Monday, December 15, 2014

Year Of The Horse

In China, this past year -- running from January 31, 2014 until February 18, 2015 -- is known as “the year of the horse.” In the ethos of the Chinese people, the spirit of the horse is the driving force in making unremitting efforts to improve themselves. The theme of self-improvement generally aligns well my experiences in 2014.

The year started with a rant sent to the small weekly newspaper in my home-away-from-home of Leavenworth, Washington (below). The publisher, an individual of dubious journalistic skills, enjoys running right-wing diatribes on his opinion pages, which is certainly within his rights and purview as one who “buys his ink by the barrel.”

As is my custom, I took the writer to task for mean-spirited vitriol describing liberal Democrats as suffering from mental illness, a characterization that one should not issue lightly. My letter was ignored, so I published my response on these pages. Titled “Technicolor Yawn,” it has become my most widely read post of 2014.

In February, plans started coming together for two landmark events in the summer of 2014, a wilderness ranger reunion and a trip to Spain. The reunion would honor the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act of 1964 and would involve coordination with a variety of old friends who worked for the U.S. Forest Service together in the 70s and 80s.

Dubbed "The Aldo Leopold Society" after the former Forest Service employee, forestry professor and author of A Sand County Almanac, the seminal tome on land ethics and the natural environment, the motley crew of former trail dogs and backcountry rangers initiated planning for a wilderness hootenanny for the ages.

Meanwhile, it was time to start getting in shape. Construction would begin on a tree house at Owl Farm -- our recreational property in the North Cascades of Washington near Leavenworth -- in the spring. The tree house is supported by three, 100-year old Douglas firs and overlooks the Wenatchee River and Natapoc Mountain.

The next project was preparation for construction of yet another small hut on the property. But first we had to remove our longtime travel trailer -- a 1968 Road Ranger that we’ve used since about 1992. A neighbor offered to take it off our hands and ultimately made a few bucks by selling the old trailer on Craigslist.

Training for the wilderness ranger reunion hike continued in earnest throughout the spring and into summer with hikes to Mt. June and Tidbits Mountain up the Willamette and McKenzie River drainages, respectively. In June, Jory graduated from University of Oregon with a bachelor’s degree in history from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Witnessed a number of concerts this past summer, catching the likes of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Steve Winwood, Jeff Beck and ZZ Top. In July, we drove to the Puget Sound region so that Rebecca could compete in the Seattle Masters Track Meet in both the 200- and 400-meter races while also visiting with family and friends.

Later in July, it was off to the Malheur National Forest for a preliminary celebration of the Wilderness Act -- and 40th anniversary of my first season working for the U.S. Forest Service -- with a climb up Strawberry Mountain. As a wilderness ranger on the Prairie City Ranger District, I had last climbed the 9,000-foot mountain in 1974.

By August, it was time to mobilize for the reunion of The Aldo Leopold Society. Old friends gathered from near and far in Leavenworth for a potluck celebration prior to our excursion into the Glacier Peak Wilderness. In keeping with the spirit of the year, we hired horse packers to help with the heavy stuff (read: beer).

Camping in Spider Meadows, we explored the Upper Phelps Creek Basin and hiked the glacier to Spider Gap for a view of Lyman Lakes on the Chelan Ranger District. Evenings left plenty of time for cocktails and gourmet meals, not to mention tall tales and other stories of shenanigans and tomfoolery from back in the day.

In early September, we broke ground on the second construction project of the year at Owl Farm: a small hut manufactured by Eagle Log Cabins. A week later, I boarded the big bird to Spain for a tour of Barcelona -- home of the 1992 Olympics -- along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea in the province of Catalonia.

Managed to get out of the city a bit for tours of Montserrat, a national park and holy site of a Benedictine monastery northwest of the city, as well as Calella Palafrugell and Llafranc, Pals and Empuries, and L’Estartit and Illes Medes in the region known as Costa Brava. Also visited Ripoll, Vall de Nuria and Queralbs in the Spanish Pyrenees.

Later that month, with the new hut complete (below), fall quarter began, along with another Duck football season. In October, we traveled to Washington, D.C. for the 2014 PRSA/PRSSA International Conference featuring outstanding keynoters and numerous networking opportunities.

By fall, we had helped move Gina and Dan to Portland, where they have new jobs. Gina works as an elementary school teacher in the Reynolds School District and Dan has a new gig in downtown Portland. Their English bulldog, Boba Fett, already has an East Coast Fan Club.

As 2014 draws to a close, the feel-good story of the year has got to be Marcus Mariota (below) and the University of Oregon Duck football team. As season ticket holders, we’ve enjoyed watching the humble Hawaiian, winner of this year’s Heisman and several other awards, lead the Ducks back to the Rose Bowl this season.

As the holidays have arrived, we will stay close to home and visit with family and friends, reviewing the year gone by and looking forward to the next with an eye for more of the same: outdoor adventures, travel to faraway places, and communing with friends, both old and new. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. And “Go Ducks!”