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stories from a stay-at-home traveler

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Updated: Apr 6, 2022

by Christina Ammon

Morels are everywhere, but impossible to find.

It’s a sign of the season each spring when at the end of my dirt road, mushroom buyers park their pick-up trucks, set up their scales, and wait for the pickers to arrive. They are in the market for the coveted morel mushroom, which is prized by chefs for its deep, butter-holding cavities and meaty, umami flavor. They can’t be easily cultivated, so are mainly gathered, and since I see the hunters hauling bags to the scales, I assume the surrounding hills must be abundant.

Last year, I decided to hunt for some myself. I know that my travels have always been enhanced by a quest: once, during a layover in Frankfurt, I sought out the house of Goethe; in

Marrakech, I scoured the medina for nutmeg during a time when there was a shortage; and last year in Mexico, I wandered the old town looking for the perfect pair of flip-flops. A good quest winnows this chaotic world down to a simple search image, and infuses your otherwise random wanderings with purpose. Perhaps morel hunting would enhance my daily hikes in the same way.

I waited for the right weather sequence to arrive--a few wet days followed by sunshine—and then set off in the mornings, full of a first-cup-of-coffee optimism. My eyes were keen and searching, and the dog seemed to love my new slow hiking style—we moved across the land at sniffing-speed and he nosed every bush and tree stump. I liked it too: the way it heightened my attention to detail, and stilled me in the sharp light of early morning. We'd wander until my pant cuffs were soaked with forest dew and my stomach growled for breakfast. I didn’t find a single morel.

“Morels are everywhere but impossible to find,” a saying goes. My friend Malu said she wondered if they really even existed. It was clear from the buyers on my road that they did, but the pickers are famously protective of their spots.

Perhaps you just have to put in the time, or just get plain lucky.

I’d like to say I don’t mind—that the thrill of the hunt is enough. And for a while, this was true. But as poison oak rashes began to irritate my arms and ankles and as I found myself disoriented more than once, frustration set in. I could no longer enjoy a walk-in-the-woods because I was now too obsessed with looking at the ground in fear of missing a morel.

At one point my friend Caroline sent me a text: I found nearly two pounds of morels! She went out with some old-timers and they had a perfect day of mushroom hunting. She generously brought some over to my house to share. Each bite was proof that they exist.

The days grew hot, the land drier. The likelihood of finding morels diminished by the minute. “You know you can just buy them off Amazon” a neighbor told me when we crossed paths on the road. But, of course, this would ruin the mystique of this Oregon pursuit. I’d have resume my search the following year, which was fine by me. I was ready to raise up my head and start enjoying hikes again.

(originally published in The Applegater)

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How I quit seeing my land as a piece of real estate, and committed to seeing it as a home. (by Christina Ammon)

While I invest in making the house better and better, I also tell myself to love this place more lightly

Halfway through painting this image of my house in Ruch, I found myself reluctant to finish it. Not out of laziness or lack of inspiration, but simply because I like the way it looked half done: the unexpected areas of color, the black-and-white swaths of suspense for what will come next. It makes me think of a building proverb I heard somewhere: Man finishes house; man dies. This simple little line felt cryptic at first, but with time the meaning of it has ripened in my mind. Although the goal of home projects is ostensibly to eventually lie back and enjoy the finished product—the new porch, the shiny tub, slick the wood flooring--there is something to the day-to-day project of working on one’s house that is enlivening. And there is a certain death in finishing. This has been on my mind as I pursue the classic-pandemic project of renovating parts of my house. I’ve added French doors, repainted walls, and installed a new tin panel roof. I’ve moved ahead on the firming up the garden fence, covering the side deck and planting more bulbs in the yard, I’ve always been reluctant to sink money into this place— for several different reasons. First, it’s a 45-year old double wide mobile home whose value will always depreciate. Money put into it is money lost, at least from an investment standpoint. My reluctance to invest has recently been layered by a second concern: What if it all burns down? With nearly 3,000 structures in the nearby towns of Phoenix and Talent in ashes, it’s hard not to wonder if it will eventually happen to my house too, nestled as it is in a flammable oak savannah and forested habitat. And lastly, I often look around and wonder: Are the real estate values in the valley going to go up, or go down? Will hemp boom help, or harm? What about the August smoke? The flourishing wineries? The California migration? The pandemic? I continually calculate my financial prospects. Will it all lead to my prosperity—or my ruin? And yet more lately I’ve come to a new feeling about my house. I used to think I loved it because of the paragliding mountain nearby. Then I thought I loved it because of all the people from around the world who came to visit. Then, during the lockdown, when there were no gliders in the sky, or friends dropping by, I realized I just loved this place for itself—for the roses that grow wild over its railings, for the old granddaddy oak, for its crooked porch, and for its wide breezy rooms. And even when I was there alone, I felt held by the energies of the many people who have left their mark: Dave ,who spent a couple hot August days laying kitchen tiles; my friend Jane who put in granite counter tops using scrap pieces from her house; Wendy who hammered the porch together; Richard who set the light posts; and Tim who spent a whole sunny day with me adjusting the screen door until we achieved the perfect summertime slam. And then there is all the art that speaks from the walls: the voices of Anna, Jen, Scott, Michelle and Dot. In many ways, it is a crowd sourced house. I guess when you finally fall in love with a place, it doesn’t matter if there’s too much rain, or not enough rain, if it’s too hot or cold, or if there are fires or floods. It doesn’t matter if your investment is going to pay off or not. At some point, the love is about something that is not connected to real estate gyrations or even the materiality of the place. It’s knit into the fabric of memories and friendships—things that cannot burn down in a fire, or plummet when the real estate market falls. As fires burn all around me, I am reminded that it is all precarious. While I invest in making the house better and better, I also tell myself to love this place more lightly. I have meditated at length on the possibilities--seen in my mind the timber frame alight and purlins collapse. I’ve seen the wild roses wither to ash, and rehearsed what I’d take with me (the dog, the guitar and the Simbari painting) and mourned what I’d leave (everything else). It’s a possibility worth preparing for. But until that happens, I’ve settled on this: to quit seeing my land as a piece of real estate and commit to seeing it as home. I plan to stay and to keep it alive, to keep on “finishing” it and to keep on loving it, even though someday it all may just burn to the ground.

*originally published in The Applegater.

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Rural residents react to Elon Musk's newfangled Starlink satellites.

One night sitting around a fire with my friends, four blinking lights paraded in a neat row across the night sky. It was the first time I’d heard of Starlink—the Elon Musk-ignited Internet revolution that would bring speedy WIFI to the remotest corners of the earth. I was late to hear of it—mainly because I live along the fast-enough cable line here in the “big city” of Ruch. But for Applegate residents who live away from the thoroughfare of Highway 238, the arrival of Starlink satellites has been a game-changer. Before Starlink, they endured painfully slow horse-and-buggy signals.

“For us, it was a huge breakthrough,” says Marty Paule who runs his home business off of Sterling Creek Road. “Overnight we went from 2-3 megabits per second to 200-300 megabits per second.”

With Starlink Internet, phone calls that used to be dogged by awkward delays are suddenly seamless; families can stream four hi-definition movies at once. In the past, watching a single movie could deplete an entire month’s data allotment. But perhaps mostly dramatically, remote workers can now get their work done properly.

Alexandar Ose is a programmer who works from his house up Thompson Creek Road. “Having a bad connection can be one of those 'otherizing' things in my industry, where people tend to be clustered in cities", says Ose. “From their point of view, it's like, ‘geez, why don't you fix your Internet?’ I know it sounds trivial, but it's one of those things that I felt reflected poorly on my professionalism."

“Starlink is as close to a silver bullet as there is for rural broadband,” he concludes.

Satellites have long been a fixture of rural Internet, but the new Starlink satellites have some key differences from the old “synchronous satellites.” For one, the newer ones orbit the earth rather than staying in a relative fixed position. They are also much closer to the earth, meaning that data-packets don’t have as far as travel. While the old-school satellites are positioned 22,480 miles away from the earth, Starlink’s satellites are just 330 miles away. Local installer Chris Beekman says the difference is “like traveling from Applegate to Portland versus the entire circumference of the earth.”

And this is just the beginning. Elon is launching more satellites all the time and hopes to expand his current 6,000 in orbit to 16,000 in orbit. This will result in even faster and more reliable Internet over time.

It all sounds good, but people cite a few drawbacks. The glowing satellites can present problems for astronomers investigating deep space. Paule is concerned: “I don’t want to stream movies at the expense of some scientist making breakthroughs about the origins of the universe!” For the dilettante star gazers, however, the light is less of an issue. Local Starlink user, Conrad Rogmans, points out that neighboring porch lights can more problematic than any orbital. “You can't read by Musk’s satellites,” he says.

Beekman credits Musk for addressing this potential light pollution issue by programming the satellite’s solar panels to tilt away from the earth as they pass over continents.

There are also concerns about space junk. “The satellites only have an operational life-span of about ten years and they are constantly being upgraded,” explains Paule. This leads to a lot of clutter in the sky. The nuisance of space junk may have seemed like an abstraction until a couple of weeks ago when the moon received its first ever man-made crater: a three-ton rocket piece crashed into its surface at 5,800 mph, creating a new 16 km-wide indentation. The moon is full of craters, so this may just be symbolically upsetting, but the possibility of space junk striking communication systems is more alarming.

Finally, there are people who just don’t like Elon Musk. “We are essentially lining his pockets,” says Paule. “I know I’m making a rich guy richer.”

Beekman is less bothered. “I’m a rule breaker, as it stands. I say ‘Give ‘em hell, Elon.’ Most companies are stuck in the mud. His is not.”

Ose, who describes the CEO as “polarizing at best,” points out that there will eventually be competition in the low-orbit satellite space. OneWeb should be available later this year, and Kuiper may be available in 2024. “But for now,” he says, “Starlink is the only option.”

Thinking of Starlink? Here is some practical info:


Starlink does not employ a network of distributers or installers. Instead, they designed the Starlink package to be fairly DIY. “Installation is no big deal if you're okay with drilling holes in your roof,” says Ose. Still, not everyone has the right drill-types, or is comfortable scaling extension ladders. It also takes some skill to locate the optimal spot, which requires a clear northern line-of-sight, free of obstructions like trees or chain link fences. After months of moving his dish around and not finding a good spot, Seth Kaplan, executive director of A Greater Applegate, gave up on the DIY approach. “We spend a few months moving it around the property and never found a good spot. Finally, we hired Chris.”

There are other challenges as well. Supply chain issues are causing delays in materials needed to install Starlink equipment. To overcome this, Chris Beekman is selling pole mounts and pivot mounts that he fabricated himself. His products might reduce your waiting time.

COSTS: $550 for start-up equipment package and there is only one data plan for $99/month. “It’s about $10 per month more than what I was paying,” Kaplan says. “But it actually works, so there is no comparison.”

Since the new-style satellite dishes have heaters to keep snow accumulation from interfering with the signal, so they require more watts (about 45 watts/hour) than the older satellites (which had to be manually cleared of snow). This means you may notice a small bump in your electrical bill, but the heater can be adjusted with an app on your phone. Still, if you rely on solar panels, the energy draw could be consequential--especially in winter when solar electric is harder to harness.

For Starlink installation help, or pole/pivot mounts, contact Chris Beekman at 541-899-3999

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