Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Owl Song

Initiated an impromptu trip to Lake Wenatchee (above, with Dirty Face Peak in the background) with Rebecca -- and Carmen, our golden retriever -- on September 22-25. Had to button up Owl Farm for the winter and help friend Kelly Tjaden replace a beam on the foundation of the tree house he's building on our property.

Leaving Eugene on Thursday morning early, we gutted it out the full 400-plus miles to Plain, Washington in time for a barbeque salmon dinner on the property. Carmen loves frolicking in the woods and the rivers, so she would enjoy being in her element.

Kelly arrived on Friday and we spent some time rounding up a few more 2 by 12s to beef up the existing beam on the tree house (above), the south side of a triangular foundation. On Saturday, we spent time putting together a heftier beam that would be twice as large as the original in an effort to bolster the previously sagging span.

When completed, the renovated beam would measure 8 inches by 12 inches by 18 feet in length. The final product looked heavy, so we put in a call for reinforcements and neighbor Thomas Steinke gamely volunteered to help us hoist the unwieldy beam into its place on the tree house (view looking southwest, below).

Kelly, Rebecca and I (and Carmen, of course) celebrated the day's accomplishments with a bottle of wine, a movie on the laptop and a Duck football game on the satellite radio.

That night, I awoke just before sunrise to a duet between an owl and a rooster. The owl hooted in a desperate attempt to forestall the sun; meanwhile, the rooster countered by crowing the inevitable arrival of dawn. They seemed to be singing by turn, one in response to the other, quite the battle of the birds.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Old School, Part Deux

Well, the lads from the Jesuit High School Class of '71 finally got their collective act together at the eleventh hour in time for a 40-year high school reunion. Rumor has it that Jesuit administrators put the "Jersey squeeze" on one of our former classmates, Tom Manning (currently a teacher at Jesuit) to make some calls.

And so it was, on Friday, September 16, I ventured to Portland to join longtime buddy Tim Nashif in attending the second of two high school reunions this summer. This one was held at Ernesto's, an Italian restaurant immediately adjacent to Jesuit High School in Beaverton.

The agenda included a social and buffet dinner, followed by the "Holy War," the annual football fracas between the Jesuit Crusaders and their chief rival, the Central Catholic Rams.

Some say that your sense of smell can trigger more memories than any other of the five senses.

As we entered Ernesto's, the unmistakable aroma of Tuscan cuisine penetrated my nostrils and every other fibre of my being. But this establishment wasn't just any Italian restaurant; the scent was eerily familiar.

I couldn't put my finger on it, until a little later in the evening.

After checking in at the registration table, we chatted with old classmates while watching the first half of the football game out the window at Ernesto's, which beamed directly down onto Jesuit's Cronin Field. No fooling, it was kind of like being in a skybox.

We adjourned to the field in the second half, where the Crusaders blocked a field goal attempt by the Rams in the final seconds, escaping with the win in a 14-12 nailbiter.

Later, we met the owner of Ernesto's -- Mike Ceccanti. I explained my nasal nostalgia and he had an answer: his family had owned the old Monte Carlo restaurant on Southeast Belmont near 10th Avenue, one of our favorite eateries. His grandfather -- Ernesto -- opened the Monte Carlo in 1927; unfortunately, the eatery burned down in 2002.

"That's it," I replied. "That's the smell I remember from my youth."

Oh, and one more thing: you've gotta love high school reunions. It's where geeks morph into doctors and jocks become caricatures in a Bruce Springsteen ballad.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lanham Lake

Located just east of Stevens Pass, Lanham Lake (above) sits at the base of Jim Hill Mountain, one of two peaks in the area (the other being Big Jim Mountain on Icicle Ridge) named for James J. Hill, the Great Northern Railroad empire builder.

Trail mate and friend Chuck Ferguson and I hiked the path to the lake, which ascends a steep slope in some big timbers on the Whitepine Creek/Mill Creek divide, on Friday, September 9.

The trail winds through a primeval forest complete with Devil's Club (above), also know as "Devil's Walking Stick." Devil's Club generally grows to three to four feet tall, but can reach a height of 16 feet in rainforest gullies like the Napeequa River.

Some years back, a group of us were dispatched up the Napeequa River, which lies in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, to destroy a squatter's cabin several miles up the river on Forest Service land.

The Devil's Club was over 10 feet tall and -- along with huge patches of vine maple and groves of huge old growth western red cedar -- the scene resembled a prehistoric set straight out of Jurassic Park; I kept thinking I might see a triceratops or a pterodactyl at any moment.

Devil's Club is one shrub you don't want to grab during your walk in the woods. This primordial plant has long, nasty stickers awaiting unsuspecting hikers looking to steady themselves.

As we proceeded up the trail, we crossed through a huge blowdown of large timber across the trail. Chuck said the trail crew has spent days logging out the mess of mountain hemlock and western red cedar that resembled a pile of pick-up sticks.

The cut wood created some interested patterns of pitch (above) that filled the air with a wonderfully pungent aroma.

Our stay was relatively brief considering the amount of time we had spent hiking to Lanham Lake, but the black flies were in fine form, so we took a few pictures and then headed back to the trailhead adjacent to the Stevens Pass Nordic Center.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Old School

On Sunday, August 21, I spent the day in Portland attending my 40th high school reunion with about 80 of my former classmates from the Lincoln High School Class of '71 (above: that's me in the bottom right, with legs extended in my kick-back-and-relax position).

Although I spent my freshman and sophomore years at Jesuit High School in Beaverton, I transferred to Lincoln -- the oldest high school in the Pacific Northwest -- for my final two years. Established in 1869, Lincoln High School is located in downtown Portland across the street from the iconic Multnomah (now Jen-Weld) Stadium.

To say that Lincoln was a complete switch from Jesuit might be the understatement of the year. An all-boys school, Jesuit prided itself on its academic prowess, which was considerable. Very regimented, the school was governed with a tight grip by the "soldiers of Christ," those priests and noviciates of the Society of Jesus who served as teachers, administrators and coaches at the school. Lincoln, on the other hand, was fresh, progressive, loose, diverse and -- well, let's face it, folks -- less difficult than Jesuit.

It was a better fit for many like myself during the turbulent '60s, when baby boomers came of age following the assassination of President Kennedy, his brother, Bobby and Martin Luther King, along with the Free Speech Movement and Vietnam protests. Plus, there were girls!

Speaking of old schools, the reunion was held at Kennedy Elementary School, another old facility founded in 1915 in Northeast Portland. Owned by those Northwest brewmeisters, the McMenamin brothers, the school is now a popular microbrewery and watering hole that features a movie theater and hotel.

The reunion started at noon, and my goal was to connect with as many people I didn't know in high school as possible -- as well as many I did know. Though well-intentioned, I'm sorry to report that I was unsuccessful in talking to everybody, but I did have have the opportunity to catch up with many of my former classmates.

My high school reunion was, appropriately, quite educational -- a most enjoyable learning experience and one I won't soon forget.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fire In The Sky

After returning from our "challenge of the Chiwawa," which included exploring the headwaters of the Chiwawa River at its start at the base of Fortress and Chiwawa Mountains (above), Steve and I spent a couple of days of rest, respite, recuperation and reorganization at Owl Farm near its junction with the Wenatchee River (below).

There's nothing better for the body and soul than a shower and a sauna after several days in the wilderness, along with the requisite bottle of port, Dirty Face pizza from Headwaters Pub and a movie on the laptop. Even an errant mosquito or two couldn't spoil our glow.

Before our departure back to Oregon, a forest fire broke out on top of a ridge overlooking Tumwater Canyon. The 500-acre blaze closed U.S Highway 2, which follows the Wenatchee River down to Leavenworth.

As a result, traffic from Seattle was rerouted through Plain down Washington State Route 209, creating a long procession on our way south, at least as far as the Bavarian Village.

U.S. Forest Service personnel, including nearly 300 firefighters and air support, were everywhere. The scene resembled a battle front. As I was wheeling down the road, the memories of my days as a forest firefighter were as thick as the smoke in the Chumstick Valley: the adrenaline rush from a fire call, grabbing our fire packs not knowing how long we'd be gone, and perhaps a quick phone call to a loved one.

Then there was that unmistakeable smell. Smoke, yes, but as a former forest firefighter, I'm talking about the smell of money.