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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Still Making Due

Starvation Creek Falls, October 2016

I’ve been without a darkroom for over a year and a half.  My attempt to carve one out of a spare bedroom was foiled by carpet.  Gaia and I don’t consider this to be our permeant house, so ripping up the wall-to-wall carpet upstairs is out of the question.  And, even if we could do that, imagine the damage that a few major fixer spills could do to the resale value.  
I have the room set up, sans sink.  The enlargers are ready to go, I have chems and paper.  I can get the room dark enough to load film, but the dust is impossible to control.  I can do contact prints, and develop them in a Jobo Processor in the bathroom, but the dust is… you get the point.  

I could muddle through.  The situation is not impossible.  But, after having a real darkroom for so long, the difficulty of doing the most basic processes, when compared to the ease I experienced before, makes it not worth doing when I can send my film out for developing, and scan the negatives.  My scanner won’t do 8×10 negatives, but I’m working on that. 

What does the future bring?  Someday a different house with space for a proper darkroom.  I’m also reconsidering carving a small darkroom out of the garage.  More on this later.

Digital:  I am looking to buy a pro digital camera like a Nikon D810.  I do not intend it to take over for film, but I can use it for the quick shots, and save the medium and large format film for the spectacular shots.  

Featured image: Camera: Hasselblad 500CM with a 40mm Carl Zeiss lens.  

The Oneonta Gorge and 5 Feet Down

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.