In November of 2015, I spent three weeks working at a medical Cannabis operation in Humboldt County. My time there was filled with realization and sadness. Though the land in that part of the country is sparsely inhabited and appears wild or even untouched, it has in fact been abused for well over a century and a half, and the mark of malice lies undeniably upon it. Waves of genocide and environmental destruction have swept through it and, unfortunately, the “Green Rush” of recent years is bringing more hurt.
Now available in hardcopy and four digital formats!
Equal parts historical document, confessional memoir and social critique, this book tells the story of “Sunroot Gardens,” a bicycle-based urban farming operation that I founded and cultivated in Portland, Oregon, in the early 2000’s. Made famous by the local media—including the Willamette Week, Sellwood Bee, Portland Monthly, KBOO, Oregonian and In Good Tilth—Sunroot Gardens blazed trails and pushed boundaries. The text is drawn from my voluminous writings at the time and has been supplemented with freshly composed narrative and commentary. Click here for an excerpt.
In July of 2014, I was traveling in Oregon’s Cascade Mountain Range with a friend, looking for someplace to camp for a few days where we could enjoy good berry-picking. Looking over our gazetteer, we spotted a place labeled, “Olallie Scenic Area.” What we saw on the map intrigued us; the area was dotted with dozens of lakes, resembling a piece of Minnesota more than anywhere in Oregon that either of us knew. Neither of us had been there, so we decided to go check it out.
The Olallie Scenic Area is located in a bowl-like “saddle” on the ridge of the Cascadess where the Mt. Hood and Willamette National Forests come together. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through it. To the west, the land rolls down in wooded (and clear-cut) foothills to the lush Willamette Valley and on the east tumbles into the arid high desert of the Great Basin. To the south is Mt. Jefferson, known as “Seekseekqua” to some Native Americans. The elevation of the area is about 5000 feet above sea level.
We didn’t know what to expect and were very pleased to find extensive snag forests.
Equal parts historical document, confessional memoir and social critique, this book tells the story of “Sunroot Gardens,” a bicycle-based urban farming operation that I founded and cultivated in Portland, Oregon, in the early 2000’s. Made famous by the local media—including the Willamette Week, Sellwood Bee, Portland Monthly, KBOO, Oregonian and In Good Tilth—Sunroot Gardens blazed trails and pushed boundaries. The text is drawn from my voluminous writings at the time and has been supplemented with freshly composed narrative and commentary.
To give readers an idea of the content and flavor of “Adventures in Urban Bike Farming,” here is the Introduction to the book, followed by the Table of Contents. Order a hardcopy or a digital download here!
“When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.” (Dresden James)
This book is about my experiences as bicycle-based urban farmer in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A., from 2004 through 2010 (with a brief reprise in 2013). The arc of the narrative begins with wide-eyed idealism and ends with disillusioned acceptance. If you’re looking for a message of “rah rah, look how sustainable we are!” you won’t find it here. If, on the other hand, you are genuinely concerned about our collective future and are interested in how urban farming could play a part, there are lessons here to glean.
This Tuesday was a perfect October day in Portland for a bike ride. So I hauled out my battered Bridgestone, cleaned up the gears and lubed the chain with 3-in-1 and a rag, filled a water bottle and took off. Only a few clouds dotted the sky, and I enjoyed the contrast of intermittent shade as they drifted west to east, although especially those moments when the sun re-emerged and bathed me in a warm, autumn-golden light. Bike rides like that in Portland in October can trigger a flavor of euphoria in me, always fleeting, but somehow—dare I say it—“transcendental.”
Five miles later, I disembarked from my two-wheeled steed, feeling a little rubbery in the knees for being out of shape. I visited a friend, whom I gifted with some pinenuts from a recent harvest in Nevada, dropped into the natural foods co-op where I ran into an old friend, purchased a slab of tempeh and a can of local cider (which is treating my palate quite nicely at this moment), and then started heading back.
I decided, as I have often done over the last few months in Portland—from which I’ve been away for most of the last five years—to walk my bike up Southeast Division Street, from the 20’s to the 40’s (in Avenues). This particular zone has changed a lot during my absence. I had lived in the neighborhood for many years previously, when it was a somewhat gritty strip of small businesses and bars, for the most part unpretentious, though a patisserie, a fancy candy shop, and a few upper-crust restaurants had always been anchored there as long as I had known it.
Nowadays, the street is newly dominated by many three-to-four story, box-shaped apartments and condominiums, lending a canyon-like atmosphere to some stretches. Shops, services and eateries inhabit the ground floors with residential units stacked above, often with balconies looking down on the scene below.
Originally released by Entropy Press in October 1998 under the nom d’arte “Russ.” A novel in scope, but a collection of short stories in form, the narrative (such as it is) follows the adventures of a male character named “T.” from birth to ~27 years of age. My take on the classic coming-of-age narrative.
“(t)h(i/e)m” (which I pronounce as “the aim”) is a multimedia project featuring visual art and a soundtrack, and was originally distributed on CD. The vision was to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, a “unified work of art” that would synthesize different forms into a totality whose sum was greater than its parts.
Download it here:
The book is in the form of a website. All the files (including the MP3s of the music) are packaged in a .ZIP file you will need to uncompress. Then, simply open “home.htm” in a web browser and you will have opened the cover, so to speak. (Also included is “bonus-chapter-2015.htm,” the new story written to mark this re-release.)
A latter day work of
Written as a new chapter to “(t)h(i/e)m: exercise in fiction” [Entropy Press, 1998], on the occasion of it’s digital re-release by Macska Moksha Press . “Russ” was my nom d’arte for the project, so I took it on one more time for this addendum. I thank N. for inspiring the title.
T. was in anguish. Again. But he knew the drill: wait it out. All emotions come and go. Even the ones that strike with an intensity that seems like they will last the rest of your life. The ones that arrive without warning (but do they ever really?) like a roaring storm on a calm day (does that ever actually happen?) pelting you with heavy drops of misery, whipping you with biting winds of despair, deafening you with the thunder of your insistent self-hatred. “Oh Jesus,” T. suddenly said out loud, interrupting his own thoughts. “How fucking melodramatic! Where do I get such pathetic, sophomoric, mopey shit?”
“Like a fucking cry-baby. That’s what I sound like. What the fuck?” He shook his head, but nothing went away.
A stirring in the branches above T. broke his spell. (He was right: wait it out and it goes away, but in this case, so sudden was the transition that he didn’t notice it and had no conscious realization that he was no longer in anguish.) He was on his hands and knees, under a Single-Needled Pinyon tree, harvesting pinenuts off the ground. He leaned out backwards to get his head beyond the drip-line and look up to see what was going on.
I first visited Joshua Tree Country on a Spring Break college road trip in 1990. Two buddies and I camped out for a few days in a tent, cooked our meals on a Coleman stove, and spent our days climbing the famous rock formations and our nights staring with wonder at the multitude of stars, making a game of picking out the satellites. No plant life caught my eye on this visit other than the iconic Joshua Tree itself which at the time we all associated with the recent U2 album of the same name. Though our journey had started in Northfield, Minnesota, and had exposed us to countless sights of beauty and wonder, the desert made the biggest impression on me.
Nearly a decade later, in 1999, I had not forgotten Joshua Tree Country and I returned on another road trip, this time with a girlfriend and from further away yet: Boston, Massachusetts. We camped for a couple days near the Cottonwood Springs entrance of what was then still Joshua Tree National Monument, again in a tent with a Coleman. As in 1990, the Joshua Trees were the only flora that got my attention.
Skip ahead to 2015 for visit number three, which turned into a stay of nearly four months. This time I was accompanied by my farming partner of the last few years and we stayed in a rambling house on the edge of the village of Joshua Tree. The large windows featured a grand view of the hills on the north side of what was now Joshua Tree National Park and of the Creosote Bush scrub rolling away to the east where it met a blurry seam of mountains on the horizon. Over the past ten years, I had been supporting myself as a farmer, herbalist, and seedsman, so on this visit all the plants seized my attention, not just the Joshua Tree.
As when one falls in love and is intrigued by every detail of a new lover’s body and being, I was entranced by the flora and fauna of Joshua Tree Country.
Fred Hampton, the assassinated Black Panther, once famously said: “School is not important and work is not important. Nothing’s more important than stopping fascism, because fascism will stop us all.”
That quotation has been running through my mind lately as I have been reading news about Climate Change. Replace “fascism” with “Climate Change” and you have a spot-on description of the state of the world today. Things have gotten that dire.
Before you accuse me of misappropriating Hampton, let me point out that Climate Change is fascism: fascism made manifest ecologically at the global scale. And actually, I would expand Hampton’s scope so that “us” includes all the non-human life on earth, its ecosystems, and even the soil beneath our feet. The amazing web of life — made up of “all our relations” as the Native Americans put it — is the “us” that fascism-induced Climate Change is stopping.
This is not a “doom and gloom” essay. Instead, I will picture what meaningful action would look like.
The effects of global Climate Change are felt everywhere, and all ecosystems are “ecosystems at risk,” but this series of irregularly-posted photo-essays focuses on ecosystems that are unusual, rare, or simply little-known.
In early June, a friend and I were traveling through California and we stopped to camp in the lava beds on the west shore of Eagle Lake, in Lassen County. Eagle Lake is one of many bodies of water in California that have been shrinking in size during the drought. Along the shore, docks stand on dry land with grass growing around their piers, the water hundreds of feet away or more. When a body of water sinks, so does the surrounding water table, which inevitably affects neighboring habitat.These photos were taken near our campsite, less than a mile from the original shoreline. Since this was my first visit, I don’t know if the diversity or density of flora and fauna is noticeably different than in the past. But I am providing a record, even if only in snapshots, that shows something of the area’s status this season.
The landscape is rugged, with black lava rock throughout. The clayey soil is red. Certainly, the ground is rich in minerals to uptake for those plants that can take root there. Flowers and shrubs grow out of cracks in the rock and grasses and ephemerals spread out across the clay. Pines and Junipers stand singly or in scattered groves of just a few trees. The beauty of the place is somewhat austere, but not stark.
Most spectacular, though, was not what we saw but what we heard.