adventures


4
Aug 21

Blog birthday – the joy of expression and the possibility of “if”

On this day, 18 years ago, I started writing this blog. I was inspired by Salam Abdulmunem and Raywat Deonandan. Back then, Abdulmunem, writing under the pseudonym Salam Pax, was telling us about the war going on in his backyard, in Baghdad. Today he doesn’t seem to be blogging, but Abdulmunem is working for UNICEF. He’s also turned those early days of his writing into a book or two. Deonandan was and is an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Ottawa. He’s a talented writer.

It all stemmed from those two specifically, but also many of the other blogs I was reading, and the question of “What would it be like, if?” A few of those blogs, happily, are still active. But just a few. I stay up-to-date. Most moved on with their lives, of course. Some made an announcement, told of a better writing assignment or what have you. Others just … stopped. And I always wonder about those. And about this place. What happens, if?

Mostly, though, as it pertains to this blog, I wonder what I will write about each day. I wonder how I could do more here. How I can simultaneously use more regular features, but avoid them because they are repetitive. I wonder, how I could make it more interesting, find more intriguing things to talk about, fascinating places to visit and so on. I often wonder where I can find more time in the day in which to do it. There’s a lot that goes into the service of an active personal blog.* (We aren’t mentioning here things I’ve written for pleasure or professionally in other places and formats.)

On that first day, 18 years ago, I quoted a verse from Proverbs, one about humility. Nothing is more humbling than writing, I figured. Sometimes that is correct; often that’s wrong. But I did not have all of this wisdom then, see, that I have today.

I wrote two notes about Little Rock, one of them was a story I would have surely covered if I still worked there. (I was a year removed.) The other was about the terrific numbers my old station had in their latest ratings book. (They were the top station back then. They’re second today, according to the spring numbers.) I also had an observation about my family and the great Nanci Griffith, who I happened to be listening to that night. I listened to a lot of her music. Still do.

And that was 18 years ago, hosted on Blogspot, powered by Blogger. There were a few thousand posts there. I moved everything to this site in 2004 — my URL celebrates 17 years Friday. The blogging shifted to WordPress in April of 2010. Some 3,700-plus posts and counting since then. The site has welcomed 4.19 million users and the front page of the blog has had just over one million. When you count the many different pages it’s a bit more than that, but I don’t have a streamlined way to see that data.

And so we’ll start another year, right here. Let’s see what happens, if.

*I didn’t intend for this week to be grounded in random anniversaries, but themes have a way of writing themselves sometimes. Tomorrow, back to the normal stuff, I promise.


16
Jul 21

Rocks and washing machines

I was gripped, a few years ago, by an article that made the case for the washing machine as the most important invention of the 20th century. Sure, you say, there’s also the refrigerator and the computer and/or the microchip. Penicillin, a discovery rather than an invention, doesn’t count.

The argument has been spelled out in many other newspaper opinion columns, in historical research and even in one of the 20th century’s oddest inventions, TED Talks. Simply put, doing the laundry was once an all day exercise. It was hard, backbreaking labor. It was almost exclusively ‘a woman’s job.’ And when the first powered washing machines came along, they freed up people, almost all of them women, to do other things. Probably it helped with their hand care, too.

I asked my grandmother about this article at some point. She always called it The Wash. If you heard her say it, you heard the capital T and capital W. The Wash. Do you remember, I said, a time before you had a washer and dryer?

“Of course,” she said, in that not-dismissive-but-entirely-obvious way that your elders can use on you.

I asked her when she got her first washer. It was when they’d built and moved into that very house, the only one I’d ever known my grandparents in. It was the 1950s. She was a young woman still starting a new family. The washer and dryer lived on the covered back porch. (Where the laundry connections are is almost a tell. Back porch, that’s hedging your bets on this technology at best, an afterthought at worst. In the two houses I grew up in the connections were in the basement. Out of the way, but inherently inconvenient. In our house today the laundry is upstairs, very near the bedrooms.)

I asked how she did The Wash before she had a washer and dryer. She took it down to the creek. Soap, boards, stones, the old antiquated thing. That’s just what you did. This is the middle of the 20th century.

Which is where my story gets a little foggy. My grandparents’ house was surrounded by a creek. It’s just a small bit of water that breaks off a larger waterway which is itself a slough of a tributary of the Tennessee River — and we talked about that yesterday. If you saw it on a map, my grandparents’ road and the creek almost make a four-way intersection. I started wandering through their woods at a young and early age, when some of those creeks looked like wild, untamable testaments of God and nature. And to my young mind that water was everywhere.

The water was nice. It was always cool, and it always looked clean. But it was never the water that interested me the most, it was the rocks.

Where I grew up was far enough away from my grandparents that the soil was, in places, noticeably different. All of my family lived in this area, a place around a massive river, where the water was a dominant element of everyday life. Having different topographical features where I grew up meant I spent a lot of time playing in the little streams and on the rocky shores.

On a physiographic map this is on something called the Highland Rim, the southernmost section of the Interior Low Plateaus of the Appalachian Highlands Region. By name and almost everything else, it’s a series of contradictions. It’s messy and beautiful.

How the underlying rocks erode in different ways define the area. The rocks formed during the Mississippian period (353 to 323 million ago. Explain that to a kid taken in by the many colors and the smooth polished feel that ages in the water have created.

I lived in a different physiographic region, a bit to the south, in the Valley and Ridge province. Our soil was exclusively clay and, to me, the rocks didn’t have the same sort of interesting character. Has to be that river, I always thought when I was young. I told you yesterday, the river figures into everything, so why not the rocks?

It actually has to do with the mountains.

Kaiser Science tells us:

The mountains of the British Isles and Scandinavia turn out to be made of the same kind of rock, and formed in the same historical era.

Evidence shows that in the past all of these were one mountain system, torn by the moving of the tectonic plates – continental drift.

Put another way, if you like the hypothesis of continental drift, you look at this as a broken mountain range, making these mountains older than the Atlantic Ocean.

A few years ago, longer after the Atlantic Ocean was formed, we visited London and caught a changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

There’s a lot of standing around and waiting and jockeying for position and wondering who you’ll see and what the bands will play. It’s good fun if you are patient, and you don’t mind crowds.

We walked to the palace, from wherever we’d been before, through Green Park, and we returned that same way. At one point there in the park I looked down and picked up this rock. It looked familiar. Looked like home.

I brought it back with me, and later took it to my grandmother.

The queen has the same rocks you do!

As ever, my enthusiasm was what amused her most.

If you look at that map, you can see it. The rocks you saw when you were doing chores are the same sort of rocks the queen of the United Kingdom was used to. Their rocks, your rocks, same kinds of rocks.

I wonder when the queen got her first washing machine.


7
Jul 21

Things I saw on the road

If you’re in the car at the right time, you can see something dramatic. You could see something dramatic at anytime, really. It depends on your definitions. A good stable molecular structure is all around us and that’s nothing short of miraculous, if you ask me. Maybe it depends on where you’re willing to look. Going outside helps. I should do that more. But, still the quantum nature of stuff in the house, or in the office or in the studio can be equally impressive …

But those early evening clouds, they sure are swell, aren’t they?

You know how modern phone commercials advertise everything but the actual phone? I’d like to see a few commercials that show the next practical advancements of phone cameras. You want to wow me? Make me buy a new phone? Show me a model that captures an impressive moon photo, or makes a rainbow’s photo look as glorious as the optical illusion of a spectrum caused by the reflection and refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets in the sky.

If I’d had a proper camera with me today, maybe that would be better. But it’s still dramatic in its own way. A rainbow! Shift to the left, hand in the pocket, pull out the phone, open that wondrous little app and snap a series of tries. It’s a picture of chance, a photo of opportunity. The car never slowed down. There’s no thought to composition, only that old story about the pot of gold that’s at the other end, and a wry smile about how that end of the rainbow is always moving.

If you want to improve your non-moving-car rainbow photography, there’s a lot of advice out there. You can also learn to make your own rainbows. See, dramatic anytime.

More of this tomorrow!


30
Jun 21

Beaches

This is the last of the mini-vacation posts. We’ve been back from a four-day trip for a week. I’ve managed to coax a week and-a-half of posts, and 41 photos and a dozen videos out of it. And all of it is interesting and of vital importance to the Internet.

So we’ll relax today and unwind with a bit of time at the beach.

This is out on a morning run. I know there are other places like this, but one of my favorite features of the Pacific Northwest is how the hills and mountains just fall right into the ocean.

Where I’m from you’d have to drive more than three hours from the coast to see any hill of note. So looks like that always intrigue me.

Here’s a bit more of that path that runs along the coast. The ocean is just off to the left there, just a few yards away. And yet, there are little hills here, and it’s made of a sand and soil stable enough to put down asphalt.

And while those pines and firs are familiar, this scrubby, tall grass is something of a new treat.

You know, another thing you don’t see anywhere but on a coast is sculpture like this. Two hundred miles inland it’d make no sense to see boat bumpers hanging on a light post. That far away, you’d roll your eyes at industrial fish netting on the wall of anything other than a Long John Silver’s. And this would be right out.

Here we are, down on the beach one day. That’s not me fishing, of course.

And while any of my photography professors would say I blew the rule of thirds in that picture, I nailed the golden ratio. That guy’s face lands in the Fibonacci circle, even though I was far from considering that while I was on the beach. Also, you’ll note his fishing pole is point up at the sun, and his eyes are looking that same way, which directs your eyes up to the sun, which just appears in the corner. Only some of those things were on my mind while trying to keep the sand out of my shoes. It’s a pretty happy series of accidents that came together to create a fairly dynamic and decent composition. And sand got in my shoes anyway, as it should be on the beach.

Here’s a video of that beach, from almost that same spot.

Again, that hill just falls right into the sea. There’s something wonderful about that.

And here’s a bit more, just in case it has been too long since you’ve seen the ocean.

It’s been a week for me, maybe it’s already too long.


29
Jun 21

The lighthouses

Why, yes, we are on day four of milking our four-day trip that took place a full week ago. You’d rather I try to make office things interesting or something?

We romanticize lighthouses these days. They were critically important tools, and unique features of rugged and beautiful landscapes. Running them was often a solitary and always demanding life. Everything was regimented and the drudgery was vital to the mission. And, when we’re away from them it’s easy to idealize lighthouses.

When you get there, it can be a little different. They’re built where they are needed. That’s often far away from everyone else. And the entire effort toward making them operational was beholden to the keeper’s job and the purpose of the place. The creature comforts are sparse to say the least.

Here’s the North Head Lighthouse, which were were able to get right next to. They do tours in a non-Covid time. It’s a small lighthouse, the tours probably don’t take long.

In May of 1898, the North Head Lighthouse went into service as the primary navigation aid at the mouth of the Columbia River. It remains in operation today, but the system is automated, and augmented by GPS and other modern technologies.

The lighthouse offers sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, Long Beach Peninsula, Columbia River Bar, and the northern Oregon Coast.

We could not get that close to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. It went into service in October of 1856, but it didn’t solve the problem. Ships continued to run aground, often with fatal consequence. The “Graveyard of the Pacific” makes for some tricky and violent waters. The largest ocean and the region’s largest river come together, and so here we are, Cape Disappointment.

As the crow flies, they are just two miles apart; apparently the closest two lighthouses on the Pacific coast.

Where we are at in that Cape Disappointment photograph figures into the sum total of American history. The Chinook tribe are the longest standing residents of which we know. They called Cape Disappointment Kah’eese. A few other names came and went, but the Disappointment name comes from a Western explorer, of course. He named it that because he thought there was no river there. Some explorer. Another, more successful, exploration wound up here. Lewis and Clark stood on these very rocks. The Corps of Discovery came right here, to the very edge of the continent.

Here’s a bit of video, just to give you a bit of a mental vacation, if you will. This is a shot of the North Head Lighthouse.

And here’s a quick video of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, and we’ve arranged for a freighter to turn into the Columbia River to add a bit of realism. (We pull out all the stops for you, dear reader.)

Tomorrow: more vacation highlights. We’re going to the beach.