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.
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.
There is a smaller gorge within the Cokumbia Gorge called the Oneonta Gorge. It’s more of a slot canyon, but we’ll stick with “gorge” for now. I’ll start by saying that I have no pictures of it. Here’s why.
The Oneonta Gorge lies just east of Multnoma Falls (Oregon’s most popular natural wonder), and cuts perpendicular to the Columbia River. Through it flows Oneonta Creek: a small stream that picks it’s way over waterfalls, around boulders and through log jams on the way to the Columbia.
I had wanted to hike it for years. I finally had the chance one day after work. I parked along the Historic Columbia River Highway, and walked to the gorge.
The going was easy at first. A pair of large boulders presented the initial challenge. I met a couple of women-of-a-certain-age there who were trying to get over them. When I was young, these boulders would not have presented the slightest obstacle. At age 52, I found myself wishing that I had done more yoga. The women and I picked a path over, and made it with only minor damage.
Next came the log jam. That was just a matter of balance. I traversed the 20 or so feet of jumbled logs easily. So far so good. This was where I found out that the hike would be through the creek. I tried to roll up my jeans, but they weren’t cooperating. I started trudging through the water in increasingly wet and heavy clothing. I clearly wasn’t dressed for it. Still, I made it a quarter mile in, until the creek became too deep. I decided to turn back.
I had been talking with one of the women, both of whom turned out to be Girl Scoutmasters. I had stuck close to the older of the two in case she got hurt. I said goodbye when we caught up to her troop, and started back.
I was wet, but the air was warm. I decided to use a fallen log to cross a section of creek. At the other end, I was presented with a choice. I could attempt to jump down to the ground, about 5 feet, or step down to a lower log and then down to the ground. Both logs were wet. My shoes were soaked. Gravity made the choice for me, because I slipped, and fell off. I landed with both knees locked.
My left knee went to the right.
So, the woman with whom I had stuck close to be of help, came to my rescue with her Girl Scout troop. They found me a stout stick, one of the Scoutmasters kep thold of me while I hopped on one foot through the creek.
The going was hard. I’m grateful for the help I was provided. My good leg got very tired. Every slightest pressure on my left leg caused it to dislocate. We finally reached the log jam after about a had an hour. One of the Scoutmasters’ husbands shows up, and had the girls scout a path over the logs.
In a sitting position, with my bad leg held up, I lifted myself over, or sidled along, massive and rotted trees until I reached the boulders. The girls had scouted well, because I had little difficulty getting to the others side.
Next came the final trek back to the road. I was exhausted, and my good leg was giving birth out. Another stroke of luck happened along: an Army medic on leave appeared on the scene. He and the Scoutmaster’s husband fireman’s carried me the rest of the way.
After thanking everyone, I drove to the hospital.
After over four weeks on crutches, I took my first steps on my own this morning. They weren’t graceful, and it hurt, but I’m on the mend.
Relegated to small cameras for the summer, I’ve shot mostly digital and 35mm since the incident. I had the Hasselblad out once, but not being able to carry a tripod, I put it away for the immediate future. Needless to say, the 8×10 camera is staying home too.
Thanks to all the Girl Scouts out there, and especially to the ones who came to my rescue. Buy cookies.
The house is sold. Part of the selling process was the Dismantling of the Darkroom. It was a very sad day. I tore apart the 7′ sink that I built, tore down the shelves, painted the walls white, and installed a carpet. Another part of the selling was packing up the computer and scanner. I have no way of producing work for display on the Internet for the next few months.
This picture was taken near Goldendale, Washington, on a dusty back road to nowhere in particular. We were driving out of Goldendale, when, from out of the dog-eared western songbook, this barn and wheel presented itself to us on a bone dry August afternoon, and we stopped to take a few pictures with infrared film.
I wanted to photograph this building for years. It’s located in The Dalles, Oregon.
One of my favorite places for photography these days is the eastern Columbia Gorge. It’s really the “old west.” Once you pass Hood River going east, the landscape changes from the pine-encrusted rainforest west of the Cascades to the arid grasslands, and sparse oak forests of the rainshadow.