Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I’ve been remiss in my duties as travel correspondent. When last heard from, the gorgeous ex-fiancee and I were rolling out of Butte, Montana in a rented car. At the end of the day, we arrived in Missoula, Montana, one of the two goals of the trip. It’s the home of a most interesting friend. He’s a mad keen environmentalist of the best kind, a bird expert, PhD scientist, conservation biologist of the highest order … and the kind that loves to hunt and fish. A couple years ago he and I and another friend were out hunting grouse in the snow, and he’d lent me a pair of his hunting gloves before we started out.
Unfortunately or fortunately, when I went home I’d forgotten his gloves were in the pocket of my jacket. When I came across them, I thought about mailing them, but then I realized that they were the perfect excuse for a return trip to Montana. It’s a perfect Montana plan, drive 1,500 miles to return a pair of hunting gloves. And now we were in Montana, in Missoula, his town. We took a room in a hotel and as always, went out for a walk. It’s a lovely town, on the banks of the Clark Fork river.
I always take it as a good sign when I see squirrels in town. It’s a measure of the aggressive, adaptive nature of life.
My friend was at a party after professional gathering. When we arrived he was deep in discussion with a group of obvious leaders, so we had a chance to talk to a variety of interesting folks, and eat some elk that he’d shot. When the group broke up he saw us and came over. He asked what brought us to Montana, and he cracked up when I pulled out the gloves and told him the story … they were a favorite pair of his, I found out then, he put them on and laughed …
So we had a great visit, and in the morning we started out for Flathead Lake, on the way to Whitefish, up near the Canadian border. Of course we’re still in cowboy country, you can tell because they build highway overpasses for cows …
I greatly enjoy the flow and the shape of land that used to be under the glacial ice. Mountains that have never seen ice have V-shaped valleys and sharp peaks. But where the great glaciers of the ice age put half a mile thickness of ice in all of the valleys, you still end up with sharp peaks, but the lower slopes have been ground and rounded and pushed into the valleys. The resulting valleys are wide and flat, often with natural marshes or lakes.
We passed onto the reservation of the Salish Confederacy. I got the sense that they are a strong bunch of folks. It’s a confederacy of the Bitterroot Salish, the Kootenai, and the Pend d’Oreilles tribes. Here was one clue that they have a living culture.
Plus the Confederacy have a clean, bustling small college there on the res, bright faces … I’m no romantic, I’m just saying that I’ve been on more than a few reservations, and this was a good one. I’m sure they have their problems, who doesn’t … but they’re out there doing it and from all appearances doing it well.
From there it’s not far to the south end of Flathead Lake, a large glacial lake about thirty miles (45 km) long.
Further along, someone has a business in a yurt. I live in a yurt myself, they are a curious structure. They are distinguished by the fact that they have no post in the middle to hold up the roof.
Unbeknownst to me,Whitefish is where the young outdoors folks of Montana gather to party before jumping off to various outdoors adventures. We’d heard about the lake, so we rented bicycles and rode around town and out to the lake. The city has outrageous bike paths both in and on the outskirts of town. There’s a path along the river to the lake. I expected to see the typical northern lake, cattails and plants at the edge … but I reckoned without Whitefish City Beach:
That day I remarked on a thin haze covering the sky, and there were little of the afternoon cumulus that had accompanied us recently. The day was cooler. The next day the reason was known, forest fires in western Washington had blanketed the region with smoke.
It was fascinating to note the immediate cooling effect of the smoke. The particles in the smoke absorb the sunlight, and re-radiate it in the form of thermal infrared (longwave) radiation. Since half of the longwave radiation goes up and half goes down, the surface only receives half of what was intercepted. As a result it was cooler, and there was little sign of the cumulus and thunderstorms that had prevented the previous days from overheating. This continued for the following days as well.
In any case, we’d come to Whitefish to hear our friend David Raitt and the Baja Boogie Band.
I first met David when we were wanting to build a yurt to live in, and the gorgeous ex-fiancee saw one being built. She went and introduced herself to David, and he ended up building the shell of the yurt that forms a part of my topsy-turvy house. In any case, he’s from a musical family. His father John was a very well-known singer in stage musicals, and his sister Bonnie is a Grammy-winning singer and guitarist. David keeps up the tradition, he’s a great entertainer. The band’s website is here, with links to the music. They put on a rocking show, and it’s always a pleasure to see my friends having fun on stage. David asked what brought us to Whitefish … we told him that every rock star needs groupies, we were just making sure he had his share. We danced to the music and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Sadly, even the best songs have an end, and the next day we rolled west towards Washington. Fields of sage, fields of wheat, small towns. We had lunch in Hot Springs, Montana, at a cafe where the owners were in their eighties, she was the cook and he was the waiter. The only other customer was telling the room about the rash of cows that had been killed and partially eaten by the aliens in the area. Not illegal aliens from across the border, you understand, but alien aliens from across the galaxy. We didn’t say a word, afraid to interrupt his flow.
We crossed the Snake River again in northern Idaho, every time it was different. Here it was just a small river, but still lovely. In eastern Washington we got out of the smoke from the forest fires, and into lovely rolling hills and farming country. They build the loveliest barns there I’ve ever seen, with a distinctive arched roof line. Here’s a particularly well-wrought pair of them, along with a truly elegant fence made of old wheels off of farm equipment …
We spent the night in Pullman, Washington, another college town. Everywhere we went there was music, spilling out of the bars, bands on street corners, buskers playing in the park, it was great. In the morning, we rolled south along the Washington-Idaho border back into more smoke, the wind had changed. And once again we came across the Snake River, and each time in a new guise. This time it was at the only seaport in Idaho, at Lewiston. Never knew Idaho had a seaport, it being landlocked and all … live and learn …
Then up and down some twisty mountain roads, and along a lovely verdant stream, to a little town in north-eastern Oregon. Just before we got to town we saw a buffalo ranch. I knew it wasn’t a bison ranch because the sign said “BUFFALO RANCH” in big letters. I always wondered how they kept the buffalo from breaking down the fences … the answer, it turns out, is a seven-strand smooth wire fence with each and every single wire electrified. We had electric fences when I was a kid on the ranch, but they were barbed wire with one single smooth electrified wire … not these. Every wire electrified. Seemed to work, they had a nice herd of fat buffalo just a few miles outside of town. Another benefit of cheap electricity.
And in that town we had the great pleasure of having lunch with the long-time WUWT contributor, the irrepressible Pamela Gray. I’ve always admired her point of view in her comments, practical and down to earth. Plus like me she grew up on a remote cattle ranch, where if something needs fixing you either fix it or live without it.
Pam is one of those redheaded folks, and I’ve always had lots of good times with my redheaded friends, including the time my ginger girlfriend bounced a glass salt-shaker off of my head from across the room. Can’t remember why, but I probably deserved it.
In any case, Pamela grew up (but no longer lives) in that tiny hamlet where we had lunch. She was just there for the weekend to fix up the cabin on her aunt and uncle’s place, so the timing was perfect. It was huge fun for us, listening to her effervescent stories about the local area and its denizens, how the places got named, where the good fishing is, pointing out the hills where they used to slide down the scree, where the school used to be, and the like. It was a magical lunch, the food was excellent, the stories rolled on and on. Our thanks to her for here great tales, and heck, not only that, she bought lunch. I tried fighting for the check, she slapped me down, said no way. So I caught the tip, and all too soon we’d said our goodbyes and gone on down the road, we rolled west and she rolled east to go up to the cabin.
The fastest way south from the corner of Oregon is to go due west to the back side of the Cascades, and then go south from there. Along the way, I saw an odd thing. My photo of it sucks, but we were rolling along, didn’t want to stop. We were just at the edge of the thin haze from the wildfires, it covered about half the sky. On the other half of the sky was what looked kinda like the haze of smoke, but in fact was a thin layer of high clouds. Note the tumbleweeds piled up on the fence.
So we rolled west, and to my great surprise, the road dropped into the Columbia River gorge, a place I’ve only been once, fifty years ago. I’d forgotten that it runs so far east into Oregon. And it was as amazing as it was the first time. The river is navigable way up into Oregon and as mentioned above, into Idaho by means of the Snake River tributary
It was just as windy as I remembered it. I rode it on my Honda 90 when I was 17, on the way from San Francisco to Yellowstone Park. But that time I was going with the wind … so my poor bike would go 65 miles an hour, not 55 like in calm air (or 45 with a headwind). As a result I’ve always thought of the Columbia gorge in a friendly fashion. I’d heard it was a mecca for windsurfers and kiteboarders, and it is that in spades. Here’s heading west into the gorge, late afternoon:
You can barely make it out, but there are windmills along both cliff edges on both sides of the river, and they continue for thirty miles (20 km) on both sides. They are busy generating expensive electricity to sell to the folks who live in California. In a fit of insanity, the state is signed on to buy 30% renewable energy by 2020. This isn’t hard to do, because we get a large portion of our power from hydroelectric plants. Here’s the insane part:
In California, hydroelectric power is not considered renewable.
Say what? Why not? The power comes from the freaking rain, doesn’t it? How is the rain not a renewable resource?? The advocates of the measure have at least been honest. They said if hydro is included we’d hit the target too easily, so they limited it to wind, solar, biomass, anything but hydro.
So we are forced to buy power from the Columbia wind turbines, despite the fact that it is expensive, and meanwhile, the Bonneville dam is having to shed water because there’s no California market for their power … like I said, madness, but the Gorge is still mega awesome:
All too soon, we turned south and ran down the inland side of the Cascades. We stopped in a town so small that of the three establishments, none was open. The RV park where we camped was a long narrow green level lawn running right alongside the highway, no fence, no trees, right on the road. There was an ablution block, with toilets, showers, and a laundry … and that’s all. You self-register for camping by putting $10 in a provided envelope and slipping it in the slot. We put up our tent, facing away from the road.
But best of luck, in behind, aaah, there was a horse pasture, and there were four mares with three foals playing and eating, eating and playing. There’s a reason for the saying “eats like a horse”. You take a look. Most of the time they spend with their heads down, not up. They’re not a ruminant like a cow, they only have one stomach, so they get much less nutrition out of the same amount of grass. You need to put a lot of grass into a horse’s tank just to keep the fires stoked, even when they’re not working hard.
The gorgeous ex-fiancee said she’d never spent so much time just hanging out with horses. Our tent was quite near the fence, and they came right across from the tent to munch on cattails and grasses. Then they went and ran, and played as horses will, across the pasture and then back where we were. They continued to eat and play until dark, while I wrote some and she sat entranced.
From there the next morning the road goes south through Klamath Falls, and down to Dunsmuir. I’d traveled part of that before riding on a freight train. The road, as in much of the West, runs next to the train tracks, and it is still as awe-inspiring. You’re running by snow-capped mountains even in July, Mounts Washington and Jefferson.
And as always in the west, there is sagebrush. We saw sage in every state we were in, including California. It has a lovely musky smell that always brings to mind places with the scope and open vistas seen above … what a planet we live on.
When we got south of the fires in Oregon the air was clear again … and sure enough, here come the cumulus to throttle back the heat. And as the day continued to warm, some turned into thunderstorms …
From there you go by Klamath Lake. Then you start to see Mount Shasta in the distance. Shasta is unique because it has no neighbors. It rises in solitary splendor some 10,000 feet up from the surrounding plains. There were clouds on the north face, but when we came around to the northwest we could see it up close …
We spent the night in the KOA campground in the town of Mt. Shasta. It is outrageous, because it is in and under and through a mixed forest of cedar, pine, and fir. When we arrived the clouds you see above had thickened considerably and it smelled like rain, so we took a cabin. And wonder of wonders, it started to rain! California is in a drought, and rain in July is rare in any year, so this was very welcome. The rain awoke all of the sleeping smells and odors and tree emanations from their hiding places, bringing out the smells of my youth, for I grew up not far from Shasta in that kind of forest. As is our custom, once we unpacked and the squall had mostly passed, we went for a walk to and through town.
I gotta say, I thought that there were curious folks in the town where I live. But about every third store in Mt. Shasta sells crystals, or incantations, or maps to the Shasta Vortex, or lectures on Lemurians, it’s amazing.
Back in 1894, some guy wrote about the Lemurians. These are said to be people who fled from the apocryphal continent of Lemuria when it sank into the ocean 12,000 years ago. Seems they went from there to living in Mount Shasta. Not around Shasta, you understand, but in tunnels and caves inside the mountain itself.
When I was a kid you could see Shasta from various high points around the ranch. And even at that time, folks believed that Shasta was hollow, and it sure seemed possible to us kids, what did we know? But it has now morphed into a minor religion. Here’s the news you’ve been waiting for, straight from the intarwebs so it must be true …
Mount Shasta can be considered as one of the most sacred places on this planet. The mountain is a mystic power source for this planet; actually, this sacred mountain is an incarnation of the Great Central Sun of this universe. It is a focus for angels, spirit-guides, spaceships, masters from the Light Realm, and the home of the survivors of Ancient Lemuria, which sank under the waves of the Pacific Ocean a little over 12,000 years ago. For those gifted with clairvoyant abilities, Mount Shasta is embraced in a gigantic, etheric purple pyramid whose capstone reaches far beyond this planet into space, and connects us intergalactically to the Confederation of Planets for this sector of the Milky Way Galaxy. This awesome pyramid is also created as an inverted version of itself, reaching far down to the very core of the Earth. You can call Mount Shasta the entry point of the Light-Grids of this planet, where most of the energy comes first from the galactic and universal core before it is disseminated to other mountains and into the grids.
Much is made of what is called the “Shasta Vortex”. It is variously described, but the general idea is that it is a portal of some kind that transports you to another place. It’s also identified with one of the “chakras”, the Hindu centers of bodily energy. Here’s a sample of the revealed wisdom:
Our bodies mirror the earth, in fact the entire universe
The earth experiences these energy centers as different levels of consciousness, and so do our own bodies. There are seven main energy centers called chakras in our bodies, and also seven in the world. Below are the seven key earth chakras in order, and where their likeness is located in the human body:
First or Root (base of spine) – Mount Shasta, California
Second or Sacral (below belly button) – Lake Titicaca, South America
Third or Solar Plexus (above the belly button) – Uluru-Katatjuta, Australia
Fourth or Heart (at the heart)- Glastonbury Tor-Shaftesbury, England
Fifth or Throat (throat)- Great Pyramid – Mt. of Olives
Sixth or Third Eye (top base of the nose) – Kuh-e Malek Slah, Iran
Seventh or Crown (top of the head) – Mt. Kailas, Tibet
As you can see, Mount Shasta holds the position as the first, root or base chakra of the world. Since moving to Mount Shasta, I can tell you from my own experience, the mountain’s vortex pulls on me by invisible strings.
… no comment.
In one of the shops they offered an hour with an illuminated person to discuss the mysteries of Shasta, plus a CD of 3 hours of her giving spiritual instruction, for only $600 dollars. But wait, the $600 is crossed out, and the price has been dropped to $333 … the gorgeous ex-fiancee and I looked at each other, shook our heads, and walked on. It was a lovely evening, we played guitar.
In the morning, instead of paying $333.00 to the local illuminati, we donated $33.00 to the fossil fuel gods, and rolled south towards Shasta Lake, Redding, and the Central Valley. The heat was palpable, but again most wondrously, there was also rain at times. For some reason, I regret to say I took no pictures. I’ve made that run so many times, I totally forgot my camera.
Ah, well, it’s a word picture in any case, a tale of travel. We crossed the Pit River arm of Lake Shasta, which is beautiful in the winter and ugly in the summer. Unlike the glacial lakes of the Northwest, it is a man-made reservoir. As such, the water level varies widely from summer to winter. At present, the water level is down a hundred feet or so from winter levels, exposing the red clay banks of the reservoir … not pretty. The dam is awesome, though, but we didn’t go across it.
And from there, you drop down out of the mountains into the north end of he Central Valley of California, at maybe 800′ (240m) elevation, and suddenly the land is flat, and most every acre is producing something. The Valley is indeed the breadbasket of the US, but not for the bread … that wheat is grown in Oregon and Montana and Washington, up in the north. But the Central Valley in California provides a wildly disproportionate share of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables eaten in the US.
And finally, in the late afternoon, after a total round trip of 2,800 miles on the odometer, we came back to our lovely house in the redwoods. It is quiet here, we’re at the end of a dead-end street. We turned off the car and drank in the lack of noise. It’s so quiet that often at night we can hear the surf on the coast, five miles (9 km) down the hill. After days of people and cars and trains and noise and traveling … after the trip, I’m greatly enjoying the quiet.
When people return from journeys, I often ask what was the most surprising thing they saw in their travels. What stands out for me was the raw, unbridled strength of the wolf, and the two buffalo, we saw in Yellowstone Park. I guess I’m not as immune to nature deficit disorder as I might think … they were awe-inspiring.
And the Park itself and all it represents to me, a wilderness in my mind to which I can turn and refresh myself with the knowledge that such places still endure and exist in the world of 2014.
Now, when I started out this journey, I said there were two themes for my prospective voyage. One was that guitars sound better outdoors, and I thank the gorgeous ex-fiancee for being my partner in demonstrating the truth of that. We played our guitars and we sang from start to finish.
The other theme for the trip was “Esperanza Inutil”, which is Spanish for “Useless Hope”. I said I’d explain what I meant. It’s from an eponymous song by Daniel Santos:
Flor de Desconsuelo
Porque me persigues
en mi soledad
por qué no me dejas
Ahogar mis anhelos
en la amarga copa
de la realidad
Porque no me matas
con un desengaño
porque no me hieres
con un desamor
si ves que me engaño
porque no te mueres
porque no te mueres
en mi corazon
And my translation of it would be:
Flower of grief,
Why do you persecute me
in my loneliness?
Why don’t you let me
Drown my sorrows
In the bitter cup
Why don’t you kill me
With some heartbreak?
Why don’t you wound me
With cold indifference?
If you see that I’m fooling myself
Why don’t you die
Why don’t you die
In my heart.
I’m told that was one of the favorite songs of a Mexican shaman, and I can understand why. It speaks of the hope that refuses to give up, the hope when there is no rational reason to hope. In Buddism, one of the vows of the Bodhisattva was “Although the number of sentient beings is greater than the grains of sand on the beach, I vow to enlighten them all”. Now there’s some seriously useless hope for you … for the shaman, it was the hope of becoming an impeccable spiritual warrior, a useless hope for any of us even at the best of times.
Useless hope is keeping going, on and on, when you really, truly don’t think you’ll make it. Useless hope is the old prospector’s dream of finding El Dorado that drives him to go prospecting one more time, even though he’s spent a lifetime searching and has little to show for it. Useless hope is the novitiates quest for the personal experience of the Ineffable Grace of whatever God he or she worships, knowing how flawed we all are and the true odds of success …
Useless hope is not reasonable. It is not amenable to logic or circumstance. Useless hope is rooted in defiance, intention, and implacability. Useless hope has no pity and no compassion, it cannot be coaxed or cajoled into changing.
Useless hope strikes me as peculiarly human. If you stop feeding animals at a certain location, they go somewhere else. Useless hope laughs at the animals, and sticks around.
So I wanted the trip to be a celebration of useless hope, of folks shooting for unattainable goals … and as is the nature of intention, that’s exactly what it turned out to be. And at the end of my trip, what is my hope for everyone, useless hope or otherwise?
Well, my hope is that your life be full of sunlight far-reaching down a river gorge, with a warm day, a good friend or a gorgeous ex-fiancee to laugh and play music with, and the time to enjoy some of our too-few days here on this most amazing planet.
My thanks to the ex-fiancee in question, she’s been a bulwark of strength in my life. She is totally competent and practical, has a Master’s Degree in Nursing and certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner, plays guitar and sings harmony, and has put up with a sailor and a fisherman and a wandering rogue for more than three decades now … huge props to her.
And it’s hard being married to a traveling man like myself, I know that. Example in question. Tomorrow morning, Friday, I’m off to speak in Knoxville at the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness meeting. Back Monday night.
Then when I found out about another opportunity two days ago, that generous woman gave me a leave of absence from my domestic duties, I’ve postponed my work, and I’ve signed on as first mate on a motor boat delivery, a 45 foot (14 metres) converted fishing boat, from Vancouver Island down to southern Oregon. It’s a week or more of a run, port-hopping down the coast … I get back from Knoxville on Monday night and leave Wednesday morning at 6:30 for Vancouver. The plane goes by way of LA, go figure.
“God send every mortal man,
Fine hawks, fine hounds, and such a loving one!”
I’ll pass on the hawks and hounds, but I’ll definitely take the rest …
Posting will be as and when for a while, as you might imagine.
Regards to everyone, friend and esteemed opponent alike,