White Pine Down

When we first moved into the RR HQ complex several years ago, one feature we enjoyed the most about our Back 40 was the eight story white pine that towered majestically over the neighborhood. Unfortunately, ice storms during the last few winters broke off the lower branches, rendering this once-regal tree into a toothpick with a sail. Its days were clearly numbered- the tree was going to come down soon, either by chainsaw or by wind. And by wind would almost certainly crush our abode or our neighbors.

So we called the local tree service and initiated euthanasia. The owner looked up and purveyed the enormity of the situation: "This is too tall for my bucket truck" he said, "I'm going to have to call my monkey boy."

His monkey boy arrived and we asked how many trees of this height he's cut down. "Millions. Dude, I've been doing this for twelve years." Allrighty then! Fire up the Husquevarna!

The monkey boy scramb-led up the trunk quicker than a fox squirrel and began the surgical cutting of smaller branches to get to bigger branches. How these guys don't cut their safety lines or get tangled in rope systems or have a massive branch twist and slam into them is a credit to their skillset. We're continuously amazed at professionals with jobs that straddle the razor's edge between accomplishment and failure on a daily basis- heart surgeons, state troopers, airline pilots, and yes, monkey boys.

He loped off the top and descended from his high perch. One of his co-workers cut the pine at the base and it fell with a loud thud that shook the house. The trunk indented a deep groove into the wet ground that will have to be filled in with a load of dirt. The tree, which once produced both admiration and fear, had been felled. Summertime views of our world from the back porch will never be the same. Over the last several years, we've cut down three dead ash trees and a dying pear tree. Our yard, once a haven for birds and sheltered from neighbors we don't know, is now an open expanse.

The skidder came and lifted the cut pieces into a utility truck. After the stump grinder comes and pulverizes the only remaining sign that a 100 year old white pine (the state tree of Michigan!) once stood here, nothing will remain but a pile of mulch. We will miss our white pine- except when the strong winds sough across Portage Lake.


Bones and Ashes

Animal bones, abandoned Air Force radar base, Burns, Oregon.

Desert car, Wrights Point, Oregon.

Abandoned wrangler cabin, Oregon.

Motorcycle accident, Ukiah, Oregon.

Ashes into the Umitilla River.


Water Rock Sky

The Crooked River at Smith Rock State Park, Prineville, Oregon.

Look closely- three rock jocks are scaling the cliff. We used to do that kind of thing but those days are long gone....

Buddha head rock.

Big scrum rock.

Vapor trail.

Tumalo Falls.



Dagger Falls, Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho.

Middle Fork launch at Boundary Creek.

Frosted mountain tops, Bear Valley, Idaho.

Tree trunk, Pendleton, Oregon.


Harney County, Oregon

Redneck hunting blind, downtown Burns, Oregon.

Check out this cool Polaris four wheeler.

Or this even cooler Oregon State Police Charger.

Firefighters are welcomed back at Egans Tavern.

To play a game of shuffleboard.

And make a selection from the taps.


Hell Music Festival

Hell, Michigan, home to Screams Ice Cream Parlor and this weekend, the Hell Music Festival, an annual fundraiser for UM Children's Hospital.

Stickman outside of Screams. Inside, we ordered a cone of chocolate/caramel/fudge goop from Erik, the Survivor guy known by millions of viewers for making one of the dumbest moves in the history of the show. We wondered how many pesky customers bring up his bonehead move that probably cost him the million dollar prize. "Have a hell of a day", he said as he handed the cone over the counter.

Our melting cone of brown goop would have made great ammo for a game of Monkey Poo Toss.


Ten bands played from 11am to 11pm. We left to attend our first-ever co-ed baby shower and missed the evening acts. Below, one of the first bands of the day covers Jane Says.


Mesa Verde

We spent a quick couple of days this week in southwestern Colorado on business and had the good fortune of squeezing in a visit to the ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park. It is, in all honesty, one of the most incredible places we've ever seen. Seriously.

Words cannot fully describe the magnitude of Mesa Verde. Since not being able to describe something has never stopped us before, we'll give it a try. After entering the park, the road winds upward for several miles through numerous hairpin turns (dented guardrails everywhere, presumably due to motorhomes the size of submarines driving on a road no wider than two mules). When the road crests onto the high plateau, the terrain flattens and is bisected by numerous canyons and deep gorges in parallel, north to south, as if sliced into the earth by a colossal prehistoric butter knife.

These canyons are home to several hundred cliff dwellings, built and occupied by "Ancestral Puebloans" during the 11th and 12th century AD. For decades, the term "Anasazi" was widely used to reference these aboriginal peoples, but in certain translations (that apparently rile the gods of political correctness), Anasazi means "ancient enemies." So in an effort to not offend, the new term is "Ancestral Puebloans." Whatever. All we know is whoever built these amazing and complex structures from stone and brick nearly 1,000 years ago were, regardless of their current name, an amazing and complex people.

We arrived early in the morning and hiked on the first guided tour of the day into the Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in the western hemisphere. Good thing, too. By the time we finished the tour an hour later, a caravan of buses full of tourists from Europe and Japan pulled into the parking lot.

Here's what they would learn about American history during their visit: the dwellings were abandoned in the 12th century and for six hundred years saw no human life, until 1880's when cowboys on horseback travelled through the area. Why the dwellings were abandoned is sometimes cited as one of the great mysteries of history; the theories include political upheaval, drought/crop failure, problems with rival tribes, and southward migration to the lush Rio Grande valley. We have our own theory- more on that later.

What makes Mesa Verde so unique is how pristine the ruins are. Unlike many other crumbling historical sites scattered across the west- ghost towns, army forts, pony express stations, mining camps, Spanish missions, etc., Mesa Verde shows little sign of degradation. It's a testament to the craftsmanship of the builders, and the protection the desolate canyons provided from looters and the erosive elements of nature.

Every square foot of the Cliff Palace had purpose and design. Over 150 individual housing units (the site resembles a massive apartment complex) hover above five kivas (recessed circular areas used for communal or sacred ceremonies). Primitive ventilation systems kept the rooms cool in the summer and pushed out campfire smoke in the winter. In other dwellings at Mesa Verde, archaeologists have found notches carved into walls where sunlight would mark the solstices. Here you see where the women would sit and grind corn into flour, in partitioned areas with metate stones and spillage barriers.

A most incredible facet to 12th century life in the cliff dwellings is while the people resided in the cliffs, they hunted and farmed on the high plateau. Carved into the soft sandstone cliff sides above the villages were countless toe and finger holes used to climb in and out of the canyon. While the residents were no doubt very good at scrambling the rock faces, we can only imagine how many ancestral Puebloans fell into the canyon abyss when rain or ice made the climbing routes treacherous and deadly.

Which brings us back to why, in our educated opinion, the dwellings were abandoned: the residents grew tired of the endless rock climbing accidents. Living below a cliff was probably a lot of fun- until you broke both your ankles one icy morning on your way to hunt a deer. Even the most agile and experienced climbers, at some point, lose balance or grip- ingredients for disaster, of course. Sooner or later, the luster of living on the side of a cliff would wear off, and you too would elect to move out of the canyon to a nice pit house on stable ground. Yeah the view might not be as nice but at least you wouldn't have to worry about stepping over the ledge when getting up in the middle of the night to use the lavatory. You won't see this theory, by the way, in any history books.

The toe and finger holds used by the ancestral Puebloans were replaced by steps and ladders in the 1930's. Here you see how the path climbs up a slot canyon. Had the technology advanced towards these safer routes of travel in the 12th century, the residents may have never left their handsome cliff houses overlooking spectacular Navajo Canyon.



What a perfect Fourth of July weekend on the Huron Chain of Lakes! It was warm but not hot, no thunderstorms, and everybody was out having a good time (as seen here, on Baseline Lake). Our only complaint was the small crowd of drunks who camped in our neighbor's backyard last night and shot off bottle rockets and M-80's until 3:30 am. Heeewww. They're sleeping off their hangovers right now but as soon as we get this posting finished, we've got some chainsawing and weedwacking to do along the fenceline!

Here's a RR collection of random images from the weekend:

Friday evening sun vs. cloud, Baseline Lake.

Traffic jam on the Huron River, above Whitewood Lake, Saturday afternoon.

Double-decker poonton boat with rock band jamming from the bow. As we passed, we heard this chorus:

Good Times, Bad Times, you know I had my share; When my woman left home for a brown eyed man, Well, I still don't seem to care. Sixteen, I fell in love with a girl as sweet as could be, Only took a couple of days 'til she was rid of me. She swore that she would be all mine and love me till the end, But when I whispered in her ear, I lost another friend, oooh.

After the sun lowered and the sky darkened into night, the Portage Lake fireworks show began.

Let freedom ring!

Taking fireworks pictures requires patience and timing. If you wait until the firework explodes, you're too late- the picture will be smoke and darkness. If you jump the gun and take the shot too soon, you'll photograph the sparkler trail as the pyrotechnic climbs altitude. It took us a good twenty attempts before we figured out the correct sync of things.

The folks who organize the Portage Lake fireworks do a great job every year and this year was no exception. Near the end, they added a series of fiery explosions with sonic booms that were so loud, the glass windshield on our boat rattled and car alarms triggered at nearby houses. It was the sound of freedom- and probably very similar to the last thing the Taliban fighters see and hear when a MC 130 Combat Talon lights up their mountain hideouts along the Pakistan border!

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