An Hour at Ophir

In mid-June 2016, my husband Peter and I along with an artist friend, Charlie Johnston, spent a week at the Chetco River Inn. It is about twenty miles up the Chetco River outside Brookings, Oregon, which is on the border with California.

The light was just downright peculiar when we arrived at Ophir Beach in the afternoon around 4:00 pm.
The light was just downright peculiar when we arrived at Ophir Beach in the afternoon around 4:00 pm.

As I often do, I decided to make a series of daily journal videoitos aka digital stories. The first in this series of five is on the Oregon Coast at Ophir Beach before turning inland. I was intrigued by the strange quality of the waves and the afternoon light, which was in high contrast down on the beach. The sky itself was at first a watercolorist’s gray wash and then magically the sky cleared and became a new, intense blue.

Little cloud in a mackerel sky at Ophir Beach. That scrim of cloud probably accounted for the weird light earlier.
Little cloud in a mackerel sky at Ophir Beach. That scrim of cloud probably accounted for the weird light earlier.
Ophir_from 101
Ophir Beach from Highway 101 as the sky is starting to clear. My camera is still stopping down to cut the high contrast, which creates its own kind of alternative universe feel to the photograph.



Sandy’s Stredit

This fun project was for Vimeo’s Weekend Challenge. The concept was to edit together in chronological order the last, say, hundred or so of the videos on your Camera Roll.

The neologistic “stredit” means “straight edit.”

My “recent additions” of videos to my camera roll started in the middle of our Spring Break trip to Monterrey Bay and Aquarium then went to an art installation then up the McKenzie River with Debra Stein to Tamolitch Pool.

Somewhere in there is a day trip to Alsea Falls and the surf park at Yachats (Oregon Coast). Then some shots around my studio of dolls and poems finishing with some Maya Brolutti fire dancing at the beach and rain in the trees.

That’s pretty much my life in two minutes!



For today’s Daily Create, we were given this image of a worker’s hands and asked to write a story about them. This story has been cross-posted from my Tumblr blog, Sandy Springs Eternal.

The Heronry


Why this story; why now?

I wrote this memoir piece on the last gasping breath of the 1980s. In those days, I was more serious about trying to sell writing, and I sent it out various places late in 1989.

I spent the summer of 1990 in Missoula, Montana. I lived in a little apartment down by the Clark Fork River, and every day I walked to the post office–mostly for the walk, and also for whatever letters or bills might have winkled me out. One day, I found a check in the mail from First for Women Magazine for $1500.  I was over the moon! It was my first big sale (yeah, okay, my ONLY big sale, like, in my entire life), and I ran screaming down the street waving the check in the air.

I worked with a line editor over the next few weeks, and the story came out for Father’s Day in 1991 (no, that can’t be right. Maybe I was in Missoula in 1989…? Scary how the years run together…). It was liking dropping a manuscript from 13,000 feet– I never heard it hit. That magazine has millions of readers, and only one stranger ever said anything to me about it. An author my editor said was well-known complimented her on my story saying it reminded him of E.B. White’s classic 1941 memoir essay, “Once More to the Lake.”

In September 1968, I was in my frosh year at Washington State University, and I enrolled in the required introductory writing class (one I have now taught myself literally hundreds of times). The first essay Dr. Taylor assigned was that same E.B. White essay, “Once More to the Lake.” I learned the art of deep reading on that essay, and it went in deep, too–all the way into my writer’s RNA.

Did I remember that essay while I was writing “The Heronry”? No. “The Heronry” is a true story, and I was struggling to put it down detail by detail, trying hard to get it right.

On retrospect, do I think the shape of the story was unconsciously influenced by E.B. White? Absolutely.

Recently a friend, John Gray, and I were reading the same essay by Natalie Goldberg, “The Lost Purse,” in her new book The Great Spring: Writing, Zen, and This Zigzag Life. It seems to me that the story has so many elements that echo, bounce off, run parallel to “Once More to the Lake.”  John’s question was whether or not Goldberg would be aware of or acknowledge the correlation. My answer is in my experience.

Rare is the writer of my generation who hasn’t read White. We all have him down there in our unconscious minds along with the rest of the Norton Anthologies that were standard in the English major curriculum. This stuff doesn’t have to surface consciously for it to shape our thinking and creating. I have no doubt if the similarities were delineated for Goldberg that she’d get a big kick out of seeing how that magic continues to work.

I, for one, love this back and forth weave of just one story strand in and out of my own life, adding strength to whole.

GBH_crook neck

(Originally published as “To the Lake,” in First for Women which started out as a decent magazine that included fiction and memoir. It has turned into something else, I’m sorry to say.)


By Sandy Brown Jensen

There is a lake called Moses in Washington State, and the Great Blue Herons come there to nest and breed in the cold, sharp spring.  They feed on fish and frogs and salamanders.  The fisherfolk say that the herons catch the trout before they can get around to it themselves, and for that reason they dislike the birds.  The tall herons with their awkward grace and unseemly nesting habits fascinated my father, a half-hearted angler at best.  He liked to photograph the birds as they flew up the Wenatchee River by our house. This seldom happened, however, for although it is nothing for the herons to fly 30 or 40 miles on a hunt, the Moses Lake heronry was twice that distance from our home and we saw only the occasional lone hunter.

So one morning when I was 15 years old my father and I lashed our red, eight-foot fiberglass boat to the roof of the car and drove over the Columbia River Bridge, and east across the Columbia Plateau to Moses Lake.  The day was cold with a thin March sunshine.  I was looking forward to this outing in my father’s company, a thing which had never happened–not just him and me without the surrounding activity of Mom and the other kids.  I was shy with him and didn’t know how to make conversation, or how to ask the questions that burned in me to be asked.

He didn’t much know what to make of me either. I swung hourly between incessant chattering and agonized shyness.  Clothes didn’t fit, ideas didn’t fit.  I wanted to think of myself as graceful and was humiliated when someone saw me drop a plate or trip over my own feet.  I, like all adolescent girls, yearned for something from my father that few men know how to give.  I wanted him to reassure me that I was beautiful and intelligent, when in fact I was neither.  I wanted to be given sexual poise and adult status yet retain the amniotic blindness of childhood.   I longed for intimacy of the spirit, yet was surprised when it came.  

    “Tell me about the herons.”  I considered this question many miles before I found voice to say the words.   My father was beautiful and intelligent, and I was all but inarticulate before him.  The question broke the silence.  His blue eyes wrinkled at the corners and his blond head kept turning from the road to me as he talked. At first I didn’t think he was looking at me; I thought he saw something out the window on the other side of my head.

He pointed to a flock of long-legged birds flying low across the marsh, against the pewter sky. “Those are Great Blue Herons, the tallest native bird. You can tell them apart from cranes by the way they fly.  Look.”   The car slowed.  “See, the cranes fly with their necks straight out.”

I knew the difference between herons and cranes by the time I was six years old, but my father was a walking encyclopedia and taught us by repeating information over and over in different combinations, in different settings.  While riding long-distances in the car (to photograph a flower in Mexico that bloomed only once every seven years) Daddy would amuse himself by asking us the difference between a mushroom and a toadstool, a dove and a pigeon, a robin and thrush–or the common name of ranunculus glaberimus.

He stopped the car and we got out.  From an island a few hundred yards offshore came the boom of wings. A flock of forty birds circled over the road. Daddy handed me the binoculars.  Pointing, he said,  “Those are the Great Blues.  See how they fly with their necks folded back in a flat “S” loop?

I brought the field glasses back from the flying herons to the island rookery.  The bare trees were full of huge scraggly nests.  I spotted the young birds.  Excited, I handed the glasses back to Daddy, “Look, you can see the chicks with their beaks open.”

He looked for a long time.  “Good eye,” he said.  I blushed with the casual praise.  My father seldom complimented me on anything I can remember, except my powers of observation which became so much like his.  Vision was his gift to me, the ability to observe the natural world, its health and beauty and intricacy.

GBH_tall grass

    “In fact, I think you’ve spotted a good rookery.  We’ll row over together in the boat.  I’ll set up a birdblind at one end and you row back to shore. The birds know enough to see a boat come over and that disturbs them; then they see a boat return and they relax.  They don’t count two people coming and only one going back.  If I’m careful they won’t spot me and I can get some good pictures.  You come back in a few hours and pick me up.”

My disappointment was sharp. I had looked forward to spending the day with him.  I felt I was being abandoned.  But my logical mind knew he was treating me like an adult, trusting me with the boat and the day.  If I yielded to my emotion, showed him my need, no doubt his response would be warmer–but the results would be the same: I’d leave with the boat.  Or if he let me stay with him, the birds would be disturbed and I’d be responsible for ruining his outing.  

The shoreline was steep here–huge tumbled boulders falling straight off into deep water.  I was barely strong enough to handle my end of the boat as we maneuvered it down the rocks.  Finally settled on the water, the boat bobbed like a red fisherman’s float, the large white name, “Tonalea,” painted in block letters on the stern.  Tonalea was the name of a remote desert town, symbolizing the edge of frontier, the beginning of wilderness to my parents who felt that indeed in wildness is the preservation of the world.


Out on the lake my father pointed out terns, mallards, grebes, shikepokes and goldeneye to me.  The lake was alive with birds, their voices carrying in graaks and whistles and creaks across the surface.  Daddy stopped with the oars in the air so I could look down and see the dim shapes of fish far below in the green and black water.

    “Rainbows,” he said, “Bass, crappie, sunfish.  In the summer we’ll go to Ol’ Sullivan Dam at the other end of the lake and catch sunfish and grill them on a greasewood fire.”  As I listened to him my mind opened and I received the images of the world that he described as well as the words.  I saw how the interconnected strands of the natural world were like a spider’s web–each movement along a strand was conveyed to every other part of the web. The day was movement, flux, and light, from the smallest insect to the birds and lake and the weather above.

We landed on the south end of the island, together pulling the boat, one hand each, side by side on the gunwale, black sand grating under the hull.  We hiked into the central thicket of willow and built a birdblind there.  The noise of the heronry was terrific, all grunts and squawks of old and young birds.  The smell of cottonwood mixed with the decaying remains of infertile eggs, lost food and other waste materials from the nests.  The herons were not tidy housekeepers.  Their nests were enormous, untidy architectures of broken sticks.  The air churned with constant movement, the birds well aware of our presence.  The adult Great Blue herons stood about four feet tall and had long sharp bills that Daddy said could be a dangerous weapon when the bird is attacked.

 I left Daddy crouched down inside the blind setting up a tripod.  “Let’s synchronize watches,” he said, “Why don’t you come back for me at 4:00 and we’ll have lunch on the way home?” I was hungry then, but felt there was a communion in shared meals and would have starved for a week to sit in a car and share a sandwich with my father.

I rowed back over glassy water.  Daddy pointed out that the lake had a strong current north to south and suggested I row uplake so that on the way back it would be easy to hit the island.  The going was smooth so I landed a half mile upshore from the car.  There were no sticks to tie the boat to so I wrapped the tow rope around a rock and built a cairn over it.  Tonalea bumped against the rocks, but the tough fiberglass was all but impossible to scratch.

The climb to roadbed level, combined with the row, left me breathless and warm.  I looked back at the island and tried to spot Daddy in his birdblind. From the place where he was an exceptionally large heron flapped gently skyward.  I had heard from the Indians around Colville about totem animals–how the spirit of each person has affinity with that of an animal, and on occasion, if the light is just right, or the time of day holds suspended, then the person can become that animal and learn their ways, see the world through different eyes.  I wondered if I was seeing my father turn into a Great Blue Heron, flying with dignity northward up Moses Lake, his neck folded back in a flat “S” loop.  I knew he was looking down from his great distance at the rainbow trout and bass and sunfish.  I knew he could see me and thought he nodded his feathered head.


On the other side of the roadbed the marsh opened up.  There I spent the day with the red-winged blackbirds and the horned larks among the tule rushes and cattails.  The earliest spring monkeyflowers grew red and yellow along the streambeds, and there were toads and crawdaddies and salamanders.  I especially liked the waterskippers because of their bear-paw shadows.  It was an easy world to get lost in.  My mother and I used to play the game of imagining we were tiny skindivers, exploring the aquatic landscapes created by rivulets and other miniature flows of water.  Now I played this game in the life-and-death fastnesses of the marsh.  I braided feathers and reeds together, performing small ceremonies on mossy promontories.  A raft with two spiders set sail on a blue stream.  Slowly the day around me began to lose light and what little warmth there was.   Clouds that must have gathered earlier on the horizon marched forward and started to mill briskly around each other.  I looked up from my play when I felt the temperature drop quickly.  Shivering, I remembered my mission, my father, and the island–and ran for the boat.

White caps tipped the waves and the wind ran south with the lake current. Frightened not so much by the change in weather, but by my failure to notice it earlier, I got the boat out on the water, pulling as strongly as I could for the island.  The few hundred feet seemed like a mile.  Halfway across the rain came down, slanting across the dark water, obscuring the shore.  The current pulled me south faster than I could row.  If I missed the island it was rough open water all the way to Ol’ Sullivan Dam.  Turning to look over my shoulder I saw Daddy on the southernmost shoal, wading out into the lake.  I was rowing like an Amazon, strength coming to me like a force of nature and I was still going to miss the island.

    “Throw me the rope!”  His voice blew downwind to me, seeming to come from inside my own head.  I clambered forward, quickly coiled the rope like a lariat and threw it upwind.  It landed a yard from Daddy who lunged, wet to his waist, to catch hold of it.  He hauled me in and together we loaded his expensive camera equipment in under the gunwale, securing it with a tarpaulin.

    “Pull the boat!”  Daddy shouted at me.  Together we towed the boat the quarter mile length of the island.  I was not used to physical hardship.  Rock and mountain climbing, horseback riding and canoeing were all part of my daily life, but hard work was always for the men.  I didn’t know about strength, about stamina or where one found such things in oneself.  I was a frightened adolescent girl feeling her weakness against the storm, yet surprised by what strength I had found in the rowing.  I felt like a leaf or a twig torn off a cottonwood and flung into the wind, abandoned, exhilarated.

At the top of the island Daddy and I got into the boat, sitting side by side, each with an oar.  The rain turned to sleet.

    “Pull,” he said, “Pull.  Hard.”  We quickly got a rhythm–no doubt he adjusted the power of his stroke to mine, and we headed for the opposite shore. Halfway across the current pulled us south of the car, and then we were south of the island, headed rapidly downlake and still rowing deeply, steadily, with concentration.  I felt the cold wind and sleet against the side of my face but I was warm in the shadow of my father, and there was nothing on my mind but keeping my body and oar synchronous with Daddy’s. I am aware now of the sexual power there was in that struggle against the storm and I think that it is this that fathers have to give their daughters:  experiences of union which teach the pleasures of fearlessness, intimacy and power in the most innocent ways.

We completed the few hundred yard crossing a mile south.  The roadbed was not directly above us, for it turned inland a few hundred yards from where we had parked.  There were no choices–we had to tow the boat back over the interminable boulders, crawling up and sliding down, looking for footings, the two of us sharing the weight of the tow rope on our shoulders.  The wind and sleet settled down into a continual, cold opposing force.

    Daddy turned around once and asked, “How’s it going?”  My shoulders ached, both of them, as I kept switching the rope from side to side to relieve the pain, but it was useless to mention it–it wouldn’t change what had to be done. I nodded my head and half-panted, “Fine.”

    “Good girl.”  When we rested it was in the lee of a boulder.  The wind changed direction and the clouds broke up.  Daddy pointed out a huge ragged heron hung suspended in the north wind, effortlessly, as if preoccupied by some profound thought or image.  The long legs trailed out behind, acting as a kind of rudder, holding the long, tucked-up head into the wind.  I felt I was in the primordial place where creation is made.  Within the surround of the invisible wind and the cold water and the warm will of my father all things were possible. I was in girl form  but the life of a heron was comprehensible to me, its wildness, its strand of belonging so woven into the web of life at the lake.  My father and I were woven into that web:  the wind was our thought, the water our depth. We had the heron’s eyes and saw far out over the land.


The cold kept us from resting too long.  After a while it got dark and the storm continued.  I couldn’t guess how Daddy would know when we arrived at the place where the car would be above us on the road.  The journey with the boat on my back was like my journey into adulthood, and hence was to have no end.

    “Here,” he said, pointing, and I recognized a boulder blacker than the others, a chunk of vesicular basalt that was rough rather than rounded like the others.  It wasn’t the end, though.  In a final effort, we hauled the camera equipment to the car, then returned for the boat, which the lake preferred to take as sacrifice and was reluctant to yield up.  Against the pressure of a steady wind and the sucking of the lake, we turned Tonalea over like a canoe and began carrying her up the steep boulder slope.  Daddy would go up one boulder, then brace the boat while I scrambled down and up onto another. Wrestling the boat was like trying to manhandle a fiberglass leviathan.  The wind and our fatigue battled us, causing us to drop her several times.  When we reached the roadbed and had to heave the boat on top of the car, I couldn’t do it.  Shaking all over, my arms limp with exhaustion, I leaned against the car door, sweat chilling against my skin as it dried.

    “Let’s catch our breath,” Daddy suggested, “then try it again.”

The second time strength surged up from my spine and the boat fell into place.  I managed the latches and ropes on my side with blue, numb lumps of fingers.

We got into the car.  Daddy turned on the motor.  Soon the floor heater was blasting.  I was shivering uncontrollably, teeth chattering.  I was delirious with fatigue and cold and what I had seen out on the lake of both myself and my father. I had seen that on the lake he and I were equal–we each faced the storm and the task alone–and yet together.  I’d learned something about my own strength, that it was a force of nature no less than the wind. And I’d seen how my father was essentially wild and beautiful, like the birds. Daddy unwrapped tamale pie sandwiches and handed me one.  We had graham crackers with chocolate frosting and, although I had never tried coffee before, Daddy poured us each a cup from a thermos.

  “Feel better?” he asked, pulling out onto the road. He turned his head and looked at me, then winked.  We were in this together.  As we reached the far end of the lake a long line of Great Blues flew low in front of the windshield, the headlights shining on their long wing feathers.  One by one they turned their heads to peer curiously in at us, then banked sharply up and over the car, heading back towards the dark lake.

    “Did you see that?”  Daddy exclaimed. “Did you see that?”

We saw the herons again many times during that difficult year–is 15 ever easy? We saw them wading in the shallows at the Quincy Potholes the week after my first date.  The young man had taken me roller skating and I was still nursing bruises and floor burns.  I watched the herons through Daddy’s binoculars.  I felt there was a special affinity between me and the birds. Their awkward lift-offs and landings were understandable to me–I knew a lot about being all arms and legs.  It was their flight I envied, that clarity, their economy of wingbeat.

Image by Mike Peters / Luling, LA. All others by Sandy Brown Jensen

Over a year later, in May, I thought my father had forgotten the incident at Moses Lake, but on my 16th birthday he gave me a black and white print, grainy and moody, in very high contrast, on a clear German paper.  The photograph was of a young heron poised on the edge of the nest, halfway between awkward and grace. Its wings were outstretched, reaching for air.  One foot was already off the mess of sticks that was the nest, the other foot was on tiptoe, elongated like a willow limb.  The parent bird was in front, flying, and through a trick of the photographer’s exact timing, was looking back over its shoulder at the fledgling.  It was a photograph of precise vision and infinite understanding.

IMG_2475 (1)


I am honored to be featured on the website as a Creative Leader. The Creativists are all about what they call “creative empowerment,” with a variety of different approaches. They say things like,

Creativity is a way of thinking that allows you to see possibilities.

They take a practical approach, including different kinds of creativity challenges and what they call “pay it forward.”



Besides challenges and Paying it forwards, they feature interviews with “creative leaders,” of which I am apparently one. Before the interview, I looked over what other interviewees had said, and maybe it was just the mood I was in, but in that moment I felt tired of hearing about creativity rather than the thing itself.

So I answered the interviewer’s questions with a series of short digital stories, as it seemed to me I had already made stories out of all the primary issues. The result may not be as clever as I would wish as it would take a reader who might be dedicated to hearing/viewing/reading every golden word I said an hour to get through it all. And there are none among the short-attention-spanned populace who would actually do such a thing. Sigh. Fame, sweet bird of fleeting youth and all that.

But just for the record, just so I can look back in my fast-approaching dotage upon the immortal moment, here it is in giant, hot linked purple letters (clickety-click!):

Sandy Brown Jensen: Mind on Fire!

By Cathleen Nardi

Slowing Time

Anyone who know me knows I am a wandering spirit. I am not that stay-at-home-and-garden person. After I finish my daily work at the computer or in the classroom, almost every day I pick up my camera, put on my boots and just GO. I am never happier than when I have disappeared into the landscape (all those who wander are not lost!).

Last week, I dashed off to nearby Fall Creek. It was the end of the day during a time when the days are slowly growing longer. At sunset I was at a place called Fisherman’s Bend, where I had never stopped before. Red rock, rushing water pooling green, swirling and catching the low light–all these pulled me into that forever place for just a half hour, but that’s all I need to find my place on the planet once more, just for today.

I experimented with the mobile device app called Stellar to create a little slideshow of the afternoon’s mini-adventure. I’m not sure I’m thrilled with the way it looks on the web–do you have an opinion?

On the iPad, the entire screen is filled, which looks great. On the web, it appears to me as small, and I don’t see a way to expand it–although cleverer eyes than mind might spot a way and be kind enough to let me know. But I DO like the mini-portfolio concept offered by Stellar.

2 Men & a Dog

Last year, Peter and I visited Newberry National Volcanic Monument twice–once with Charlie Johnston and Elaine Rhode, then later in early November when the fall color was INSANE.  This is the U. S. National Park Service Centennial, so I made this video showcasing the glories of Newberry through the eyes of two men and a dog for the little video competition they are having.


Not to get too obsessive about my new favorite place, but this is my second video for this competition about this place. The other was narrated:

If you prefer one over the other, please let me know! Or if you have some feedback, I’d be very glad of it!

A Heart for Any Fate

Orienting Note: I am part of an online, ten week cadre exploring digital storytelling through the lens of the genre of westerns. At the end of Week One, known as Blog Ridin’ Camp, we were asked to write a on the topic, “What do Westerns mean to you? Do a blog post about your familiarity or experience with the genre Western.”


“West… The sound of a wish in a single word.”

Linda Crew,  A Heart for Any Fate

“Sandy, what I remember most from when I was a little girl was living as a homesteading family in Princess, Saskatchewan. Even now when I am very old, my mind so often returns to that log cabin that Father built by the river, all my brothers and sisters still alive, and how we had nothing but we kept the blood lines so tight. I remember the old Conestoga wagon sat in the yard, and we played on it pretending we were in one of the great wagon trains my parents and my older siblings drove with across the Canadian prairie. When we left Princess in 1901, we went to Independence, Oregon by train.   Now, Princess doesn’t even exist on a map. When I die, even its memory will be gone.”

My Grandma Ellen used to tell me such stories, and I was so young that the stories often jumbled together in my brain. It took me a long time to realize she had been born in Princess and hadn’t herself been on the wagon train with, as I thought then, her blind mother and twelve siblings.

I used to sit in my favorite place high up on a steep sagebrush hill overlooking the Wenatchee River imagining a blind mother with all those kids–my great aunts and uncles–crossing the northern plains in a wagon train.

Later, as I began researching who exactly the blind relative was and so on, I realized I had conflated facts and details in my young mind, but that story, my version of it, got firmly lodged in my subconscious as part of my “Myth of Me as a Native Pacific Northwesterner.”

A view of my home town, Wenatchee, in Eastern Washington. The river seen here is Mighty Mother Columbia. The Wenatchee River, where my family lived, enters her at bottom right.
A view of my hometown, Wenatchee, in Eastern Washington. The river seen here is Mighty Mother Columbia. The Wenatchee River, where my family lived, enters her at bottom right.

We didn’t have TV when I was growing up. Rarely, I saw Lone Ranger at my cousin’s house on a tiny black and white TV. I preferred other kinds of Westerns: Fury, Lassie, and Sky King. Somewhere along the way, I picked up random episodes of Bonanza and The Big Valley, but maybe only four of five episodes each. I read as much Zane Grey as I could get my hands on; plucky real-life heroine Betty Zane was my childhood heroine.

Martins Ferry maintains two historical cemeteries. The older of the two, Walnut Grove Cemetery, is located at the end of North 4th Street just beyond East Ohio Regional Hospital. Dating back to 1795, the cemetery is the final resting place of Betty Zane, heroine of the last battle of Fort Henry (now Wheeling, West Virginia).  Visitors will see the statue of Betty Zane carrying gun powder at the cemetery’s entrance.
Martins Ferry maintains two historical cemeteries. The older of the two is Walnut Grove Cemetery. Dating back to 1795, the cemetery is the final resting place of Betty Zane, heroine of the last battle of Fort Henry (now Wheeling, West Virginia). Visitors will see the statue of Betty Zane carrying gunpowder at the cemetery’s entrance.

September 11, 1782, the Zane family was under siege in Fort Henry by American Indian allies of the British. During the siege, while Betty was loading a Kentucky rifle, her father was wounded and fell from the top of the fort right in front of her. The captain of the fort said, “We have lost two men, one Mr. Zane and another gentlemen, and we need black gunpowder.” The gunpowder was in another house outside the garrison and in full view of the attacking Indians. Betty volunteered and ran 40 to 50 yards to retrieve the gunpowder, then returned safely–because the Indians could see she was an unarmed woman.

THAT is the western genre I loved–real life stories of the westering women. I have never been entranced by the male western genre–never a fan of Western movies because they so violent and noisy. I’ve never actually seen a spaghetti Western from start to finish. I don’t care what iconic works of art they are, I just don’t care about male (or female) revenge fantasies. There’s no bell in me to resonate with that particular cultural chord.

I am much more interested in the mythos of the real West. I was born and raised here in a family that is going on six generations in the Pacific Northwest. I was raised on horseback. I go to rodeos.

The Barn at Finley National Wildlife Refuge, Corvallis, Oregon
The Barn at Finley National Wildlife Refuge, Corvallis, Oregon

I wander the outback visually in love with all the old barns and fences and windmill-in-the-sunset pictures I can find to take.

I love stories about the pioneering women like:

Called by locals "The Big House," The Charles Applegate House (1852) is on the National Register of Historic  Places
Called by locals “The Big House,” The Charles Applegate House (1852) is on the National Register of Historic Places



Called by locals "The Big House," The Charles Applegate House (1852) is on the National Register of Historic  Places
My extended family by marriage/divorce/modern blending is the sprawling Applegate family, whose immediate ancestors forged the famous Applegate Trail. Shannon Applegate’s book Skookum: An Oregon Pioneer Family’s History and Lore chronicles that fascinating family history, which all took place right here where I am now.
Eugene Skinner first wanted to call Our Fair City of Eugene, Oregon, “Skinner’s Mudhole,” but the sun came out, and saner minds prevailed.

I live in the Willamette Valley, the promised Eden at the end of the Oregon Trail. My town is soaked in this 170 year old pioneer history. From the Pioneer Cemetery up on the University of Oregon campus, to the street names of pioneers, to the Eugene City founder’s little log cabin I pass everyday on my walk, the past is a permeable membrane to the present. Like this winter’s persistent (and much needed) rain, I am soaked in the western past and present, its tough reality, but, too, the very strong myth of westering held by the pioneers and their descendents, my neighbors to this day.


On top of the Oregon State Capitol building is a gold man called the Oregon Pioneer. He’s not an empty shell–he still holds the drawing power of his namesake–from Eugene, known as a hotbed of tech innovation, to the sprawling ranches of Eastern Oregon, to the fertile wine country–
John Fremont
Contemporary history is careful not to romanticize the Old West and the Oregon Trail, but that can’t be totally excluded. Here is explorer John Fremont observing a wagon train at rest in the evening along the Trail, 1845.


Alfred Bierstadt Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was a German-born American painter best known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. To paint the scenes, Bierstadt joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion. Though not the first artist to record these sites, Bierstadt was the foremost painter of these scenes for the remainder of the 19th century.
Albert Bierstadt (January 7, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was a German-born American painter best known for his lavish, sweeping landscapes of the American West. To paint the scenes, Bierstadt joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion. Bierstadt was the foremost painter of these scenes for the remainder of the 19th century.

The dream of something better in Oregon is still a powerful archetype driving the state forward. The myth, the dream, and the reality live on and move through time.

Let us then be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate…

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Voices of the Night”


Cardboard Caravan

I was at Eugene, OR’s Holiday Market and videoed these talented young musicians tucked away in the vegetable section of the Farmer’s Market. I loved their intensity, their country funk sound with the eerie sound of the saw violin soaring over all.

I posted a clip on Facebook, which they saw. At their request, I made them this little promo video based on what I had on hand.


Austin Bertak – tenor banjo
Rooster – guitar
Helen Long – accordion
Saxon Hidgon – saw
Nolan – wash tub bass
Max O’toole – slide guitar

You can lay a like on them here:

Right Now in the West


Once Upon a Right Now in the West

The photo above is from the movie “Once Upon a Time in the West” by Sergio Leone. Considered by many to be his opus magnus, in it, the railroad and increasing modernization, i.e. Change with a capital “C” sweep away all vestiges of the so-called “Old West.” Only Jill, the eternal whore according to Leone (the whore is also maiden, mother, and crone; that is, WOMAN) survives.

All the men with their cruelty, misplaced romanticism, their vicious rapine natures and their twisted so-called humanity get pretty much killed off, thank God. This much mourned “Old West” was about grazing rights, land ownership, the capitalist pigs vs the worker, the Civil War and the dubious influences of the Church.



This photo by Guardian reporter Jason Wilson,  was taken a couple of days ago at a place my husband and I hold sacred; it’s the domestic terrorists who have taken over one of the last best places for wildlife in the US–Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters.

If there is a woman there to survive the standoff of the coming days, she’s nowhere in evidence, so no Jill to Ammon Bundy’s Jack.

The themes here are disputes over land ownership, the capitalist pigs vs the worker, disagreements over the interpretation of the Constitution, illegal occupancy of federal property, all given a twist Leone didn’t foresee–the self-styled “militia” leaders are the sons of a rich rancher.

These domestic terrorists are all grown up sons of survivors of the 1970s, whose values Leone was also conflicted about. These “kids” grew up watching westerns, spaghetti westerns, and western spoofs like “Blazing Saddles.” PLUS they grew up in the REAL West, the one that in spite of Leone’s violent nostalgia, still very much exists.

My point is that their heads are so full of a mishmash of cultural images from the movies that I suspect they don’t know what is real and what is Miramax. They’ve invented their own sense of what is right and acted on it. And nothing good can come of this as-of-this-writing unexploded powder keg.

If you want to watch a real life spaghetti western, turn on the news and crank up the sound track of your choice.