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Saturday, November 28, 2009


Water has been falling out of the sky continuously now for …I don’t know…maybe a hundred forty two thousand days (or maybe it just seems like it).

Hiking at the base of mountains at this time of year means any significant storm front can drop a foot of snow on you in almost no time at all. The consequent scarcity of intelligent/cautious hikers makes for uncrowded trails - with little hope for rescue.

Spiteful winds and rain try to strip the trees of their golden leaves. Failing to denude the deciduous victims, the jealous clouds hang low and hide the brilliant colors in a dull gray blanket.

Here and there, autumn’s fire bursts through the gloom.

I know Mt. St. Helens is ahead, because I saw it at the end of September (above) when I broke my bicycle on this very same trail.

…but today… I walk in eerie limbo, consorting with the souls of unbaptized children and all the rightous who died before the arrival of Jesus (Roman Catholic theology is endlessly fascinating).

The much photographed, constricted throat of Ape Canyon.

A pair of mountain-bikers (to the right) reveal the scale of the canyon relative to hominids.

When the volcano blew, melted glacial ice made a dangerous slurry of rock and ash which poured down the mountain’s flanks like a cataclysmic belt-sander.

The Plains of Abraham – a vast sterilized pumice landscape which now serves as an immense Petri dish in which to examine the re- propagation of life.

Tell-tale red bushes delineate the arterial flow of life giving water.

A tortured tree makes due with the only available shelter.

A line of cairns beckon me ever further into the apocalypse. I’m keenly aware of the warning I read earlier that says, “If you encounter ashfall or ballistics, seek cover and act quickly to protect your head, airway and eyes.” It ought to just honestly suggest, "...kiss your ass goodbye."

The contrast between the stark plains and the remnants of ancient forests, preserved behind sheltering ridges and hills is striking.

Further north, along windy ridge, Spirit Lake serves as a receptacle for thrown away trees - those that were unfortunate enough to be standing in the face of the eruption.

Tree limbo

Mt. Adams pondering the example of his sister

Kind of like looking down the barrel of a loaded gun

Editor's Note:
Dear Mr. Beck,
Thank you for your comment. I've highlighted the second biker (see above), but I wasn't able to find any yeti(s).

Editors Note:

Mr. Beck,

I have re-examined the photo of the bikers and determined that the rider of the first bicycle is Monkey-cam. In the fog, Monkey-cam might very well be mistaken for a Yeti, and, since that is not his bicycle, you may indeed have witnessed the throwing of poop as the second biker gained on him.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blur (noun) 1. fuzzy or unclear image

Something that cannot be seen clearly, e.g. because it moves too quickly or because it is not distinctly remembered

-Encarta Dictionary-
Eyes don’t see like cameras do.

Sure, there are some similarities, but compared to the conservative monocular mechanical vision of a camera, my eyes do something radically different as they dart around a landscape like hungry chickens pecking the ground in search of premium chicken scratch.

Little by little (despite some glaring but hidden blind spots) significant details are added to a simulation of the world that runs in my brain – a simulation something like the simulation you are running, but necessarily unique.

I could tell you what I saw - try to describe how, from Lost Lake (during the last days of summer) Mt. Hood looked like a ruined red pyramid …naked …

…or I could show you a typical photograph…

But what I really want to share is how the moon danced on the water.

…and how the wind sighed as the sun went down…
…and how the water sounded as it lapped at the sides of my kayak…
…and how I could taste the smoke in the bottle of Black Butte Porter…

…I’d like to be able to share the peaceful calm I felt paddling invisible on the Gilbert River… the city of Portland betraying its presence over the horizon by the light it bounced off the clouds…

…I’d like to convince you I’m a candid photojournalist and not some creepy voyeur …

…I’d like to explain how beer feels…

…I’d like to reveal some secret of life…

…some obvious thing about parties and food…

…the difference between life and meat…

…how quickly magic is forgotten in the rush to the parking lot… life clings... a row of trees disappear at 60 miles per hour...

I'd like to understand how water envelopes...

I'd like to convey the joys of physics... luck is rigged...

...all the beauty in a fraction of a second...

...the risk/benefit ratio of sailing in the dark

Someday I'd like to capture just how really big that harvest moon is...

...or share exactly why they call them goldfish...

I'd like to explain the soothing cool of the forest at the end of a hot July day...

...translate the gestures of a balloon...

...and remind you how transitory it all is. I guess I'll keep trying.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Transcendent Vision at Netarts Bay

My brother Fred, Lance the authentic outdoorsman, Eric (expert at interpreting Boston accents), and I stood in the sand at the edge of Netarts Bay. Across the bay, the Netarts peninsula gleamed enticingly through the cool, hazy exhalation of the ocean. We had heard that the peninsula (a spit really) was a promised land of clams and crabs and we all carried shell fish licenses, shovels, rakes and collectively, a crab pot.

Standing on the shore, we could feel the ocean in the act of respiration, breathing in and out with great twelve hour breaths. It had been breathing in all morning, filling its great watery lung to capacity, and now at last the ebbing tide slackened, was quiet and still, and began changing direction. We set out into the rising tide having deduced a statistically improved chance of not being swept out to sea by doing so.

Well…we almost all set out. The inflatable raft which was meant to carry supplies that wouldn’t ordinarily fit into a kayak turned out to have a hole in it so big that I wasn’t even able to finish filling it with air. Fortunately, I remembered there was a patch kit in the pouch that held my air mattress. Would the patch kit be compatible with the rubber in the raft? Would the glue be robust enough to work in a matter of minutes without extended curing time? Was there more than one hole? A wiser man would have determined the answers to these questions before setting sail (but this shouldn’t be taken as subtle foreshadowing regardless of how it sounds... I promise).

What looked like low cloud cover revealed itself to be the moist breath of the Pacific spilling back toward the shore, kissing us with fishy halitosis no worse than a chowder house kitchen. It gently descended ever lower until our sphere of vision was limited to what might as well be the underside of a finite white soup bowl. The peninsula disappeared and we were left to feel our way through a maze of anonymous sandbars.

Photo Credit: Eric Meyers copyright 2009

This is usually the point in a Twilight Zone episode where the subjects of the story unwittingly enter some anomalous time/space portal and land on an unexpected shore, perhaps infested with giant intelligent crabs (but this isn’t an example of foreshadowing either).

Photo Credit: Eric Meyers copyright 2009

Landing on some undisclosed shore, the expedition secured the watercraft and set about acquiring dinner. Earlier that morning Lance the authentic outdoorsman had, with an egg-in-a-muffin fast-food sandwich in hand, vowed to live off the land for the duration of the adventure, eating only those things he would be able to catch with his own cunning. It was therefore important, for his sake, to discover where the clams were hiding (and to classify beer as a liquid and not a food).

In the above picture, Fred (at left) asks Lance (at right) to check our location on GPS to determine if we are in the legal shell fish collection zone. Lance answers, I don’t know about that, but I have a location on those Netarts hookers I tagged (meaning the application of radio transmitters) last time. Eric (in the middle) says I hope they’re not dawgs.

Lance was piloting something called an aqua-pod.

I think it was invented by Archimedes and may be the original prototype. It proved to be a remarkably stable platform from which Lance felt completely comfortable wearing hip boots (O.K… that last sentence may very well be subtle foreshadowing).

We started out feeling like we should stick together, just in case anything should go wrong. But like children with attention deficit disorder, we quickly began drifting off (literally).

Photo Credit: Eric Meyers copyright 2009
Lance: [Exasperated (and growing hungry)] That’s the third time I’ve pulled the crab-pot up empty and this time the bait has been replaced with a giant sea-lion turd.

Scott: (Only half paying attention) Have you noticed everyone else is simply marking their crab pots with unmanned Styrofoam buoys?

Lance: (Killing another beer) The thing that puzzles me is how they manage to open and close the door.

Scott: (Joining the others on shore) What? I can’t hear you!

Sea Lion: (quietly giggling)

With the crab bait exhausted, Fred valiantly attempted to catch perch to restock the crab-pot. I remember getting this crazy idea that maybe, if Fred did catch perch, we could actually eat the perch. I wondered if Lance would eat perch or if he had his heart set on crab, but before I could ask, we all happened to notice that Lance (formerly on the aqua-pod) had, through some miscalculation of over-confidence, fallen overboard.

I suppose with the hip boots on, he never really had a chance. Looking at the bright side, we were able to solve the bait situation by pinning Lance’s lifeless body to the crab-pot with an old piece of rebar. I think Lance would have wanted it that way.

If Fred seemed unsuccessful at fishing, it wasn’t because there were no fish.

Other fisher-species seemed to be doing very well.

Back in Portland, people were sweltering in triple digit temperatures, but we were swaddled in a cool ephemeral blanket of fog.

We could hear the ocean waves crashing on the shore, but couldn’t see them.

Lance demonstrates the Claw position

Before the advent of hydrogen bombs, primitive man had to defend himself with somewhat less sophisticated weaponry. Sticks and stones naturally lent themselves to offensive purposes. However, in mankind’s ongoing evolutionary arms-race, dominance is sometimes achieved through the development of strategic martial arts that utilize items at hand in unexpected ways. Crab-Fu is one such art form.

Lance achieves dominance, even though his crab is considerably smaller.

When thrown correctly, tossed crabs will travel in a long elliptical path back to their starting point.

A crab beginning to realize the implications of a pot of boiling water.

One of the things I’m really beginning to appreciate about expensive restaurants is the care that is taken with ambiance and presentation.

Not accustomed to heavy drinking, I none-the-less had been sampling from a bottle of rum for the better portion of the day, and as darkness surrounded the bonfire, other exotic beverages began to be passed around. While I had been careful, generally, to dilute the rum with large volumes of cola, the custom introduced around the fire was to take straight slugs from bottles.

Soon, everything was funny. Everyone became wise and profound. Everyone was my best friend. I stopped worrying about work. I thought maybe the world would be O.K.

I sat with my back against a driftwood log and watched the fire dance and spark and listened to the stories and jokes and the teasing and the warm laughter and felt like I belonged and thought maybe I would be O.K. too…until I stood up, teetered dangerously, realized that I could no longer balance, and plopped over into the sand just short of the glowing coals.

It took all my concentration to keep the beach from tilting back and forth, so much so that I found I was no longer able to meaningfully participate in the late night conversation. I stumbled outside the ring of fire-light into the cold darkness, looking for my kayak. My mind seemed somehow compartmentalized from my body and merely noted that tough beach grass grabbed at my legs and hid various scrubby brush things that bloodied my shins when I stepped into them. My brain was none to fastidious about recording these events, but fortunately, had also quit bothering to send pain signals. When I finally found the kayak, I sensed that assembling the tent was not in the realm of possibility for me so I settled for a blanket and tipped over into the deflated life raft and don’t remember anything else.

Where do we go in dreamless sleep?

I’m uncomfortable I think. My cheek is lying on a gritty air mattress (but shouldn’t an air mattress have air in it?). It’s sand. It’s gritty sand on the air mattress. I can taste it. I can feel it on my teeth. And my glasses… they’ve bent onto my face and dug into the side of my nose. I’m wrapped in a flannel blanket that’s soaked with sparkling globes of cold condensate. The air mattress has walls, like a tub. So it isn’t an air mattress, it’s a life raft. It’s puzzling but it’s also dark and cold. Go back to sleep. Figure it out in the morning.

Gears start turning in a sluggish brain. “You’ve just wakened from unconsciousness in a life raft.” It informs me, “You ought to be curious about that.”

Was there a plane crash? Am I in a survival situation? The gears start turning faster. I stand up but nothing makes sense.

The raft is afloat on a sea of grass and rivers of water are flowing through the sky. Stars, the size of basketballs, shine radiantly in the night. It is a magnificent panorama that can be seen nowhere on Earth…


…well. The first thing I felt was relief. I wouldn’t have to go to work on Monday. The next thing I felt was curiosity. What next? And finally I felt excitement. I was going to find out answers.

But then the next thing I felt after that was the old familiar sensation of having to pee real bad. Looking around, I noticed my kayak and the kayaks belonging to the others. That’s right I remembered, we were going to go camping. Then that would make this the sand spit, and the last thing I remember was the bonfire…

Instantly, the alien landscape snapped back into perspective. The rivers in the sky morphed into silver streams of receding tide water trailing off into the distance. The unnatural stars became the windows of the houses shining through the mist across the bay.

…not a transcendent moment at all.

Just drunk…

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