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Monday, May 24, 2010

CAPE HORN: What's In A Name?

These are the curiously shaped basalt cliffs of Cape Horn. This is just one of the geographic areas on the Columbia River that has the name ‘Cape Horn’.

Cape Horn as seen from the Bridal Veil Loop Hike 

 The Famous Cape Horn (lower right)     NASA/courtesy of

This is the famous Cape Horn, at the tip of South America. In the 1600s, if you were a ship’s captain but you weren’t part of the Dutch East India Company and you wanted to get to the Pacific Ocean by traveling west, then you had to find a route around the tip of Chile without resorting to the Strait of Magellan. This navigational feat was difficult to accomplish owing to constant storms, high wind, high waves (65 feet) and occasional ice burgs. When sailing ships started doing routes around the cape, there were no maps for what lay beyond it. Antarctica, its existence suspected as early as Captain Cook's 1773 adventure across the Arctic Circle, doesn’t seem to have been seen for sure until 1820.

Wikipedia notes that, “Traditionally, a sailor who had rounded the Horn was entitled to wear a gold loop earring — in the left ear, the one which had faced the Horn in a typical eastbound passage — and to dine with one foot on the table; a sailor who had also rounded the Cape of Good Hope could place both feet on the table. A sailor who had sailed around Cape Horn was also able to brag by showing off his tattoo of a full-rigged ship.”

 Artist’s rendering by Troy

Here I display my anchor tattoo, a traditional entitlement for rounding Cape Horn (Skamania County).

Cape Horn (Skamania County) sticks out (a little bit) into the Columbia River, thereby satisfying the dictionary definition for ‘cape’.

This cape does not share the other cape’s reputation for perilous navigation.

In this image, Cape Horn (obviously to the left), Phoca Rock (next to the red navigation structure) and Beacon Rock (the other monolith like formation)

Though for a novice kayaker, the wind can be perilous enough.

The water runs deep at this bend in the river and peculiar eddies emerge next to the sheer rock cliffs. The water spins counter intuitively. Its character also seems to change, from a bubbly, “Enjoy this warm spring day with me.” to a more sinister “I will well up and grab you and make you disappear.” The shipping channel is close by and the threat of being run over by a barge is reason enough to keep looking over your shoulder in a paranoid fashion. The barges are pushed by remarkably powerful tugboats, but certain laws of physics dictate that by the time a tugboat captain spots a teeny kayak in his/her projected path, there will simply not be enough time to stop.

From this vantage point, the massive cliffs kind of suggest why some people were tempted to call this formation ‘Gibraltar’ (back in the mid 1800s) until you take the trouble to look at a picture of the Rock of Gibraltar, and then…well, not so much.  Incidentally, the Rock of Gibraltar is one of the Pillars of Hercules, beyond which ancient mariners understood there was ‘…nothing further’. On the Oregon side of the river, there are a couple of basalt columns that are actually called, ‘The Pillars of Hercules’ so it appears that early Oregonians and Washingtonians were having a collective failure of imagination for naming geographical features.

I hereby name the pert geographical feature to the right, Nubbin Rock. The shorter feature to the left I will call Sack Rock.

The surreal landscape reminds me of an old movie I saw when I was a young impressionable kid.

 Jason and the Argonauts – Columbia Pictures

If I understand the references made in other historical documents correctly, the sharp columns pulling away from the cliff were sometimes called needles. I suppose that last rock on the right looks kind of like a needle, especially for a fat, chunky, basalt monolith.

Human beings continue to make their mark on the gorge.

…and life continues to look for and fill any available niches.

 Washington’s Highway 14, snaking its way over the cape.

The wind plays a big role in determining whether the paddle to the face of Cape Horn will be enjoyable or not. In a matter of minutes, the surface of the water can go from something resembling glass, to something resembling the ocean.

Phoca Rock as seen on the return trip to Dalton Point. In the background, the rocky outcropping at the top of the triangular clear spot is Angel’s Rest. 

When Lewis and Clark were sitting in Fort Clatsop, bored and disheartened by the never-ending rain, they sat around dreaming up names for some of the things they had seen on their trip down the Columbia. Evidently, Clark had seen seals in the area when passing this 100 foot high rock and ended up giving it the Latin name for earless seals, Phoca. 

I had hoped to get some sunset pictures, but most of the sunset action was not only hidden behind the heights of Cape Horn, but also obscured by clouds in the west. I didn’t make it back to the boat ramp at Dalton Point until after dark.

The next weekend I returned to explore Sand Island and also the sand bar I had discovered in the middle of the river. But the wind was against me.

While I was not always sure of the logic for place names in and around Cape Horn, at least the appropriateness of the name Dalton Point wasn’t lost on me by the time I got back to my truck.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

My Favorite Season at Smith and Bybee Lakes: All of Them

Those animals that could, followed the sun south. Those that couldn't burrowed into the ground and went to sleep. Immobile trees jettisoned their canopies and learned to bend before the savage winds of winter. And all the while, the Earth continued its NASCAR-like journey around the sun, completing yet another lap and speeding on to the next. 

Standing at the east end of Smith lake, I prepare to launch from the 'new' kayak and canoe ramp that Metro put into place several years ago in deference to the wishes of the rare painted turtles who preferred to keep their slough private. It is cold and dark and calm. The clouds have granted a temporary reprieve and opened the sky to the stars. All night, whatever heat was collected from the previous day has been radiating out into space - no water vapor blankets to insulate the earth.

There is a feeling, perhaps a noise - an announcement that the sun will be rising before it actually rises. Perhaps the air beyond the horizon is heated and warmed and pushed before the sun like a messenger, an exhalation - a breath that stirs the cold still water. And then... a kiss from a star.

The sun lights the world on fire.

The shoreline on a different day is rimmed in ice. The iris from last year, their ‘seed pods’ brittle, continue to cast their progeny into the world like time-release drug capsules. The single seed in the photo, unexpectedly cold for the moment, will later sink into the rich mud with countless others and germinate later at the end of march.

Some of the channels sheltered from the wind are still enough to allow the formation of ice. I paddle through - my canoe a mini ice-breaker - and listen to the novel sounds of ice cracking, and odd hydraulic/ice vibrations…and of tiny ice ‘pucks’ skittering across the surface as my paddles crunch in and out of the water.

I’ve seen sticks lined up like pool cues inside an active beaver lodge. I think that’s just one way they keep snacks on hand to help make it through the winter. When the sun comes out in January, I think even beavers take steps to sit in the warmth, remember the bounty from their last harvest and long for the spring.

In the winter months, our region’s susceptibility to rain results in high (or very high) water levels in the lakes. It’s good to have some kind of a boat to explore the area in the winter.

By March, the plants are beginning to stir. The trees at the waters edge turn from gray to red. The cottonwoods have a hint of green about them; probably both of these color shifts are due to the emergence of buds.

When the water recedes after winter and the ground firms up a little, it is often fruitful to explore the area on foot since the heavy underbrush is gone and the most prolific burr generators have released all their burrs. It is possible to cover a lot of ground fairly quickly and the only troublesome plant you’re likely to encounter will be patches of blackberry thorns.

On any warm day, beavers are likely to take advantage of the situation and resume their tree felling operations. Once a tree is down, they will return night after night and disassemble it into transportable size pieces which they carry away by water, as if they were little tugboats.

By the end of March, it always feels like plants are ready to explode into existence.

The invasive species, the yellow flag iris, is a particularly apt exploder.

May is a prime time to explore the lakes by water. The levels are still high, and nature enters its season of growth. The brush is becoming thick and it will be harder to get around by foot.

This finger of the lake leads to an old beaver dam. By now it is almost a part of the landscape, so overgrown with vegetation and grass, that it is sometimes difficult to recognize its mud and stick core.

The dam looks like a earthen embankment at middle right in the picture above.

Looking back the other way, you can already see how the water level is dropping and how soon, there will only be a beaver dredged channel to reach back to the main portion of the lake.

Some birds build their nests on the ground. This nest was floating when I found it, but I’m not sure if that was intentional or not. It may have been on high ground but was set afloat after an influx of water. There were lots of these nests, all in a similar state. The birds I saw at the time were blue footed ducks, but I have no idea if they belonged to the nests or not.

Above the water…

…on the water…

…and under water

The onslaught of life is universal and all the more impressive for being in this throw-away section of land at the foot of the old St. Johns Landfill.

This sudden teeming life, after the frozen winter when all was gray and still, seems to me to be the basis for all our ideas about life after death and resurrection.

June carries on the nurturing of life with frequent, but warm rain.

Here and there you can see Fall’s contribution to the cycle of new life.

Things grow…ripe.

Towards the end of summer, the exuberance for growth begins to fade as water grows scarce and the sun begins to retreat to the south.

I hadn’t ever seen this much of the water control structure exposed before. It allowed me to paddle my kayak into Bybee lake from the slough that stretches to Kelly Point Park. Ordinarily, you have to portage over the structure. There were only a few navigable channels into the lake, and it was obviously draining, exposed to the tide through an unbroken link to the ocean.

These are the time release capsules manufactured by the yellow flag Iris…waiting to fulfill their function.

As Darwin pointed out, more offspring are produced than can reasonably hope to survive.

The tree's fall display of colors often seems retarded next to the water…like maybe it doesn’t get cold enough to oxidize the sugars or whatever it is that happens so dramatically in other environments. Each species seems to pick out a separate time to change, and within each species, some individuals are ahead of the curve and others obviously procrastinate.

The shadows grow and different life forms appear.

Only skeletons…

…to remind us of the spring.

The Narrative Image NAVIGATION AID

Just a reminder:

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