Landscapes

Surf’s up at Pacific City

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Pacific City is a beautiful coastal community about 25 miles south of Tilamook. It’s renown for the Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area. Among surfers, it has a very good reputation as an Oregon surfing beach. In front of Haystack Rock, just south of the cape, you’ll find lovely breaks that go left and right. Today’s surfing crowd included paddleboard surfers, short board riders, and long boarders. Everyone was catching nice waves.

After a difficult winter of getting pounded week after week at Seaside, mostly, I finally learned what a calm day and clean breaks can be like. I was able to ride more wave faces than I ever have. I even was able to lean back and ride a few waves through the foam, feeling the stoke and the balance of that classic pose of just going for a ride. Sunny, warm weather made things almost perfect.

My shots includes a few remaining surfers in front of Haystack Rock in the late morning and the early morning paddle surfers before I put in.

I also enjoyed meeting one of the many local fisherman. The beach is a popular put in and take out spot for charter fishing. My fishing friend had caught his quota of ling cod and rock fish.

When you’re done surfing, you can always go for a walk up to the top of Kape Kiwanda or grab a beer at the Pelican Brewing Co. and soak up the scenery.

 

It takes years to learn a beach

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As a novice surfer, I still realize how little I know about the power of the ocean, particularly rip tides. Today, they felt like monsters pulling out from shore as the tide shifted and quickly changed between ebb and flow, and the water was sucked out of the main surfing cove at Seaside with alarming speed and force. I am breaking many rules still. I am not riding the rip out to the line up location. My dives are lousy, which is why I am not surfing near others. Also, I am choosing the wrong spots, because I do not trust my “fun board” in the rip.

Today I decided I will upgrade to larger board and start venturing out the best point at this beach, where most of the surfers sit, looking longingly to the west, waiting for their wave to roll in from the ocean and to the shore. Today’s morning crew understood the tide better than me and put in as I was leaving. My consolation prize, besides getting a few good rides, was seeing the morning light as it danced through the dark clouds and turned the ocean a translucent green. It was magical to be the only soul out there for a while.

Rediscovering the Columbia River Gorge

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The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area is one of the most beautiful river canyons in the United States, if not the world. It runs along the mighty Columbia River, with steep, forested basalt rock walls, forests, and peaks on either side in Washington and Oregon.

I never tire of visiting the place. I first came here in 1983, when I started college in Portland. I fell in love with the historic Vista House. It was built in 1916 on a rocky perch for that new breed of traveler called a road tourist. It commands has a magnificent, sweeping view up the river.

Nearby you can find multiple waterfalls that spill down canyons, including one of the most photographed waterfalls in the country, Multnomah Falls. Those two falls plunge 620 feet by the historic lodge that was completed in 1925.

Further upriver, you can spot the Bonneville Dam, created during the Great Depression as a works project to control flooding and generate cheap hydro power that supplies the Northwest region. Unfortunately, the dams on the Columbia like Bonneville Dam also decimated the salmon runs. Still the Bonneville Dam, at mile post 42 on the Gorge, is well worth a stop.

When I visited today with an out-of-town cousin, we saw one of the massive turbines on display in front of the visitors center. We also spotted some of the many now-resident sea lions swimming in the water just outside the spillway.

I came away refreshed and feeling blessed I have such an amazing piece of geology and natural beauty in my backyard. Be sure to give yourself half a day if you visit.

Shuttered in St. Louis

Readers of this blog know that I have been documenting the struggles of St. Louis through photo essays. These topics cover a range of issues, from the decline of industry to the racial segregation and widespread abandonment and decay in North St. Louis. My photo stories are fueled in part by nostalgia for the city of my youth, when factories still hummed and the city had hundreds of thousands of more residents–more than 600,000 residents called it home the year I arrived. My memories of the past now collide with the free fall that has long been underway since the 1950s. By being an outsider who visits yearly, I now get time-lapsed snapshots, each time I visit to see my family.

Today, St. Louis’ population is barely 300,000, and many sections of the city are depopulated, filled with empty buildings and homes. Large factories have long moved away, including the iconic Corvette plant in North St. Louis.

During my last trip in March 2017, I visited some new areas, surprised to see signs of hope and also continued signs of despair.

I will be publishing a more detailed essay soon on The Grove Neighborhood, in south central St. Louis. The area, anchored by the business corridor on Manchester Avenue, stretches between Kingshighway and Vandeventer. Here are just a few of the buildings I found in this self-defined revitalizing area. The streets do not look that different from the more distressed North Side, where the majority of African-American residents call home. The brick structures, despite their neglect, still stand proud. I always try to imagine life decades earlier, when optimism abounded and the craftsman built the structures brick by brick, not knowing their destiny. I wonder what they might think if the could foresee the fate of their handiwork decades later.

Early Spring at the Missouri Botanical Garden

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I always visit the Missouri Botanical Garden, in south St. Louis, when I see my family in the St. Louis area. It remains one of the constants in life that weathers the turbulence of the larger world and my personal world. It is where my mother and I have spent some of best times as we have gotten older, together.

Things have changed for us, but less so for the Garden. I like that. Perhaps I need that. It remains a beautiful place with phenomenal displays of flowers, plants, and mini ecosystems from the world over. My favorite section of the Garden is the serene and exquisitely maintained Japanese Garden.

During our visit, my mom and I also saw the lovely orchid show. The daffodils and crocuses were blooming–daffodils being the beautiful harbinger of spring. I had never seen that many before at the Garden, probably because I do not visit just before the vernal equinox. It was really nice to see the Garden right as the season was changing.

If you visit St. Louis, this should be on your top three list of things to see besides the Gateway Arch and Forest Park/Zoo/Art Museum (all in Forest Park).

My own Shawshank Redemption tree

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I love driving out to the Oregon Coast. I have been doing that regularly since I took up surfing late last summer. My normal route, on Highway 26, passes through rural stretches of Washington County, which are not developed because of the state’s urban growth boundary rules. About 20 miles west of Portland, just before you hit the coastal range, stands one special tree that always reminds me of that mighty oak tree, in the film the Shawshank Redemption.

In the scene, the former Shawshank prisoner Ellis “Red” Redding visits a field where he finds a majestic white oak tree. Stashed in a stone wall by the tree, Red’s best friend and escaped prisoner Andy DuFresne has left a stash of money and an invitation to join him in Mexico. The scene, beautifully directed by Frank Darabont and masterfully acted by Morgan Freman, always gives me hope. When I see this tree, I  always think about hope and redemption, and those are good things.

Oswald West-Short Sands, a beautiful Oregon beach

Oswald West State Park/Short Sands beach is a beautiful coastal spot about 90 miles from Portland. The snug little cove is surrounded by giant, original old growth and coastal mountains. Three streams find their way to the ocean here. The place is exceptionally popular in the summer with day trippers and with surfers year-round.

I have made more than half a dozen trips here, lately to go surfing. Despite its reputation as a beginner surfer beach, I have rarely seen a clean wave here. I know they exist, because I have seen YouTube videos on those rare, bluebird sky summer surf days. I have only known it on rainy days, mostly, when the surf churns like a bad brew. That happened to me on Feb. 24.

A winter’s surfing trip to the coast is an adventure before you even get there. I drove through a winter storm, over the coastal range. White knuckles were de rigueur. I saw multiple trucks stuck on the higher passes. Before I reached the beach, I had two choices once I hit Highway 101: head to Seaside Cove, which has some beautiful swells and clean lines or try Short Sands, with the hope I might surf in an area covered by snow. The thought of that sent me south to Short Sands.

Well, the waves were mostly disappointing. I got my first head ding from the board and torqued my bad knee. Still, I found some lovely waves in the strong rip and currents that churn here when there is high tide. A resident bald eagle circled above and came to feast on some dead sea critter that had washed ashore. I can’t complain about seeing a bald eagle eating sea carrion. Just as I was leaving, the waves started to calm and a new set of surfers arrived. I wished them well and walked amid the druids of giant Sitka spruces, listening to the clear stream head to the ocean.

 

 

Scenes from the California Coast, Morro Bay to Monterrey Bay

In early December, I took a surf safari, hitting popular surfing beaches on the California Coast from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz. Along the way, I stopped at Morro Bay, a beautiful place near San Luis Obispo. It is known for its prominent Morro Rock, that juts out of the ocean like a mini Rock of Gibraltar. It is also known for great surf. I surfed Cayucos Pier, just north of Morro Bay. It is a great break.

I then drove up the California Coast, on Highway 1, through the Big Sur, until I arrived at Monterrey Bay. The highlight for that leg of the of the journey was seeing the elephant seal rookery, near San Simeon. The beach area, known as Piedras Blancas, is covered by beached elephant seals. The elephant seal is the second largest seal in the world. It is huge. I think I would be terrified if I saw one up close in the wild, in the water, given its strength.

During my brief visit I saw a number of males bellowing at each other, establishing dominance. Most of the colony simply snoozed on the beach. Some of the seals would occasionally scratch their fur with a fin or flip sand on themselves and burp. They took no notice of the dozens of human onlookers. Maybe they are used to the gawking visitors now. The prime time to see the rookery is November through February. I lucked out with great timing.

Travels through Trump country in 2015

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In September 2015, I travelled through the heart of the country that swung the Electoral College vote to Republican Donald Trump, giving him the presidency without a 50 percent majority and even behind Democrat Hillary Clinton. My trip had nothing to do with politics. It was about my past and my history, not the future of the country. But the trip was illuminating. I drove through some cities that once formed the bedrock of our industrial economy: Detroit, Toledo, the Ohio River petrochemical corridor, Canton, Akron, Cleveland, and Sandusky.

Even thought I didn’t spend time to explore all of those communities, it was easy to spot the remnants of the industrial past that has dramatically downsized in the last 30 years from globalization, mechanization, and trade policies. These have lead 4.5 million manufacturing jobs to leave the United States since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994. Detroit, of course, stood out, as the nation’s great symbol of industrial dislocation, which began long before NAFTA was signed by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. I could not believe how far this area had fallen, and all without any meaningful attention from our two major parties and the nation. The new economy means these were the losers, and nobody in power likes losers.

So when the Trump tornado rolled onto the national stage in 2015, and promised to make them winners, I knew that he would find fertile ground in Ohio and Michigan. I knew that instinctively, simply because I had done a drive by. Why was I, as an outsider, able to see this and those in power and leading a national campaign not aware of what would happen on election day. (See my essay on that topic.)

Where I live in Portland, the Multnomah County Library twice rejected my proposal to host a presentation I offered on these issues through the prism of Detroit. I think the Library failed to do its job as the place for civic discourse because my show would make Detroit look bad (news flash, it is in crisis and has been for decades) and because economic dislocation in the Midwest means little to the nation and especially to those on the West Coast. There is a progressive bubble out on the West Coast that is completely disconnected from the gritty, nasty world that exists in the rest of the country, and even in rural counties in the Northwest.

One of the most chilling takeaways from me was the poverty I saw everywhere in Appalachia in southern Ohio, from Chilicothe, to Waverly, to New Boston –areas that are both economically distressed and hard hit by opioid addiction.  On the Ohio side of the river, I saw more than a handful of Confederate flags hanging in windows of homes and on the back of vehicles. This was an area ready and ripe for a messenger, who claimed he would make America great again and bring back jobs. On election day, when I saw the results come in, I already knew how Ohio and Michigan would fall in the Trump column for electoral votes. I had seen the vote outcome with my own eyes a year earlier.

The makings of a great day

One type of great day happens when you pursue your passions and let your worries slip away. For me, this happens easiest when I connect with nature and tune out the crazy world.

Yesterday, Sept. 16, 2016, I had one of those classic “great days.” The weather was warm, Indian summer style. The sunrise over the farms of Washington County generated warm, William Turner-esque light.

Early Morning, Coast Band

A good surfing day begins with rising in darkness and knowing amazing waves and the smell of the ocean await you.

The winds were mild and the surf was gentle (two- to five-foot swells) at the Oregon Coast. Indian Beach in Ecoloa State Park offered amazingly clean sets that rolled in sweetly from the Pacific Ocean. I managed to get a few more rides–slowly I am building my skills and confidence. I felt that amazing serenity that only comes with being in the ocean, smelling and tasting the salt, and feeling the power of nature as I bob like a tiny bubble. Everyone surfing that day smiled and was in a good mood. I made some nice personal connections with people who gave me some tips about the surf.

Ecola State Park was as breathtaking as ever with its moss-covered semi-rain forest and coastal views. I had an absolutely perfect run after my surf at Cannon Beach. The dogs made me smile immensely. I seemed to pick up steam on the last three miles and felt stronger than I have in weeks. The 20 oz. IPA from Gigantic Brewing Company in Portland tasted better than ever. And my ratatouille tasted divine. Yeah, what a great day!