There is, I suppose, a Heraclitian aspect to our film because nothing is fixed in the outback. The petroglyphs weather and the granite grows its rinds of colorful lichen, the courses of creeks and rivers change in drought or in flood, wildfire scorches the sage and forests alike. The horses and cattle most certainly change, and so too do the people change, adapting to time and circumstance to meet the challenges of the wider cultural evolution, markets, and technology.
Yesterday, due to the on-going calamity of representational government known as the State of Oregon, I was forced to drive six hours – round trip – to renew my driver’s license. This was because only about half of the very expensive government apparatus of this state is actually working in their offices at any one time, and also because the long-promised on-line renewal program is not on-line and no one seems to know when it might actually be on-line. By contrast, information about the next planned fire-bombing of the Federal building in Portland is readily available on the internet
In this brave new age, when we are daily assaulted by the aching sanctimonies of The Church of the Holy Woke and the militant orders of the School of Point and Screech, those of us who value liberty over lemmings are faced with some navigational challenges. These are both physical and intellectual. Avoiding the purity tribunals that dot the landscape like Taliban roadblocks has perhaps never been so difficult in our country, which seems largely to have shunned any remaining bias for either reasoned debate or the freedom of ideas.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to spend most of my time this last year unmasked and unashamed, chasing cows and filming The Len Babb Movie Project. We’ve managed to visit seven states and can hours of film we will soon start editing into a rough cut of the film. That work has created great new friendships, a deeper understanding of my own convictions, and a salve for the slings and arrows of life in a nation apparently hell bent on a life of cutting, burning, and any number of the sundry indicators of self-harm.
I’ve been trying to figure out how it is I will navigate the asteroid belts of the Imaginarium – dodging the tumbling balls of frozen wokeness, the careening boulders of political duplicity and outright stupidity. In that process I’ve come to realize that in order to survive these hazards, and to pilot my family through them into what will certainly be some kind of mincing, fragile, and thoroughly deconstructed American future influenced, if not controlled, by the Chinese Communist Party, I must adopt at least some and maybe all of the mindset of the Star Wars smuggler and anti-hero Han Solo.
While filming the Len Babb Movie Project – we are eight months into this endeavor and making tremendous progress – cinematographer Sam Pyke and I have covered thousands of miles, visited six states, and interviewed some truly incredible Americans.
A few miles south of La Pine, Oregon, highway 97 offers travelers the opportunity to turn hard east onto highway 31. At this sudden intersection in the ponderosas – it is easily missed – there is a small sign welcoming motorists to the Oregon Outback Scenic Byway. It’s a pleasant enough sign, adorned with a silhouetted coyote yipping at the rising sun, and seems appropriate in its understatement if only to remind people that the entire world is not made of concrete, steel, and inter-personal friction.
Last week, while most of Big America was flailing about in a toxic stew of mind-numbing polemics, Murphy Ranch buckaroo Tyler Mecham was following wolf tracks up Dairy Creek. Tyler is 19 years old, 6’3, with Modoc blood in his veins, and as solid a hand as one might hope to find in this rare hidey-hole of genuine Americana.
We were riding up above it all, miles from the Murphy’s cow camp at South Flat in blowdown timber, when I saw the zucchinis. I can maybe be forgiven some momentary confusion – we’d been riding hard for several hours, chousing cattle out of some dangerously tangled alpine country – and I was feeling the fatigue from all of that when I came upon this unlikely pile of vegetables.
I’ll keep it brief because a steaming summer thunderstorm has parked over the top of the Figure 8 and I need to spend some serious time on fire watch. I’d meant to ride my colt this afternoon, and continue roping barrels and tires and tree trunks, but I don’t ride in lightning and that’s that. Blevins from All the Pretty Horses has nothing on me when it comes to a fear of lightning. We’ve dodged two fires already this year — one lightning strike on a tree, and a downed power line nearby that charred an acre or so — which has me kindly nervous when it comes to fire.
It was late June, but there was frost on my bedroll when I woke up in the dark at the Murphy Ranch cow camp on South Flat, about 25 miles up the Chewaucan River from Paisley, Oregon. I was there — along with cinematographer Samuel Pyke – to begin filming The Len Babb Movie Project, which was an idea that flashed into my head two months earlier while riding my colt.
From childhood, when I stood at the end of a long dirt road waiting for the school bus to come grinding through the Honey Lake Valley, and where in spring the irrigation sprinklers created a kind of rhythm-section background to the yip of coyote pups on Bald Mountain, I have been a fan of meadowlarks. The meadowlarks then, as now, were thick in that country, and mornings they trilled in the buckbrush, or on the fenceposts, or on some pungent sprig of sage.