Hope Springs Eternal in the Columbia Gorge

WPA Stairs, Bonniville # 2
WPA Stairs, Bonneville, Oregon # 2

Driving through the Columbia Gorge, as I do back and forth to work every weekday could have a tendency to make the spectacular into the mundane.  I think about this sometimes when the light isn’t quite right, and I decline to get out a camera because because the stunning vista before me looks a little gray.  I wonder at these times how someone from somewhere less dramatic would see it, and at that point I get out the camera.

My commute is fairly long:  About an hour each way.  I live in Hood River (a fact that I’ve mentioned a few times on this here blog).  I best describe it as the place closest to the concept of paradise to be found in the northern hemisphere.  I work in a place called Gresham, which is akin to where Dante’ ended up after leaving paradise (with apologies to Gresham residents).  Fortunately, It’s only the First Circle.  Work is about 52 miles from Hood River as the crow flies, unless it finds some delectable squirrel jerky on the way.

Always, to my mind in the last 27 years since moving to Oregon, the Columbia Gorge was the Columbia Gorge:  Timeless beauty with lush greenery, waterfalls, and monumental cliffs.  I wonder what it would be like to soar like an eagle off of a high ledge, and be held aloft be the wind, and to see that landscape under me (and to not be looking solely for rodents, and other fauna that goes “squeak!”).  I’m certain I would want to have a camera.  This “always”, and “timeless” was put though a test late last year.

It was called the Eagle Creek Fire.

The Summer Solstice was long gone, as were the short nights.  Darkness was creeping back into my commute.  Labor day came, and the trails were filled to the gills with hikers.  One of them was packing fireworks.

Some climatological notes: Unless you live east of the Mississippi, you should understand that the Dog Days of Summer in the west leave parched bones in the desert.  In the Pacific Northwest, fall, winter, and spring are wet (Portlanders joke about having webbed feet), but toward the end of June, the weather changes.  The dry time begins.  Lawns die, rivers run low, and trees with shallow root systems struggle to make it into fall.  Everyone who lives in the Great American West should understand that during the dog-eared, tongue-hanging-out days of late summer, YOU DON’T TAKE FIREWORKS TO THE COLUMBIA GORGE!

Ahem.  Now, where was I?

Oh, I remember.  This is about hope springing eternal.

Spring is indeed here.  During my weekday excursion up and down the Columbia river, I watch the trees.  I am fascinated by the way they change throughout the year.  In the spring, they bud, blossom, and burst out in brilliant greens, pinks, whites, and yellows.  The wreckage that is the Cottonwood trees, which always seem to be a month or so away from death in the winter, gather their sap, and join the world of the living for another season.  The spruces, and various pines stand resolute against the howling winds and driving rain, and well, they don’t change very much.  This year, it’s a bit different.  I have been watching the burned areas to see where the green is coming back. I keep an eye on the soils to see if plants are growing.  I look at the pines to see if they are putting on new needles where the fire stripped them.  I am reminded that life is tenacious.  I’m seeing green where I did not expect it.  The hills, especially around Cascade Locks, did not fare very well.  But, could it be possible that green is sprouting up on the hills, below the burned trees?  I will know it when the Forest Service allows me to hike the trails again.

The Columbia Gorge I knew until September 2017 will not return in my lifetime.  But, I can watch it come back.  Little by little, hope returns, life goes on, and the challenge is to reflect that in the way we live our lives.  Be the life you want to bring.  Be the change that you want to see.  As Ram Das said, be here now.

About the photograph:  I captured it with a Sinar Alpina 4×5 camera on Ilford Ortho Plus film, which I developed in PMK Pyro.  I stumbled upon this combination by accident, but it’s a match made in heaven.  The stairs are located just east of the Bonneville Dam, and were built by the Franklin Roosevelt’s WPA.

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Flickr and the Art of Image Maintenance

When I first started posting my photos on Flickr in 2008, I had no idea what I was doing.  I was a darkroom photographer trying to display my images on the internet with a race car computer and a horse-and-buggy monitor.  I had a 2007 Mac Pro, which cost me so much that I couldn’t afford to replace my old CRT monitor.  My pictures didn’t look so bad on that monitor, really.  I started with Adobe Photoshop Elements, and then went to CS4, and used “Save for Web and Devices” before uploading to Flickr.  The CRT monitor displayed them as slightly pixilated, but otherwise decent pictures.

Fast forward to late 2015.  I upgraded to an iMac with a Retina display.  I started to review my older Flickr images and was horrified.  They looked awful.  I couldn’t believe that anyone would have actually liked them.  I began going through those images, and re-editing them to improve their contrast, and to remove the pixilation.  It’s been a long, and tedious process, but it has been rewarding.

Why does this matter?  I’m glad I asked.  One of the things I discovered while re-editing was going down in contrast instead of going up.  I have always used yellow and magenta filters in the darkroom while printing pictures, and some pictures proved impossible to print because of their extreme contrast ranges.  It never occurred to me to include blue, which decreases contrast in both the printing phase as well as the capturing phase

Becoming and better digital presenter made me a better film photographer.  Who’d a thunk it?

Working Girls Hotel, Pendleton, Oregon. January 2018.

Working Girls Hotel, Pendleton, Oregon

This is from this month’s trip to Pendleton. The city has a very interesting, and occasionally scandalous, history, which is evident in the names of some of the establishments. In the early 1900’s, Pendleton was a hub for military, farm, and railroad work, and had a thriving Chinese underground, and a brothel culture a couple floors up. It must have been an intereting place to live if you liked opium and syphilis.

I drove to Pendleton to reshoot some photographs that I took in 2013.  Back then, I shot only film, and processed everything but the color negatives in my home darkroom.  Something went wrong when I processed the negatives from that trip, and they turned out splotchy, and most of them were not usable.  It was a huge disappointment.  If you read my blog, you will know that I have no darkroom at this time.

I traveled lighter this time, bringing one 4×5 camera, my Hasselblad, and two Nikon digitals.  These days, I bring out the digitals first.  I use them to get a quick version of the picture.  Then I use the display on the camera to decide if the scene warrants getting out the film cameras, which I reserve for the best pictures.

One of the things that hurt my photography on the previous trip was the wind.  Coming from the west at roughly a begillion miles per hour, the wind made tripod work mostly impossible, because I couldn’t let go of said tripod.  I mostly hand-held my Speed Graphic, and leaned into the wind (avoiding incoming tumbleweeds, cows, and small cars swept up in the gales), and shot everything with a high shutter speed while my fingers rapidly lost feeling.  This time, the wind was much calmer, and the weather was mild.  The sun was shining through high clouds for most of the day, and as evening approached, the shadows crept along the hotels, and storefronts in the downtown.  All in all, it was a good day.

Thank you for reading.

Eagle Creek Fire, September 2017

There are once-in-a-lifetime events that define the way we see the world.  Some of these are world changing.  Some are regional. Some are good, and some are bad.   September 2017 will be a watershed for the remainder of the time I have left on this Earth.  A fire was started last week in the Columbia Gorge by a group of kids with fireworks.  Some of my favorite places are burning.  These are two of them.  

Bridal Veil Falls, 2000

Multnomah Falls, Summer 2004

The Eastern Columbia Gorge.  

Windmills, Maryhill Loop Road


I’ve been falling in love with the eastern Columbia Gorge for about a decade, so one would think that the falling would be done by now.  I grew up in the deciduous forests of central Pennsylvania, where summers were lush, and the thunderstorms rolled in at the end of the hottest days, and the grass there stayed green until the cold of December made the landscape white.  The great, arid expanses of the American west, specifically Oregon for me, are like an alien planet.  I’m fascinated by the undulating hills, devoid of trees, and teeming with grasses that turn golden in mid June.  There’s a stark beauty that dryness creates.  It’s alien to me because I’m an an east coast boy, but it’s familiar and evocative as a “Roadrunner and Coyote” cartoon (yes, it’s in my blood because of Looney Toons).  The old west beckons from the 19th century in the American Psyche via western movies, but the windmills are ushering in the 21st century.  I’ll take both centuries.  I’ll take the landscape.  I’ll take the dry grasses and White Oak trees.  Throw in Google, wind power, and a camera from 1946, and I’m in heaven.