Author Archives: lvidmar

The Wild They Never Knew

Life is better than it used to be for these chimpanzees—but they’re still not where they belong

Photos Will Saunders

Marla O’Donnell loves her job, but remains hopeful that it will one day be obsolete. She is the executive director of Chimps Inc., a refuge in Tumalo, Oregon, for wildlife—mainly chimpanzees—that led lives as pets and entertainers before they were abandoned. Seven chimps live at the sanctuary, which is tucked between the dense forests and snowcapped Cascade Mountains of central Oregon. “Our goal is that sanctuaries are no longer needed,” O’Donnell says over the screeches and booming yells of chimps in the background. “These amazing animals are meant to be left in the wild with their families.”

chimps 6

According to data collected by Save The Chimps, a non-profit organization that advocates for protecting primates, about a million chimpanzees lived in Africa’s wilderness fifty years ago. Today, as few as 170,000 remain in the wild, while 2,000 chimpanzees currently live in captivity in the United States.

“[Chimp owners] realize that this chimp is out of control at about the age of a year and a half. They can’t take care of it anymore,” O’Donnell says. “Chimpanzees are wild animals. They do not belong in captivity, and they do not belong in a neighborhood walking around.”

Once humans take a chimp from its natural habitat, it loses its instinct to fend for itself in the wild. In a sense, it no longer knows how to be a chimp. That’s where the wildlife sanctuary comes in. Staff members at Chimps Inc. provide lifelong care for the rescued chimpanzees, which spend their days swinging from ropes and climbing on jungle gym equipment in the sanctuary’s expansive outdoor and indoor enclosures.

chimps 4

Though the primates can be aggressive, O’Donnell says they also have a compassionate side and human-like qualities. Herbie, one of the chimps at the sanctuary, “reads” magazines, while others play with iPads, communicate through sign language, and form tight relationships with the caregivers who prepare their meals and watch over them.

“Chimps share 98.76 percent of the same DNA as us, but what you can’t take out is their wild nature,” says O’Donnell. “They are always going to be wild animals. They will never be domesticated and will never be able to live like a human.”

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Is The Price Right?

College-aged women are selling their eggs for thousands of dollars. A great deal—except for the costs that come with it

Words Sam Katzman | Illustrations Natalie Greene

On a wintry afternoon in December 2013, Megan B., a law student at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., was sitting in a lecture hall, struggling to pay attention to her professor’s civil procedure lesson. Something was on her mind: money. Actually, money troubles. “I have almost an entirely full scholarship to Georgetown, but my cost of living is ridiculous here,” says Megan (who requested her last name not be used for this story). When she was an undergrad at the University of Oregon, she worked several part-time jobs, some overlapping, to pay for her living expenses. “I always worked to cover everything, but I can’t do that in law school,” she adds.

Megan, 25 at the time, clicked away from the blank page of notes on her laptop screen and headed to Google. Friends had told her of an easy route to make money. With little cash to pay for groceries let alone a happy hour with classmates, Megan realized she needed to find a source of income. So she dragged the mouse to the search bar and typed in Egg Donation.

Suddenly, Megan was about to enter a world inhabited by many a cash-strapped young woman; a world where women trade their unfertilized, healthy eggs for payments of upwards of $100,000.

With such money at stake, Megan decided selling her sex cells was an option too good to ignore.

She applied to an agency in New York that connects donors from around the country with hopeful parents willing to pay extra for eggs that come from women with specific qualities. Megan had the traits the agency was looking for: Italian descent. Dark hair. Blue eyes. Law student. “I guess that’s a really rare combination,” she now says. It took a few weeks to complete a required psychological and physical screening; her agent needed to ensure there were no red flags in regards to her family or medical history. Once approved, though, Megan had couples lining up, eager and ready to take and fertilize her eggs. “The agent said, ‘I’ve been waiting for someone like you.’” Megan recalls. “With the first and second couple [who received her donated eggs], the female was an attorney who was brunette and Italian.”

She received $9,000 for her first egg retrieval. It turned out to be a relatively effortless and quick procedure so she decided to keep doing it. Megan donated four times in less than one year. She had more than 110 eggs retrieved between January and December 2014 and earned $39,000 in that span.

But for all her earnings, Megan also discovered they came with a cost. Following her fourth retrieval, she says, “I almost died.”

thinker girl

According to the most recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in vitro fertilization pregnancy attempts using donor eggs soared from 10,801 to 18,306 between 2000 and 2010. For some women, donating eggs can be a rewarding opportunity, providing hopeful parents with a means to create the gift of life. “I figure if I’m not using them, I might as well let someone else have a great experience because of them,” says Rachel Stewart, 27, a 2009 graduate of the University of Northern Iowa who donated her eggs earlier this year after moving to Portland.

But other donors are being drawn in by the dollar signs.

Payment for one egg donation cycle in the U.S. varies, though the checks are quite often at least four figures. If a clinic or frozen egg bank doesn’t have a donor with the qualities a couple desires, the recipients will seek the services of an “egg broker”, a third-party agency that offers top-dollar for donors who meet more specific criteria. To recruit their donors, agencies and fertility clinics frequently advertise in college newspapers, social media sites, and Craigslist.

Sitting in her office on the third floor of Hendricks Hall, in the heart of the University of Oregon campus, Elizabeth Reis pulls up an image from her computer’s desktop. It’s an ad for the Fertility Center of Oregon that appeared a few years back in the school’s newspaper, then known as The Oregon Daily Emerald: “WHAT’S A FEW EGGS BETWEEN FRIENDS? BECOME AN EGG DONOR. EARN $4,000,” the ad reads.

Reis, head professor of the UO Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, instructs a class that explores the medical ethics of assisted reproductive technology. This advertisement is just one of many grainy scanned clippings in her collection of egg donor want ads. “They direct this at college-aged women because that’s when their eggs are at the height of their health,” Reis says. “This is a transaction—they want your eggs and they’re going to pay you—but they’re not giving you all the information, at least not in the ads.”

The advertisements are attractive to women who are attending college or recently graduated, billboarding dollar signs in eye-catching, bold letters. What the marketing materials often don’t include, though, is any mention that donating eggs involves an invasive surgical procedure that sometimes can lead to serious medical complications. But the concerns go beyond the physical. The psychological dilemma egg donation poses for these women can be as crisis bearing as the health risks. Today donors may need the money, but in the future when the money’s long-gone, they may regret not knowing the child (or children) walking around with half of their genes. “This is a human life that you’re participating in creating. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme,” Reis says. “Do you really want to have this baby come back to you twenty years from now and say, ‘I found out that when my mom was pregnant with me the egg came from you’?”


Typically, egg donors are selected after undergoing a thorough screening, which includes a psychological consultation and medical tests. With a dose of birth control pills, the process begins. To stimulate the production of multiple eggs—and to prevent the natural release of just a single egg—donors inject themselves with hormones daily for a little over a week prior to the procedure. Once enough sex cells have developed, it’s time to harvest the ore.

With the patient under anesthesia, a long, sharp needle is inserted through the top wall of the vagina and into the ovary. From there, the needle extracts each egg individually. This is repeated several more times to ensure the recipients aren’t given dud eggs. Within about an hour, the procedure is over, the patient is sent home, and recovery usually takes less than a week. Usually.

Justine Griffin realized egg donation wasn’t what she hoped it would be after completing her one and only retrieval. In 2013, Griffin, then 25 and a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida, donated to help a couple build a family and pay off her student loans. Griffin was offered $5,000 for her donation cycle. “It’s hard to walk away from money like that, especially when you’re young,” she says.

But about a week after her retrieval surgery, Griffin was sitting in a Tampa emergency room being told by a doctor that a cyst had developed and ruptured on her ovary. More than a year and a half later, she’s still feeling side effects that she says are related to her decision to donate. “I’ve had to go off birth control pills because my hormone levels have been so messed up since the egg donation. My hair still falls out,” Griffin says. “I just notice little things about my body that will probably never go back to the way they were.”

Megan can relate. In December 2014, she had scheduled her fourth retrieval of the year in New York during “dead week,” the week before final exams. “I thought, ‘Well, I won’t have any classes and I’ll just study in my hotel room,’” Megan says.

Normally, the sites where the needle is inserted are supposed to clot within an hour or two. But this time they weren’t clotting. “A few hours after the surgery I couldn’t breathe. I’d never felt that much pain before,” she says. Megan rushed to the ER where she received blood transfusions, painkillers, and spent the next week in the hospital recovering from internal bleeding. “I couldn’t take any of my finals because I was in the hospital,” Megan says. “It wreaked havoc on my school schedule. I had to withdraw from one of my classes, and it took six weeks before I was able to even try to exercise.”

Are the medical setbacks Griffin and Megan experienced the norm or outliers? According to Reis, no systematic study has been conducted on the long-term side effects associated with egg donation. But even those in the industry can attest that it can be a tricky procedure. “There are very significant risks to doing this, which is why I talk extensively with donors,” says Sue Armstrong, donor coordinator at Women’s Care, the nearest fertility clinic to the University of Oregon. “I tell them every single bad thing that’s happened to a donor. These things haven’t happened here, but I know they’ve happened in this country.”

egg sidebarFor these reasons, donors such as Griffin and Megan are calling for more governmental oversight of egg donation. Some states have passed laws to regulate the industry. In California, for instance, advertisements seeking donors are required to include warnings like the ones you’d see on prescription medications or tobacco product packaging. But currently, on a national level the industry is loosely regulated. No federal laws exist that limit the amount a donor can be paid or how often she can donate. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offer guidelines in the interest of protecting egg donors. Payment with “sums over $10,000 are not appropriate” and women should not exceed six donation cycles in a lifetime, according to the ASRM. But assisted reproductive facilities are not required to adhere to the guidelines.

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That’s not the case outside the U.S. In several countries in the European Union, national laws cap the amount a donor can be paid per cycle. And in Canada, donors are not allowed to receive compensation. “In general, other countries have more restrictions,” Reis says. “ The U.S. is considered the Wild West when it comes to reproductive strategies.”

Though Armstrong acknowledges the risks involved with egg donation, she says the process is safer than ever due to advancing medical technology. “Most of the time, donors report to me that they had a good experience and feel good about what they did,” Armstrong says. “Some call me up and say, ‘I would like to do this again. Is there anyway you could match me up with somebody?’”

Rachel Stewart, who donated in April, is among those who had such a positive experience that she plans on donating again. Though she did it in part for the money, it was not her primary motivation.

Stewart uses an analogy to a recent injury she suffered to explain her decision. “I was training for a half marathon and I had an injury creep up—issues with my Achilles tendon,” she says. “I was furious when I found out I couldn’t run. It’s so frustrating when you want to do something that your body is supposed to be able to do and you can’t.” She pauses. “If somebody came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I’ll give you my perfectly good Achilles tendon.’ I’d say, ‘Cool, thanks.’”

babycrawl copy

Donating eggs can be a gratifying experience for those who want to help create a family—and pick up quick cash. But aside from the health risks, trading eggs for money also raises ethical concerns. During the psychological screening, every donor is asked the same basic question: “What would you do if your donor child comes knocking on your door one day?” Stewart donated anonymously and isn’t opposed to meeting the child she played a part in creating. Still, she says, “I don’t want this to be naive or shortsighted, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

Back in Hendricks Hall, Reis has a different take. She tells the story of the day her daughter, Leah, called to let her know she was considering applying to be a donor. She saw an advertisement in her student paper, The Harvard Crimson, offering $100,000 for a donor with exceptional qualities. Reis told Leah, “‘Don’t do it.’ For one reason I listed all of the medical side effects, but then I also said, ‘You’re creating a child. That’s something to really consider.’” Megan B. has a lot to consider these days. The Grants Pass, Oregon, native is wrapping up her studies in Washington D.C. next year. She’ll spend this summer at a law firm in Portland, the same city where her second-to-last egg retrieval took place.

She’s no longer able to donate but doesn’t want to anyway. “I would never have done it without the money. For me, it’s not worth the risk unless it’s above a certain number,” Megan says. “This is the econ minor in me talking; I think there’s a price point for every woman.” Anything less than $6,000 wouldn’t have been worth it, she says.

But can you quantify the price of life?

One day, Megan says she hopes to settle down and create a family of her own. Until then, she has a lot on her plate. She’s chipping away at her student loan bills from her days as an undergraduate and busy finishing her law degree. Still, while Megan doesn’t have much time to think about her genetic offspring that she’ll likely never know, occasionally her mind starts to wander. “I worry about that sometimes,” she says. “It sounds like a really terrible made-for-TV movie where my daughter meets my egg donation son but doesn’t know it and dates him.”

final egg illustration

Every Friday

“When I’m a loss at things, Gale makes up for it. When Gale’s a loss at things, I make up for it.” – Steve Robinson

Video Zolboo Li Li Bayarmagnai | Words Rachel LaChapelle

One morning at 5 a.m., Steve Robinson showed up at church with his clothes sopping wet. This may be normal for church-goers in Oregon, but it wasn’t raining outside. On his walk to the weekly men’s breakfast held every Friday morning, Robinson, who is legally blind, had fallen through a broken bridge board and was now soaked to the waist.

“He looked like a drowned rat,” says Gale Spencer, who had been introduced to Robinson and his wife when they started attending the church a few months before. From that day forward, every Friday morning at ten minutes to five for the next eight years, Spencer would wait in his car in Robinson’s driveway, and then give him a ride to the church.

Spencer doesn’t drive anymore. Diagnosed with dementia and no longer able to walk, he moved into assisted living and eventually to the nursing home in Eugene where he lives now, Hillside Heights. From that day forward, every Friday morning at ten minutes past nine for the next six years, Robinson would visit Spencer and then they would catch the bus into town. The two men have overcome their physical challenges in order to care for each other.

They speak of complementing each other’s strengths and struggles. “It is interesting how it works. Because when I’m a loss for something, Gale makes up for it. When Gale is a loss for something, I make up for it,” says Robinson.

They hardly ever miss a Friday, but when they do, the bus drivers notice. The routine has helped foster a connection between the two men and their community. People recognize the two of them frequenting the same eateries—Dairy Queen and the Costco food court are among their favorites—and regularly people-watching at the Valley River Center mall.

Spencer and Robinson’s relationship, now like that of a father and son, is a friendship and a mentorship. Spencer says, “He is a man I would share my whole life with. I have full trust in him.” Robinson, who is fifteen years Spencer’s junior, holds power of attorney for Spencer and helps manage his finances. Since the death of Robinson’s wife and son, Spencer has become the closest family he has.

Robinson sees caring for Spencer as a commitment and a dedication, and he will give nothing less than 100 percent. He buys clothes and supplies for his friend. “He listens to my boohoos,” Spencer says. “He’s guided me through some tough spots.”

Surf's Upriver

Why take your board to the coast when you can catch a wave on the whitewater?

Photos Mary Jane Schulte | Words Rachel LaChapelle

The three surfers hop out of the once-white pickup truck and onto the edge of the wind-whipped cliffside. Elijah Mack, a 44-year-old barber from Portland, Oregon, is ready as always to hit the waves. The tattoos on his skull blur behind close-cropped hair, continuing down his neck and beneath the shawl collar of a white wool cardigan. Where the ink reappears at his right sleeve, a wave circles his wrist and the words “Live Free Cut Well” are written across his four fingers.

Mack and his crew have traded salty sea breezes and sandy shores for the scent of sagebrush and pebbled banks. The waves they surf on the Deschutes River near Maupin, Oregon, are 200 miles and a four-hour drive from the spray of the Pacific. At first they might look lost carrying surfboards along the riverbank, but once they get on the waves it’s clear they’re right at home. For these three, river surfing is an adrenaline-fueled adventure—all the thrill of surfing without the need for a beach. In the United States, twenty-six states have no coastal access, and even in some parts of Oregon driving to the ocean is too time-consuming to be considered for a daytrip. “[River surfing] can take surfing to everyone around the world,” Mack says.


Corey Adams performs a backside 180 while surfing the Deschutes River near Maupin, Oregon

The surfers grab their boards and gear from the back of the truck: A pair of diving fins that have been hanging haphazardly from a steel rack, a wetsuit that’s flung across the tailgate and turned inside out to the waist. Kevin Ludwig, 30, fights wildfires in central Oregon by summer and works a manufacturing job the rest of the year. His clean-cut hair is swept neatly across his forehead, and his manner is soft-spoken and earnest—Mack’s polar opposite—yet the two act more like brothers than teacher and student. The more experienced Mack has been a mentor to Ludwig and Corey Adams, 29, who works construction in Willamina, Oregon.

The men stop for a moment to take in the beauty and isolation of their surroundings. Adams surveys a narrow, winding not-quite-a-trail of loose rock that leads from the edge of the road. There is no clear path to the sparkling water—they will have to, as Adams says, “bushwhack” their way down. At the bottom of the ravine lies their destination and reward: This stretch of the Deschutes is a prime spot for river surfing.

River surfers need certain qualities in a wave, such as the right angle, speed, and volume of water. When these conditions are met, standing waves can form. Instead of riding the river downstream, river surfers shift left and right to remain on top of the stationary wave, as if they’re on a waterpark surf simulator.


Elijah Mack (standing) and Adams relax on the Deschutes’ rocky edge.

Among his friends, Mack is considered a river surfing pioneer. He began bodyboarding at age eight, started surfing when he was twelve, and spent most of his high school days on the beaches of Oceanside, California. After years of involvement in the surfing scene in Southern California, Mack grew tired of the subculture surrounding the sport and made the switch from saltwater to freshwater. He first tried river surfing in 1997 when it was still relatively obscure. “I’ve always wanted to be outside the box,” Mack says. “River surfing is odd, that’s the appeal: to be surfing a wave on a river in the mountains.”

Since then, he has searched for standing waves hidden around the world, from Idaho to British Columbia to Africa. He is also involved in consulting and collaborating with hydraulic engineers to work on sustainable designs for manmade river surfing parks. “There is no other gentleman in the sport who has put in more time and effort or had his success,” says Ludwig.

Six years ago, Ludwig, an avid snowboarder and occasional ocean surfer, watched an Oregon Field Guide documentary featuring Mack riding the waves of Oregon’s rivers. After that, he says, “I was on a mission to learn more about river surfing.” He drove to Portland, walked into the barbershop where Mack worked, and introduced himself.

Mack, Ludwig, and Adams are looking to expand the local river surfing scene. They hope the grand opening in September of a new whitewater park in Bend, Oregon—the first river playground of its kind in the state—may help river surfing gain more popularity with the general public. Out on Mother Nature’s waves, “the river tells us when we can go surf,” Ludwig says. Winter is generally good for surfing on rivers located in the Oregon Coast Range, which are fed by heavy rainfall. Spring is the season to surf in the Cascade Mountains, when the waterways swell with snowmelt.


Adams concentrates as he surfs a standing wave.


Mack takes a moment to soak in his surroundings.

The trio has returned on this Tuesday in April to where the river cuts through a steep-walled canyon. But if the hike to the bank were to deter them, they probably wouldn’t be surfing in the first place—this sport is a dangerous one. “I’ve had a lot of near deaths on the river,” Adams says. He remains relaxed even as he speaks of his near drowning experience. Risky areas in the river can be hard to spot. Hit the wrong whirling current, and surfers can be, like Adams was, “punched into the recirculating water.” He was caught under the surface long enough to think about what was happening, he says, helpless to do anything but wait for the river to circulate him back out.

Yet Adams keeps coming back to the river for more of the thrill he felt on his first ocean wave at age 11. Surfing is not only recreation for him, but also a form of self-expression, and the maneuvers and tricks he performs on the water are his chance to be creative. At times, he surfs to relax, still holding a conversation with his buddies on the shore. “Once you get on the wave and you’re dialed in to what it’s doing, you can surf as long as you can stand,” Adams says.

Atop the wave, Adams seems to hover, his board gliding on the river’s glassy surface. “I can’t live without surfing,” he says later. “Being on the water is home to me.”

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Up in the Air

Vaporizers are becoming more popular with teens and young adults. The trend has set up a showdown between regulators and retailers—with the winner set to determine vaping’s future

Words Travis Loose | Photos Devin Ream

Jack Ramirez’s hands move deftly. He takes a few drops of syrupy liquid from a small brown bottle and carefully deposits them onto the cotton in his vaporizer. He then hits a switch on the side of the vape, sending a charge to the heating coils, and lifts the device to his mouth. There’s a rapidly rising hum—it sounds like a small fan—met almost instantly by a crackling, sizzling, static. Ramirez pulls in a deep breath from the vaporizer and slowly exhales a voluminous, thick cloud. The cloud drifts away and dissipates, but the flavor and scent linger. “Banana nut bread,” he says with a satisfied smile.

Ramirez, 22, has reason to smile. The University of Oregon junior started smoking cigarettes in the eighth grade, which led to a pack-a-day habit by his sophomore year of high school. In 2011, he began making efforts to quit. “I did the gum, but it made my teeth hurt,” says Ramirez. “The patches didn’t work because I was a water polo player, so I couldn’t wear them while swimming. I tried dip, but that just ruins your teeth and I didn’t want to do that. Then I tried snus, which was alright, but it tastes like tea. I almost committed to it, but then I fell into e-cigs.”

Synonymously called e-cigarettes, vaporizers, mods, or vape pens, these devices are at the center of a growing national discussion: Are they the latest remedy to cut tobacco smoking or just the next evolution of nicotine delivery systems?

Vaporizers heat e-liquid, or simply “juice,” to create a vapor that can carry levels of nicotine ranging from zero mg (e.g., to be used as a dietary supplement or for the fun of blowing clouds) to 24 mg per bottle. By comparison, a typical pack of Marlboro Reds has approximately 18 mg of nicotine. Vaporizer variations have been around since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2006 that they became prevalent as more companies began marketing their own versions. More recently, significant advances in vape technology have caused a surge of smokers like Ramirez to turn to the devices when trying to give up tobacco.

Ramirez is a vape crusader of sorts. He believes that vapor is less harmful than smoke and that the devices should be categorized accordingly. “You’re not combusting tobacco leaves; you’re vaporizing liquid,” he says. When Ramirez first began vaping, he used e-liquid with nicotine levels at around 18/24 mg per ml. Now, he is at 3 mg per ml. “It should be classified as a smoking cessation device, just like the patch, gum, or anything like that,” he says.

UP in the air

After smoking cigarettes since middle school, Jack Ramirez, 22, a political science major at the University of Oregon, has given up tobacco in favor of vaping.

Not everyone views vaping as clearly as Ramirez does. From Washington, D.C., lawmakers to the mom-and-pop stores on Main Street that sell vape-related products, debates about usage, sales, and regulation have increased in recent years.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to officially declare its definition of vaping, whether it’s a cessation device or another harmful method to inhale nicotine (i.e., a tobacco-like product). As a result, the vaping industry remains mostly unregulated. Without any federal guidance, some states and counties have established their own regulations, leading to a patchwork of laws and ordinances across the country. Oregon is among the states struggling to find a resolution. While lawmakers in Salem have debated statewide laws in recent months, cities and counties have gone ahead and established regulations that are inconsistent from one another.

These discrepancies stem from varying opinions on the functions vaporizers serve. Advocates for vaping say no scientific evidence exists that links vaping to long-term health problems. They also point to studies conducted by universities and centers for tobacco and nicotine research that claim vaping might be an effective way to help tobacco smokers quit. On the other side, legislators, who are entrusted to protect the welfare of citizens, must at least consider regulations if health concerns may exist. How these opposing forces work out their differences will likely determine vaping’s long-term future.

One thing that isn’t up for debate is that the vaping market is booming. Bonnie Herzog, managing director for the Tobacco, Beverage & Convenience Store Research department at Wells Fargo Securities, says, “We have been estimating the e-cig/ vapor market will increase to around $3.5 billion at retail in 2015, up from $2.5 billion [in 2014].”

Colin Rau has seen firsthand the growing demand for e-cigs, and like many in his industry he also asserts their value as a tobacco-cessation device. Rau owns Emerald Vapors, an Oregon-based vape retailer with shops in Eugene, Springfield, and Portland. When you open the door to his shop on Lawrence Street in Eugene, the perfumed air of recently vaporized e-liquids is immediately noticeable. As employees answer questions and recommend devices and flavors, they occasionally take a pull from their own vaporizers, adding to the pervading scent.

Rau had smoked tobacco cigarettes since he was 15 years old. Now 35, he has been smoke-free ever since being introduced to vapor in 2012. “I think I bought one bottle of juice before I started making my own,” he says. Rau’s business produces all the e-liquids that it sells. His stock of 200-plus e-liquid custom flavors includes such popular choices as Professor P., Cloud City, and Ectoplasm.

emerald vapors

Quinn Daniel, an employee at Emerald Vapors in Eugene, Oregon, blows a vape cloud while servicing a vaporizer. A big part of his industry’s business stems from the ability to allow customers to test the devices in the shop.

E-liquid flavors have no shortage of interesting titles, yet the syrups themselves are typically made up of just four ingredients—all of which are easily accessible. The vegetable glycerin and food flavorings can be purchased at retailers like Walmart. And ordering propylene glycol (PG) and/or nicotine online is as simple as purchasing a song on iTunes. As for manufacturing the juice, “It’s a lot like making cookies,” Rau says. “You just pour the liquids together.”

Rau has seen his business and profits grow in an extremely short amount of time. “It’s kind of eerie actually. My financial situation has completely changed,” says Rau. “[Now] I have thirty-five people who rely on me for a paycheck.”

Rau has company; in Eugene and Springfield there are at least seven competing retailers. Meanwhile, across the U.S., there are an estimated 6,000–10,000 vapor retailers. The challenge in counting them all stems from the fact that vape products aren’t strictly sold at businesses classified explicitly as vape shops. They’re also sold at supermarkets, gas stations, head shops, and bodegas.

As the vaping industry grows, the discussions on how to regulate it become more common, especially in light of vaping’s surging popularity with a vulnerable sector of the population: the youth market.

In April 2015, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced findings from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey that showed “current e-cigarette use [at least once per month] among high school students increased from 4.5 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014, rising from approximately 660,000 to two million students.”

Oregon youth are following the national trend. Jonathan Modie, communications director for the Oregon Public Health Division, says, “A growing number of Oregon youth and young adults are using e-cigarettes, introducing the potential for life-long nicotine addiction. Current use of e-cigarettes among Oregon eleventh grade students increased from 2 to 5 percent, a 150 percent increase, from 2011 to 2013.”

Statistics such as those have fueled the push to regulate vaping in Oregon. In recent months, legislators in Salem have discussed a number of bills, two of which stand to cause the most immediate changes to the vaping industry. The first, House Bill (HB) 2546, defines vaporizer products as “inhalant delivery systems;” restricts sales to minors; assigns the Oregon Health Authority as the regulating body for e-cigarette associated products in Oregon; and places vaping under the Clean Air Act, which would prohibit vaping indoors. On May 11, the bill passed through the Senate and now awaits final approval from the House before it would be signed into law and go into full effect on January 1, 2016.

The second, Senate Bill (SB) 663, would require Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) licensure for all retailers that sell tobacco products or “inhalant delivery systems;” raises the legal age for purchasing tobacco and vaping products to 21 years; and allows an exemption from the Clean Air Act for testing vape products within authorized vape shops, provided no tobacco or alcohol is sold on the premises and no person under 18 is allowed to enter. That exemption in SB 663 is an important feature for the vaping industry in Oregon.


Vaporizers come in many styles and can be easily modified.


The flavors of E-juice are innumerable.

Currently, vape clerks can show a prospective customer how the vaporizer works and how to use the product—such as the proper technique to fill the device with e-liquid or to replace heating coils. The clerk can also facilitate the testing of varied nicotine strength e-liquids so that users can sample flavors, allowing them to know which syrups they prefer. “When customers first come in, they say they want something that tastes like a cigarette, and I chuckle to myself,” says Amy Lapano, owner of Vapor Headquarters in Springfield. “In two or three weeks, you’re not going to want anything that tastes like a cigarette because a cigarette tastes [awful].”

To show legislators that they care about their industry and are concerned about how government officials are going to involve themselves in their businesses, vape shop owners and e-liquid manufacturers have begun to organize to represent their industry in an official capacity.

“State legislators are in the midst of passing laws about something they don’t understand,” says Northwest Vapor Association (NWVA) President Will Krause, a 68-year-old Christian minister who became involved in the industry when he began helping his son’s growing vapor business, Northwest Vapors, in Vernonia, Oregon. “I’m not against legislation; I just want it to be reasonable.”

If and when HB 2546 is signed into law, minors will not be allowed to purchase vaping products. This would blunt a concern among some lawmakers that the rise in vape usage may trigger an increase among those who have never been addicted to cigarettes. But Krause says most in his industry wouldn’t sell their products to minors even without the new law. “That’s hogwash,” says Krause. “Our business has always been based on helping smokers get off of cigarettes and onto a product that’s healthier for them. We do not target kids under 18, and we never will. But the logic behind saying it’s a gateway—it’s just the opposite. It’s a way of getting off of cigarettes and using a product that’s much healthier and safer for you.”

will krause

Northwest Vapor Association President Will Krause, 68, smoked from his teenage years into his late 20s. He and his eldest son run Northwest Vapors, a vape retailer based in Vernonia, Oregon.


Oregon Rep. John Lively (D-District 12) says he supports regulating the industry mostly to prevent children from using vaporizers.

Overall cigarette sales in Oregon have fallen 52 percent since 1997. Policies that prohibit where smoking can take place are often credited with contributing to the decline. But e-cigarette and vaping industry advocates say that at least a part of that reduction is a result of adult tobacco users switching to vapor. “I have 65-year-old men who have put their cigarettes down and can hike and go hunting again and do the things they haven’t been able to do in a lot of years,” says Lapano.

But aside from keeping vaporizers out of minors’ hands, legislators are also concerned about whether vaping actually is an effective and healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. John Lively, an Oregon state representative, is among the legislators who voted in favor of HB 2546. “I’ve talked to people who vape—trying to get off of cigarettes—and I believe what they’re telling me: That it does work, and it does help them,” he says. “But the problem is that we don’t have any real data at this point that proves or disproves it.”

Yet according to a 2013 study published in the medical journal The Lancet, “E-cigarettes, with or without nicotine, were modestly effective at helping smokers to quit,” and the efficacy of an e-cigarette as a cessation aid was similar to a nicotine patch, an FDA-approved cessation device. Likewise, studies from the University of Oklahoma’s Tobacco Research Center in 2013 and the Minnesota Department of Health in 2014 both found that e-cigarettes were the most commonly used cessation method among tobacco smokers in those states.

This doesn’t necessarily clear the air, however. Most e-liquids still have nicotine in them at varied and unregulated strengths. And people who, in many cases, don’t have degrees in chemistry or medicine are manufacturing these liquids without supervision. Nevertheless, the officially unapproved value of an e-cigarette as a cessation aid and the usefulness of the vape shop clerk in facilitating the purchase of vaping hardware are clear indicators that the industry has some clout. Now, for the vape industry, it’s simply a matter of convincing Oregon legislators and forging a path that satisfies all concerns on both sides.

Like the cloud it produces, vaping’s future will likely remain in the air for some time. But for now there is one certainty: Jack Ramirez says he will continue to use his vape unabated. “If there was definitive proof, and it was from an unbiased source and everybody said, ‘Yep, [vaping] is worse [than smoking],’ then I’d look at the evidence and measure both [cigarettes and vapor],” he says. “But in the end, I’d probably try to quit both, realizing that it’s bad all around. It’s just that knowing how bad cigarettes were for me makes me never want to go back to smoking.”

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In Hop Pursuit

Rick Roy travels far and wide in search of gold—brewer’s gold—to create a unique flavor that’s luring beer lovers to the tiny town of Burns, Oregon

Words Ryan Phelps | Photos Will Saunders

The vast landscape of Harney County in southeast Oregon is at once desolate and scenic. Withered homesteads from the pioneer days are scattered throughout the valley, resembling the settings of John Wayne’s western films. Broken-down distillery equipment still hides in the hillsides where moonshiners went to dodge prohibition. It seems as though the same tumbleweeds have been drifting across the highway ever since.

The most populated spot in Harney County is the quiet town of Burns (pop: 2,728). At first glance it may not look like a whole lot has changed in Burns over the past century. Back then, the town was perhaps most famous for the homemade pies Grandma Haskell, once a familiar face in the community, baked for the homesteaders passing through town. She made them in the kitchen of her small wooden house at 150 West Washington Street and sold them on a nearby corner along with her fresh garden vegetables.

But today, something new is brewing in Burns. And if Rick Roy has his way, it will give passersby a reason to stay and explore what Harney County has to offer. In Haskell’s old kitchen, an otherwise ordinary looking freezer has been converted into a beer lover’s treasure chest. Inside the freezer is Roy’s hardearned bounty: Countless stacks of Ziploc bags stuffed with bright green hop cones waiting to be put to good use.

Sure, plenty of brewers have hops in their freezers; the green buds are a key component to making beer. But unlike most brewers in the industry who buy their hops from farms, Roy hunts down his own supply, hauling them home from the canyons and hillsides of Harney County.

“I try to find heirloom hops,” Roy says, admiring his frozen fortune. “They help tell the story of a history that people have forgotten about. I’m trying to use these older hop styles to make modern beer that says, ‘This is Harney County. This is part of who we are.’”

Although Roy, 54, is originally from the East Coast, he might just have more pride in Harney County than any third-generation farmer. He plays many roles, including husband, father/guardian of ten kids, high school lacrosse coach, and Field Manager for the Bureau of Land Management. He also runs the show at Steens Mountain Brewing Company, which he launched in October 2014. Steens is not a microbrewery but a nanobrewery—the smallest classification within the craft beer industry and just one step above a neighborhood homebrewer. What makes Steens special, though, is not its size. No, it’s the hops—the homegrown hops of Harney County—that give the brewery its distinction.

During Labor Day weekend, when the hop plants are tall and green, with gangly vines covered in budding flowers, Roy sets out in search of heirloom hops growing wild in Oregon’s isolated southeastern sector. Working swiftly throughout the weekend, he’ll gather about ten pounds worth of the plant. It may not sound like much, but the bitter hop flavor goes a long way for a nanobrewer who only needs a few ounces for each batch.

The harvest is time-sensitive, but Roy might take a quick break if he happens to stumble upon a fishing hole during his hop hunt. After all, he first discovered hops growing in the wild while he was on a fishing trip in Colorado ten years ago. “I found those hops and always kept them in the back of my mind,” Roy says.

US Highway 20 turns into North Broadway Avenue as it meanders through the sleepy town of Burns, Oregon.

US Highway 20 turns into North Broadway Avenue as it meanders through the sleepy town of Burns, Oregon.

These days, he’s venturing miles down unmaintained roads and hiking for hours to collect the component so necessary to his craft. When it comes to gathering ingredients for his brews, Roy says, “The closer to the source, the better.”

Marc O’Toole, a cattle rancher from outside of Burns, recalls talking with Roy about beer and hops at the Harney County Fair a few years back. At that point, Steens was still just an idea brewing in Roy’s mind.

“Well, I’ve got hops,” O’Toole said to Roy. “Take all you want!” Intrusive hop vines were nothing more than a nuisance to the cattle rancher. “They crawl on everything and make fixing your fence a pain,” O’Toole says. “So I was happy that there was some use for them. It’s neat to have somebody make beer out of hops that they get off of your land.”

O’Toole’s hops were a start, but Roy knew he’d have to hunt down plenty more plants to operate his brewery. He expressed to the town’s newspaper his desire to use all local ingredients in his beers. After the story ran, Roy’s phone began to ring with friends and neighbors telling him where to find wild growths, both in town and far away.

Roy quickly noted what little directions were offered, laced up his hiking boots, and took to the trail to track down the wild plants. “It’s kind of all over the map,” he says. “For some of the sites, no one has lived there for 100-something years, so no one has any idea how they got there.”

Some of the hops grow on abandoned homesteads, while others are more conveniently found growing in backyards or on the side of the highway. “People drive by them all the time,” Roy says.

keg dealin

Roy helps customers order a couple kegs for their daughter’s wedding this summer. The only way to purchase Roy’s beer is by traveling to the town where it’s brewed.

The tales vary with every site, creating a unique story for each beer. O’Toole’s favorite is Roy’s “Outhouse Oatmeal Stout,” which uses hops from vines that have taken over an old outhouse about sixty miles outside of Burns. Roy won’t divulge much more information than that. These hops are part of his livelihood, and he’s careful to leave out certain details when discussing the location of the treasured plants.

According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, Steens Mountain Brewing Company is among approximately 200 breweries in Oregon, which has the most craft breweries per capita in the United States. Competition may be tough in a state that has emerged as a craft beer mecca, but for now Roy is focusing on making a name for his beer closer to home.

Roy sold just over half a barrel of beer last October, his first month in business. By comparison, Rogue Ales, a Newport, Oregonbased company, sold a little over 1,000 barrels in the same month. Roy says he has since seen a consistent growth in sales, estimating he sold about three barrels in April. But numbers are not Roy’s motivation; he embraces the company’s local operation. “I think he’s really doing a good service for the community,” O’Toole says.

Customers often ask Roy when he plans on extending his business out to Bend, a city that is known for its craft beer and located just 130 miles west. “No time soon,” he replies. Widespread distribution is not part of the plan for Steens Mountain Brewing Company. In a way, it defeats the purpose of what he’s trying to do in Burns. “Everything is about Harney County and Southeast Oregon,” Roy says. “It’s about economic development and publicity for the town.”


This is Burns, Oregon. Wrangler jeans, weathered leather boots, and beer made with local, wild hops.

At the brewery, pots of soil with tiny green hop sprouts line the walls, waiting to be planted where Grandma Haskell once had a thriving vegetable garden. Handwritten labels distinguish one pot from the next: Turnout, Mustang, Windmill, and North Fork. Their names are derived from landmarks where Roy collected them.

“The goal is for you to come here to buy the beer, but also spend some time here,” Roy says, looking out the window at the suncovered yard where he’ll plant his heirloom hops.

It’s going to take more hop hunts to fill the yard with prospering vines, but when Roy preps the soil and plants his crops with the summer sun beating down, at least he’ll have the reassurance of knowing there’s a cold beer waiting for him when he’s done.

Pink Prom

Once a year, LGBTQ students from high schools across the Willamette Valley gather to dance and flaunt their style in one gender-inclusive, memorable night

Words Cheyenne Miner | Video Pam Cressall

A girl in a long purple gown stands beside another guest wearing tight black pants and a worn black t-shirt in the ballroom of the Hilton Eugene. A boy in a tux dances near a girl wearing mermaid tights. This is a prom, but it is not the type of prom that might immediately come to mind. This is Pink Prom, an alternative version of the traditional high school cornerstone for the Eugene, Oregon, high school’s LGBTQ community. “It is a whole bunch of crazy people dancing to crazy music having a good time,” says Justin Oleson, a junior at Willamette High School, right before passing through a wall of streamers. He steps into a Rock ’n’ Roll themed ballroom with a smile on his face. Pink, black, and white balloons hover overhead in clusters of three as music booms from the speakers on the perimeter of the dance floor. After the first song of the night, over half of those in attendance are dancing in front of the DJ booth. The others are scattered around the perimeter in small groups talking, eating, and laughing. Across the room by the chocolate fountain, a girl tells her two friends, “This is ten times better than regular prom,” in between bites of chocolate dipped treats.

Some guests wear all black and fishnet tights while others go for a more elegant look in dresses and suits. A few flaunt brightly colored hair in shades of blue, purple, and pink. One couple with identical rainbow striped hair stares lovingly into each other’s eyes while holding hands. No matter how wide the spectrum of their attire, these guests have at least one thing in common. They are here because they do not feel welcome at “normal” prom. Their affiliation with the LGBTQ community has displaced them, leaving them to feel vulnerable at events that should be happy and welcoming. “[They] have to be in straight spaces all the time. And sometimes it becomes unbearable. It is toxic. It is exhausting,” says Carmen Urbina, the Parent, Family and Diversity Administrator of the Eugene 4J school district.

After years of feeling out of place and threatened by the the hetero-normative expectations at traditional prom, the local LGBTQ community decided to band together to create their own sense of belonging. The smiling faces and dancing feet of these prom-goers hide a past that is stained with harassment, struggle, and pain. The high school students out on the dance floor on this night may not have attended a prom at all if it were not for the creation of Pink Prom, but the administrators behind this experience believe everyone deserves a prom where they feel welcome to be themselves.

“Proms are one of the ‘rites of passages’ that many high school students in the United States should have an opportunity to experience. It is important that LGBTQ youth have a prom to attend that is free of discrimination and harassment,” says Leslie Prieto, a former counselor at Churchill High School in Eugene. Prieto has been a front-runner in the fight for fair and equal treatment of LGBTQ youth since 2009. She has seen the community develop significantly in comparison to its humble beginnings, a time when the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) was still called the “Geography Club” and held in a secluded administrative room to protect the students’ identifies. The GSA’s main objective is providing students with a safe place to meet and talk about LGBTQ issues. “It wasn’t even looked upon as an affinity group. To speak about GSA or lesbians or gays or transgender was just not part of the narrative,” says Prieto. Some members began to question why they were forced to hide in seclusion, while other groups at school were free to meet in the hallways at lunchtime. These inquisitions prompted Prieto to move the group into her office the following year. It was the first of many steps towards an environment where all felt safe and proud to be who they were.

While working with the students of GSA, Prieto heard about a national youth empowerment summit held in San Francisco, California, through the Gay Lesbian Education Support Network (GLESN) in 2009. Prieto then took a leap of faith. “I said, ‘This is big. This will give us great educational basis and [the chance] to see other kids outside of Churchill that actually live the life of being in a GSA. And it’s in San Francisco, gay mecca of the United States,” says Prieto.

A van full of GSA kids from Churchill High School made its way down to San Francisco that December. The summit was a weekend full of workshops, talks, and video productions. On the final night, a dance was held for all participants. It was this experience that created the spark that lit the Pink Prom fire. “There was dancing, there was music, and nobody cared who you danced with. Nobody thought it was weird.” says Prieto. “There was a sense of freedom, and a sense of just having fun; what a dance should be.” Seniors that attended the summit expressed a feeling of belonging that they had never experienced at a school dance before. A plan for the first Pink Prom began brewing inside the van as it traveled back up north to Oregon.

With the help of Prieto, the students began to map out their own take on the dance. They would call it Pink Prom. The event, scheduled for May, would be the first dance of its kind in Eugene. Churchill decided to share this experience with other high schools, and they extended the invitation to schools all over the Willamette Valley. The idea spread quickly as their base of supporters expanded.

From fundraising to selecting the music played, students ran the show. GSA meetings became a think tank for planning the event. During this time, Prieto stepped back and served only as an advisor to the students, giving them a chance to make the night truly their own. Unlike standard prom, no funds from the school were allocated towards the event. Students needed to come up with the money, so fundraising became a top priority.

The community stepped in to fill in the gaps through donations of time and money to the event. The Hilton Eugene offered its ballroom at half price and has kept the price the same ever since. Photographers volunteered to take pictures at the event, and a DJ donated his time and equipment to keep the dance floor buzzing.
The Pink Prom crew invoked the help of University of Oregon professors Julie Heffernan and Tina Gutierez-Schmich, and their class, Education as Homophobia. The class provides aspiring teachers with tools to sensitively handle LGBTQ issues within an educational institution. Heffernan, Gutierez-Schmich, and their students put on what is now an annual fundraiser—BBQueer—and held a silent auction to help pay for Pink Prom. This year, they raised $3,300. Heffernan says that her students bring people to these fundraisers and in turn bring them awareness, creating a supportive community that is worth more than any amount of money. “These kids can look around and see that they matter,” says Heffernan.

After months of planning and hard work, the first Pink Prom took place in May 2010 at the Eugene Hilton. Between fifty and sixty students stepped into the room and entered a space designated solely for them to enjoy without judgment. As they entered the venue they stepped out onto a red carpet, where cameras snapped their pictures. “You were always the star,” says Prieto.

Five years later, and Pink Prom is in full swing. The chocolate dipped snacks are almost gone. Laughter radiates throughout the room. As 165 students celebrate the 5th Year of Pink Prom, it seems like the struggle has been left behind. But administrators have now set a bigger goal. They hope that one day, Pink Prom will no longer be needed. A vision of a future where regular Prom will be welcoming and special for everyone lingers in the students’ and administrators’ minds. For now, Pink Prom remains a memorable aspect of the LGBTQ high school experience. “We had always talked about those ‘aha’ moments in your life, when you have literally felt yourself turning invisible into invincible. At the end of the year, they said Pink Prom [was one of those moments],” Prieto says. “It wasn’t about copying, it wasn’t about trying to make a big deal out of anything. It was really about being a part of something that they felt was part of high school. It’s really as simple as that.”

The New Face of Alcoholism

The Alcoholics Anonymous community in Eugene is providing young people with the emotional and spiritual support to become successful and happy members of society

Words Ginger Werner | Illustrations Natalie Greene

On an unusually sunny February day in Eugene, Oregon, an unassuming group of people gather together in a church basement. The mood is light—the occasional laugh pierces the air amongst hushed conversation. Approximately three-quarters of the attendees appear to be in their mid twenties. They are here today to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting, and are among millions of other twenty-somethings eagerly setting out on a quest to find themselves. They have left their egos at the door and are ready to tackle the gritty, unglamorous aspects of their lives that they had once buried deep in a bottle.

As Sheldon* helps set up the free coffee station at the meeting, he smiles warmly while shaking hands with several members. He is a familiar and well-respected face in the AA community of Eugene. Sheldon says he has observed the number of young people in AA grow exponentially over the years. He started in AA when he was 17 years old. Now 59, he attends meetings every day and sponsors five people, two of which are 30 years old or younger. As a sponsor, Sheldon meets with his sponsees as they require it, providing emotional and psychological support through suggestions to help them adjust to society and trust others.

“I try to tell alcohol addicts that it just ‘is what it is’ and you need to accept it,” says Sheldon. “But telling a young person that can be difficult. They don’t feel vulnerable. Some kids grow up in hard families, especially more so today, where the normality is being around drugs and alcohol. A lot of kids commit to that lifestyle, because they think, ‘Well, I’m screwed anyways.’”

Today’s meeting leader is Mizu*. It is his first time chairing a meeting and he’s not planning on messing it up. His arms are folded firmly across his chest, and his expression is stern. At 23 years old, Mizu has been in AA for 7 months. He acknowledges a few friends with a smile and snarky comment before getting back to business. After the AA Preamble is read at the beginning of the meeting—“The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking”—the group proceeds to “How it Works,” the reading of Chapter 5 of The Big Book, a book first published in 1939 that outlines the basic steps of recovery from alcoholism. The chapter relates the 12-step recovery program AA is most known for, and moves on to summarize the three main ideas of AA that all members must consent to:

(a) That we were alcoholics and could not manage our own lives
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism
(c) That God could and would if He were sought

The attendants at the meeting recite these three points in unison, and their words reverberate throughout the room. They are referring to the surrender and creation of a relationship with a “higher power,” what Mizu says is an essential step in the recovery of an addict.

Mizu’s discussion topic for the meeting is the manipulation of others in order to get what you want—a theme that seems to strike home for many of the young people in the room. Some share stories of manipulating parents and friends for money in order to buy more alcohol or drugs. Others describe coercing therapists and psychologists into allowing them more freedom, which they then abused. In many cases, the motivation behind these actions stemmed from a desire for acceptance and validation. “When others abandoned me, alcohol was my friend,” one participant said. “Alcohol never let me down.”

“I was trying to fill a void,” another member said. “I thought if I could get the right girl, the right job, the big promotion, enough zeroes in my bank account balance, or the right car, I would be okay. But I never felt complete.”

Manipulation is a tactic Mizu also employed in his life before AA. Born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, he thrived in high school and kept his grades up. “If I wanted to get out [of Eugene], I knew I needed not to party or do drugs,” he says. In 2010, he was accepted into Occidental College in Los Angeles, California, to play water polo. In college, he was exposed to drugs and alcohol frequently and eventually picked up the habit from his friends. Soon a habit turned into a lifestyle, and just marijuana and alcohol wasn’t enough. In his freshman year, Mizu began tricking doctors into giving him medication for ADHD. In the following year, he began dealing drugs and convinced friends to act as representatives for him, selling for him in the dorms and moving and shipping pounds across state lines. Although he quit selling at a few points, the easy money and established customer base always reeled him back in. Because he was able to convince other people to sell for him, he had to exert little effort in comparison to the large amounts of money flowing into his miniature drug empire. At one point, he says he was buying up to $20,000 worth of drugs at a time.

“My friends were worried I had ‘fallen off the path,’” he says. “My girlfriend asked me, ‘Why are you hurting yourself?’ I told them, ‘I’m just partying!’” During senior year, Mizu used drugs and alcohol daily. He graduated in 2014 with a 3.3 GPA.

In June 2014, Mizu was stooping down in the middle of a crowd at a music festival to get some drugs out of his backpack when a security guard spotted him. A search of his backpack revealed cocaine, Ecstasy, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, marijuana, MDMA, Xanax, a scale, and $4,000 in cash. He was arrested and taken to jail in The Dalles. His girlfriend, who was not involved in hand-to-hand drug sales, had her wallet in his backpack so she was also arrested and charged with felonies. In jail, Mizu slept for the first time in 36 hours. He woke up drenched in sweat. After his parents bailed him out the next day, his lawyer told him, “You’re going to rehab.”

“I didn’t think I needed rehab,” Mizu says. “I thought I was just addicted to money.”

Mizu found himself in an outpatient program that required nine hours of intensive therapy a week. It was there that he met Eric, 26, who would later go on to become one of Mizu’s roommates. “I didn’t think he was going to make it,” Eric says. “I never heard him surrender to being an addict.”

Mizu and Eric now live together in an Oxford House, a self-supporting home for people in recovery from drug and alcohol addictions. The houses offer a structured, community based approach to addiction treatment. Residents are required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and house “business” meetings every week to discuss any issues the house might be facing. If a resident relapses, they have 24 hours to vacate the premises. The name “Oxford” originates from the Oxford Group, a Christian organization that assisted the alcoholics that would later go on to start AA achieve sobriety. Despite having eight occupants (most of whom are in their mid-twenties) and two dogs, the house maintains impressive levels of cleanliness. The daily chore chart and list of fines for dodging them might explain this.

After two weeks of treatment, Mizu moved to the Young Adults group at Serenity Lane treatment center in Eugene, Oregon. For the next month he attended group therapy, exercise classes, and lectures daily. His lawyer visited him regularly to discuss negotiations for his trial, which was scheduled after he finished treatment.

John Johnston is a certified drug and alcohol counselor at Serenity Lane. He says its Young Adults program has been full or with a waitlist, primarily with opiate dependent young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, since its conception in 2005. Most of the people in the program have poly-substance abuse, including alcohol, marijuana, and hallucinogens.

“I think it’s harder to be a young person right now than maybe at any other time when it comes to chemical dependency,” says Johnston. “The availability of harder drugs, i.e. heroin and prescription pills, has increased. In Oregon, we have the growing concern of marijuana legalization. I wish that the legal age had been 25 or older. The research we have…is limited, but [the use of marijuana] does dramatically impact cognitive development in young folks. Video games, energy drinks, and cell phones…all those things may not cause, but are conducive to obsessive compulsive behaviors, which have a similar classification to chemical abuse.”


Since its conception by Christians in 1935, AA has developed a more spiritual approach to tackling alcoholism and refrains from engaging or allying themselves with any “sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution.” (AA Preamble) The organization believes that when an individual accepts the fact that they are an alcoholic, they have achieved a sort of spiritual awakening. From this awareness comes the understanding that they must pursue avenues beyond their own physical capabilities to overcome their addiction.

“As alcoholics, we believe we are god,” says Mizu at his parent’s home in south Eugene. “We have huge egos, but a low self-esteem. A power greater than ourselves gives us humility and someone to answer to.” For those who may be skeptical, such as atheists or agnostics, AA encourages them to acknowledge that there is a power greater than themselves. After that concession is made, they are ready to move on to the customization and conception of their own personal god, which according to the program, can be anything.

Mizu says his god is water, a life force “that rules the world” and is the greatest equalizer in the sport he loves most, water polo. “In the water, everyone has an even playing field and everyone is the same size,” he says. He finds it difficult to explain any further his affinity to the element, but believes that, “If it works, you don’t have to understand it.”

After leaving Serenity Lane and attending his trial, Mizu received a two-month sentence at the Wasco County jail on distribution and possession charges. He was released after one week due to jail overcrowding. He then entered his first Oxford House, eventually securing his own room in the same house where Eric resided. The two young men now have plans to move into their own house in South Eugene in July.

Eric says that he also doesn’t fully understand his higher power, but it has helped guide him in the right direction. “I would describe [my god] as a force of good, love, and compassion,” he says. “The idea I strive for is aligning my will with my god’s will, because in my addiction, every action I took was purely driven by selfish motives. I don’t remember having any unselfish thoughts. Now, I need to recognize my will and surrender it over, and that’s where my higher power comes in.”

Both men exercise, meditate, and attend AA meetings several times a week—mostly out of sheer enjoyment. Mizu takes a daily inventory—Step 10 of the AA’s Twelve-Step Program—which includes answering questions such as, “Were we kind and loving toward all?” and “What did we do right and what could we have done better?” Both Mizu and Eric are now sponsors.

“Being dry sucks, but recovery is pretty cool,” says Eric. “I am hopeful for the future. I have goals and the capacity to organize plans of career and school options. I can ask myself, ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ which is a question I stopped asking myself a long time ago. I’m not miserable anymore. My life is full. Before, I had to use other people to feel important, but now I feel okay with myself. People genuinely care about me.”

After the meeting ends, Sheldon stays behind to clean up while the rest of the group files outside to gather around in groups and socialize. “Now, I see more young kids getting it,” he says. “I see young people in the program with five, even six years clean and sober. I’m watching people grow in the program and become the person they’re meant to be. It’s a journey of growing up and becoming yourself. Some young people just learned life differently, and here they can learn to turn it around and make it positive.”

* Names have been changed to protect anonymity

In Stitches

When tragedy strikes, what’s the best way to lift someone’s spirit? The answer may surprise you (and make you laugh)

Words Cheyenne Miner | Photos Cameron Schultz | Video Pam Cressall 

It’s a full house tonight at Bleepin’ Funny, a monthly comedy show hosted at Sam Bond’s Garage in Eugene, Oregon. As waitresses scurry out from behind the bar carrying mason jars full of beer to packed tables, Kathleen Caprario-Ulrich stands center stage under the dim light. Wearing a black dress and gripping a microphone in her right hand, she begins her routine.

“My husband hated planning anything ­— so for my 50th he died.” The audience gasps and the scattered sound of chuckling can be heard from the darkness of the bar. The comedian pauses and continues her set.

“The man was never on time—even the funeral was a close call,” she says.

Staring at the audience with a defiant look in her eye, she tosses her free hand up, as if to say, “What are you going to do about it?” The crowd responds this time with enthusiastic laughter.

Caprario-Ulrich’s dark sense of humor is rooted in anguish that stems from her husband’s suicide. Finding humor in her situation has helped alleviate her sorrow. “I do not think that comedy or laughing is going to cure all of one’s ills, but it sure makes life a hell of a lot easier to bear,” she says a few days after her show over tea. “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you are in a sorry state.”

Kathleen Caprario-Ulrich performs at the monthly Bleepin' Funny comedy show at Sam Bond's Garage in Eugene, Oregon.

Kathleen Caprario-Ulrich performs at the monthly Bleepin’ Funny comedy show at Sam Bond’s Garage in Eugene, Oregon.

Comedy is not just about knock-knock jokes and wisecracks; it’s also a remedy. Caprario-Ulrich realized the best way to overcome her grief was to joke about it, and she’s not the only one who has benefited from comedy’s healing powers. Humor therapy—making light out of dark situations through the use of comedic performance or writing—has become a popular and effective method to aid recovery after traumatic experiences.

In 2001, Caprario-Ulrich’s world turned upside down when her husband of almost twenty years, James Ulrich, passed away. “Here I was, just shy of my 50th birthday. I was expecting a party, not a dead husband. I really felt cheated out of everything,” she says. James had suffered through eight years of severe clinical depression with suicidal ideation before he took his life. During this time, Caprario-Ulrich and her then-teenage son watched James unravel. As she says, “It was a living hell for everyone.”

After her husband’s death, Caprario-Ulrich turned to her friends for support but found their sentiments largely unhelpful. “People think, ‘Oh, you got to move on,’” she says. “Well, I didn’t lose a flippin’ mitten here. I lost my husband. The person I have been with for the bulk of my life.”

Caprario-Ulrich with her late husband, James, in Eugene in the '80s (photo courtesy of Kathleen Caprario-Ulrich)

Caprario-Ulrich with her late husband, James, in Eugene in the ’80s (photo courtesy of Kathleen Caprario-Ulrich)

Caprario-Ulrich spent nine years on the couches in therapists’ offices—which she says helped—but her grief still weighed her down. Trying to manage the Secondary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by her husband’s death paired with the added challenge of raising a son without her husband’s income fomented into anger. An art instructor at Lane Community College in Eugene, Caprario-Ulrich prepped for her classes by screaming to release the tension. Then, during the summer of 2010, while flying back from a volunteer mission in Australia that taxed her both physically and emotionally, she had an epiphany. “I realized I needed to laugh at death,” she says. “I had to punch death in the nose and make fun of my situation.”

Once back in Oregon, Caprario-Ulrich registered for Write Your Life Funny, a comedy class at Lane Community College that focuses on taking personal situations and finding humor in them. After completing the class in 2010, she began performing standup at bars and entertainment venues in Eugene and used her pain and anger as fuel for her live comedy routine. “Comedy diffuses the power of that experience,” Caprario-Ulrich says. “It empowered me. That is such a corny word, but it really did. I felt like I was becoming my authentic self.”

Recovering from traumatic events often requires extensive amounts of therapy. But sometimes, as in Caprario-Ulrich’s case, the traditional avenues are not enough. Roberta Gold, therapist and founder of the Southern California-based workshop Laughter for the Health of It, uses humor therapy to help people overcome mental and physical trauma. Gold has worked with patients from all walks of life. Her patients have issues ranging from transitioning into middle school to coping with domestic violence. “There is so much credibility to what Reader’s Digest coined a long time ago: Laughter is the best medicine,” Gold says. “If you can somehow laugh, then you can face the situation and try to find a solution.”

Similar to exercise, laughter releases endorphins—the “feel good” chemical produced by the central nervous system and pituitary gland. Just a short, hearty chuckle increases endorphin levels and eases tension, causing an overall sense of well being, according to a 2013 article released by the Mayo Clinic.

Leigh Anne Jasheway, instructor of the Write Your Life Funny class, says it’s common to see students signing-up for her course with the hope that it will help them recover from difficult experiences. A standup comedian and professor at the University of Oregon and Lane Community College, Jasheway has a Master’s degree in public health and is an expert in humor and stress management. She uses her combination of stress relief knowledge and standup experience to promote recovery within her pupils. “We become like a great big group therapy by the end because everyone is telling the truth of their life story,” says Jasheway. Each term, she sees students sitting next to each other who are battling illness or depression, mourning a loss, or just trying to get over being shy.

Like Caprario-Ulrich, Emese Dunai decided to register for Jasheway’s comedy class in an effort to become whole again. While backpacking across southeast Asia in 2011, Dunai, who was 31 at the time, stopped in Indonesia to scuba dive. After surfacing, Dunai lay screaming on the beach, thinking she had the bends. She took a boat to the mainland to receive treatment at a hospital. Once there she was shocked to discover that her condition was much more serious. Dunai had suffered carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a poorly mixed oxygen tank.

When she made it back to the United States six months after the accident, Dunai could no longer walk and was diagnosed with dystonia and an untreatable form of Parkinsonism. The conditions pushed her into a cycle of depression, and the dystonia caused one of her Achilles tendons to constrict six inches shorter than the other, permanently forcing her foot into a pointed position.


Emese Dumai turned to comedy after a scuba diving accident left her diagnosed with dystonia and an untreatable form of Parkinsonism.

Although she doesn’t perform on stage, Dunai is now using humor as her guiding light and is on her way back to restoring the positive self-esteem and confidence she possessed before the accident. She says comedy has been the catalyst for her recovery because it gives her a new perspective. She looks for the humor in her situation, especially when sharing her story with others. “When you make people laugh, it builds you up. It just keeps building and raising you up,” Dunai says. “When I am in that mode, everybody says the same thing: ‘You are shining.’ It makes me feel so good.”

Now, she says with a giggle, she feels beautiful for the first time since the diving accident. Not even her “ugly clunker” shoes can hold her back when she is in the zone. “You don’t feel sexy in them, but when I feel like I am shining it doesn’t matter what I am wearing,” Dunai says.

Back at Sam Bond’s Garage, the sun is setting outside and once-full mason jars now only contain foam. Candle centerpieces on the tables flicker, revealing the amused faces of wide-eyed audience members as they hang on to Caprario-Ulrich’s every word. Dressed in black—but not in mourning—she serves up one last zinger for the crowd as they fall gravely silent. It doesn’t go unnoticed by the comedian.

“I am genetically prone to having men die on me—sometimes literally,” she says. “Thanks everybody! I’m Kathleen Caprario-Ulrich.”

Flashing a wide smile at the applauding audience, she places the microphone back in its stand and exits stage left.


The Llama in the Room

He has modeled on the runway and been featured on TV, but this famous llama also has a healing touch

 Words Kevin Trevellyan | Photos Kyra Bailey | Video Shirley Chan

He’s always held himself like he’s the king of the llamas.” Lori Gregory is speaking of Rojo, the pet llama she and her family have cared for since his humble beginnings in the Pacific Northwest. But don’t just take the word of a proud owner. According to the International Llama Registry, Rojo is the top “Beyond the Showring” public relations llama in the world, selected from a pool of over 200,000. His fans can purchase “I Heart Rojo the Llama” bumper stickers online, and he’s worked a Project Runway fashion show, modeling a tiny chic top hat in front of an audience full of fashion enthusiasts. Rojo also recently had his international television debut with an appearance on Nat Geo Wild’s Unlikely Animal Friends television show. Nowadays, however, the distinguished llama spends most of his time serving the community at nursing homes, schools, hospitals, and charity events.

Paula Olson, a resident at Marquis Centennial, perks up when Rojo enters her room. “She loves these animals,” says Jessie Fowler, the program director at the assisted care facility. Paula Olson, a resident at Marquis Centennial, perks up when Rojo enters her room. “She loves these animals,” says Jessie Fowler, the program director at the assisted care facility.

Gregory found the chestnut-colored diva in 2001 while shopping for an alternate method to cut her family’s grass. “Little Rojo was only four months old,” recalls Gregory.

“He was following his [previous] owner around the yard while she was working. He was almost half-human.” The Gregory family purchased him immediately, relocating Rojo to their home in Vancouver, Washington. Over the ensuing years, Rojo, the living lawn mower, became a certified therapy llama. He has made almost 1,000 appearances since 2001, from birthday parties to parades.

Rojo’s even temperament is well-suited for therapy work. “He grew up to be this big, beautiful, hairy, lovable, huggable guy,” says Gregory, his owner and talent agent. He doesn’t seem to mind the jostling and petting that comes with his visits; the contact is light compared to the way llamas naturally interact with each other, which can include body slamming and neck wrestling.

As he does with several other facilities, Rojo makes monthly visits to residents of the Marquis Centennial assisted care facility in southeast Portland. Before they leave the house for a recent visit, Gregory has Rojo made up for the occasion. Shimmering gold bracelets adorn his ankles above jet black polished hooves. Freshly-shampooed auburn hair blows around like prairie grass, except for the fur matted underneath a sash draped over his back. It bears Rojo’s name in a decorative scrawl of purple embroidery. His aloof expression conveys a sense of ease, despite all the grandeur of his presentation.

Most residents react positively to Rojo's regular visits.

Most residents react positively to Rojo’s regular visits.

Gregory leads the llamas from room to room during nursing home visits, where they can interact with each resident.

Gregory leads the llamas from room to room during nursing home visits, where they can interact with each resident.

From her large, grass-filled backyard, Gregory leads Rojo through a sliding glass door into the family kitchen. She guides him between sofas on a path of runner rugs, avoiding stray barstools and shelves full of knickknacks and stuffed llamas. Eventually, they make it out the front door to the driveway. Rojo takes a seat in the back of a silver minivan while Gregory takes her own place behind the steering wheel. He waits patiently with his legs tucked underneath him as the van hits the I-205 South on-ramp. An alpaca named Napoleon sits next to him, with curly blonde hair framing a pair of dark eyes. He’s been a member of Rojo’s entourage for the last five years.

The van arrives at Marquis Centennial, and patients are elated when they see a pair of furry creatures walk through the otherwise plain, beige hallways of the facility. “A lot of the time the atmosphere around here is very sullen, even though people are trying to get better,” says Evan Werner, who just moved into Marquis Centennial. When Rojo makes his visit, the spirit in the building lightens. “I’ve got a friend’s father in here who has dementia,” says Werner. “But when I watched him with the llama, he woke up. It was like nothing mattered at that point—it didn’t take a memory for him to smile.” One resident compliments Rojo’s fluffy fur and subtle grin. Another resident attempts to sit up and give Rojo a “carrot kiss,” as he gently snatches the food from her mouth.

After a shampoo and grooming, Rojo’s coat and freshly polished hoofs shine like the jewelry around his ankles.

After a shampoo and grooming, Rojo’s coat and freshly polished hoofs shine like the jewelry around his ankles.

Gregory uses her van to drive the llamas to their scheduled events.

Gregory uses her van to drive the llamas to their scheduled events.

Between rooms, Rojo strides down the corridor behind Gregory with a swagger, Napoleon following behind as he stares with admiration at his idol (alpacas are pack-driven). The animals look distinctly out of place amongst the framed family photos that adorn patients’ walls. Rojo’s guttural grunts are out of sync with the sounds of soap operas or news programs that come from the televisions, his fur puffed out like a pair of parachute pants from the ’80s. One man lying on his bed near the end of Rojo’s visitation circuit scoffs when Gregory brings the llama by. “Ah, I’ve seen him before!” he says. But the other patients adore Rojo. “I never would have expected to see a llama in a rehabilitation care facility,” says Werner. “I don’t have a lot to be happy about lately, and that just made me smile. A smile one time during the day is better than not smiling at all.”

After several hours visiting patients, Rojo gets back into the minivan and sits down on the floor next to Napoleon. He’s spent, and hungry for some hay. The van exits the parking lot to travel north back to the stable, where Rojo can get some much needed rest. He has seventeen more appearances this month. Tomorrow he’ll pay a visit to an elementary school, fashionable as ever and ready to entertain. The life of a celebrity llama never slows down.

Rojo is rewarded with hay after visiting more than 100 residents at Marquis Centennial. He’ll return to his stable in Vancouver, Washington, before preparing for his next appearance the following day.

Rojo is rewarded with hay after visiting more than 100 residents at Marquis Centennial. He’ll return to his stable in Vancouver, Washington, before preparing for his next appearance the following day.

According to his owner, Lori Gregory, Rojo is an inspiration, motivating people to do things they wouldn't normally do.

According to his owner, Lori Gregory, Rojo is an inspiration, motivating people to do things they wouldn’t normally do.

Gregory's home functions as the llama's headquarters.

Gregory’s home functions as the llama’s headquarters.

Rojo is the original of four llamas and three alpacas, including Napoleon (right), that Lori Gregory cares for at her home in Vancouver, Washington.

Rojo is the original of four llamas and three alpacas, including Napoleon (right), that Lori Gregory cares for at her home in Vancouver, Washington.