Meg and Deb

Meg Vogt is what you would call, with absolutely no hyperbole, a Renaissance woman.

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From her northern Wisconsin childhood, to her days as a video editor in L.A. and a ski bum in Colorado, to her present incarnation as a professional—and semi-famous, at least in the Gulch—dog walker/poet/diver/photographer, Meg has done, seen, and (probably) photographed it all. She and her wife, Deb, have called the Gulch home since 2005, and their cheery yellow house is warm, inviting, and open—a metaphor for the neighborhood itself.

We asked Meg to tell us how she and Deb landed in the Gulch, as well as how she juggles her staggering amount of hobbies and jobs.

 

Deb and I moved to Portland in January 2000 from Durango, where I had a cabin on an acre of land about four minutes from a ski resort. My days as a ski bum had played out and I had already made a feeble attempt at moving to Seattle the year prior. I was curious about the Pacific NW. I was one of those people who thought Oregon was all rich soil, old growth, and rainforest-y lushness.

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We bought our current house in September 2005. It was only the second house we saw, but we immediately fell in love with it. We loved the circular feeling it had and that there were no long hallways; two doors to each room created a real sense of fluidity. The upstairs loft had enormous potential as a creative space, and there were no windows facing directly into any neighbor’s windows.

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Our first post-move-in task was to repaint all the walls and ceilings, since its previous tenants—a rock band—had adorned them with reds and purples and black trim. We always call our honorary Gulch friend, Elisabeth Tschalaer, for even the most basic paint jobs. We had our house insulated and re-sided in 2008. Lifetime Remodeling did an amazing job!  They took great care in hand-carving the arches in the front and were patient and helpful with our choice of color. We originally wanted slate blue, but they recommended against it because that color fades quickly, so we went with our second choice—a muted yellow.

With the inheritance I received after my mom’s passing in 2011, we installed a gas fireplace insert and I bought a piano in memory of her. My family would gather ‘round and sing with her as she played, leaning forward, squinting through her bifocals, cranking out chords from a fat book of Broadway hits—a beautiful memory from those cold, northern Wisconsin winter nights. The last of the inheritance went toward an underwater camera set-up that I bought from our friend, Jeff Powell, who owns Aquatic Sports.

Getting that camera, housing, and strobes was just another example of my typical cart-before-the-horse approach. I knew nothing about photography. I'd used a plastic disposable camera while diving in Hawaii once and it was just crap. I really wanted to show the beauty of what I experienced up close in this vibrant, underwater world.

Visit gembedproductions.photoshelter.com for more of Meg and Deb's images.

Nevertheless, I ran with it, and on a trip to Bonaire and Bali, shot everything I saw in auto mode. I spent another $4K on processing, canvasses, various mounts and frames, and eventually organized a massive show of my work at Costello's. These days, I’m using those canvases and mounts to explore acrylic painting inspired by the aboriginal art we saw on our trip to Australia last year. I’ll be showing some of those pieces at a photo exhibit next month at Vita Cafe on Alberta.

 Neighbor Adrian Brown takes newborn son Miles for his first walk, escorted by their corgis, Sully (named for the Gulch) and Fiona.

Neighbor Adrian Brown takes newborn son Miles for his first walk, escorted by their corgis, Sully (named for the Gulch) and Fiona.

After having seen photos I’d posted online of the Dog Bus outings, friends suggested that I put together a coffee table book. I've dug up old stories about various encounters/challenges that I've had over my dozen years with the pack to include with the photos, too. Once again, I learned the hard way that this “cart before the horse” approach does not serve me well. I cringe rereading the scattered old stories, but I’m excited to explore the art and hard work of writing and revising them. So many to tell!

 

This is what matters.

Tranquility. Peace of mind.

A smile on a dog.

Nobody for miles.

Huge flakes caressing Camp Creek.

Dark roast and a soak.

So the coffee table book is on hold for now while I’m re-writing those stories. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on a book of haikus and accompanying photos called Haiku/Myku. I learned the traditional rules of haiku at a full moon ceremony at the Japanese garden, which are that the first line should identify a season and the last line should contain a surprise element. Those rules have helped me sculpt observations and conversations into a 5-7-5 pattern. Not all the poems in the book follow the haiku formula; thus, the Myku part of the title. I don't see myself as a poet, really, but this form of poetry appeals to my love for music theory—numbers and sculpted expression. I'm about as comfortable calling myself a poet as I am calling myself a writer or photographer, which is to say, not very.

The other book I’m working on is a children's book, in which I draw from my full range of photography subjects. It's a tale of life lessons that my cat, Azzy, must learn, and features the wise Mr. Higgins—also a cat—who (literally) viewed the neighborhood from the roof of our garage. Naturally, there's an octopus and a few underwater pals in the story.

I started my dog walking business, Dogs Rule!, in 2004. Deb was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer with a single digit survival rate, so I quit my job as spa manager to be with her through chemo treatments. I'd advertised for dog walking gigs and built a schedule around her treatments, walking what was then a 4-5 dog pack. Twelve years later, Deb is an incredibly healthy world-class race-walker, a poster child for Providence Cancer Center and an activist in promoting Eastern medicine and eating well. We’ve got big plans for being retired old lady scuba photographers.

I've had the bus for eight years, and the business for twelve. For the first four years, I loaded the pack into my 4x4 Toyota pickup. Then I found a rusty '92 Bluebird model bus at Western Bus Services in Boring. It definitely needed a paint job, so I made a party out of it. It wasn't some grand plan engineered for promotional purposes—just fun and convenient. I've been interviewed by a few Gulch kids for school projects and we always come back around to the bus being a community builder. The kids that I once took to the movies on the bus are now driving off to college.

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Dogs Rule! has topped out at 12 dogs per weekday and was voted “Best of Portland” in Willamette Week last fall. Many people have told me that I should try to get the dog bus on Portlandia. In 2013, I posted a skit on YouTube, mainly to show the dog bus in action but also to use humor in addressing the 3-dog rule in parks and to show off my perfect pack. As for my Dog Bus photos, all the dogs hate the camera except for one, so I have to capture on my cell phone what I can in the moment. I don't want the walks to be a photo session, because that definitely doesn't bond us, but I can't resist capturing their carefree, fun-loving personalities.

The traffic in Portland has become insane. I often fantasize about putting a stove and bunk in the bus and making it my weekend escape, but that will never happen. One afternoon, after sitting in endless traffic, I turned a corner and a woman just beamed as soon as she saw the bus, and picked up her young one to see it, too. This happens daily. The Clackamas kids drop their bikes and balls and cheer when the bus comes through their 'hood.

I've been asked if I grow bored with dog walking, and my answer to that is both yes and no. When I focus on the rich connection I have with my soulful pack and the lasting friendships I've made with their families, I’m never bored. But I AM incredibly bored with the weekly harassment I get for having "too many" dogs at the parks. The Portland Parks Department enforces a 3-dog limit and I get a written warning from them at least twice a year. Inevitably, someone in the park takes offense to my gentle, mellow 12-pack and calls to report me. It plays out the same way every time. I’m approached by the “authorities,” who, after seeing how well-behaved my pack is, reluctantly give me a warning.

2017 will be the year during which I’ll move forward with plans for a multi-purpose space I call the Rawhide Ranch. Covering two acres, it will include a shelter for the dogs and a saloon where friends can bring their dogs, have a beer, and watch a movie or just hang out while the dogs are free to roam. I'm actually assembling a rock-n-roll video for the fundraising effort! More importantly, the ranch will be a gathering place. Now, more than ever, I believe we need that. The Gulch has a long history of making things happen by simply gathering together.

After the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, the Gulch organized a fundraiser at Grace Church. Local businesses contributed auction items and food, Gulchers contributed what they could, and there was music and dancing.

We raised enough money to purchase 300 tarps for mountain villagers before monsoon season hit. Gulcher Nancy Sullivan, who taught midwifery techniques in those villages, used her connections to arrange for a helicopter to deliver these tarps up to the villagers. It took us about a week to organize the fundraiser, and a week later, Nancy posted photos of the villagers gathered on a ridge collecting the tarps we’d gotten for them. It was really powerful.

 Painting by Meg's mom, Leigh Weil, of Meg and Deb's mobile crepery truck, Rosie.

Painting by Meg's mom, Leigh Weil, of Meg and Deb's mobile crepery truck, Rosie.

 Meg's neighbor, Esther, has her own story. Check out Esther and Stepan.

Meg's neighbor, Esther, has her own story. Check out Esther and Stepan.

Deb and I had no idea what an amazing community of people we would meet and become a part of when we moved to the Gulch. Since then, we’ve been tempted to move a few times; once, we looked at a waterfront condo next to a dive shop in Bonaire, recently, we received an offer for a home and a job in Australia, but our community and close friends keep us here. We're not going anywhere.


C. Kalasky, D. Larson, Editors