Bly Mountain

June 4th, 2017

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Blaze, Maire, and Jonathan. The Holy Families. Every family is a holy family. Every family struggles mightily with God and with men. The problem, at least for Catholics, is that most families cannot compete with The Holy Family, the model family in which two members never committed a sin. The bar is set too high. We might do better to compare ourselves to the families of the Old Testament, the families of the patriarchs. Those were real families. The Holy Family is an image of what we wish we could be. The families in Genesis are examples of who we are.

Karin and I wanted to see Maire and Jonathan, and, of course, their baby boy, Blaze. Maire is our niece. The visit to this family was the high water mark of our trip. After seeing Blaze and Jon and Maire, Karin and I were going to head home. We would venture no further than Bly Mountain. This place would be the last place we would explore on the outward part of the journey. We had toyed with the idea of going further, to Seattle maybe. That didn’t happen. For us, Bly Mountain was the end of the world.

We went to Bly Mountain after spending a weekend with the Trappists at New Clairvaux. We spent most of that Monday driving north through Red Bluff, Redding, and Weed. Mount Shasta loomed near us for most of the ride. Once in Oregon, we headed generally in the direction of Klamath Falls. Klamath Falls is still quite a distance from the home of Jon and Maire. The nearest community to them is Bonanza; a cluster of buildings that house people willing to sell you the basic necessities at inflated prices.

As usual, the GPS got us close. On our trip we tended to visit people and places that didn’t seem to have exact locations. Maire had told us that they lived on a country road in the mountains. Their road was to be the third barely passable, deeply rutted, dirt road that we attempted with the Corolla. We made it to Maire’s home, but it was a challenge.

Jon and Maire own a chunk of land on the mountain.  It has towering ponderosa pines and manzanita growing on it. Rocks grow there too. And weed. Don’t forget about the weed. Weed is important to this story.

Maire, Jon, and Blaze live in campers. I think they own five vehicles, one of which actually runs.  They have no running water. They rent a porta potty. They heat and cook with propane. They run a generator for occasional electricity use. To say that they have a simple lifestyle would be a gross understatement.

I don’t know what they do with their garbage. In other places, such as Texas, they might burn it. However, parts of Oregon, like California, have a very dry climate, and I am pretty sure that any open fire would be a cause of concern for the neighbors.

A young man, named Earl, lives on the property with Maire and Jonathan. I’m not sure what he does. All I know is that he is there.

When we arrived, Maire greeted us. Jon and Earl were inside one of the campers watching old episodes of Sanford and Son. That seemed oddly appropriate. Jon and Maire live with chaos. To me, everything on the land looked to be in a state of utter disarray. I’m the kind of person who compulsively picks up things to put them away. Jon and Maire’s home induced in me a kind of sensory overload. I couldn’t imagine where I would even start.

Maire brought out Blaze. Blaze is several months old, not quite ready to crawl. He’s a good-looking young man, and he seems to be a happy baby. Maire obviously loves the little boy, and she takes good care of him. Blaze was clean and well-fed and willing to be held by Karin. Some people say that Blaze looks a little like Hans did when he was a baby. Some say that he looks like Jonathan. I think he looks like Blaze.

Jon and Maire gave us a tour of the property. The land slopes sharply downward from the dirt road. There is a creek bed which was dry when we saw it. Jon had attempted to build a foundation for a greenhouse a ways up from the stream bed. His choice of location was unfortunate because the foundation flooded out during the spring snow melt. They will have to move the cinder blocks and find a place higher up the hill. Jon and Earl had built some rough steps into the hillside. They looked good, and I am sure they are quite useful.

A friend of Jonathan’s showed up. Jon and the other man tried to start up Maire’s car. That didn’t work, but at least Jonathan discovered what the problem with the car was. Then Karin and I sat with Jon and Maire under an awning next to one of the campers. Jon’s friend was with us for a while. Maire wanted to offer Karin some water, but they were out of drinking water. Jonathan found me a Coke.  As the conversation went on, we found out that Jonathan and Maire were also out of propane and a number of other items, including money.

They do have marijuana. Jon passed around a pipe while we were sitting together. Karin and I declined to take a hit. Jon’s friend took a puff, as did Jon and Maire. Jon and Maire don’t drink, but weed is definitely part of their lives. They have twelve plants, enough for personal use and to sell a bit on the side. Their neighbors have a rather large greenhouse full of plants. From what I could gather, everybody on the mountain is a grower.

Somehow, the folks on the mountain remind me of the moonshiners in the Appalachians. There is that backwoods feel to the place. There is also a distrust of outsiders. As Maire noted, there is the danger of strangers stealing plants, and there is a desire on the part of the residents to keep local law enforcement at a respectful distance. People are encouraged to grow weed discreetly. Maire also mentioned that everybody on the mountain has dogs and/or guns. There is a definite hillbilly vibe on the mountain. The local economy seems to be based on barter to a certain extent, weed being an acceptable form of currency.

Maire spends her days caring for Blaze. Jonathan works part time fixing machines for the locals. He works on a “cash only” basis. For a variety of reasons, Jon prefers to stay under the radar. Jon has a plans for the future, like eventually buying a backhoe. For the present, this holy family is dirt poor and likely to stay that way. That’s just how things are.

Maire remarked that Blaze will probably grow up like Mowgli, the character in The Jungle Book. She might not be far off the mark. Blaze will have an unconventional childhood. He won’t be raised by wolves, but they do have five dogs. Blaze definitely won’t experience the standard middle class upbringing.

Maire was happy to see us. She is a lonely young woman. Often she is alone with Blaze. Jon goes off to work on projects, and Maire is there by herself with Blaze. Both Jon and Maire are Texans. They are in exile, basically. I think that they would like to move back to Texas, but that is not a viable option, not now. Maire longs to see her family, and the geographical distance makes it difficult for that to happen.

We talked about Maire’s father. Marc was my younger brother. He died in 1998 in a car wreck, when Maire was only five years old. She remembers the day Marc died. It’s been almost twenty years since Marc left her life, and Karin and I are the links between Maire and her dad. So, it was important for us to be with her. Marc’s middle name was Blaise, and that explains the baby’s name. I told some stories about Marc. I am sure that Maire had heard them all before. It doesn’t matter. Some things are worth repeating.

We decided to make a trip into town. We packed everybody, except Jon and Earl, into the Toyota, and we went down the mountain to Bonanza. We stopped to buy propane and water. We got some Coke, and a pack of smokes for Jon. I got a six pack of Deschutes beer. It’s made in Bend, which is only a couple hours away. We stopped at the local café to buy some sandwiches to take back home for supper. We talked and passed around Blaze. He was even okay with me holding him.

The second ride up the mountain wasn’t quite as stressful. We knew where the potholes and ruts were this time. We went to one of the campers and ate. Then we all sat around and talked. Earl came to hang out with us. He drinks beer, so he and I had a couple Deschutes. Earl wore a torn, black sweatshirt, and black overalls. He had a reddish beard and a tendency to speak slowly. Jon sat there in his overalls. His hair and beard were all wild and unkempt; a cross between Jesus and Charlie Manson. Maire wore t-shirt and jeans, holding and feeding Blaze. We sat until the sun went down behind the trees.

When it got dark, Karin and I crawled into the sleeping area of one of the campers. We wrapped ourselves in a blanket that we had in the car. It got cold that night.

I laid down in the camper and thought about Jon and Maire and Blaze. They were definitely struggling. They really didn’t have a handle on things. I thought back to when Hans was born, thirty years ago. Karin and I struggled then. We had no idea what we were doing either. No parent has a clue. Mary and Joseph didn’t know. Every family is a new experiment in creation, and there is no instruction book.

No two people start a family with a clean slate. Each person has some history, has some baggage. Even with the best of intentions, genetics takes a toll. Some of the past becomes part of the future. Every new life contains an echo of previous lives.

All that matters is love. As a wise man once told me, “If you act out of love, you can’t go too far wrong.” Jon and Maire love Blaze, and they love each other. That will get all them through life. It will still be hard, and they will still have problems, but they will be okay.

They are a holy family.



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