Category Archives: People

Maygan Beckers at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field. (Myray Reames/Flux)

The Courage To Run


My teal and silver Nike Shox hit the uneven pavement as I jogged down 18th Avenue on a brisk spring morning. I had never been more aware of my surroundings. Pressing through thousands of chatty participants and seemingly suspicious spectators, I took a second look at people talking on their cell phones or carrying backpacks.

On my way to the starting line of the Eugene Marathon, the first national race since the April 15, 2013 Boston bombings that took three lives and injured hundreds, I quickly searched for runner 4445, Shelly Beckers.

My mother, who was competing her ninth and final marathon at 51, decided to spare her knees and cut back on long-distance running. This was her last chance to run 26.2 miles in Eugene, where her daughter achieved a family dream—earning a college degree.

“You made it,” my mom said, as I met her on the corner of 14th Avenue and Agate Street. With a tight hug, I wished her good luck. Rather than running the entire race, I would meet her at mile 23 to help her cross the finish line. Finally letting go, I watched her step toward the starting line. Knowing the chances were small, part of me still wondered if this would be the last time I would see her unharmed.

I was 12 when I saw the Twin Towers fall on my living room television. However, the Boston tragedy was the first act of international terrorism I’d experienced as an adult. I grasped that no matter where I was I might never truly be safe. My loved ones and I would always be vulnerable to chance, and to the calculated decisions of others.

My mom, however, wasn’t letting fear control her decisions.

At the commencing line, the assembled runners bowed their heads for a moment of silence to honor the victims of Boston. I reflected on why I was running. The reason was standing at the start sign, adjusting her running bib, causing the wedding ring my father gave her to glimmer.

Suddenly, I jumped at the delayed crack of the starting gun and moved a half step closer to my dad, who always gave me reassurance. As my mom shrunk from view, images of bloodied runners, terrified spectators, and collapsing debris replayed in my mind. Would this be the next city to get hit?

Setting those thoughts aside, my dad and I had breakfast before meeting my mom at mile markers seven and fourteen. I cheered her on and anticipated her requests for deodorant and sunglasses, while my dad fished around in the bag she had prepared.

However, mile marker eighteen didn’t go as planned.

My heart began to race as my dad and I waited. After 20 minutes, she still hadn’t passed.

My escalating panic turned into relief as I saw her bright blue shirt. When I saw she was okay, my body relaxed. She was tired, but safe.

Without thinking, I stepped into the course and began running alongside her—five miles earlier than I’d planned and trained for. Although my mom looked at me with confusion, I wanted to run the extra miles for her.

“It’s 80 percent mental, 20 percent physical,” I said to her.

Though little inclines felt like giant mountains to her, I encouraged her to stay positive. She leaned heavily on my arm, speed-walking a 12-minute pace. My left side ached so badly I wanted to stop. Hiding my pain from her, I gently leaned to my left and stretched out an unbearable kink.

Turning the corner on mile 20 into the suburbs, I noticed something that revived me. A pair of black pants had been placed into a tree trunk in the shape of the ribbons runners received to support Boston victims.

Worry overflowed my aching body as we entered Hayward Field for the last stretch. Would we conquer this race harmed or unscathed? I became alert as my mom painfully giggled at being so close to her goal. Crossing the finish line at 5:56:16, we linked hands, lacing our fingers together and setting our opposite hands on our hearts.

Once my mom hit the finish line, she grabbed me and held on with a squeeze. Arms wrapped around her, I sensed her emotion—causing tears to form in my own hazel eyes. Knowing that we conquered our fear together will have a special place in my heart forever.


Paranormal Clues


A Portland-based psychic detective taps into her intuition to settle unsolved cases

(Charlotte Cheng/Flux)

(Charlotte Cheng/Flux)

Laurie McQuary did not use a crystal ball while working on a recent murder investigation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She does not wear purple robes or wave around a stick of intoxicating incense when interviewing victims’ family members. Instead, she wears a structured green jacket over a crisp collared shirt in her neatly arranged Lake Oswego office. She’s not a sorceress, but she’s also not an ordinary person. McQuary is a woman of intuition.

McQuary is among nearly eighty thousand psychics in the United States and part of the $2 billion psychic industry. Using her psychic gift to assist in solving crimes, however, makes her exceptionally unusual.

She began showing psychic abilities at age eighteen after a fall from a horse left her in a coma for three months. She worked as a nurse for the first part of her life before transitioning from giving private readings to coworkers to starting a psychic consultation business in 1984.

“I have a responsibility to listen to the universe,” she says.

McQuary has amassed more than two hundred cases in her twenty-nine years as a psychic detective. Murder and missing person cases dating as far back as the ‘80s and ‘90s are tightly packed into two large filing cabinets. McQuary’s blue eyes scan the thick manila folders as she thumbs over police detective names scribbled in illegible handwriting.

“You’d be surprised how many detectives really believe in this work,” she says.

Bob Lee, a retired police detective from the Lake Oswego Police Department, is among the believers. Lee met McQuary during a murder investigation in 1986. When the two got together for lunch to review the case, McQuary listed thirty details that she had intuitively gathered from the report, including information regarding the involvement of the murderer’s brother with the burial of the body.

“I probably spent a week [trying to disprove] everything that she told me,” recalls Lee.

Lee was surprised to learn that twenty-nine of the facts were proven correct. McQuary had also accurately pinpointed the burial location of the victim. Lee was so impressed with McQuary that he married her the following year.

Throughout his thirty-seven-year career in law enforcement, Lee has learned that detectives play on their hunches and logical reasoning. However, he believes his wife has a unique sense of intuition that becomes particularly valuable in a room full of left-brained police detectives.

“I’m really good at picking out the bad guy,” says Lee. “[McQuary] is just going to look at the bad guy a little differently.

While the couple typically works separately and never openly discusses any active cases, McQuary may, at times, ask her husband about a bullet trajectory or an autopsy report. Lee has also occasionally used McQuary for her fresh viewpoint on cases.

“I don’t feel that I have solved cases; I believe I’ve contributed to them,” says McQuary. “When I’m out there in the field slogging around with the police or the family and we find the body, I feel like I’ve walked hand-in-hand with God.”

(Myray Reames/Flux)

McQuary sits in her hypnosis room, one of the rooms where she meets with clients. (Myray Reames/Flux)

With each case, McQuary requires a name, the victim’s photo, and a map of the area where he or she was last seen. She often visits the site to better understand the physical energy of the case, and has traveled across the country for cases in almost all fifty states. Her involvement with these cases has led to appearances on Portland’s KATU News, Court TV’s Psychic Detective, and Larry King Live, among other television and news outlets.

Psychic Detective has featured a number of the industry’s members, including psychic detective Noreen Renier. Based in Orlando, Florida, she typically assists with cases that are ten to twenty years old.

“When police give me information on missing people, I tune into the energy and relive it,” says Renier. She often holds objects (say, the victim’s shirt) to gain extra sensory perception on the situation.

Like McQuary, Renier does not claim to solve investigations. Instead, she suggests that she can provide new clues or a different angle. She charges a flat fee of $650 for a phone consultation, offering her psychic abilities to assist with unsolved homicide or missing person cases, lost animals, and private readings.

McQuary didn’t charge for her investigative assistance for twenty-one years, until her TV appearance on Larry King Live triggered hundreds of case requests. While she has never charged law enforcement for her services, she requests a one-time $250 fee for private clients, who are often involved families seeking more information about their cases. If travel becomes necessary, the client is responsible for any additional expenses.

Though McQuary has built her career around convincing nonbelievers, there are many who are skeptical of her extraordinary occupation. The Independent Investigations Group (IIG), based in Hollywood, California, gathers weekly to examine and debunk paranormal claims through scientific processes.

“I’m not a complete skeptic,” says Mark Edward, an IIG committee member. “But in thirty-five years, I have yet to see anyone who has exhibited psychic abilities.”

Edward infiltrated the psychic market for research used in his recently published book, Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium. He suggests that psychic detectives simply have a sharper sense of intuition than the police based on their highly developed understanding of human nature and emotion.

“They have a better perspective on what kind of clues to look for,” says Edward. “There’s nothing supernatural about it.”

Yet, there remains a certain public fascination with the work psychic detectives do. Popular culture has seen an influx of programs exploring the relationship between law enforcement and psychics, such as TV series like Psychic Detectives, Medium, The Mentalist, and Psych. In response to Hollywood’s curiosity toward the paranormal, the IIG called Psychic Detectives one of the year’s worst examples of scientific thinking in its annual awards ceremony in 2007. The Mentalist and Psych, however, were applauded for promoting science in their scripts.

McQuary doesn’t mind a skeptic. In addition to assisting with investigative cases in her spare time, she has spent the past thirty years building her business, Management by Intuition. The cozy Native American-inspired office offers psychic consultations ranging from past-life regressions to a technique that uses hypnosis to recover potential memories of past lives. The consultations last thirty minutes to one hour.

For client Laura D’Quatro, a session with McQuary is better than therapy. She began paying visits to the office a couple of times each year after she lost her mother and most recently, her father.

“She doesn’t tell me what to do,” says D’Quatro, who has been a client of McQuary’s since 2007. “She just tells me what she feels.”

While McQuary’s abilities don’t turn off at the end of the workweek, she prefers to maintain a low profile during her time off. “I’m not ‘Suzie Psychic’ 24/7,” she says. By avoiding crowds and prolonged eye contact with others, McQuary can usually limit overly personal connections with strangers. Eye contact can induce especially intense connections, she explains.

Despite the desire to occasionally turn off her abilities, McQuary regularly practices listening to her own energy. In fact, her intuitive guidance led to her discover she had breast cancer seven years ago. After waking up one morning, McQuary sensed something was wrong with her breast despite having no symptoms. She made a medical appointment that same day where they concluded there was no lump. When she demanded further investigation through an MRI, they were surprised to discover that her intuition was correct. McQuary was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I found out later that I’d had it for twenty-five years,” says McQuary, who quickly underwent treatment (including five surgeries). She now lives cancer-free.

Psychic abilities may be mentally exhausting at the end of each day, but McQuary has not yet exhausted her career. This year marks a big move to Central Oregon with her retired husband, and she will eventually close her Lake Oswego office. McQuary’s clients, however, will continue to communicate with her through phone sessions.

“As long as I am coherent and accurate I will be doing this work,” says McQuary. “Retirement is not an option.”


Alito Alessi (top), artistic director and founder of DanceAbility, and Karen Daly (bottom) rehearse their dance number, “One Another.” (Myray Reames/Flux)

Bodies in Motion

Cancer survivor Karen Daly performs with DanceAbility, a mixed-abilities dance company in Eugene, Oregon. By expressing herself through movement, she has discovered freedom and redefined for herself what it means to be disabled.

Veterinarian Jeff Pelton performs a dentistry pocedure on Tammy Ladd’s horse, Slider. Pelton sedates the horses during this process so it is less painful and so that the animals stay calm and still during the procedure.

Healing Hooves

A large animal veterinarian provides care for four-legged friends.

Jeff Pelton has always enjoyed the company of four legged animals. Growing up in Los Angeles, Pelton had little interaction with large animals, but after working with them in veterinary school at University of California, Davis, he decided to specialize in their care. After working at a clinic in Sonoma County and two clinics in Oregon, Pelton decided to open his own large animal clinic outside of Eugene. His exam room and office are on the same property as his home, but the majority of his appointments take place at the client’s residence.

Pelton works with horses, cows, goats, sheep, llamas, and alpacas in Lane County, offering a variety of services including dentistry, digital radiology, health examinations, and twenty-four-hour emergency care. During each appointment, Pelton takes the time to consider the animal’s emotional state so it feels comfortable in his hands.

Daring to Dream

[deck]A Olympic hopeful grapples with a career-threatening injury.[/deck]

Apr 15, 2011; Walnut, CA, USA; Russell Brown wins the invitational 1,500m in a meet and stadium record 3:35.70 in the 53rd Mt. San Antonio College Relays at Hilmer Lodge Stadium. Photo courtesy of

Apr 15, 2011; Walnut, CA, USA; Russell Brown wins the invitational 1,500m in a meet and stadium record 3:35.70 in the 53rd Mt. San Antonio College Relays at Hilmer Lodge Stadium. Photo courtesy of

He has lived this moment in his dreams. The raucous crowd roaring its approval; The wall of noise crashing down onto the track from every direction; The Olympic flame burning as faithfully as the desire that drove him here.

Born out of years of humble devotion to his sport, this is Russell Brown’s dream.

But it is not his reality.

As the world’s best milers prepare for the Olympic 1500-meter preliminary round in London, Brown moves gingerly around a turf field in his hometown of Hanover, New Hampshire, anxiously testing the condition of his injured Achilles tendon. He has run faster than any American at 1500 meters this year, but his tentative strides bear no resemblance to the powerful cadence that propelled him to a 3:34.11 personal best in Qatar ten weeks ago.  Today’s run lasts just eight minutes. It’s all his broken body can manage.

Brown never imagined his season would end this way. He entered the US Olympic Trials in June among the favorites to punch a ticket to London. He left without even advancing to the 1500-meter final. Battling an Achilles injury sustained just days before the Trials, Brown barely made it to the starting line of his semifinal heat, limping painfully to a last-place finish, clocking 3:58.85—his slowest time since high school.

As he hobbled off the track, Brown didn’t owe the world a dignified exit. The unphased kids waiting at the gate for an autograph could find another signature for their souvenirs. The journalists could interview the next athlete that would walk through the press area. When asked by a reporter to explain what happened, Russell Brown didn’t need to open his heart to the camera pointed critically at his face. He could have walked out.

Instead, he answered the question with disarming candor, offering the world a glimpse of an Olympic-hopeful’s struggle to draw meaning from a journey that ended at the wrong destination.

* * *

 “You know, this comes around [every] four years,” Brown told the group of reporters. “This year really couldn’t have gone better for me. I felt like everything that had been going wrong started going right.”

When a coach and athlete meet to develop an Olympic training plan, it’s a fairly straightforward endeavor. 80 miles this week. Three hard workouts that week. Intervals, tempos, continuous intervals (fartleks), strides, weight sessions and rest, then repeat. On paper, a training calendar is as good as a printed roadmap to London. Follow the instructions, make the right turns (or, in this case, the left ones), and come July 27, you’ll be sporting a Ralph Lauren beret on your way to the Opening Ceremonies.

Even though success can seem simple within the black-and-white margins of a training log, victories aren’t won on paper. Nor is fortitude measured in black ink. In reality, the path to London is less interstate highway and more winding country road, full of twists and turns and emotions and, well, life. For Brown, making the US Olympic team meant more than improving his running economy or raising his anaerobic threshold. It meant embarking on a journey, one that led him on trips around the world, through haunts from his past, and headfirst into plans for the future.

With less that two months until the Trials, Brown’s journey was still on the ground as he boarded the first of three flights destined for Doha, Qatar. His Olympic ambitions hinged on achieving the “A” standard, a bar set high enough to eliminate all but the world’s best. Brown hoped the Doha Diamond League meet’s stiff competition would help him become the sixth American that season to meet the 3:35.50 1500-meter standard—the metric equivalent of a 3:52 mile.

Entering his fourth year competing for Eugene’s Oregon Track Club Elite, Brown, 27, had never made an Olympic or World Championships team. After graduating from Stanford University in 2008, he extended his running career by signing a professional contract with Nike. The salary was meager, but he quickly proved his worth.[L1]

In 2009, Brown trimmed more than three seconds off his 1500-meter personal best and ended the year by ranking top-ten in the country. A year later, he advanced to the final at the US Championships and finished sixth.

Enter 2011. Brown began the season with a US-leading 1500-meter time of 3:35.70, then set another nation-leading mark with his 3:51.45 mile at Eugene’s Prefontaine Classic in June. With just three weeks until the start of the US Championships, he had emerged as a favorite to advance to the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. On, the sport’s unofficial cyber headquarters, even the usually hard-to-impress message-board critics hopped aboard the Brown bandwagon.

“No excess fanfare or b.s.,” wrote one poster. “He’s just out there getting it done race after race. Excellent job, Brown!”

Another added, “Brown has the [country’s] fastest 1500 time, indoors and outdoors, and has the fastest mile [by] an American this year . . . I think he has to be favored to make the team for Daegu at this point.

Then another: “Russell is humble and hungry. On to greatness!”

What happened next, nobody could have predicted. Despite entering the US Championships healthy and full of confidence, Brown failed to make it out of the first round. He finished fourth in his preliminary heat, passed in the final straightaway by a hard-charging Will Leer. Brown seemed in disbelief at the finish line, burying his head in his hands as the realization sunk in that his season was essentially over. Although just two-tenths of a second stood between Brown and a place in the final, the LetsRun cynics showed no mercy.

They attacked: “He just didn’t run a smart race. Bush league mistake, no doubt.”

Again: “Even Acosta, who had not been running well, found his legs and got into the final. Major fail for Brown.”

And again: “Yet another flash in the pan for U.S. distance running.”

In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of professional sports, Russell Brown went from rising star to fading comet overnight—and not just in the court of public opinion. His shocking letdown also cost him the chance to compete in the summer’s Diamond League competitions, where meet directors were interested only in athletes who had qualified for the World Championships. Instead of capitalizing on his fitness to hit the Olympic “A” standard on the Diamond League circuit that summer, Brown would have to wait.

That’s why May 2012 arrived with Brown flying halfway across the world, while his training partner and fellow Olympic 1500-meter hopeful, Andrew Wheating, enjoyed some rare spring sunshine in Eugene. Wheating was one of five Americans to achieve the “A” standard in Europe over the summer, earning him a degree of comfort in the months leading up to the Trials. With less than eight hours until his friend’s race in Doha, I found him working judiciously to plant a vegetable garden in his backyard. After catching up about his training and fitness, the conversation turned to Brown’s prospects in Qatar.

“He’s in great shape,” Wheating assessed optimistically. “But with Russell, there’s always other variables that he factors in.”

“He’s a thinker?” I asked, vaguely aware of Brown’s tendency to analyze a race inside and out.

“He’s a big thinker,” Wheating replied. “We’ll see how it goes. I’m a little nervous.”

Some 7,000 miles away, Brown lounged around his hotel, the only refuge from Doha’s sweltering heat. His roommate, veteran sprinter Darvis Patton, told him not to bother adjusting to the eleven-hour time difference. “Just sleep when you’re tired,” he advised.

In between three- and four-hour snoozes, Brown let his mind wander to the task at hand. His agent, Paul Doyle, had told him the race would feature two “rabbits,” dedicated pacemakers responsible for leading the field through 1,000 meters at a blistering pace. If he could just cling to the back of that pack, he wouldn’t care if he finished dead last. As long as he got the Olympic “A” standard, nothing else mattered.

When the race finally began, the manic pace around him was a shock to Brown’s system. As he would later recall, “It just felt like we took off sprinting and never really stopped sprinting.” Actually, by most humans’ standards, they were flying. The leaders clocked the first 400 meters in fifty-five seconds with Brown barely a second behind. When he reached the 800-meter mark and glanced up at the clock, he liked what he saw. 1:53. Perfect.

Still maintaining his position near the back of the pack as he dashed into the final lap, Brown was right on pace to meet the “A” standard. He just didn’t realize it. Fatigue can do funny things to even the sharpest minds, and with 200 meters to go, Brown’s math was failing him, his stream of consciousness truncated into staccato bursts.

Check the clock—what?! Behind pace? No matter. Just sprint. One straightaway left. So hot! 40 meters. 90 degrees? Lift the knees. Get that guy! 10 meters. C’mon, couple more strides. Lean in for the finish. Whoosh! Find Doyle.

“I get it?”

“You got it!”

* * *

“I let myself hope and I let myself dream. And I wanted things that I never even let myself want, let alone think could be a reality.”

In a modest two-story home nestled among the rolling hills just miles from Dartmouth College’s pristine campus, the Browns never talked Olympics. They didn’t have time. Throughout his son’s time in grade school, Chris Brown shuttled Russell to practices for soccer in the fall, ice hockey in the winter and lacrosse in the spring, coaching as many of the sports as he could manage.

Although competitive running was relegated to the summers until his junior year of high school, Brown’s speed turned heads—and caused headaches—from the moment he could walk. In pre-school, he earned the nickname “Runaway Russell” for his habit of disappearing as soon as his teachers looked away. If the person assigned to watch him lost focus even for a moment, Russell’s response was one his mother Jocelyn Chertoff remembers well.

“He would just bolt.”

Brown’s speed proved to be an asset in every sport he tried, especially track. Chris remembers his 10-year-old son’s first race, a 100-meter dash at a summer all-comers meet in Hanover. Standing near the finish line, Chris peered down the straightaway at the local kids getting ready to begin.

“I knew all of the kids and I thought, ‘This is going to be a good race,’” he recalled. “And then Russell just blew them away.”

As Brown continued to rack up wins on the track, including the state indoor 600-meter title as a high school junior, one of the country’s best distance coaches took notice. In the fall of Brown’s senior year, Stanford coach Vin Lananna invited him to pay a visit to the Cardinal program that had just added an NCAA cross country title to its growing list of achievements.

Brown left Palo Alto sold on Stanford, but he would have to wait another seven years to run for the man who recruited him. Only months before Brown was set to arrive on campus, Lananna departed unexpectedly to take the athletic director position at Division III Oberlin College. Brown just rolled with the punches, earning nine All-American honors with the Cardinal before moving to Oregon to run professionally under OTC Elite coach Mark Rowland.

It’s here, in 2010, that Brown and Lananna were finally united. Lananna—then the director of track and field at the University of Oregon—wanted to keep coaching Andrew Wheating after his graduation from Oregon. In need of someone to train alongside his star miler, he turned to Brown, who had grown up just across the Connecticut River from Wheating’s hometown of Norwich, Vermont. They’d often met up to run together during summer breaks, forging a strong friendship on grueling runs across the region’s hilly terrain.

Brown jumped at the chance to join his friend under Lananna’s guidance, and the two milers soon became inseparable, even collaborating off the track to produce a series of comedic videos for their blog, “Behind the Stands.” The tandem seldom missed a day of running together, but on June 14, 2012, their training plans forced them apart. With Wheating consigned to the pool for a scheduled rest day, I was Brown’s lone companion as he set out for Pre’s Trail to complete a recovery run.

By then I had been embedded in Lananna’s training group for three weeks, joining Brown and Wheating for runs, warm-ups, cool-downs and the occasional post-workout meal as I documented their respective journeys towards the Olympic Trials. Sometimes I asked questions, but mostly I just listened—to their worries, to their ambitions and to their frustrations.

That day’s run was no different. By the time we reached the wood-chip trail that crosses from Eugene into neighboring Springfield, Brown was dreaming aloud. The contract bonus for making the Olympic team would be a financial relief, he said, and a medal in London—heaven forbid the thought of it—might yield enough cash to cover the down payment on a home with his girlfriend.

Even as he bore ahead in pursuit of his Olympic dream, the seeds of Brown’s life after running were beginning to sprout. Two days earlier he’d agreed to become the chief financial officer at Jasper Mountain, a Eugene nonprofit that serves emotionally disturbed children and their families. Starting in the fall, it would be his first non-running job since college.

While Brown explained that he planned to continue his professional running career even after assuming the new role, he couldn’t say for how long. Running demanded sacrifice, and it wasn’t just late nights and wild parties that had gone by the wayside. Two years had passed since Brown’s girlfriend, Nji Nnamani, left Eugene to pursue an M.B.A. from Stanford, and he’d long grown tired of the distance since then. Brown was ready to begin his life with her. A trip to London, he figured, would be a good way to start.

Just as we reached our turnaround spot, Brown and I were joined by company. When OTC Elite milers Jordan McNamara and Ciaran O’Lionard pulled up at our sides, they were already deep in conversation about McNamara’s race this Saturday, a last-ditch effort to hit the “A” standard before the start of the Olympic Trials. Apparently he and Rowland were unable to secure the services of Matt Scherer, a professional pacemaker known for his precise execution of race splits as well as his considerable bulk.

“You know Scherer alters gravity, and I was trying to become his satellite,” McNamara joked.

With Scherer unavailable, Lananna and Rowland had asked Brown to pace part of the race. Lananna thought he would benefit from running the first 800 meters as a tune-up for the Trials, but Brown wasn’t immediately sold on the wisdom of helping a competitor hit the Olympic “A” standard. When McNamara broached the subject on the run, he avoided a solid commitment.

“Listen, J-Mac, don’t worry about the pacing and just focus on running a good, hard race,” he said. “The rest will work itself out.”

Privately, Brown planned to express his doubts about the idea to Lananna. This close to the Trials, he couldn’t afford to take any chances that might lead to a repeat of his 2011 disappointment. Sure, he’d love to help a fellow OTC athlete chase a dream. Just not when it’s his dream too.

* * *

“Well, you know what, this happens to a lot of people. I’m not the only one. I guess the bottom line is, making a team like this—that’s not something anybody deserves. We all work hard. We all want it. We all care. We all use the mistakes we made in the past to look toward the future. When you get to this level, you can just get unlucky.

With Hayward Field off limits until the Trials, McNamara decided to go after the “A” standard in a hastily assembled meet at nearby Lane Community College. A handful of events were on the docket, all of them designed to give local athletes a final chance to hit qualifying marks or sharpen their fitness before the start of the Trials in a week.

By 7:45 p.m., when the 1500-meter race was set to begin, a small crowd had gathered on the grassy slope above the track. As the six competitors finished their final warm-up strides, McNamara ran up to the fence at the base of the hill.

“I’m gonna need you guys down here to help me out!” he shouted to the supporters scattered above him, rattling the chain links with his hands to set an example. OTC Elite steeplechaser Steve Finley was the first to move, and soon the whole crowd was congregated just meters from the track oval, clapping, cheering, buzzing.

After the initial difficulty of finding a single rabbit, Lananna and Rowland had recruited three. Wheating and Oregon sophomore Daniel Winn would combine to set the pace for the first 500 meters, and Brown would press on through 800 meters. During a conversation earlier in the week, Lananna had managed to get Brown on board with the plan. Even if McNamara hit the “A” standard, Lananna had explained, he would be the least of Brown’s worries at the Trials. Based on the season’s early results, Centrowitz, Manzano, and Torrence were among the favorites to challenge him for a top-three finish and a spot on the Olympic team. McNamara was not.

As Brown stepped to the starting line, he was primarily focused on his own preparation. Barely thirty minutes earlier he’d competed in the meet’s 800-meter race, winning in 1:47.61. By having him return to the track for another hard 800-meter effort, Lananna hoped to prepare Brown to run fast on tired legs, a skill that would be essential for surviving three 1500-meter rounds in the span of four days at the Olympic Trials.

When the starting gun fired, all three rabbits shot to the lead ahead of Heath and McNamara. Wheating’s massive strides propelled him around the track with uncanny ease, the rest of the field stringing out in his wake. Wheating executed his orders to perfection, covering the first 400 meters in fifty-five seconds before drifting across the track to clear the path for Winn. Barely fourteen seconds later, Brown was the man in charge.

Even at a world-class pace, Brown’s form oozes power. He runs with his broad torso upright, keeping his upper body still and arms relaxed while his legs do the heavy lifting. Running beside shorter athletes, Brown’s long strides give him the appearance of gliding across the track in slow motion, his racing spikes scarcely meeting the track surface before sweeping backwards on an arcing circuit that terminates with his next knee drive.

Watching Brown cruise through 800 meters in 1:52, it was hard to imagine anyone beating him at the Trials. He looked so smooth. While McNamara would go on to miss the “A” standard by less than two-tenths of a second, the result didn’t matter much to Brown. He was joking and laughing with Wheating as he set off on his cool-down jog, his spirits buoyed by the confidence that he was both fit and healthy. What he didn’t know—couldn’t know—was that his good fortunes were about to change.

When I arrived at practice four days later, something was wrong. Brown was standing on the infield with his back to the track, Lananna crouched behind him, gazing intently at the six inches of tendon between Brown’s heel and calf. His career had been riddled with Achilles problems, but he’d managed to run pain-free all spring. Now, just eight days before the Olympic Trials 1500-meter preliminary round, that streak was over. He had first felt the pain when stepping out of bed the morning after McNamara’s race. A run on Monday and workout on Tuesday had only made things worse.

Not one to leave anything to chance, Lananna turned away from Brown’s Achilles and began calling OTC Elite massage therapist John Ball to schedule treatment for that afternoon. While he waited impatiently for Ball to answer his phone, he told Brown to take the day off and dose up on ibuprofen.

“Take three pills three times a day, okay?” he prescribed. Brown nodded, then turned to vent his frustration.

“On the way over, I was making deals with the devil,” he said, trying to smile despite the concern etched upon his face. “Ten years of my life? My firstborn? I haven’t offered them up yet, but they’re on the table.”

He paused for a moment, as if to contemplate the worst-case scenario. “I guess I could come back and do this all over again in four years,” he said with a grimace.

* * *

“Right now this stings a lot. But I think in the next couple days I’ll wake up and remember how lucky I am. I’ve got the best family in the world. I’ve got the most beautiful girlfriend in the world. I live in the most wonderful place. I’ve got the best friends and teammates. Nobody can ask for any more.”

Watching from their seats near the start line, Brown’s parents Chris and Jocelyn waited anxiously for the Olympic Trials’ 1500-meter runners to emerge onto the track.

The last twenty-four hours had been a nightmare; every waking moment spent trying to nurse their son back to health. In his preliminary heat a day earlier, Brown looked like a favorite to advance to London, cruising into the semifinal round with encouraging ease. He thought he’d shaken the Achilles injury that hampered him all week, but as he walked up a ramp to the press area and his adrenaline wore off, the pain came rushing back—worse than at any point in the twelve days since his injury.

Chris and Jocelyn would remember that evening as a dizzying combination of doctor’s visits, pharmacy runs, massage treatments, anti-inflammatory medication and nerves. They comforted themselves with the knowledge that if Russell could advance past the semifinal round, he’d have a full day to recover before Sunday afternoon’s final. With the race now upon them, no one in Brown’s camp could stand to acknowledge that the final might go off without him.

When Brown finally took the track for his semifinal heat, it wasn’t the sight his parents hoped to see. He tried to do a warm-up sprint down the backstretch, but the hitch in his stride foiled the attempt. “Maybe it will loosen up,” Chris thought to himself. “Maybe he can still do this.”

3,000 miles away, Nnamani clung to the same hope. Alongside twenty fellow investment banking interns at a bar in New York City, she watched the runners sprint for position down the opening straightaway. She planned to pay Brown a surprise visit in Eugene if he made the final, but his first 100 meters didn’t offer much promise. Fighting through a painful limp, Brown quickly dropped to the back of the pack.

In the stands, Chris and Jocelyn cringed. With each unwieldy stride, their hope for a miracle faded. By the time the runners reached the final lap, neither parent was surprised to see the competition speeding away from their limping son. They watched helplessly as Brown crossed the finish line in last place, his head hung in defeat, Wheating wrapping his arms around him in a silent embrace. A stream of people would hug Brown in the hours that followed. None of them would find the right words to say.

                                                                        * * *

“If I could have made the Olympic team that would have been nice. But that’s not going to happen. And that’s how it goes.”

As Brown answers my phone call, his voice still bears the sadness of defeat. It’s been ten days since he sat in Hayward Field’s stands for the 1500-meter final and witnessed Wheating finish third behind Leo Manzano and Matthew Centrowitz, earning him a spot on the US Olympic team. Brown enjoyed watching the race, standing and cheering as his best friend and teammate achieved the sport’s biggest triumph. But there were also moments when the smile slid off his face, moments when he looked at the tall figure charging into third place and didn’t see Wheating at all. He saw himself instead.

“When I watched Andy take off and finish really well, all I could think about were all the times—like our last couple races—when we ran right together,” he explains. “And seeing the way Centro ran his race . . . just the way I knew he would and just the way I wanted to run. It was sort of like my dreams were coming true, but I wasn’t in them.”

Brown lets himself reflect on the “what-ifs” only for a moment. It’s too painful to think what might have been. Better to believe that more than a six-inch tendon stood between him and the Olympic dream. At least he tries to believe that.

“Andy, Centro and Leo—they did everything right. They were better than everybody else,” he says. “Had I been perfect, there was still no guarantee. It’s not fair for me to lament that I’m not [in London] and harp on the fact that I got hurt because it does a little bit of disrespect to the guys who made the Olympic team. Making the team still would have required the best performance of my life. I think I was ready for that, but you can’t bank on the best performance of your life.”

Even with the Trials still fresh in his memory, Brown is already laying the groundwork for what comes next. He’s back home in New Hampshire, meeting with doctors to figure out exactly what happened to his left Achilles tendon—and how to prevent it from happening again. An MRI revealed tears in some of the Achilles’ fibers, probably the result of running the first-round race on a tendon that was already ailing. His rehabilitation won’t require surgery, just a heavy dose of rest, cortisone injections, an ultrasound, and cross training. From now on, strengthening drills and exercises need to be a part of his daily routine.

But for how much longer will actual running be part of that routine? Perhaps the biggest cruelty of the Olympics is that it only comes around once every four years. Training plans can be developed to accommodate this inconvenience, but life doesn’t fit so easily into these four-year cycles. By the time the 2016 Rio Games begin, Brown will be 31-years-old. He hopes to be married to Nnamani by then, maybe even starting a family. With a promising business career also ahead of him, it’s possible that the 2012 Olympic Trials marked the end of Russell Brown’s Olympic dream. I shudder at the thought. He takes it in stride.

“You know, some people get lucky and some people don’t,” Brown reflects. “You just hope that in the end, you get lucky more times than not. So sure, this is one of those big moments where life kicked my ass.

“But I feel like I deserve another moment when life hooks me up.”

Writers Ray Nichols and Vince Jordan review Welsh's panel sketches at their weekly Thursday meetings in Welsh's home. (Julia Reihs/FLUX)


[deck]A team of Oregon artists and writers work toward creating a story worthy of Dark Horse Comics.[/deck]

Writers Ray Nichols and Vince Jordan review Welsh's panel sketches at their weekly Thursday meetings in Welsh's home. (Julia Reihs/FLUX)

From left, clockwise: Writers Ray Nichols and Vince Jordan review Mason Welsh's panel sketches at their weekly Thursday meetings in Welsh's home. (Julia Reihs/FLUX)

Mason Welsh speaks in archetypes.

“This guy is kinda my Luke Skywalker character,” he says as he lays out a series of sketches on the floor of his home in Springfield, Oregon.

In one frame, a character points a gun directly at the reader’s face. In another, a band of deformed humans descends on their prey, a thirst for destruction made evident by their gnarling maws. These are just a couple of scenes from the comic book Welsh and his cadre of collaborators have spent the last few months creating.

He describes it as Star Wars meets Johnny Quest meets Indiana Jones. Depending on what part of the process Welsh is in, he’ll throw another famous work into the equation.

The characters on each sheet of paper may be sketched in gray pencil, but Welsh and his team have drenched the project in color—every player in the story, big or small, has an expansive back-story penned by Ray Nichols, another Springfield resident who’s playing point guard for the narrative.

“We didn’t just conjure these ideas out of nothing,” Welsh says.

Some of the characters slated to appear in the book originate from Welsh’s days as a camper—and later, counselor—at a summer camp in Colorado. He and his brother were fascinated by the stories they heard from their own counselors. As the years went by, the Welsh brothers inherited the stories and made them their own. Now Welsh has the opportunity to spread some of those tales beyond the campfire.

These stories have traveled with Welsh for some time. Since his childhood days, he bounced around in Fort Morgan, Colorado until he settled into a semi-permanent residence in Kansas City, Kansas. It was there that he started making small films with a group of friends. It was also where he fell in love with his wife, Pam.

She recalls the first time Welsh met her family. They knew he was an artist and when they asked him to sketch something, Welsh was happy to oblige. Instead of preparing a piece of paper on a table, however, he set it on the floor.

The man could draw with his feet. And he did.

Pam says it was stunts like this that won her heart—she could always count on Welsh to make her smile.

“I don’t have an ‘off’ switch,” Welsh admits.

The two moved to Oregon shortly after they married so Pam could work as an athletic trainer at Northwest Christian College.

During the week, Welsh often sketches in his wife Pam’s office at Northwest Christian University while she works as the school’s head athletic trainer.  (Julia Reihs/FLUX)

During the week, Welsh often sketches in his wife Pam’s office at Northwest Christian University while she works as the school’s head athletic trainer. (Julia Reihs/FLUX)

Just like Welsh’s journey from Fort Morgan to Oregon, comics have come a long way since their days on the back page of the morning paper. From Batman and Spider-Man to Scott Pilgrim and Tintin, the industry has made its mark on popular culture in ways nobody could have predicted.

“There’s an amazing and interesting legacy of failure in American comics,” says Andrea Gilroy, a doctoral candidate in the University of Oregon’s comics and cartoon studies program. “It’s borne of the people who weren’t good enough to get into newspapers.”

In fact, one of the most iconic figures in American pop culture never made it to press. When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster pitched Superman as a comic strip to newspapers in the 1930s, nobody would take a chance on the character, citing his resemblance to the lead in Hugo Danner’s Gladiator as concern for a lawsuit. That’s when a little-known upstart called DC Comics took a chance on the two artists. If litigation came, DC figured it could cease publishing the book.

But it didn’t need to. The strip was an instant hit.

Soon enough the comics industry was rife with a cascade of ever-diversifying genres. Crime dramas, thrillers, and romantic comedies followed the success of superheroes. The comics scene leading into the ‘50s was as diverse as the marquee of a Cineplex in the middle of the summer. It wasn’t until Congress began holding hearings condemning the effects of comics on American youth that publishers began toning down their material.

After that, books containing tamer subject matter dominated the pages of mainstream comics. But that didn’t mean the more sophisticated material wasn’t out there. Readers just had to dig a little.

Zines and niche publishers filled a void that DC and Marvel failed to address. Every so often, these fringe properties made it into a mainstream publication. For example, The Mask, starring Jim Carey, was an adaptation of a comic book published by Dark Horse Comics, a firm based in Portland, Oregon. Then the Internet came.

Suddenly there was no gatekeeper, meaning that as long as the content was good, there was an audience for anything. The modern market is so expansive that there’s a series for nearly every interest.

“There’s a place for The Dark Knight and there’s a place for the 1960s ‘biff-pow’ Batman,” Welsh says, referring to the onomatopoetic bubbles in a comic strip.

A cursory search for “comics” or any related terms on Tumblr yields a plethora of results, from original work to fan art of popular characters. Andrea Gilroy mentions artists such as Kazu Kibuishi, who writes the Amulet series; Faith Erin Hicks, the woman behind Demonology 101; and Natalie Nourigat, whose work has been published by the likes of Penguin Books and Dark Horse.

“They got their following—got their fan base—from the Internet,” Gilroy says.

Dark Horse is one of the places where Welsh hopes he ends up after the collaboration is published. When he approached the publisher about working as an artist, he was told he needed to prove himself with published clips. When he began to plot out the project in earnest, Welsh realized the undertaking was beyond his talents alone and set out to assemble a team.

His strength lay in drawing, so Welsh posted an ad on Craigslist in search of collaborators. That’s how he found Nichols—the story guy—and Vince Jordan, who’s in charge of dialogue for the book.

The three meet and talk shop every Thursday morning. They lay out Welsh’s sketches and discuss the story’s progression, overall plot, and recount any new developments that may be foreshadowed.

“He’s got kind of a Pandora’s Box sort of thing going,” Welsh says as he points to one panel where a character unwittingly releases the aforementioned deformed humanoids.

A few weeks after that meeting, Welsh scans his sketches and they’re ready to be traced in Photoshop with darker, bolder lines before they can be colored digitally, a process still known as “inking.” Jordan sits in a recliner in the Welshes’ living room, meticulously running a digital pen over a tablet as the lines magically appear on the MacBook in front of him. In addition to his role as the dialogue guy, Jordan’s also getting some experience in the production side of things.

“I’m a slave to the lines,” he says, his brow furrowed as he follows the strokes he produces on the screen.

1)	In the beginning stages of his comic book project, artist Mason Welsh met with writer Ray Nichols at a Burger King in Oregon to discuss the storyline. (Julia Reihs/FLUX)

In the beginning stages of his comic book project, Welsh met with writer Ray Nichols at a Burger King in Oregon to discuss the comic's storyline. (Julia Reihs/FLUX)

Although the process is tedious at times, the end result is well worth it. In fact, Jordan, Welsh, and their fellow collaborators are often lost in their projects while time passes around them.

“Oh, right! I’m still in a body. I’ve still got to feed myself,” Jordan says when he remembers it’s been a while since his last meal.

Although the project has a dedicated “tracer” and “inker,” Jordan is doing it on his own to gain more experience in the craft. And for Welsh, that’s part of what makes the project special: it’s a learning experience for everyone.

Like so many artists before him, Welsh’s work has been inspired by the myths and stories he grew up with. One such influence is the Bible. Welsh says the beasts in his story are descendants of Cain, the elder son of Adam and Eve who slaughtered his brother Abel in vain.

Welsh’s goal in presenting his story is to keep some of it rooted in reality, even if it seems fantastical at times. “We don’t know half as much as we think we do,” Welsh says. “I’m far from a skeptic.”

With a team of writers, inkers, colorists, and letterers, Welsh can focus on the part of comic book creation he loves best: pencil sketches. He creates the first visuals of characters and settings to be colored, inked, and finalized throughout the process by other members of his team.

With a team of writers, inkers, colorists, and letterers, Welsh can focus on the part of comic book creation he loves best: pencil sketches. He creates the first visuals of characters and settings to be colored, inked, and finalized throughout the process by other members of his team. (Julia Reihs/FLUX)

It’s not just movies and books that inspire him. Some of Welsh’s characters are loosely based on people he’s met in real life. Often those characters will take on lives of their own, hardly resembling their real-world counterparts when it’s all said and done, but that doesn’t mean Welsh’s friends and family forget about the characters they consider theirs.

“My wife’s still like, ‘Is that my character? Is that her?’” he says. “She’s not as interested in comics as I am, but bless her heart she’s trying to be.”

Even though Welsh knows he and his team have made great strides toward creating their book, they’re still trying to break into a risky industry.

“You could end up doing The Avengers or you could end up in the quarter bin at the dollar store,” he says.

But at the end of the day what’s important is that Welsh is doing what he loves. He’s tried other lines of work but what keeps him happy is knowing he’s being creative.

“I keep ending up on the path of art,” he says.

No Ordinary “Retreet”

[deck]A treetop resort in Takilma, Oregon offers an unconventional place for rest and relaxation.[/deck]

 The Treeroom Schoolhouse Suite is one of the bigger treehouses at the Out 'n' About Treehouse Treesort . It is not located up in a tree but was hand-built with trees from the property. Its big open windows face the swimming pool, the volleyball court, and, across the acre of grass, Garnier's home. The Suite features a master bedroom, a double futon, and a loft space. In addition it has a kitchen and a full bathroom.

The Treeroom Schoolhouse Suite is one of the bigger treehouses at the Out 'n' About Treehouse Treesort . It is not located up in a tree but was hand-built with trees from the property. Its big open windows face the swimming pool, the volleyball court, and, across the acre of grass, Garnier's home. The Suite features a master bedroom, a double futon, and a loft space. In addition it has a kitchen and a full bathroom.

At the foot of the Siskiyou Mountains, perched in spaces more appropriately occupied by birds’ nests, eighteen cozy, wood-crafted treehouses rest soundly on the branches of conifers.

Tucked between two sturdy limbs, fifteen feet above the ground, a couple emerges from a quaint hideaway. Eager, they descend from their arbor home away from home. The rickety suspension bridge connecting some of the treehouses creaks with each step they take until they reach ground level, making their way toward the canopy zipline course to conquer their mutual fear of heights.

As a child, Michael Garnier never had a treehouse in his backyard. The same cannot be said for his children. More than twenty years ago, Garnier turned his childhood dream of owning a Swiss Family Robinson-inspired estate into reality and converted his land near Takilma, Oregon, where California meets Oregon, into one of Oregon’s most controversial and talked about properties. Today, Garnier’s company Out’n’About Treehouse Treesort has the world’s highest concentration of treehouses per square mile, according to

Out’n’About wasn’t always a treehouse resort. Originally, it was a bed and breakfast operating out of a single cabin. To Garnier’s dismay, the conventional bed and breakfast never caught on. It was then he realized that in order to succeed in the hospitality industry he would need try something different. He decided to capture the market for young at heart adults and elevated his bed and breakfast with treehouses.

“Everybody thought I was crazy, but I built it, people started coming, and my money came back to me,” says Garnier.

The main lodge sits in the heart of the treehouses. There is a room in the main lodge, a kitchen, and a lounge area. There guests

The main lodge sits in the heart of the treehouses. There is a room in the main lodge, a kitchen, and a lounge area. There guests can see what activities are avilable that day.

Drawing from his engineering education and passion for nature, Garnier constructed the Peacock Perch, his first treehouse, in the summer of 1990. Expansion followed quickly and Garnier found himself building about one treehouse per year to satisfy high demand. But his success drew an equal amount of criticism.

Garnier has encountered his fair share of adversity building and managing his treehouse complex during his twenty-year career. His fight with the Josephine County Planning Department is one of legendary proportions. For more than ten years, Garnier has battled Josephine County for the right to run his business. At times, the tense conflict between the two parties has resulted in name-calling. Garnier refers to the three Josephine County Commissioners who repeatedly denied his application for a building permit—as the “Tree Stooges.” Due to what Garnier refers to as, “legaliTrees,” a Cease-and-Desist order, and difficulties obtaining permits for development, Garnier’s concept almost never got off the ground.

Shortly after opening his Treesort to the public, the Josephine County Planning Department threatened to tear down Garnier’s treehouses due to potential safety risks and Garnier’s failure to acquire the proper permits. He was faced with a choice: stop renting his treehouses to guests or get rid of them.

While Garnier wished to continue running his unique business, he was also determined to prove the fortitude of his patented treehouse construction tool, the “Garnier Limb,” a bolt capable of supporting up to eight thousand pounds. The tool was designed by Garnier and engineer Charles Greenwood after seeking a stronger bolt at the first World Treehouse Conference, hosted at Out’n’About in 1997.

The treesort was confident it had discovered the key to sustainable treehouse engineering, but needed a way to prove its treehouses were up to code.

Michael Garnier, the owner and founder of the Out'n'About Treehouse Treesort, has expended the treesort to include 18 treehouses.

Michael Garnier, the owner and founder of the Out'n'About Treehouse Treesort, has expended the treesort to include 18 treehouses.

After receiving the devastating news from the “Tree Stooges,” Out’n’About employees then rounded up supporters, hosted a treetop party, and made a statement. Guests included sixty-six people, two dogs, and one cat—weighed in at a total of 10,847 pounds. County Commissioners were not impressed and insisted on toppling the Treesort.

Rather than give up, Garnier found a different way around the Josephine County restrictions by exploiting a loophole in the county laws. Josephine County strictly forbids profiting off non-permitted structures, but the law says nothing about offering a friend a free place to stay.

“Kids have treehouses across the state and [officials] don’t order them to tear them down,” Garnier says. “Technically, the only guests that could stay had to be my friends and I wasn’t allowed to charge as if I were a hotel.”

In the years of the dispute between 1990 and 1998, Garnier instituted a new rule for renting rooms. Guests first had to become Garnier’s friends or, as he dubbed them, “Treemusketeers” by reciting a pledge, before venturing into the canopy: “I pledge to do all my power to help protect treehouses and trees. So it’s all for trees and trees for all.” Likewise, in order to continue making a profit, Out’n’About began selling “Treeshirts,” to overnight guests in lieu of payment, beginning in 1994. For between sixty and eighty dollars, guests received a place to sleep as well as a custom-made “Treeshirt,” signed by Garnier himself. According to the Out’n’About’s website, “While the county may be able to stop [Garnier] from renting the Treehouses, he can “still sell shirts . . . they’re just gonna cost a lot more.” As far as the local government legally knew, guests at Out’n’About were Garnier’s friends and the only thing they were paying for was an expensive shirt.

For many years, the Treesort continued to operate under this scheme, until, with the help of Greenwood, Garnier was able to bring five of his treehouses up to legal code. In 1998, County inspectors confirmed the structural integrity of Out’n’About’s treehouses, providing Garnier with the means to obtain the proper permits. After an almost nine-year struggle with Josephine County and the “Tree Stooges,” the dueling forces had seemingly settled their differences.

But Out’n’About’s truce with the local government did not last long. In 2008, a couple staying at the Treesort fell from a broken handrail on the property. Garnier estimates the couple fell approximately seven feet, but documents from the lawsuit filed by the couple following the accident claim they fell fifteen feet from one of Garnier’s treehouses. The couple’s lawsuit sought compensation for injuries to their spines, wrists, brains, and ribs, as well as for emotional distress.

Garnier says the plaintiffs were “horsing around” and caused the rail to break. However, in an ironic turn of events, the County Commissioners that previously denied Garnier’s applications for building permits were the ones held responsible for the accident. Because his property is located on what the County considers resource land, Commissioners are legally permitted to only allowing five structures to function under permits due to restrictions, Garnier doesn’t qualify for non-consumptive use of resource property because he shares his land with a forest that doesn’t belong to him.

According to documents from the lawsuit, the prosecution argued that County Commissioners failed to conduct a complete inspection of the Treesort, disregarded policy by failing to insist on the removal of non-permitted structures, and did not account for guests’ absolute safety. Brought into question throughout the debacle was whether the County Commissioners, who provided the Treesort with five permits, were aware that Garnier had indeed expanded to more than five treehouses. The official court report stated, “The plaintiffs argue the County knew of Treesort code violations because of numerous Health Department inspections.”

The county, plaintiffs, and Garnier scuffled over who was at fault for the accident, but ultimately the case was settled in 2011. Legally, it was the County’s responsibility to enforce their permit policies, yet according to court documents, the County Commissioners failed to monitor whether Garnier was renting more treehouses than the five he technically had protected by permits. The couple were awarded $1.2 million from Josephine County due to a faulty inspection led by the Treesort’s long-time nemeses, the “Tree Stooges.”

Suspension bridges connect treehouse to treehouse at Garnier's Treesort. There is only one stairwell that visitors and employees can ascend into the trees. Each treehouse is suspended in the air.

Suspension bridges connect treehouse to treehouse at Garnier's Treesort. There is only one stairwell that visitors and employees can ascend into the trees. Each treehouse is suspended in the air.

Since the lawsuit, things have settled down at Out’n’About. Of course, the novelty bed and breakfast must be more cautious than before. Maintenance is a bigger priority and Garnier instructs his staff on the importance of routinely performing inspections on each treehouse. Guests are also required to sign a waiver before climbing into the treehouses, which clearly states the Treesort cannot be subject to the “legaliTrees” that have tormented them in the past.

“Hopefully people are smart enough not to be screwing around in high places,” Garnier says.

Thanks to promotion by the Travel Channel, People Magazine, and local and national print coverage, Out’n’About has made a name for itself as one of the Pacific Northwest’s top boutique hotels.

Today the Treesort offers eighteen different treehouses, an extensive canopy zipline course, a “Tarzan” swing, a fresh water swimming pool, horseback rides, full breakfast, and a Treehouse Institute, where guests learn the engineering involved in treehouse construction. Unlike the traditional children’s treehouse, many of Out’n’About’s treehouses have functional plumbing so guests can stay clean while sleeping in the forest canopy. Garnier thinks of his Treesort as a glorified camper’s paradise.

Loincloths are optional, but one must possess a Tarzan-like enthusiasm for nature to enjoy sleeping at this Treesort.

“This place is not the Ramada Inn,” says Garnier. “It’s one of the most comfortable places in the world to stay in a tree, but it’s not the pluff and fluff you’d get at an ordinary hotel.”

Customer service is also a priority to Garnier and his staff. In fact, overnight visitors are required to stay more than one night in the summer season because the Treesort wants to instill a sense of community and camaraderie among those who stay there.

“When you stay at an average motel you don’t typically meet anybody,” Garnier says. “It’s a lot more personal here and people become friends through their common interests.”

Despite only having five of the required eighteen total permits for his treehouses, Garnier continues to manage his Treesort and has no plans to stop expanding.

Unless Josephine County takes any further action to clear-cut Garnier’s concept, Out’n’About will remain a popular place where tree-huggers and thrill-seekers converge. “This whole place is kind of an experiment in the symbiotics between trees, people, and houses,” says Garnier. “These treehouses are for kids of all ages and you don’t have to be young to enjoy [them].”

Garnier (right) and Frank Graves (left) have been working with each other at Garnier's Treesort for the past 6 years. Six years ago Frank Graves came as a guest and never left.

Frank Graves (left) and Garnier (right) have been working with each other at Garnier's Treesort for the past 6 years. Six years ago Frank Graves came as a guest and never left.

From Coast to Incorporated

[deck]A music maverick journeys from New York City to the Oregon coast to find his own wings in a beach-front music studio.[/deck]

Robson (left) gives Smith (top right) several pointers on adjusting the recording off of Smith's debut album in his studio at Kiwanda Sound Recordings. (Mason Trinca/FLUX)

On its face, Colin Robson’s Pacific City bungalow is unassuming. Outside, an etched wooden plaque reads “Ruby’s Beach House,” named after his grandmother, who owned the home and kept it in the family. An excitable German Shepherd-Husky mix named Lacey greets visitors at the door. Pictures of an Oregon icon—Haystack Rock—hang on the wall near the spiral staircase, and a cassette version of the Bible rests dust-covered in the bookcase. The smell of wood paneling and sea spray saturate the room.

As 26-year-old Robson winds through the house, he seems out of place among the nautical-themed furnishings. His amps stand next to the fireplace, sandy Clark boots by the front door. Robson has blended his personality into a house he clearly didn’t decorate.

On the refrigerator is a short prompt. “On?” it asks Robson, reminiscent of the days when he recorded music in the living room and needed a reminder to disable the constant refrigerator hum. Both his memory and his studio set-up have improved since then.

Make a left past the front door and visitors will encounter a chalkboard wall filled with words and illustrations welcoming them to Kiwanda Sound Recordings (KSR). The studio walls are lined with boxy soundboards, original paintings, and bookshelves filled with novels such a Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 to Terry Richardson’s Terryworld. Just past two soundproof sliding glass doors, a microphone perches near the ceiling of the back room.

As of December 2012, Robson completed the transformation of his grandmother’s beach house into Kiwanda Sound Recordings, the music studio Robson owns with friend and business partner Andrew Russell.

Owning a recording studio was the pair’s dream for years. Having played music together for almost a decade, the musicians started the studio project not long after Robson arrived on the west coast in June of 2011 while Russell was still living in Baltimore, Maryland. 3,000 miles of land and ocean didn’t keep the two men from making music together to support themselves financially. The experience drove Robson and Russell to form an LLC.

Robson listens to one of Smith's song using his iPhone as Slater sings along with the tunes to practice for the filming of his music video. (Mason Trinca/FLUX)

Before finding peace in Oregon, Robson attempted music school in Michigan and an economics degree in New York City. He entered the corporate music business for a year as an assistant at 23 Omnimedia, INC., a consulting business for entertainment brands, but decided that route wasn’t for him after all. After leaving his job, he joined the hard-core “screamo” band Glorious Veins, playing backup guitar.

But the songs weren’t his. The band wasn’t his. Robson felt his creativity slipping away.

“I didn’t feel like I was doing myself or my career any justice by just floundering,” Robson says.

On the back of his right arm a tattoo of the Oregon state motto cautions him to never let that happen again: “Alis volat propriis”—translated from Latin to mean “She flies with her own wings.” The words keep him centered.

Robson loads his van with filming gear for Smith's first music video shooting near the beaches of Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City. (Mason Trinca/Flux)

After Robson rigged a fifteen-passenger van spotted with bumper stickers to run on vegetable oil, he ventured from New York to Pacific City, Oregon, using stolen oil in the dead of night from fast food restaurants to fuel his trip.

Although he arrived at his grandmother’s house in June 2011, he didn’t begin studio construction in earnest until the following spring, after launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project. Even with donations money remained tight, so Robson handled most of the labor himself. From dawn until dusk every day for almost a year, Robson toiled away on the studio until it stood ready for use this past winter.

With the studio complete, Robson experienced a sense of ownership that didn’t exist in New York City.

“It’s a lasting studio,” Robson says. “I’ll have it for the rest of my life. Whether or not I’m anywhere else in the world, this place will still exist and it will still be mine.”

Building the studio would later lead Robson to meet Slater Smith, a young musician who had just recorded a demo EP during open mic night, an event Robson was running at The Ore House in Pacific City.

Robson liked Smith’s folksy sound and mentioned his recording studio endeavor. Smith wasn’t yet ready to produce an album, but the two became friends. A year later, Robson built Kiwanda Sound Recordings, and Smith, who performs under the title The Weather Machine, decided it was time to make a full record.

“I just had a ton of songs that I’d written on acoustic guitar that I wanted to translate and build into a band,” Smith says.

There’s no technical name for the kind of music Smith plays, but he and Robson have come up with a way to describe it.

“It’s like if The Strokes played folk music, or if Josh Ritter and the Killers had a love child,” Smith says through a laugh.

Robson and Smith follow a path in Bob Strauber State Park near Pacific City to film a quiet setting for a scene in Smith's music video. (Mason Trinca/FLUX)

Giving acoustic songs a full-band sound means layering instrumental and vocal recordings until the songs fill out with robust harmonics. The process of building each song takes anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.

“[Robson and I are] both really perfectionists but kind of in different ways,” Smith says. “So we have this interesting working relationship where it’s this really productive game of tug-of-war.”

While such a strong collaboration is partly due to Smith and Robson’s friendship, Robson believes similar relationships are possible with anyone recording at KSR.

“I think that musicians in general have a connection already,” Robson says. “The friendship thing doesn’t necessarily matter when you’re in the moment or when you’re in the songwriting process. If they’re good and I’m good, and we’re all being good together, then it’ll be more awesome.”

On a Saturday afternoon this January, Robson returns to Leviathans Get Lonely, a song that had been put on the back burner for two weeks while they worked on other tracks.

“The last time we worked on it, I think we were exhausted,” Smith says. “So in our brains, this song sucked.”

Originally, both Smith and Robson were worried Leviathans wouldn’t make an impact on the record. The song lacked an element that distinguished it from the rest of the album, but they didn’t know what it was.

After revisiting the track, however, a completely different mood fills the studio. They add electric guitar and bass, and run Smith’s vocals through a guitar amp to give it a megaphone effect.

“I think this song’s pretty good,” Robson says, surprised at the outcome.

Smith’s voice, warm and rough permeates the room. His lyrics are both protest and a declaration of love. He leans over his guitar, shaggy brown hair falling just above his eyes.

“‘Cause we’ll be old and in debt
So we’ll take all that we can get.
They got a nickel each time I hear a heartbeat.

But my heart’s a bit preoccupied
With looks you get from other guys
Reminds me to keep yellin’ from that heart!”

When the recording’s complete, Robson and Smith enjoy their creation over laughter. They’ve made something good today, something that didn’t exist before, and they know it.

“[Pacific City has] always been that place of rest for me, just away from any sort of distractions,” Robson says. “Coming out here and being able to have quiet and have the time with your thoughts to really sort through where you want to be, I think that’s a really important thing.”

Robson is still reveling at his newly-built studio and the work he’s producing with Smith, KSR’s first client. After the release of Smith’s record in April, Robson will resume searching for local talent. But as word spreads, he wants KSR to be a destination studio, one that artists can journey to whether they live in Portland or New York City.

“You can come here as an escape from the norm,” Robson says. “We have the beach. If you need to clear your mind you can just go out there, just walk out and breathe free.”

The Oregon coast has a purifying effect that big city music hubs lack. For musicians needing peace to fuel their creativity, Kiwanda Sound Recordings provides the solution.

Robson took the long route before flying with his own wings in Oregon—he hopes his beach-side creation will help other artists find themselves here, too.

Robson looks off in the distance in front of Cap Rock near the beaches of Cape Kiwanda. (Mason Trinca/FLUX)

Geoffrey Bergold. Photo taken in studio.

In His (Dance) Shoes

In October 2012 we published a multimedia story about Bergold to our website. You can view it here.

Geoffrey Bergold. Photo taken in studio.

Geoffrey Bergold. Photo taken in studio.

Gasping for air as drops of sweat drizzle down his neck onto his grey, cut-off tank top, Geoffrey Bergold carries his winded body out of the dance studio and into the hallway. After a brief water break, Bergold stretches his hands above his head as he reenters the studio, preparing for the same exhaustion he felt only moments ago.

Bergold has become accustomed to this weary feeling. During his off-season from the Eugene Ballet Company, he returns home to wait tables at upscale restaurants in New York City, endlessly working odd hours throughout the day and night.

In Eugene, Bergold works harder for a smaller paycheck, but it’s worth it if it means he’ll continue to dance for a living.

“The financial aspect of it doesn’t really upset me as much because I’m just so grateful to be doing what I am doing,” says Bergold. “It’s sort of black and white.”

Growing up in Dunellen, New Jersey, Bergold was involved in musical theater and occasionally took dance classes.

“I’ve always been artistic and I’ve always felt the need to move my body and express myself,” he says. During his brief college career, Bergold majored in dance after he realized that to be successful he was going to need to focus on ballet.

Bergold flies through the air during practice at the Eugene Ballet Company studio.

Bergold flies through the air during practice at the Eugene Ballet Company studio.

He then enrolled in the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carisle, Pennsylvania. Bergold was significantly older than his fellow dancers, putting pressure on him to prove himself.

“This school was the most intense thing I ever witnessed,” Bergold says. “When I went, it was like an army of kids and teens who all moved as one. I never had seen anything like it before.” Without the intensity and rigor of the training he was able to receive in Pennsylvania, he says he never would have had a career in ballet.

Following his training at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Bergold confidently returned home and began dancing as an apprentice at the New Jersey Ballet.  There, he received coaching from Marina Bogdanova, who inevitably changed his life.

“One of the main reasons I’ve moved forward with my ballet career was due to her,” Bergold. “She just really saved me.”

Through Bogdanova, Bergold realized how the endless exertion that he put into his practice was consequently resulting in the unexplainable feeling of accomplishment he felt on stage.

“That’s why I love performing; it’s the hard work that goes into it,” says Bergold “Being on stage and the energy and adrenaline that you get from that, it’s the cherry on top.”

Geoffrey Bergold. Photo taken in studio.

Geoffrey Bergold. Photo taken in studio.

During the weekends, Bergold would travel to nearby New York City and attend company auditions. He was soon familiarized with the audition routine and began attending one almost every weekend.

On one such weekend, after forgetting to register for an audition with a larger and well-known company, Bergold decided to stay home and sleep in instead of traveling into the city. Lucky for Bergold, his friends notified him about an audition with the Eugene Ballet Company that same morning. “It was 9 a.m. and the audition was at eleven,” says Bergold. “I was lying in bed for fifteen minutes and then I decided to just get up and go. The worst that could happen is that they [would] say no,” he says.

Two days later, Bergold received an e-mail congratulating him on his acceptance into the company. Six months later, he packed his bags and contemplated trading in his suede sneakers for Teva sandals. He and his ballet shoes were moving to the Northwest, and nothing could stop them. Once in Oregon, he was astounded by the state’s natural beauty. Oregon’s tolerant, easy-going culture created a few surprises for Bergold as well.

“I was also in shock to see a man dressed as a wizard walking down the street and a man wearing fairy wings,” Bergold says.

Despite this initial culture shock, adjusting to his new job as a core member of the company was his primary concern. Beginning his professional career at the age of 25, several years older than most, was both intimidating and nerve-racking.

“I felt great pressure to prove myself. I’m not the best under pressure and I felt like I was working against myself in a way,” he says.

Often going to the gym prior to ballet class at 8 a.m., Bergold’s workday is long. Ballet class runs Monday through Friday for an hour and thirty minutes in the morning, followed by a fifteen-minute break. Rehearsals begin promptly at 9:45 and usually last until 4:00 p.m., depending on the upcoming performance. Weekends often consist of touring throughout Oregon and Washington, resting his body, and maintaining a social life.

Despite the pressures he experiences as a dancer, Bergold is confident Eugene is the perfect environment for his type of work.

“There is something so beautiful about the way of life here, so calm and effortless and peaceful,” Bergold says. “You can really find a sense of self.”

Bergold admits that most professional ballet dancers are not paid enough. Fortunately, he has developed a lifestyle in Eugene that doesn’t require a hefty paycheck.

When Bergold compares himself to some of his friends earning considerable salaries at corporate jobs on the east coast, jealousy is not an issue.

“Artists are invaluable to society,” Bergold says.

Bergold works hard at applying his conscientious work ethic he acquired on the east coast to his career with the Eugene Ballet Company.

“One of the great challenges of dance is how can I make this work on my body and how can I bring this to the stage and sort of make it look effortless and look so beautiful and easy,” he says.

Approaching the age of twenty-seven, Bergold recognizes that his career is nearing retirement. Rather than focusing on his future after Eugene Ballet Company, Bergold plans to exude all of his energy on bettering his dancing ability.

“Preparing myself is one thing, but planning for the future, plotting my future, saying ‘This is what I’m going to do,’ is not the way to approach it,” he says.

Almost three thousand miles away from his house in New Jersey, Bergold catches his breath and prepares to join his fellow dancers in the middle of the studio. A smile gradually forms underneath the sweat dripping down his face. His persistence and dedication to ballet over the years has paid off.

This is home.

Scott Wannberg: The Poet Laureate of Facebook

[deck]Social media kept poet Scott Wannberg alive in the hearts of friends, even long after his death.[/deck]

This story was published on August 19, 2012, one year after Wannberg’s passing.

“Strange movie full of death / asks us to play ourselves / as the front door falls face first / onto the floor.”
-Scott Wannberg, Strange Movie Full of Death

[cap]T[/cap]ake out a matchbook and strike a match. Set fire to a candle. Watch the flame coming off of the wick and let it represent all of the intensities and passions of human life.

It burns and burns until suddenly the fire runs out, just as life runs out. The only thing that remains is the wisp of smoke in the air. Sometimes, the candle burns out far too quickly and we simply aren’t ready. All we can do is recant on all of the places that the light has touched.

Scott Wannberg is someone whose light was his passion, and his passion was his poetry. His fire was his word, and kept him alive. His unique poetic style had an unusual wordiness that inspired many. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, poet friend Rip Rense said Wannberg sang with a voice most comparable to a “stream-of-consciousness kind of Chick Hearn-meets-Charles Bukowski”. His tender perspective on the world highlighted his life. Wannberg was able to influence every single soul he met in some way—my own included.

Day in and day out he woke up and taught the universe to dig the power of the word. It was just one month before I moved to Oregon in September of 2011 for school that we were supposed to meet in person for the first time.

By then, it was too late. Wannberg’s candle had flickered out.

“Had he come along in the ’50s, with Kerouac and Corso and all those guys, he would be a legend today,” Rense said in an interview with The Washington Times shortly after Wannberg’s passing. “Maybe he still will be.”

Wannberg’s impact made him a central character in his unique Los Angeles environment, where he eventually became friends with individuals such as Viggo Mortensen (who published two of Wannberg’s books, including Strange Movie Full of Death and the posthumous release of Tomorrow Is Another Song), Randy Newman, actor Ed Harris, musicians Peter Case and Suzanne Vega, and even actor Dustin Hoffman.

Wannberg made many of these connections while working at Dutton’s Books as a clerk and book salesman. One frequent patron of Dutton’s was film director David O. Russell, who even wrote Wannberg a part in I <3 Huckabee’s. In the late 1990s, Los Angeles Magazine named Wannberg one of the ‘Top 100 Coolest People In The City.”

The Carma Bums in 1991 during their Start From Zero Secret Tour of Words. From left to right (back, standing): Doug Knott, Mike M. Mollett, Scott Wannberg, Bobbo Staron. From left to right (front, kneeling): Michael Bruner, S.A. Griffin. Photo by Jay Green.

He made other connections on the road when he traveled the West Coast to perform poetry with The Carma Bums, whose work can be best explained in this video by poet friend S.A. Griffin, which features Wannberg. Together, he and the poetry group traveled as far north as Vancouver and as far east as Atlanta. For them, poetry was not a profession, but a lifestyle. Favorite gigs included highlights like a trip to Big Sur, in which the Carma Bums played the redwood forest at the Henry Miller Library. Wannberg and company frequented diners and bookstores across America, getting kicked out of hotels and sleeping on floors for almost twenty years.

By 2009, however, things began to slow down due to logistics and the cumbersome cost of living. Just like that, their road trips ended and the group dispersed across the country.

After concluding his poetry tour, Wannberg’s health deteriorated. He was permanently attachment to an oxygen tank, making travel difficult. In 2001, his mother died. The following year, Wannberg watched his father, and housemate of thirty years, slowly begin to die as well.

Wannberg’s sleeping patterns turned irregular and disruptive, leading him to break his foot while sleepwalking. When a doctor recommended surgery to fix his foot, he agreed, but an unforeseen viral infection from the procedure kept him inactive. It took Wannberg several months to recover, even spending five weeks in 2006 at a nursing home in Santa Monica where he developed a lifelong staph infection. Anxiety caused him to compulsively overeat, and he gained 100 pounds on top of his already 300-pound frame.

He had lost his rhythm. He needed to do something to get it back.

[cap]A[/cap]fter much deliberation, Wannberg had decided to escape to Florence, Oregon in 2008, where he had family he could stay with.

On the advice of friend S.A. Griffin, Wannberg began to write poetry again. This time he had a new place to publish his work: Facebook. With a limited physical capacity and nothing but time to kill, Wannberg began to network on the social site. As Facebook took off in popularity, so did he.

“(Facebook) didn’t save his life by any stretch—don’t I wish—but it more than likely did help to keep him alive just a bit longer, for which many of us are eternally grateful,” says Griffin.

For many, this is where their story with Wannberg began. Through social media, he gathered a devoted group of over 4,000 fans and followers. To a number of them, Wannberg became a mentor.

Wannberg posing with Lorraine Perrotta on February 20, 1997 during his 44th birthday party in Los Feliz. Photo by S.A. Griffin.

Vickie Trancho, an assemblage artist and close friend of Wannberg, found him on Facebook after discovering his poetry online, and first met him in person in November of 2009.

He loved the fact that young people asked his advice,” Trancho says. “He wanted mentoring to be an important part of his legacy. If he could encourage anyone, young or not so young, he did, but his hope for the future is their generation.”

Trancho was not alone. Natalie Case, daughter of Los Angeles musician Peter Case, was equally inspired. “He gave me tips for live reading when I was nervous once. I felt so much warmer having that advice and those kind words with me,” Case says. “It was fantastic for me as a growing writer to have Scott there to talk to, about my writing and his writing and just about whatever was going on in both of our lives.”

In my own life, Wannberg was a burly, mythical figure who existed in mountainous pastoral Oregon. In my mind, he was as eternal as the stars. He found me online some time in 2009 and sent me a friend request after noting that he had been friends with my old English teacher. Shortly after our friendship began, he became my own de-facto poetic mentor.

Although  I never even had the opportunity to meet him in person, I truly believe that Wannberg was a prophet walking among us. To me, he felt three feet taller than any other living creature . . . and three light-years wiser.

While many people criticize social media for breeding isolation and loneliness, Wannberg surpassed all of that and exposed the initial intention of these platforms: to bring us together.

Solace indeed is a good room to hang your clothes up in . . .  and your human reaction just helps me to keep tapping my head’s feet that much more,” Wannberg wrote to me in November of 2009. “Thanks beyond thanks . . . what I’ve read of yours has as well sung to me.”

Our final conversations were about my college plans. “Oregon awaits with large open arms and tunes,” Wannberg wrote. “Am I like grinning that you’ll be matriculating like maybe 75 miles away from me here . . . amazing.”

[cap]I[/cap] remember the day that Wannberg left us.

He gave and gave to everyone that came to him for advice or help. He danced and sang and wrote and delighted and was delighted himself. He wrote to the rhythm of music and created pictures with his words. I never thought anything would be different, until one day I woke up and he didn’t. In August of 2011, at 58 years old, Wannberg died of natural causes related to his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Everyone dies.

I can tell myself this half a million times. But how do we desensitize ourselves to the fact that the fire runs out for everyone? How do we accept it and move on with what lives we have right now?

Wannberg taught me many things. He taught me to be true, to be sensitive, to inspire. He told me to make art until the fire burns out, to learn to love the road and appreciate the “smell of the nice coffee breeze going by in the unilateral moment of music that we are all made of.” Above all else, he harnessed this transcendent spiritual mumbo-jumbo. He understood art and the importance of poetry to himself and to others.

“Lots of empathetic folks came to me when the readings were over and told me it meant much to them,” Wannberg once told me, referring to a reading he did about his mother’s death. “Sometimes poetry does seemingly matter.”

Wannberg’s fire may have flickered out, but memories of the places that his light touched are powerful enough to illuminate cities.  The way he taught countless souls to dig the power of the word is immense, even if much of it took place online.

“Even today, people post on his Facebook wall often,” says Trancho. “He is missed by many. He is remembered by many. Facebook seems very quiet these days.”