So, I walk into a bar and meet an axe thrower …
This is not the beginning of a joke. It’s a true story. I had spent the day in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge and was having an existential conversation with an artist friend, and I decided I needed a classy glass of iced wine to top off the day. I just happened to pull up a barstool next to John — which may or may not be his real name — who proceeded to fill my head with tall tales that I came to realize were actually true. Clichés exist for a reason because, the rest, as they say, is history …
John moved to The Gorge and began to volunteer for Oregon Search and Rescue in 1993. Fast-forward a decade to the early 2000s, when John and his fellow volunteers discovered Swamp Rat Knives’ indestructible blades and delved into “blade forums,” the online subculture of people that chat about, yes, knives. John began posting photos of his own Swamp Rat Knives with Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier in the background. A man from the forum contacted John and asked if he wanted to get together to throw knives. So they did.
The two men began meeting on Sundays, where the Search and Rescue volunteers would gather to train and practice their navigation and survival skills in the backcountry. Eventually, a knife-centric campout was suggested. As the story goes, the group first assembled in the forest, “with no agenda or adult supervision,” according to John, to shoot guns and throw knives, hatchets and axes. John and company joked about naming themselves, and brainstormed other groups in the animal kingdom — a flock of geese, covey of quail, pack of wolves. Someone tossed out that a group of rats was called a “mischief,” and their name was claimed. They became members of the Great Rat Mischief.
Now, that same group meets every Sunday around noon on John’s 14-acre property. Expansive views of the breathtaking Columbia River are the backdrop for an afternoon of mischief that includes beer drinking, whiskey sipping, all kinds of smoking, and, of course, axe throwing. I don’t know how I landed on that bar stool next to John, the axe-throwing, Search and Rescue conductor of souls, but man, I’m glad I did.
27 years old. Lifelong Gorge resident. Works four days a week doing noxious weed control for the county. Works three days a week for a lodge teaching axe throwing. Only accepted the job at the lodge after they agreed to let him cut the sleeves off his shirt. Spends seven days a week swimming in Blue Hole on the Wind River with his dog, Ganon. Bought his Mom a pellet gun for Christmas. Exudes confidence and coolness and, best of all, he’s single!
27 years old. Lifelong Gorge Resident. Brings his daughter Reagan to axe throwing on Sundays with the guys; rumor among the group is she’s never going to be allowed to date, ever. Splits his time between working for a circuit board company, caring for his precious one-year-old baby girl, and loving his hardworking baby momma, Alanna, who manages a restaurant in The Gorge.
Ageless. Spends his time discovering long-lost spirits and inviting them to his property to throw axes and absorb his sage advice. Enjoys sitting at Osprey Point and feeling grateful for his life. Walks barefoot everywhere and has an unimaginable (and unending) supply of fantastical stories to tell that are all somehow true. Says he’s honored to be in the midst of the humans that find their way to him every Sunday.