This is very beautiful.

I probably wanted to say “This is very beautiful in a profound and spiritual way.

One of the many things that make this funny world of blogging so delightful is the connections that are made.

Recently Learning from Dogs got a follow from a person who herself was a blogger. This is what she wrote on her About page.

Endurance athlete, artist, and fourth generation Oregonian. I grew up on the central Oregon coast and lived in the Willamette Valley most of my adult life. My endurance work is an intersection of spiritual, personal and creative practices. I fall in love with places, like people, and dream of them often. I am not a travel writer, bucket lister, photographer, peak bagger or a competitive athlete. I seek only passage.

I was intrigued. No, more than that, I was curious about her. I wanted to know more.

When I left a message of thanks over on her blog this is what I said:

Oh my goodness. I came here ostensibly to leave a fairly standard thank you for your decision to follow Learning from Dogs. But then I saw what you had written and, also, the beautiful photographs you have taken. I was just bowled over!

Do you have a dog or two? Because if you do I would love you to write a guest post over at my place. Or give me permission to republish one of your posts? But I would prefer the former.

My dear wife, Jean, and me are both British. We met in Mexico in 2007 and I moved out permanently in late 2008 with my GSD Pharaoh. We came up to the USA in 2010 and were married and then came to Southern Oregon in 2012. We live close to Merlin, Josephine County and just love it to pieces. Originally we had 16 dogs but are now down to 6!

Regrettably she is allergic to dogs but she quickly gave me permission to republish a post of hers.

This is it. It is remarkable!


Into the fold: Basin and Range

May 26th, 2020

I guess I should have expected the snow, above 6000’ in the springtime. Flurries swirled around my car as I removed my leggings in the backseat and began cleaning my wounds. I was bleeding in four places, the largest of which was a grapefruit sized ooze of blood on my knee. What was supposed to be a quick, 3 mile warm up hike turned into an assorted practice of skills I’ve acquired over the last ten years in the woods.

How to navigate trailless canyons full of thorny brush.

How to step when gaining upon steep fields of melting snow.

How to traverses loose, snow covered boulder fields.

How to field dress a wound.

How to know when to turn around.

How to navigate by sight and evaluate terrain.

How to avoid getting your ankle crushed by a dislodged boulder.

How to stay calm when things get intense.

How to get your head back in the game.

How to self evacuate.

How to accept failure.

How to relish in it.

Just enough snow to mess things up.

Later, with my knee buzzing slightly from the pain, I make my way into a canyon on the western flank of the mountain. I know this canyon well. There is a safe place to hide from the rain, to collect drinking water, and I don’t have to worry about the roads turning to mud if the storms linger through the night. While my water filter drips, I follow the creek upstream. Wind swirls, aspens chatter, clouds are ripping across the sky. House sized, red violet boulders protrude from the hillside, they look like ships caught in the crest of a giant wave.

The sun is setting, the pain in my leg forgotten. I take my full water jugs and find a place to camp along the rocky beach of an alkaline lake. These lakes are the remnants of massive, Pleistocene era inland seas. Their waves are black. In the coldest parts of winter they freeze into a slurry of ice and the motion of the waves seems to slow. Like watching an inky black slurpee ocean crash against the rocky shore.

I eat instant noodles, drink tea, and think about the “real” ocean, where I was born.

To me, the desert and the ocean are like two sides of the same coin. I can watch the light change over the hills for hours, just like I can watch the waves break along the coast. Both are fascinating. The ocean always seems impassable, uncrossable, infinite, unforgiving. The desert is too, if you know the dangers well enough. I think about my close call on the mountain earlier. It’s like an old timer told me once, “…but only a fool tries to cross the desert”.

“Okay”, I said.

When the sun rises, I am already awake, shoving things around, getting ready to ride out to the canyons on the furthest side of the mountain. The dawn strikes a distant rim and is bright pink across the craggy face. I haven’t climbed that peak yet, either. I smile to myself as I toss my pack into the passenger seat, turn up the radio, and turn the ignition. I’m thankful for the warmth in my car this morning. Thankful for a shelter from the wind before my work in the canyon begins.

I found the place, but it took me a while.

After nearly 50 miles on gravel and dirt, weaving around the backsides of sprawling, ethereal lakes, several wrong turns, and a quite sporting, rugged road granting passage across the valley floor, I had finally reached the gates of this remote, unsociable place. Rimrock lined the canyon walls, massive boulders littered the valley floor, scattered throughout the mostly dry river channel. Each possessed its own creepy, brackish pond at its base, resplendent with robust algae colonies.

Some terrain cannot be run, and this was one of those places. I settled in to a comfortable, brisk hiking pace and made my way up the canyon; sometimes following the riverbed channel, other times taking the game trails through winding thickets of sagebrush and thorns. I never saw the animals, but I could feel myself being watched a few times. I do not mind; I always remember that I am their guest.

The otherworldly feeling of the canyon persisted, even as the landscape changed, flattened, rounded itself out. I took the old farm road out of the depths and up onto the flats again. The road leveled out as it wound it’s way around the mouth of the canyon, now obscured by the sagebrush sea spread out before me. You can see everything that is far away and nothing up close. The terrain is flat and easy here. I break into a run.

I love running downhill.

It’s all gravy until the weather blows in. I watch it coming across the valley. The first raindrops are warm and fat. A rainbow spreads across the horizon, snow clouds form on the rim of the mountain, and the wind really starts to rip. I resist the urge to increase my pace. My body is already sore; I’ve been out here nearly a week now. As the rain turns to sleet and then hail, it’s time to practice the things you’ve learned once more.

How to layer for various types of rain.

How to guard your face from the wind.

How to bundle your hands in your sleeves so they don’t go numb.

How to take your backpack off, open it and retrieve a snack without stopping.

How to run.

How to run when your feet hurt and you want to quit.

How to run when the rain turns to hail and catches you out on the flats with not even a rock to hide behind.

How to run when you are crying and you don’t know why.

Where do you go inside yourself when fatigue and boredom set it?

How do you stay present in all of it?

Everything is practice.

When I finally return to my car, the storm has passed, for now. The mountains beyond the valley are fully obscured by clouds. If I stay here, the road maybe be impassable by morning. I want to stay, but I decide the best course of action is to return the way I came. Also, the hot springs are over there, and my tired legs say, YES PLEASE. I hang my wet clothes up to dry along the windows of my car, crank the heat to 85, and hope my puffy dries out by morning. I rally back across the bumpy valley, behind the lakes, across the basin, up the face of the mountain all over again.

The hot springs are mercifully empty. I take off my clothes and stand naked in the cold air for a while, staring at the mountain. When I slip into the water, I feel like home. I feel like I belong. I am right where I want to be. Everything is just right.

But I don’t stay long.


I subsequently asked where she had gone:

These photos are all from the SE corner of Oregon, reaching down into Northern Nevada. Hart Mountain, the Northern Warner Mountains, Abert Rim, Rabbit Hills, Summer Lake, and the formidable Catlow Valley.

Now you know!

But that doesn’t change my opinion that this is one unusual person who has the spirit of adventure truly in her bones!

17 thoughts on “This is very beautiful.

  1. Reading this made me excited to move back to AZ & hit the trails again. I went back to PA last weekend to say goodbye to my homestate & hit a favorite hiking spot of mine. Being in nature for me is soul food.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I love nothing more than to be in water or around water or walking barefoot in the grass. It does center you because you are connected to the earth.


  2. I have climbed a lot, for decades. Each climb is a life, with its potential death attached. It doesn’t matter how easy: the easier climbs kill more, because there are more of them, and one’s guard is down, because they are easy. Also easier climbs are harder to protect, because the hardest climbs would not go without some protection.

    Never let the guard down, expect danger from the expected and unexpected, try to keep a safety margin because sometimes it will erode or disappear, all of a sudden.

    Climbing teaches to master one’s hubris. It forces the otherwise arrogant, uninformed human mind to listen to the universe, to take instructions from it, to become one with the universe.

    Why climb? Why live? Each climb, well done, should feel like a life… because it’s a life. But mostly it reveals unknown powers.

    Once I was torn off a mountain by an enormous rock avalanche: my double ropes had been hit by rocks… Also I was running a one hundred meters wide ice gully… in rock climbing shoes, not proper ice equipment, and the belay was horrendously bad. I faced certain death, and when I remember the event, it was as if it happened three seconds ago, although it was three decades… Miraculously, I was able to wedge myself between an ice wall and a rockwall along the side of the gully… and stopped! At the time I was an excellent Yosemite chimney climber… After this I stopped mountain climbing proper for years. But the fact remains that I discovered my brain could mobilize absolutely superhuman strength. When I remember exactly what happened, if someone else than myself described it, I would not believe it.

    So I learned something I could never have learned in books, because I don’t believe in superstitious religions: sometimes the thoroughly impossible happens. For a hard core rationalist such as yours truly, this is an astounding lesson, nearly as astounding as the miracle of life itself.

    Many more lessons can be learned from climbing, or activities similar to it: mountain running, which I still practice between smothering smoke clouds, requires similar neurology. In mountain running one of the dangers is to trip and head head first towards a rock, or off a cliff, it happened to me more than once… although emergency reflexes saved me with fractions of seconds to spare… In general, whereas danger in climbing can appear in seconds, in mountain running, it can appear in hundredths of a second, and one needs to think with one’s body much faster than in climbing.

    What are older folks going to do? Well one can climb into very old age, and of course the best climbers are the oldest, as climbing is a survival school. And to replace mountain running, there is always hiking. There is actually a rule among professional mountain runners: if you can’t see the top of a rise, you walk (high angle running is less efficient an walking).

    We, and the universe. Be it from having a pet, to enjoying a landscape, to be human beings in full, of this we need to be reminded all the time: we are at our best, when we are one with the universe.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Patrice, what a reply. It is as beautiful a reply as our guest blog of today.

      I find all religions to be so, so inadequate to the soul, in comparison with so many things one can do if one wants to adventure.

      For me it was sailing. Between 1987 and 1991 I was on my yacht Songbird of Kent. I was based in Larnaca, Cyprus and each summer I would sail solo to the Turkish or Greek coast, about 3 days, and at the end of the season, return to Larnaca again solo. I always had the dream of sailing long-distance solo but in the end me and my friend, Dave Lisson, sailed from Cyprus to Gibraltar en route for SW England. But we suffered a knockdown sailing from Algiers to Gibraltar, we were too late in the season, and when we came into Gibraltar I hired a professional yacht delivery company to sail the boat back to Plymouth.

      I truly understand what it is to be at one with the universe.


      1. Thanks for your kind compliments, Paul! Yes, I was thinking of you when I mentioned sailing, as I read your essays on your sailing adventures… I have noticed that those who interact deeply with nature, be they camel drivers in the desert or astronauts, all share the same religion, deep down inside, and it is characterized by a respect for nature and the place of humanity in the universe


  3. I frankly don’t know where it comes from, my love for the big outside, but I am so, so grateful for the emotion. I was this morning out for a bike ride, my first in 8 days, and there was a dead pussy cat on the road. My immediate reaction was to say out loud, “U’hhh.” and it is the same for a dead squirrel or any dead creature that has been unlucky enough to have an argument with a wheel.

    On Ugly Hedgehog, the photography forum, someone posted a photograph of the Milky Way Over Big Sable Lighthouse on Lake Michigan, the link is here , and I left a comment: “That is an incredible photograph. Well done and especially for staying with it and achieving such a remarkable picture. But there’s even more, and forgive me for drifting off in my thoughts, in your photograph. That is you capture the mind-boggling scale of the Milky Way, and that is a tiny part of the universe, and, ultimately, we humans are part of that awesome universe. Fabulous!”

    The mystery of it all. The beauty of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, all I can say is what a treat these entries are this day. The stories, the photos, climbing, soulful living…wow… And I must add…I have not visited your blog for far too long, maybe a year or two. I knew where you are located (and I too lived in southern Oregon over 20 years…) and wanted to check how you are all doing. I could not for the life of me find a link, nor could i recall the name of your blog. Sat and thought…I remembered your big German Shepard…what was his name…PHAROAH!!! I googled Pharoah’s name and found your blog immediately!! Thank you! and a mighty big thanks to Pharoah, he continues to bring joy. Good fortune to you and your family, times are chaotic at best, good, earnest and loving people are still everywhere….often found right here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, dear Glenda, thank you! I’m so glad that you found your way back to us and that Pharaoh was the link. Yes, this republication of this post has kicked up all sorts of reflections. How are you? Well, I hope. Yes, these are strange times and, then again, not so strange because people everywhere are talking the situation up and the truth is getting lost!


  5. We are good thank you for asking. Far from the maddening crowd, the beauty of farming the land, an ocean and mountains surround us, wildlife visit every day. Our prayers and gratitude expressed in reverence and care for Gaia and the animal world,.. all else is superimposed. That is why these entries have resonated so deeply with me…with no artifice, meeting the world on the worlds terms and humbled and grateful as a result. What could be better than to repeat that profound lesson. We are blessed in so many ways. Take good care all…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Moved to the eclectic Rogue Valley in ‘78, left for further north (but not yet to Canada) as there are more trees, more water and less heat. When we were on acreage in the Applegate we were above the inversion layers…then after 14 or so years, moved closer to town where it then became routine to experience triple digits. Moved to WA for good (in a lot of ways…) near the San Juans in ‘02. Being a sailor AND British, you would love Victoria and the Salish Sea. Butchart Gardens? I hope you have experienced. But, almost needless to say, southern Oregon and Portland (where I also was for a few years) were oh so beautiful way back when….now? I’m not sure, haven’t even been through since ‘06, a lifetime ago now…


    1. Glenda, if we were younger and had fewer dogs, we might. But I think those days have gone plus the fact is that we are very happy here. We live out in Merlin, on Hugo Rd, on 13 acres and it is beautiful. Plus the neighbours are good, plus Grants Pass has all the facilities we need. Now I am not saying that there not are other beautiful places and Salish Sea/Vancouver area does look superb. But, as I said, I think those days are gone!


  7. MOVING is a chore no matter HOW old we are, eh?!! Understood…we only have ‘so many’ in us. Just stay safe out there, you, your wonderful lady and that ‘crew’ of yours🐾🐾. I’ll be checking back now that Pharoah has worked his magic yet again🥳


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