Category Archives: Spring upon us

Love and Grit

In which Carrie thinks of two “Bobby McGees”  . . .


A jarring purr-call of crows in the forest, which, to other avians must seem like a lion’s roar.  I ignore my labor and self-doubt with the distraction of interesting looking forest debris and idle chatter about things I would have a much easier time discussion were I sitting with my hiking companion over a cup of coffee.  It is eight in the morning and we put one foot in front of the other up a gentle incline which nature will turn into steep, loose cinders later on in the hike toward the end.  This is my first, my second, my third, my fourth attempt up the mountain.  They all blend into each other.  I have known this country.  My memory assures me it was I, Carrie Anne Ebner, who travelled there.


I also once tried the Portland Marathon.  I remember this September (or was it October) morning, after a night of watching two strange black-and-white movies (Pi was one of them) and not really feeling like sleeping, as the sun was rising by the second and I was smiling (at least internally) at the little downhill bit near the Naito Parkway.  An older woman passed me and I followed her skinny frame and the sign clipped to her shirt which said, “This is my 18th marathon.  How about you.”  I remember lime green something, and her moving farther along ahead of me.  It didn’t matter that she passed me or that this was my first official marathon, or that she was, like, 80.  I was happy to be there.  I wore a cut-off shirt with a giant sunflower printed on the front.


I have just read, and re-read a quote found in the book Running Away: “When a bad thought floats into your head you have to say, Thank you for coming, thank you for visiting, now go away.”  The runner Bobby McGee said it.  It is probably a well-worn sentiment used by coaches of many varieties to motivate their charges.  It has succeeded in both advising me right now while also invoking the Janis Joplin song which will probably be in my head for most of the day.


The trail is getting steeper, but I know there is relief coming, this being my multiple time here, the Three Sisters Wilderness.  Soon it will flatten into a plain and to the right of my companion and me will be Moraine Lake, and Broken Top, void of snow this August, farther off.  We’ll stop for a snack and some water up by those damn-tough looking trees.  They are probably five hundred years old or something.  How would I know, but that I suppose someone told me that they grow slowly, but enduringly, in this hostile habitat.


The other marathon was a lot more successful, though unconventional.  I might have worn that same sunflower shirt part of the time.  I remember waking up on my twenty-first birthday with something like a smile.  I had been thinking of running my own version of 26.2 miles for a week or two, and took two days off of work at Black Butte Stables to allow for the run and a day of recovery.


I jogged my first 5-mile loop in sweatpants.  I came home and ate and drank water, changed my clothing into something cooler–it was August– and went for a different loop.  Ten miles in a row was the longest set I had put in ever. My “training” consisted of ten-hour work days with horses and an occasional hike.  My ambition was fueled not by knowledge that my body was ready for this but that I loved something about the idea.  I wanted to at least try.


I went for another jog, had a longer break and completed the last 10 or so with a couple of friends of mine who seemed to admire me for this strange enterprise.  For some reason I didn’t consider it a big deal, not like getting an advanced degree or having a baby or buying a home.  I sipped a few gulps of merlot where they took me for a birthday dinner and complained of soreness.  I had run five and a half hours in one day which, by my loose estimate on my average mile time (13 minutes), was, indeed, a marathon.   I am the tortoise.


I miss running.  The book I read made me crave it.  I missed running and hiking long trails when I was studying philosophy and linguistics at Portland State.  I underwent a different genre of endurance–one where my thought and creativity and scholarship was remarked upon to the point of feeling not very good about myself–almost the entire time I was there.  I would read biographies about mountain climbers–the real ones who faced actual death every moment of their Himalayan treks–and would fit some homework in here and there.  Probably those stories kept me on track to graduate.


It was hard to thank the bad thoughts which floated into my head and firmly, but gently, invite them to leave.  I took therapeutic walks with my German shepherd while writing my papers in my head.  The verdancy of Tryon Creek State Park enriched me in my darkest moments in which I composed nothing resembling philosophical argument but passionate explorations of deep philosophies–useful ones.  Life-affirming ones. I would look upon the cyclical habitat with awe.  I came to know Wolf spider webs in the fall and explosive buds littering the trail in the spring.  Very different from where I grew up.


The summit of the mountain wasn’t really the end.  Nor the second or third one. Maybe that is what helped me think, It’s not a big deal.  Sure, nobody can take away those accomplishments one accrues in a lifetime, but there is still the downhill trek.  And the next unremarkable day unremembered now.  I faced other ambitions later which took longer and required the participation of more than one or two people in order to make me win or lose, more or less.


I finish and finish again and try something else and remember who I was in my sunflower shirt with nothing, really, to lose.




In which Carrie remembers something nearly forgotten . . .

Now it is used to store trash cans which aren’t really cans and several boxes of my books are in the stall named “Annie,” for she was the last resident.  She came along after I had gotten past my horse ownership phase, but my mother took up the torch.  I had three that I called mine.


As an adolescent I was introduced to horses by getting one and getting bucked off him a few times to instill the fear properly.  That horse (He Who Shall Not Be Named) was sold three months later.  I got Scotch Lad, or “Scotch,” soon after.  He might have really been my first love, as girls who get to own horses can understand.  We even don’t think their shit stinks, which helps.  It has a oaty-hayey clean smell to it and is usually around tack and other good smells, like the horse himself.


What I was just memoryin’ (to borrow David Mitchell’s coinage for “remembering”) came back to me like a twelve-thousand pound hug.  A salve for loneliness and feeling lost and driftless in an ocean between continents.  Is it why we have memories like these, and why something in me plucked at that stray daffodil among a field of cheatgrass?  The warm tones in the barnlight and the horse fur kept me in some cloak of okay then and now.


I believe I must have felt lonely a lot as a kid. Not unlikely, not uncommon.  But some have more usual routes to manage that and more friends and family to share the burden.  I had those but was too afraid to ask sometimes.  I had the horse too which is better in some ways than people.


I would ride in the daytime, but not everyday.  It was work and effort to saddle up.  Plus, I was afraid sometimes.  I wasn’t one of those girls who was all free spirited and fearless.  I had to work myself up to getting on.  But one thing was an easy release of my self.  My way of losing who I was in that state called by some “flow.”  I didn’t really know about it until now until I remembered going out to the barn in the evenings.


The trail from my parents house to the barn is still slightly carved, and gets some rare foot traffic.  I remember it being thick with snow sometimes.  I would go out in the middle of the night in my jacket and nobody looking.  I would walk and call to him.


He came for the little extras, carrots or a handful of hay or oats, and sometimes I’d just leave it at that.  I’d stand there, arm across the barn wall, in the beautiful barn colors of leathery saddles and cloudy saddle pads and firm bridles and earthy hay bales and those standard bark chips on the floor.  I’d watch him rolling the food in his jaw, or sometimes go in there and put my ear to it and hear him demolishing the carrot.  I think I thought in those more serene moments, watching.  Smelling.  Thinking about my troubles or pleasures.  Troubles become pleasures like that.


Other times I would put him in the cross ties.  His face looking out the rolling barn door usually closed in winter.  It was well lit in there.  I could have used it as a reading room but I don’t think I ever did.  Hay is kind of uncomfortable to sit on.  It comes through the cloth and there are spiders and stuff.


Sometimes I would have so much energy.  Some nights practically burning with it pent up by the square chairs at school or the suffocation of other people.  I’d let it out through brushes and hoofpicks and other weapons of mane and fur maintenance.  Scotch’d just go with it.  The hind feet were a little ticklish at the hocks.  He’d pull a little in resistance but I wasn’t really too afraid of being kicked.  He was a really trustworthy animal.  An all-around good guy.


I’d talk to him.  He’d smell my breath when I breathed into his nostrils. He’d let me fondle his ears, and I still retain the old habit of scratching the insides of ears belonging to other horses to check for fly egg deposits or lice or whatever gross thing it is inside horses ears, mostly in the warmer months.  This, I just realized, represents something I know.  This is knowledge I have in the form of an action.  I’d never really thought it before.  And now I write it.


This helps to think about.  The image of a saddle when I type “saddle” but more than just an image.  It is like a whole miracle that happens only within me.  Same with hoofpick and handful of hay and Scotch’s copper penny fur, thick and dull on this remembered winter night, shiny when it becomes summer inside my imagination at another time I call on horses to help.













The Blackbird’s Song … A Gift To Us All

In which Jon Renner remembers his youth and purpose unlocked by the song of the red-winged blackbird…

Guest Post: Jon Renner

This weekend as we walked the path along the Deschutes, enjoying the sunshine and fragrant breath of Spring, I heard the distinctive call of a red-winged blackbird … and was swept back … back many years to my home in Minnesota and another scene, now shimmering at the edge of the present … conjured by old memory paths, ingrained there by hundreds of similar experiences I’d had as a boy.  We stopped and listened.  A chorus of reply calls filled the air, and we were spellbound.  The dogs barked and ran ahead … but the feeling remained … part here, part there.

I grew up in a place where Spring meant mud, waterworks projects,mosquitoes, and long, and then longer afternoons outside.  My younger sister and I lived outside after school … partly engaged in the chores that were part of life on our small subsistence farm, and partly just being kids.  Running, splashing, climbing, looking under rocks, building forts, exploring the wonders of the lake behind our house … and hunting.  We kept at it every day until it was too dark to see properly, and then went into the house for homework, and eventually, dinner.  And after dinner was done and everything was cleaned up, we went off to either more homework, our books, or other pursuits … pursuits that were frequently accompanied by the famous radio dramas of the day:  The Green Hornet, Johnny Dollar, Gene Autry … and many more.

This was the pattern of our lives for years and years … and as Spring became Summer and the days grew longer, our routine shifted a bit because of the need to get the garden prepared or planted, the different kinds of work our animals required, or the ability to enjoy greater opportunities to do fun things outdoors.  Still, we lived this life in pretty much the same way for most of my youth.  Eventually, however, we got a television and things began to change.  Now, when school was out the programming began.  The first shows of the day started at 4pm, and we couldn’t miss a minute.  Suddenly things that had lived once only in our imaginations now came to life on the small black and white television set that held its ground in a corner of our cramped living room.  And just as suddenly, our routines … our lives … changed.

We were the first family in the area to own a television, and frequently our home was filled with afternoon visitors … experiencing this amazing technology for the first time, asking lots of questions about the temperamental machine and the programming available … and making us all reluctant “experts.”  At the start of this change, there were only a couple of hours a day when the local station was operational … and so that’s all the TV there was.  Imagine a world where your TV could only receive one station, provided only 3 hours of programming … and one of those hours contained The Farm Report and News 4 At 5!

I don’t remember how long it took to expand this new service to 2, then 3, then 4 channels …and for the programming to grow to fill the entire evening … but it wasn’t long.  Soon there were actual choices that one could make … and our family owned “TV tables” so we could watch TV while we ate dinner.  Before long, there was something on the TV from dawn until 10pm … then Saturday … and soon even Sunday programming became available!

By this time however, I was a teenager with a car, a job, and a girlfriend.  My interest in the change that this technology was bringing wasn’t very strong … and I was a little too old to get hooked on the early American Bandstand kind of shows that captured many teens.  By the time the Beatles hit the televised stage for Ed Sullivan, Viet Nam was consuming our young men and I was in the military as well … “keeping our country safe.”  I didn’t get to spend time in the rebellious but still cloistered college campuses that were filled with many of my age mates, and really only began attending to the social changes that were swirling across our country when our cities began burning in the late 60’s.

When I left the military in 1970 and began the work necessary to earn my teaching credential, I was determined to change things, determined to “make things better.”   My idealism was soon splashed with very cold water as I was both surprised and shocked by things I discovered at the urban university I attended … and by the society in which I was now living and working.  My classmates were generally at least eight years younger than I … and, though perhaps having a greater native intelligence, understood much less about nearly everything that mattered.  At least that was my feeling at the time.  They didn’t know how to manage a farm, a flock, or put up canned goods for the winter.  Some could perhaps fire a weapon, but because they didn’t know anything about the wider world, the direction in which to point it seemed beyond them.  Many of the courses offered here had little to do with the skills clearly needed by our society, but still, these classes filled easily.  It took me a while to figure out why. Many of my peers saw their time in college primarily as welcome relief from parental control, and cared little for their studies.  I knew several who graduated with no more “useful” knowledge than they had when they entered university.

My classmates were kids who had avoided the draft or other public service and had grown up with wealth beyond the understanding of most of the world’s population.  They also had been educated by a new kind of media … one that provided information about the world in a form that was overwhelming in its volume and yet supplied only limited context and depth.  “Reality” became a “frankenscripted” construct prepared by invisible media forces beyond the reach of the ballot box or the war … and many of the best and brightest began to believe a very synthetic version of the world … one in which the concentration of power seemed to be a good and natural goal … and one in which the greatest rewards went to those who accomplished this goal most expeditiously, regardless of the consequences of their actions.

Now all of this is a long way from the Deschutes River and the song of a blackbird.  And a long way too, from the hope that Spring always offers.  But it’s a reminder also.  The state of the river we watched, the kind of plants growing along the path, the trees that shaded it, the family of geese we came across and the fish that were swimming beneath them … all these things have been profoundly affected by our species, by the goals we establish and pursue.  How will we make good choices, both public and private, if this understanding … the sure and certain knowledge that we are responsible for our environment … is missing?  What happens if we fail to ground our children in a first-hand way with and in the natural world?  What will happen if we replace children’s curiosity, and the interest in science that grows from it, with belief?  When I think of the youngsters living in Brooklyn or Mumbai … the millions of these children who’ve never heard a blackbird’s song and who can’t imagine the starfield that I can see nearly every night … well it’s clear that I should do something besides “enjoy my retirement.”

And so, Spring brings renewal … even to the old … and a renewed determination to contribute.