the restoration crew set in larger cottonwoods in the event that the river tried to cut in here. 

The three of us have not stopped our discussion except for the all too short 5 hours of sleep last night.  I made no art today, but I probably have made art many days ahead.  I hope my friends have the same luck.

October 7, 2011

A ritual of greeting the land is developing.  After unloading my gear, I check on the chickens, collect 7 eggs, feed them, clean the coop, and tear the sleeve of my jacket on some lousy sheetmetal work.  But, this is not the ritual, this is chores.

It is grey and raining in a dense sprinkle that buoys and mocks the local myth, "it never rains that hard".  It will, in the end, be the exact same amount of water that would drop in a midwestern thunderstorm, only it comes a bit slower.  That tired old northwest myth is no more than the "it's not the heat, it's the humidty" of my youth.

Now, the ritual.   I head to the creek where it exits the deep ravine, where it leave the hills for the low lands forming the inside of a meander in the river.  The USDA is restoring the creek to its original line, but when I have looked at this work, I didn't see the logic.  But, I know that there is someone that knows more than myself, so it is a chance to just observe.  There is more water today.  The creek drains a fair amount of land from quite a ways up into the hills.  The flow is splitting, braiding around low earthworks and then rejoining at the edge of the cottonwoods.  It might be that they want the creek to braid briefly into several channels and spill some energy in the shallows before entering the original creek bed.  There will be more to watch.

Next, it is time to greet the river.  I take the shortest route out to the downstream beach.  I walk quietly, particularly in the final wooded section so as not to scare off any wildlife.  An eagle perches on the far side of the river in a dead tree that affords clear views.  Two killdeer speed by.  A dying humpy (salmon) makes its last movements, sideways in shallowest water.  This is the circle of life, but this is the macabre segment of that circle.  The river smells of dead salmon and the ones that have been dragged out and left by scavengers are becoming fish shaped bags of skin as they disappear.  It is the end, and the beginning.  Hello river, hello eagle, thank you salmon.

My friend D joins me near noon.  I have asked two artist friends to come for an overnight.  As good as the farm is for inspiring artwork, I know that the discussions that we will have will generate more ideas for all involved.  D walks the downriver area with me.  Some others that I did not know would be up here (they have their own project) arrive.  We do some shuffling of plans, but fortunately it all works out, and we have a nice talk with C and K, new acquaintances for me. 

A comes in in the evening and cooks a curry dinner for us.  Then, with a 2/3 moon, we head out for a night hike, the colored rock arrangement on the beach being out outermost goal.  It is 4 long lines of rocks arranged by color, and while it is a fine work in the day, I have seen it twice now at night and in the moonlight it is gorgeous, and impossible to photograph.

We return and talk until 3am.  The discussion idea is a success.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Kid day

M arrived about midnight.  She is up too early for that. When I hear the coffee pot stop gurgling it is time for me to get up.

One of the farms big things is to serve as a place for kids to come and visit, to get out of the city and do stuff that they might not normally do.  Today, there are several kids with asperger's syndrome coming.  It is a form of autism.  M has organized four volunteers besides herself - it's almost a one to one ratio.  While she frets some about it, I don't (I am a bit ignorant about this after all).  She has lined up volunteers that all have different skills and abilities.  There is someone here that can respond to almost any kid.

For an hour, I work with a six-year old on a bead embroidery project.  Then, it is time for a visit to the treehouse. The six-year old climbs and descends the 25 foot high treehouse 6 times.  It is a highlight for all of them.  It is an awesome piece of structure, even more so as it was a construction project by a group of high school kids.

It rains some.  It is no big deal to anyone.

A makes a lunch of fresh home-made tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.  It is one of the best tomato soups that I have tasted.

O works in the woodshop with K and A.  O's skills (he just left his teen years) are good enough that I invite him to come out again and help me with my artwork. 

The rest of the time is spent making stuff, walking around, just doing things.  I am very glad to be participating.  This is a good thing.

September 30

Start building a box for the partial skeleton.  It will not be a specimen box.  Instead, it is a die-orama.  You look at it through a one inch hole in one end.

I walk out to check the first beach.  There is a good set of coyote tracks...among the smell of a few dead humpies. 

Coyote came upriver
to where I am now
two claws protrude on one foot

He followed the shore
and I followed him
separated by eight or twelve hours

Coyote stopped to smell a dead humpy
maybe he took a taste
now, it is a story

At the beaver drag
deer tracks, coyote tracks
I stop my pursuit
The beaver have not been here in days.

It is and is going to be a fine early fall day.

At 1:00pm it starts to rain, although, for me, this does not change my forecast one bit.

Two guys from the USGS drive up.  They are going to check the river gauge and I hop a lift with them because I want to see what is inside those concrete towers on the river bank.  I also want to pick their heads for data.  The Smoke Farm gauge dates to the mid 1930's.  It is the only gauge on the N. Fork of the Stilliguamish that reads level and stage (which I just muddle together when I am worried about water levels - one only needs to know that the river is too high, too low, or just fine).  They come to do this every 6 to 8 weeks.

I work on specimen boxes until the rain runs itself out.

When it is dark, I read poetry by Robert Sund while the neighbor shoots his gun.  If I was a good poet I would sound just like Robert Sund, because when I read his stuff it sounds to me like it is coming out of my head, although it is not (it is going into my head, oddly enough).  I generally do not like poetry.  I recently said that to a was awkward (her poetry was pretty reminded me some of Robert Sund).  This paragraph is going in circles.

A poem by Robert Sund -

In the world of men
centuries go by leaving
little trace.

A blossom in men is
like a cathedral,
seldom built.

It must be that in schools
when a blackboard is being erased,
under the sweeping hand,
    some words
   disappear forever.

September 29

I start by taking my sweetheart to the airport.  We will be apart most of the coming year.  It is purely economics...she has a job to do, I have a job to do, and they are not in the same place.  I do not like to think about it much.

At the farm - I hear ATV's and find pick-up trucks parked near the barn.  No one has told me about this.  I call S. and find out that it is a work crew, which is a relief...nuf sed.  I head up to the north field to continue the map project and to meet the crew.  But, it turns out that they are spraying invasive plants to give the newly planted trees a fighting chance.  It is best that I am not in the fields for 24 hours or so.  So, after picking their brains for background information about their restoration work, I head back downriver.

I stop where the road is 20 feet above the river, where one can look straight down into the current.  The shadowy shapes of humpies - salmon also called pinks, are flitting is not the word.  Salmon move with power and swiftness...not sure what word that is, but it is impressive...they do it on an empty stomach also as they are swimming upstream to spawn and then die.  They do not eat once they head upstream.

I stop and do my stump research for an "in-the-head" project.  I find that the project is feasible and only slightly altered than what is in my head.  Now, I can write a grant proposal and pretend that I am a grown-up and all that shit.  But first, I collect 10 pieces of a skeleton and a tin from the top of an old oil can.

I finish reading the Te of Piglet, eating lunch and nodding off, nodding on, nodding off - I did not sleep well last night.  It is a good book although at twenty years old it shows that our society has completely wasted about 20 years. 

I sit and do bead embroidery on my field pack... a thoroughly mindless task with no point other than to put a decent looking pattern on the black fabric.  But really, beadwork always was about status...mine says that what I am doing with that field pack is important enough for me to spend hours decorating the pack.  Sometimes people figure that out.

My wife calls while I am making dinner and it makes me very happy.

Monday, September 26, 2011


I do not like to look at existing maps before I begin a map.  The discoveries that happen while in the mode of hyper-alertness required by the ground survey are too special to tamper with.  But now, familiar enough with the farm and knowing the general lay of the land, I take time to look at earlier work.  My discoveries are no longer threatened, and it is something I can do on days that I can't be on the farm.

Topographic maps have little to add at this point.  The early 20th century one that I found has a few details that might be interesting, but not much more.  The newest USGS map is amusing because of an error.  I am finding errors more often in satellite made maps.  There is a road on their map that I am pretty sure does not exist.  There is also a road that exists that is not on their map.  In the marsh where I canoe frequently, Google Maps claims dry land where there are only lily pads - and only in the summer months when the satellite took the photo.  It is sloppy work to make maps and not have someone walk the ground.  It's like telling someone that you know something when you really are quite clueless.

I spend my time with the BLM survey records.  They come from the 1890's.  The surveyor's notes are neatly hand written.  The map is an odd thing to wrap one's head around.  It is not a topo map.  It was not intended for that purpose.  It is a map for people who will claim, buy, section, subdivide, mine, log or farm the land.

follow the link at the bottom of the blog to get this in a zooming version

The farm lies in Township 32, Region 6, Sections 16 and 17, mostly.  The surveyors walked the edges of the region noting the forest and soil and hills, creeks, rivers.  Everything is in chains - that is a unit of length...rods, chains, links...if you need to know, you'll look it up.  A section is a square mile, 640 acres.  They did not walk the section boundaries.  But, they did go back and walk the entire Stilliguamish River, carefully plotting it so that they could figure out how much land was left in the section for the farmer, logger or miner.  They called that walk a meandering.  I like that...meandering to make a map.  The river has not changed its channel much at all in 120 years.

The map is cryptic. There are odd numbers noted on the map that have a reason I do not know.  Baker had a house on the farm, not far from where SK made a braided grass installation a month or so ago.  It is not far from where the beaver are taking cottonwoods and dragging them back to the river.  Youst (that might be wrong - it is hard to read) had a house in the north fields, at a place where I tripped over some barbed wire.

I go back to putting the maps and notes on a canoe paddle.  I am joining my last project to this one.

Here's the link to the map- BLM  You can zoom in on this to see the details.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

North Fields

I make coffee and pick up where I left off reading 'The Te of Piglet', which I found in the desperate book collection up in the sleeping lofts, having forgotten to bring my new book of Robert Sundt poetry.  It is 7:40 when I notice that the sun has crested the ridge on the far side of the valley, burning through the bad mohawk of trees left by the if it is not a clear cut when you leave a couple stragglers.  It is breezy and it will be a sunny day.

The radio drones on, I'm always torn whether to use it or not...there is nothing there except stories about people who are caught on an inertial ride to one sort of collapse or another.  There is a noticable lack of creative...creative anything.  No creative solutions, not even a "thinking outside the box" (I hate that phrase) idea.  There is a bit about the retarded presidential candidate, Rick Perry (I know that retarded is offensive, but I know no better term for his ilk - he is offensively stupid, if you don;t mind me saying).  Maybe I should have left the radio off.  Creativity requires a dropping of the ego, an acknowledgement that one does not know everything, or much of anything for that matter.  Only then does the good stuff float to the surface.

I head up to the north meadows, stopping to cast a mule deer track along the way.  I can pick it up on the return when the plaster is well set.  I map north of my datum that I set yesterday.  I plot a wooly caterpillar, I note a snail and a line of deer tracks.   After a few hours of pacing back and forth, sighting, pacing more, sighting.... I start to make minor errors.  It is a sign that the days survey is near and end.

Returning, I find a research team working its way down the river measuring the depths of side channels.  I would normally badger them with questions, but I continue on...I'm tired.

September 19

I arrive and once I get my gear organized, I head up to the north fields.  When I wandered up here a few days ago I felt something very old - something historical in the landscape.  Clouds were low that day with the mist in the tops of the trees and it rained on and off.  The mowed  field, the forest backdrop, and the light seemed to be a summation of the Mathew Brady Civil War photographs that I used to stare at for hours.  Something here was caught in time.

I decided to come back here and work my map, catching the north fields in detail.  They have been planted with new trees and in a couple years, the opportunity will have disappeared.  It will be a young forest.  It is an easy survey, almost like shooting sights over water except that I get to go anywhere that I want.  There are discoveries - deer beds at the edge of the field, and a whole field that I didn't know existed, hidden by a wall of somewhat taller cottonwood trees. 

When I do enough for the day, I return to bunkhouse for a quart of lemonade and a short nap.  Then I drop down to the milking parlor (workshop) to continue putting specimen boxes together.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Yesterday was cloudy with a thick overcast and I wake today to more of the same.  The clouds are just mixing with the ridge top on the far side of the valley.  It might rain.  It might not.

After breakfast, I finish up on my box building - the first seven specimens collected in my wanderings.  I don't have the sheet copper that I need to finish them, but they are sealed.  It begins to drizzle while I work, the tiny droplets striking the metal roof and making noise that is far out of proportion to the amount of wetness.  I will probably not map today as the paper on the plain table will suffer during the work.  But, more to the point, there is the nagging superstition that if I begin mapping, it will rain for real.  I explore instead.

I find deer tracks and a set of fisherman tracks at the river.  It is the flat bottomed wading shoe prints that give the fisherman away.  Two killdeer complain at me and I flush a sandpiper that I really should have noticed earlier.  I feel clumsy.  Fish are rising at the eddy on the far side of the river.  I have yet to come down here and not see fish rise in that spot.  I head up river and after just a few steps I shake a bald eagle from its perch.  It too heads upriver.  I begin to find beaver sign - pealed cottonwood limbs.  With each few steps, the number of limbs increases until I reach the end of the cobble beach where limbs are strewn all over.  This is a feeding spot.

There is a well used beaver drag leading up the bank.  A drag actually looks like someone swept a dirt path with a push broom, the only difference being that whoever made the path did not show much concern for headroom.  The beaver that come here live somewhere else on the river swimming in and head inland to get food.  The branches are dragged back to the rivers edge where the bark can be pealed and eaten in relative safety.  I follow the drag until about 150 feet from the river, I find a minor clearing in the cottonwoods.  The beaver have taken down at least six trees and hauled away almost every bit.  Other stumps show that they were here last year as well.

It begins to rain in earnest.

I walk down to the quarry and follow a road up the hill through the forest until it comes to a gate and someones house.  I quietly turn around and return to the river.  It has stopped raining.

Then, I head upriver again to wander the north meadow and the old homestead site.  There is an old feeling about it today.  I don't know what that means.  I collect a few things as specimens plus a mangled sheet of metal that might be more suitable on the boxes than the copper that I envision.

September 14

I get to the farm in the late morning.  Map gear and recent specimens along with a selection of tools necessary to box those relics are in the car.

So often, we find ourselves thinking of things that seem to have nothing to do with what we are doing.  A photograph of my wife comes to mind and I find myself on a new path.  I have had the photo since the time when we were dating, now over half a lifetime ago.  It is a photograph taken, no doubt, by some guy who had a crush on her.  I remember hearing some story about that.  She is no more than 18-years old, her hair done in long braids - a length that I have never seen, and she is crouched, studying something, but momentarily disturbed by the photographer just long enough to look partially in that direction.  It is an extremely fine portrait.  The photo became mine when I rescued it from the trash, my wife announcing that she didn't like it.  I took it and put it in what I thought was a safe spot not knowing at that time that we would still be together over 30 years later.  No one who knew us would have bet on that.

As time went by, the photograph became water damaged, and one day I tore it opening the safe place where I kept it.  For a while I forgot where it was although I would occasionally wonder about its location.  Over thirty years, I suppose I lost and found it several times.  Then one day, while setting up my studio (pronounced "shop") I found it again and tacked it to the wall.  To me, that photograph always reminds me of the first time I saw my wife - at a bus stop in Minneapolis.  It would be at least a year before I would have a chance to talk to her, so I have no picture of the first sight, but the photo seems to do.

Now, the photograph seems to be so much more.  It is analogous to our relationship.  The tear and the water damage have turned a good portrait into something so much more.  The photograph now bears character and story that the original image had no chance of capturing.  It breathes the experiences of life.  It is a far more beautiful image than the photographer ever knew.

And then, I go back to my work, building little boxes and putting little things inside them.  And, M shows up, a welcome break, and gives me my first lesson in chicken tending.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Sunrise begins to push the night fog of the river seaward.
Two crows sit together silhouetted high in the big dead cedar down by the shed.  Stellars jays are picking at the moss and bark on maple tree near the cookhouse - almost woodpeckerish in motion although their bills only pick at the surface.  Three ducks speed by at distance, high, fast and out over the river.  I heard Canada geese last night.  Fall is coming.  S sleeps through it all

September 5

We slept in the open air loft of the woodshed. I remember how at each stir, the air was just a little bit cooler.

S has more words for me in the morning - looking out and commenting on how the farm seems to be frozen in time, waiting for something.  How different its personality is depending on who is here.  I have only been here when there were many others.

We have fry bread, oatmeal and coffee for breakfast.  Then it is time for the two of us to go find something together.  We have, today, been married twenty four years.

We walk to the stoney beach on the Stilliguamish River where the colored rock installation is.  I find a bare human footprint and make a plaster cast of it - specimen #5.  S wades delicately on the rocky bottom of the river - the motion is little different than the deliberate walk of the great blue heron.  S's is measured to not bruise the bottom of her feet.  The heron's is planned in precision to not warn prey of the hunt that is taking place.

In the afternoon, before dinner, we walk up the road past the quarry to where a creek from upriver cuts through on its way to join the river.  I collect one of A's seedbombs (from a place where I had hidden it 2 weeks earlier) - an unfired clay ball filled with native plant seeds.  It is specimen #6.  S and I talk about art on the way back.  I need to start building things, here.  I also have to rethink my mapping project.  Some of the ground is much too difficult for me to work in my normal haphazard manner.  I will plot the road, and easy task, but it will give me a place to start from and finish at on many days ahead - a reference that I will need.

Dinner is polenta in tomato sauce.  I bake a rhubarb crunch.  I like to bake and in a weird way, baking is for me is a place to start and finish at.  We sit by a fire until the stars are out bright, hoping for another 24 years.