Tucked away in the Oregon Cascade Mountains lies Breitenbush Hot Springs. I’ve been going there mostly every winter for over 25 years for a getaway with friends and sometimes solo. It is an intentional, off-grid community dedicated to living in harmony with nature and providing nurturing experiences to its guests.
In 2020 a catastrophic wildfire tore through the area. Through massive efforts, Breitenbush is being rebuilt. I just returned from a two-day stay there with a friend.
The fire left a mosaic
of green among black
surviving trees standing proud
above layers of ferns, mossy rocks,
and the glossy red leaves of Oregon grape
I recognize familiar voices
chickadees, nuthatches, crows, and jays
busy among the treetops
as squirrels scamper below
Thanks to the bravery of a few souls
the stately lodge remains standing
the meals served there are
still ample, still delicious
with nary a scrap of meat
The stone-lined pools in the meadow
and the hot tubs down the hill
offer respite to the body as they always have
their hot minerals sinking deep into muscles and soul
We sleep in new lodgings
in the spot where forested rows
of boxy brown cabins once stood
and mice once played
in the heart of night
The river still flows with vigor
a roar of rapids over stones
unconcerned of the surrounding devastation
a vein of life in a wounded land
its soft breeze on my cheek reminding me
that life goes on
no matter how much pain we endure
the landscape has changed
as have we
destruction and rejuvenation
stand side by side
as the earth's heart
beats strong and steady
beneath our feet
It’s good to be back
In the NE corner of Oregon in Wallowa County lies a little visited wonder known as the Zumwalt Prairie. I recently returned from a five day writing workshop in this remote place and still memories swirl in my mind like the prairie wind.
This 330,000 acre bunchgrass prairie remains largely intact as the high elevation averaging 4,000 feet, poor soils, and harsh weather conditions made it unsuitable for the plow. This was a summering ground for the Nez Perce tribe before white settlers and broken treaties ultimately exiled them from their lands. This land is still home to a plethora of wildflowers, elk, deer, badgers, bird, and insect species, many of them threatened.
The Nature Conservancy owns and operates 36,000 acres of this land. It’s a nature preserve but part of its mission is to work with the local ranchers integrating them with their mission of conservation work which includes biological inventories, ecological monitoring and preserving biodiversity. It’s a partnership with conservation and private interests. Careful grazing management is part of the picture. The Nature Conservancy field station was a farmstead abandoned years ago as the harsh conditions of hot summers, frigid winters, poor soil, and remoteness made it too difficult to farm.
Our lives are frittered away by detail…simplifly, simplify. Henry David Thoreau
Transitioning from my art retreat at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico back to my home base has not been an easy one (see my last post). For one blessed week, I did not have to drive, deal with purchasing or preparing my food or tending house in my basic camp style lodgings. My life was structured with making art, eating communal meals, hiking and other activities that were provided. Cell phone service was non-existent and Wi-Fi sketchy. The news of the world was kept at bay. I did not miss any of it.
So I am back. I do enjoy my own bed, my partner, my dogs, but dealing with the complexity of daily life again is daunting. Not only are there the domestic chores that my house and yard present, but then there is the pile of mail, email, computer tasks for my art and other business that needs tending. It is easy for my creative pursuits to get put on the back burner. This modern world we live in is rife with distraction. I miss the simplicity of life at Ghost Ranch.
But, this is my reality. For the last week, I put my head down and got into bull-dozer mode catching up on everything from laundry to weeding the garden. Now I am back to finding more balance. I have to schedule my art time and keep it sacred less it gets eaten away. This is a constant challenge. If I don’t write or create something every day I get moody. It’s a spiritual food. After being away, I realize that my life needs to be simplified so I can concentrate on those things most important to me. Next year the garden will be smaller, we will get more help around the yard. I will be purging the house of lots of stuff that is no longer needed and take myself off mailing lists.
Everyone should have a special place that brings a sense of belonging and rejuvenation, where you can leave the cares of the world behind and just focus on nature, relaxation and creative pursuits. I just returned from one of my special places, Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center in Northern New Mexico where I attended a pit firing workshop. Being there is like stepping into a Georgia O’keefe painting. She lived and worked on this very property.
Here I am with a tribe of other creative and like-minded people. We are hikers, writers,
singers, welders, quilters painters, printmakers, and ceramic artists. The ideas and energy we share in our individual workshops and at communal mealtimes is infectious. This is important to me as an artist for I work alone and need an inflow of new inspiration to keep my own creative fires burning. There is a camaraderie that is quickly built in a brief week here.