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.