Mid to Late Spring 2024

Journal No.7, 2024

After bidding farewell to the Sonoran Desert during its objectively most beautiful season, Isaac and I made our way northwest in 2 long travel days. We drove past the Hoover Dam, around Las Vegas, and North through the dead middle of the state. As we drove, a severe winter storm warning pinged our weather app notifications, and we did our best to reroute ourselves to avoid the storm. That night, we parked on the side of the road in the locationally center of Nevada. We woke up early to another storm warning coming our way despite our efforts to avoid it, and found ourselves literally chased by the storm for about 2 hours, looming closer in our rearview. We climbed a snowy mountain pass and pursued more of the vast Great Basin Desert. The state border from Nevada to Oregon was incredibly underwhelming, but soon we began to zoom past larger high desert trees, patches of snow, and another large mountain, skiers flying the slopes. Larger conifers began shading our long drive, and after 16 hours of driving, we arrived at our first planned campsite for the duration of my seasonal job. 

Upon arrival in the Silver Falls area, we first planned a camping spot in the State Forest directly south of Silver Falls State Park. This camping is free, and besides the treacherous logging roads climbing up the Cascade foothills, seemed like a good option in terms of proximity to my new work and Isaac’s time spent in the same forest. We trekked up through 11% grade dirt roads, past patches of burn zones, and stump fields, pushing the strength of our truck beyond what we had in the past year of towing with it. Isaac had marked out a spot on our GPS map that was off a through road, with some sky visibility. We pulled up and found heaps and heaps of trash both in the big bonfire pit as well as around the site. Old shoes, shotgun shells, bottles and cans, pieces of rope and fabric, just about anything you can imagine. Disappointed this was our only option in the whole State Forest (the other camp spots we passed were occupied or had tree coverage, and the spaces were limited to begin with). We decided that we would still park here for the night, and explore more of the forest for another spot the following day without hauling Lady Loam. Isaac did not have a good feeling about the spot, and the more we looked around, the less welcoming it was. Bullet holes in the tall conifers, broken glass and ceramic almost everywhere…  We woke up on Sunday morning, having rested well after all the driving the past 2 days from Arizona. We drove down to a little Hispanic grocery store/restaurant and brought food back to our new camp spot. We bought trash bags to clean up the campsite when we got back, and planned on doing a trash cleanup before leaving the spot. Not 5 minutes into eating our breakfast, a silver CRV car pulled up to our site, and a guy in the passenger seat got out. He explained that this was the town’s shooting spot, and he wanted to shoot off a few rounds. I watched inside from the kitchen window as he walked back to his trunk. I asked Isaac if he could request that this newcomer shoot somewhere else in the forest for just today while we were camped there, but that set the stranger off. While unloading his cart with his AR15 without precision, shooting parallel to our trailer, he stood not 10 feet from our front door targeting the small hill right behind our home. He incoherently rambled-yelled insults at us, upset that we were at “his spot” and we shouldn’t be here…how ironic. After the longest few minutes of Isaac and I’s life, he got back in the car and the older man in the passenger seat sped back down the dirt road. In shock and panic, we got into flight mode and packed up Lady Loam to immediately leave the State Forest. We hitched up and were back on the logging road in 10 minutes, and once out, we parked on the side of the road next to the Santiam River down the road. We were able to book the Silver Falls State Park Campground and drove over immediately. 

We set up camp for the first full week of work at the official Silver Falls State Park Campground and enjoyed nightly showers and power hookups (necessary because all the spots have low to no sun visibility due to the height of the forest). The campground was convenient just across the small road from where I teach. It was kind of like the suburbs of trailers…kids playing on the playground, dogs leashed up at every site, grilling dads, and noisy AC units. We felt safe there, especially considering our first experience in the area the night before. 

My first few days on the job were full of soft skill training, protocol and logistics, and getting-to-know-you time. My team is energetic, empathetic, adventurous, kind, funny, and so knowledgeable. My coworkers have become great friends since day one, and they make all the flexibility-related chaos, long hours, and difficult moments worth it. After two days of training, we began teaching at Davidson Ranch, a giant one-room lodge in the center of the heavily wooded State park. I was absolutely in awe of the biodiversity on the secret trails we trekked through with 5th Graders. At nighttime, I committed to a knowledge sprint to catch up with the other educators on my facts and ID of PNW ecology. It helps to reinforce new information when I get to be immersed in nature every day, all day! 

Although we tried to renew our campsite reservation at the official campground, as well as talk to the Park Ranger about having an exception to parking longer term because I work in the Park, our efforts were fruitless. We relocated to a hipcamp north of the State Park at a hobby farm in Silverton. We stayed in a large gravel lot meant for parking when the farm is used as a wedding venue in the summertime and had a glorious view of the soft fields of grass as our front yard followed by snowy mountains in the distance. The hosts were so kind, and although the commute was long and it was difficult for Isaac to be away from his car most of the day, we were able to explore the adorable town of Silverton. This town has a quaint European vibe, as it is centered around Silver Creek, with a walkable historic downtown town, many weekend events, and pretty good food. Isaac and I visited a large tulip farm and got many hours of rest over the weekend to catch up on my newly developed (yet expected) fatigue of teaching. Driving slow on long country roads, enjoying the fresh spring air, Isaac and I clicked with the pace of life folks out here lead. We may find ourselves there for a longer time in the future.

For a long weekend, we drove Lady Loam up to Portland and stayed in the northeast corner of the city. We ate at one of the most interesting and fun restaurants we have ever experienced, adventured around downtown, and celebrated a lovely Passover seder with my family. After a busy, rainy, traffic-filled weekend, we were ready to get back to the slowness of the country. Driving and parking a big truck in a packed city proved to be an unforeseen challenge throughout the weekend. Even though most days this spring were rainy, teaching outside all day in nature makes it especially meaningful - it becomes more of a challenge of resilience and positivity than a dreaded inconvenient task. 

Upon finishing our Portland weekend trip, we relocated to another hipcamp, this time a peony farm just outside of Keizer (north of Salem). We parked on the muddy field, feet away from the crops, and the farm was the last rural plot of land before industrialized stip malls sprawled for miles. Here, we watched the peonies peak out their first buds of color, and Isaac and I got to explore more of Salem. I got into the rhythm of my teaching job in the forest and began to understand and apply the curriculum and pedagogy of the organization. Something I did not anticipate is the role modeling educators do for students who are in a new learning space. For example, my being comfortable in all weather outside, modeling what “honorable harvest” and “stewardship” look like as I spend all day on trails with students helps them mirror my behaviors and absorb our big ideas with the organization. There is SO much structured teaching we do, but this is more of an indirect way of teaching that I have embraced.

At the start of May, Isaac was asked by his work to take a business trip to Atlanta for two weeks. We got into action, trying to solve what our plan was with Lady Loam and Artie while he was away. After a stressful few days not knowing what the next two weeks would look like, our friends/coworkers Rosie and Ethan made it work out so we could stay on their rented property steps from the Santiam River, hugging the south end of Silver Falls State Park. Isaac embarked on his business trip in the early morning on a Saturday. He left me and Artie after expertly parking Lady Loam in the middle of the land next to the pump house. I was just beginning to develop a cold as he left and took time off of work to heal and get oriented with the new space. During the two weeks Isaac was traveling, Artie and I trained down by the river bank, played in the corner of our friend’s garden, and challenged myself with cold plunges in the snowmelted river. Although most of the daytime Artie and I were separated, we spent sunset playing, nighttime snuggling, and dawn walking together.  

My parents generously visited me on the weekend of Mother’s Day, and I was so excited to show them around the town of Silverton, hike North Falls and South Falls in the State Park, and enjoy the first fully sunny weekend in the PNW. I realized how much I had learned in the past month and a half living in the area… the ecology, the roads, the history, the culture! It has been a pleasure staying in such a beautiful area, slowing down our travels to focus on work that inspired and challenged me.

Isaac joined us back by the river and got into his own flow with the land and our friends. We were able to stay another two weeks, meaning that we are staying the whole month of May up until my last day of teaching. We went up to Portland for the day, and bought ourselves some treats (Pendelton sweater for Isaac and a dress for me, and Portland Leather Co. goodies), ate delicious food once again, went to H-Mart, and experienced a concert full of love by a genius musician named Jacob Collier. We had an at-home sushi/omakase party with our friends/neighbors by the river and enjoyed the last few days of Oregon spring.

Being able to experience this magical place has changed me, and I look forward to returning in the Fall for the next season of outdoor school in the State Park. It has been so whimsical experiencing the season change here, from the new willow buds to the unfurling ferns, from the emergence of little green berries from the delicate magenta-adorned salmonberry flower to the swelling of the river in weeks of constant spring rain. Hiking miles each day in lush forests, inspiring young kids to gain confidence and respect for the nature local to them, challenging myself with my teaching goals… I am so grateful to Isaac, Lady Loam, and my job for making this all possible!

Big Takeaways:

  • trust your gut
  • don’t let the first experience dictate the rest
  • look for the helpers, they are there!
  • rain is not “bad weather”, it is necessary for Earth’s living and nonliving organisms despite how inconvienient or uncomfortable it may be for us humans
  • explore your own childlike wonder as often as you can, it gives a sense of appreciation and excitement like no other
  • this corner of the world really flourishes in the summertime when the long days and sunshine bring folks together and berries to ripen

isabelle's painted sky ● Copywright 2023