Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tombstones and Genealogies

On this Eastern Oregon trip, when I got to Baker City, Oregon, I had a mission in mind-- to find the grave of the man pictured above-- my great grandfather. I have never driven through Baker City without thinking about doing this. With only knowing my great grandfather's name, the approximate year of his death, the Internet provided the name of the most likely cemetery.

Once there, the keeper of grave sites directed me to the exact location to look. In a short time, I was standing in front of his grave-- a man, so far as I know, whose grave none of our family had visited.

Originally, I was not even sure there would be a marker.
I was pleased to see the grave was well kept. The tombstone was tall and proud. He was a Woodman-- who knew.

When I got home, I began to think more about the person my great grandfather (hence to be known as GGF) had been and melted together the bits of stories I knew with some limited genealogical research.

My known facts ended up being few: my grandfather (the boy in the photo and from now on GF) was born in Baker City, Oregon February 15, 1888. GGF, who had been born in Scotland February 27, 1863, immigrated in 1877, and died August 31, 1908 in Baker City. In the photo above, GGF stands in his shop, which sold cigars and chocolates. I don't know if he owned it or ran it for someone.

The 1900 Census gave me the first real mystery. GGF and GF were both shown to be living in Gales Creek, Oregon (which is Western Oregon) with a woman listed as my GGF's wife. Her name was Josephine; except GF's mother was Nora. I did know my GF's parents had been divorced but hadn't heard about any second marriage. There was also a one-year old son (with their surname) living in that home. Okay, now I vaguely do remember hearing about a step-brother, who I never met nor learned much about for reasons which became evident with more research. There is no recorded second marriage-- nor for that matter recorded divorce, which does not mean both didn't happen. My ancestors apparently left more than a few questions, the kinds for which genealogy sites won't be providing the answers.

Then there is the fact that in that 1900 census, my GGF's name showed up twice-- once with that western Oregon family and again living alone as a lodger in Baker City. It seems likely it was the same man since both came from Scotland. In the 1910 census, no such name appears as would be expected as he was by then dead. It would seem 1900 was the year his second marriage broke up.

In the fa
mily stories I did know, when my grandparents married July 29, 1908, my GGF gifted them with a team of horses and wagon (probably the ones in this old photo). Within a short time of their wedding, my GGF had a stroke which led to GF heading east to a Baker City hotel where his father lay dying. Shortly thereafter, my grandmother followed.

What I don't know is what came next. In my grandmother's remembrance, she arrived in Baker City only to decide that her new husband had been sleeping with some woman in the hotel. Whether it was even true, it tainted her attitude toward their marriage from that time forward, but didn't end it as they were still together when he died many many years later-- also of a stroke where he lingered a week before dying.

And Josephine, well by the 1910 census she and her son were living in California with an uncle. She still carried GGF's name and listed herself as a widow. She and her son lived out their lives in that area.

A lot of things I will never know. What did my GGF do in those 8 years between another relationship ending and his death? I don't think Josephine was with him when he died. Perhaps she went to California immediately when he left for Baker City. During those years, GF might have mostly lived with his actual mother since he met my grandmother in Portland, but did he visit his father in Baker City? I don't even know how they traveled to Baker City but am guessing the train was running at least by 1908. Was GGF's life good in Baker City? He had had some prosperity as to buy a team and horses as a wedding present was a sizable gift for those times. D
id he find love once again?

I don't know if souls know what happens down here after their bodies give up life. I would like to think my great grandfather, mysteries or not, knows he was not forgotten, and I was happy I was able to finally put flowers on his grave.

The reason for writing about this is several-fold. One it was part of this trip-- traveling into my own ancestral past as well as observing the country, but it is also meant to encourage others to write down the family stories and dates that they know. So easily the history of our family is lost and who we are today is impacted in ways we often don't even realize by who those people were.

It's not our tombstones that carry the remembrance of who we were, it's our still-living family and friends, our people, maybe even our descendant's DNA. Doing some genealogical research and combining it with the photographs and stories leads to a living history, and brings to life those people with their hurts and loves, their losses and triumphs.

If we were more of an oral history people, we'd know so much more than most of us do. It's worth finding out as much as we can. Making an oral record or writing it down, especially if you still have elders living, takes only a little time, and then it's there if future generations want to know.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

High Desert Flowers

From early spring until the first hard freeze of fall, I look for wildflowers from the big and showy to the tiny and nearly missed. By this time of summer, any wildflower is a treat. All of the ones to follow are blooming above 4000 ft in elevation and in the High Desert of Oregon.
The first ones are my favorites-- sunflowers. I like the way their heads turn toward the sun, the splashes of brightness that decorate the sides of highways. The plant is almost totally usable. They were cultivated by Native Americans as much as a thousand years ago.

I rarely know the name of flowers even though I have a few books that would let me find them if I would remember what I read-- which is unlikely. In this case... just guessing, based on a book, I think the following is one of the varieties of goldenrod.

I thought I knew what these following ones were-- bachelor buttons-- Well, if not that, then wild blue asters... But nothing, as I looked, quite fit the number of petals or center. Even more complex, they might be two different varieties of whatever they are.

The first photo is beside a high mountain lake; the second near a cattle loading chute but still in an drainage where it would have been moister. Trying to find the right name, I went through every book I had and the internet without finding anything that looked exactly right. So these are-- pretty blue flowers 1 and 2.

Finally teasel which is theoretically a weed but looks beautiful in flower arrangements. I left these where they were. One year I picked cattails from a mountain lake, brought them home only to have them do very odd things (as in explode) after a few weeks. Some things are meant to be enjoyed where they are.
Guess since I mentioned cattails, I should add one. I suppose they are a grass; but whatever their variety, I always photograph them when I get a chance.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Interrupting this series of posts on Eastern Oregon (with two more to come), I just can't ignore the latest shenanigans of the Bush administration.

Bush might surprise me today and not make a 'recess' appointment that by-passes Congress's responsibility to confirm his pick for Attorney General now that Alberto Gonzales resigned. It was predicted Gonzales would resign during the recess for exactly this reason. Does anybody think Bush wants someone in that position who really cares about the rule of law? It will be no surprise if he picks someone like Chertoff to continue on his merry way with subverting our Constitution. I hope I am wrong.

I had almost not posted on this until I read this column on Huffington Post-- cronyism behind failure in Iraq. Please read this piece as it nails a lot of what went wrong in Iraq and why there has been and will be no change in the direction this disgusting bunch are following. What amazes me most is that they have gotten away with it over and over again. Is anybody in Washington a real patriot?

Any candidate running for president on either side, who defends anything Bush has done, is one of them.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Water water everywhere

Well not really. Water in Eastern Oregon can be found eventually most everywhere but is appreciated and savored more than in some parts of the country where it's more plentiful.

Some of the lakes, like Abert (to the left), are saline where the only thing living under its surface are brine shrimp which is just fine with migrating birds as well as the seabirds that appear to live there year round.

There are small mountain lakes, little rivers that become big ones, tanks that only have water after a rain or snow melt, lots of irrigation of pastures, and many opportunities for a photographer, who is into water, to find good photo opportunities.

This trip I was not at any of the big impressive lakes or rivers, like the Deschutes or Wallowa Lake, but nonetheless did get photographs which are presented here in no special order. They could be anywhere.

For me, it's the small things, the vignettes, the reflection that attract most. Yes, where it comes to scenery, grandiose landscapes are soul stirring; but it's the little things that we sometimes miss and can be most rewarding (damselfly was on the Middle Fork of the John Day. The water beneath it was so clear as to seem invisible).

When I was in Shaniko, eating lunch on a picnic table, I was drawn to get a photo of a dragonfly as it flitted here and there. I bent over, I tried this angle or that to get its picture. Click click and only capturing the hose when an older man, who had walked onto the boardwalk, just had to know. "What are you taking a picture of?"

It was only then that I realized what it must look like to see a woman taking a photo of hoses. I told him a dragonfly but do you think he believed me? More likely thought strange woman. (I included its photo even though it's not quite in focus and it's not really a water picture unless hose and green lawn equal water.)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cattle Country

Raising cattle myself, I am attracted to them wherever I see them and this is particularly true in Eastern Oregon. I also love to photograph the big ranches especially when they are set way back from the road in an idyllic location. On this trip, I got a chance to photograph quite a few, will share a couple here.

I can never pass up photographing the accouterments of ranch work either. I love loading chutes especially if they are old. Equally fascinating to me are the remnants of where a ranch once was but was bought by some larger rancher and now only the dreams that were dashed linger behind. Eastern Oregon is full of such because it takes a lot of land over there to make a living and the homestead acts only dealt out limited acreage. It might have seemed a lot to someone from the East, but out here, it was just enough to wear your fingers to the bone, break your back, and in the end go broke.

Traveling the west, with some awareness of the cycles of ranch life, helps to give meaning to what you are seeing. For instance in August, unless the woods are dry, many cattle are still in the higher country. They will be grazing along streams or chewing their cud under trees enjoying the afternoon shade just as we would do. They lose their calves, just as ours down here do, and have farther to look to find them. A cow gets to grazing along, looks up after awhile and wonders where everybody else went.

Some would like to see all cattle off government lease allotments, but properly grazing on that land is actually good for it. Bringing them there at the right time, not over grazing will lead to less burnable fodder for the forest fires that are inevitable. Irresponsible grazing, of course, leads to all of the worst for the land.

When I see cattle on the lower pastures this early, I wonder if they lost their grazing privileges (cattle love going to new places, definitely it was a cow who first said-- the grass is always greener over that hill), or maybe the higher elevation grasses have dried up, or perhaps it's owner concern for fire. With the fast moving fires that the west has in the summer, cattle are definitely at the mercy of the elements and many times it would be impossible for the cowboys to get them out ahead of a bad firestorm.

Many places in Eastern Oregon are open range, which means drivers have the responsibility to watch out for cows, calves or bulls on the road. During certain seasons, the fall or spring for instance, you are likely to run into cattle drives and you just settle back and wait them out. If you have a camera, you can sometimes get good photos as I did several years ago of this drive near Silver Lake. The main thing is cattle have right of way and don't spook them by being in a hurry.

Finally anybody, who reads this, knows I have had a thing for cowboys. Well, in Shaniko, a town that once was much larger, but lately has been growing due to some outside interests with money renovating parts of it, well here was this guy just sitting there and what is a gal to do?

There were actually two cowboys on that bench and unfortunately the one of my choice appeared to have more interest in shooting the breeze with his pal than me. Alas and alack-- the story of my life where it comes to men!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mountain Islands

In the midst of the sagebrush seas, across the West, are the mountain islands. Eastern Oregon has several of them all with lakes, rivers and tall pines-- Strawberry Mountains, Steens, Blue Mountains, Wallowas with sizable wilderness areas in all of them.

Many of these mountains were rich in minerals and therefore the sites of mining towns that sprang up over night and sometimes disappeared almost as fast. Some are now ghost towns but most have a few living residents who either don't like civilization, still pan a little gold, or hope for a new tourist boom. A few have the old store fronts still standing; some have almost completely gone back to nature. Others, like Sumpter, have a few flourishing businesses, and new home construction due to second home owners, year round recreation possibilities, and back to nature types.

In Granite, an old-timer (who might have been younger than me) sat in the back of the only restaurant in 'town,' entertaining himself by watching his wife fix our lunch and telling us grizzly bears had been released into the nearby woods by Fish and Wildlife people-- conspiracy music please-- released secretly!

He knew it was true because a local woman had been picking huckleberries and recognized the different shape of the bear's head. She confronted the Wildlife folks, and they admitted they had done it to get grizzlies reestablished in Oregon.

What do you do when someone tells you something like that? I smiled and said, oh my, rather than, I don't believe it! Well, I don't but then who really knows. Wolves and moose have come across from Idaho, but the general animal population in all those mountains would be consistent with most mountain habitats-- other than no wolves (yet) and no grizzlies.

For me, one of the neatest things about out back of beyond places is the uniqueness of the people who make their living there-- often barely.

In Whitney, a ghost town except for a few somewhat occupied cabins, a sign said speed limit enforced by 30.30. I wouldn't want to put it to the test.

Up a narrow, bumpy, one-lane gravel road was supposed to be Susanville. Over thirty years ago, when I first saw it, there were quite a few interesting old buildings still standing. This time, everything was fallen down but worse right at the entrance of what might be considered city limits, signs on both sides of the gravel road said private property, no trespassing, local traffic only (whatever that meant).

There was some grumbling about having to turn around after having come up so far on that awful road, but oh well... only to learn later the road was forest service, not private-- not legally anyway. Legal or not, their sign might have been enforced by Smith and Wesson. I prefer not finding out.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sagebrush Seas

What you see, when driving through Eastern Oregon (and a lot of the West), will first and foremost be sagebrush seas. For some this can seem like nothing, but I love sage-- the way it moves with the wind, the colors, and the hearty fragrance. In the midst of a sea of sage, is there anything quite so freeing as to see a herd of antelope, wild horses or burros? When you are in sagebrush country, you are where the miles seem endless, borders mean nothing, the sky is huge, and your imagination can soar with the eagles, ravens and hawks.

For me, traveling across this kind of country is enhanced by listening to western soundtracks like Red River, Monte Walsh, Open Range, Dances with Wolves, or Legends of the Fall as this is the country of the Old West. The music helps my imagination create a cattle herd heading over a ridge with a John Wayne rounding 'em up. Actually the cattle herd doesn't have to be imaginary. This is the land of the cattle open ranging or being driven down the highway.

Always when I am in Eastern Oregon or any of the other states that have lots of sage, I take photos of the hills and canyons trying capture what this country makes me feel. It never can do it as a photo is too small to capture such a big country.

Around this time of year, I also stop somewhere to cut sage to bring home. I don't take too much from any one plant, and this year sliced off a bit of juniper too. I love the fragrances to remind me of the land, but I have another purpose-- sage smudges.

Theoretically sage smudges are supposed to be white sage, which doesn't grow wild up here and means I'd have to buy it from an entrepreneur or go to New Mexico or grow it myself assuming I lived where that was possible. The idea that only white sage is fit for holy work definitely serves a commercial purpose-- some believe a more spiritual one also.

If the Native Americans from this area even used sage for smudging, it would have been sagebrush. Given my spiritual feelings about sagebrush, it's what I prefer and collect it from a place where I personally have felt the energy. When you gather any plant for spiritual work, a good start is to thank it for the gift and don't take too much from any one place.

I know others won't agree, but I believe a person's results spiritually, from any ritual, are more about the attitude and spirit brought to the work rather than what kind of plant. I have bought bundled smudges and don't see much difference for the quality of the experience (yes, I already know I'm not a spiritual purist).

To collect, I look for a place that the energy feels strong (wide highway shoulder helps too), and the sage is tall and healthy. From the past, one of the most beautiful for me was high in the Wyoming mountains near the Butch Cassidy hide-out, known as Hole in the Wall. This time I found a place along the Middle Fork of the John Day River. In the photo, I am standing alongside the plants as I cut off the sprigs.

At home, I put the sage into baskets or something that allows it to dry (for me that usually means most goes outside if I gathered much). This would also be a good time to bundle it if that's the preferred method.

There are several ways to smudge. One is getting a large seashell and putting small pieces of sage (cedar, juniper, your choice) in the bowl, lighting it, letting the smoke wisp up. With a bundle (seen in the photo), you light one end, give it a moment, blow out the flame, and move it around just enough to keep the smoke going up as you use it for cleansing, purifying, centering, or to begin a prayer or meditation.

(Although the area I was traveling through in Eastern Oregon has several herds of wild horses from various heritages, this trip I saw none; and the above photo was taken a few years ago in the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge just south of the border in Nevada. Since last year, the government has been rounding up these horses, wanting to save the graze and water for other animals. I don't know who the groups are who wanted to cut the numbers of wild horses from a few thousand to one hundred (could be environmental purists, hunters or even some ranchers), but I think it's a shame because to see a herd of wild horses is soul stirring; and yes, I felt that way even before I saw 'Spirit'.)

Friday, August 17, 2007


This very primitively drawn (and definitely not geographically exact) map is of Oregon with the route about which I will be writing in red. When many people think of Oregon, they think of Western Oregon and the Willamette Valley, the area where I was born, grew up and still live. This is a place of tall trees, valleys, small farms, snow capped volcanic peaks, mountain ranges with many rivers, and salmon. This kind of terrain encompasses about 30% of the state.

Along the Coast, between the Coast Range and the Cascades, and along the drainages of the Willamette, McKenzie, Umpqua, and Rogue rivers, you have most of the population. When you add in Central Oregon, which is the other side of the Cascades from Salem and is mostly drained by the Deschutes and Crooked River, that's about it for traffic, jobs, homes, and people.

That leaves two-thirds of the state which most will only drive through on a highway and do it about as fast as they can. Few will drive or hike up into the beautiful mountain islands, sit alongside the little streams, canoe the lakes, or raft the river rapids. You can travel some of these two-lane highways and maybe only see ten cars in two hours. Eastern Oregon is a land of sagebrush seas until you climb into the mountains or dip into the canyons and then it's a land of surprises, remnants of the past, big ranches, and small towns sometimes holding on by the skin of their teeth waiting for the next wave of new dreamers.

Over the next couple of blogs, my photos will all be from Eastern Oregon as I try to describe part of a place I have visited many times, never lived, but always loved.

For a real map, this is a good source for any state-- satellite image

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Back of Beyond

For the next couple of blogs, I'll be posting photos from Eastern Oregon which is where I have been for the last few days. Since I just got home from many miles of road, today's blog will be short. This particular photo is the Middle Fork of the John Day River and definitely qualifies as the back of beyond!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

1996 Part II

When I began writing '1996' (8/7/07), I had not been thinking of the lessons to be learned. I had thought of looking backward as reminiscing, as wishing something that's finished was still here. Instead we might see patterns we are still following or have forgotten. We could use this knowledge to change, enhance, or encourage us for what we are now doing as we look at the results from similar or different choices.

Looking back like this, hearing what others were experiencing, reminded me again on how separated we are and yet joined. Back in '96, some of us were going through health problems, marriage or relationship break-ups, some having a travel adventures, maybe a wedding, or major family transition, perhaps a love gained or another lost. We could have gone back to school or lost some of our abilities through an accident. Most of us didn't know each other. It's not to be expected that we would know what was going on with strangers-- and yet now, people who are now reading this blog, are joined by a new media tool to be aware of each other.

Perhaps I am not explaining this well, but it is a thought that has often come to my mind when I hear of a tragedy like most recently the Minnesota bridge collapse. I hear of it and think at that moment, while someone else was facing a catastrophe, I was starting dinner or doing something equally mundane. Someday it'll be me with that life changing moment and others will be totally unaware, maybe even those who may live near to me.

The question I have come back to is how do we connect more with each other so we can be sharing of our energy when others need it-- sharing it even when we don't know the people or what they are going through? How can we put it out there in the universe so that strangers can benefit from our help? It sounds bizarre perhaps. Maybe it can't be done and yet if it could-- what kind of difference could it make to the world?

Anyway to give visualization to this concept, here is where I would like to put photos and/or stories from others to illustrate how we are connected years before we know it, from whatever country, religion or age. I think it would also be good for us to see what others did, big or small moments. Sometimes seeing how someone else dealt with something, as the first story here illustrates, helps us look in more imaginative places for our own solutions.

So if you have stories and/or photos to share, please email them to me (rainnnn7 at hotmail dot com) and I will continue to post them here. Your events for 1996 do not have to represent the biggest moments in your life. A life is not made up of only big moments, but thousands and thousands of little ones.

Fran in Colorado shared the following pictures and story of her travels to Saudia Arabia, Ireland, and Bali in 1996-- "I was in Bali as I had always wanted to go there and being in the Middle East I was closer to many places I traveled than if going from here. Went with two a dream come true and still one of my favorite places.

" of my best friends that I initially met and worked with when arriving in Saudi in 1995 was from Ireland. She hadn't been home in 15 years so quite the experience with her driving since they drive on the left.. Another friend of mine from the States joined us on that trip...

"I was in Saudi on a two year contract as a nurse due to wanting some extra money (pay was great) and also wanted an adventure as my last baby had gone off to college and I was was I did some research and another co-worker had been there ten years previous and told me what a great time she had. She said her social life was better there than here and she was right!! I just wanted a change and an adventure! I could write a book about that adventure along with all the funny things that happened on the side trips...someday!

"It was a life changing adventure...met so many wonderful people from all over the world...the Saudi people were so interesting and appreciated all we did in the hospital....never a bad experience with them. If one could get beyond the restrictions and look at the whole experience, it was such a rich experience in so many ways! It is the fundamentalist Muslims that are the "American haters". The experience taught me what really is important in life and it isn’t "stuff". I also after working five months in the newborn nursery, had a hysterectomy there and then a job change to the Crown Prince's Royal Clinic for the remaining 1 and a half years (he is now the King) What an experience that was...I could go on but know you wanted only a wee description so will end here."

For another example of what might stand out for us in 1996--

, in this picture with his son, remembers rejoicing 1996 was a warm year in California and he could water ski in February. He remembers it because he has the photo on his bulletin board where he works and it was easy to find and scan but it's a prime example of one of those little moments that do matter.

And you, what were you doing?