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stories from a stay-at-home traveler

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Updated: Mar 4, 2022

The Latin phrase 'solvitar ambulando' is the best way to approach the trail puzzle of the woodlands: "It is solved by walking." But if you prefer guidance, here's a hand-drawn map of my favorite winter route.

I'm obviously not a cartographer, so I have included sequenced and captioned trail sign photos for reference. You can print this!

I have hiked the Jacksonville woodlands nearly every day for ten years. What started as a way to offset cheese-and-wine indulgence, has become so much more: a life-changing practice. As I tread along its paths, I’ve had many inspirations—for businesses, and art projects, for essays that I’d compose while I walked, each turn-of-phrase coming with each the turn of the trail. I have plodded the woodlands paths during seasons of heartbreak, and nearly galloped them giddy in love. To the Jacksonville Woodlands Association and the trail namesakes—like “Liz” and “Jane”: Thank you for this place!

There are over a dozen different trails winding around each other within this protected 255-acres. First time visitors can be confounded by the maze—and the map posted at the trailheads doesn't always clear things up: it can look like a pile of spaghetti dropped on a page.

The upside of this complexity is that the trails can be mixed-and-matched according to the season in order to maximize sun or shade, to match the length of hike you desire, or to accommodate how much uphill and downhill you want to take on.

The best and most interesting way to learn the routes is by walking them. The Latin phrase solvitar ambulando means “It is solved by walking,” and I think that applies here!

But if you are short on time or patience, I have provided here a hand-drawn map my favorite winter route—a sort of “trail hack”. I prefer this route in winter because it maximizes sun exposure in an otherwise fairly shady grove. It also provides a nice stretch of relatively flat walking. But do note: since the woodlands criss-cross a hillside, steep sections are all but inevitable. The route here is about 3.2 miles—far enough to settle into a rhythm and have a few inspirations of your own.

Since I’m quite obviously not a cartographer (nor a precise artist!), I have also sequenced together captioned photographs of trail signs. Follow these, and you should be right on track!

I’ll share my summer route when things heat up a bit more.

Have a great hike!

In the winters, I like to set off from the sunny parking lot behind the Britt Amphitheater. This is Rich Gulch Trail.

Follow the signs to Panorama Point.

Keeping heading up to Panorama Point.

A very beautiful madrone waits for you on Panorama Point.

Things get a little confusing after you head down from Panorama Point. Stay on the wide path and follow the signs to Petard Loop.

You'll know you're on track when you see this sign.

You've arrived at Petard Loop! I prefer to walk clockwise in the winter to get get a little sun on my face and to build up some warmth by starting with the uphill portion.

After you finish the loop, follow the signs back to Rich Gulch Trail. That will get you back to the parking lot.

Stay on Rich Gulch to the parking area behind the Britt Amphitheater.

Local author and poet, Anna Elkins, offers me some good investment advice for these volatile times...

(by Christina Ammon)

Last fall, I was seized by a sudden desire for a camper van. The model I wanted was called the “Tofino” and was the modern version of the classic Westfalia van—simple and cool, with two front swivel seats if I wanted to host dinner guests. Most importantly, it had a pop-top bunk on the roof.

My desire was rabid.

It was a terrible time to want such a thing –there were supply chain issues and high demand. Prices were rising. But my imagination was lit, and in my mind I took that camper on cross country trips, cruised back and forth to Brookings, sidled up to hot springs in the Nevada desert. I dreamt of warm nights camping with the sound of summer crickets breezing into the pop top’s upper bunk. If I had that van, I was certain, I’d be free and unencumbered; my home would be the whole-wide-world without limitation. And in this unstable era of floods, fires, smoke and pandemics, I’d be nimble. I would drive it to wherever the weather was good.

I’d also be totally broke.

Thankfully, close friends intervened before I made this massive financial mistake. Instead, I settled for camping out of my little VW Golf with a tent. As good-enough as this set up was, I was surprised how long it took me to get over my camper van dreams. I was embarrassed to feel something akin heartbreak—for an object!

I recently talked to my dear friend and local author (and this year's Oregon Book Award winner for poetry!), Anna Elkins, about the nature of wanting stuff. She wrote a book a couple of years ago called “Living Large on Little: How to see the Invitation in Limitation”. In its pages, she explores how to live the good life without indulging in all of our desires. I was intrigued when she pointed out that the older English meaning of the word ‘want’ is ‘lack’. “In short,” she explained, “when we want something, we are actually living from a place of lack.”

She wrote the book when she was trying make the best of a tight budget. We traveled together a lot in those days and were always trying to come up with ways to explore the world affordably—by hosting writing workshops and mastering the art of air miles.

Things have changed a lot since then. She is now married and living in a two-income situation; she feels a lot less pressure. I interviewed her the other day to see what in her philosophy has changed, and what’s stayed the same.

CHRISTINA: It was fun re-reading the book recently and realizing how much your life has changed since we were traveling on a shoe-string together.

ANNA: I know! I had a weird sense of urgency when I wrote the book—like I had a hunch it would expire. But I recently re-read it and remembered how much I love all those hard-won lessons. Even if I don’t worry as much about finances, I like the way of seeing limitations as opportunities.

On the road with Anna in Midelt, Morocco. Life has changed since we were traveling on a shoe-string together. (photo by Siddharth Gupta)

There are still some parallels in my life now. I might not have the financial limitations, but I have a different set of limitations from the marriage that improved my situation. Marriage means you have to make decisions together—a sort of limitation. But the book helped me see this constraint as an invitation. I now think: “What a beautiful thing to have someone to check in with”.

CHRISTINA: I was recently plagued by desire for a camper van. Do you struggle with this kind of persistent longing?

ANNA: For a time, I actually think I was addicted to the longing. There were times I wanted a really good pair of boots, or a nice backpack. But I’m now trying not want things and to be aware that the culture is always trying to sell us things. I’ve learned that the longing will be there no matter what: even if I get the thing I want, I’ll want something else. So, I learned to live with the tension of longing.

Now when it comes up, I try to focus on feeling the wealth of what I already have.

CHRISTINA: In the book, you provide quite a few clever "hacks" for living luxuriously without spending money. I like your use of oatmeal-honey masks instead of high-end face creams. Do you still use those strategies? Have any of your habits changed with your new financial stability?

ANNA: I still rub papaya skins and avocado rinds on my face--or gather the "milk" off the top of cooking rice and use that as a treatment. I put a honey-oatmeal masque on my face today!

I’d like to keep this way of thinking, even when I don’t need to. I’ll still keep shopping at Grocery Outlet and Goodwill. There is this joy of finding a treasure! But, honestly, these days, I enjoy going to the Goodwill drop-off more than the retail store. There is a joy in not having a cluttered house.

I also like to put some restrictions on myself. The world gives us so many restrictions. I feel more empowered when I make them myself.

CHRISTINA: How did this apply to the pandemic experience?

ANNA: The pandemic was a reminder that when we do have limitations, they can be a gift. People started cooking at home again, making bread, enjoying family time. That was possible because of the restrictions we were all facing. I say this realizing that the last season was more difficult for some than others, but I try to focus on the good that comes from the bad.

CHRISTINA: Tell me about the phrase you learned from a friend: “Cream of third shelf”.

ANNA: My friend lived on the Little Applegate River and would need to make dinner for her family. She didn’t always want to drive all the way to town to get groceries, and so would make do with what she had. You can make a delicious soup from just about anything.

CHRISTINA: Let’s talk about your writing life—in the book you talk about living in that spare one-room cabin in Redding for a year. Tell me about the idea that “every writer should live in a poor room for a year.”

ANNA: For me, it helps the creative process to be undistracted by all the trappings of things. In that one-room cabin there were no distractions, no place to put things, nothing to manage. There was no ‘inventory’ as a friend of mine calls it. If we have lots of inventory, we have to clean it, fix it, insure it, track it, etc.

CHRISTINA: How does limitation apply to the creative process itself? To writing and art?

ANNA: Writers often say there is nothing as frightening as the blank page. Now I see the blank page as an invitation. There is a certain size to it for one, and it is a certain medium—it’s not filmmaking, it’s not music. It’s going to be filled with words. So, I think there is a beautiful limitation to that 8.5x11 sheet.

CHRISTINA: Any investment advice?

ANNA: I came up with the idea of “compound gratitude” around the time I was trying to learn about the stock market and get my financial life in order. The stock market is one thing, but I have to say, I think compound gratitude is far more valuable than compound interest.

To buy the book Living Large on Little, click here.

"I try to focus on the wealth of what I already have."

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

I ask my favorite weather-guru, Greg Roberts from, "Why?"

I even wore flip flops the other day.

Before the pandemic, I mostly spent my winters away from the Applegate Valley, in places where bougainvillea grows. That bright, sun-loving vine seems a harbinger of flipflops and warm winter getaways. While the places I traveled were wildly different—Mexico, Spain, Nepal and Morocco— all had this radiant plant in common. On arrival, I’d catch my first glimpse of those cascading magenta, tangerine and salmon pink blooms, and my heart would bloom alongside.

Now, I did hear rumors of abundant wintertime sunshine back in our very own valley. Matt Sorensen, the owner of LongSword winery, once told me his forearms tanned when he pruned his vineyard in January. Someone else mentioned that commercial airline pilots referred to our area as “the hole” for the way it remains clear—even while being circled by clouds.

I didn’t quite believe it: How could our valley be so different from nearby Jacksonville or Grants Pass?

Then the pandemic struck and I had to cancel all my Deep Travel writing workshops. I’d have to forgo all those bougainvillea-filled places and spend my first real winter at home in over a decade. I was happily surprised to discover that the rumors were true: there must have been 30-plus more days of sunshine in our valley that winter than in our surrounding towns.

There were many days when I would drive away from Ruch on a bluebird day to take my Jacksonville woodlands walk, and then at Cady Road, encounter an entirely different weather universe! A wall of freezing fog would engulf my car and the temperature would drop 20-degrees. Usually, I’d alter my plans, and head up Sterling Creek Road instead. I’d put my sun hat on and hike the East Applegate Ridge Trail.

Commercial airline pilots refer to our area as “the hole” for the way it remains clear—even while being circled by clouds.

I wanted to understand this phenomenon, and so got in touch with Greg Roberts from the well- known RogueWeather blog. After following his Facebook posts for years, I credit him with turning a lot of everyday people into weather geeks. Anyone who follows him closely will find themselves fluent in the language of millibars, high-pressure ridges, and inversion layers. His easy explanations make the technical seem accessible, and the ever-changing nature of weather seem a little less random

But back to “the hole” over the Applegate, he explained the effect: Wind pours down off of Mount Ashland to Wagner Butte and then gets compressed and intensified by our narrow valley. This strong “downdraft” has a scouring effect –pushing out all potential for fog in our area. “It’s like a big wind funnel,” he explains. Fog needs moisture and still air to form and these scouring winds eliminate both. The winds also have a drying effect. The humidity difference on either side of Jacksonville Hill is dramatic: it can be 70- percent humidity on the Jacksonville side and 30-40 percent humidity on the Applegate side.

Wind pours down off of Mount Ashland to Wagner Butte and then gets compressed and intensified by our narrow valley. This strong “downdraft” has a scouring effect –pushing out all potential for fog in our area. (Thanks for the image Greg Roberts!)

A similar phenomenon occurs on the other side of the valley, where the air mass coming in from Grants Pass gets backed up by these winds—often around the tight valley turn around Humbug Road, but sometimes closer to Murphy.

I’m now glad to spend my winters in this southern Oregon paradise under the sunny Applegate “hole.” Sure, it’s not the same as drinking margaritas in a beach-lounger, but sometimes I’m found in January drinking a Chardonnay in my yellow Adirondak chair. I even wore flip flops the other day.

As for the bougainvillea, Greg informed me that Jackson County is officially designated a Mediterranean climate. I like the sound of that. Maybe I’ll try and grow some in my yard this year.

I was happily surprised to discover that the rumors were true: there must have been 30-plus more days of sunshine in our valley that winter than in our surrounding towns.

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