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.
This is a very brief post to announce the release of the movie trailer for my passion endeavor: The Len Babb Movie Project. Sam Pyke and I have been hard at work filming, editing, spitballing, desperately seeking coffee in the remotest corners of the American outback, and also having a terrific time meeting new people, hearing new stories, and learning how to make this film.
I’m going to make this quick and perfectly clear — if you find it your calling to come on this site and begin policing it for language you find insensitive, or callous, and feel even further compelled by some messaging of the cosmos to highlight how you “feel” about the use of language here — then you have stumbled on the wrong fire.
I feel extremely fortunate to have escaped much of the Cat 5 Garbage Tornado that is Big America while down in Paisley, Oregon, with videographer Sam Pyke last weekend – where we began filming for the Len Babb Movie Project.
As COVID-19 began hitting urban centers in March and governors began issuing lockdown orders, sheriffs began quelling rumors of checkpoints and mass arrests. “This is not Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia where you are asked for your papers!” wrote Sheriff Scott Nichols of Franklin County, Maine.
On a beautiful November day John Maloney delivered a sweet, brilliant eulogy for his friend Frenchy, voicing the admiration we all felt. Marines shed uncontrollable tears, duty bound to serve in Iraq and resolved to stay tight and honor this sacrifice. My unit prepared for Iraq and an instructor noted one unit that performed better than mine. It was John’s.