Saturday, September 19, 2020

From Running a River to Running from a Fire

On September 7, 2020 I posted my most recent blogpost celebrating our Rogue River raft trip. That morning I also posted on facebook a nice array of photos showing off the wonders of living on our property--taking down our swallow houses, the beautiful flower garden, heaps of cherry tomatoes. 

After the morning posting, our rafting buddies, Dave and Cathy came up to help us unload the rafts and equipment as we put things away for the season. Originally we had invited them to stay for dinner, but then as we heard of the prediction of crazy east-winds coming our way, we suggested they go home earlier to avoid any trees that might come down on the road (45 miles) from Blue River to Eugene. 

Mike and I had dinner and were watching an episode of "Succession" when the power went out around 8:30 pm. We weren't particularly surprised, since we were expecting the winds. A littler later, Mike went outside and called me out to see the glow to our east.

Very quickly the winds increased and the fire moved toward us at an unbelievable speed. Earlier in the afternoon Mike had gotten out our fire pump which pulls water out of our ponds and sprays out a goodly amount of water. He began spraying the house and yard area for about the 3rd time. I decided to get a bag out and threw a few things into it--toothbrush, deodorant and a few clothes, all using the light from a headlamp. Mike moved on to hooking up the horse trailer. If the fire really got to us, we would load up our two horses before leaving our property. But still, neither of us could believe that we would have to leave that night. After all, we were 8 miles from the source of the fire. At 11:16 pm, the level 3 evacuation was called--we never got the level 1 or 2. We actually got a cell phone call from a friend telling us to "GO." This was before any emergency alerts!

Angelica, our horse whisperer granddaughter, tried so hard to get the horses haltered, but by then there were trees on fire up the hill from the barn and as they fell, the horses got wilder. We all had to leave, horses or no! She was so shaken up, we were afraid she wouldn't be able to drive. On her way down the highway she called her mom and reported through tears that there were flames all around her. Somehow the fire had leaped over our place and burning embers started fires to the west of us--our only way out. Angelica's mom, Meg, said just keep driving through the fire. Mike and I were five minutes behind her in 2 vehicles with only one of our two cats and an empty horse trailer. As we drove through the fire we had zero visibility. Following Mike, I could only hope we were going the same speed, otherwise I would be rear-ending him.

This perilous part of the drive only lasted for a few miles and then we joined a parade of our community members fleeing the fire. Already there were downed trees because of the wind, and rocks that had fallen from the hillside. Unfortunately I hit a large rock which ripped one of my tires. (Under my breath I had just said, "What more can happen in the year 2020?") I pulled over to the side of the road and watched as vehicle  after vehicle drove by. I called Mike and told him the bad news, he had to figure out a way to turn around with the trailer on this narrow road with many, many cars and trucks in this slow moving train. After I was picked up we called the same rafting friends/relative who had been up at our place just a few hours earlier asking for a place to land. We, unlike many of our community, had a place to go!

And so our life as evacuees began. Within a few days, we saw a posting on facebook that showed what had happened to our home. After 34 years of loving and living there, it was gone with everything in it. Then we got the report that the barn, where my art studio is, survived the fire! 200 feet from the house, near the woods on the hillside, the barn and studio were spared.

And so the group of miracles begins. 

  • Some of my art and supplies remain on the property.
  • The horses lived and have been rescued.
  • Mike's beaver hat wasn't picked up before the fire.
  • The 4-Runner left in back, wasn't hit by a tree, nor was it burned up.
  • One painting was at the framers, and can be shipped to the exhibit which accepted it.

And so begins the new chapter of our lives. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Rafting the Rogue: One Season Leads to Another


For more than 20 years, we have capped off the summer with a Rogue River "Wild and Scenic" raft trip with friends and family. We launch at Alameda Campground and take out at Foster Bar--a 42 mile sojourn with 4 nights camping this year. The group changes each year, but these two couples and Mike and I are almost always the core group. Not only do we get new adventures, but there is plenty of memory sharing after we make camp.

As always, I take along my art traveling gear. Some years it has stayed closed for the entire trip, but this year I vowed to paint every day. Here is the first painting done at Whiskey Creek Campground day 1.

Whiskey Creek, 11 x 14, Watercolor

Each year's trip offers something different which will help categorize one trip from another--rain, fires, helicopters scooping water, long searches for campgrounds. This one will stick in my memory as HOT! I think there may have been record breaking 100 degree plus temperatures on 2 of our days on the river. This made swimming and sitting in creeks the best way to spend the afternoon.

Day 2's painting never happened. I had a close call with heat stroke and the creek we sat in did not easily accommodate setting up gear. But the days cooled down and we had wonderful evening temperatures, excellent meals. Mike and I chose to sleep under the stars and full moon most nights. This group now has morning routine down pat--coffee or tea first, breakfast next, groover (toilet) duty last, load up the rafts and take off for another day of fun and rapids.

As for wildlife, we were warned that it was a big bear year, meaning a lot had been in or near campsites over the summer. Each night we would haul all our coolers and dry boxes into the "bear cage"--a small space surrounded by a battery powered electric fence. However, we never saw a bear or even bear scat. We did see a variety of birds: herons, kingfishers, egrets, bald eagles, and turkey vultures. We saw and heard many small birds as well. The blue jays were especially vocal. Along the river shore we spotted one mink and several otters. 

Day 3 we camped at a new spot for us. It is known as the "Eagle's Nest" because many years ago several retired WWII high ranking military men had a cabin (now gone) where they gathered on the Rogue in the summer. What's left are very steep stairs leading up to the remnants of a stone chimney. The gem of this spot is East Creek, a beautiful, winding stream offering cool sitting areas and fabulous scenery. 

East Creek's painting started out poorly. The paper I pulled out was not a good surface. I started a painting that immediately turned muddy and was way too detailed. What was I thinking! I dipped the whole piece into the creek, rubbed off the paint and flipped it over. I sat in the camp chair, feet in the water, and began to channel shape painters I greatly admire like Frank Webb and Ratindra Das. What were the shapes? How could I simplify this scene?

East Creek, 14 x 11, Watercolor and Ink

That night, all of us slept on a small river bar, sleeping pads only, no tents. It also meant we didn't have to haul all our coolers and boxes--a bear would have had to step over us to get to the rafts! The next morning Mike climbed up to the "Eagle's Nest" to get this great picture of our rafts.

On the Rogue there is one day that makes a rower's stomach churn a bit. This is about a 2 mile stretch that includes Mule Creek Canyon and Blossom Bar. Mule Creek Canyon is a narrow small canyon filled with swirls, waves and boils. One part is called the coffee pot where a raft or boat can go round and round, peculating for several hours. Below is a view of Blossom Bar which has caused many an accident and unfortunately quite a few fatalities.

And this is how Mike looks when he does a perfect job of rowing without hitting a single rock! He's telling the details of the great run!

And, yes, I was on the trip with my hair reverting to the dandelion locks of my towhead, toddler years.

Middle Tacoma Camp is a lovely spot with lots of shade, wonderful spots to sit and watch the river, great pools to wade or swim and the bonus of an outhouse nearby--no groover duties!

On this trip, I was drawn to the rocks and plants that decorate the river, many spots look like an "ikebana" arrangement. 

The last day before take out, I pulled out one more sheet to paint on. I sat in a shady spot and looked at some rocks nearby, the river and the shore across the river. As you can see, I tried out a variety of styles with these plein air paintings. Do you have a favorite of the three?

Tacoma Camp, 11 x 14, Watercolor

And on our last day, take out day, I watch for the "Bonsai Tree" that I have painted many a time in my studio. Will it still be standing? One tree on a monolithic rock--and yes, it still stands.