Northern Oregon, June 27, 2013
Things were looking good for continued bird success but all was not well, my first real injury had been impeding me. I had a very ugly looking toe, swollen, infected, and oozing. It was a by-product of my best day of birding on Attu, a not-so-subtle reminder of my past: the fallout, and the miles hiked in my snake boots. It had just not healed and had flared up recently. I took my first antibiotics and went to bed, hoping that my big toe would hold up for another hiking and birding adventure, this one in the Pacific northwest.
Tom Hanks is one of a few actors to have won the Academy Award for best actor twice consecutively. Despite his prowess in Forest Gump and Philadelphia, he has made some truly dreadful movies. One of which came to mind as we flew to Oregon in late June was Joe versus the Volcano. The plot is that Joe, a nobody, thinks he has a terminal illness so he volunteers to be the human sacrifice for some tropical island native population who are addicted to orange soda. Joe falls in love, gets shipwrecked en route, and buys some really handy luggage. In the end Joe wins, the god or whatever is in the volcano, unfed, sinks the island and Joe gets saved by the luggage. He also gets to take home Meg Ryan for their next movie together in Sleepless in Seattle, a much better flick.
Mt. Hood, along with its three Vulcan neighbors: Rainer, Saint Helens, and Adams, are all active towering giant volcanoes rising well over eleven thousand feet, well, Saint Helens used to be that high before it blew. I looked at my toe in my sandal and then at a picture of Mt. Hood in the gift shop. It would be Mt. Hood versus my big toe, and I had my suspicions which would be the victor. It was going to be a long few days of hiking, I feared, a long and painful day as I could feel my ankle begin to spasm….big toe and now this? We drove into the mountains east of Portland in search of a hidden nudist retreat.
The Squaw Mountain Ranch describes itself as a private health club and has been existing in the woods southeast of Portland, Oregon since 1933. Much like the Maryland Health Association and others, it was believed back in the earliest days of the nudism movement and probably still is, that nude exercise and outdoor activity led to a healthier life. Nude outdoor activity led to decreased incidence of disease, tuberculosis, some other contagious diseases and rickets and other diseases caused low sun exposure. This is also the oldest nude club west of the Mississippi and sits on eighteen acres in a beautiful stand of Ponderosa pine.
As we drove into the grounds the smell of wood smoke filled the area and after checking in and a small tour we got undressed in their Lodge, a three bedroom guest area with its own wood stove. Stoked up to eighty, the warmth made my wife happy and was a comfortable place to hang out naked. Considering the weather outside was typically Oregonian, damp, intermittent rain, and cool, it was doubly enjoyable.
SMR, as they call themselves, does not have a pool just a small pond for swimming called Opal Lake. The lake is filed with newts, smallish salamanders, which besides eating mosquito larvae are also the most poisonous creatures on this continent. I used to raise them and I didn’t realize this fact until I watched a nature special. They secrete a neurotoxin on their skin, but otherwise are just tame little things. So swimming in the lake is safe unless you accidentally swallow one. Then you might have a problem but not sure anyone ever has.
Seeing my wife among the large trees reminded me that she could be a wood nymph and I guess that would make me an elf or a troll. Looking at my foot, maybe I would be Bigfoot. I’m not sure I want to think myself as a troll, but thinking of my wife as a nymph is a nice thought. Birding on the grounds and on the cut over areas nearby was difficult. It is always tough birding in dense forest as it is hard to see the birds.
If your goal is to see rufous hummingbirds, Steller’s Jays, western tanagers, and Calliope hummingbirds, this is the right place to be. I also saw a ruffed grouse for the first time, although I had heard one in Wisconsin.
The birds stayed in the tree tops and usually out of sight. It seemed I would more likely run into a naked nymph in the forest or Bigfoot than I would a bird of any sort. For a minute I thought about the real Bigfoot finding me and my wife on an old logging road in the rain, but I got over it and we walked on. We did eventually flush a family group of sooty grouse, the new pacific species that was split off from the blue grouse. The rocky mountain version of them is now called dusky grouse. I saw at least two females and the nearly grown chicks didn’t know which way to go. I saw them the best and unlike the chicks of the ruffed grouse, which have a dark line behind the eye, these just had a little brown on their tops of heads and gray. The hens were bigger than the ruffed as well. I had finally added a new bird.
We walked down a wet logging road with long grass where some small birds stayed in the tree tops and I got distracted by what turned out to be a squirrel. Finally, I got a better look at the small birds in the trees. I saw everything but their heads, but with mostly a white breast and not really any streaks. In these woods could be only one thing, a hermit warbler and the sound matched them perfectly. They nest in conifers and feed in the tops of trees making them difficult to actually see well. It was enough of a view to count them, and it was one of two warblers I needed on this trip.
We spent that first night in a wood heated bliss, watching the Chicago Blackhawks win Lord Stanley’s cup. It was a surprise turnaround in game six with a Boston two to one advantage becoming a three to two defeat with only a minute left. This was the only hockey game I had watched all season and I guess I picked a good one to watch.
I was on the trail in the damp, wearing sandals and my binoculars the next morning at sometime after five and again, it was a tough go. I finally confirmed a dusky flycatcher in the woods but added nothing else. I walked to an overlook at a cut over section and just looked at the fog shrouded countryside. SMR has another problem, one in which I have mixed emotions.
They sit surrounded by land owned by a company called Longview Fibre out of Canada. I know this company a little from my days in the family timber business but not much of them. They are scheduled to log the stand of timber that stands just a few yards from the lake and the lodge we are staying at and will significantly alter the local feel of SMR.
One could blame the evil timber companies or one can even blame SMR. Not only could SMR buy the tract of land, I’m sure, but they don’t have the money. No club like this ever seems to have any money. It is not just a nudist or naturist thing, no club seems to have any money. The story of SMR and its forest, it seems, has another dimension. You see before making a rush to judgment, SMR used to own one hundred and sixty acres and sold one hundred and forty back in the 1940s. Not only that, but in the fifties, they even logged over the woods I’m standing in. A nudist nature retreat where we destroyed nature for a few pieces of silver….?
I don’t know the whole story but before making assumptions, SMR or originally, Hesperia, could have been in dire finances in the fifties. It could have been a choice: either pay the taxes or lose everything and maybe the trees were the only way the club could survive. The facts were not shared and maybe even lost to history. Trees do grow back and they have grown back nicely, and they might have to grow back again.
I am also conflicted since this is not public land and having grown up in the timber business. Timber put me through college, put food on the table, bought my first shares of stock, bought my first boat, and, in general, allowed me to do what I do. My grandfather clear cut, selective cut, and did what had been done to much of Oregon. I had been involved. Commercial forests are just that, commercial. This is not public land. SMR also had their chance and sold it off. So now come October, these twenty acres will be an island, an island under the volcano.
Hopefully the local nymph population and Bigfoot could live together in the close proximity of twenty acres until the trees grew back, or move to a new grove. It is always hard to realize that one can just be sad without having someone to vilify.
Enjoying my final time birding at Squaw Mountain Ranch and their magnificent forest, I scoured the condemned treetops and in a final remembrance of the conifers, I spied red crossbills, heard them chatter, and counted them on my list.
We climbed a bit of Mt Hood and saw Vaux’s swifts, then we brided on the west side of Portland, seeing red-breasted sapsuckers, Macgillivray”s warblers, Varied Thrushes and then as a reward went to the nude beach at Collins Beach on the Columbia. We came across Cinnamon teal and Bullock’s orioles along with black headed grosbeaks. The.count was now at 562, adding 8 new birds in Oregon.
It had been two hundred and thirty years since Mt. Hood had erupted. It had spared us on this trip but undoubtedly killed a climber last week. It sheltered nudists on its flanks and it could also shelter Bigfoot, the god of the mountain, and wood nymphs, and only each mythical creature knew for sure if they existed but the nudists were real. As I glimpsed it briefly, it was as if the volcano was reminding me who was boss. The volcano reluctantly gave me a couple of birds but it kept the harder to get woodpeckers hidden on its flanks…out there somewhere. My toe…well it was still a pretty scary looking toe. It made my daughter scream at the sight of it when I got home and it began to get nicknames, toe-rot, black toe, dead toe, scary toe, and toe-main, as in the poisoning. It looked like a toe in need of being amputated and replaced. In the fight of my toe versus the volcano, my toe lost, that was definite.