A whisper and a foreign sensation combined to wake me suddenly this morning well before dawn. There was no grogginess. I flung open the front door with energy to experience the beautiful murmur of melting, the unmistakable trickle of  snow and ice melting.  I smiled at the roof line displaying a column of overhanging new snow that last week took me (and many friends around the Gorge I’ve learned) many hard hours of shoveling to ensure that our roofs would hold under the heaviness of ice.

Many northern climes do not experience the spring thaw until months later than January 21, and so we should be grateful, yet here in the Pacific Northwest lowlands, where a dash of winter has become the norm, all of us have six weeks of stories of treacherous driving, power outages, and so many cancellations!

Unlike the sudden snow melt in Portland resulting in flooding, we still have plenty of snow where I live (four feet), and it is the hopeful slow conversion of solid to liquid that benefits both nature and human, the percolation of water back to the ground water table, a dependable supply of our most precious natural resource for next summer’s fish, for wetlands, for irrigation.

I was hoping to find an English word to describe a slow melting, and the closest word was thaw, so I turned to the Japanese and found “tokasu,” which also means thaw and interestingly, “a combing out.”   However, it was the Inuit word (of course!) aniuk which translates into “snow for melting into water” that might be closest to the right description.   I also discovered the Inuit word for the season’s first snow, apingaut, but no word that might describe what many here are hoping for….the last snow of winter. ~


Embracing Ecotopia

But what matters most is the aspiration to live in balance with nature, “walk lightly on the land,” treat the earth as a mother. No surprise that to such a morality most industrial processes, work schedules, and products are suspect!”  From Ecotopia Chapter 3, Page 32

Since our country was formed, there have been numerous attempts by states, counties, and cities to secede and create their own mostly freedom and conservative-based Utopias.  From Pima County wanting to leave Arizona in 2011, Colorado Counties establishing a new state called Northern Colorado, and closer to home, western Idaho/eastern Washington Counties forming the perfect 51st state of Lincoln. No efforts to secede have succeeded, save perhaps one.

In the early 1970’s, a new country was born in the mind of author Ernest Callenbach. This land would encompass northern California and the western portions of Oregon and Washington and would be deemed Ecotopia.   Ecotopia describes a break-away state in the Pacific Northwest where the economy is sustainable, eating is local and recycling and public transportation are the norm. The New York Times described Ecotopia as the “Novel That Predicted Portland.”

Portland is a model Ecotopia city in many ways with its light-rail system, plethora of parks, and progressive city and county government. And while our nation “voted” to head in a vastly different direction, the West Coast States re-elected liberal governors and representatives.

However, the current and most likely forever true borders encompass the lands and people east of the Cascade Mountains including Hood River, Klickitat County, Washington, and Harney County, the home of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Those communities all went red in the national election.  With the power base, population and sway all residing in the state capitals west of the Cascade Mountains, it could be easy to ignore the rural communities of the arid Northwest.  If we seek to find ways to expand the Ecotopia culture, we need to visit, interact, communicate and listen with our neighbors from the east. We need to find ways of commonality, of unity and also the harder part of respecting our diversity of views.

The real Ecotopia is a State of Mind, may it become a State of Heart too.







On this silent New Year’s eve morning, I may be one of the few who is sorry to leave 2016 behind.  The year, alas, went by way too fast and I wish I could have spent more time with family and friends, being outdoors with students, participating in additional habitat restoration projects, and remembering more of the joys of Peace Village.  And I sorely wish that the promising students of our country (an analogy for all of us) could have at least met our limitless potential for good, but instead we were too easily swayed to the dark side of disunity and discord. Reading numerous vitriolic outpourings from friends who normally agree on 99 out of 100 issues bash each others candidate was only one example from last year’s period of utter insanity.  Oh, if we could only have a “re-do”, a second chance to re-live 2016!

Immediately after earthquakes and hurricanes have wreaked their damage, seemingly everyone comes together to help one another, searching for survivals and offering any and all kinds of assistance.  Last year, we inexplicably invited similarly destructive political forces to overwhelm our forces of values and trust and caring, but unlike natural disasters, there is no equivalent to the Red Cross and National Guard to assist us now.  What will be the impacts of the political after shocks? Who is picking up the rubble from November?  Clearly the answer has to be all of us.

One noble response occurred locally only a few days after the election when in Hood River, Oregon’s, hundreds turned out, arm in arm and heart to heart to display unity and community resolve, and to celebrate what we have in common.  On a larger scale, perhaps Standing Rock is also a model on how we can re-invent togetherness by peacefully supporting a peaceful cause through deep outpourings of financial and material aid, and as important feeling a part of a noble cause.

In the end, what we do individually and collectively in the approaching uncertain year will help set the stage on what ultimately happens to people of color, immigrants, and natural lands and systems.  Whether focusing on either the 99 things we agree upon with those close to us, or with some folks who we may mostly vociferously oppose, starting with even the one bond out of a 100, is a resolution I hope can become unfaltering and resolute.

“We are here
We are here for all of us
We are here for all of us
That’s why we are here, why we are here”  Alicia Keys



Waiting for My Elders

On the day when President Obama’s administration acted to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline, I thought it appropriate to share the Native American situation here in the Columbia Gorge as well as personal stories about our Tribal youth and elders.

Meeting Neighbors:  My wife Rene has been visiting her neighbors for the past two months…all of them!  One of the greatest community-building projects I’ve ever heard of, she is going from house to house simply greeting them all.  Rene recently visited the River People living on Lyle Point, on land purchased by the Yakama Nation.  Lyle Point, the last undeveloped Columbia River peninsula, was going to be turned into a sub-division, but like the North Dakota stand, the Native People camped out at Lyle Point and would not leave.  The space was saved.  The hope of great salmon runs tie together the families.

Teaching the Native Language:  Of all the thousands of posters plastered on the local market windows, the most surprising was one recently placed by Warm Springs Multi Media Artist  and Tribal Enterprise Chairman Jefferson Greene, who is teaching local youth and their families  the native Ichishkiin language of the Columbia River.Yakima and related dialects are still spoken in the region today, in the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian ReservationThe language is critically endangered, and this course adds to language preservation efforts.

This Place Series: The Oregon Humanities organization has been sponsoring conversations about place, power, home, and belonging. Their ‘This Place’ is a series of ninety-minute community discussions that happened across Oregon this fall.  I attended one of the sessions held at the Discovery Center in The Dalles.  We older Progressives talked about the ecology of the Columbia and our relationship to it.  Then the facilitator handed out a sobering photograph of where the West’s greatest Native American trading post and salmon migration tic-point used to located, Celilo Falls.  Almost on cue, three  generations of Native American women entered the room.  Grandmother and Mother had plenty to say about Celilo, This Place, and loss.

Waiting for My Elders:  During a recent environmental education field trip for Lyle 5th. graders,  one of the young students and I had been walking ahead of the others, and suddenly she stopped, turned to me, and said.  “In my custom I’ve been taught to wait for my elders.”  So, in silence with the sun warming the moment, and the Columbia Gorge wind playing with our hair, we gratefully waited. ~



We all have been given names.  We feature name tags at conferences and it is still our primary way of introduction.  Names of influential people in our lives always carry a special resonance: John Muir, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, the Dali Lama… The Vietnam Memorial is simply a list of names.  When we vote, we are required to sign our names.  In our phone book (for we elders) or in your Ipad Contact list, we carry names with us…and I carry the following (partial) list of names with me always.  You are family, friends, work colleagues, part of the community where I live.  I lean on you, talk with you, cry, laugh, and share my life’s journey with you.  I want to deeply thank you all of you for your friendship, inspiration, simply the positive ways you contribute to the well being of the Columbia Gorge or other places where you live.

My hope is to be able to add to this list, to include new names of people I do not yet know, people different than me, maybe people who didn’t vote in the last election, maybe folks who have little in common with me except that we are here in the Gorge together…and that should be enough.

If you’d like, please add to this list, perhaps with 5 people that come directly to mind who help you along your way.

Dorothy Weiss, Allen Weiss,  Rene Weiler, Violet Knight, Mary Knight, Lawson Knight, Lisa Tomeo, Jim Tomeo, Hawk Tomeo, Teddy Tomeo, Micaline Pierce, Stephanie Knight, Denali Miedema, Luke Miedema, Lucia Pisapia, Antonio Cotnugno, Hayden Weiler, Elena Cotugno, Irene Cotugno, John Harkin, Janet Harkin, Chelan Harkin, Noah Harkin, Kathy Weiler, Orlando Herrera, Isabel Herrera, John Herrera, Terry Weiler, Cynthia Weiler, Elizabeth Weiler, Kevin Weiler, Esther Weiler, Enzo and Bella, Maura Muhl, Lee Muhl, Connor Muhl, Antonio Cotugno, Bonnie Ziegler Weber, Randy Weber, Jimmy Weber, Kurt Weiler, Karr Weiler, Ellen Poriles, Marc Harvey, Brook Mauer, Prescott Harvey, Meghan Harvey, Winston Harvey, Reed Harvey, Devon Fredrickson, Bob Hart, Jeanne Hart, Peter Maule, Jane Maule, Soroush Kermani, Ursula Kermani, Nika Kermani, Joleh Kermani, David Berger, Julie Larson, John Richter, Jani Richter, judy Shuman, David Cohen, Terri Cohen, Ginger Wallis, Ken Bevis, Teri Pieper, Joanne Jacobs, Eileen Rock, Carol Thayer, Rob Kavanaugh, Courtney Yilk, Camilla Blossom, Heather Kowalski, Laurie Van Cott, Molly Kissnger, Jeffrey Post-Holmberg, Sara Post-Holmberg, Jenni Post, Walter Ward, Candace Ward, John Boonstra, Dee Campos, Karen Murphy, Mike Gundlach, John Boonstra, Vicky Stifter, Charlie Boonstra, Pamela Larsen, and Sofie Larsen Tesky Scott McDonald, Bonnie New, Michael Friend, John Hardam, Grace Sisson, Krista Thie-Hoyt, Darryl Hoyt, Avery Hoyt, Gail Gensler, Karen Murray, Steve Murray, Betsy Miller, Drew Eastman, Clay Pierce, Ross Pierce, Trevor Yasbek, Kris Joy, Alex Yasbek, Ollie Yasbek, Josh Yasbek, Katherine Corey, Dan Richardson, Matt Rankin, Amira Malek, Paul Blackburn, Julia McGraw, Kate McBride, Peter Cornelison, Meghan Jossey &Doug, Kate Lindberg, Nicole Carlock, Melissa Rowe-Soll, John Soll, Jim Wells, Sally Wells, Julie Wieters, Cyndi Cashman, Katherine Von Mosch, Jim Von Mosch, Ginny Staubach Jess Waggoner, Gerald Waggoner, Conrad Waggoner, Jana Arthur, Stephanie Delgado, Doug Miller, Patty Miller, Chuck Dorsey, Martha Dorsey, Peter Dorsey, Marian Udelhofen, John Luthe, Annette Luthe, Rosemary Hop, Mary Lively, John Navidad, John Eudave, Pat Jacobsen, Erling Jacobsen, Jana Hannigan, Mike Hannigan, Sam Hannigan, Maggie Hannigan, Elisabeth Curry, Dyann Andresen, Lucy Andresen, Steve Ellis, Sue Ellis, Bobbi Puffin, Beth Puffin, Scott Stephenson, Valerie Stephenson, Lori Hull, Glenda Lovejoy, Jen FitzSimmons, Margaret Newcomb, Sally Newell, Pam Essley, Steve Essley, Pat Arnold, Georgia Opheim, Bill Seymour, Lucia Gonzalez, David Hunt, Prema Hunt, Ian Hunt, Avila Hunt, Ronnie Smith, Kevin Summa, Rebecca Wellman, Michael Wellman, Jeanie Wellman, Nancy Skakel, John Wehrman and Debbie Wehrman, Erica Toussaint, Susie Griffin, Tara Peyralans, Bob Wheeble, Ted Rose, Kalama Reuter, Ann Stephenson, Jill Nishball, Larry Gohl, Joh Gohl, Susan Gabay, Van Hicks, Glenda, Ruth Krause, Jesse Hickman, Kyle Hadley, Theresa Jensen, Jody Behr, Blue Ackerman, Eric Strid, Cyndi Strid, Katie Layne, Alan Lewis, Jeff Kiely, Dana Ustroke, Shoni Schlotzhauer, Bob Hanson, Gregory Hankins, Desiree Amyx-mackintosh, Sullivan Mackcintosh, Kim Robichaud, Kathleen Morrow, Lisa Roth, Erik Lundy, Tom Burns, Penny Burns, Kirby Neumann-Rea, Gary Young, Barbara Young, Ray Abanto, Desirae Bellairs, Olivia Pettit, Maza Brady, Charlie Buss, Emile Pennington-Davis, Deb Davis, Gale Arnold, Heather Whidden, Bill Whidden, Courtney Whidden, Caitlyn Cray, Sarah Cook, Wes Lapp, Margaret Nesbit, Heather Clemons, Jennifer Hull, Brent Foster, Mark Kahler, Mark Fitsimmons, Jake Camp, Ann Bourinskie, Julie Raefield, Rick George, Judy Walrod Maule, Martha Stevenson, Joe Garoutte, Lynda Dallman, Peter Dallman, Michael Ballinger, Ken McCarty.

There’s No Place Like (Chernobyl) Home

“They would rather risk exposure to radiation than the soul-crushing prospect of being separated from their homes.”

Holly Morris, The Telegraph

Thinking  about home today…this home and land where we’ve been since 1988, our roots running deep and wide, encompassing a familiarity and comfort that would be impossible to repeat if we decided (or were forced) to leave.

Would we rebuild after our home burned to the ground or was taken out by flood…or in an absolutely remarkable story of the “Busbuskas of Chernobyl,”  if our home and neighbor’s home and 18 miles of country became toxic and “uninhabitable.”

The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion, the deadliest nuclear accident in history, spewed 400 times more radiation than the Hiroshima bomb.

Hundreds of thousands of Chernobyl residents were re-settled in city apartments and the contaminated land should have remained lifeless for centuries.

Not so.

It may seem strange that Chernobyl could become a refuge for all kinds of animals—from moose, deer, beaver, and owls to more exotic species like brown bear, lynx, and wolves—but that is exactly has happened. Without people hunting them or ruining their habitat, the thinking goes, wildlife is thriving despite high radiation levels.

Why have former residents have returned to the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone” as well, defying their government and the risk of being exposed to still high levels of radiation? One universal refrain is ‘Those who left are worse off now. They are all dying of sadness.’ What sounds like faith may actually be fact. According to reports by the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Children’s Fund, many of those who were relocated after the accident now suffer from anxiety, depression and disrupted social networks, the traumas of displaced people everywhere.

And the most mystical part of all…the ones who have returned are miraculously staying healthy and alive!  Is the deeply spiritual tug of being happy at home effectively warding off disease and death? No health studies have been done, but anecdotal evidence suggests that most of the babushkas die of strokes rather than any obvious radiation-related illnesses, and they have dealt better with the psychological trauma. Toxic levels of strontium and cesium in the soil are real, but is the invisible pull of the ancestral home and the health benefits of determining one’s own destiny.

Seventy-one year old Galina smiles, ‘I only think of the good things in life,’ rolling on to the balls of her feet. ‘Come back tomorrow,’ she says, holding up a chunk of thick pig fat. ‘We’re going to party.’ ~


When asked how one might avoid crowds when climbing South Sister or backpacking the Green Lakes Basin in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness, Jonathan Erickson came straight to the point.

“You don’t avoid them, at least not really,” the lead wilderness ranger said. “The crowds taper off once the weather gets worse and you’ll find less people out there on a Wednesday. But to be frank, there really isn’t a way to avoid a busy setting.”  ~

Mostly we like to be part of larges crowds, whether it be a packed sports stadium of fellow fans, swaying with concert goers, or being part of a sea of parents at our child’s high school or college graduation.  We feel good when we’re part of a popular event.  Even when spending time in nature, we expect large crowds at national parks and summer swimming holes and other recreation areas.  Opening day of fishing season always draws large number of anglers.

Sometimes we do seek quiet places, wanting solitude, hoping for moments when we can be alone with the natural world..

University of Idaho research that also was confirmed by this week’s story in the Oregonian Newspaper, shows that Oregon’s most visited wilderness, the Three Sisters, is struggling with impacts from large numbers of hikers.  The intriguing part is that the vast majority of those interviewed in the Three Sisters stated that large crowds did not take away from their “wilderness experience.”    Wow.   The huge crowds do affect the wilderness managers.  “I don’t even consider it a wilderness experience,” said Chris Sabo, trail crew supervisor for Deschutes National Forest. “It’s almost more of an urban park. The use is high, really beyond what this area can accommodate.” This combination of beauty, easy access and Oregon’s third-tallest summit create an area both spectacular and overrun.

There were 14,600 people who visited the South Sister, Green Lakes and Moraine Lake area in 2012 based on wilderness permits filled out — though the number has been closer to 18,000 in past years. A sunny weekend in August and September can see upwards of 400 people attempting to climb South Sister.

So, regulations were inevitable.

Backpackers are required to tent at designated campsites.  Campfires are strictly prohibited, and the fine for breaking that rule can reach a whopping $5,000 (though most first-time offenders would be hit with a “modest” $250 ticket).

Beyond regulation, education is needed, in Portland and Bend, in schools and on the trail.  Wilderness etiquette, and focusing use on other areas of the high mountain country that don’t see as many crowds.  ~


In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, – no disgrace, no calamity which nature cannot repair.  Ralph Waldo Emerson


When we are dealing with difficulties, with physical or emotional pain, nature is there to provide us with peace, strength, and hope.  And as we slowly become an enlightened species, we continue to learn ways to helping nature heal…through habitat restoration, re-introduction of species (the giant panda was just removed from the endangered species list!) and living more lightly on the planet.

Nature also does a pretty incredible job of healing itself.  While plants soak up toxic metals and magically sprout after volcanic eruptions and hurricanes, growing scientific evidence indicates that animals carry knowledge of natural medicines. And they have access to the world’s largest pharmacy: nature itself. Zoopharmacognosy, (our new word for the day) or simply known as animal self-medication, has been used by many animals, including our faithful, domestic companions and their wild relatives, to treat a variety of ailments.

Scientists studying baboons at the Awash Falls in Ethiopia noted that although the tree desert date grew all around the falls, only the baboons living below the falls ate the tree’s fruit. These baboons were exposed to a parasitic worm found in water-snails. Date fruit is known to repel the snails. Baboons living above the falls were not in contact with the water-snails and therefore had no need of the medicinal fruit.

Many animals eat minerals like clay or charcoal for their curative properties. Colobus monkeys in Zanzibar have been observed stealing and eating charcoal from human bonfires. The charcoal counteracts toxic phenols produced by the mango and almond leaves which make up their diet.

Some species of South American parrot and macaw are known to eat soil with a high kaolin content. The parrots’ diet contains toxins because of the fruit seeds they eat and the kaolin clay absorbs the toxins.

Plants produce medicinal substances to protect themselves, attract pollinators, procreate, and perhaps perform more functions than scientists have yet discovered. Only recently scientists have learned that plant secondary metabolites provide benefits to animals as well as humans. ~

Happy Birthday

When I see or even think about a national park, it is like no other feeling I’ve ever had. A national park is like a special cabinet that contains memories that are filled with truly special natural treasures.  ~  Jason Roy Maki, winner National Park Foundation writing award


Stories.  Many life stories are formed by National Park experiences.  Vivid memories of my youth include spending my high school graduation hour deep in the Kings Canyon National Park Wilderness.  How can I forget when we camped at Yosemite, and my brother experienced a bear cub falling from a tree limb onto his tent!  While attending Oregon State University, I received the greatest letter: notice that I’d been hired as a Mount Rainier National Park Ranger.  As part of the park’s Search & Rescue team, we spent many a whiteout snowstorm looking for lost hikers and climbers. As a parent, exploring Denali National Park with my daughter….Denali!  And being deeply happy to have my two married daughters return home to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, a land where rural communities and the natural world seek common ground.

With 312,000,0000 visitors in 2015, it would seem that all the National Park memories would have been snatched up.  Yet, Old Faithful still erupts faithfully, Crater Lake still shimmers with some of the purest Earth water, and my epicenter of inspiration, Grand Canyon, still can take every person’s breath away.  What is one of your favorite National Parks?

National Park natural wonders have aged well.  The giant sequoia forests are even larger and taller; wolves have returned to Yellowstone, thousands of acres of land were purchased and permanently preserved by the National Park Service to connect ocean views in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

The National Park Service has waived entry fees today and I believe into this weekend.  And for anyone headed to New England…you might be the first to check out America’s newest Great Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine.  ~




31 Wonderful Flavors

“The eye is a two-way organ, a window of the soul that actually may serve its owner better by being looked into than out of.”  Guy Murchie


When we spend time in nature, we not only exercise our bodies, we also sharpen our five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touching, and sometime taste.  Might it be possible that we have been too limiting with regard to the number of principal senses?

Guy Murchie in his outstanding book on science and spirit, The Seven Mysteries of Life, makes a persuasive case for 31 senses.  Mr. Murchie breaks down his list of 31 into five categories: The Radiation Senses, The Feeling Senses, The Chemical Senses, and The Mental Senses.  We’ll briefly discuss the first 15 and save the rest for the next Blog.

Radiation Senses:

  1. Sight, which includes seeing polarize light and seeing without eyes, such as the helio-tropism or sun sense of plants.
  2. The sense of awareness of one’s own visibility or invisibility and the consequent competence to advertise or to camouflage via pigmentation control, luminescence, or transparency.
  3. Sensitivity to radiation other than visible light, including radio waves, x-rays, gamma rays.
  4. Temperature sense, including the ability to insulate, hibernate, or estivate.
  5. Electromagnetic sense, which includes the ability to generate current (as in the electric eel), awareness of magnetic polarity (possesses by many insects) and a general sensitivity to electromagnetic fields.

Feeling Sense

6. Hearing, including sonar and the detection of infra- and ultrasonic frequencies beyond ears.

7. Awareness of pressure, particularly underground and underwater, as through the lateral line organ of fish, the earth tremor sense of burrowers and barometric pressure.

8. Feel, particularly, touch on the skin and (definitely tickling!, vibration sense (such as the spider feels), cognition of heartbeat, blood circulation, and breathing.

9. The sense of weight and balance.

10. Space of proximity sense.

11. Coriolis sense, or awareness of effects of the rotation of the earth.

Chemical Senses

12. Smell, with and beyond the nose.

13. Taste, with and beyond the tongue or mouth.

14. Appetite, hunger and the urge to hunt, kill or otherwise obtain food.

15. Humidity sense, including thirst, evaporation control and the acumen to find water or evade a flood.

It is interesting that the sense of wonder does not appear on the expanded list, though I would have included it within the Feeling Sense, though wonder may come into play in Mr. Murchie’s mysterious 32 second sense…to be discussed next time.