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Sunday, September 18, 2011

False Dichotomies: Labor Day...vacation.

A sliver of impotent moon puttered so peripherally on a path near the southern horizon that normally shy stars blazed – emboldened - as they spun and twirled in their 14 billion year old cosmic dance - not even tired yet.

A waxing crescent moon didn’t present much of an impediment to seeing the Milky Way stretching across the apparent dome of the sky. I affixed my camera to the tripod and set it up for a long exposure only to find that I hadn’t brought my remote shutter release. To get an exposure longer than 30 seconds, I’d either have to hold the shutter with my finger (which kind of defeats the purpose) or get creative with band aids and cardboard. I managed to get this four minute exposure before the band-aids unstuck themselves.

* * *

Like anecdotal stories of old time buffalo herds covering the plains, Winnebagos so numerous they can’t be counted inundate the Columbia Gorge – fleeing from smoke filled, sweaty cities. It is almost as if it were the last day to camp… ever. Overnight, a sanctuary for coyotes and ravens is transformed into a crowded metropolis where rangers (and later, cops) argue circularly and at great length with belligerent drunks.  As a muted sun in a copper sky sinks behind canyon walls, the ignition of thousands of Coleman lanterns makes a collective sound like a windstorm. Even so, at dawn, I find an island of calm away from the sea of suggestibles – the restless crowd conforming to the dictates of twelve month calendars (of which I’m evidently a part, or would be if I used a calendar.)

Sinewy trees, blackberry stickers, scrubby burr shedding bushes and jettisoned rim rock line the shore like an immigration fence. In time, I find a gap.

* * *

A fierce defensive arsenal suggests that something precious is at stake -something worth protecting – something worth taking.

Grass firmly rooted in the sloping ground beneath sheer basalt cliff-faces has turned the color of straw. Gusting winds comb it over in the haphazard fashion favored by balding men. I subconsciously direct my feet to find purchase in windblown zigzag ‘parts’, but the shafts of grass are slick and wind polished and the slope is steep and before I understand the danger my feet slip out from under me. No damage this time and looking around furtively to see if there are witnesses, I tell myself I’ll have to be more careful.

I struggle to my feet, take two more steps and fall again, harder than before, and slide into a patch of cactus. Like some enraged porcupine, they quill me. During the fall, when I tried to save myself – tried to balance… my right knee screamed and failed. So I lay there, quiet and still, postponing the pain-accounting, letting the hot sun soothe and console me…thinking maybe I’ll just wait until I get thirsty or hungry… or curious.

* * *

I have of late--but wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire--why, it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.

- William Shakespeare, Hamlet Prince of Denmark (Hamlet act II, ii)

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky. ~Buddha

* * *

Desert still lifes

* * *

The remnants of a plague of grasshoppers haunt patches of brittle golden grass atop barely stabilized dunes. They’d be all but invisible except for their tendency to jump in response to motion. They are very good jumpers, but not so good at planning. It never occurs to them to jump away from danger…they just jump. The result, as I limp along the slopes, is that I’m pelted with a fixed percentage of all the panicked grasshoppers reacting within an eight foot radius

I compare the grasshopper’s survival strategy with my own:
Stimulus         Grasshopper Response     Scott Response
Giants/Boss     Jump/Run away                Buy pizza/Eat pizza

* * *

It takes me more and more time to gain elevation, so when I see deer effortlessly bounce up the hillsides, I begin to suspect magic.

* * *

I’m looking for a particular rock painting. I’ve memorized a series of clues from an archeology book. I need to be able to see both Mt. Hood and Celilo Falls, but I can’t see Mt. Hood even after I reach the top of the west-most plateau. Perhaps smoke from the Dollar Lake fire is obscuring the horizon. Or maybe I am simply in the wrong place. From my vantage point I can see the railroad bridge west of Wishram. Obviously I can’t see the falls (they’ve been under water since the completion of The Dalles Dam) but I can see where they would have been.

An Army Corp of Engineers’ sonar scan of the area shows that the falls are still intact under the surface of the water.

* * *

Today, Hell’s Gate looks like heaven (if you like desert-like landscapes)…

…but just three months ago, the flow rate of the Columbia on the verge of flooding revealed echoes of long hidden rapids in the form of massive standing waves at the threshold to hell.

 Hell’s Gate. Not just an arbitrary name.

* * *

I’m unable to find the artwork I was looking for. But I do revisit previously found galleries. I sit and look and take photographs. I leave and return when the light changes and the shadows shift and look all over again. These sites look as if they were established locations that invited repeated artistic contributions. Images are painted in red, white, black, and some are even pecked, carved or scratched into the rock. Some images overlap. Are the overlapping images added story elements? Revisions? Historical Records? Signs? Arguments? Consensus? Reiterations of a culture’s treasured myths?  Is the common ray-arc symbol – that umbrella like feature over the heads of stick figures – supposed to remind us of the sun? Does it denote political or spiritual power? Is it a chief’s feathered head-dress? Does it suggest power? Is it good or bad?

The pecked stick figure with crowning ray-arc is more boldly represented in the rock than the spiral object at upper right. Which came first? Are the figures related? Is the spiral object really a spiral, or is it concentric circles? What are the rules for adding rays?

Mineral deposits and perhaps centuries of weather have contributed to the appearance of these paintings. Is the ray-arced figure entering into or emerging from light, or is that an accident of time – a spurious interpretation based on errant minerals. The ray-arced stick figure clearly has more head accouterments than the other figures in this grouping. Is it reasonable to deduce the ray-arc is a sign of status? Are they performing a jumping dance?

 Just beautiful.

 I challenge you not to look up.

A variation on a theme – a ray arc hat with nucleated rays.  Note also the stylistically different animal with tree –like antlers.

* * *

This area has a long history. Cattle grazed here. Evidently, wood fence posts were something of a luxury.

* * *

These small birds use fractured columnar basalt like other birds use trees. They seemed overly suspicious of my intrusion and continuously monitored my activity. I could not always see them, but I could hear their wings flutter as they darted about, striving always to be stealthy.

* * *

Exploring the shoreline, I discover a lone head of cabbage. I am certain it is not indigenous to this island so I try to account for its presence. My favorite theory is that, enroute from the cabbage farm to the sauerkraut factory, this head of cabbage managed a daring escape from the cabbage truck, perhaps timing a leap as the truck crossed a bridge, and somehow bouncing or rolling into the river where it swam to this bandit cave.

* * *

 The river shows off its kaleidoscopic vision of the shore.

Regularly spaced trees in single file suggest humans are repeatedly attracted to this area and can’t help but tinker.

* * *

 Upward pointing arrows...


* * *

* * *

The Dalles – Land of harsh light and grasshoppers
The Coast – Land of shrouded mystery and slugs

 Typically photogenic, the ocean manifests privacy issues over the holiday.

But I suppose I would be shy too if the entire metropolitan population of Oregon (except for those folks camping east of the Dalles) suddenly tried to park on my street.

 Cape Lookout sticks two miles out into the ocean…

 …not that I ever really saw the ocean.

 I finally found a hiking partner that I can keep up with.

 Not the best day for whale watching.

 Above the clouds, you can see all the way to the end of the world.

 Beneath the clouds at Cape Kiwanda.

Marine air sneaking inland through river valleys under cover of night.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Central Oregon Road Trip or Oystergeddon: The Epilogue

Under a pine tree canopy, one would expect to find groundcover consisting of pine needles and twigs. But after the excesses of Oystergeddon, the ground in proximity to the fire is covered in a thick layer of spent oyster shells so that in the foggy gloom of daybreak, the scene resembles a winter wonderland but only because the fog makes it really hard to see.

Hidden in the confines of his tent, Kip, with tremulous voice asks, “Are you guys feeling O.K. this morning?”

Uncle Rico’s voice drifts up through oyster shell covers (I have never seen him sleep in a tent), “Never felt better!”

I respond less enthusiastically owing to a somewhat expected chemical reaction that results from brain cells marinating in rum, “I’m O.K.” I answer, “Why?”

From inside my tent I can hear Kip respond non-verbally - the noise he makes frantically unzipping his tent. I catch a glimpse of him running off into the mist with a roll of toilet paper.

Fortunately (for me and Uncle Rico at least) Kip seems to be the only casualty…or is he?

Fast forward a week to find me on the road in my trusty Ford – clenching – looking for release. Like a hapless half-breed Vulcan trying to rule his emotions with pure logic, I try to exert a similar discipline on my sphincter.

I pull into Madras. It isn’t too late to utilize a fast food establishment’s facilities (Give the KFC in front of the theater credit for a spotless restroom). Tragedy has been averted for now, but the ominous hydraulic noises emanating from my colon suggest I’m not ready to go anywhere just yet. So I watch a movie while waiting for nature to take its course. 

Still photo from Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Photo by WETA - ©2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Caesar the chimpanzee consoles me. “Don’t forget to keep clenching.” He warns me, “You’ve been so forgetful lately!” He does his best not to let me see his worried expression (He reminds me so much of Monkey-cam).

Did I say ‘trusty’ Ford?

Smith Rock State Park at dawn

Sure, it’s kind of pretty, but I was really impressed with the restroom located in the day-use area. After a couple false starts, I begin to recognize a pattern – the third time’s a charm.

I don’t think deer worry about bowel irregularities very often.

I take the River Trail. By this I don’t mean I actually wade in the water. It’s just the name of the trail. It snakes around the rock-climbing-structures of note, following the path of the Crooked River.

These structures make me homesick for the olden days when I used to be able to pass something more substantial.

I’d only ever seen pictures of Smith Rock State Park, and the pictures led me to believe I’d be seeing a natural wonder comparable to Yosemite. But being there in person…well, it was like looking at a bonsai mountain range. That’s not to say that the rocks are small – they aren’t – I’m just saying there was a brief moment of cognitive dissonance. Later, after taking the Misery Ridge Trail to the summit, I gained a better appreciation for how big and scary these rocks are relative to primates.

On the way to the summit, I passed the structure called ‘Monkey Head’…

…and marveled at what passes for fun for some people. Maybe the feeling you get from rock climbing is similar to the feeling I got that time I didn’t die at Willapa Bay, but I imagine it is more intense, direct and visceral.

My fear of heights seems to be growing in proportion to my age. It has something to do with a lack of confidence in my body's abilities to follow my brains directions. I started getting nervous just walking on the trail and looking over the edge. 

The next stop on my central Oregon loop is something called Fort Rock which I learned about in William Sullivan’s book, Hiking Oregon’s History. According to Sullivan, Fort Rock is the remains of a maar – a volcanic explosion crater that erupted in the middle of what was, at the time, a vast Pleistocene lake.

The resulting ‘tuff’ ring formed an island like a great walled city.

Over time, waves driven by the prevailing winds from the south breached the ring giving this geologic feature the crescent shape it has today…very much reminiscent of commercial toilet seats found in public restrooms. Once again, the local restroom facilities prove to be immaculate and I am forced to adhere to the ‘third time’s a charm’ elimination protocol (you have to walk around a bit between each ‘event’).

If it hadn’t been for Sullivan’s book, I don’t think I would have realized that the notch in the rock above is evidence of the action of waves on the shoreline of a long vanished lake.

From a vantage point at a gap in the ‘tuff’ ring another volcanic structure can be seen across the sagebrush plain which is said to house a cave – the former repository for woven sandals (the worlds oldest shoes) manufactured in this area 9000 years ago. This is pretty good evidence that people with feet were roaming/swimming in these parts about 8000 years earlier than was previously thought.

The location of the cave isn’t immediately obvious to me. The volcanic butte is on private land and scheduled tours are limited. I spend a few moments trying to imagine the prehistoric lake. I try to imagine setting out for the shoe store in the family canoe.

Subtle gurgling noises begin emanating from my colon and my imagination begins to veer off course. What would you do if you were in the middle of a lake in a canoe and your body received the imperative to ‘go’?  My real dilemma is not all that dissimilar from my imaginary one. I could not be any further away from the rest room. I stop walking and concentrate and wait for the contractions to pass. When they do, I am worn out and sweaty, but my pants are unsoiled. I double time it back to the restroom – I know I don’t have much time before the next set of contractions.

I do wonder about sanitation 9000 years ago. Did the prevailing taboos of that time anticipate germ theory? What did they do with all their poop? Are outhouses universal? What did they do when they got sick? What kind of medicines did they give each other? I know we ‘modern’ humans think we’re the pinnacle of evolution and often express the conceit that pre-industrial cultures were hopelessly primitive, but have you ever tried to weave sandals out of sagebrush bark?

In route to a crack in the ground, I pass a red horse in Christmas Valley.

Yep. It’s a crack in the ground.

It’s refreshingly cool in the crack, but sometimes smells a little like a thawing freezer.

For a whole lot of nothing…it sure is beautiful.

Somewhere in the night in the long gap between towns, I confront all those philosophical conundrums about ‘life’ and ‘meaning’. I wonder what my special purpose is. And then suddenly it strikes me like a thunderbolt. I have a special power, like those characters in Heroes (or Misfits). It turns out that I can transform anything I eat into a brown liquid.

Honorable Mentions

Porta-potty at Pacific Pride gas station just South of Bend.
There’s no reason this commercial fueling card-lock facility needs to have un-locked porta-potties available in the middle of the night…but they did.

Outhouse/Rest Area West of Mitchell
Nice placement for this typical State of Oregon, well maintained outhouse. Extra points for fascinating illustrated reading material detailing the garbage that maintenance workers have to retrieve from the poo puddle.

I hadn’t been to the Painted Hills since 2007.

The thing about the Painted Hills is they don’t look real. The other thing about the Painted Hills is that you’re not allowed to walk on them.  Once those two facts are taken into account, it’s just one small step to a conspiracy theory (i.e. the rangers actually paint the hills every couple of years when the tourists aren’t looking). So this visit I spend some time at The Painted Cove Trail where the boardwalk allows for up-close detailed examination of the strange popcorn-textured surface of the hills.

Having once been a professional painter, it seems entirely plausible that barefoot rangers with airless paint sprayers could easily achieve this effect.

It kind of looks like it must have rained before this year’s coat of paint dried completely.

All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain...

- Roy Batty

In previous postings, I’ve expressed wonder and admiration for the rock art I’ve been privileged to find. I wonder about its purpose, and what messages from across time are still stored in canyons and caves around the world.  But I don’t know… Is it me? Today it just looks like stick figures are experiencing a brown discharge between their legs. 

This repeated vandalism explains why people who know the location of this artwork won’t tell you.

I stop at Blue Basin briefly, but once again the message at these archeological sites is, “Don’t touch!”

I travel on to Fossil and Condon to find Indian Pictographs that I read about in a book dating back to the sixties. I pretend to be an investigative reporter and visit the post office and the newspaper. I get some leads, but nothing pans out (so far).

In the meantime, I run an experiment utilizing Tabasco as a distinctive identifier. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but the results of the experiment seem to indicate that it takes about 3.5 hours for me to work my special alchemy.

No reason really…it just looked old-timey to me.

I notice some Transformers joining ranks outside of Condon, preparing to defend the town from Decepticons.

I can remember back to a time when all we were able to harvest from a field like this was wheat.

I don’t think I will ever know the full story behind why this house lies deserted and in ruins.

But if I were a betting man, I would put my money on the story these discarded oyster shells might tell.

I look around to get my bearings, and head home.

The Narrative Image NAVIGATION AID

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