Art by mail: We were cool, inside and out

Message on postcard:

Hello Ehren! I hope you had a good summer. I sure did. My summer stretched into October. I saw some impressive wildlife this last month of my travels. Back in July I was attacked by a wild pig. I’ve avoided writing much about it, because I’m not yet sure how to tell the story, and thinking back on it causes me no small amount of anxiety. In fact, large quadrupeds in general now cause me to tense up.

So my time at Hart Mountain National Antelope Reserve was interesting. My first full day there I saw a herd at a distance, cresting over a ridge and then disappearing into a valley. It was neat. My last day there I hiked out to a place called Petroglyph Lake, where there were maybe fifty antelope milling around the lake, grazing and drinking water. I kept my distance.

On the hike back, a group of about five antelope sped past me on the right, then crossed the path about a hundred meters in front of me. They joined up with another couple antelope ahead and to my left, and together the seven of them took off. The whole time I was envisioning the antelope getting territorial and aggressive, which wasn’t really a reasonable fear, so I tried to relax and enjoy the scene for what it was, even if I did have my hand on my knife while the dogs freaked out.

Art by mail: The story of the soaking cowboys

Message on postcard:
Hello Rachel! Here’s the story:

It’s near sunset at Hart Mountain National Antelope Reserve, and I need a shower. I got pretty good at the sponge bath method of personal hygiene while traveling this summer, but by the time October rolled around it was getting too cold for me to stand around in the wind, sopping myself down with a wet rag. So I decide that a soak in the hot springs is the next best thing to a hot shower.

I had spent the past couple of days wandering cross country, exploring the area. There aren’t many established trails at Hart Mountain, but the country is open enough that you can just pick a direction and tramp through the brush. This is a good way to see zillions of antelope, experience your maximum sweat gland potential, and smell bad.

So I walk down to the hot springs. There’s a primitive pool — just a hot-water filled hole in the ground — and a slightly more developed pool with a cement walkway and a wall around it. I decide to go with the primitive springs. But when I get there, there are a couple of naked older gentlemen soaking in the pool, with pants and cowboy hats piled up off to one side.

“How’s the water?” I ask.

“Depends on where you sit,” says one of the soaking cowboys. “Hotter here, colder there.”

The other cowboy adds his assessment: “Careful, he says, “it will scald your ass.”

I’ve made a few mistakes in my life, but one mistake I’m not keen on making is to experience a backcountry ass scalding after being explicitly warned about it. So I make my tactful exit: “Thanks for the report. I’ll use the other tub.”

The two cowboys have Oregon’s most neutral dispositions, and I can’t tell if my decision pleases or offends them. Regardless, I’m off to the other tub.

The hot water feels good after all the hiking, and I express my sentiments by vocalizing a few profanity-suffixed affirmatives. And then I realize that not only does the stone wall hide me from other people, it also hides them from me — which means that I would have been completely unaware of anybody who was passing by and heard me swearing to myself. Overall it was a good soak, even if I was plagued by a self-conscious feeling that a third-party observer might have identified me as the weirdest person there.

Art by mail: Big Bird, cartographer extraordinaire

Message on postcard:
Hi Amanda! You said you like maps and birds, so you’re in luck! This is the story of the biggest map in the world, and its creation by the world’s biggest bird — Doctor E. Biggums Birdsong the Third, known to his friends as “Large Bird”, and known to my ace team of lawyers as “an entity similar to but legally distinct from Big Bird”. Even though he prefers the name “Biggums” or “Large Bird”, I just shorten the lawyer-assigned name and call him “Big Bird”.

Our story begins on the rim of Crater Lake. The dogs and I had hiked up to a viewpoint named in honor of the 19th-century explorer Frederick Raggle. Frederick Raggle Rock, or Fraggle Rock as it’s known to the locals, is one of the finest places to experience the beauty of Crater Lake. And its expansive view also makes it the most logical place to begin any cartographic survey of the Crater Lake area. It was there that I was astonished to find Big Bird hard at work with his Playskool Big Boy Laser Cartography and Geospatial Information Systems Play Kit.

“Big Bird!” I said. “What it is!”

“Oh, hi, Mike,” said Big Bird. “I’m just working on my greatest project yet.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

Big Bird looked really excited. “I’m so glad you asked! It’s an educational life-size map of Crater Lake! Every letter and number in the world will be there, climbing the mountains and swimming in the lake. They’ll be tens of meters tall, and cloned from the DNA of ancient numbers trapped in amber!”

Big Bird’s eyes narrowed. “The Children’s Cartographic Workshop will be building the map at Area 51 in Nevada.”

“Holy feathers, Big Bird,” I said, growing uneasy. The dogs’ hackles rose.

“I call it Alphanumeric Park … Life will find a way.”

Clouds blocked the sun. Lightning struck the far rim of the lake. But in the end, everything was fine.

Art by mail: The story of the finicky bolt in La Pine

Message on postcard:
Hello Jason! This is the story of the afternoon I spent in La Pine, Oregon. But really the story begins the day before I was in La Pine, when I was camped up on Newberry Crater. It’s a big volcanic caldera that’s home to a couple of large lakes, some lava flows, a mountain called Paulina Peak, and lots of obsidian (useful in the construction of deadly arrowheads).  When I woke up in the morning I noticed a little green puddle of coolant under my engine compartment.

A little investigation revealed seepage from where a coolant hose connected to an aluminum coolant pipe. The pipe was loose and rubbing against my exhaust system. Well that was no good! The hose-to-coolant pipe connection was subject not only to the mechanical stresses of a rattling pipe, but presumably also an extra thermal load thanks to heat transfer from the exhaust. I have no idea if I used any of those terms correctly, but they all sound plausible to me, so let’s go with it.

Anyway, I snugged up a clamp on the leaky hose, and then I discovered that the metal coolant pipe is secured in place by means of a bracket that affixes the pipe to a mounting point in the engine block. And the bolt that connects the bracket to the block was straight-up missing! Zounds! So I grabbed some spare bailing wire and strung the tube in place until I could make it into town.

The next day I’m in La Pine, and I stop at the hardware store. I need a bolt and a washer. But what size? Using my patented “eyeball-o-metric assay” technique, I estimated and threw a dollar down on a gamble. And I lost. Fortunately, Ace Hardware has a reasonable return policy. After several trials, I was able to rule out 10 mm, 12 mm, and larger diameter bolts, so, yeah, okay, 8 mm it is. But what thread pitch? 1.50? 1.25? 1.00? Third time’s a charm. At this point the cashier just waves me through, preferring not to tally the four-cent differences in cost.

And then I installed the thing. Because the engine bay was full of hoses and sharp obstructions, this required me to squat over the engine with my hands plunged between my legs. The kind citizens of La Pine seemed to think I needed help, but they were wrong.

Art by mail: The importance of being prepared

Collage: A community of mammals in space.

Message on postcard:
Hello Patrick! This postcard is all about the importance of being prepared. I drove probably thirty thousand million billion miles this year, and by the time I set off on this last leg of travel I felt like I had everything down to a fine art: Throw all your stuff in the van and drive until you make it somewhere nice. Pretty simple formula.

But for this last bit of travel across Oregon I decided to build upon the lessons I’d already learned. I invested in a guidebook — by which I mean I threw all my stuff in the van, camped out in Oregon’s Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness my first night out, and then decided to stop in the tiny town of Welches to see what I might be able to learn at their public library.

And I learned two things. One, that they have guidebooks, and two, that they have a copy machine. And so I found the guidebook pages that described my planned destinations, and I xeroxed those pages. Boom.

The Welches library isn’t much bigger than a dentist’s waiting room. But it would be the waiting room for a very large dental practice. Where the patients are librarians and books. And also grungy travelers. And the work they do results in healthy smiles. Does that metaphor work? I think it works.


The Alvord Desert

After leaving the Steens Mountain high country, I spent a night at the South Steens Campground — where uncouth visitors in need of firewood were hacking down large tree limbs within the campground proper — and then proceeded on to the Alvord Desert. My stay at South Steens was unremarkable. There’s a reportedly amazing trail that ascends Big Indian Gorge, but the amazing part demands an overnight backpacking trip that I couldn’t squeeze in. The first three miles or so that I hiked out and back are rather pretty in their own right, though.

The Alvord Desert was more my cup of tea. It’s a large, desolate, beautiful playa that sits at the eastern base of Steens Mountain. This time of year it’s dry enough to drive across, and I even saw a handful of little sail-powered cars zipping along the windy flats. I spent a few days out there exploring, including some long walks to nowhere and also a scramble up Tule Springs Rim, just to the east of the playa.

Here are some pictures of the playa. Since then I’ve driven across Nevada and Utah. I’m writing this from Colorado, where I’m retrieving stored personal belongings in anticipation of resuming a normal life with a roof over my head.


Letters from the road: The scene in Hood River

Hey Duncan! Greetings from Hood River, Oregon. I started drawing this in a coffee shop, but left when it was invaded by a skater kids. Now I’m parked on a patch of gravel near an I-84 on-ramp, and it’s way more peaceful.

I just moved. Now I’m at a nearby county park overlooking the Columbia River Gorge. When I finished writing that last paragraph I realized that I could probably do even better than a gravel patch near an interstate. I’m sitting at an oak-shaded picnic table overlooking a beautiful river … near an interstate.

Today I woke up near the east fork of the Hood River, hiked up to a place called Lookout Mountain, and then hiked another trail out to the tricky-to-spell Tamanawas Falls. It was a pretty good day.

The night before last I camped up on a Forest Service road near treeline on Mount Hood. When I woke up there yesterday I met two vegans, one of whom explained the outcome of the Vietnam War as a result of our adversaries’ ability to subsist on rice alone. He also explained that you can eat moldy rice. I am skeptical.

This is a bonus comic that I sent to Duncan. He’s a friend, so I figured he would forgive the hastily made drawings. Click to embiggen.

This is a collage from the reverse side of one of the pages in Duncan’s letter. Click to embiggen.

Letters from the road: An encounter with Bigfoot

Hey Aimee! You can see here (above, in the squiggly letter “E” in the word “maybe”) where my dog Skillet jumped off the picnic table. It’s getting late in the afternoon, and these days the sun sets early. At the outset of my travels this year I could look forward to early morning sunrises and lingering sunsets that hung in the sky until eleven p.m., but now the sun is going down without much fanfare and the equinox is almost here.

I’m camped on the banks of the Hood River in Oregon, and across the river to my west is a forested ridge that’s going to be hiding the sun in maybe half an hour. When I hold my hand at arm’s length I can fit two fingers between the ridgeline and the sun. Somewhere along the way I learned that each finger is worth fifteen minutes of daylight.

I have a couple friends who have done work processing employee injury claims, and I’m guessing that somewhere along the way they learned to value fingers not in minutes, but in multi-thousand dollar increments.

Full disclosure here — after I finished this letter, I realized I’d inadvertently ripped off the “warm heart, make you think” line from the book “Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir” by Graham Roumieu. Sincere apologies.

Hey Aimee, it’s Mike again. I’m writing this with the pen held between my teeth. You see, Bigfoot ripped both my arms off. He only let me live because I promised to plug his new T.V. sitcom, Sheriff Bigfoot, premiering this fall on CBS. Here are some clips.

I’ve never seen the sitcom, so I had to imagine what it might look like. Halfway through drawing the third clip I realized that the “avenge my death” line is also in the first season Bigfoot episode of The Simpsons, but I was in too deep to back out. Anyway, Bigfoot is gone now, and I’m going to seek medical attention. Thanks for your time!


Click to embiggen.

Reverse side of the page. Click to embiggen.

Letters from the road: The Government Camp dispatch

Hey Zak — Greetings from Oregon. This is the story of my trip up to the ski cabin in Government Camp, Oregon, a little town that sits at about 4,000 feet above sea level on the side of Mount Hood. “Govy Camp”, as the slang-slingin’ ski and snowboard set likes to call it, is maybe an hour outside of Portland. I went to college in Portland, and my alma mater has a ski cabin in Govt. Camp that’s open to alumni. The schools’ outing club built it in the late forties … it sees a lot of use during the winter months, but it’s reliably quiet during the summer months. I had the place almost entirely to myself for a few days. It’s a good place to sit and think and return to at night after a day of hiking in the Mount Hood Wilderness.

The full page. Click to embiggen.

Collage from reverse side of page. Click to embiggen.