Bunky Echo-Hawk and Sacred Poets remind us Native Americans Matter

Today, I watched Bunky Echo-Hawk create a modern Native American portrait in an hour on the steps of the Portland Art Museum. He did this while talking to the crowd, answering questions from people who walked up to him on stage and listening to one of the most eclectic music soundtracks I’ve ever heard.

After a brief introduction about himself and the plight of Native peoples to be heard and seen and acknowledged as a viable, living, working, creative part of humanity, Bunky asked the audience to reflect on the Native American fashion exhibit currently on display inside the museum. From their comments, he began to paint. It was nothing short of spectacular to watch him create and interact with the audience at the same time.

As the hour and the painting came to its end, Bunky had not yet drawn a mouth on the face. He asked us – the audience – what we thought about adding a mouth, or not. He said he was thinking of writing a word in place of the mouth and asked for suggestions. People yelled out: Pride, Unify, Power, One, Inspired, and many more. It came down to a tie between Power and Unify.

Then he asked the simple question: “Which is more important, Power or Unity?”

With a loud chorus, the audience claimed Unity.


The finished piece – by Bunky Echo-Hawk

Bunky’s interactive live painting exhibition was preceded by Sacred Poets, a group of Native American youth in Portland performing spoken-word poetry. Their words were powerful, raw, real, moving. They made me reconsider the way we European Americans have treated Native Americans and the long-reaching impact of our actions on generation upon generation of people. Ripped from their sacred places, cultures and livelihoods long ago, these Native Americans are struggling to protect their cultural identity, enhance the talents and lives of their youth, regain sovereignty and be heard as voices that matter.



The exhibition and performance was made possible by Nike’s N7 Fund – a Nike Native American Business whose proceeds directly support sports and active lifestyles of Native American populations.


Into the Darkness of the Ape Caves


20160405_121305The entrance to the Ape Caves on the south side of Mt. St. Helens is surrounded by bright green  moss and ferns and feels welcoming enough. But, within a few feet of the entrance, just beyond the stairs that lead into the lava tubes, the darkness consumes you. Without a light, you cannot see even a millimeter in front of your face.

For anyone with claustrophobia – and that would be me – entering the caves is a challenge. Fortunately, the lower Ape Cave tunnel, where we began our exploration, is big enough for visitors to be able stand and walk comfortably. These caves are the result of lava flows from about 2,000 years ago.

Basaltic lava flowed down the southern slopes of Mt. St. Helens toward the Lewis River. As the top of the lava flow began to cool, it formed tunnels, allowing molten lava to keep flowing underneath for months, perhaps even a year. Eventually, the molten lava flowed out of the tunnels and left these long lava tubes behind. The Ape Caves are nearly 2 1/2 miles long, the longest intact lava tubes in the continental United States!

Temperatures in the caves remain a steady 42-degrees year-round, so dressing warmly and carrying light are important for every visitor. The highlights of the lower cave are the railroad tracks – a section where there is a shoulder along the side of the lava flow – and the “meatball” – a  block of cooled lava that flowed on top of the hot lava and got wedged between two hard edges of the tube. The meatball hangs precariously above you as you walk through the cave.


Under the “Meatball”


Lots of great colors – golds, purples, pinks


“Railroad tracks”


A ceiling rock that had fallen


The ceiling looked like star-flecked skies

After exploring the easier lower cave, we ventured into the more difficult upper cave and were confronted by huge piles of boulders (8 – 10 feet high) that we had to scramble over to proceed down the tube. After climbing over the first boulder pile, we knew this section would be more challenge than we were prepared for. It was really amazing, though, but way scary for me.


Over the boulder piles in the upper cave

There are 27 boulder piles like that and an 8-foot tall lava wall to climb over to get to the end of the upper cave. At least at the end, you can climb out a ladder and hike the 1-1/2 miles back through the forest.

For anyone visiting the Mt. St. Helens National Monument area, I’d certainly recommend this as a stop. And don’t skip the Trail of Two Forests down the road – where you can crawl through a short lava tube left when lava cooled around downed tree trunks. Very cool!

To find out how the Ape Cave got its name, go here.

This is what happens when the sun comes out after 19 straight days of rain in Portland

Portland (Oregon) is on the verge of setting a record – rainiest December since 1996 (the year EVERYBODY here remembers as The Willamette Valley Flood of ’96). In fact, this December it has rained for 19 days in a row – until today. Today the rain stayed away and the sun came out in all its freakin’ glory. This is what happened:

  1. Dogs willingly went outside to pee.
  2. People stood still on sidewalks, eyes closed, faces turned up to the sun and hummed.
  3. One guy dug out his summer sunglasses and told them how much he had missed them.
  4. Fair-weather cyclists dried off their bicycles and went for short rides.
  5. All-weather cyclists went for long rides – for fun, not just because they had to get to work.
  6. Hawks perched atop trees, soaking up heat and drying their feathers.
  7. People experiencing homelessness stopped shivering long enough to air out their sleeping gear.
  8. Kids batted tennis balls around on the soggy park tennis courts.
  9. Cats plastered themselves to the sunny spots by the windows.
  10. And people smiled – A LOT.

It was pretty cool to see people out and about on this cool, crisp, beautiful winter day. But the rains are returning for the next few days, weeks, months…so, get used to it. Welcome to Portland.


Remembering John Denver

John_Denver_1973On October 12, 1997 – eighteen years ago today – singer/activist John Denver died in a plane crash. He was 53. That day the world lost one of its most vibrant voices and most dedicated environmentalists.

I watched a PBS documentary about his life recently, and it stirred memories, making me think about how much he influenced my own life. His music spoke to me. His activism moved me.

  • I owned every record he made as a solo artist and sang along – loudly – every time I heard him on the radio.
  • I learned to play the guitar and performed “Sunshine on My Shoulders” for a high school talent competition. I didn’t win, but I got the best prize: My big brother coming backstage and telling me I was great. (the first time I remember him ever giving me a compliment)
  • I saw John perform live four times.
  • I watched him captivate every single person in the audience with his authenticity, energy and pure voice.
  • I slept in a tipi for a week on his Windstar Foundation property in Old Snowmass, Colorado while attending a workshop where I first learned Aikido and ate the best vegetarian food I’d ever had. I later became a vegetarian and earned a black belt in Aikido. (The Windstar Foundation dissolved in 2012, but the land is a conservation easement)
  • I watched a happy, playful John fly his bi-plane over Windstar, dipping its wings in greeting.
  • I played his music when I was happy, sad, angry, excited, motivated. There was always a lyric to fit the moment.
  • I traveled to the Rocky Mountains for my first trip alone at age 19.
  • I played his songs at my wedding renewal ceremonies.

John inspired me to make music, to travel more, to love deeply, to dream big, and to express myself in new ways. He showed the world that one person can make a difference. Rest in peace, John Denver.

On this anniversary of his death, here are two of my favorite JD songs. Enjoy.

8 Take-Aways From “Walking and Writing” with Matt Love

Fort Astoria in Astoria, Oregon

Fort Astoria in Astoria, Oregon

Anyone who’s followed this blog during the past few years knows that I am always on a quest to learn, to improve my skills, and to explore ideas and places that both lift my spirit and make me think more deeply. This past weekend I honored that quest by attending a “Walking and Writing” Workshop with Oregon author, Matt Love in Astoria, Oregon.

Matt is a prolific and passionate writer, a high school teacher, partner to a special husky named Sonny, and founder/publisher of Nestucca Spit Press. The first book I read when I moved to Oregon was Citadel of the Spirit, an anthology Matt edited in honor of Oregon’s Sesquincentennial. The next book I read was Of Walking in Rain. I loved Matt’s writing style and attitude. He seemed unconventional and bold and irreverent. So, I was both excited and a little nervous about attending a writing workshop with him. What would he really be like, and what would I learn from him?

I’ve had a few days to mentally process all we did during the workshop, and I’ve come up with eight great take-aways.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Matt is a master teacher. There were no lectures, no whiteboards, and no PowerPoint presentations (thank goodness!). He led our group of 12 participants through some remarkable readings and active assignments that got us thinking, writing and, yes, walking! By the end of the day we had completed seven writing prompts, explored the town of Astoria, and finished a writing piece which we shared out loud.
  2. Everyone has a story. Our group ranged from bright young high school students to old, retired teachers (that would be me), and each one of us was able to reach inside and pull out the pieces of a story. Every person there shared a piece of themselves, wrapped up in words and bound together by dreams of being a better writer.
  3. Walking is powerful. We were inspired by synonyms for walking, quotes about walking, essays on how to walk and metaphors about walking. But, by actually walking the streets and waterfront of Astoria, we unleashed our own minds and creativity.
  4. Open-ended assignments generate diversity. Matt gave us specific directions but left every prompt open-ended enough that each writer could interpret it in his/her own way. We created characters, dialogue, emotions, fiction, non-fiction and stream-of-consciousness. Every time someone shared his/her writing, each one of us learned something new.
  5. Reading your writing out loud makes it better. Before we shared our last finished piece, Matt asked each of us to practice reading it aloud. Sure enough, when you read out loud you can hear where it catches, where you stumble, where you need to fix that sentence. It works.
  6. Even old non-fiction writers can write fiction. I’ve written non-fiction all my adult life. It’s always been a part of my job. Even my blogs and writing for fun has been about real life stuff. But on this day, one of our assignments – the one where we could walk around town and follow someone – motivated me to make up a story that included talking dogs walking along the boardwalk. It was fun to write in a completely different voice and style. I might even try it again someday!
  7. Being with other aspiring writers sparks new ideas. I jotted notes down every time the other writers shared their work – notes about words they used, how they structured sentences and emotions they evoked. They made me think differently about writing and reminded me that I need to seek out the company of other writers to get better at my own writing.
  8. Matt Love is the real deal. I’d read four or five of Matt’s books. I’d started following him on Facebook. I’d come to sort of idolize him. I didn’t want him to turn out to be some egomaniac jerk who was full of himself and just used these workshops to peddle his wares. I was so glad to find out that Matt is a real, genuine, down-to-earth, humble guy. We spent eight hours with him, and the entire time he focused on us, our needs, our writing. He did each assignment with us, he shared his writing with us, he gave every person in the room a chance to write and share and shine. Not once did he try to promote himself or peddle his work. He’s a good guy. He cares…and those kids he teaches are lucky to know him!

I’m eager to practice writing in new ways, integrating some of the techniques and activities from the workshop into my daily writing routine. Who knows…maybe my next post here will be some wild and crazy fictional short story. Stay tuned!

Are you a writer? Have you met an author you like? What did you learn from him/her?

Mt. Hood: In my face and under my feet

Lupines and Mt. Hood

“Walking” is one of my favorite essays by Thoreau. In it he states:

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that –  sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements…

And so it is that whenever I choose to make the time, I go to the woods and over the hills to walk. My favorite hill is really a mountain – Mt. Hood – and it calls to me regularly. On this day, my best friend/life partner and I set out to walk the Timberline Trail No. 600 (which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail around Mt. Hood) from the historic Timberline Lodge to the Zigzag Canyon Overlook.

Timberline Trail sign


Ski lift on Mt. Hood

The trail begins at the 6000-foot elevation and is well-marked and easy to access from the lodge. After crossing under the ski lifts and passing the ski boundary heading west, we discovered a kiosk where you are required to fill out and wear a Wilderness Permit. Here, we watched a woman bid her man goodbye, saying “See you in a week,” and he set out on a solo journey of a lifetime.

Timberline Trail Permit kiosk

For us, with permit attached, a day hike would have to do. Soon the trail took us near the site of the remnants of the old Timberline Cabin (1916), a cabin once built by the Forest Service as an emergency shelter.

Old Timberline Cabin site

Old Timberline Cabin site

We continued down into Little Zigzag Canyon where the Little Zigzag River drains out of Zigzag Glacier near the top of Mt. Hood. The loose gravelly glacial scree crunched under our hiking boots, reminding us that forces much greater than we could imagine helped to shape this landscape. With the low snowpack this year creating little snowmelt, the river was easy to step over.

Little Zigzag Canyon

From there we ascended back up out of the canyon into shady, dense conifer forest, passing through alpine meadows bursting with color from native wildflowers – lupine, paintbrush, beargrass and more.

Flowers along Timberline Trail

Eventually we arrived at the impressive Zigzag Canyon Overlook, where we stood on a ridge that drops off into the Zigzag River 500 feet below and gave us incredible views of Mt. Hood, Mississippi Head and the Zigzag Glacier.


Feeling great and having not yet had enough of the jaw-dropping views, woods, and mountains, we decided to continue hiking until we got to the Zigzag river below. We descended the ridge and quickly entered lush riparian habitat on the steep slope leading down to the river. Small seeps and waterfalls sent water tumbling down the hill, and combined with small openings of sunlight provided perfect conditions for mosses, wildflowers, salmonberry and insects to thrive. It was so completely different from the arid, gravel of the alpine glaciers we’d walked across earlier.

Arriving at the bottom of the canyon, the cool, clear water of the Zigzag River invited us to ditch the hiking boots and cool off our feet. With Zigzag Falls in view upstream we sat and ate lunch while marveling at the geologic forces that shaped the canyon and wondering what it would be like to witness an avalanche, landslide or eruption from Mt. Hood. Indeed, in 1922 a glacial outburst flood occurred right where we sat.

Realizing that most of our hike back to Timberline was uphill and seeing clouds begin to form overhead, we decided to head back, vowing that we’d return again and walk further someday. When we arrived back at our car, the raindrops began to fall, but nothing could dampen our spirits after a day of sauntering in the woods and over hills in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Map pack and boots


When we walk we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us if we only walked in a garden or a mall? – Henry David Thoreau

Indeed, what would become of us?

Clackamas River Trail Delivers Spectacular Hike (video)

Seeking forest and river…a cool hike on a hot summer day.

We set out to hike from Indian Henry Trailhead to Pup Creek Falls on the Clackamas River Trail early today. Just a little over an hour from Portland, we pulled into an empty parking lot and headed into the forest. We were not disappointed.

Old growth forest with huge trees. Bright, flower-filled openings under the power lines. Clear, blue water in the Clackamas River below us. Waterfalls big and small.

And not another human being in sight for the five hours we hiked. (Apparently the Clackamas District of the Mt. Hood National Forest is not quite as well-known or traveled as the ZigZag District or the Gorge!)

Four miles in and four miles out – we found magical faerie lands of ferns and clover under old growth Douglas fir and western hemlocks. Enormous basalt rock outcroppings and beautiful moss covered rocks dripping water from above.

Lunch at Pup Creek Falls – a little hidden gem off a short switch-back spur from the river trail. It’s marked only by a blank post, which someone enhanced by writing Pup Creek Falls on it with a marker.

The only hitch in our day was when Keith took off his pack and his water bottle slipped out and over the cliff at a place called The Narrows. Into the Clackamas River it went, never to be seen again.

It was a beautiful hike and a fantastic day. I highly recommend it.