Saturday, October 17, 2015

Alder Springs Hike to the Deschutes

Yesterday, Waldo and I took what I think is the best autumn hike I have ever had. Maybe it was the weather, warm, yet overcast. Maybe it was my mood—happy to be out hiking after a 13 day hiatus. I returned from my Grand Canyon Rim to Rim hike less than two weeks ago, but in between there was a trip to Chicago for my Dad's memorial, and as usual, it takes me time to get the energy to leave home after I have been gone. Particularly after the Chicago trip. There was so much to process, so many emotions to hold, and goodbyes to say. So, it was probably all that that helped make my hike special—it was a quiet respite, a grounding walk among the bluffs and buttes of Oregon's High Desert.

Alder Springs trail begins on a high plateau overlooking a cleft in the ground where Whychus Creek (the Sahaptin word for "a place to cross the water") flows clear and untamed. Ponderosa Pine sprout from its base, a green stash on a bunch grass face. Soon Waldo and I started our descent into the canyon. Part way down we could hear the rush of water coming from Alder Springs. The springs is like the Metolius, which sprouts from the bottom of a hill a full fledged river. Like the Metolius, the water was clear and cold and Waldo and I drank from it. I was drawn to this hike because Bonnie Olin, author of Owyhee River Journals, posted that just last week she had seen Bull Trout in this creek. Waldo and I were not as lucky, but it was good to know the endangered trout had found shelter.

After another half mile, we forded the creek and then hiked along and above it through Basin Wild Rye, Rabbit Brush, wild rose, fern, Equisetum Hyemale (Horsetail Reed), Juniper, Ponderosa Pine and Sage Brush. And of course all along the lower path were the name sake of the trail—Alders—their now golden tear drop shaped leaves danced in the breeze and carpeted our path.

After just three miles, we reached the confluence of Whychus Creek and the Deschutes. The geology was largely exposed cliffs of volcanic ash and Columbia Plateau lava flows sculpted by wind and water. Interspersed were layers of river conglomerates. After I returned I learned that somewhere along those cliffs are petroglyphs. I did not see them, but will return to search.

At the confluence of the Whychus and the Deschutes there was a wonderful basalt outcrop, a perfect place to share a sandwich with Waldo, explore the cliff sides and dip in the water. The area was clearly a destination for the Eagle we had spotted earlier—it was littered with bird wings and feathers.

After our snack we headed the three miles back to the car, cresting the ridge just as the sun set behind the spine of the Cascades.

The public's access to Alder Springs is relatively recent. Up until a couple decades ago, it had been a private ranch. Then in the 1990's authorities took possession of the land after they discovered the old ranch house had become a meth factory. The structure was destroyed and the land given to the Forest Service. The eight hundred acre parcel is now part of the Crooked River National Grasslands. Alder Springs is closed to the public from December 1 to March 31 to protect its wildlife habitat. Elk, deer and antelope can often be seen roaming the area. The lack of cattle has given the plants some time to recuperate. There are healthy stands of native Blue Bunch Wheat Grass and Basin Wild Rye.

It took two and a half hours to get to Alder Springs from the Willamette Valley, so I drove back over the pass in the dark, feeling full and satisfied and utterly lucky to call Oregon home.

I like how this juniper looks like it has seeds blowing off it like a milkweek pod
Equisetum Hyemale (Horsetail Reed)
Common Teasel (thank you for the id. Scott Bowler)

- Naseem Rakha
October 16, 2015

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Male, Female or Other

If you've filled out a form on Google lately you probably have seen a brand new option when it comes to Gender. Instead of the standard Male and Female, people can now choose Other.

I just found a video about one of my town's "others." In it, then-Mayor, Stu Rasmussen is showing Statesman Journal reporter, Cara Pallone, the inside of his closets (as well as his handcuff collection.) Stu achieved international fame for being one of the country's, if not world's, first openly transgendered Mayors. He grew up in Silverton, runs the town's only movie house, and walks Silverton's streets dressed in a way which emphasizes not just his legs (which are enviable,) but also what he likes to call "the twins"—augmented breasts which stand out—literally as well as figuratively.

In most aspects, Silverton appears to be your average rural American town. It has the Elks, Kiwanis and the Lions clubs, is filled with churches, has a feed store, and a one lane train track that hauls grain and seed. It has cute parades featuring the high school band and local pets. It houses teachers and doctors and librarians and artists and folks who work for the state in one capacity or another. Your typical rural community, red white and blue bunting in July, Christmas tree lighting after Thanksgiving. Yet, in 2008 and again in 2010, Silverton residents voted in the most non-conformist of Mayors. They also came out in force when the Westboro Baptist Church came to Silverton to tell us we were all going to hell for having a transgendered Mayor. Many of the town's businessmen dressed as women to confound the Topica, Kansas "Christians."

I like that about Silverton. I like that once, while sitting with Stu at a garage sale, I watched him haggle with a farmer over a tractor. Stu had driven the tractor over and then put a pair of shiny red stilettos on the hood as bait. At first the farmer, dressed in overalls and seed cap, seemed taken back by Stu's attire: a mini skirt, six inch heals, and a shirt cut so low it exposed a good canyon of cleavage. But within minutes the farmer and Stu were talking away about gaskets and plows and whatever else one talks about when talkin-tractor. A few minutes later, the farmer was in, he wanted the tractor, but only if Stu would throw in the shoes.

"For the wife," he said with a wink.

My favorite line in the interview by Cara Pallone is when Stu tells her that typically two to three percent of the population of males are cross-dressers. "Which means on Halloween when you see a man dressed in a dress, if he knows how to walk in the shoes, he does it more than just once a year."

-Naseem Rakha
October 13, 2015