Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hideaway Lake, Sept 22nd 2007

Happy Equinox!!!

Just sat down at my local watering hole to catch the last of the NFL games on this weekend. And I gotta tell ya, I still think that PBR is the unsung hero of beers. Cold draft goes down tasting just a little better than water. Ah! Good stuff after a great weekend of camping with my wife in honor of our glorious mother, Earth.

It’s hard to believe that we have been in Portland now for a month. A mere 30 days and yet it seems like so much has happened in this one month that it equals a year from our perspective. Where to begin?

I guess I’ll catch you up form the beginning, but I do want to try and keep these to a briefer length. (Yes, I can hear some of you cheering already...). We spent this past month looking for things – sleep, friends, jobs, fun.

Obviously, Leigh and I were mostly focused on getting our life out of those many boxes that we drove across the country. But we also had to divert some attention to finding a new bed, because unfortunately (well for the bed anyway) when we went to pull it out of her parent’s basement, it had gone to mold. Really nothing you can do about a moldy bed except toss it. So with a small pang of guilt to my grandchildren, into the landfill it went. Leaving us with the futon/couch mattress to sleep on until we could find our new nest.

Finding a new bed was so much fun. I can’t think of any other shopping experience where you are expected to lay down for long periods of time frequently. Whether it was the running jump onto the bed, the vigorous ‘test’ bouncing or attempting to get out of bed w/o disturbing the other, bed shopping was like going to the toy store. And shopping for beds is just like shopping for shoes, how can you possibly find the right one wittout trying it on first? So internet deals were out. Our ideal bed was a totally green engineered 100% latex/cotton/wool mattress but if those beds are less than 1500$, I don’t know where. So with our very limited budget, we settled on getting a nice Sealy now (It sleeps great no matter what’s it’s made of!), knowing that as soon as we can, we’ll move it to the guest room and enjoy our nice future green sleep.

Being new to a town, we were also looking for friends. For me, those aren’t too hard to come by. As you all know I’m friendly and trusting…to a fault (anyone remember my Ethiopia ‘scam’?). We are also trying to form better health habits as well. So I’ve been using Craigslist to find Ultimate Frisbee friends. Here, that’s easy. It’s like the national sport of Portland. There are pick up games everyday and of all different levels. While my schedule has been allowed it, I’ve been playing a lot….much to my knees’ discomfort. Small secret: I’ve never had great knees and they don’t seem to be improving as I age. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday there are games. Monday, Thursday, Friday I’ve been jogging in the morning (for some reason, I still haven’t shaken my early morning rises). Oh, and I’ve been riding my bike EVERYWHERE…literally. We only have 1 car and Leigh needs it to get to her job(s) down in an outlying southern suburb. Leaving me, as in Atlanta, on public transportation. Not that I really mind. I enjoy supporting it. I enjoy knowing I am not contributing to CO2 emissions. I enjoy getting in shape while getting around. I enjoy not supporting the oil companies. But I have this creepy suspicion that my attitude might change when the rains come.

I am a huge fan of Craigslist by the way. Anything and everyone you are looking for is out there. Whether you are selling (or looking for) a pair of used snowboarding boots, looking for (or offering) a job, looking for activity partners, got a cool new website to share with folks, want to call a protest rally against tasering University of Florida students (I gotta get “Don’t tase me, bro” on a t-shirt fast!)…it’s all there on Craigslist.

Continuing the tangent for a second, have you seen those eBay commercials recently? There’s two that I really like – one is a group of random people running around a race track after a vintage radio with this cowboy like dude finally winning (after the black guy pulls up gimpy at the last minute) and then the next shot is of the cowboy dude with the vintage radio in his fully vintage kitchen. The other one I like is a bunch of random folks on a fox hunt and they are all on horses chasing what looks like a fox but is really a metal lunchbox. The box goes hiding in logs and crosses creeks, etc to elude the horses and hounds but finally this one lady reaches in and hoist it aloft in victory. Very funny, very smart. Being a child of the television generation, you have to look for intrigue where you can find it.

Our main vein for friends is our friends who already live here. They have all been wonderful in introducing us to new folks and including us in activities. Our thanks go out to them for all their support and love! And as I was just saying to Leigh this weekend, meeting new people is always a great chance to re-examine who you want to project yourself as. Will it be the international spy or the local trash collector or the sex reassignment reject today? Every encounter is a new opportunity. Take it or lose it, I say. My only problem with that of course is I forget what I tell people. It’s so hard to keep it all in order...

Next order of business is finding some business, i.e. a job! Apparently, this was no problem for Leigh, who landed two (yes, not one but two) jobs in a matter of the first week or so. She’s working as a Waldorf teacher’s assistant for pre-K and kindergarten age kids from 11-4 everyday during the week. I think her job description includes rubbing feet, baking bread and wearing flowing clothes that aren’t black. Sounds right up a PhD’s alley, no? She’s then also working at a local coffee shop very part time in the mornings. Does she like it? OH NO. Does it give her (us) an extra source of cash (from the tips) and balance out the less than stellar salary of a Waldorf’s teaching assistant? OH YES.

What am I doing? Well, that took a little more time to figure out than I thought it would. Of course, I had a much, much shorter time frame to find a job than most of friends who have lived here and sought jobs had. Everyone I talked to said, “Give it a month”. So, what did I do? I waited until week 2, not 1, without a job to start getting pretty anxious. Not to worry my faithful few, for I have prevailed! I talked myself into a job at Mercy Corps, another large international relief and development organization like CARE. My primary responsibility is helping them find, purchase and implement a new Digital Asset Management System. My ‘official’ title is Photo Coordination Specialist or some such dribble. My days have been full of research about digital supply chains and multi-channel distributions and api programming. It is their hope that this consultancy will evolve into a full time permanent position. During initial discussions with some of their main players in the creative department, it is obvious to them (and to me after only a week) that what they need (and what I could provide) is a full time photo editor.

The job is 30 hours a week and pays fairly well. This flexibility gives me the time to focus on my school, which I start tomorrow. Crazy! I begin my pre-requisites for nursing school tomorrow. Yikes! My schedule is M, T, TH at night. I’ve got my days and W, F nights to do my thing. That will mostly consist of homework and studying but I hope there’s still room for camping weekends and the occasional concert. All work and no play makes Jack go crazy and try to kill his whole family in an isolated snowed-in haunted grand hotel…

Finding the fun is, as usual, fun. Portland is a crazy music town. There is always somebody coming through that I want to see (not that I can afford it). Crazy amounts of music. Dangerous and perfect. There are 1001 activities, clubs or groups I could join (see above re Craigslist). Portland is a town of young, active adults. In fact, it is a lot like Atlanta…except there isn’t any traffic, everyone recycles and composts, the most popular grocery store is the weekly farmer’s market, almost every street has a bike lane and it’s a blue state not a blue bubble! There is always something to do. In fact, Leigh and I have to turn down invites more than we are trying to find them!

There’s also the creative spirit of Portland. We went to what is locally called “Last Thursday”, much like a “First Thursday” in Atlanta. Where galleries open their doors to the public after hours. Great crowds, good to great art and just fun times all around. A perfect opportunity to experience first hand the ‘keep Portland weird’ population. And to think that when we went out, most of the art crowd wasn’t even there because they were at the Burning Man Festival makes me shake my head at the pure potential for sublimity. I can’t wait to dive right in. I can just feel the creative energies flowing!

And another difference b/t here and Atlanta is the proximity of the mountains, forest and ocean. All are no more than an hour away. Leigh and I spent this past weekend enjoying our local wilderness. Driving only about an hour and a half (from Atlanta that would take you no farther than the top end of Gwinnett!), we found a sweet spot on the banks of Hideaway Lake. But this equinox weekend was not about sitting by the campfire or making a long hike (neither happened). This equinox weekend was 100% about Chief.

Let me explain…

Chief is a dog, a dog that we found on our drive up to this place in the woods, Hideaway Lake. We were driving up Forest Service Road 57, a gravel road about 20 miles from the nearest town, when we came up behind a medium sized orange dog trotting down the road in the direction we were heading. Pulling up next to him, I stopped the car and rolled down the window. He came right up. No collar at all. Huh. He looked a bit beat up and kind of old. What’s he doing up here? Where are his human friends? Does he live up here? Do we take him with us? After trying to pet him a couple times (growls but no aggression) we fed him a couple pieces of jerky (which he gobbled up quickly). Seeing him so hungry, we decided to put him in the car and take him up to the campground with us. Maybe there’s somebody looking for him up there. As soon as he gets into the backseat, he’s out. And I mean dead asleep. We come to find out he’s pretty deaf to as he wouldn’t respond to our calls or whistles.

We get to the campground and he gets out. We warn the other campers that here’s this dog we picked up. He’s not mean but he may growl so best not to approach. Many of them said, “Oh yeah. We saw that dog but we didn’t stop”. We look around, no signs. We set up camp (the lake is gorgeous by the way). He sticks around. We eat some lunch and give him some, again he gobbles it up. We then decide to go for a hike and agree that if he comes cool, if he doesn’t cool too. Well, he tags along and slows us down but that’s ok because it’s really nice to hike with a canine companion. Chief seemed content to be with us but he wasn’t too attached either. We were forming a weary friendship, a hesitant but blooming trust. It was quite the wondrous challenge earning the respect and trust of a furry creature that can’t speak, is mostly deaf and is a total stranger to you. We had our hands happily full with this task!

The hike was mellow and took us from Hideaway Lake through some marsh and one flaming read clear-cut (maples and wild blueberry bushes changing with the season) to Shellrock Lake. The total mileage one way was only like 1 ½ or 2 miles. Not a long hike and really no elevation gain/loss either. Perfect for a older, lost, hungry, thirsty, beat up dog to accompany us. For most of the hike he was in between Leigh and I but after we had turned around he got distracted and went back down the trail to check something out. Thinking he knew the way and would follow when he was ready, we kept walking back towards our site. Within 5 minutes of leaving him to follow, I hear the most pitiful, mournful wailing and howling I’ve ever heard from a four legged friend. It was heartbreaking in its sorrow. Running back to find him, my suspicions of him being deaf were confirmed when he didn’t respond to my calls when I was only 10 feet away but turned immediately when I stomped the ground. Tail wagging and a grateful look in his eye, we finished our walk together back to the trailhead and towards camp.

Reaching the Shellrock Lake trailhead (different from where our camp was), my attention was caught by a sheet of paper lying on the ground near the map kiosk. The paper had obviously been out here for some time as it was starting to bleed and fade but I was pretty sure that I recognized a dog’s face. Picking it up my hopes turned to pure joy as I saw our little friend’s mug plastered all over the flyer. “LOST AT HIDEAWAY LAKE”. It went on to tell us that his name was Chief, he was 15 years old, growls a lot and had been missing since Sept 6th…TWO FREAKING WEEKS!!! This dog had been wandering around in the woods with no friends, no food, no shelter for two weeks. I couldn’t believe. I am still shaking my head about this. Two weeks. That, my friends, is absolutely amazing.

Our hearts were filled with immediate joy and relief. YES! We have found his mom. YES! We did the right thing. YES! We almost ran back the rest of the way to our camp and Leigh took Chief into the car and drove out until she got a signal on her cell phone (which as shockingly 35 miles down the road…good thing we didn’t need an emergency team, etc). Disappointingly, she only got her answering machine but left a message anyway telling her where we were, etc. While she was gone, I was watching the sun and clouds battle it out for supremacy of the sky and just feeling in my soul that not only did we do the right thing picking up this homeless dog but feeling that our decision to move here to Portland was the right one too. Strangely, after telling Leigh this, we discovered she was having the same thoughts on her drive back to camp, making those feelings all the more authentic for both of us.

The sun was going down by the time they got back and it was time for dinner: a veritable feast in the woods – Masaman Thai Curry with brown rice. Shared 3 ways of course. When was the last time this dog had any food much less free range organic chicken with cashews and avocados? Reminds me of the time when I lost my dog in Montana for over a day and eventually found him with a couple old ladies who had been feeding him steak! Anyway, after dinner we had a short session of watching the moon and clouds dance across the lake’s surface but it was getting cold and the temperature was continuing to drop. So with some coaxing and a lot of cussing we got Chief into the tent (a stubborn, crotchety boy as most old men get to be) and we all then settled down for a nice warm, if cramped, sleep. We didn’t get very far down that sleep road as only 40 minutes or so after we closed our eyes, and we were well into that state of non-awareness that happens as you drift deeper into sleep but you are still aware of sounds and things happening around you; we hear two girls whispering right outside our tent. Finally one of them, in a very loud whisper, “Leigh?”

It was Summer (Chief’s mom)! She had come for her dog! (insert triumphant trumpet music here). There was great joy and relief at the reunion (inside our tent). Summer had had Chief since she was 13 and he had wandered off while camping with some of her friends two weekends ago. She had come up to look for him but had to give up the search and eventually give him up for gone too because it had been so long and no spottings. How just heart wrenching awful! The really funny thing is Summer said that she was thinking about Chief really hard today and just knew he wasn’t dead yet but couldn’t figure out how to find him…and then just a couple hours later she got Leigh’s message. So she wasted no time getting herself to our campsite to retrieve her long though lost friend. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. What a story huh?


So that’s it for now. I have to get to bed. Tonight’s a school night for me. Whoa, when was the last time I could say that? Eek!

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