When the going gets tough, the tough head for the hills. Or rather, the mountains. Wilderness. The Great Outdoors.

Or so it seems.

It’s been a frustrating week: Wacky stuff at work, a construction zone for a house, but mainly: I CANNOT make the bloody enamel do what it’s supposed to do.

It took me 20 years to learn glass and I’m still learning. Do I REALLY want to spend another 20 years figuring out glass-plus-metal?

Post-Enamelist Society conference, I was all fired up. (heh-heh) I’d learned how to raise my own vessels out of copper and silver and beautifully enamel them, to electroform shadowboxes and jewelboxes for my creations, and run accurate test strips of the achingly gorgeous Japanese lead-based enamels I’d acquired at the conference.

Proof positive that I have a LOT to learn about forming metal bowls.

Got home, dove right into it…and nothing is working. The enamel refuses to cover the metal and flakes off just as it seems successful. My hammer blows hit the wrong spots. My patinas and enamel colors are turning any color except the right ones. Painstakingly built cloisonne emerges from the kiln as smoky, twisted slubs.

Apparently, hanging out with the greats of the enameling world doesn’t guarantee you can actually DO enameling.

I vowed to solve these problems over the Labor Day holiday. Friday night, I gritted my teeth and headed for the studio to battle the enamelbeast until Monday.

I lost. Did I really have this much trouble starting out with glass?

If you head up the old logging roads in the Tillamook Forest, the contrast between clearcut and untouched forest is pretty striking.

THIS weekend, I’d planned to once again engage the enamelbeast, but WIN. I vowed to glue my pants to the workbench until I could perfectly enamel SOMEthing. Anything.

Headed down to the studio and Resident Carpenter popped out of his office. “If you don’t have plans tomorrow morning,” he said, casually, “We could go offroading, look for mushrooms…”

So much for my determination. “Let’s go.”

We piled into Sammy the Suburban, took off without a backward glance, and boy, was it gorgeous. There’s nothing like Oregon timberland as it shivers mistily into autumn.

Officially, we sought a woody, rock-strewn paradise that Nathan had discovered years before, where an old logger’s rail line headed into tunnels carved through rock. “It’s probably the most beautiful spot in Oregon,” he said.

It’s also deep in the woods and he’s not been able to find it again.

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It’s somewhere around the Salmonberry part of the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad, a 101-mile construction feat completed in 1906. It transported logs and harvests between Hillsboro, the mountains, and the sea. The railroad was abandoned in 2007, after huge coastal storms eroded the ground underneath the tracks, often leaving rails suspended a few feet off the ground. Repairing it was simply too expensive.

Not sure what this flower is–it’s tiny–but it resembles a group home for orchids.

Today, if you’ve got a 4WD vehicle you don’t mind denting a bit, a seasoned mountain guy to drive it, and a sense of adventure, you can rumble along old broken tracks buried in greenery, picking up stray bits of coal or loose railroad spikes.

It’s utterly breathtaking. We never did find Nathan’s favorite spot, but when we do, it’ll have to go a looooooong way to be more beautiful than what we did find.

The RC has embarked on a plan to get me out DOING stuff, so we’ve been playing disc golf (as usual, he’s an expert, and I may become an amateur if I dedicate the next decade to throwing frisbees, er, discs). We clamber up uneven hills and down, snake through woodlands, go fishing, etc.

It seems to be working. The Leg can flex Elmo-the-Knee to about 80-degrees now, a far cry from the 55-60 I was told I’d never exceed, very close to could-pedal-a-bike territory.

Folk tell me I’m walking much more like a Normal these days than my usual slightly drunken walrusgait. Yay, me.

Yesterday, when the cats had a hissy-fit,* I dropped to the floor to coax them out from under the bed and got back up again without much fuss.

Normally, getting me down to the floor or back up again is a 20-minute ordeal, even longer if I must scoot myself to whatever post/grab bar helps me get upright again.

I have a pair of trekking poles that help me balance on uneven ground. I’m not sure why, but with them, I can negotiate small ravines with aplomb. Without them, I look like a tightrope walker who hasn’t realized he’s actually on the ground.

Nathan usually plunges into the woods immediately, calling out his finds and bringing the most notable back for my inspection.

The old logging trail passed a millpond, with part of the mill visible on the opposite side.

Today, I plunged in after him, and even if I only moved about 1 inch for every four or five feet he made, I was still actually HIKING.

The ground was more than uneven, and every time I conquered a steep ravine or negotiated fallen logs, I grinned like a madman and raised my fist in victory. In another seven years or so I’ll probably be able to move at half The RC’s speed.

I’m even contemplating (gasp!) a camping trip. Maybe. Possibly. Probably not, but we can dream, right?

The logging roads are dug deep into the mountainside, filled with cubish rock about the size of a computer mouse, and then covered with gravel and oil. The logging trucks eventually compact it all down into a flattish roadbed, periodically refreshed with gravel.

This area is apparently no longer actively logged, because the roads were deteriorating fast, filling up with forest. Most are mapped in Google, so it’s hard to get truly lost–amazingly, the GPS signal still works even that far into the mountains, although we lost mobile phone connections early in the trip.

Nathan fashioned a makeshift flyfishing hook from materials scavenged around the millpond.

GPS, however, doesn’t tell you when a landslide has obliterated what’s left of the road; we had to turn back more than once to find another way ’round. We went over a rusty old iron bridge about 100 feet off the ground, stopped and peered over the side to where two streams’ waterfalls converged.

As usual, The RC clambered down for a closer look. I peered cautiously over the side–it was a loooooong way down, and the guard rail was so rusty I didn’t trust it. For some strange reason I have this thing about falling and maybe breaking a leg… 😉

“Bear poop!” Nathan exulted from about 40 feet away at the next stop, “And TRACKS! They look pretty fresh.”

I froze. I also have a thing about bears, probably stemming from a nose-to-nose encounter I had with a mama bear and her cubs in Yellowstone, when I was about 8.

We were coming back from the camp store, Dad, Becky, and I (Mom was cooped up in the cabin, nursing Suzi’s chickenpox). Dad was going slowly, so Becky could keep up. Impatient, I took a running shortcut behind the cars, through the parking lot.

I passed an old Buick and ran smack-dab into the bear. Literally. It eyed me, and whuffed. All I really remember are little eyes, big teeth, and a lot of flies.

Waterfalls from two streams converged about 100 feet under a rusty old iron bridge we found. The RC headed down to investigate while I peered cautiously over the side.

A nanosecond later I’d run all the way back to the cabin and wedged myself under the bed, having had my first encounter with something higher on the food chain.

Bear tracks. I masked my sudden terror with admirably casual aplomb. “Isn’t it lucky,” I joked bravely, “That when the bear attacks, you’ll be saved because you can outrun me by maybe 50 miles?”

“Do you really think,” he said, giving me The Look, “That if a bear attacked I would leave you behind?”

Clearly, The RC wasn’t getting my joke. I got back in the car. Just in case.

We found an old millpond, not far from the tracks–part of the mill was still standing on the opposite side. As we watched, fish–probably trout–broke the surface, chomping down flies. It was a serenely beautiful spot for flyfishing and we had a fly rod but, “damn! I forgot to pack the hooks,” said the RC.

He improvised. We found old fishing line tangled in the trees, carefully unwrapped it, and Nathan picked up a couple of feathers off the ground.

There was a leftover BIG hook, from sturgeon fishing, in the car; he painstakingly split the feathers, wrapped them around the hook, and tied a makeshift fly.

I wouldn’t want to meet up with any critter with THAT stinger, thank you very much. Nathan made a few passes at the water, and a couple of trout expressed interest, but figured out that big hook pretty quickly. We’ll come back another time, with proper tackle, and see what we catch.

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A few miles down the road, he stopped Sammy abruptly and got out beside a feather-embellished board.

“What IS that?” I asked curiously, peering down.

“Damn assholes,” he growled, pointing. The board, probably used to hold shooting targets, held a plump, dead grouse with its wing split off; both pieces nailed on.

About five feet away, up the talus-filled slope, a dead coyote blended in with the rock, another dead grouse beside it.

“Shot through the heart,” he said grimly, “Probably kids driving down the trail, shooting anything that moves.”

False chanterelle, a huge one

It was an eerie sight. I’m not opposed to hunting for food if you can’t find a grocery store, but this was just wanton slaughter. “Coyote pelt’s worth a good bit,” he said briefly, “Doesn’t make sense, kill it and just leave it there. Jerks.”

We drove on, considerably sobered. I just don’t get some people.

The mist moved in. We were in the cloud, high up, watching tiny water droplets swirl and move past the trees. The drops hit the dusty ferns, greening them up, and caught in the dead, moss-covered branches.

We marked some likely mushroom sites, although it was a bit early for chanterelles yet. It’s been a dry summer, and ‘shrooms need that cool, misty air for a couple more weeks before things start popping.

We’ll be ready.

*Lola tried to “kill” Nathan’s hiking boot in the entry hall, but accidentally hooked the tip of its shoelace in her claw, where it got stuck. She jerked away, the boot came after her, and she ran like a bat out of hell…headlong into Nikki. 

Both cats pounded up the stairs, The Evil Boot hot on their trail. Nikki ran headlong into my closet door, crashing even more loudly than a size 11 manboot banging up the steps. Lola (still attached to The Evil Boot) slammed into my bedroom window seat and took off down the hall.

Nathan found The Evil Boot wedged under the bed, with Lola under the opposite corner. Took 15 minutes to get Nikki out of her hidey hole. They blame us.

Cats hate to be laughed at, but that was just too delicious. I’m still chuckling.