You are currently browsing the daily archive for July 16, 2009.

I broke my ankle last week August 4 in the Stehekin River, North Cascades National Park, 10:30 AM on a beautiful morning thinking “those rocks are really slippery”—and then—“but I should wash my hair” when snap-crackle-pop one boot caught between rocks as I spun in the air, snapped my ankle bones in two or three places like chopsticks before I landed in the water. I groaned, I knew already, but still, I tried to stand on it and could not. I was bellowing for Dolores. I crawled five or ten yards up the steep bank and dragged myself onto flat ground by the trail, 12 miles from the trailhead in the end of the Stehekin Valley, the trailhead ten miles up the road from the Stehekin boat dock, the boat dock a four hour ferry ride to Chelan at the other end of 17 mile long Lake Chelan, where our vehicle was. I crawled into a tent and curled up as Dolores went for help, thinking I was going to have one or two days before help. An hour or so later she came back with Joe, National Park Service employee who via radio had been coordinating helicopter drops of steel bear boxes at campsites in the valley, and was on his way out of the area. Three hours after the break, a helicopter airlifted me out of the Stehekin, west over Cascades Pass (we swung so low over the pass I could see the hikers looking up at us) past El Dorado Glacier, and put me in an ambulance to Skagit Valley Hospital. People nicely splinted and bandaged up the ankle, handed me the x-rays, and my sister rescued me out of there and took care of me for a couple days while Dolores and Citlali hiked back to the trailhead, got the bus to the ferry, took the ferry to our vehicle, and then drove around from the eastern side of the Cascades to my sister’s place on the Kitsap Peninsula in Puget Sound. Then my daring wife drove me 1200 miles in three days lying in the back of my truck, leg on pillows, back to Los Angeles, where we have been going thru the medical run-around, but finally scheduled an operation for Monday to screw the ankle back together with a plate. She saved me!

My nephew Dylan and his friend Willie peeled off at Poulsbo with a wave from the convertible.

Wonder Bread, Hostess (Twinkie) trucks parked along a frontage road.

Portland, what a nice town, like San Francisco decades ago: “What’s that big gray thing?” It looks like a tin hammer forty feet tall. Is it part of a bridge? West of the Willamette River.

‘4Sale’ painted on the hull of a boat upside down on a hill surrounded by pasture.

Portland 51
Seattle 224

Percocets eliminate roadwork getting thru to the ankle.

Wives occupying the front passenger seat with a disgruntled proprietary face.

Shorn hayfields of the Willamette Valley, some plowed under.

Ume’s comment—“you’ll see”—about white people always wearing sunglasses.

South of Portland a steel microwave tower camouflaged in green with artificial branches, taller than the forested hill it disappears into. Most are undisguised steel poles.

“Freedom Homes”: prefab units. Corrugated metal industrial sheds. Brown haze over the western Cascades.

Please keep films in order with last examination to the front

Spray of irrigation in the distance, fading in long shadows of late afternoon.

What was that dusty looking mountain north of Salem?

Passing a huge flat field scattered with sheep, the vehicle shadow ripples on the grass of the median. Round volcanic knobs of hills rising like bubbles from the floor of the agricultural valley.

Frank, slim and fit in his black paramedic T-shirt, looked ten years younger than his mid-thirties. Paramedic riding with me in the ambulance from Marblemount to Mount Vernon, grew up on a 160 acre dairy farm that he decided not to buy from his father when it was offered to him, though he said he still misses it: unloading tons of alfalfa daily by hand, everything smelling of fresh alfalfa, and the smell of manure— “That’s home!” But milk prices to the farmer fluctuate widely, and others were getting out when they could, too. He went into the military, then the reserves, and worked as volunteer EMT, now 24 hours on, 48 off, with Mount Vernon Fire Dept. Good benefits, he likes it, and has had time to drive 15 hours to British Columbia to Crystal Lake Resort to fish, hunt, recreate, “real reasonable, $800 per person for the week, meals included. The guy had fishing shacks and boats on surrounding lakes, and hunting rights on seventy square miles around the resort.” He was keeping up his reserve status for the VA benefits since the fire dept. benefits, though good now, did not carry through retirement. “I’ve only done this for six years.” His oldest daughter was nineteen, interested in ‘beauty college,’ (“you’re going to do some schooling, that’s all I know”) she’d written a book about teenagers, “girl stuff, friends, high school, you know, her high school English teacher—who’d published a couple books himself—told her to finish it, and he’d edit it for her. He said he could publish it.” Frank was proud, he liked earning overtime serving at Concrete, where the ambulance company kept an ambulance and crew on call and he could hang around the fire house while he waited, “watching TV or jumping on the Internet.”

Faint partial moon, 8:30 PM sunset, outskirts of Eugene.

House of Chen Restaurant
Open Lunch ‘N Dinner
Days a Week
Tel 343 8888 11 – 10

In Eugene, University of Oregon on main drag into downtown with the Willamette River parallel, a pretty water. At the river Inn, my first bath in a week! Finally my hair washed, ankle throbbing in spite of a cushion of Percocets. Flat I-5 stretches through Central Oregon Willamette Valley hazy sunshine, stoic truckers, family vehicles, intermittent road construction.

Springfield 18
Portland 126

Clean clothes, clean hair!

You don’t see so many logging mills like you used to, this mill with new growth logs by the looks of them piled before it (smaller diameter), sprinklers watering them down to stop spontaneous combustion. Oaks on the rolling hills of summer, and a clear cut.

Large box-like RV pulling a box-like trailer of the same size.

Six buzzards over a hillside in timber.

Patchy histories of logging visibly etched in shades of green and varying height of growth on all the hills of the Willamette, with agriculture along the bottoms, the railroad and the highways, a rocky, volcanic, scraped-up earth.

U-haul trucks.

Blackberry bushes along a frontage road and a llama lying flat in the sun in a pen.

Tom Agawa offered me his help to get back to L.A., but I couldn’t think of any way he could, since there wasn’t any room in the vehicle for an extra driver with our cargo rack stowed and tied up tight and room made for me to lie next to the cooler, my legs on luggage.

The others who got me out of the woods were:

Joe, the National Park Service employee, bearded young guy who used his radio to contact the helicopter (he later sent me a story he wrote about working in Peru for me critique), and Tony Reese, Vietnam era chopper pilot, who dropped the little Plexiglass chopper into the small rocky patch of weeds just yards from the Stehekin riverbank where I’d broken my ankle.

Craig, EMT, big guy, mid-thirties I figured, checked the injury and stabilized the break with a foam rubber splint, offered painkillers and helped me hop from the tent along the washed out rocky trail to the sole rear seat of the helicopter, where they wedged me in with my gear and theirs.

Crissy, who was up front driving the ambulance 45, 50 minutes to Mount Vernon.

The other woman from Southern Calif., a nurse whose name I didn’t get, attended me in the ambulance (having set up a saline solution IV drip that she did not have to use) was living in Concrete on call for 24 hour shifts.

Frank, the paramedic in black.

Dr Carlton Heine and nurse Kandi at Skagit Valley Hospital, both very considerate; Kandi’s 15 year old was enjoying an academic turnaround at a technology-oriented high school of 200 students set up by Bill Gates. She and her firefighter husband were planing logs cut on their property near Mount Baker to use them to build a vacation home about and hour and twenty minutes from Mt. Vernon. In the Skagit Valley ER I finished reading 869 page World War 2 novel by Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate.

Jet contrail amid wispy cirrus clouds in the hazy sky.

I-5 climbs out of the Willamette on oaken hills, more arid than the valley, along the South Umpqua River. Blackberry bushes, red trunk madrone, like Calif., it looks like tick and poison oak country.

White cross on a slope above the S. Umpqua, and next to it another house flies an overlarge American flag. Some guys stand next to an orange tractor trailer waiting roadside assistance. Oregon had the cheapest gas, 2.99 per gallon.

Myrtle Creek, “Gateway to the Umpqua Valleys.”

Ostentatious corny architecture everywhere of the big new houses, McMansion-styles, and prefab units on pads carved from distant hills.


YOU ARE GOING _____________


Ragged trees, thin trees, dead trees, scraggly trees, asymmetrical feathery trees.

Wetsuit drying on the back porch of little house.

Sunny Valley 5
Roseburg 53
Portland 234

The town of Grants Pass in a valley as Pete Seeger discusses the recovery of songs from the Spanish Civil War, Songs of the Spanish Civil War CD, Arlo Guthrie singing in the background, “All the world is like the Valley Jarama, so bright and so green and so fair. Now we’re far from the Valley Jarama, except for the memories we carried from there.” The sky clouds over as we leave Grants Pass, crossing Evans Creek. Pete Seeger once wrote me a note praising a music review I wrote for some now defunct communist newspaper, saying I should write more like it for Singout or other folk music zines, but I never did because I’m a weak journalist and a funkier critic. Some basic bad attitude toward letting the facts just stand.

An emu walking across a field of dry grass.

Big trucks, SUVs, vehicles with bike racks or canoes attached, RVs and others lined up for miles in Medford northbound by Table Mountain Road (that flat-topped volcanic butte across the valley), drivers exit their vehicles and stand alongside them, looking off down the road.

ADULT SHOP Open 24 hours, a chain up and down 5.

Phoenix 2
Medford 5
Portland 279

Bear Creek

Climbing after Ashland, ‘Siskiyou Mtn Summit 4310 feet’ and the air cleaner than down in the Willamette, bright skies here full of terrific white cumulus like billowing sails.

Pinon and juniper country, highway maintenance vehicles, heavy equipment parked in the turnouts with piles of gravel and supplies of orange cones, yellow plastic barrels. Near the Shasta river, everything’s closed in Yreka on Sunday.

In 1964, Vasily Grossman died of cancer at age 59. His big novel, Life and Fate, which had been confiscated by the KGB, was published in 1976.

The Oregon paper included an obituary for Susan Butcher, 4 time Iditarod dog-sled race winner, died of leukemia this week in Seattle, age 51.

In Yreka, a thin man exits Burger King with a thinner woman in a head-scarf on his arm. He helps her into the passenger seat of the vehicle and adjusts her shoulder strap. Chubby little teens stroll into the parking lot with big Cokes, laughing. Seagull swoops overhead, Lake Shasta reservoir not far. We’ve got a breeze behind the restaurant, under a shade tree. A roly-poly guy with an orange goatee and an orange tank top undershirt parks behind us, blocking us in. “You leaving anytime soon?” he asks, pointing at my foot, “That looks like it hurts.” Like other locals, he helps his wife (returning with Burger King sacks) into the cabs of their pickups. Young Chicano vato with pencil thin mustache and one long narrow braid down the middle of his back hears Los Lobos coming out of our vehicle, grins and gives me a thumbs up.

Mount Shasta, topped by a swayback cumulus cloud as big as the mountain.

Interesting skies, the clouds blown out, adrift, back lit, shading into the azure and gray of the sky, boiling upwards into empty blueness, or blown out and smeared across space in a white haze. Levels or values of blue and gray behind the clouds, sometimes highlighted by a spotlit cloud in the distance, or a floating ragged swirling tuft of gray in front. Across the face of the sun, a cloud that has exploded, like it fountained up in an updraft like a column of white steam, hit an invisible ceiling and shattered softly, rupturing its moist currents and smudging scalloped, curlicue edges. It goes on to flow outward in great plumed arms which the sun outlines brilliantly from behind. Miles of blue-gray depths beneath it.

Closer now, the crown of Shasta volcano etched with snowbanks, barren otherwise, its peak thrust into the clouds. Unlike Rainier which seems curious and dauntingly mysterious either from a distance or nearby, Shasta just seems like a barren rock. And then it’s blocked out of view by a much smaller barren cinder cone, remnant core of some ancient volcano, next to the highway.

Sunday Mail Tribune, “Southern Oregon’s News Source,” from the L.A. Times (by Nick Turse and Deborah Nelson): VIETNAM LEGACY: UNFORGIVEN SINS — ‘Once secret Pentagon archives show that military investigations confirmed hundreds of atrocities committed by U.S. troops’—

…A radio operator sat down next to him, and Henry was listening to the chatter. He heard the leader of the 3rd platoon ask Reh for instructions on what to do with 19 civilians.
The lieutenant asked the captain what should be done with them. The captain asked the lieutenant if he remembered the op order (operations order) that came down that morning and he repeated the order which was “kill anything that moves,” Henry said in his statement. “I was a little shook… because I thought the lieutenant might do it.”
Henry left the hut and walked toward Reh. He saw the captain pick up the phone again, and thought he might rescind the order.
Then soldiers pulled a naked woman of about 19 from a dwelling and brought her to where other civilians were huddled, Henry said.
“She was thrown to the ground,” he said in his statement. “The men around the civilians opened fire and all on automatic or at least it seemed all on automatic. It was over in a few seconds. There was a lot of blood and flesh and stuff flying around… I looked around at some of my friends and they all had these blank looks on their faces…”
Incidents similar to these I have described occur on a daily basis and differ one from the other only in terms of numbers killed.
—Vietnam veteran Jamie Henry

These kinds of open secrets, knowable to all who question, color this landscape. The genocide against American Indians from the first, racist violence and pogroms against Chinese settlements, lynchings of Mexicans throughout the West. These kinds of open secrets bear directly on where the land came from to build the very pretty Klamath River Rest Area (on old highway 96) or that house on the hill sporting the big white cross, or the one next to it, flying the American flag. Maybe they don’t see it or feel it, the young couple who go to the restrooms and return in each others arms chortling in Russian to the little car, to speed north, or the very polite maintenance workers who wait beside the restrooms with their cleaning cart looking like they’ve seen tough times, the little guy and his partner built like a massive wrestler, but maybe even they can sense something of it in the indifferently used volcanic ground, the scraped earth. In the way that they are used in this landscape.

Deception is built into the big openness and blankness of this landscape; its lack of history purposefully masks. On the coast, Pacific Grove CA is an extremely exclusive and expensive town between Monterey and the Pebble Beach golf course, and I had a niece who grew up in that town and as a senior in high school was one of the ‘princesses’ in the annual parade of the Festival of Lanterns, where a royal court of high school girls dresses up in Chinese costume and parades through town waving at people and performing community functions. The girls chosen to dress as Chinese princesses visit old folks’ homes, etc. The festival itself culminates at the beach at Lovers Point where floating lanterns each with a lit candle is released on the dark waters of Monterey Bay at night, supposedly in imitation of some Chinese ritual aimed at bringing good luck. But a century ago, Lovers Point was called something else, and the big Chinatown located there was burnt to the ground, and the Chinese Americans were forcibly evicted, never allowed to return.

The titillation of murder in various genres in pop culture: the broad awareness that someone is getting away with it, at a profit, all the time.

We’re back in the 90 degree heat of California.

Oak-covered hills of the Central Valley, Red Bluff Ford dealership, flags flying, and the Sacramento River broad and quiet looking as we cross over the bridge. Down oak-lined 99 after Red Bluff, past Antelope Creek, thick old orchards with the sunlight so distant at the bottom ends of very long rows of trunks that the sunlight seems chilled and diminished.

Red Bluff 18
Redding 40
Portland 468

Road Work Ahead
Fines Doubled

California Division of Forestry helitak base neat and lime green, helicopter parked out in front of the tower.

A postcard published and distributed in local shops shows a broken stone wall in a field of summer grass—the caption, “Evidence of the Chinese.” 30,000 Chinese for example once lived in Oroville. Now the temple there is a museum. Where is the museum for the anti-miscegenation laws, the Asian exclusion laws, the laws prohibiting Asian ownership of California land? In Yosemite National Park, what exhibit details what happened to the Indians kicked out of Yosemite? As Adrian Louis puts it, America suffers from Alzheimer’s (in a different context, he says, “it’s the only word in our world.”

In Chico at Riley’s bar and grill college boys roar up and pile out of a van, “Wahoo!” they bray at each other across the street (they’re not all white, one is black), the night is hot with flying insects and universally indifferent as always, they must scream out greetings.

Live Oak, “Diamond Walnut Growers” packing plant, and a boarded up depot by RR tracks through downtown. South of town stacks of gray fruit bins under awnings, and in the center of the valley, the Sutter Buttes rising from the Central Valley haze over the orchards. 99 widened to 4 lanes between pink and white oleander blossoms and orchards of fruits and nuts.

Feather River broad bottomland timbered in cottonwoods along the banks, 99North gas station boarded up and abandoned at Power Line Road, prices on the roadside sign still at $1 per gallon.

White egret flies across a young green rice field, under Sierras blotted out by haze; when the rice farmers burn these fields the smoke causes accidents, blowing warm and yellowish across the highway.

American River, then the freeways enter Sacramento in multiple coils and knots of traffic and exchange. White pickup pulls a trailer in the form of a bright yellow plastic lemon. South of the city: a huge water tower like an immense flying saucer on many steel legs, topped by a big American flag in the stiff breeze, the saucer body painted with the words, “Sacramento, City of Trees” —and opposite, new subdivisions of two-story tract housing, “starting from the $400,000s.” Trucks and trucks.

Sacramento 32
Portland 638

A truck with two flatbed trailers of pallets wrapped in torn paper, white truck stacked high with bales of hay, cargo container trucks, white truck with empty flatbeds its two gleaming chrome exhaust pipes turned out above the cab like horns on a samurai helmet, yellow truck hauling one section of ten foot diameter concrete pipe chained to the bed, Stockton. Blackmun Used Trucks nextdoor to yards with great piles of soil or gravel. A younger woman driving a flashing metallic blue behemoth of a truck with bulging blue windfoil or cowling above the cab, middle-aged woman wearing a visor driving a shining white semi-tractor-trailer hauling a shipping container. A man in a white turban driving a big white truck, face absorbed in the darkness at the rear of the cab. A man in an orange turban driving a big bronze truck, bronze trailer. Tons of sacks of onions.

Little Panoche Road
Mercy Hot Springs
Next Exit

Negotiating the urine-slick tile floor of the Avenal Rest Area restroom, leaning on one crutch with the broken ankle dangling, the Mexicano maintenance worker offers his help, holds the tap so I can wash.

Now some pro-forma meditations where the author pretends some critical self-reflection on his existential situation and the errors of his ways, all the while enjoying his awareness that the overall circumstances are themselves fraught with greater and more terrible absurdity:

• 35 years of this, then suddenly snap-crackle-pop! Ow! Why now? Why me?
• Does the Stehekin River have a mean streak?
• What does this all have to do with oil consumption and oil prices?
• How much is this going to cost me?
• I have to come up with a way better cover story. What’s a better version? Running from mother bear and cubs? Fleeing mangy seizure-ridden coyotes? Attacked by wild trout?
• Doesn’t this at least show that I am a champion of personal hygiene?
• When the ends of the bones rub together loose in the ankle, does it have to hurt like that?
• Why are California rest areas filthy, piss-drenched and ugly, and Oregon rest areas have clean restrooms, surrounded by broad expanses of lawn by flowing rivers, with tree-shaded picnic areas?
• Is there some way to do that helicopter flight over the Cascades and El Dorado Glacier without breaking my leg?
• Don’t long lists of questions like these reveal the restless soul-searching side of me, while I lie flat on my back wondering how to get a Starbuck’s iced tea in this predicament?
• Who will answer these questions? Will it be the same group of experts that answered them the last time?

July 2009