Local Histories- Junction City Fire

It takes a special kind of place to resist the urge towards self-preservation. In 1877, the newly-established town of Junction City, Oregon voted down a proposed tax to pay for the establishment of a local fire brigade and the purchase of a fire engine. Just months later, a fire started in the local general store and spread down the main street engulfing several residences, warehouses and the opera house and hotel. Three additional fires in the following year did nothing to sway the residents, who protested so strongly a city council proposition for a fire department was rescinded before a vote. The next year, the issue was returned to the local ballot and rejected, then another warehouse burned. By 1882, fire had wiped out so much of the town that… Read More >

The Hoary Bats of Cottage Grove

Cottage Grove, Oregon is one of those old mining and timber towns that time really has forgotten. Surrounded by mud-track trailer parks, it’s four-block downtown is dominated by century-old Oddfellows lodges and barber shops. The town pride is displayed in mural across brick- Buster Keaton gripping the front of a steam engine in the universally-panned 1926 silent film The General. It’s a short step to ghost town on the best of days. It doesn’t help that after dark, the town is taken over by giant, screaming bats. It’s not something they publicize. Probably because these are not typical bats, meaning the mouse to rat-sized bats that swoop relatively silently and often in large groups in most of the region. The bats of goofy Halloween decorations. The kind of bat your… Read More >

City Parks

One of the ways that I think about the natural world and our daily lives is in the context of public outdoor spaces and wild lands. I wonder about the vitality of these places, if and how they are being used. So, on a rainy winter day I spread out a local map and begin ticking off the parks I’ve visited, surprised to have missed so many in the mid-sized city that I live in. In the weeks that follow, I tramp through wetlands, survey playgrounds, and the follow trails, almost all built over old dumps. It takes a satisfyingly long time to work my way through the city’s wilds. And then, it doesn’t. Before the seasons even change my map tells me that my task is complete, I have… Read More >

Losing the Elliott State Forest

In the midst of the turmoil and fervor over the Federal government the State of Oregon is locked in a battle over an 83,000-acre forest in the southwestern corner of the state that provides essential habitat for endangered Coho salmon and the infamous Spotted Owl and revenue for the state’s beleaguered school system. This odd arrangement, the funding of schools directly via timber sales rather than, say, a sales tax, did not result from careful consideration or planning. It was the easy solution to school funding from a state with too much money and whole bunch of down trees. Timber from the Elliott State Forest began being harvested after the Columbus Day storm of 1962 knocked down an appreciable portion of trees on the forests over-steepened hillsides. Once roads were… Read More >

Local Histories- Ping Yang School

In early 2017 the Mowhawk Valley Schools made the belated decision to change their mascot from a Native American caricature to…pretty much anything less offensive. Ironically, this is not the first time the tiny community has had to address institutionalized racism and their schools. In the late 1890’s the then timber boom-town of Mohawk, Oregon built a new grade school and named it Ping Yang. They did this, not to honor their Asian community, as there was none, but rather, it seems, because the ringing of the school bell and shrieks of the playing children reminded the residents of the sounds of battle at Pyongyang- which the locals pronounced Ping Yang. The name was only the first indication of the local’s disdain for the school. It was set on fire… Read More >

Barbara’s Books

Imagine. I have been thinking lately about the power of taking action, however small or simple. It’s part of the musings of the time, and like most people, many of my thoughts on the subject have been political or social in focus and scope. Life, however has been more elegant and instructive in this matter than I could ever be on the subject, with the simple matter of Barbara’s books. In January I see a notice in a newsletter that I never read about a woman helping a couple-friend of hers, an elderly man looking for a home for his wife’s collection of fairy and folk tales. The notice describes the collection as consisting of several hundred volumes- the accumulation of an entire life’s curiosity, and makes it clear they… Read More >

Hyggelig

Cozy. For the last four weeks the temperate valley I call home has been plagued by snow and encased in ice. It has had a crippling effect on every aspect of life, seemingly freezing the entire population into its homes. There have been massive outages, runs on grocery stores and exploding trees. The children have been home from school for weeks. There, has, in general, been some griping and moaning. Worse than that, the entire valley seems to be slipping into a general malaise. This, I believe, is due to a general lack of Hygge. Hygge (HOO-gah) is the Danish term for all things cozy. More than that, it’s a pervasive aesthetic and way of life that reflects their cultural valuation of home life, comfort, warmth, and, well, cuddly. My… Read More >

Food Web

Connect. One of the concepts from early education that has had the most lasting effect on my thinking is the concept of a food web- the idea that every living organism is connected to every other living organism through a complex ‘web’ of relationships. Food webs are ways of visualizing how producers relate to prey or how the elimination of one component of the system may result in the collapse of the entire structure. I think this is an important construct to consider when contemplating the shifting of our times. What are the food webs in your daily life? In your community? In the larger political, social and economic spheres? What elements are related? What is their function? Their relationships to one another? Perhaps we are more connected than we… Read More >

Excerpt- The Family Bird Book

(In honor of the Audubon Society’s Annual Bird Count, happening this week) One snowy day in Eugene in 2012 a flock of Townsends Warblers descends on the pine trees around my house in a cacophany of yellow and black stripes. I have never seen these birds, according to both my memory and the bird book. I am excited to make a new entry from my own breakfast table. The bird book is a bright red copy of Audobons Field Guide to North American Birds into which I, and the rest of my family have been documenting our sightings. I do not claim that there is any kind of organized or even particularly consistent approach to either the act of recording or birding among us; but after thirty years, even the… Read More >

The Empty Season

Cold One of the things I am grateful for this time of year is the quietude of natural areas. Once the sun stops warming swimming holes, school sports begin, and the rain starts up it becomes what I call, The Empty Season. While everyone else tucks into winter movies, cups of eggnog and holiday parties I make a mad dash to all of the most popular attractions and trails, abandoned for the year. I am thankful for the changing light, the increased views through now-fallen foliage, the special kind of quiet that comes from decreased traffic. It is cold, to be sure, also often wet, and the short days make for dark drives. But to have the trail to yourself, to enjoy a cup of tea at the base of… Read More >