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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.


  1. All the pictures are great, but I think my favorite part is the bit about the grasshoppers (esp. the chart)

  2. Thanks Shannon. Do you know if grasshoppers can eat dried grass?

  3. hey, aren't grasshoppers like robin hoods of the fields?

  4. Dear Anonymous from Sept. 21, I think I know where you're going with this, but only because it's an inside joke. With the proper historical context, it's very a rubber crutch, if the rubber crutch was dipped in liquid wait...funny like a barrel of monkeys...if the monkeys were dead monkeys. Well crap, this simile thing isn't working for me.

  5. Hi Scott, hey u know at the start of every comment where it says "anonymous said" or "Scott said"??? Well I think there should be randomly generated words or phrases to replace "said" for example, retorted as in Anonymous retorted,.....Others could be, clarified, chided, condescendingly added, hypothesized, droned on...,misspoke,intoned, sarcastically spewed, replied in a poorly worded missive, waited our time with...etc. So if u replied to this comment it might say "Scott giggled:" and then the text of your witty comeback.....whatcha think?

  6. Dear Anonymous from Sept. 23, I really like the idea of being able to modify the word “said” as a preface to comments, but I can’t help but wonder if you really mean that part about having such modifications be “…randomly generated”. Imagine if the random generator chose words like anonymous ‘lovingly said…’ or ‘mimed…’ or even ‘diarrheally discharged…’
    It seems to me it would be more useful if one could purposefully modify the comment attribution line. In fact, I think something like that could go a long way toward solving the problem of signaling the use of sarcasm to those who seem unable to recognize it in written form. For instance, take the benign expression, “I really like the direction this series is going.” On the face of it, this seems to be a positive and affirming statement, especially to those who may be sarcastically tone-deaf, or who may not be culturally literate and therefore unable to pick up on other subtle cues like, “Richie could steer the boat…” However, if the comment could be preceded by the modifier, “sarcastically needled…”, then it would be more obvious that sarcasm was intended. Of course, once new formal avenues of expression become established, they often become targets of possible subversion, especially by those fluent in sarcasm and punmenship. In that case, the purposefully modified comment attribution line would become just another layer in increasingly confusing wordplay. In a previous comment, I tried to describe a potentially funny comment with the simile modifier, “Funny as a rubber crutch...” by which I meant it wasn’t funny (even though I personally thought it was funny), except when I try to imagine a rubber crutch being used…well, it does seem kind of funny, but I think perhaps it shouldn’t be, at least to normal people, because such a crutch might cause pain and further injury to one who may already be injured and in pain. So I tried adding an additional modifier - a crutch dipped in liquid hydrogen. The liquid hydrogen would effectively stiffen the crutch and make it useful again…and I suppose also not be funny at all. Well, that wasn’t really what I wanted to say because there were other mitigating circumstances about how the funny comment was presented. So I tried using another modifier simile, “It was as funny as a barrel of monkeys.” So yeah, maybe I shouldn’t use similes until I understand them better. The point is, just saying you’re going to say something sarcastic creates a sort of meta message that hovers over the root message and changes the nature of the message in complex ways because now there are two messages that can fight each other or be entwined or both e.g.
    X said “I think you are a witty fellow.” = positive affirmation
    X said sarcastically, “I think you are a witty fellow” = not affirmation
    X said sarcastically, “I think it is very likely that you are wittier than a breadbox”. = depends on how witty you think a breadbox is.
    In conclusion, I vote yes for creative expression.

  7. Ref.Your previous reply to my comment where you"can't help but wonder" if I really meant "randomly generated". Did you ever see in the movie The Waterboy? Where the sideline reporter asks Vicki Vallencourt for her prediction and she says 30-27 and he comes back with "where'd you come up with that guess?" and she's like "guess?! That ain't no guess!! That's what it's gonna be!!"...... Well, now imagine her saying with that same disposition...."RANDOMLY GENERATED!!!" it?

  8. Those black & white photos of the coastline are some of your best shots, Scott. -cp



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