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stories from a stay-at-home traveler

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Updated: Nov 14, 2022

Land, Land Everywhere, but not a Place to Walk

Sometimes when pacing my short country road, I think of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In the 16th century poem, a thirsty mariner eyes the salty sea from his storm-stranded boat and cries out:

“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink!"

From my dead-end road, I sometimes feel like crying out, too:

“Land, Land everywhere, but not a place to walk!”

I live surrounded by thousands of acres of public land, yet none of it is accessible to me on foot. Encircled by a moat of private property, I'm stopped in every direction by a No Trespassing sign. To go on a walk of any reasonable-length, I must get in my car and drive to a trailhead.

Each day from my road, I look with longing at the mountains, at all the wide open space where I'd stretch my legs for miles, if only I could get to it. It’s an odd sensation: feeling so confined in such an expanse. Like a bowled-up gold fish with an ocean view.

No Trespassing signs don’t make for a friendly ambiance. Granted, some are more friendly than others--simple tan posts alerting you to private property. Usually, though, they more severe, featuring red, down-to-business, shouty-caps font: NO TRESSPASSING, KEEP OUT, BEWARE OF DOG. Some are downright frightening, like a nearby sign that features a human-silhouette shooting target that tells me, without words, everything I need to know.

We take No Trespassing laws for granted, but it isn’t like this everywhere. In my travels, I've been pleasantly surprised by the open-door policy on many private lands. I once spent a muddy month traipsing around the Dorset region of England. To piece together a walk, it was necessary to cross private properties. This was perfectly permissable—there were even “stiles” placed on property boundaries to help strollers clear the fence lines.

In England, and in other places in Europe, to walk freely in the countryside is considered “Everyman’s Right” and there are “Free to Roam” laws to protect it. In Norway, you are even allowed camp for a few days, provided you stay 150 meters from the nearest house, don’t litter, or disturb the residents.

We used to have the similarly wide-ranging liberties. In his article What's Lies Behind that 'No Trespassing' Sign (The Atlantic, July 2, 2022), Brian Sawers cites an 1820 court case where a South Carolina landowner sued hunters for ignoring his demands to leave his land. The State court sided with the hunters, asserting that the right-to-enter was “Universally Exercised”—so long as there was no injury to landowner.

What changed?

What changed, the Sawers writes, was the abolition of slavery in 1865. This was, not coincidentally, the same year the first No Trespassing statutes were proposed. With black slaves now freed to feed themselves hunting and foraging off the land, the farms faced a labor shortage. Restricting access to the countryside indirectly forced the freed-slaves back into farm labor.

Times have changed, fortunately, but the No Trespassing statutes persist. And I don’t blame any landowner for not wanting

strangers wandering the lands around their homes. As constantly moving and shifting communities, we’ve more or less become collections of strangers living side-by-side. Case in point: The entire street next to my property has completely turned over in the past five years. With that kind of flux, how can we build the multigenerational social trust that would make sharing space feel safe and comfortable?

There are also modern issues of liability: What if someone trips and hurts themselves? What if a tree falls on them? What if errant hiker starts a fire? Or a hunter misses their target?

Not to mention: No Trespassing signs are handy in warding off wandering code enforcement officers looking for an illegal deck, an unpermitted ADU, or re-directed gray water.

Call it Song-of-the-Open-Road idealism, but I wish public access walkways had been planned into the neighborhood long ago. It’s too late for that, although projects like the Jack-Ash Trail offers some hope. The path, which will eventually connect Jacksonville and Ashland, won’t cross my door step, but it’s a definite win for hikers in the region.

A kindly neighbor did say I could walk through their property, if I asked them permission via text beforehand. I appreciate that, but I can’t see sending daily bothers to their phone. I’ve tried accessing the trails behind a nearby church, but was quickly turned away.

So, for now, I continue to pace my short street, admiring the expansive view, with the Rime of the Ancient Mariner reeling through my head.

Thank you A Greater Applegate for supporting homegrown writers. For more information about this great community-building organization, click the image below:

Late summer. Wildfire smoke.

During the last, edgy days of August, it’s easy to forget that we live in an amazing place. In fact, I entirely forget. On the blank slate of the ash-filled air, I begin to imagine other places, other lives.

Should I move to the coast? I wonder, as I shut the windows, turn on the air filters.

I begin to calculate the exchange rate of such a move:

I tally 30 years of roots in a place, versus the effort starting anew.

And then I remember to line-item reality:

But, alas, it’s too late for pragmatics. I’ve already made a plan:

I’ll find a beach shack (I don't need anything big). It’ll have a crooked porch filled with battered boat ropes, old ocean buoys, and artistic

pieces of driftwood. There'll be an old anchor in the front yard, and signs everywhere reading Gone Fishin’, Life’s a Beach, and No Bad Dayz. I’ll decorate my bathroom counter with dried starfish and jars of seashells. I’ll wear a shark tooth necklace.

On weekends, I visit used book shops, and antique stores, lunch on calamari and fish-n-chips. I’ll keep company with trawlers,

crabbers and fisherman. With barking seals and beach-happy dogs. I’ll have sea-salt hair, and ocean-plumped skin, and will regularly accept rides on sailboats named with clever nautical puns.

Fantasies aside, each August, we invariably escape to Brookings, car loaded with camping gear. The first feel of cold air is a rush-I haven’t felt that for months! And for the initial days of our exile, we hike the redwoods, marvel at lobster mushrooms, and enjoy soft footfalls on forest floor duff. We don’t even care if it’s overcast: Anything but smoke!

But after a few days of waking up in an unbudgeable fog bank, my mind starts to recalibrate: that damp cold--once glorious—is now deep in my bones. We're huddling around campfires, both

morning and evening. And in the cool humidity, sticky things feel stickier, grimy things grimier, smelly things get smellier. The seaside town's streets feel bleak, the buildings look worn, and I recall the depression that is sun deprivation.

I’m also nagged by a small unease. Scientists say the Cascadia earthquake is long overdue. The scale of the cataclysm is unthinkable: It threatens to sink the entire coastline? A ridiculous worry, I know, but too statistically significant to ignore. I hope it’s not tonight! I fret as I bed down in my sleeping bag. Surely, if the ocean were to rush into my tent, and I found myself suddenly breast-stroking into the night, I’d think: Maybe a little smoke isn’t so bad...

Would I be dogged by this low-grade worry if I moved to the coast?

By the last day of our coastal getaway, I miss home. I’m

ready again for sun-sharp mornings, dry air, my ripening raspberry bush, for swimming holes surrounded by sunbaked rocks, and for the heat of wine country. When we stop to fuel up in Cave Junction, the climate transition begins and my still sea-cold nose begins to thaw. Warm enters by bones again.

I’m reminded in this moment of a coastal friend who visits my house in The Applegate each spring. After pulling into my

driveway, he emerges from his car like a damp, crumpled towel. Within seconds, he opens like a sunflower, face turned toward the warmth.

Back home, I debate with friends the idea of moving. We go round and round and round.

“The grass is always greener…” someone begins.

“The grass is greener where you water it,” another interrupts.

“Yeah, but what if there is no water?” another friend quips.

“Or what if there’s too much?” I wonder.

Fortunately, wildfire season never lasts long enough for me to find

a real estate agent and actually list my house. The fall rains come, and I forget about smoke season as if it were long-ago illness. And then I enjoy eleven months of paradise before I resume the debate again.

Many thanks to A Greater Applegate for supporting homegrown writers. Click the image for more info about this great community-building organization!

Peter Britt planted this, Peter Britt built that

his name seems to pop up wherever I am at.

On benches and gardens, near giant tree plaques

And upon any sign among Jacksonville facts

In the 1850s, its said, he arrived in a cart

With a five-dollar bill, and loaded with art.

He found a good spot, built a cabin near me

Added a studio for photography

He put in pear orchards, and tended some bees

He even planted an Abyssinian banana tree

He studied the stars, and made the first wine,

Was kind to the locals, made paintings so fine

As a modern woman, I know it’s not woke

to have any semblance of crush on this bloke.

Alas, he’s a white man from an old century

(Which these days is not in-fashion to be)

I hope he’s not cancelled, I hope people see

The way that Britt found his way into me

A bon vivant! The artistic type!

Yet roughty-toughtly in his own right

Oh, Peter Britt, the Renaissance man

Even these days, I admit

I am a fan.

(poem and art by Christina Ammon)

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