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.

September 4

S comes up with me to the farm, planning on exploring with me, but a restless sleep the night before and a warm quite day lulls her into a chair in the shade with a book that I expect will experience little in the way of being read.

I head up the trail past the tree house, which becomes a path and at a spot where the faintness of it all divides, I head right, towards the creek, and soon I recognize my route as Robert Frost's "road less taken".  But here, in the northwest, the road becomes a jungle clamber, the ferns uphill above my eyes and the ones below at my ankles.  I find some cedars that are five feet in diameter, refugees from the timber cutting that took place 100+ years ago.  These were too small then to be bothered with.  
The great ones are stumps, but at times stumps enveloped in the arms of their offspring, roots wrapped as lovingly as a child might do with its arms around its mothers waist.

Later - S and I go up to the tree house and look at the forest from 30 feet up.  
I say, "It is so large." A reference to what I see as a rather daunting year ahead making art about this place.
She asks, "How will you find the intimacy in it?"
...reminding me of how it is done.