Cannon Beach at sunset, almost perfect

I have been coming to Cannon Beach now for more than three decades. It always leaves me calm and in awe of the beauty of the Oregon Coast and the magnificent Pacific Ocean. I took every one of these photos was a consumer-grad point and shoot, and still I captured that Cannon Beach magic. (Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Historic monasteries of Egypt and challenges that face Egypt’s Copts

In 2004, I visited Egypt. This was a dream come true. There is so much history in that land, one cannot appreciate its diversity in just one visit.

My trips usually focus on projects and themes. On this trip, I wanted to explore Coptic and Christian monasteries, having recently seen and visited monasteries in the Occupied West Bank and Turkey a few years earlier. I also was influenced by William Dalrymple’s superb travel and history narrative of the monasteries and Christians of the Mideast called From the Holy Mountain.

On this trip I visited the historic Coptic Egyptian monasteries of: Bishoi and Suriani near Cairo, St. Anthony and St. Paul near the Red Sea (only made it to the entrance of St. Paul), the long-abandoned St. Simeon near Aswan, and St. Tawdros Monastery near Luxor. I also visited and stayed at St. Catherine’s Monastery, the Greek Orthodox monastery founded during the reign of the Byzantine Empire and sacred to Jews, Moslems, and Christians. Some are 1,600 years old, and all but one of those seen here is still functional today.

My host at St. Tawdros Monastery gave me a tour of the historic site, just outside of Luxor. My visit required the permission of the local security detail, who also joined me. This was one of several times Egypt's security forces went out of their way to both help me and perhaps ensure I did not do anything suspcious. This visit was one of my highlights.

My host at St. Tawdros Monastery gave me a tour of the historic site, just outside of Luxor. My visit required the permission of the chief for the local security detail, who also joined me. This was one of several times Egypt’s security forces went out of their way to both help me and perhaps ensure I did not do anything suspcious. This visit was one of my highlights.

Visiting the monastery in Luxor required official approval of the head of local security. It was a tense time at any Christian site, and across the country it got worse after my trip. There were terrorist attacks on Copts before the start of the Arab Spring, when military protection of Christian sites began to melt away. Copts, one of the world’s oldest Christian sects, faced and still face systematic discrimination by the Moslem-dominated Egyptian government. This only became worse with the fall of the Mubarak dictatorship, (Read my essay on the persecution of Copts in modern Egypt.)

Still, everything about my 2004 trip was memorable—from meeting with Coptic monks to seeing pilgrims from Africa, South Korea, and other locations file through St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai, where Moses reportedly found the burning bush. While getting to each of these places proved dangerous, difficult, and expensive, I was rewarded by having a deeper appreciation of Christianity’s monastic traditions that represent some of the best elements of the faith that remain very much alive today.

You can read a history of Egypt’s ancient monasteries and Christian monasticism in Egypt in Michael McClellan’s book: Monasticism in Egypt: Images and Words of the Desert Fathers. There are also some wonderful historic photographs of monastic life from the first decades of the 20th century on this  blog published by Diana Buja. You can also buy Gawdat Gabra’s Coptic Monasteries: Egypt’s Monastic Art and Architecture.

Warm Springs on a summer day

Eight months ago, I made a quick stop in the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, about two hours east of Portland. The reservation, managed by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is bisected by Highway 26, which stretches from Mt. Hood to central Oregon. Mountain forests give way to the high desert as one passes to the reservation’s main hub, Warm Springs. You’ll find the local casino and beautiful cultural center. Almost no one stops to see the community.

I did a drive through. I found quite a few houses in somewhat run-down condition, which is not unusual in rural areas of the West. The reservation also has what I consider to be classical reservation architecture. I have seen similar designs in Washington State, Montana. Alaska, and Kansas. There is a school, administrative buildings, and older government buildings that are now shuttered and closed. This is the older part of the community. The modern health center is found further away from the highway. You can read my old post to see the controversy that has roiled the reservation and its members concerning the alleged overspending of nearly $100 million in funds in the last 10 years.

I stopped on the highway to photograph the Warm Springs billboard that captures in beautiful simplicity the symbology of the tribe’s identify–a circle with four features, stretching out from the center. I have always found Native American design powerful for the references to tribal history, the earth, natures, and tribal beliefs. This is one of the best. The flag for the reservation actually shows eight tribes who make up the reservation, as well as the natural landmarks and native wildlife.

 

 

Newberry Crater, a hidden gem of central Oregon

Newberry National Volcanic Monument, known affectionately as Newberry Crater, is one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest. The volcanic landscape features 54,000+ acres of lakes, lava flows, and one of the most amazing geological features in central Oregon. Imagine Crater Lake, its more well-known cousin, except Newberry has two lakes. They are not as blue and deep as Crater Lake, but they are majestic twins. The highest point is Paulina Peak, 7,985 feet above sea level, which provides a commanding view of the natural area’s lava flows and cinder cones.

In their misguided wisdom decades earlier, U.S. Forest Service planners built a road to its top–evoking the lyrics of Joni Mitchell: “They paved paradise and put of a parking lot.” Hardy hikers can walk up. Everyone is rewarded with one of the greatest views in all of Oregon. You can see the vast expanse of high desert in all directions and the beautiful volcanic peaks of central Oregon: Mts. Bachelor, the Sisters, and Jefferson.Welcome to East Lake Resort Poster

I first came here in 2014, biking up from Highway 97. I pedaled up the steep climb and was rewarded by two clean mountain lakes (Paulina and East), a massive field of obsidian, photo-perfect lakeside campgrounds, and decades-old lodges on both lakes that seemed right out of the 1950s. I finally came back in August 2016. There is something for everyone here.

The four campgrounds are well-maintained, fronting the two lakes. Anglers bring in boats casting for kokanee and several species of trout (watch out there is natural mercury contamination). Fly fishermen can find many empty beach spaces to practice. A set of hot springs bubbles out of the gravel on the north shore of Paulina Lake–the hike to the springs and around the lake is fantastic! Lots of kayakers bring in their boats to explore the rocky shores. There are more than 30 trails. For a trail runner, you can circumnavigate the entire rim, or climb Paulina Peak, lap Paulina Lake, and more. You can also take a trail from the valley of the Deschutes National Forest along Paulina Creek to the majestic Paulina Falls, pouring from Paulina Lake. If you visit, be sure to bring your mountain bike to get around.

Visitors, if you can characterize them, mostly have massive V-8 trucks and large camping trailers towed behind. I saw lots of families, and plenty of dogs. The only people who were not white were adopted kids of some family members. Hiking and camping in central Oregon is still not a diverse activity. I kept wondering, would an African-American family want to spend a summer trip here? Likely not.

At the beautiful East Lake resort, which has old cabins looking west on East Lake, I grabbed morning coffee and got to know a retired Gresham principal who has been coming here with three generations of his family for 16 years. He boasted his 14-year-old granddaughter caught 17 trout one morning.

I doubt Newberry Crater will ever become “cool.” I hope it stays old-fashioned and affordable for locals seeking a cool getaway from their homes in the Northwest.

White River Tells a Story of Climate Change at Mt. Hood

The receding glaciers around the world are a clear reminder of the impact of climate change. The year 2016 is already reported to be the hottest year ever in recorded weather-keeping history.

Yesterday, I drove around that eternally beautiful volcano near Portland called Mt. Hood. The impact of climate change is quite visible in the drainage of the start of the White River, on the peak’s southeast side. It is more than a pretty picture. It is a compelling story, and it is one that is cause for great concern.

 

Sometimes, it is all about ‘right place, right time’

I have taken thousands of pictures with my point and shoot Canon PowerShot A2000 camera. I originally bought it after my last camera died in Indonesia in 2009. It is still working like a champ. I often can get great pictures with that never required anything more than me pointing and shooting. What mattered was the moment and knowing that the moment was telling me to capture it forever. This is one such shot I took at the base of St. John’s Bridge in Portland a few days ago. It has no meaning beyond being a moment, and a rendering of form and design, but in the most simple terms through that of a child. I love it, actually.

Amid reported Turkish coup and chaos, a fond memory of ordinary people

(Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The last 24 hours has seen some of the wildest news I can recall in a while, at least for modern nation states in Europe and its Asian-European neighbor, Turkey. I came home from work on July 14, 2016, only to be bombarded by images of a murderous rampage by a sole terrorist driver in Nice that took at last count 84 lives. Than not a day later, I returned from a walk and discovered a coup in Turkey. TurkeyCoup Report

Turkey is a modern state. It is a democracy, with rough edges. It is also a key European and U.S. ally, with a major military base (Incirlik) that serves vital Western and U.S. interests in a violent, civil-war torn region. And now there are reportedly tanks in Istanbul, helicopter gunfire ships strafing government sites in the capital, and people being shot during protests as part of a reported military coup to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is hard to know the full truth. There are many real and also fake Tweets, so I will just see how this plays out.

This all makes me think of the time I went to Nice in 1985, while studying in France. I walked the Promenade Anglais, where the horrific attack took place during a celebration of Bastille Day. I cannot imagine what happened in my mind’s eye. And I was in Turkey in 2000, in places now cropping up by the second on the latest Tweets from the front lines of a reported coup. So today I just decided to publish a picture that brings me a sense of calm. It is a picture I took just before I left Turkey, taking a boat to Samos, Greece. This was a family I met at a local restaurant. We enjoyed each other’s company. They were not that different from me. They were struggling to run a small business and live a good life. I am wondering about them and the many other people I met in Nice and in Turkey right now.

Steady leadership is now needed from the people entrusted to lead. I have faith in my leader now to do that. But these times are straining democracies and reason, I am concerned cooler heads will be challenged to prevail.

 

Swimming, great for the mind and body

I am a swimmer. Because of a persistent shoulder injury, called scapular displacement, I am unable to swim as much as I used to. But I go at least once a week. It is one of the best activities for one’s body. It allows the mind to filter out one’s problems and focus. It promotes health and fitness. It loosens tight lower back muscles. As one former Olympics swimmer and gold medalist Janet Evans notes: “Swimming is the ultimate all-in-one fitness package, working most muscles in the body in a variety of ways with every stroke. When strokes are performed correctly, the muscles lengthen and increase in flexibility. The significant repetition of strokes improves muscle endurance, and because water creates more resistance against the body than air does in land exercise, the muscles are strengthened and toned. Swimming also significantly enhances core strength, which is important to overall health and stability in everyday life. The hip, back, and abdominal muscles are crucial to moving through the water effectively and efficiently. Swimming builds these core muscles better than any abs video or gadget advertised on television. Finally, a properly structured swim workout provides incredible improvements to the cardiovascular system. The nature of breathing when swimming-with breath being somewhat limited in volume and frequency-promotes greater lung capacity and a consistent intake of oxygen. Both aerobic and anaerobic gains can be made in the same workout.”

These are shots I took at an open water swim event at Lake Meridian, in Kent, Washington, in 2012. Some very fit, hyper-competitive athletes were in this group. Most mere mortals can benefit from going to a local pools once or more a week. If you have not taken up swimming, try it out. Go slow. Give it time. It took me about 25 times before I finally switched from hating doing laps to loving my trips to the pool. Like all good things, it takes time.

Fourth of July, Alaska style…ah the memories

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Fourth of July is always a great time to enjoy the outdoors and the incredible nature in Alaska. Many Alaskans who live in its largest city, Anchorage, celebrate by going to Seward for the annual Mt. Marathon race. This is a 3.1-mile race, with an elevation gain of 3,022 feet, and slopes average 34 degrees. This all takes place above the breathtaking scenery of Resurrection Bay, where sea otters and orcas can be spotted from the boat and even the shore.

Up to 10,000 people will gather in the city’s historic downtown for the start and finish of the state’s most famous mountain race–and there are many mountain races. This contest is the shortest of the state’s “official” mountain races, but one of the most grueling, because of the sheer verticality of the climb and the risk of injury.

One year an older male racer who likely never should have competed went missing and his body was never recovered. Another year a man suffered brain trauma during a terrible fall near the end of the descent. So this is not a race for sissies and people who do not respect and understand the mountains. A bunch of my friends always competed, and I went a number of times during my six years living in Anchorage.

The race pictures seen here are from 2009 and 2010. The 2010 shot features the top three female runners: hometown favorite and champion Cedar Bourgeois, Olympic skier Holly Brooks. and Olympic skier Kikkan Randall. That year, Bourgeois won her sixth race in a row (tieing a course record), with a personal best of 51:48. All three of these racers are among the state’s finest athletes ever. Randall and Brooks have competed for the United States Nordic Ski Team in the Olympics.

The other pictures shown in the gallery come from the Forest Fair, a laid-back carnival and craft fair held during the Fourth of July weekend in Girdwood, the scenic town at the base of the Chugach Mountains about 45 miles from Anchorage. It celebrates its 41st year right this summer. I loved this event. The setting is unbelievably gorgeous.

Sadly, in past years, the local yahoos–and they are many, and awful–became so rowdy and engaged in so many drunken and destructive behaviors, organizers wisely shut the event down. If you go the the Greal Land (aka Alaska), don’t worry about the bears. Make a lot of noise, and you will be perfectly fine. Happy Fourth of July, Alaska!

A City of Catholic Saints and Churches

Scene above: The world-famous King St. Louis IX statue on Art Hill in Forest Park, Sts. Peter and Paul Church, St. Anthony of Padua Church. Click on each picture to see a larger photo on a separate picture page.

St. Louis’ namesake comes from French King Louis IX, one of France’s few pious rulers who ruled in the 13th century and died in 1270. The city’s European origins can be traced to French traders on the Mississippi River. One, Pierre LaClede, gave the trading post its name after the revered ruler 252 years ago. That name stuck, and the city of St. Louis was born (on ground inhabited for thousands of years by Native Americans).

The city’s name also helped to attract many Catholic European immigrants, from Italians to Germans to Irish. Many of the city’s strongest and most powerful education and social institutions, from hospitals to orphanages to private schools to St. Louis University, were also founded by Catholics. The Archdiocese of St. Louis virtually runs the city’s homelessness programs and non-profit social service sector.

For a visitor to St. Louis, one of first things one sees are brilliant and beautiful church spires rising tall above old neighborhoods. These institutions still play a vital role in many depressed areas of the fading, formerly great industrial city. Every time I visit my family in neighboring University City, I always take a tour and rediscover this amazing legacy. I still am dazzled by the skill and confidence with which St. Louis’ earlier residents built their community purposefully, to live up to the city’s name.