Restoration was on our minds as we left that exemplary bookshop in Bend---restoration of our bodies and spirits. So after some good food and, yes, some spirits that evening, we set out the next morning to hike across lava fields and along the Deschutes River, then to the fabulous High Desert Museum, and on to Crater Lake. The drive upward to Crater Lake through an alleyway of 12 foot snow banks reminded me of the significance of snowpack to life in the west. The Visitor Center, buried under 20 feet of snow, was open. No light penetrated the windows. Despite what seemed to us awesome amounts of snow, we're told the snowpack is only 70 percent of the norm and irrigation systems in Central Oregon are prepping for less (or no) water in the coming season. Farming in semi-arid places based on snowpack plus elaborate plumbing is probably not the most resilient way to produce food in a warming world.
En route westward toward Arcata, the underbelly of the recession is obvious: people outside rest area toilets looking dully past rushing travelers with "out of food," "out of gas," "family stranded" scratched on bits of cardboard. I place some bills in the hands of a pasty young man of 18 or so in damp scruffy clothing. He responds, "God bless you, sir." His mate (or sister) sits in a beaten Intrepid, headlights taped together, presumably out of fuel. Grapes of Wrath and Dickens mix in my imagination. We find the same along the way, something I've never before seen---at least not in roadside rest areas. And then there were desperate, hungry looking, apparently homeless people hanging out together near motels and hotels in Crescent City and Arcata---both in hard-hit California. Multi-ethnic California also yielded this: Hong Juan Restaurant: "Mexican, Chinese, Jamaican, and Vietnamese cuisine."
In Arcata, Sabra Steinberg and others turned out a crowd of 100 or so at Humboldt State University with a nice book table just outside the lecture hall. The next morning we headed in a downpour into the Mattole Valley for the only event in a case study community. The road from Ferndale to Petrolia in the best of times is dicey as it twists and turns up and over the coast range, then drops steeply to the coast at Capetown, then up hill and back to the coast en route to the lovely Mattole Valley. In The Ecology of Hope we described this road as one of the most spectacular in North America. It has not changed, either in its alignment and breathtaking switchbacks and un-railed shoulders, or its rough surfaces. Unfortunately this time, no view on the way down. The rain broke just as we arrived at the Community Center, soon filled with Mattolians to hear the stump talk and update me. Flora Brain of the Mattole Restoration Council had everything ready to go, as promised, then a warmly generous introduction by Freeman House set the table ever so gracefully. I looked out on familiar faces of restorationists who deeply love this valley---people I have been visiting for some 18 years. My heart throbs for these good folk. Questions and conversation flowed about self-sufficiency, generational handovers, the marijuana economy, whether the restoration industry might put itself out of business (not likely soon), and the sad fact that only two coho were seen spawning in the Mattole last fall.
Donna dragged me away from many interesting conversations with folk following me out the door. Seemed rude but we had to race back up the twisty road to an author event at Northtown Books---another very impressive indy bookseller. Spectacular views this time. A small but highly engaged group at Northtown got right back into the subject we'd left in the Mattole---the rapidly changing landscape of marijuana production. In November, California voters will decide whether to fully legalize the crop. If it happens, it will likely drive out smaller producers and force the price downward. State tax revenues, however, could significantly rise. Mattolians would likely suffer.
The next day we retraced our route, still in clouds and rain, up over the coast range (snow levels down to 1500 feet that day-- just below the summit) to Grants Pass. Despite the wet weather, we stopped to hike in the redwoods. Less than 10 minutes in, a raging hailstorm mixed with drenching rain, sent us packing and dripping back to the car. Later, settling into a motel north of Ashland, Oregon, I prepped for my last set of gigs on this trip. Ashland, whose main industry is an historic and highly successful Shakespeare festival, got me wondering about the role of the arts in sustainability. This idyllic small town of 25,000, looks green and prosperous.
The next day, Pat Aklin, the geography program coordinator at Southern Oregon University, accompanied me to two classes on the main campus in Ashland and one in the evening at a learning center in nearby Medford---all attentive, all aware and wondering about the reality of a coming post-carbon world and whether places like the Ecology of Hope Communities might fare better. I believe they will. Pat, meanwhile, also an optimist grounded in the realities of grim environmental trends, subjected herself to three versions of the oft-given talk and survived to tell the story. Brave woman. A shout-out also to Cynthia White for sharing her overflowing classroom of evening community studies students in a very intriguing program preparing for the coming times.