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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Long Hike Back from Lava Canyon

It got darker and darker on the long hike back from Lava Canyon.

It was really dark. Well…even darker than this.
I had my trusty (though tiny) LED flashlight in hand, but I almost never use it unless the ground is steep and uneven. If you use a flashlight in the dark, you can only see the things illuminated in a cone of harsh light – a small field of vision by any measure. What you can’t see are all the predators, including the two legged kind, suddenly becoming all too aware of your location. I know it is counter-intuitive, but it somehow seems brighter to walk in the dark, feeling the breath of the trees on your cheek, hearing your footsteps reflecting off the tree-trunks and monitoring the rhythm of your heart and the cadence of your respiration.

There were some stars out, and I could see them, but there were also high clouds floating by that mostly obscured them almost all of the time. Maybe, at best, you could see three or four of the very brightest stars winking in and out of view. So this image must essentially be an idealized manifestation of my recollection.
I guess that’s the paradoxical nature of the story I’m about to tell you. I’m going to show you pictures of things I never saw.

Mile markers at the side of the road measured the passage of time. Intended for cars, the mile-scale of the markers is a vast, almost discouraging unit of measure for a limping hiker – as if an amoeba were forced to travel the length of a yardstick. As light faded and all color was leeched out of the world, the rare silhouette of a mile marker became the cause for celebration.
Suddenly like gunshots, the sound of branches breaking echoed close by in the woods to my right. Was it a bear? Was it a mountain lion stalking me? Or was it something primeval, something much bigger and much stronger and perhaps much more evil.

As something thundered through the brush, I determined that a vivid imagination can be something of a mixed blessing.

Digital Painting – Step 1 – Dark Encounter
It is often hard to judge the size of an animal by the noise it makes crashing through the underbrush. I have at times been certain elephants were bearing down on my position, only to be confronted by a confused furry bunny or geriatric nutria. This time however, whatever was crashing through the woods was an order of magnitude louder than anything I’d ever heard before save for a train or a monster truck. I moved to the middle of the road and tried to be inconspicuous.
The terrible noise grew closer and closer. The monkey hugged my leg in a death grip and trembled. I patted his hairy shoulder and tried to be brave for its sake. “It’ll be O.K. little fellow.” I said with a quivering voice.
Digital Painting – Step Two – Dark Encounter
Somewhere ahead in the dark, the beast burst out of the woods and onto the asphalt. I heard the frantic clip clop of hooves in a twirling tornado of sound, as if the animal was spinning in circles. A rabid horse? Could it really be a horse? Then it straightened out and proceeded to gallop towards us.

Digital Painting – Step Three – Dark Encounter

There’s a moment in a car wreck when your brain figures out the physics involved and determines that there is nothing to be done – that impact is inevitable. At that point, a sense of calm sets in and time seems to slow down. Like a feeble Ben Kenobi, I pressed the button that activates my flashlight and pointed it, as if it were a ridiculous light saber, at the noise . Curious as I was, I never saw anything, but I heard the hoof beats suddenly stop - the hooves skidding on the road - a sequence of sound signatures that sounded for all the world like a speeding Labrador trying instantly to reverse direction on a polished linoleum floor. Whatever it was bounded into the woods on the other side of the road and everything was quiet again in less than three leaps.

Lucky for the monkey, he wasn’t wearing pants.


Monday, July 23, 2007


Art is a big mystery to me. I had a drawing instructor once who complained that all of my drawings were narrative in nature – always telling a story – and he seemed to think that there was something else, something more important to strive for – something more elemental. But I could never ‘get’ it.

I’d studied Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in art history class and I secretly began to wonder if I wasn’t being forced, metaphorically, to appreciate the emperor’s new clothes (surely Picasso was naked).

Lately, I’ve fallen into the routine of taking hikes and shooting pictures of a mountain landscape or two and maybe a close-up of a flower. I think I’ve kind of adopted the conceit that I’m some kind of photo journalist or something. I want my pictures to convey a sense of the amazement or wonder I experience when I take them, and maybe also to reveal or instruct, but I’m not sure if any of it is very creative.

This Saturday, I forced myself to look for possible photos in the ordinary surroundings of my neighborhood.

This isn’t exactly a beautiful mountain wildflower. But maybe it is somebody’s personal vision brought to life and blooming in the real world. My favorite part is the green painted concrete. When I was about fourteen and responsible for lawnmower duties, I always thought cutting the grass every week was stupid and often suggested this labor saving solution – green painted concrete - to my father. I’m not saying this scene isn’t attractive, but I can kind of see why he never consented to digging up the lawn, even though ours was mostly dandelions.

No doubt you will be anticipating this, but I’ll have to say it anyway. Here we have an example of late sixty’s Nouveau Holy Art.

There are a bewildering number of churches in the neighborhood. I don’t think you can walk four blocks without running into some kind of church. They seem to be extremely adaptable, taking root in old houses, or behind former store fronts, or in the shells of extinct industrial facilities. Some churches appear emaciated and hungry. A few seem bloated, but superficial. Either way, they send a message.

In this humble church, they gather beneath a cheap blue tarp that, never-the-less, suggests a sheltering heaven and perhaps the wind - a moving spirit.

A muggy summer evening threatens showers on a long vacant schoolyard. I browse the painted glyphs that stand for hopscotch, four-square and kick-ball. I conjure up ghosts of team-captains picking teams. I almost believe I can hear the distinctive noise of the big red bouncing ball.

This learning institution perched on the edge of a street of ill-repute, looks more like a prison or a fort. A man with a shopping cart searches for a night’s accommodation. He carries a bicycle, some plastic, and maybe a certificate of initial mastery.

I never went to this school, but it looks like all the schools I did go to.

On the roof of the school, I saw a row of crows hiding behind a parapet like old-West Indians lining the rim of a canyon waiting to ambush cowboys. The minute I raised my camera…they scattered.

To me they look like notes on a staff, or advanced physics symbols used in formulas for flight calculations.

It isn’t evidence of geologic time like Lava Canyon, but the neighborhood buildings have layers of history too.

Like plants tied to the changing seasons, buildings are subject to the whims of economic cycles.

A chrysalis

A time-piece having recorded a century of passing tires

Monday, July 16, 2007

LAVA CANYON - Closed Until Further Notice

The same rains that wiped out portions of the Ramona Falls trail also played havoc with the area around Mt. St. Helens (See also Ramona Falls Trail (Super-sized) Part Two - ) .

Road 83, the 11.3 mile road that terminates at the Lava Canyon trailhead is washed out at about the 7 mile mark. There is a closed gate at the six mile mark (it’s locked…I checked) so access to June Lake, Ape Canyon and Lava Canyon require extra hiking or biking.

It can be somewhat disheartening to plod mile after mile along a broad road where posted signs sarcastically remind you to take the next curve at thirty-five miles an hour. There isn’t much to see besides trees until mile ten or so when one begins to approach a massive lahar spawned by Mt. St. Helens’ 1980 eruption.

It seems our human attention span is just not long enough to register the antics of volcanoes. We think the ground beneath us is stable and permanent and dare to build roads and skyscrapers.

Occasionally, a spokesperson for geologic time - like Mt. St. Helens - makes an eloquent case for the temporary nature of our species and its accomplishments.

Even so, we biologicals share a certain kind of stubborn shortsightedness.

Probing for weaknesses, the mountain reaches out with a finger of water.

I knew the road to Lava Canyon was closed, but what I didn’t know was that the Lava Canyon trail was also closed due to storm damage.

After walking for five miles, I kind of had a hankering to at least see what sort of storm damage had occurred. However, not wanting to defy the forest service, and taking various warnings of imminent death at face value, I could see no alternative but to send in the Monkey-Cam.

According to the Monkey-Cam, this guardrail and the little metal footings are all that remain of the trail’s first bridge.

Also, various handrails and other guides have been displaced leaving hikers to rely on their common sense when making decisions about how close to stand to the edge of polished lava overlooks.

Posted signs warn that there have been a number of recent fatalities in and around these waters.

Lava Canyon’s story goes something like this: In the distant past, between major events, a big forest covered this canyon’s floor. Then, in the course of time, Mt. St. Helens erupted and sent a river of basaltic lava down the canyon (the thick black layer). Parts of the lava layer cooled slowly enough to form crystal-like vertical columns.

Eventually, the canyon was buried and covered with a new forest that thrived until 1980 when tributaries of the massive lahar (seen earlier) scoured out the valley and revealed the remnants of the ancient lava flow.

The Monkey-Cam refused to cross the suspension bridge because of the sign that explained about it being ‘under repair’. The Monkey-Cam also started to demand more bananas as a hazardous pay bonus. Since I only had so many bananas and was unable to strike a deal with my store of trail mix, I’m afraid I have no data for points beyond the suspension bridge and cannot confirm whether the route to Smith Creek is still passable.

The setting sun creates an evocative image, casting a reddish glow in the sky above the restless mountain – as if the atmosphere were illuminated by a crater full of molten magma.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Avalanche Lilly

Maybe like a horse
straining against the starting gate.
Maybe like a frail prisoner
too long in a too small cell.
It slips the grasp of winter first,
…blossoms like fireworks
…vetoes the long darkness.

McNeil Point Shelter (obligatory picture to show I actually made it this time)

On the Ridge above McNeil Point

strewn across a skewed field
Tortured trees
caught in a centuries long assault
to climb the mountain

…because it’s there.

On the Ridge above McNeil Point

As tall as any tree can ever be

The View West from McNeil Point

Rock as Heat-sink – Unnamed Snowfield near McNeil Point

Plant Zombie
Aroused by the melt-water torrent
reaches up from the grave with a three fingered hand

Snowfield Transforming into Tarn

Winter’s refugee
seeks protection from the Sun’s persecution
In the shadow of the mountain
there is no asylum
granted in July

Metamorphosis (Detail)

Nature Graphically Perpetuating the Concept of Resurrection

I wasn’t paying attention
and missed Andy Goldsworthy
making his surprising art
Which is the best explanation
I could come up with
so far

High on this mountain,
liberated water
quickly joins forces
To bring life to the desert?
To drown by deluge?


Location. Location. Location.


(the bigger picture)

The Narrative Image NAVIGATION AID

Just a reminder:

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