Sunday, October 31, 2010


The Northwest Trip: Part Deux

When we joined the Columbia River I expected a change in topography but if anything the terrain grew even more barren.  Fritz put his finger on it when he said that with such a vast amount of water running through it, you would expect SOME degree of vegetation.  Part of the barrenness, I think, is due to the fact that the Columbia isn't actually a river any more except in the westernmost part of it as it gets ready to slam into the Pacific in an area of great turbulence and treacherousness for navigation.  The many dams along the Columbia to the east of Portland, Oregon have turned it into a series of placid lakes -- the bleak terrain seen above is actually the top of a cliff that once dropped to a shore that probably sustained a lot of riverside vegetation, now all submerged.

I knew, of course, about the tremendous amount of electricity generated by all those hydroelectric dams, but had no idea of how much wind-generated electricity is produced on the Columbia's banks as well.  We sailed past thousands of wind turbines.

We traveled for two days past sights like this; I've seen pictures of the Negev Desert that look like this (without the great river, of course).  I had never known what a desert eastern Washington State is.

We docked to visit a couple of places in Oregon, one of which was a wind farm.  It could have been fascinating but the expected exec from the company had failed to appear at work that day and a secretary who really had no technical info was left to try to answer questions.  Also the hard hats that were supposed to be in the equipment shed for us so that we could walk out among the turbines had been removed for some reason and were nowhere to be found.  We felt very sorry for her because she was doing the very best she could and was clearly embarrassed by the situation.

Fortunately a technician showed up and was able to give at least some information on the size and weight of the equipment (the above blade is 65 feet long, made of steel, balsa wood and fiberglass and weighs a ton or so), and the fact that the turbines have to be shut down during hours of non-peak usage because the grid can't take all the electricity flowing in from the dams and the wind farms at less than full peak demand.
We also visited the little town of Condon whose Historical Society has a small but fascinating collection of buildings, several housing a museum of the area and the Oregon Trail settlers as they moved onto the land.  The three women who ran the museum (one dressed and acting somewhat like the town floozie who historically had operated out of the antique barber shop on the museum grounds) and the quality of the collection helped made up for the failure of the wind farm visit.

Above is the interior of a mid-19th century chuck wagon, equipped to feed herders and harvesters out in the fields. 

And an actual "prairie schooner", the Conestoga Wagon of a family that had come out from St. Louis all the way to Oregon.  They and their oxen hauled this over the Rockies and a couple of other mountain ranges as well.

A bit further west as the terrain was becoming a bit greener around and at the foot of the cliffs, we visited the Maryhill Museum, actually a sort-of reproduction of an Italianate Palazzo in poured concrete (walls, floors, everything) built by a rather eccentric man who didn't actually live in it much but who installed some significant collections.

There's a superb gathering of Rodin sculptures, Native American art of the region, and a few surprises like a major collection of 12" high wire figures with heads, dressed in miniature early 1950s Paris fashions.  There were 75 or so of these figures arranged against backgrounds created by well-known French artists that had been toured around Europe and America after World War II in an (ultimately successful) attempt to restart the French haute cutoure industry after a period of severe deprivation.

The builder had somehow become a great friend of Queen Marie of Romania and there is a large collection of furnishings from public rooms in one of her palaces, the above being a corner throne from a reception hall.  One of her ceremonial gowns with a train measured in yards is also on display, all of it given personally by her, and when the Museum opened to the public, she attended the dedication ceremonies.

Dawn with the moon still still high in the sky and low clouds over the land -- this is one of my favorite pictures from the whole cruise.

The fish ladder at the great Bonneville Dam. The fish were meant to go leaping from level to level as they scaled the ladder to the lake above the dam but they soon found the little tunnels that connect the bottom of each compartment of the ladder to continually flush out silt, and they now prefer to make the ascent totally under water.

                                                          View inside the fish ladder

                                                   The great generator hall inside the dam.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The Northwest Trip: Part 1

This fall's trip to the Northwest is going to be one of a long series.  My elder daughter, son-in-law and fifteen month old granddaughter are going to be settled in Salem, Oregon for a long time.  He's moving toward tenure at Willamette University and she has established herself in the fiber community as a dyer of yarn, skilled knitter and, as of this winter, she'll be a spinner of wool.  They've recently moved into, and done some renovation to a sweet little house.

Having the family divided by 3000 miles of the North American continent isn't ideal, but we have friends in Portland, just north of Salem, and are meeting more there all the time.  Plus, there's a lot to do in the general area, our latest find being an American equivalent to the riverboats we've enjoyed in Europe.  USA River Cruises has a boat owned and operated by a skilled captain that works the Columbia and Snake Rivers (the trip we took this year), the Juan de Fuca Islands and Olympic Peninsula of Washington State and, our choice for next year, the southern Alaskan Archipelago.
We flew into Spokane, Washington and settled happily into the Davenport Hotel (main lobby, above), a classic grand hotel that had been abandoned for a couple of decades and could have been demolished but for an adventurous and perhaps foolhardy couple with money who bought it and began major restoration.   A documentary video available in the rooms gave a detailed history of the years of work, the engineering marvels required (one entire ballroom was cut out of the structure and lifted on a crane to the other side of the building, for example), and the toll it took on the Davenport's rescuers who ended up financially drained.  But the results are dazzling.

Once we were unpacked, we walked through the general area a bit.  Spokane has some interesting architecture, including this newspaper building faced with a row of busts of historically prominent Washingtonians.
The view from out window over the roof garden that tops the restaurants and function rooms.  A viaduct with a freight runs through the middle distance, one of the many freight trains we encountered all through the the trip.

 Next morning, we were taken on a two hour ride to the boat through the eastern Washing desert and through the miles and miles of wheat fields that grow a strain of the grain that requires very little water.  I thought it very beautiful -- hundreds and hundreds of miles of wheat rolling off to the horizon with a small farm building or farmhouse nestled into hollow with a few trees as a windbreak. 

By late morning we were on board the boat, the Island Spirit, docked in Lewiston, WA.  Our cabin was just to the left inside the door into the passenger cabin deck, with the kayaks secured to the wall next to my bed.  We were a total of 29 passengers.

Before long, a jetboat pulled alongside and we boarded for a five hour exploration of the Snake River at exhilarating speed.  We began to get used to the rugged, barren countryside that would be a feature of our first three days on the river.  In spite of such a major supply of water as the Snake, very little grows on the banks.

The jetboat captain gave good commentary on the history and wildlife of he area.  It was big Lewis and Clark country.  We got back to the Island Spirit in time for a 7pm dinner and found our fellow passengers to be very easy to get along with. 
The night was spent in Lewiston.  We sailed the next morning and soon encountered our first lock.  Most of the locks on these rivers are about one hundred feet high.

There were some fantastic formations on the cliffs that rose almost sheer out of the water.  The formation here is basalt, the same kind of basalt columns that form The Giant's Causeway on the west coast of Ireland -- only here, titanic forces in prehistory bent the columns gradually into these sweeping curves.  We encountered this formation just before the Snake empties into the Columbia, which is where I'll resume next time.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Michael at Spo Reflections posted this Halloween meme.  I answered it on his blog and then posted the whole thing herewith my responses.  If anyone feels like answering any or all of it in the comments, I'd be delighted to get your take on the questions.

#1  What was the scariest movie you have ever seen?
Wizard of Oz.  I was 4 years old when my parents took me and the whole thing frightened me badly. I started crying loudly and was taken out of the theater.  Rather than console me or understand I was scared my parents, particularly my father, were very angry with me, which added scary on top of scary.  It was decades before I saw the movie complete.

#2  What was your favorite Hallowe’en costume as a child?
An inexpensive cotton gauze red devil costume and mask.  I was 5 years old and allowed to go trick or treating by myself within the confines of my apartment building complex by daylight.  It was an unusually warm Halloween and I perspired in the costume.  When I came home and took it off, my mother screamed and ran for me -- she thought I was covered in blood, as all the dye in the material had run.  I thought that was SO cool!

#3  Given enough money what would be your fantasy Hallowe’en costume?
I actually did a Pan/satyr costume one year with furry thighs, and a wig into which I placed carved styrofoam horns and fake grapes -- and nothing else.  My fantasy would be full Papal drag.

#4  When was the last time you went trick or treating?
 When my older daughter was 4 and dressed in a butterfly costume I had made her (Dr. Doug please note.  A Japanese butterfly kite was the wings).

#5  What is your favorite Hallowe’en candy? 
 Almond Joy

#6 Tell us about a scary nightmare you once had
Blessedly, too many years ago to remember any.

#7 What is your supernatural fear?
 That the Catholic Church might be right about things.

#8 What is your ‘creepy-crawlie’ fear?
 Ticks.  It's a New England thing.

#9 Tell us a time you saw a ghost or heard something go bump in the night
About ten years ago I my old (1860) house in Boston.  I distinctly heard someone climbing the creaky stairs at night.  I got out of bed silently and tiptoed to the head of the stairs -- nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

#10 Would you stay overnight in a real Haunted House?
 It would depend if the ghost was reputed to be benign or evil.  I would like to meet a benign spirit.

#11 Are you a traditionalist or a creative carver of your Jack-o-Lantern?
 I have fallen out of the practice of carving pumpkins -- I make them into pie instead!

#12 How much do you decorate the house at Hallowe’en?
Not at all.  I decorate the outside for fall with garlands of pine cones I've made, and sprays of bittersweet and other natural things.

#13 What do you want on your Tombstone?
 He loved his children dearly and tried to be a good man always

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