STATUS UPDATE: "My New Life In Trout Lake, WA and a Crazy Weekend In PDX"

    Hello my wonderful friends, and thank you so much for keeping up with me here at TLGAJ!
    If I didn't have such a splendid forum and handsome audience to be sharing my hectic quest for the american dream, I'm not even sure where I would be right now. Lord knows I've struggled with the blog as a literary medium, but despite my troubles, it has served me greatly as a tool to share my stories and photography, expand my audience, and give me the much needed comfort in knowing that folks are actually interested in my aim of this vagabond study of our country.  
    Those of you who've been following along from the beginning, have seen me live a multitude of lives since my jovial post-college departure now over two years ago. I've somehow prospered, struggled, and survived simultaneously on a slimmer budget then even I could have fathomed, and the strangest thing I have come to realize, is that my achievements have largely been earned through my experiences of failing so relentlessly. All I can say with a crooked smile, and a deep sigh, is 'what a life!'
     What am I up to now?, is a question I can either invest my entire writing efforts toward today, or I can put aside for the time being. Since I have such a massive backlog of stories, experiences, and photography to catch everyone up on, I'm going to just put that inquiry to rest for now, and work on moving the blog forward since, unfortunately, I cannot seem to write at the pace of my living as-of-late.
    Where did I last leave off? is perhaps a better question to focus on for the moment…
    My last post left off as I was just arriving in Portland after a 48 hour greyhound trip from Milwaukee. As it went, I arrived Friday evening and had the entire weekend to blow off steam before I was to be ready for the shuttle arriving at the PDX airport Monday morning to take me to Trout Lake. Suffice it to say that I had one hell of a turbulent weekend visiting all my portland friends from the previous summer, killing off mass amounts of brain cells, and trying my best not to focus on drama in Milwaukee, or how nervous I was for my new life in Americorps beginning Monday.    
    For now, I'm going to hold off on sharing the bulk of my messy, blurry, punk-infused Portland weekend of grand delusions, strip clubs, good friends, and cheap wine. I know this is likely to displease you, but I really must keep things moving along. I assure you that this meaningful weekend spent between lives will be detailed further in the book, and possibly as a short story that you might see sooner than later… Anyhow….
Cameron and Sarah, quite literally, chillin' like villians in PDX. Don't be mad at me Sarah!!

    Though I really needed to let it all out that weekend, as I indeed did do on more than one level- by the time Monday morning came around, I was an absolute mess. Anxiety on an emotional and physical level struck me like lightning as I woke up to fly around the house and regain the order to my bags that I had spent the weekend dismantling. I felt as if there was a steady flow of electricity pulsing through my nerves, and as my trembling hands and scattered thoughts struggled to piece my baggage back together, I couldn't help but count and re-count all the items on the Americorps "required gear" list that I either didn't have, or that I had an inadequate version of.
    I was sure it would be like grade school all over again, everyone laughing at the "poor kid" who had to go shopping at Goodwill. I even had the audacity to buy an inflatable pool floating device, since I didn't have enough money to buy a real backpacking ground pad. I wish I could tell you that I was joking. (As it turned out, I didn't even have the guts to take the stupid thing out to float on the lake that summer, for fear someone might ask me why I'd had it in the first place.)   
    I cursed myself for assessing this scenario a week ago, and naively deciding it would somehow work out for the better in its own way. Why couldn't I just do things like everyone else and make life easier on myself for a change? I wondered to myself pitifully.
    My good friend Corey- one of the people from the house I was staying at, was kind enough to offer me a ride to the airport that morning, effectively sparing me a multi-transfer bus trip across town with a bulky 60 pounds strapped to my back. What a saint! I'd met Corey through the previous summer of yard-surfing in Portland, when me and Chassy had spent a month there in his back yard.
    After a frenzied series of pacing back and forth through the house, I got all my gear in one place, and decided I was as ready as I was ever going to be. With a good twenty minutes left to kill, I went to the Plaid Pantry to buy a vitamin water. I was fairly sure I was going to vomit, and I figured maybe the walk would get it out of me.
    By the time I returned, I still hadn't puked. Along with the sun-induced nausea I was now feeling, my stomach began fluidly grumbling with a diarrhetic groan of despair indicative of potential catastrophe that I needn't describe further. I spent a moment in the bathroom hovering over the toilet bowl, trying to figure out which end of me was going to erupt, but nothing was happening. I gave up on it, and one last glimpse in the mirror confirmed to me that I did indeed look as bad as I felt. Like a final blow to my already smoldering confidence. I wiped my dampened brow with my sleeve, and put my neon yellow shades on. Determined to continue fighting the good fight, I left the bathroom prepared to shit myself with style.
    It was time to go. Corey sipped his water casually, asking me if I was ready. Through desperate beads of sweat I said, 'giddy-up' with a meek smile, and grabbed my massive backpack. We made our way to the airport, and Corey dropped me off with my heaping bags and gave me a solemn goodbye. I told him I'd be no stranger to Portland, and assured him he'd hear from me every chance I got. 

    Though I was relatively unaware of it, my first steps into the terminal there signified the beginning of this next new adventure for me. I didn't really realize it till the end of that first day, but my feelings that I was about to vomit, or even shit myself- all the physical distress and anxiety I was experiencing, vanished from me as I began to simply search for the meeting point of a shuttle I was supposed to take. I suppose it was all an overwhelming crescendo of self-induced anxiousness the whole time. A tightly wound mess of emotions that I only had time to dwell upon in the stages leading up to the start. Now that I was actually there, and that this big new change was finally upon me- I only had time to react to my immediate concerns, which at that moment, were locating my new peers, and finding the place we were to wait for our shuttle to Trout Lake.
    It really is incredible what we're capable of putting ourselves through as human beings. The pain we create for ourselves can be real, and the suffering can be a tangible thing. In so many ways, it explains allot.

     Our shuttle ride from Portland to Trout Lake was between an hour and a half, to two hours maximum. To be honest, I always had a hard time remembering how long it took to get between the two, because it was such an absolutely gorgeous ride through the Columbia River Gorge. The twelve or so fellow NWSA members I met in the terminal were all extremely nice folks, and the ride to Trout Lake was spent holding casual conversation, and taking in the landscape.
     It was a meaningful drive for me, not only because I would later become so fond of the whole Columbia River Valley, but because after spending those months cooped up in the Midwestern winter, I had become somewhat out of touch with the whole premise of my "Journey" overall. The previous summer I had spent traveling up the coast from San Francisco was idyllic, and taking in all the new scenery was a charge to my spirit that I had nearly forgotten. We ran out of money and I inevitably got a job for a few months cooking in Portland, and since I returned to Milwaukee to participate in the "2010 Performance Art Showcase," I hadn't been any further North since. The simple fact that I was taking in an entirely new landscape, and seeing something I had never seen once again, was an immediate reminder of why I was out here in the first place, and if that simple notion wasn't enough to run with- the stunning allure of the Columbia River Gorge would certainly suffice. 

     So, as many of my regular readers already know, a six month commitment to a volunteer Americorps position is unlike any of the other highly spontaneous endeavors I've chased around our beautiful country. For a multitude of reasons though, it has surely been one of the most influential stints I've had. I'll keep myself from focusing on the infrastructural jargon too much here, and champion the many experiential aspects of the program, but there are some details you should know in terms of understanding the simple nuts and bolts, as well as the context of the experiences within the larger scope of things.
     The position I took was through the "Northwest Service Acadamy," which is referred to as the NWSA because it is both shorter, and closer sounding to the hip-hop group, NWA. Even non-profits understand that the closer you can get to Dr. Dre, the more success your going to have. Plus, the non-profit world, and the rap game are not nearly as far off as you might think. Anyhow, all fooling aside, the NWSA is funded through Americorps, which is a government program that helps fund and operate non-profits throughout the US with the aim to aid in issues such as poverty, disaster relief, education, environment, etc.
     In this way, a comparable analogy would be: Americorps is to Dr. Dre, as the Northwest Service Academy is to Eminem. Though both are essentially separate entities, they still operate within a generally co-existing financial framework, and under a common set of moral and ethical guidelines that are understood and agreed upon. Put another way: one may have love for the streets, and one may have love for the forests- but in the end, they still have each others back. (If your conclusion from my analogy's is that Dr. Dre funds the Northwest Service Academy, please either re-read, or give up on analogy's all together.)

     So, being that this was my first experience in any sort of government program, there was plenty of things for me to get used to. On top of just that, there was the added fact that this was also a program with the general aim of using the work experience to both facilitate, and contribute to a larger set of social goals; goals that are in line with Americorps principals. These principals tend to emphasize community involvement, team work, and the development of leadership skills. The immediate reaction in my head was: 'You mean working my ass off isn't going to just be enough?!' Well, in short, no. It isn't.
     In staying true to my general tone here, I might have to be a bit cautious, or even re-iterate things, because this program really was so meaningful in so many different ways, that I want to be absolutely sure my sarcasm doesn't offset the importance of what the folks at the Northwest Service Academy were doing at the end of the day. Many different people were in the program for many different reasons, and much to my surprise, not a whole lot of them were as intrigued with the "grueling physical labor" or "trail work" portion of the job as I was. In hindsight, I'm not sure why I was surprised.
     Anyhow, what it all essentially boiled down to, was that this program really made me grow a whole hell of a lot in many different respects. As socially adaptable and friendly as I really can be, I am quite an extreme personality in many different regards, and it took allot of effort, and communication on my part to make sure I was working towards a healthy team dynamic. Spending six months together living out in the woods, or on a ranger compound, on such close quarters with the same people is much more of a challenge then I'd originally assumed. I felt damn near blessed to have been surrounded with the amazing people that my team was comprised of, but as a person known to need to "do his own thing" sometimes, there was certainly many challenges I would face.
     Because of the intensity of such an experience, the first week was mostly devoted to a balance between team building exercises, ice-breakers, and government paperwork. Though I can now realize how necessary that time really was, weeks like these put me to the test nearly as much as weeks later in the season where we were camping among frigid craters in endless rainfall. As much as I despised cold wet clothes, I could be just as inclined to lose my mind doing paperwork, or throwing a beach ball around and having to remember the name of the person I'm throwing to. I know that seems ridiculous, but I'm just a certain type I suppose...
      One great thing about having some time devoted to getting to know one another- as well as the 600 person town of Trout Lake- was that we got to explore a bit locally with the rest of the members. After the first two weeks of training, paperwork, and social exercises, the 7 different teams all go off to their own sites scattered throughout the NW. Aside from occasional visits, teams are mostly on their own the season, and only ONE team stays there in Trout Lake to work the local Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Luckily for me, I was on the G.P. team, and Trout Lake would fondly become my home for the next 6 months.
The picture above, is a few of us blindly setting out toward the NAP (natural area preserve) after dinner, as recommended by one of the staff. We had no idea for the view we were in for.   

Just as we turned the bend down the old gravel road, and made it past a small handful of tree's, there she was in all her glory! Mt. Adams.

Coming from a city life in the Midwest, I'd never seen something so magnificent up close like Mt. Adams was. The idea of living right there, and even being assigned to work in the Mt. Adams wilderness often times, was nothing short of invigorating. I had no idea that this little spot on the lake known as the nap (natural area preserve) would soon become a social sanctuary of sorts, for me and Sean to come work on music, and have a few cold beers after a long day of dragging timbers and digging drainage's.  

Meet "Crazy Dave!" He's a gentleman, a scholar, and one hell of a fine singer. Dave was among one of my first drinking buddy's there from the academy, and being one of the few with a car, he facilitated the needs of fellow degenerates such as myself who were always looking to go out and cut loose a bit after work. When the local Inn wasn't open, it was a 45 minute drive to the nearest bar! We would show up early in the morning for work after long rowdy nights, proceed to work long rigorous days, and damned if we didn't do it all over again. Call it what you will, but we had ourselves a fine time, and I wouldn't expect any less of myself in taking in a fully loaded experience on all fronts. 

Often times, the end of the night at the Inn really did look as blurry as this photo! My first time going there, I knew I had found a special place. I won't even get into the mushy details at the moment, because I have much writing to do about the Trout Lake Country Inn, the saints who own it, and the important role it inevitably had in my life out in Trout Lake.

The current hipster craze of drinking PBR and other blue collar beers has brought the price of PBR's up in Milwaukee to nearly that of Miller High Life! I know, crazy right? Well the Trout Lake Country Inn is a place that knows no craze, or particular time period even, and thus forth, the Pabst's flow like wine at minimum expense. Thanks be to god!

     In my first few days there in Trout Lake, we were lucky enough to have found out about a storied point of interest called "The Cheese Caves." The local area is known to be riddled with mysterious little caves all over the place, some well known as attractions, and others only found via bar napkin treasure maps or intricate landmarks. "The Cheese Caves," are somewhere in between the two, but are certainly only told of through locals. After a mile or so into the "back 40," a few wrong turns, and a few strange landmarks, we finally found an enormous hole in the ground with a makeshift ladder poking out that appeared to be our destination. The Cheese Caves were named as such because at one point back before efficient refrigerating methods were developed, they were used by local cheese makers to store large quantities of cheese that apparently benefited in the stable temperature. Interestingly, when we went far enough down there, we actually stumbled upon a decent amount of old rotting wood which was apparently evidence of dismantled shelving used to store the cheese way back when.
     The Cheese Caves became a place to frequently return to and explore. People would have "monster wars" (I'll explain later), and once toward the end of the season, there was even a Cheese Cave Rave complete with glow sticks, i pods, bongo's, and other general implements of dance. Throughout the NWSA's history, an intense challenge eventually came about that entailed crawling back into the smallest rat-hole in the cave, turning your head lamp off, and remaining there in the absolute darkness for an entire 24 hours. I wish I could say I took the challenge, but I didn't.        

So in the next few posts detailing my experiences living and working in Trout Lake, you'll get a chance to better know the fine people of the fabled "G.P. Team" (Gifford Pinchot), and the trials and tribulations of our turbulent little family. In the meantime, I'll share some of the fun photo's we collected in the first week while exploring the local area together.

Here's Erin posing in the foreground of "Sleeping Beauty," a famous local hiking destination, with one of the most spectacular views in the area. "Sleeping Beauty," can vaguely be seen in the distance there, and is meant to represent Erin's pose of the fabled sleeping beauty as depicted. I didn't see it very clearly at first, but after spending the summer in the area, it strangely became more and more clear to me. The rocky peak directly above Erin's face is the face of sleeping beauty, and the rounded sort of peak just next to it is meant to represent her folded hands on her chest. The white line of snow running down the peak, is said to be a tear drop from the fabled princess. Later in the season, we would not only get to hike to the summit, but buck out all the fallen tree's in the way of the trail, and dig drain dips along the way. Talk about living the dream!  

Here we are in Pats farm. Pat raises chickens, and supply's the local area with delicious organic eggs. When raspberry comes around, she can always use pickers!
One amazing thing about Trout Lake, and the NW in general, is that folks tend to know exactly where everything they are eating comes from. I can't say there wasn't a dietary transition involved on my part, but I also can't say that it wasn't entirely for the better either! I got spoiled eating out there, and now that I'm in the mid-west living on ramen noodles once again, and my only source of protein is canned tuna- I can say that I absolutely appreciate the food culture, and the emphasis on sustainability, and eating local. Don't tell my vegetarian leader, Jen- but I even secretly crave tofu once and a while to replace my hot dog intake... Shhhhh!

There's about a total of three establishments in Trout Lake. The Post Office, the previously mentioned and highly regarded Trout Lake Country Inn, and the General store, fondly referred to by anyone who's anyone as "The G store." The G-Store is where you go if you need anything that isn't lodging, music, beer, or company (found at the Inn). I guess there's also the ranger station where you can buy maps or whatnot, and there is also Andy's gas station. Attached to Andy's gas station is an evil little cafe which serves burgers, but we will not speak of this place, as I consider myself forever a patron, advocate, and wandering employee of the Inn. In all fairness, I should just go ahead and admit to my prejudices. On my days off from the trails, I was a loyal employee at the Trout Lake Country Inn, and the owners, Christian and Danica quickly became beloved friends of mine. As I mentioned, I'll save my ranting and raving of the Inn for future posts that focus a bit more on my later life in Trout Lake.
Anyways, The G-Store is A-okay in my book, and if it wasn't, I'd be S.O.L. anyhow, because your in for a bit of a drive if you can't buy what you need at the G Store. Since there is a no alcohol policy on NWSA grounds, it didn't take much more then a few weeks for me and my fellow collaborator in music/shenanigans to profess an efficient system of stashing beer off campus so we could have a few cold ones after work and relax at the NAP. The G Store was good enough to supply us with an affordable variety of cheap beer that usually rotated between Hamms, PBR, Raineer, or Olympia. If we were really feeling ritzy, we went with sessions, but those were special days... 

Here we are at the... well, between the picture above and below, I think you can figure it out. Pretty sweet though, eh?

And here's the man of the hour himself, Mr. Sean O'Neill. I knew from the beginning that this guy was trouble, and being that trouble is pretty much my preferred medium now'a days, it was no surprise that we got along famously. There was a total of 7 or so teams, with 7 or so people on each (numbers aren't my forte), but Sean's unique role was "the ROVER," which was an appropriate title for this colorful Irishman. The job of "the ROVER," was to potentially bounce between teams who were down a person due to injury, or who had to leave the program for unforeseen reasons. I was glad that the team I was on, G.P., was supposed to be his home base when the other teams were in healthy order, but when we all grew attached to good old Sean, we knew it would suck to lose him to his roving ways.
Sean was also my room mate in the small two person rooms we were assigned, which worked out splendidly since we were both broke, smelly, Irish work-horses with irregular schedules and unconventional backgrounds. As close as I inevitably became with most everyone in the program, I'm frankly not sure many other people could have put up with living on such close quarters with me. I suppose I would have adapted to what other people expected, but you can only do so much. We drew a line down the middle of the room that my mess would most often times mark, and that worked pretty well for us. There was even a foul sort of undertone of amusement to the strange man cave, and the fact that the two oddest of the odd balls had been lumped together worked as a natural sort of dialogue.
I often wondered why Sean was able to put up with some of my ridiculous tendency's, but I guess with any other room mate, it would have been him in the position of having to work to meet someone else's expectations. With me, it was a constant reminder that you could be far, far worse off. Thanks for putting up with me buddy, and sorry for my ridiculous alarms, and the infamous CORE-4 sleep schedule!      

The Trout Lake CSA is a meaningful local institution of sorts that works off the premise of everyone contributing time and effort to the land and crops, and everyone reaping the benefits. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and the CSA puts out a hearty amount of vegetables throughout the year that are divided among the people who either pay a portion, spend a certain amount of time working on the land, or a mixture of both. The CSA is a great way to get involved with the local community in Trout Lake, and in the very modest amount of time I did put in volunteering, I managed to learn a good amount about farming and gardening. CSA's aren't only found in Trout Lake, they exist all over the country, and similar models are even popping up all over cities in the U.S. If you don't know anything about farming, getting involved in some of these local efforts is the best way to learn. It is highly rewarding!   

Despite T.L.C.'s popular advice, we went "chasing waterfalls." I don't see what was so wrong about doing so, and frankly, I find that sticking to the rivers and the lakes that I'm used to, gets rather boring... have you had enough yet? I'm done.

Erin and Olivia hanging out with good 'ol Ollie! Ollie is Christians loyal dog, and when he's not out exploring the town, he lives at the Inn. I'm generally a cat person, but Ollie has real charm, and he's treated like royalty there at the Inn. Dogs in Trout Lake tend to have there own lives, and get to do pretty much whatever they want. It isn't uncommon at all for a dog to disappear for days in Trout Lake, and wander back on home whenever the hell it so desires... What a life!

Although I wasn't always altogether thrilled with some of the activities the first two weeks of member training entailed during the day, it was all necessary to prepare us for what we had ahead of us, and we all had a grand time hanging out and exploring the area together during the evenings off. When the two weeks was finally up, we had all made some great friends among the various teams, and though I was ready to get on the trails, it was sad when all the teams finally went there separate ways. Of course it wasn't any final good-bye, at the half way point of the season, everyone meets back up in Trout Lake for a week of fun during the grand "Summer Summit," which I will be sure to detail to you.
Until then, our small team was about to have the unique experience of living in the small little town of Trout Lake, and working under the Forest Service in the beautiful Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It was an experience that certainly changed my life and my perspectives, and I'm looking forward to sharing it.    

Good old James gets a bottle of wine in him, and not only does he get sentimental, but he gets remarkably photogenic- wouldn't you say? One helluva good fella, who has an interesting role in the scheme of this story.

Sara, an ex art major turned political-science, always had something interesting to say.  She was also among a handful of us rapscallions that with pure enough intent, didn't always do things by the book. I enjoyed her very much for that, and we always got along great as overwhelmingly sarcastic buddy's.  

Ellen was a sweetheart and a half reigning from the U.P., and boy howdy could this gal hold her own as only a mid-westerner could! The wonderfully quirky subtleties of her personality make her a remarkably complex character, and when you pair that with her golden laugh, you've got a winning combo! 

As it turned out, we all drank a bit too much wine this day, and though I suffered a bit of a pain in my head, James apparently went back to the commons and spewed red wine all over the floor. Of course this was all after getting into an overwhelmingly emotional argument about 9/11, crying a bit, and inevitably insulting each other... The next day, all was fine and dandy, and it was just another thing to laugh about, but maaan- don't mix those red and white wines, buddy. 

      Currently, I'm in a small oil boomtown called Minot, ND, currently welding live-stock fencing on my own schedule, and looking for a good paying job. Though I have nobody to collaborate with, I've been working on several new songs that I am excited to play around with once I find some willing participants. Since this leaves me relatively isolated from music- directly at least- I've been taking a serious interest in studying folk rhythm. I've been playing the spoons for a week or two now, and I'm starting to get pretty good at 'em. I also just picked up a washboard at an antique shop to play around on, and I've been steadily playing my harmonica's a bit each day as well. Here in the frigid winds of the central plains, music has really been a necessary, and therapeutic outlet. I've also been working on allot of video, and writing some poetry as well. I'd like to get going on more visual art, but it has been difficult to do so out here. 
     I'll leave you off with a raw recording of the first song me and Sean managed to put together for our music project "The Whiskey Economy." Its called "Okay Enough." Since we have a handful of these crude, laptop recorded songs, I figure I'll leave one or two with my next few posts so they can be enjoyed in the context of where they were created. I had a blast bringing music back into my life, writing lyrics, and collaborating with Sean, so I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as we enjoyed making 'em!

Until We Meet Again...

Joseph R. Reeves

"Okay Enough," The Whiskey Economy w/ Joseph Reeves, and Sean O'Neill