Tuesday, December 11, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a good forest.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Six Points of Normalcy

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


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

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

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

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

The vine does not always win

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

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

White-tailed deer

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

Monday, September 24, 2012


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

The Closing - Sept 23

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

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

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

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


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

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

Ceremony - Priming the Pump

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

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

low down.  the log over the ravine

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

the bench just above the woodpecker forest

the final slope

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

the hilltop

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

September 20

So begins a long weekend, not that in my line of work I have actual weekends, but still, it is a long weekend of "lasts".

The day starts with a 7 hour drive to get to the farm.  I am no longer a resident of, but rather a visitor to western Washington.  In another week or so I will live on the far coast of the continent.  So, my last few days at Smoke Farm have become my last few days in Washington.  I come early to have the farm to myself one more time.

I find a Smoke Farm work party when I arrive, which is not a surprise.  S suggests that I move my art from the loafing shed to the new dining hall because they needed to put the big black temporary wall up to facilitate video recording of the speakers.  For me, it is just another opportunity to practice installing the 68 specimen boxes in a new space...all good.  And, I do like the design of the new building.

The work party all leaves to return home for the night.  The valley goes quiet and dusk comes by 7, just like it did when I started the residency a year ago.  A quarter moon goes away.  There is no wind.  The feral cat passes by.

After I am well asleep a noise awakens me.  It's indistinct sounds until a flashlight clicks on.  It is B and M arriving to set-up for the talks.  It is only 10:30.  They go on with their business and I sleep through whatever they are doing.

Monday, August 27, 2012

August 26 Post-Lo-Fi-Morning

Last night, 2 people come to me to see if I would still be guiding in the morning.  I tell them to catch me at my office and that I would be up early.

A few friends come by in the morning as I make waffles and coffee.  I chat and share waffles with W and S.  K arrives as planned and we spend a few minutes getting organized.  K is from Portland and was one of the players in a performance, Dirt Stage. 

We head up to the Grave of Vitus Bering, which stands near some especially find cedar stumps.  The plan is to go cross slope in a reverse direction that I haven't gone before.  There are drainages all along these hillsides that people who stay down on the "farm" are unaware of.  Some of these are surprisingly deep.  They also tend to have blackberries surrounding them.  We run up against one and I take us uphill to round the thorn patch.  When we hit the second, I take us up again onto what becomes quite steep and tangled ground.  Again, I have led us to someplace I've not been to.  The slope breaks back up above us just a few yards and I tell K that I need to go look at that.  It is the diagonal road cutting across the slope.  Again, we are close to the squatter's cabin, and K opts for a visit.  As always, I stop before the cabin comes into view and let her go first to have a bit of discovery to herself.  We talk about it.  We climb up on the big boulder to see the view that the builder had before the brush grew tall.  She is content to sit longer than I figured, which is okay with me. 

As we walk back we find that we have a mutual friend from Portland.

At my office, something I hoped for happens.  Last year, I told a story to a guy that I met at that years Lo-Fi.  It was a story about a bully from when I was a Boy Scout, a story that came to mind as I held A's seed bomb in my hand.  A story about an egg duel, cheating, and just deserts.  He asked me if I knew what happened to that bully, and I did not.  When I got home I began to wonder if that guy knew the bully (because I used his real name - since it was such a unique and proper name for a bully).  I looked the bully up and found that he lived about 10 miles away from Smoke Farm (we were both from Minnesota).  Well, the guy did not know the former-bully, but it was a fine end to a story that took a year to tell.  That is Smoke Farm, more than you might think.

August 25 - Lo-Fi

It is the day of the festival.  I am up at 6 am.  All year, I have woken up when the light arrived in the valley.  I head over to my Guiding office and brew cowboy coffee and make waffles - I have brought my waffle iron as a luxury for the weekend.  I take a short morning walk and find Mimi Allen laying limp in an upholstered wheelbarrow reciting poetry.  I move her 50 or 60 yards enjoying the poetry and thoroughly strange experience.  I leave her sideways in the road where no one can avoid her.  Lo-Fi is off to a fine start.

My friends from Eugene, C and J, arrive early as I told them to, because they did not have advanced tickets.  I give them a little run-down on how the event works as they find that the planned information is a little too little (which is not necessarily a bad thing). After setting up their camp, they return to become my first guiding clients for the day. 

We head up the creek as I had done yesterday,  and we bust the brush, as I had done yesterday, but instead of a cross slope hike, we turn uphill.  It is a deeply cut deer trail, almost as incised into the hillside as if it had been done with a shovel, that turns us onto ground that I am not familiar with.  We find a nice nurse log that is near 6 feet in diameter at the base.  It is a place for a mossy rest.

 Higher up we hit more dense brush, a bit of a crawl with a bit of swearing on my part, but one complaint on theirs'.  Finally we come out on the diagonal road near the great twin stump.

We take in the squatter's cabin while we are in the area, and then drop down the diagonal road to the river.  I point them upriver toward some art installations and then I head back to my desk to wait for more clients.

I find myself sitting alone at my desk for some time.  People are more leisurely about arriving at Smoke Farm than I am.  My specimen wall has few visitors, so far.  I would like to see the other art, but I feel that I have to be here for anyone that wants to go into the forest.  Very very few people that come to Smoke Farm for any reason ever go off the beaten track, and I am aware that I am a rare opportunity to see something that almost no one else will see.

Notes from Smoke Farm - 68 specimens and 4 photographs
Eventually, visitors begin to find the wall.  They spend time with it and it works.  My artful insecurities disappear.  I wait for clients.

I have also been incorporated into Tess Hull's Questing box project.  She has seven chapters of a story hidden in boxes that people must find.  Each box tells you how to find the next.  Chapter three sits on one of my specimen boxes.  It tells you to find me in and that I will take you to chapter four in exchange for a story about being lost.  I have hidden the box up the creek on the prettiest of nurse stumps, but no one will ever find it without me.

It isn't until about 5 in the afternoon that someone comes to me to find the box.  I take M on the walk.  He is having a great time.   It is a good two hours after sunset when the next person finds me. They worry that it is too late to bother me, but it is not.  I ask and they both have flashlights, so I we head out into the forest and up the creek in the dark.  I stop in the creek bed and make them tell me their "lost" story.  Then I point to the box.  Like M, they are having a great time.  This is Lo-Fi...you have to take part, you have to play one of the games to really appreciate the festival.

August 24

It is the main artist set-up day for the weekend's Lo-Fi Arts Festival.  A few dozen artists will be here installing artwork and installations throughout the 300+ acres of Smoke Farm.  I have just a few minor things to do having installed my work earlier in the week.  I walk out to the Grave of Vitus Bering and build a bench of split cedar fence posts that I have found lying in the forest.  I set up my desk for my Guide Service to Wilder Smoke Farm.  Then I have little to do.  I can't deny that seeing all the people here is a bit uncomfortable for me.  Watching them, I know that they have a different relationship to this land than I do.  It's not that one is better than the other, it is just different.

So, I have time to do something I have not done in too long.  I have time to explore the forest one more time.  This is what my Smoke Farm year has been.  Wandering with purpose.  Thinking about what I have found.  I pack my gear and head up the creek.  When I turn more north I plow through the densest of brush for 50 yards.  I have forgotten how tough this spot is and wonder about my plans to guide people through here.  But, the forest opens up soon enough.  I find the big logging pulley and soon enough I find the broken bottle that lies under a fern.  I've been here before and it amuses me that I can re-find such insignificant objects in the darkness of a rugged cedar forest.  I hit the diagonal road not too far uphill from the squatter's cabin, which I continue on to.  There is always a distant creative feel to the cabin and whether that feeling comes out of me, or goes into me from the site, it makes no difference.  It is just so.

Tomorrow, I might lead someone here.  They will earn the visit.  They will remember the better parts of the work.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fortnight Camp

It is day 3 of the Smoke Farm Fortnight Camp.  This year, fifteen or sixteen high school students are building a fire watchtower in one end of the first meadow under the tutelage of a small army of adult builders and counselors. It is an impressive group of kids, and an impressive group of adults.  I think back to my summer camp experiences and while I wouldn't want to change much, to be involved building a complex structure like the tower would have been something big, for sure.  One thing is for sure, these campers eat better than we ever did.  The kitchen crew consistently makes food that one would be happy to find in a restaurant.

A lunch time walk up the creek to the tall ones with V and A

Today, with the project well in progress, we break into teams to work on different parts of the structure.  I work in G's team, which is laying out and preparing the upper deck so that it can be carried out to the site and assembled tomorrow.  Everything has to be demonstrated to the campers, but it takes more understanding than patience.  The automatic of the experienced tradesman is not automatic - I guess it never was.  It goes to holding a tape measure properly and keeping the carpenter square "square" and making pencil marks that everyone else will clearly understand.  But with each task, everyone comes along - they're less intimidated by the circular saw and when we double check the measurements, they're more accurate.  I find it particularly interesting to watch them learn things that I learned so long ago that I've forgotten how I learned them.

After lunch, I take two of the campers and A (who I'd hiked with up here during the winter) on a short hike.  We don't get nearly as far as I thought we would (because walking through dense brush without futzing is also a learned skill) but we do get up to a beautiful spot on the creek where two very tall cedar stumps overlook us.  Good enough.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Thimbleberry walking

We arrive on a fine summer day, one where morning clouds were burning off and a nice breeze kept the air moving as the temperature climbed to meet the arriving sun.  My hiking partner for the day was my mother-in-law, S.  She is always interested in what I am doing and wanted to see this place where I have been spending so much time.  When we arrive there are many volunteers cleaning up after yesterday's Burning Beast BBQ festival.  It is a major fund raiser for Smoke Farm, a barbeque cook-off with 15 different types of meet for the guests to sample.  The tickets for the event sell out very very quickly every year.

We walk up river on the rough grassy road that passes through the new cottonwood forest.  The new deck on the double log bridge makes the route passable for S and we spot tiny salmon swimming in the creek below.  We stop at the Grave of Vitus Bering, which also gives S a good feel for a cedar forest.  I talk about nurse stumps.  I point out all of the different plants growing from the tops - that cedar tree, that evergreen huckleberry, those ferns.  Then we continue upriver.

There are more thimbleberries than on my last visit and they are right at their peak of flavor.  S eats as many as I can pick and they are her first thimbleberries.  It is a good place to have your first thimbleberry and I tell her where I ate my first one - on a mountain road in the Bugaboos of Canada.  I imagine that a lot of people can remember where they had their first thimbleberry. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Berries, Frogs and a Hint of Rain

I move one of my projects out of the way of this weekends festival.  I figured it to be a 4 hour job, but it goes in one and a half.

I have been building, making or moving for what seems like a solid month and today I feel most like doing nothing.   I sit under the tin roof of the shop building until the lightest of rain showers begins to tap away.  The thought of rain raises my interest in taking a hike.  Everyone has a different idea or a different identity for what Smoke Farm is - rain is one of the strongest of markers in how I identify it.  For myself, Smoke Farm rises to its full potential when it rains.

I head up river stopping at the bridge over the creek to make sure that it is as fine a place to sit as I keep telling people.  It is.  My ears catch a purring in the tall grass behind me.  I freeze and wait.  A few moments pass and a large dragonfly rises up and heads off down river.

I walk up the river road picking thimbleberries as I find them.  The wet spring has made them unusually juicy this year.  I think that they are best eaten by using the tongue to smash them against the roof of the mouth.  This way none of the raspberry sherbert flavor is wasted, it all ends up on the taste buds.  It is a delightful burst of one of the best tasting berries ever.

There are two frogs and a dozen tadpoles in the longest of the road puddles - it is 50 yards long and thus, perfectly good frog habitat.

I see many fresh deer tracks and a few raccoon tracks as I walk the road.  But, when I get to the upper beach, I find an unexpected track, one that takes a few seconds to recognize because it is unexpected.  In the silt, up under the first edge of brush where the river lets the well rooted plants stay, is the track of a small child.  I find myself thinking that it is a very fine spot to bring a small child.

bird sign

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Decking the other bridge

It was just a work day today at the farm.  O, A and M came up.  O is one of the kids from M's microcamps, which unfortunately got canceled this summer due to a shortage of available volunteers.  Since O likes to build things, and I have plenty of ideas for building things, and little time to get it all done...it's perfect.

We all take a walk out to my installation to start with.  To get there, we cross the log bridge that me and my friend A put a deck on.  All winter long I had to inch across the deck with my camera and field pack, the logs slippery with frost, or if it was warmer, just wet and slick.  The bridges have been a way to cross the creek.  They've been an obstacle themselves - only preferable to a waist deep ford in cold water.  When we finished that first deck, me and A marveled at how the bridge had now become a place to stand or sit and just enjoy the clear open view of the creek.  We got a lot of positive comments from people about the improvement.  We've noticed that snakes like to sun themselves on the new deck.

photo - May Ackerman

We return to the shop and set up a production line.  I brought a good amount of wood from home that I had saved for building doors and windows but don't need anymore.  O runs the chop saw while me and A feed and stack the decking.  We are going with a half-chevron design and we joke about people getting dizzy and falling off of the bridge.  With everything pre-cut, we head out and begin nailing the deck.  It is almost 80 degrees today and we complain about the heat never forgetting that everyone else in the country is dealing with triple digits.  But, with us not used to the heat it does sap our energy.

photo - May Ackerman

I tell O that he will be a popular guy when people find the new bridge deck.  It was a good day to sit on a bridge.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Child's play

My hiking partner for this day at the farm is B.  She is 5 years-old.  I hitched a ride with B and her mom who is busy collecting cobblestones from the river for an art project. 

B and I head up river picking the occasional ripe salmon berry or thimble berry as we go.  The thimble berries have just started to turn and I suppose that in a week one might just spend an hour picking and eating one berry at a time.  No one collects thimble berries because they are too soft and won't survive the carry back to the house.  But the tart raspberry sherbert flavor makes them worth eating when one finds them.  Only the high mountain huckleberry is better in my mind.

We stop at one of the usual spots to check for animal tracks.  But, it appears that yesterday's rain has washed all away.  So, the two of us continue up to the slough, which is running just a bit deeper than the ankles.  B splashes and walks in the water until she finds a spot to stand in that is deeper than her boots.  She doesn't complain.

Mother and Daughter #35
I don't have kids of my own and I watch how B sees the forest.  When I take adults out, they often fail to see the individual tree instead grasping the forest as a vision - which is why they often don't know where they are when we wander off trail.  I don't know if B sees the forest, but she sees the details.  A red berry steers her off route, a splash of a creek turns her left, a long muddy puddle slows her to a crawl as she inches through until she slips and falls, refilling the boots.  She doesn't complain.  Her idea of where she is does not go too much farther than her fingertips - There's so much to see and so much to do right there.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Relentless Green

I drop from my perch later than usual due to late night social activities and I find only a few of the earliest risers.  I fumble myself into organization for a morning stroll.  I decide to follow the creek up into the hills just to see how the restoration is melding with summer growth.  New vegetation is taking over the bare gravel bars of winter.   Perhaps the roots will keep the ground from shifting so much next winter.

I find one of the forest woman off to my right.  Understated, she stands somewhat hidden by boulders that have come to rest on her upstream side. The boulders are decked in moss.  Ferns and salmon berries grow from between the boulders.  A 50 or 60 year old cedar, just a toddler of a tree, grows from her top, the roots wrapped in a tight embrace.  In higher water she might be an island, but she is not alone.  (Only later when I look at my photos do I recognize this one as the same stump that has been the header for this blog.)

I don't go far before I spot a majestic on the hillside.

She stands there, eighteen or twenty feet high with her crumbling red sister above her.  The majestic grows two cedars, 15 inches and 2 feet in diameter from her top.  I'm no longer interested in following the creek but instead turn to cross the hillside to see what stands behind this tallest one.

I find wet and brush, a swamp on a 20 degree slope.  But, coming out of that tangle I find a major game trail and follow that until it until it fades away into a new tangle.  I cross two small streams that I did not know about.  I find familiar ground at the grave of Vitus Bering.  It has been awhile since I felt that I explored something.  I find myself thinking about it.  I find myself in tears as I walk back.

"A" and I put a deck on one of the double log bridges.  One more sometimes slippery as heck bridge to go.

It was kind of nice to stand comfortably in the middle of the bridge and look around.

June 2 - Work

Light comes to the tree house before 6.  I leave my perch and head to the kitchen to brew coffee.  Others have arrived although they came late last night after I was asleep.  Sharing the farm always requires an attitude adjustment on my part.  Most of the time I am here alone.  I've also noticed that I stay in a camping mode that comes to me through many years of climbing, backpacking and wandering - it is sparse.  Most of the others will be here in a "cabining" mode.  They nest, they spend time cooking great meals (which I do enjoy for sure), they just take care of business.  For me, time spent not wandering is time lost.  "Burning daylight" - I probably would've made a good cowboy.  I itch to move.

Red breasted sap sucker

This morning I am rewarded.  I find a tiny egg, alabaster white with a few brown speckles.  I place it in my compass case for safe keeping.  As I walk up river three female common mergansers take flight from the branches of an alder tree.  I had no idea that mergansers would perch in trees (they probably only do this at night).  I find the slough knee deep so I turn back not needing to start the day any wetter than necessary.  Two of the mergansers are back in the same tree when I return.

My friends are up and moving when I get to the kitchen.  One crew takes over the kitchen.  They will make the meals for everyone.  Smoke Farm is always a feeder and a good one at that.  K is cooking pork bellies for tacos.  Most of us then drop down to the barn.  It is in need of cleaning and organizing.  A few others pull blackberries farther off.  By lunch the barn looks good.  A dumpster has been filled with metal recycling.  After a great lunch people split up into groups.  Some attack the overgrown garden which seems to be retreating to a state more wild than the forest.  I lead a team up to the north fields to open up a half mile of trail, because I'm supposed to know where the trail is/was.  The five of us swing machetes for the distance.  We break on the upper beach and then head back the same way.  This is when I see how good my team was...the trail is wide and clear, blackberries, tall grass and thistles sliced away.  You could follow it in the dark.  We return for dinner and find the garden looking as if it was in a nursery.  This is how Smoke Farm survives, by the enormous heart of those that keep returning.

June 1 - Escape

A work party starts tomorrow at the farm, but I needed to escape from my recent routine of sorting, packing, sorting and fixing as we prepare to sell our house and move a couple thousand miles.

I don't know that escaping to a place is any better than escaping from a place.  For my time here at Smoke Farm, the farm has never been a place to escape to.  Rather, it has always been a place to explore.  I come here to find something new, I keep coming because I keep finding new things, sometimes about the land, often about myself.  As long as that happens in any facet of my life, I find purpose and satisfaction.

The potters are here today preparing to fire their wood burning kiln.  It will run for 50 hours, tended constantly by a few of them.  They will sleep in shifts.

 I set my tent up at the top of the tree house.  It always seemed like a good spot to spend the night, 30 feet or so up among the trees.  I would sleep in the open, but the clouds and unusual high humidity signal rain.

With my tent up, I change into the worn wool trousers that work so well when walking in the wet grass.  They dry fairly fast and they also are thick enough to fend off most thorns.  I head out to my installation to continue tying little white rocks to long strings.  My supply of cobbles is safely hidden beneath the high water of the Stillaguamish, so I can walk up river when I am done with my supply of little white rocks.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thursday, January 12

I drop A at the kitchen.  It's a quiet day for her - a day away from the computer and distractions.  I continue on out to my installation where I tie little white rocks to strings for the next couple of hours.

Rain, and especially yesterday's thundershowers has brought the river up a few feet.  It runs brown with silt and the gravel bar where I have been fetching my cobblestones is well under water. 

I retrieve a downed cedar fence post from the brush to use as part of a bench that I am building.  Then, I head upstream for a walk.  Curiosity draws me up to a bench of land on the hillside that I've wondered about for some time.  From below it looks like it could be an old road bed.  As I make my way up the hill I flush a barn owl from a large Douglas fir snag.

 It perches 50 yards away and watches me for a minute or two.  There is a large cavity in the tree and this is likely the owl's nest site.  I find egg fragments on top of an dead leaf at my feet.

The bench could be part of a road, but if it is it was a road a long time ago.  I find two ripe salmon berries and I eat them.

I sit in the shelter of a cedar while rain drops strike the canopy making the same sound on that roof as if I was in my house.

I look at my watch to check the date.  My watch says it is Thursday, January 12.  It makes no difference.

notes:  the slough ford is waist deep today.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I slept out under a clear sky once more.  A siren up the valley  sounded and the coyotes sang back, beginning with one very long and even howl.  When I opened my eyes, it was to fog.  Dew had formed on everything, including me.

I slip my feet into boots still wet from yesterday's wading.  Memories.  Cold wet boots are the Kuskalana Glacier, where cold wet boots were actually frozen boots that only became wet after being worn a few minutes.  Wading in hiking boots is always a stream near Engineer Creek, where my friends followed caribou trails, while I, after too many miles of punching scrub willow, retreated to the openness of the river, preferring wet feet to be really wet, and not minding cobbled bottom.

Some thing or some occurrence at some later place and some later time will undoubtedly be Smoke Farm.

Walking into the wind, back towards the barn, I look up to find something out of place.  As still as stumps, what they are doesn't register immediately.  My brain lags in adjustment behind my eyes...a doe and a fawn are doing the same with me.


It doesn't take too long.  Castoreum comes to my nose just as I begin the walk up the road from the barn.  Three years of tracking and observing the habits of beaver has left my nose unusually keen to the musk that they spray to mark territory.  In the still air, in the shelter of the cottonwoods, odors linger.  It's possible that I am catching the scent from the trees themselves because what they eat does affect the scent.  It's hard to say.

At the double log bridge, I pick up the scent again.  Here, I expect it and a newly felled cottonwood overhanging the bank of the creek confirms.  This has been a regularly used feed zone all winter.  As I move towards the bridge, I flush a few baby ducks.  They swim upstream into the protection of the brush.

The river is higher today.  The unseasonably warm and sunny weather of last week has increased snow melt somewhere.  It might be a foot or so higher than on my last visit.  Today, I have to wade shin deep out to the gravel bar to collect rocks.  I didn't expect that and left my rubber boots at home.  But, I find something pleasant about hiking boots full of water.

the grass is higher too

"He was a newcomer to the land...  The trouble with him was that he was without imagination.  He was quick and alert at the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances."  
Jack London - To Build a Fire

Just something I read over dinner.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I am up early again as is my new friend A, who slept not far away.  I heard her move in the night and she tells me that her sleeping bag was not quite warm enough for open air.  We make coffee and while others sleep, we take a hike and find a couple of our friends awake when we return.

Since things are off to a very leisurely start, I head off to move some rocks.  But, I run into S coming the opposite direction up the road and she asks to go for a walk with me, so we do.  We visit the squatter's cabin first.  I lead until we are close, then I point towards the last stretch of trail and stop talking.  I follow a short distance behind.   When we are done exploring and discussing that interesting structure, I ask, "what next?" - my way of politely giving a person a way out of a long hike.  S surprises me some by wanting to push on farther away rather than head back for breakfast.  In fact, I notice that if I stand still, she will walk farther into the forest.  It is a good trait and one that many of my artist friends have...their curiosity drives their creativity.  "Let's head up the road, I have a cool stump to show you."  I tell her that I pose my hiking partners with stumps and that some of them have a wonderful ability to look like they were born there and that they belong there.  I talk of them as matriarchs and how they guide me back out of the forest when I wander.  We get to that tall stump, and S climbs to the top of it.
She asks, "have you been up here?"
I respond, "That is not my relationship with them."
And she does something gentle that I've seen no one else do, and she looks like she belongs there.

May 12, 2012
Night was just cold enough to reach through my sleeping bag with only the stars as the skin of my tent.  Sometime in the early morning night, a half moon rose and drifted sideways across the sky.  Wind came sometime early also, with a breath of chill touching my side with each gust.  When it woke me, I had a starlit sky above and fuzzy in my nearsighted vision.

I rose before sunrise, made breakfast, and headed out to continue work.  As the sun rose and arced through the sky, the half moon disappeared.

Site visits for prospective Lo-fi artists begin today.  I knock off and wait for people to come at noon, but they are more casual and leisurely than I am about time.  But, they do arrive, and each meeting is a good experience with the possibilities of lasting friendship.  We have fine discussions, we tour the landscape, we eat an excellent dinner, and when all have retired to various buildings and spaces for the night, I lay down under the stars once more.

A slug

May 11, 2012
It is as much a summer day as one can expect - warm and sunny, the farm is green with new growth, the cottonwoods all leafed out and the grass in the meadows is somewhere between thigh and chest high.  My days here, the past few months, have been ones of exploring, days of finding new things and days of finding the outer edges of what I can call the farm (it does go beyond the legal edges of the farm).  But, today is a work day.  Familiar with the area, I decided to make something for others to find, an installation that will do no harm, but perhaps cause people to pause and think.  I've been told and seen that one of Smoke Farm's best traits is the exchange of ideas that occur when people come together here.

So, I move rocks.  Lots of rocks.  2 buckets at a time, 6 buckets to the wheelbarrow, 3 wheelbarrows before a rest.  The red breasted sapsucker that likes the cedar tree where I work returns.  It is unafraid of me and we look at each other from 6 feet away.  When I move, it just sidesteps a bit further around the tree.  As I collect rocks, I spot a mule deer on the far side of the river, a 100 yards downstream.  It looks back and spots me, watches me, and then takes its time walking further downstream.  I return to moving rocks.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rain Day

Occasional afternoon showers arrive before I do.  They arrive all at once.  They stay.

A steady rain falls on a day that isn't too cold for people that live here.  It is just enough that I don't quite feel like diving into it.  I have to wait for a friend to arrive, so I make a small batch of cinnamon frybread, leaving the kitchen door open perhaps just to ease myself into what might be a full day of rain.

S and I head upriver to the diagonal road.  The cottonwood forest has the smell of new growth.  Even the rain can't keep that down.  The river is running high again.  It is already a foot or two higher than it was when I left on Sunday, so it has been raining upstream of here for some time.  The small sand beach by the USGS river gauge is nearly disappeared.  I always check this spot for animal tracks.  I cast a fine cougar print here once, but today there is no reason to drop down for a look.

Our first stop is the squatter's cabin.  I lead to the grove below it and then point S towards the trail and let him find it himself.  He says that it has a good spirit about it.  This is not the first time that someone has said that.  I've always felt something creative here and I may be wrong about that, but a feeling of "creative" and a feeling of "good" could be easily confused.  S photographs while I collect a nice sample of witch's hair lichen.

We drop down and continue up the road.  We are exploring this area as a site for a collaborative project and we spend a couple hours moving around examining stumps and thinking about the shape of the land.  This is a mostly cedar forest in this spot, so while it rains steadily, we don't get nearly as wet as one would expect.

Our plan improves as we talk it out.  When we go, we continue upriver to the slough, which is once again thigh deep.  One of the two logs that the kids had placed as a bridge is gone and we have no reason, apparently, to get wet from the bottom up, already being wet from the top down.  We take a round-about route back, walking to the braided grasses, the lower beach and the barn before settling in at the kitchen to finish our chat.  A fine day, a fine day for sure.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Kid Camp, Day 2

It began to rain lightly sometime well before sunrise, so I moved my sleeping bag a few feet back under the edge of the metal roof.  None of this silenced the frog that had croaked all night long some 20 feet to my left.  I did enjoy the singing.  The lightest of rain on a bare metal roof can sound like a monsoon in full roar.  But, it was one long rolling rumble of the thunder that signaled the time to rise.  And, with that, the rain stopped.

I ran off into the woods for an hour and a half to work on my own project, after which I returned as I was the bannock chef for breakfast.  I was once complimented by the eldest elder of the Sauk Tribe for my frybread and for some reason the Smoke Farmer's like it too.  Flour and baking powder...go figure.  G made a fine set of scrambled eggs with left over sweet potatoes and shredded beef from last nights meal.

We hike the creek today.  Where it exits the hill it is spread out in shin deep flood, as it has been all winter.  When we walk the creek, where the creek is actually in the creek, I point out the beaver sign of cut trees, peeled logs, a drag or two.  We end out at the river where my track casting assistant from yesterday teaches one of the others how to cast a track.  It is all deer tracks, although there is a fawn in there.  The two of them cast a good adult deer track.

On the return, we stop at the double log bridge over the creek and the kids spend a half hour jumping into the cold water.

April 21 - Kid Camp, Day 1

This weekend is kid camp at Smoke Farm.  We have 8 middle school kids and 4 adults under the watchful eye of M.  I arrive early to get in a couple hours of my own artwork before the camp starts.  The wonderful aromatic odors that were in the forest on my last trip are already gone, but the grasses continue to grow and the cottonwoods and maples work overtime to put out new growth.

Once the kids arrive, we hike to the north fields.  High water in the slough gives them a chance to build a temporary log bridge.  They don't need my help, since I actually was an engineer at one time, so I take one of the kids who is standing on the sidelines and I show her how to cast animal tracks with plaster of paris.  The bridge project gives the rest of them a fine opportunity to also get wet, although after dozens of crossings back and forth on the new bridge, it is M, herself, who is the only one to take a dive.

I had spotted the remains of a gable roof in a brush pile in the north fields, and this is the goal for the kids.  They remove the enough brush so that we can pull back some of the rotting roof and peer in.  An old belt driven pump and some pipes show the building to be a collapsed pump house.  Someone pulls enough brush from the upriver side for us to see the old concrete cistern.

A makes an exceptional taco dinner for us all, so that mayhem may ensue until bedtime. 

With clear skies, I find myself sleeping under the stars, looking at pinpoints of light, light that has taken 10 or 100 years to reach me.  It is a humbling experience.  We are so small in what is a true and vast wilderness.  To think that not a million Earths, nor a million solar systems would fill the space between any two of those pinpoints of light.  I find myself thinking that those that aspire to try to lead our world would be well advised to spend a significant amount of time sleeping under the stars.

Monday, April 16, 2012


J and I arrive a bit after nine on a day of expected showers with some wind, but the temperature will be typical for spring...not a bad day to be caught in a shower.

The cottonwoods are beginning to leaf out, the grasses are just a step ahead and all the shrubs just a bit more so.  Once again, Smoke Farm is intensifying the greenness of it all.  In winter, it was the forest with its cedars and firs that kept that color, which can be almost overwhelming here in the Northwest.  But with spring, everywhere, everyplace will take that tone.

But, as strong as that single color can be, today it is the smells that we comment to each other about.  There is the most wonderful scent drifting through the cottonwoods as we walk towards the river.  It is a complex mix that we don't recognize in its additive combination.  There is citrus and cinnamon and mint and pepper.  We sample different plants as we walk, finding a hint on this shrub, and a hint on that tree, but never finding any one of the culprits to be the majority.  On past trips, it has been the view, or the sounds of running water, or the sight of salmon or birds.  But, today it is the sense that is most difficult to describe.  It is the sense that must be experienced.

We check out the beaver activity at the creek, where beaver are doing what beaver do, cutting trees and eating bark, and leaving the leftovers as a sign of their mostly nocturnal work.  The creek is running good and full, and the restoration is coming along.

Walking up the river, we find that the guy across the river is building three cabins in the most insane of locations.  Neither J or I can figure the thinking that must have gone into (or not gone into) the location.  He is right at the edge of the gravel bar, not more than 6 or 7 feet or so above the current water level.  He is not building in a 100 year flood plain, he is building in a once a year flood plain.  I comment how it should only be a couple of years until the cabin floats off down the river like Huck Finn's raft.  It makes no sense...none at all.

I take J up to the squatter's cabin, which he finds fairly fascinating...as everyone does.  The floor has been pushed up more since I was here last.  The gradual slide of the hill with gravity and the wet of winter and spring are pressuring the cabin more and faster than I would've expected.  I am glad that I have documented it carefully.  It begins to rain in earnest while we are there and once we leave the cabin, only the cedars provide shelter for us.

We finish our trip by working our way in a circuit out through the lower beach.  I point out the pear trees and 3 maples that stand close to where the Baker homestead was.

All through that rain, we could still smell the citrus-pepper-mint-cinnamon of the spring forest.