Surfing when the thermometer says it is freezing

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Last weekend I surfed for the first time since late December 2017. My shoulder mostly had healed and the conditions beckoned me to the Oregon Coast.

I left Portland around 6:45 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 10, and arrived at Seaside as the sun was rising on a mostly calm Pacific Ocean. My car thermometer read 27 F. The freezing temperatures created a beautiful scene, with mist rising from calm breaks and a magical play of light on the surf. An icy frost still covered the smooth sea rocks that line the shore at Seaside Cove, a popular surfing destination on the coast.

Despite these freezing temperatures, my wetsuit, booties, and gloves kept me warm as toast. My ongoing bronchitis left me performing well below average. In between my coughs, I still caught about 18 waves.  Only two were truly sublime.

I was expecting to see more surfers, but perhaps the freezing temperatures kept them away. I cannot blame them. Not everyone can find bliss in the surf when frost is still visible.

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An Ode to my Former College Roommate

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Despite the inauspicious circumstances that led my former freshman college roommate to fly from France to Portland this week, I could not be more happy. It has been well over three decades since I shared the cramped dormitory living space in college with my friend, Sebastian. And fate brought him back to Portland this week. For that, I personally am grateful.

I probably could not have found a better person to share that tight living space with, when I was 18. It was the only time in my life I lived in a dorm (for one academic year exactly), and I am sure I was not the easiest person to be with. I had odd hours and was restless. I probably woke Sebastian up more than he would like doing those all-nighters that I tended to do during my undergraduate days.

Last night a group of us former classmates gathered at a local pub in Portland. I had not seen any of these folks in decades. I really enjoyed it. It made me realize how important connections can be, even when you part paths and move to different parts of the country, or world.

That get together inspired me to dig up two black and white shots I took of Sebastian, when I was more into black and white photography and darkroom experimentation. One shows him hard at work in his room during our freshman year. I always admired his ability to focus, not to mention his incredible intelligence. The other shows his creative side, which he had in spades. Thanks for helping to make that first year of college a success, and safe journeys, ami!

 

 

There is no business like dog show business

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The 2018 Rose City Classic Dog Show in Portland, Oregon, has come and gone. I attended on the last day of the event, which ran from Jan. 17-21, 2018. It is one of the West Coast’s largest and most popular dog shows, where owners and their breeds do their dog-show thing. Non-dog owners like me come to enjoy the fun, entertaining, and at times really odd world of competitive dog showing. I have several friends who compete and have been attending shows for years.

I had not been in a couple of years and had forgotten how much fun a show can be. I love the dog agility/slalom/obstacle course contests the most. I also love the variety of breeds, all gussied up to extreme, and at times absurdly weird levels. You cannot go wrong with even the worst camera at one of these events. I used a new Lumix, consumer-grade point and shoot, and I am pleased with my candids.

Most every dog I met was adorable, particularly the cattle dog bitch I met at a meet the breed session. She was absolutely adorable, and we hit it off (I love cattle dogs and other herding dogs).

The photos are in no particular order and have no particular theme, other than being fun moments for everyone. Woof!!

One of my personal favorites

 

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Last year, I shared a series of photos I took at Pacific City, one of the best surfing beaches in Oregon. I captured this one on a sunny, calm morning of May 19, 2017. It is a beautiful place when the conditions are right. The sea stack provides a iconic backdrop for surfers navigating the waves.

I just turned this shot into a cloth print and have it hanging on my living room wall. It makes me smile and brings me back to that perfect morning when the waves, wind and tide were just right.

Abandoned in St. Louis, from the archive

 

 

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My ongoing photo-documentary project on St. Louis has explored the painful legacy of the city’s historic redlining and racism, de-industrialization, downfall through suburbanization, and slow demise because of a new economy that has seen industry collapse in America’s former industrial centers.

My past essays have told the story, focussing on different neighborhoods, or even streets and bigger thoroughfares like Grand Boulevard.

Inevitably, many pictures never made it into my stories. But I still feel a fondness for these haunting images on the proverbial cutting room floor.

In no particular order, I present random shots of St. Louis’ abandoned homes and apartments. They were taken between 2015 and 2017, in north, central, and south St. Louis. Poverty and decay are concentrated primarily in north St. Louis, the area that has been segregated by housing policies and redlining, harming the mostly African-American residents for decades.

I share these photos because of the bitter irony they represent. Our country is in the midst of a massive affordable housing crisis, particularly in coastal cities. Other cities, like Detroit and St. Louis, are grappling with population loss and abandonment. Every time I visit St. Louis, I think about the amoral reality of supply and demand and how the economy and national economic policies have left older cities behind. Properties like these in St. Louis would fetch a small fortune in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

Two of my favorite parks in the world: Forest Park

 

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By pure coincidence, I have lived in two great cities with two great parks named Forest Park. Both are national treasures. Both make both their home cities livable. Both parks improve residents’ quality of life by incalculable measures. They also are loved dearly by their communities. And both are incredible places to go for a long run.

I grew up in University City, next to St. Louis and its storied Forest Park. The 1,300-acre park is home to the free and world-class St. Louis Zoo and the free and the world-class St. Louis Art Museum. It has a public golf course, lagoons, and a fabulous running and biking trail that navigates its edge for about six and half miles. Nearly everyone who lives in the St. Louis area visits the park because it has something for everyone. The City of St. Louis reports the park gets 12 million (that’s right, 12 million) visitors a year! During every trip I take back to University City to see my family, I come here to run, walk, and enjoy its cultural treasures.

I now live in Portland. That city’s premier park also is called Forest Park. Unlike its cousin in St. Louis, Forest Park in Portland is a wooded natural area comprising 5,100 wooded acres. According to the City of Portland, the park boasts 112 bird and 62 mammal species. It features the 30-mile Wildwood Trail and a 12-mile long closed and dirt service road called Leif Erikson Drive. Together, they make for one of the best places for trail running and hiking near any major U.S. city. I have literally done hundreds of miles of trail running here since I moved back to Portland in 2014.

As a runner who has run in parks and on trails throughout the world, these two parks rank as some of my favorite places. If I could have access to no national park or wild place the rest of my life and only had one of these parks to enjoy, I think I could die a happy person.

If you are in either city, visit either park. Both have conservancies that now provide a lot of the back-end financing and volunteer work to keep the parks accessible year-round. Remember, it costs money to run a park and they deserve your support.

Winter surfing in Oregon

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Oregon’s winter surfing season has arrived. That means one often puts on a wetsuit when it is below freezing outside and enters the cold Pacific Ocean when most people are bundled up in mittens and hats.

That never stops Oregon surfers, at least at Seaside.

Despite a persistent shoulder injury, I made three trips this month.  I need to hold off on future outings for a while until this stubborn problem is healed.

I took these shots on Dec. 23 and 31, 2017. Both were exceptionally mild days at this popular surfing spot. I counted more than 40 surfers in the waves both times.

I love that this crew of men and women are not fazed by the cold. All one needs is the right attitude, the right wetsuit (at least a 5/4/3 or 5/4), booties, and gloves. The rest is up to the pure, divine energy pumping in from the ocean’s depth to the sands of Oregon.

I hope everyone finds the right wave in 2018 and shares the stoke, no matter where they are.

Winter’s icy clutch has come

 

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The arrival of the winter solstice yesterday made me think about winter, in its most raw, powerful form.

I used to live in a wintry place, Anchorage, Alaska. I spent six years there, meaning six winters. One measures a true year in winters in Alaska. I first feared the cold, and then embraced it after I took up skate skiing. Soon, I found myself skiing almost every day of the winter season on Anchorage’s miles of multi-use trails and its world-class ski trails in Kincaid Park and on the Anchorage Hillside.

In 2008, the winter was particularly nasty. We had a stretch of days below -10 F for almost two weeks. I was sidelined with a bad running injury, and I was unable to exercise like I normally did. The hoarfrost was both beautiful and terrifying, because it signified how dangerous the elements were. To this day I don’t know how the ravens, moose, lynx, stellar jays, owls, foxes, wolves, and other local critters survived such conditions, with no respite from mother nature.

I did love my walks, and I used my period of convalescence to document the icy beauty of the Anchorage area, including some festivals where ice sculptures were installed in a downtown park that was turned into an ice skating rink. It was so cold that year, qualifying heats for the U.S. National Cross Country Ski Team were cancelled at Anchorage’s Kincaid Park because of the potential harm the cold could have to the athletes.

So, on our first day of winter, in the northern hemisphere, I say, all hail winter. May your icy clutch be gentle and memorable.

The beauty of steel and the pride of steel working

 

 

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I recently took a tour of a value-added steel fabrication plant in the Portland area that takes raw steel products and welds and shapes them into finished products for buildings, bridges, and other critical infrastructure. I had forgotten how much I loved manufacturing as an act of creation and permanence.

The plant itself is a nearly 200,000-square-foot cavernous facility that allows for assembling large and complex products, like suspension arches in bridges that are assembled on site.

Workers were busy welding finished products or using plate processors. plasma cutters, and some very powerful steel drills. I kept thinking during my tour how critical steel manufacturing was to the rise of United States. Today, the U.S. steel industry faces a wave of subsidized foreign imports. One CNN story reported that nearly 12,000 U.S. steel jobs were lost in 2016, mostly due to pressures from overseas producers. Since 1960, the steel sector has lost nearly 400,000 jobs, according to the news show Marketplace.

As someone who used to work in blue-collar jobs, I know how brutally tough they can be and how the body is dead tired after an honest day’s work. The plant was cold, and I was clearly not ready for being in that environment. I felt great admiration for the crew on the factory floor. They were creating products made of something permanent, to last decades, if not hundreds of years. I do not know what the crew itself felt about their jobs.

The great American oral historian Studs Terkel perhaps best explained what people feel like having a real hands-on job, where they produced things that mattered. In 1995, the then-83-year-old Terkel was asked to name one issue America had most neglected or ignored throughout the years, he responded: “The big one is the gap between the haves and the have-nots—always. … the key issue is jobs. You can’t get away from it: jobs. Having a buck or two in your pocket and feeling like somebody.”

Walking the plant that cold day, I felt like the crew making these beautiful works of steel were genuine, proud craftsmen.

December on the Oregon Coast

 

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Last weekend I headed to the Oregon Coast, not quite sure if the 8- to 10-foot waves would allow for a surfing dip in the ocean. My trip took me to Nahalem Bay by Manzanita, Oswald West State Park and Cannon Beach.

Oswald West always astounds me. Surrounded by steep coastal bluffs and a coastal rain forest, the snug bay is among the most visited surfing beaches in Oregon. On this day, the ocean was a frothing brew of crashing waves. Even then, I spotted three to four fearless surfers on short boards navigating the mini water towers and dropping down without fear.

I decided I had to get in myself. Further up the road, I parked near the Needles, a sand bar near Cannon Beach’s famed Haystack Rock. To my surprise, I was able to catch some foamy rides that ended surprisingly well as they hit the shore.

The ocean’s beauty seems more raw on these days. Humans feel more powerless. I felt tiny on my small board, bobbing like a fishing lure. A juvenile harbor seal swam circles around me, curious about why I was in its habitat on such a tempestuous day.