Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How to Have a Good Time

Highlights, observations, stats, and the collective activities roster from an epic two day, eight person, gloriously beachy weekend getaway in little ol' Pacific City, Oregon.

The word version:
Most incredible fiery-ball-into-the-ocean-sunset you've ever seen. Frisbee. Sandy ups. Earth Day. Beach house rental. Salmon dinner. Creepy dolphin swings. Milk-drinking sharks. Firewood. Shooting stars. High fives. The saddest buoy you've ever heard, Poseidon blowing over an empty bottle. Late night. Bunk beds and floor space. Early morning. Cold water. Perfect waves, gently rolling, glassy and lava-like. Good light. Wetsuit surfing. Dudes who look like seals. Crab claws that look like sharp-toothed jawbones. Cold hands. Hot shower. Rock hounding. Binoculars. Haystack rock. Tide pools. Starfish. Anemones, blue bowls of soft, sticky tongues. Mussels. Whiny barnacles, spitting secrets. Dragon toes, I swear it. No rain. Coffee. Eggs. Sun! Bare feet! Shorts. Pale skin. Sand. Splash. Oh my God, sun! Skimboarding. Walking. Running. The riding of bikes. The riding of handlebars on bikes. The climbing of dunes. Sun. Attempted mussel harvesting. Failed mussel harvesting. Sun. Breeze. Kite flying, its like walking an airborne dog. Creative kite boarding. Bare belly to the sun. Seagulls. Sand dollars. Dead cormorant. Reading. The observation of basketball. The observation of an epic Blazers comeback. Napping. Miami Vice. Spaghetti. Kindling. Wood stove. Fire.The aggressive consumption of untold quantities of beer. Cards. Poker. Real classy chips, the kind that make a solid thump when they fall. Did you put enough in? House wins. Fail. Full refunds granted. Take that dollar and buy yourself something nice, kid. Late night. Minimal but happy sleep. Sunday morning paper. Orange juice. Rain. Scandinavian apple pastry delights with unpronounceable names. New friends. Sleepy drive. Perfect spring weekend.

The picture version:

Stay gold, Pony Boy
But my party will be truly safron
Point Break
Hey! Stack Rock
Baby Sarlaccs?
Low Tide

Asteroidea: as in minor planets, as in five-armed wonders


Check out these guns

Come here often?
Riding on handlebars in spring is pure whimsy-fun-pleasure

Seriously, give us a puppy in a basket and clear bell

The optimist pleasantly ponders how high her kite will fly

Riding it

Even the dead still find ways to be beautiful

Go on and dance yourself clean

Friday, April 22, 2011

Every Possible You

An excerpt from Luis Alberto Urrea's The Hummingbird's Daughter:

....."In this globe, she was riding the train. In the next globe, she was a child. In the third globe, she was dressed in fine clothes, walking down a city street. She held children. She was pregnant. She was laughing. She was weeping. She was asleep. She held a weapon. She was naked and washing herself. She made love to a man whose face she could not see. Her wedding day. Dressed in mourning black. Her legs held up and a baby coming forth. Some globes were so far away that Teresita could barely see herself or see herself only as a small dark figure among others. They were all clear to her, though most of them were too small to be seen at all. She was everywhere in the sky. She turned around and saw herself behind herself, reading a book; cooking; preaching; laying hands on a child; riding; sleeping.

"What is this?" she asked.
"Isn't it beautiful?" said Huila.
"It is you," Huila said.
"I don't understand."
"It is you. Every you, every possible you. Forever, you are surrounded by countless choices of which you are to be. These are your destinies."
Huila touched a globe. It rang softly like a chime.In it, Teresita sat on the train.
"This is your next second," Hila said.
Teresita turned and stared.
"All of them. Every moment of your life, every instant, looks like this. Do you see? You are always in a universe of choices. Any moment of your life can go in any direction you choose."
"Learn to choose."
"Learn to see. This is your life, what it looks like to God. Every second of every day."
Teresita stood in the water and put her hands out to the globes.
"Most of us," Huila said, "trudge in a straight line. All day every day, we march like sheep. Look straight ahead. What do you see?"
She stared into the globe in front of her.
"My own face."
"We spend our lives walking into our own mirrors. All we see is ourselves as we walk down the road."
Huila spread her arms.
"Look to the side."
Teresita turned her head, and looked in the window of the train. Tomas (her father) was still asleep. Huila was gone.
"Huila!" she cried. "Where are you?"
"Beside you," Huila's voice said. "Where I have always been."
"Don't go!"
"I must."
"Look ahead."
Teresita turned.
(Thanks for sharing, Mama, and thank you, Terry.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Fine and Private Place

“When [Sabine] felt low, she would get into the car, leave Prague far behind, and walk through one or another of the country cemeteries she loved so well.  Against the backdrop of blue hills, they were as beautiful as a lullaby.  For Franz a cemetery was an ugly dump of stones and bones.”
 –from The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

I am drawn to cemeteries. Especially the old ones. When on road trips I like to stop if one catches my eye, wrought-iron gate beckoning.When living in a new place, I like to see who might be in the neighborhood. Sometimes I'll take a book and find a tree. Sometimes I'll read the names out loud. I like to keep it friendly. Bright. I like to brush my hands over lichen and moss and cracks in the granite. I love that there are always crows or ravens, pushing aside sunlight with their black hoods, keeping watch, delivering messages.

Yesterday I returned to Portland's Lone Fir Cemetery,
a place I visited with a friend my first perfect day in town. Like everything in the northwest, this place gets a lot of moss action. It creeps in, a soft and slow green hand on a sharp shoulder blade. A verdant shall, a velvet hat. My favorite is when it dips into shallow letters, brings names back to life.

The Vietnamese have a tradition of burning paper money, real or fake, at grave sites. They hold the bills out, fanned and drooping like wilting flowers--lighting the edges with a long, thin match. Flames unfurl, orange and crimson blooms, and the ashes drift up or down, to be gathered and tendered in some new world. The image is more romantic, more dramatic then some of the offerings here: pack of smokes in a glass ashtray. Broken vases. Bits of fading plastic. A toy car. A warm beer.
 And yet, a gift is a gift. 
Love is love.

Pour some out.

Out there, across the ocean, Celtic mounds gently rise above dead leaders wrapped in salt and wool, in striped badger skins. Chinese kings preside over vast tombs filled with weapons, pottery, deep green jade. Oh, and people, too. Minions. Sacrificial offerings of bone and tooth. Mummies blink their kohl-stained eyes, pet their withered cats.

Here there is moss. And pine cones arranged in strange prayer. Here there are scented needles, lattice among bright dandelions. Cracks in cold stones. Broken-faced angels. Here catkins sway in benediction. Birches weep. Wet breath anoints the dead, coaxes old names back into green. Here black birds brood. They have a job to do, like anyone else. Here, there are pilgrims, calling to no one in particular, keeping company in this fine and private place, remembering lives that were not their own.

"The praise that comes from love does not make us vain, but more humble." --J.M. Barrie

"Every angel is terrifying."

"And the priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds..."

"And one day we will die, and our ashes will fly, from the aeroplane over the sea... But for now we are young, let us lay in the sun, and count every beautiful thing we can see..."

"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning."
--Louis L'Amour

Friday, April 15, 2011

Higashiyama Kaii Says What?

 "Flowers look up at the moon.
The moon looks at the flowers... This must be what is called an encounter... If the flowers are in full bloom all the time and if we exist forever, we won't be moved by this encounter. Flowers exhibit their glow of life
by falling to the ground..."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls

Block. Cascade. Cataract. Chute. Fan. Horsetail. Punchbowl.
These aren't dance moves. They're not plumbing apparatuses. They're not hipster hair styles. They're waterfalls.
Which western Oregon and western Washington have in spades.

Last week had a perfect, bluebird day. You get the feeling that days like are grounds for a public holiday in Portland in spring--like a fire drill. The siren sun goes off and and it is mad rush to get the hell out of whatever building you might be in, and find a big ol' patch of warm and take off your wool socks for the first time in seasons, letting your poor, pasty white dogs blink their toes in the blinding light like little naked mole rats. The day was warm enough that after some reptilian reverie, the idea of a swim actually seemed not only possible, but preferable to any other activity.

Listen to the Ladies Come on and Let Me Spawn
An hour later: Flat rock, rushing Washougal River, Aegean blue, dippers doing their double dip, clouds building, sun shining, legs numb, seriously numb, cold water, mini-falls...and unknown fish. Jumping fish. Soaring fish. Gilled madmen. Crazy kamikaze missiles of scale and fin, flying through the air, hearts and minds and gonads afire with the need to spawn, hurtling themselves against the current, up the falls, into foamy oblivion. I'd never seen such a thing in person. It was like watching someone bang their head against a wall, kind of frustrating, and yet, you're routing for them, because at one point, some sturdy-noggined bloke cracked plaster and not skull, and busted through that wall. And on the other side there was sex! Glorious sex! Likely immediately proceeded by death, but still! What a way to go. These fish... watching them fight gravity and water pressure and the lazy urge to just curl up with a good book in a nice calm eddy... amazing. I know it happens all the time. Its just fish being fish. Its just biology. But from my rock, it all seemed very Greek. All Eros and Pathos and Poetry.
They were like superheros, just going for it.

For Reals
I love the power of water.

You can feel it so clearly near waterfalls. Last week I checked out Multnomah Falls along the Columbia. With an impressive 620 foot double-down, its the king of Oregon falls.

This one feels electric.

The mist just fans out, and swirls around, traveling up and down at the same time, baptizing its adoring congregations of the happiest moss you've ever seen.

Pure power.

Now I like to imagine what kind of super fish on what kind of steriods thinking about what kind of Helen of Troy would be foolhardy and big-hearted enough to tackle this bad boy. Do the Dance.

We salute you!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Lies Beneath

The other day I was driving down along Columbia River with my friend, Tim. We'd just finished a sweet and windy hike up and back from Dog Mountain, and we were talking about the River. We were imagining what this part of the river must have been like before the dams went in, back when the water was a wild and braided tangle of swirling tributaries, festooned with islands, thick with trees, decorated by the great stick nests of ospreys. Back when falls and fish dominated this river, and tribes camped near it, hauling out great and heavy catches of shimmering protein, and settlers and explorers both feared its wildness, and, let's face it, were probably pretty annoyed when scheming ways to cross it. For all its beauty and bounty, I'm guessing this river was kind of a pain in the ass.

Starting in British Columbia and running nearly 1,250 miles before hitting the Pacific, the Columbia is the biggest river in the Pacific northwest, and the the fourth-biggest by water-volume in the country. Its fourteen hydroelectric dams produce more hydropower than any other American river. Back in the early 1940s the federal Bonneville Power Administation hired a young Woodie Guthrie to write a series of songs advocating for the damming of the river in hopes of winning over public opinion with catchy chords and thoughtful lyrics ("your power is turning our darkness to dawn.."). Orion published a great article by Matt Rasmussen about this very, seemingly ironic (Woodie being a giant hippie and all) thing. If you haven't heard and want to get edumacated, listen to Roll On Columbia, Roll On here.

Anyway, on that day, straddling Oregon and Washington, we happened to be right by the Bonneville Dam. I'd already been thinking about the Bonneville Dam, not because I'm a hydrogeek or think about dams often, but because of the fish hatchery there. And more specifically, because of a particular fish who lives there. Herman.

Herman is a white sturgeon. I realize if you're not Ichthy-minded that isn't much of a descriptor. I could say Herman is a bluegill, or a cutthroat, or a clownfish, and you may or may not conjure up an approximate mugshot. For one thing, Herman is not at all white. He is gray. But lots of things are gray. And grey. Some more helpful terms and adjectives that might improve an Introduction to Herman would be: Big. Really, really big. Monstrous. Ancient. Armored. Alien. Sharky. Not unlike a battleship. Primitive. Mustachioed. Trash-compactor. Beastly. Seriously, huge. Badass. And, to quote a writer friend Brian Doyle, the Oh My Fucking God Fish. (Brian has an essay about these fish forthcoming in Orion, so keep your eye out.)

And here, if those don't help, just check him out for yourself:

Acipenser transmontanus = whoa
Smaller friends, minions

Herman is about eleven feet long and weighs in at about 600 pounds. No one is exactly sure how old he is, and I bet he likes it that way.

This mouth could eat your cat
White sturgeon are a primitive and mysterious fish. They hang out at the river bottom, shlooping up foodstuffs from the muck with their big mushy, toothless mouths. The biggest can reach twenty feet in length, and weigh over 1,500 pounds. They don't have scales, and their gray armored skin looks tough enough to make into a pair of boots. Smelly boots. They are a late-maturing species, and females don't start to spawn until they are in their twenties, at which point they may release a few million eggs at a time. Damn.

Suffice to say, it was pretty awe-inspiring to stand at eye-level with these ancient krakens. And to think of how many more are barging it along the river bottom, along with god knows what other crazy things, at this very moment. A few years ago a writhing, swirling ball of nearly 60,000 of these guys rolled right into the base of the dam. They don't know why that live wrecking ball of fish was bowling down the river, but they think the hitting the dam part it was accidental.
Or at least they hope it was...