Search This Blog

Monday, June 25, 2007


There probably aren’t a lot of things worse than death, but the onset of dementia or a sudden diminishment of mental functioning - so severe that your ‘you’ is lost - might be two of them. That’s why, when evidence shows that I can still learn by experience, I feel exceedingly pleased with myself. For this hike (the directions to which I found in Douglas Lorain’s 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon: ) I made sure that the entire route was well below the 6000 foot level, and I mentally prepared myself to test any gate I should encounter, closed or not. (See my June 11th entry about how I lost an encounter with a closed gate: ).

While there were no gates to worry about on this trip, possible future lessons to learn might have something to do with just how far you should go into the wilderness with a two-wheel drive vehicle on really crappy dirt ‘roads’, especially if rain is imminent.

Since I was previously sensitized to the plight of trees close to the timberline on the road to the Cloud Cap Trailhead, I was interested to compare them to the trees living close to the 2000 foot level. I know it is appalling, but I’ve realized I don’t really know the names of any trees or plants besides the descriptive generic terms flower, tree and vegetable. I’m trying to think back to when I was younger to determine if I ever knew the names of trees and plants, because if I’ve forgotten them, then maybe that’s a sign of dementia …but I can’t remember.

Despite not having an adequate vocabulary, I will attempt to describe some differences I noted. The higher altitude forest seemed to be composed exclusively of ‘pine’ trees. In clearings on the forest floor, young trees compete for the light that manages to filter through the holes in the canopy opened by fallen elders.

On the Burnt Lake trail however, a whole second layer of deciduous trees were struggling for placement underneath the taller ‘pine’ canopy. In the picture below, a wide stretch of young, broad-leafed trees are mysteriously leaning downhill.

My working hypothesis is that the trees’ posture is the result of being buried under winter’s accumulating snow which may at times even slide down the hillside thereby effectively teaching the trees how to dodge.

Vegetable wise, I saw many plants that looked like they depended on enormous amounts of water to be happy. I wondered if perhaps some of them might not make good salads.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the slightest idea which plants are edible.

And, edible or not, there’s no way I’m eating this thing. (See my recipe for French Tickler Salad below)

View towards East Zigzag Mountain Summit.

When I reached the edge of the ridge that leads either up to the summit of East Zigzag Mountain, or down towards Burnt Lake, I felt immediately rewarded for my long uphill walk with the sudden appearance of Mt. Hood, which had been hidden behind the ridge. True, most of Mt. Hood remained hidden from sight in the clouds, but it was still impressive. A beautiful, dangerous mountain, teasing from within an amorphous shroud of light and shadow causes the same kind of suspense and anticipation that is sometimes created by smart directors of horror films, the kind who don’t actually show their monsters until close to the climax.


I was challenged by a photography enthusiast at work to try out the RAW image format available for my camera. Up until now, I’d been using the highest quality JPEG format that the camera is capable of which typically results in images of approximately three megabytes in size.

It turns out that these JPEG images I’ve been taking are the equivalent of a stenographer’s shorthand notes for what the camera’s sensor is actually capable of recording. The typical file size for the RAW images taken during this particular hike weigh in at about eight megabytes each. Each RAW image file also comes with a secondary file which records the camera’s settings at the time each particular picture is taken. It is this secondary file that translates the RAW image into a JPEG file that is easily recognized by most computers.

The interesting part is that Canon’s supplied software, Digital Photo Professional, makes the record of the camera’s settings at the time of the shot irrelevant. In the picture immediately below, the image appears according to the instructions contained in the secondary file – as it would have appeared at the highest quality JPEG setting. However, since I have saved the complete RAW data, I am able to go back and essentially write my own translation instructions. In this case, I decide that the daylight setting for the camera’s white balance doesn’t support my eerie, almost mystical intuition that the mountain was consorting with heaven behind the shielding wall of clouds.

The second version of the mountain shows how I can ignore the camera’s original translation scheme and choose to alter the white balance output according to color temperature. The warmer colors work better for me. Since the RAW data remains intact and only the translated output changes, there is no image degradation.

Mt. Adams impersonating a cloud

My first view of Burnt Lake

A close up of Burnt Lake from East Zigzag Mountain Trail reveals what appears to be an improbably large duck.

Is this where fishermen go when they die?

View from the shore of Burnt Lake

(I was kidding. There is no recipe for French Tickler Salad.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

FISHING for SHAD: Instinct, Cultural Transmission or Therapy?

I don’t spend a great deal of time imagining why extraterrestrials might be interested in visiting Earth. But if they did somehow manage to visit, even though they would be piloting advanced ships that bend space/time, probably the first thing they would want to do once they finished with their obligatory survey is to try driving our cars, boats and planes.

Our vehicles are wonderful examples of evolving form following function. We’ve developed cars that are excellent at hauling families, going very fast around oval tracks, and even some that compensate for tiny genitalia.

Boats fill niches in transportation, entertainment, research, defense, and also fill a critical role in harvesting food from the ocean. In each case, the function of the vehicle has much to do with its final shape and appearance. For example, over the course of history, the sportsman’s fishing boat has evolved to hold enough beer to satiate two, sometimes three fishermen during the course of an entire afternoon.

I’m not an extraterrestrial, but I am kind of an alien when it comes to the body of knowledge required to fit in with fishermen. Though my grandpa was in the Navy, he died when my father was just a boy, and so it seems the long chain of passing on fishing secrets from father to son was interrupted.

Traditional route for cultural transmission of fishing lore

There are some migratory birds that instinctively know what country to fly to and what time to go there, even though their mother and father migratory birds never showed them how to do it. As an animal that depends on a relatively big brain for symbol manipulation and an extended juvenile stage to facilitate learning, I often feel gypped about not having obvious fishing instincts.

River deltas, falls and lakes provide a rich interface between land and water – places where land dwelling creatures can tap into the aquatic food chain. Perhaps humans have been drawn to such environments since before the first cities sprung up around the Fertile Crescent. I often wonder if it is only a coincidence that I find such places beautiful. Even now, there are many who insist on building luxury homes on obvious flood plains.

Willamette Falls at Oregon City

Though there are not many sports fishermen I know whose reproductive success depends on how many fish they catch, vestiges of the evolutionary process are seemingly still in play. The process of selection starts almost immediately at the boat ramp, an obstacle which subjects would-be fishermen to several unforgiving physics tests. Provided truck and trailer don’t accompany one’s boat into the river, the would-be fisherman next faces a delicate but important quest for prime fishing territory. Incidentally, prime fishing territory isn’t something that is immediately obvious. Fishermen seem to rely heavily on their own experience to determine where fish may be found, but often attempt to glean helpful data from other experienced fishermen. Verbal information from other fisherman may or may not be true, so the ability to detect deceptive behavior in others is another critical skill set. Often it seems that much information is acquired simply through careful observation of those who are actually catching fish. A simple innocuous statement like, “We have nothing but green jigs in this boat.” from a fisherman who has just reeled in five fish in as many minutes should cause the attentive would-be fisherman to question whether one should really continue using white jigs.

The fishermen I observed use a strategy of collaboration. They pool their individual experiences thereby improving their chances at fishing success. To keep each other sharp, they often tend to teach each other lessons through adversarial play fighting. One tends to think of the impressive play-fighting displays of elephant seals and/or silverback gorillas. However, just like their ferocious counterparts, fishermen rarely inflict serious damage upon each other since the infliction of such injuries would be prohibitively costly in terms of survival.

Sitting on a boat in a slow moving river on a clear warm day is peaceful and relaxing and conducive to meditation. Once, when I was trying to learn how to put a roof on a house, an old contractor told me that the secret to doing it right was simply to be smarter than a raindrop. The process of extrapolating this idea to the act of fishing results in the assumption that successful fishing depends on being able to out-think a fish. Presumably this process is enhanced by learning to drink like a fish.

The skill-sets required for successful fishing are varied and complicated and include everything from piloting a boat on moving water to setting up fishing poles with fish-specific rigging to keeping focused on the task at hand while in an altered state. Eventually, all of these elements meld together at the right place and time, and the fisherman experiences the transition from ‘fishing’ to ‘catching’.

These fish were all released without complications.

As alien as I am to the process of fishing, I never-the-less took exceptional pleasure in hooking and reeling in these surprisingly spirited fighters. The flash of silver, the splash of their tails, the play of line all contribute to a sense of excitement and … familiarity… and perhaps some small consolation that I am at least, with the help of my friends, able to out-think shad.

Fish are probably another one of those animals that must rely primarily on their instincts. It is unlikely that Mom and Dad fish hung around to teach survival tactics. When I consider that it is instinct that causes a fish to strike at a phony plastic insect looking thingy that is obviously dangling from a string, I don’t feel so gypped after-all.

I-205 bridge across the Willamette River

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Road to Cloud Cap Trailhead

I was lured to the Cloud Cap Trailhead with promises of time travel back to the ice age. The information I read on the internet from the Portland Hikers field guide (an excellent hiking resource!) promised spectacular views of Eliot Glacier from high atop Cooper Spur. The time travel part comes into play if one can imagine Mt. Hood’s most massive captive river-of-ice escaping its high altitude prison and joining its northern siblings in a steady southern migration. An ice age.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see Eliot Glacier, which is why this blog entry is called only the Road to Cloud Cap Trailhead instead of Cooper Spur Hike or Eliot Moraine Hike. I’m an idiot, but don’t take my word for it. Read on and see for yourself.

The instructions to the trailhead(s) were simple enough. Go to Hood River. Take highway 35 south. Follow any signs that mention Cooper Spur Ski resort, then follow Cloud Cap Road to the trailhead area. Cloud Cap Road is a mostly dirt road of about nine miles worth of switchbacks to about the 6000 foot level of Mt. Hood.

I’d only gone what felt like a couple of miles before I turned a broad corner and came to a sudden stop before a solid looking gate stretched across the road. It had a sign on it that proclaimed in no uncertain terms “CLOSED”.

“Damn it!” I said.

I parked at the edge of the turn-around area and surveyed the situation. I hadn’t kept track of my mileage since turning off on Cloud Cap Road, so I wasn’t sure how far it was to the trailhead. Although the weather report indicated that it was supposed to be sunny in Hood River, the clouds hadn’t yet really permitted a glimpse of the mountain anywhere above 7000 feet. At the outside edge of the road was a heavy duty brown guard-rail, protecting cars from, I assumed, accidentally plunging over the side of the road into a canyon. I finally noticed a little carved wooden sign that said Inspiration Point. From the road, I couldn’t see anything very inspiring, but, feeling the need to be inspired, I ducked under the guard-rail to follow an informal looking trail down to an outcropping of jagged cracking rocks.

From this new vantage point, I could see a steep canyon spread out before me. Going with the time travel motif, I imagined it was a land that time forgot and I quickly scanned the area for signs of wooly mammoth.

Up the canyon, I could see water from the glacier cascading over an abrupt cliff to the canyon floor (As near as I can figure, this is probably Wallalute Falls). Sloppy wet clouds, on their way up the valley, brushed by me riding winds from the west as if following unsafe roller coaster tracks, periodically blocking my view. Though the clouds promised rain, I decided that, as long as I had come this far already, I might as well hike in as far as I could go and see what else there was to see.

I put my pack on, walked around the gate and headed on up Cloud Cap Road.

A ghost forest along the Cloud Cap Road

One thing I decided, as I plodded along the road, was that if I should die I would want to be awfully sure not to come back as a tree that has to live close to the timberline.

I’m not sure about the dynamics involved, but the result is trees shedding their bark like snakes shed their skins, except I think in the case of trees it is fatal. In the wintertime, these trees are mostly buried in snow and frozen. Maybe the trees expand and contract with temperature - freeze and thaw - until their bark just sloughs off. Maybe they are struck by lightning. Maybe they get pulverized by avalanches. Maybe it is damage caused by bugs. Regardless, the environment close to the timberline is harsh.

“I’ve learned at times it’s best to bend ‘cause if you don’t, well those are the breaks” - Jim Croce

Bigfoot’s children decorate with environment friendly tinsel.

Unexpected Springtime Colors

Some trees seemed to be doing O.K. while others were clearly having difficulties. In this image, it looks like a particular species of tree is better fitted for its environment. But much also seems to depend on accidents of location and timing. In his book The Ascent of Mind: Ice Age Climates and the Evolution of Intelligence, neurobiologist William H. Calvin notes that three remarkable things happened within a moment of geologic time some 2.5 million years ago. 1. Our ancestors who were already walking upright also became prolific toolmakers. 2. The early human brain experienced a fourfold increase in size. 3. These developments occurred as ice ages repeatedly cooled the Earth. Calvin’s book reflects his search for an explanation to show how these three factors might be related.

Walking through a landscape that might reflect living at the edge of a glacier, I’m keenly aware that the weather here can change quickly and violently and that the bodies of at least two experienced climbers, lost last winter, have still not been found.

My first indication that I might not be fit for survival in this environment was the unexpected sound of a motor vehicle advancing on me from behind. I step to the side of the road to watch a family in a small white station wagon zip by.

“Damn it!” I said.

How did they get past the gate?
Maybe they have a key. Maybe they do some kind of maintenance at the Cloud Cap Inn. They don’t stop and soon the sound of their car fades away and I am left alone again continuing my slow slog to the trailhead.

Some time later, I hear the little station wagon returning. It stops next to me and I approach the driver as he rolls down his window.
“How did you get past the gate?” I ask him.
“It isn’t locked,” he said, “There’s a long way to go and the road’s blocked by snow.” Then he added, “Well at least it’s a nice day for a walk.”

As the little car disappeared down around a corner, it started to pour down rain.

The north face of Mt. Hood obscured by clouds as seen from Cloud Cap Inn

The clouds hang so low that I have a hard time identifying mountain landmarks.

Welcome to Cloud Cap Inn

Cloud-condensate nurturing future hearty mountain flowers.

New candidates for survival.

For more information on the ice-age evolution of intelligence, visit William H. Calvin's web site at :

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Perceiving Time at Smith & Bybee Lake(s)

I sometimes think I can remember back to High School. Every classroom had a uniform, institutional-style clock about the diameter of a large pizza high on the wall. At certain stressful moments, say Mr. Rubin’s oral Algebra quizzes, my attention would be transfixed on the clock’s minute hand, all my powers of will focused in a hopeless telekinesis experiment to accelerate time and perhaps escape the grand inquisitor’s sarcastic wrath as he methodically and relentlessly worked his way from victim to victim on his master seating chart. I don’t think I ever saw the minute hand go faster, but I’m fairly convinced I saw it stop a few times just long enough to grant my classmates a smug sense of superiority as I proffered another ridiculous answer.

Depending on the clock, you may or may not be able to see the minute hand move. Sometimes minute hands click to the next minute-mark increment once the second hand completes a circuit, but I don’t think you can really see it move while you’re watching it. When it comes to the hour hand, forget it.

The only time I think I can see the Sun move is right at sunset or sunrise when it is put into scale against the horizon. It is kind of a revelation to realize that it has been moving that fast all day, all the way across the sky, but it really doesn’t intuitively explain how the earth could be spinning (at least at the equator) about a thousand miles an hour.

At the Painted Cove Trail in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, a boardwalk takes you on a journey through time measured in millions of years. At one point an interpretive sign explains how the trail spans two ages separated by ten million years: On one side of the trail, colored layers speak of the remnants of a deciduous forest. On the other side of the trail, jumbled rocks testify to a lush tropical jungle.

If you can’t see an hour hand move, how can you imagine the formation of mountains, state-wide lava lakes or continental plates migrating around a molten core?
Geologic time isn’t intuitive. I can’t see it directly, can’t feel it, and I can’t experience it except through imagination. But once I try to imagine it, once I walk on an outcrop of shale that holds the imprint of avocadoes in a central Oregon desert, it somehow enriches the sense of time I do experience.

This is the fossil shell of a café in Mitchell Oregon. It is evidence of a more prosperous economic epoch lost in time.

This is Smith and Bybee Lake. Actually, I’m pretty sure this is the Smith part of the Lake. (Or is that ‘Lakes’? – they’re connected). Anyway, this is how it looks in springtime. There is an explosion of growth – plants seemingly leap out of the water - yet just five months ago, photographic evidence tells me (and I kind of remember) it was winter.

From January, 2007 to June, 2007

The passage of time on a human scale.

All of the things we see, and all of us, it turns out, are fragile and brief experiments of life set in a shifting environment much harsher than Mr. Rubin’s Algebra quiz.

Occasionally, a species is fortunate enough to find a brief eddy in time sheltered from the current, a place to stretch out and flex a few muscles.

An opportunity to bloom.

As examination time drew near, Mr. Rubin used to write witty sayings on the chalkboard. The one I remember goes like this:

"Time will pass. Will you?"


Just a reminder:

All text and images appearing here are protected by copyright (unless otherwise noted), s.d. 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.