Pepper Trail

Jefferson Journal Contributor

Pepper Trail is a naturalist, photographer, writer, and world traveler who has lived in Ashland since 1994. He works as a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and in his spare time leads natural history trips to every corner of the world, including Jackson County. Pepper is a regular essayist for the Jefferson Journal and for High Country News, and his writing has been included in several anthologies, including Intricate Homeland and What the River Brings: Oregon River Poems.  In 2009, he published Shifting Patterns: Meditations on Climate Change in Oregon’s Rogue Valley, a collection of essays and poems, with photographs by Jim Chamberlain and himself. Pepper’s poetry has appeared in the Jefferson Monthly, Windfall, Kyoto Journal, Borderlands, Comstock Review and many other publications. His writing combines a scientist’s insights with deeply personal meditations on memory, mortality, and the human place in the natural world.

Pepper Trail

I’m big into names. As a professional ornithologist and a lifelong naturalist, I’ve spent years learning the names of things. 

That drab little yellow-green bird skulking in the bushes? It’s an Orange-crowned Warbler, Oreothlypis celata. What about the bushes? They’re snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus. And the bee buzzing among their flowers? Why, it’s a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii (say that one five times fast!).

Pepper Trail

Tahiti. Hiva Oa. Mangareva. Pitcairn. Rapa Nui. These are names that conjure up all the adventure and romance of the South Seas. Scattered across 3000 miles of ocean, these islands have long been a refuge for dreamers and outcasts, the daring and the desperate.

To set foot on these storied isles is the cherished ambition of many a traveler. In 2015 I was lucky enough to travel with Seattle’s Zegrahm Expeditions to visit them all, and more, in an epic voyage across the true South Pacific.

Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren | Wildreturn

Today I hiked along a forest trail near my home. Squirrels scolded, a raven croaked. I moved steadily on. Startled at my approach, a deer bounded away, labored up the loose soil of the steep little canyon, and disappeared. I barely paused. There is nothing here for me to fear, nothing for me to attend other than what I choose.

In Praise Of Oaks

Jul 1, 2015
Wikimedia Commons | M.O. Stevens

It is winter, the fog along the river heavy as sodden wool, the ramparts of Table Rock looming high above. I have to place my feet carefully on the rock-strewn slope, and when I raise my eyes, a great shape blocks my way, stretching gnarled hands out of the mist. I gasp, and a jay jeers in derisive laughter at my alarm, breaking the spell. What stands before me is no malignant giant, but an ancient lichen-shrouded oak, most benevolent of Oregon trees.

Daniel Marquard

For climate activists, this feels like the last moment. This summer, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report, covering Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, using by far the most sobering language to date. Among the impending risks that it identifies with “high confidence” are:

I’d like you to summon into your mind’s eye the greatest animal spectacle you’ve ever seen. Was it a cloud of Snow Geese filling the sky over the Klamath Basin?  Maybe you’ve been to Jackson Hole, and seen a great herd of elk in the shadow of the Grand Tetons.  Perhaps it was nothing more exotic than a swirling flock of starlings, one of those amazing “murmurations” that form over roosts along the Rogue River on winter evenings.

Pepper Trail

Every fall, the maples and dogwoods color the foothills of southern Oregon with yellow and orange highlights, flaring vibrant among the dark green pines. Through these Siskiyou Mountains, the railroad line once known as the “Road of a Thousand Wonders” snakes its way toward California, crossing moss-covered ravines on rickety trestles and piercing the mountain ridges with long dark tunnels.

Who wouldn’t love a free lunch? You seat yourself, let’s say, on a sun-dappled outdoor patio, choose among the many mouth-watering dishes, enjoy a glass or two of wine, and finally, full at last, get up and simply stroll away. No waiter pursues you, waving a bill. No guilty conscience disturbs your well-being. This establishment never charges. It’s a free lunch, every day.

Just Say KNOW!

Apr 1, 2013

I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty

to know what occurs but not recognize the fact

— William Stafford (from “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”)

Wikimedia Commons

I’m writing this in Oregon’s high desert, on the shore of Summer Lake—or, to be more accurate, on the rim of its dry lakebed. It’s August, and I’m here with a group of artists, scientists, and writers, all of us gathered to think about the future of the northern Great Basin in the face of change—most fundamentally, climate change.

Time Depth Perception

Apr 1, 2012

Remember that kid from elementary school, the one with the terrible depth perception?  That kid was me.  I fell down stairs, missed the next rung on the monkey bars, and could be counted on to drop the easiest pop fly.  I eventually grew out of that, and these days my depth perception is probably as good as the next guy.  My spatial depth perception, that is.  On the other hand, my ability to judge and react to the depths of time remains terrible – just like everyone else’s. 

I recently flew from southern Oregon to Denver, giving me the opportunity to reflect on the fate of western landscapes.  As we took off from the Medford airport, it was easy to see how the neat pear orchards and vineyards of my compact valley are increasingly hemmed in by subdivisions.  But we quickly left that view behind, as we passed over the large-scale patchwork of industrial forestry in the Cascades.  A few minutes more, and we were above the Klamath Basin, one of the most thoroughly engineered drainages in the west, the vast rectangular impoundments filled here with water, there with

First, a confession. I am a serious birder. Far too serious, my wife will tell you. But for 364 days a year, I’m a good birding citizen. I lead field trips for beginners, I share my spotting scope, I am happy to explain the differences between, say, a song sparrow and a savannah sparrow to anyone who is interested (and, perhaps, to a few who are not).

We gathered in the well-lit room

Poured wine, settled back to chart

Our way around the coming doom

We all had brought our favored facts:

The end of oil, the ocean’s rise

Growing deserts and glacier’s cracks

We knew the numbers, and the score

Had each summed up our carbon feet

And all believed that less is more

But still we held on tight to hope

Trusted in our lifelong luck

Even atop this slippery slope

So one by one we spoke our dreams

The engineer went first and sang

The End Of Forever

Apr 1, 2010

One of the highlights of the past year on television was Ken Burns’ masterful history of American conservation in his PBS series “The National Parks – America’s Best Idea.”  As Burns eloquently demonstrated, preservation is at the heart of our conservation ethic.  And not, of course, preservation merely for a year or a decade or a century.  No, preservation is to be “for future generations,” “for posterity,” – that is, forever.