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Saturday, August 1, 2009


A plaintive yodel emerges from static on the radio as my car crests another hill. I think it could be Hank Williams and marvel that a human voice in a scratchy recording can cross time, defy death, and thereby interact with the living. I snatch snippets of song from the static like moments of sunlight streaming through the dappled shade of an immense oak. The road descends into a valley and the static roars and the strident condemnation of some holy faker (adopting the cadences of a Martin Luther King speech) overwhelms simple beauty with bankrupt religiosity (apparently content doesn’t matter as long as it’s punctuated with plenty of ‘Jesuses).

I punch the console and switch to one of only two CDs I find in the newspaper, maps and camping miscellaneously slowly growing in the unoccupied passenger seat. Regina Spektor sings:
“He stumbled into faith and thought,
‘God, this is all there is?’”

This lyric out of context launches a cascade of fledgling responses.

He stumbled into a scientific world view and thought, the world is full of mysteries, and we can’t even adequately define life…time to think of an experiment.


Later that night after parking at Palouse State Park, I set out the sleeping bag in the bed of my pickup and lay there looking up at a shockingly incandescent Milky Way (there being no nearby hub of light pollution). It’s just a portion of an arm of our own spiral galaxy in a universe of such galaxies and overwhelmed, I quietly asked, ‘God, this is all there is?’ and enjoyed the irony of it and fell asleep smiling for a change.

Some time ago, I went to a lecture/presentation at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center (in The Dalles) that dealt with Ice Age Floods. It gave Bruce Bjornstad, author of On the Trail of the ICE AGE FLOODS, a promising venue to peddle his book. Evidently, back at the end of the last Ice Age, when huge prehistoric ice beavers roamed the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, substantial glacial lakes formed behind their poorly engineered ice dams. When the dams failed, walls of water so tall that you’d think Mr. Bjornstad was just making crap up would rush across Washington and carve unique river canyons along tectonic faults in the layered basalts of the Mid-Columbia Basin. Palouse Falls and its canyon are said to be artifacts of this dynamic process.

Plumber’s Crack National Monument
(An example of a fault)

You’d think a story like that would draw big crowds of voluptuous geology coeds but most of the people at the lecture were evidently on some field trip from an old folk’s home and were under the mistaken impression that they had entered the cafeteria. When Mr. Bjornstad opened the floor for discussion, the first question he got was from a cranky old man who demanded to know why the chairs had been rearranged. That spurred a little bewildered blue haired lady, craning her head up and down to peer through massive bifocals, to ask where the tables had gone, what were they to do with their plates when they got them, and speaking of plates, when were they going to be served.

Ice dams failed so often and so completely that the prehistoric beavers who depended on them eventually became extinct. Even so, gnawed basalt sculptures stand in mute testimony to the giant rodent’s resilient front teeth.

Hikers in the Columbia Gorge are often coddled by trails that have about as much to do with getting in touch with the wilderness as does an amusement park ride for very stupid children.

This is not so much the case in Podunk Washington where ill defined trail systems tend to weed out outdoorsmen who can’t tell the difference between an established path and a marmot trail.

Following a marmot trail back around a ridge to the top of the falls, I found myself in a zigzag canyon that tended to support the idea that opportunistic descending water long ago took advantage of faults and other weaknesses in stacked basalt layers to pursue a path of least resistance.

Still, if something half of the size of Lake Michigan scoured out this landscape as it poured to the ocean in a cataclysmic flood, the scarred cliffs have since been busy methodically hiding the evidence by tossing down rocks now and then to soften the harsh edges.

This I imagine is part of god’s great plan to lure evolving hominids back into proximity of life sustaining water and fertile valleys where new cities and cultures can take root and grow up for the next great cycle of apocalypses.

Regina Spektor lyrics arc from synapse to synapse,
“God can be funny… … when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus"

“…God can be so hilarious”

Regina Spektor

“The pictures in his mind arose
And began to breathe
And all the gods and all the worlds
Began colliding on a backdrop of blue…”

Regina Spektor

Today, we sit atop windblown dunes of silt and dust and clay (loess) that with a little prodding have become some of the most productive agricultural lands the world has ever seen.

This also is the fruit of the last Ice Age, when the glaciers descended from the north, chewing and regurgitating the mountains in their paths – tenderizing stone.

…processing the layers of lava and crust laid down from the beginning…

…so that in an instant of time - a blink in the history of a universe - life dances across the surface of a rock hurtling through the vastness of space...

I stumbled into Washtucna seeing miracles in every direction.

Stars collapse and explode, comets slam into Jupiter and whiz past our orbit, volcanoes detonate, the earth quakes and folds…

… floods periodically scour the land…

…the pattern of decomposition is written in the crystals of formation…

…and the first replicator’s imperative to multiply and be fruitful is passed on in an unbroken line, encoded and kept safe in the heart of every living cell.

The Narrative Image NAVIGATION AID

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