The 2020 wind and fire and smoke storm

by Steve, September 19th, 2020

Sunday, Sept 7

Beautiful day, and then the bone-dry east winds started, bringing the first significant smoke to the holler. We closed up the house and listened to the wind howl all night, glad we took out the killer maple hanging over our bedrooms earlier in the summer. Overnight, fires popped up all over the west slope of the Oregon Cascades and in the Siskiyous. It was still clear enough to walk the next day, but the winds were still howling.

Monday, Sept 8

On what would be my last walk for almost two weeks, I surveyed the damage from the still howling wind.

My meditation bench got hit, but was undamaged.

Made it to the top of Gabbert Butte and back, my usual 2 mile out and back. At the saddle, major blowdown and a damaged interpretive sign.

Back home, I clear my bench and sit until the creaking trees in the persistent wind convince me to go inside and stay there.

Tuesday Sept 9 – Wednesday Sept 17

Smokier and smokier every day, to the point that the AQI is off the charts, above “hazzardous.” While the east winds have stopped bringing in new smoke, a thermal inversion traps the existing smoke in the valley. We are socked in with smoke and fog. There are predictions that a weak offshore low pressure system will push in a break the inversion in a couple days, but the inversion persists. This couple days would ultimately turn into more than a week. Thermal inversions and their lifting are notoriously hard to predict. We run the furnace blower continuously. We don’t run bathroom or kitchen exhaust fans to avoid drawing in outside air. I swap our furnace filter every two days.

I’m out of fresh filters by Sunday, and nobody has stock locally. Amazon can’t get them to me until the following Saturday, Lowe’s Friday. I order them anyway, and keep my dirty filter in case the clean one gets dirtier. Maybe I can vacuum it or something. Robb offers to fed ex me some for CR.

I become intimately familiar with, and our nearest monitoring station consistently shows “hazardous” air quality for particulate matter.

Thursday, Sept 17

That offshore low finally looks to be breaking through. By late afternoon there are thunderstorms marching north up the coast range. Our air quality starts to gradually improve. We celebrate being upgraded to “Very Unhealthy” from “Hazardous” before bed.

We are awakened at 3:30 a.m. by a monster thunderstorm, like the kind I remember growing up in Iowa and Colorado. Bright flashes and booms all around and buckets of rain.

Friday, Sept 18

The thunder has passed, but it’s still raining in the morning. The air quality is still “Very Unhealthy,” but it starts to improve rapidly in spite of the weather service maintaining an air quality alert into Saturday. More rain moves in around 3:30, and the air quality starts to rapidly improve. Then the sun breaks, and the angel’s trumpets sound.

The new furnace filters arrive, and I swap in a new one and run it for a while. It’s still smokey outside, even if radically better than just hours earlier.

By bed time, the air quality has suddenly cleared. We open the house up for the first time. It smells wet and green outside. We sleep like babies and wake up to the sound of birds.

Saturday, Sept 19

I walk, my usual two-mile out-and-back. It’s suddenly fall.

The most dramatic end of summer I can recall. The rains have mostly stopped, and it’s supposed to clear up overnight, and be back to seasonal 70s with sun.

Steve’s guide to hiking in the woods

by Steve, September 19th, 2020

Chapter 1

Shut the fuck up.


Nutria-henge-quinox, autumn 2015

by Steve, September 30th, 2015

On the seventh day after the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the sun rises above the the highest point in the East, a snow-capped volcano named Wy’east and Hood, when viewed from the ridge named Cooper in the Tualatin Valley on this planet called Earth we are born of.

At first, when we began our residence on this ridge, we were not aware of the icy, brooding peak beyond the green Tualatin Mountains, until the skies cleared that Spring. It may have been the following fall, or the next spring that I first noticed the sun crossing Hood near the equinox. It was another equinox or two later that I discovered the deep and steady rhythm of it.

We live on an astral clock, Mt. Hood the style on a planetary sundial for this particular location. Upon first discovering the division of sunrises, spring and summer north, fall and winter south of Mt. Hood, I dubbed it Nutriahenge, for the furry denizens of the wetlands and streams of the valley (and the triliths of Wiltshire).

The equinoxes mark the points in the earth’s orbit where the its tilted axis is perpendicular to the sun’s rays, and the days and nights are equal. As we swing around the ellipse of our orbit now, the northern half of the planet is tipping away from the sun, sliding us into longer nights and shorter days.

This year, I’ve declared a new sacred festival, in my personal church of the universe, in honor of nutriahenge, a week-long observance of the sun crossing Mt. Hood. Beginning sunrise on the equinox, Nutria-henge-quinox week culminates eight days later with the sun rising over the summit of our nearest volcano.

This first official Nutria-henge-quinox week was marked with a special celestial alignment, the rising of the fully eclipsed super moon above Mt. Hood on the Sunday midway between the two Wednesdays of equinox and nutria-henge-quinox.

The week started with some broken skies and the sun beginning its approach to the northern slopes of Hood.

autumnal light

The universe painted with a full pallette encouraging us to join the celebration of light.

It's complicated

(The universe doesn’t care about you and me, that’s just a literary device. It’s called personification. We humans do a lot of it and shouldn’t take things so literally. This is a basic tenet of my nature church.)

Then, on Sunday, the moon rose red out of the haze, and soared above Hood.

rising full over Mt. Hood

Our planet cast its shadow across its satellite, but the fleet moon was soon revealed in its former brilliance.

Leaving full

In the days before the crossing, the rising sun causes Mt. Hood to cast a shadow in the haze, up and to the south, betraying the sun’s position beneath the horizon.

getting ready to burst

By the morning of nutria-henge-quinox, the moon had regained its brilliance, but was losing its shape to its drifting phase, revealing mountains and crater walls in the shaddows.

morning moon

And then the sun rose, the closing act of the festival, a breathtaking dance of earth, moon and star.

We’re just specks of self-aware stardust, hydrogen and carbon and oxygen, wandering the surface of this wet rock looking for meaning. I say look up. See yourself as an infinitesimal piece of this infinitely beautiful universe. That’s all you need to know. That’s all there is. Peace out.

The Misanthrope’s Field Guide to Noncharismatic Megafauna

by Steve, February 13th, 2015

Wildlife biologists refer to large animals that attract positive human attention for conservation efforts as “charismatic megafauna.” It’s not a scientific classification, just a way to refer to large animals that attract positive human attention. They are rarely the most important organisms in a biosphere, but they get the most human attention for better or worse. Around these parts, we have cougar, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, black bear, deer, beaver, nutria, eagles, osprey, hawks, herons, egrets, whales, sea lions and seals, among others.

But we’ve also got a ton of what I like to call “noncharismatic megafauna,” primarily great apes of the species Homo sapiens sapiens. Yes, the common human, or “house ape,” frequently accompanied by another common type of non-charismatic megafauna, Canis lupus familiaris, the domestic dog. As these non-charismatic species are often noisy, smelly and aggressive, charismatic megafauna flee before them.

Lately, I’ve encountered enough humans and their dogs to become an expert of sorts, and herewith offer my field guide to their behavior when they leave their habitat and interact with other fauna in the wild.


Humans live primarily in what they call the “built environment,” and try to limit contact with the natural environment as much as possible. This habitat consists primarily of enclosed spaces, with artificially controlled environmental conditions. Outdoor spaces are dominated by hard surfaces constructed for the purpose of moving between enclosed spaces in vehicles they construct of metal and plastic. The vehicles are fully enclosed and also feature controlled environmental conditions.

Behavior in the wild

When they leave their built environment, they take with them many tools and accessories that allow them to survive comfortably and remain connected to their built world. Males of the species tend to display these technologies as if in constant mating. (Humans do, in fact, mate year round.) Juveniles of the species tend to be especially noisy and unconcerned with their surroundings, built or natural.

Many house apes travel with captive dog companions, and this species is hyper aggressive toward wildlife and other house apes. Humans often allow the dogs to run untethered, despite signs with pictographs and human language prohibiting it. Dog feces litter the routes they have carved through the natural environment. House apes sometimes pick up feces in plastic bags, and then leave the bags along their routes. It is unclear whether this is some kind of territorial marking ritual, or if it has something to do with parasites from the feces making the humans go mad. Most “wilderness” routes are lined with small plastic bags of dog shit, which pretty much guarantees that charismatic megafauna will avoid these areas.

House apes vocalize loudly in the wild, and when, for example, encountering other humans observing charismatic megafauna, say things like: “Is it dead?” and: “Well I’ve heard they have those around here!” and: “Aren’t they really just pests?” and: “They have to trap them down in the valley on the farms, because they eat everything!” and “Do you think it’ll eat bread? Here, I have some I was going to throw at the ducks!”

House apes will feed human food to any fauna they encounter. Juveniles will often try to capture other fauna, and if that fails, try to injure or kill them with stones, sticks, or other missiles they can find.

Encountering Homo sapiens sapiens in the wild

When exploring natural areas for relaxation, education or spiritual purposes, it is almost certain you will encounter house apes who very little interest in cohabiting with native fauna or other humans. In order to avoid unpleasantness, it is advisable to step well off of trails when you hear or see them coming. Find a large tree or rock to hide behind until they pass. It is unlikely they will notice you, since they will generally be talking loudly and are typically not observant of their surroundings.

WARNING: If you are unable to avoid an encounter with a house ape in the wild, you may be subjected to tedious, inane conversation known as “smalltalk.” Males of the species will preen in the presence of others, proudly displaying branded clothing and accessories. Talking to them only encourages this behavior, so it is generally best to avoid them at all costs. Since most house apes are averse to extended physical exertion and exposure to the elements, they are best avoided in deep wilderness at least 20 miles from trail heads and roads and far from urban centers.

When you find a good frame…

by Steve, January 23rd, 2015

…you keep on using it.
Shore Pine Sunset
Framing it
My favorite frame

January Sundown

by Steve, January 20th, 2015


Late fall up a local ravine

by Steve, December 17th, 2014

The monoliths

Snow in the Oregon Coast Range

by Steve, December 2nd, 2014

Snow in the coast range

Looking across the southern tip of Wapato Lake Bed at the northern Oregon Coast Range.

Buddha’s Frog

by Steve, November 17th, 2014

The Frog’s Desire


by Steve, October 6th, 2014