Oregon

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.

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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.

Testing my new tool, the Panasonic Lumix DC ZS70

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For many years, most of the pictures I have taken were with my point-and-shoot camera, a Canon. After nearly 10 years with my current point-and-shoot, it was time to retire it. I researched the market and settled on a Panasonic Lumix DC ZS70. It got good grades from online reviewers. The price range worked for me. It also features a Leica lens.

So far, I like it. I thought the panning feature wasn’t tack-sharp, at least without a tripod. The close-ups seem sharp. I thought the 4K video was surprisingly crisp, even on the maximum zoom setting of 720mm (the lens is a 24–720 mm equivalent). The zoom shots, which I do not expect to have great quality, turned out more detailed than I was expecting in my first tests. I plan to use this on my day trips surfing on the Oregon Coast, where I can’t afford to leave expensive gear alone in the car or risk break-ins.

One downside is the raw format file feature isn’t readable with my older version of Lightroom. I’m not going to upgrade my operating system just yet to fix this.

At this point in my life taking pictures, I gravitate more toward visual storytelling than image perfection. You can tell a good story with medium and even low-quality equipment. What matters is your talent, less so having the most expensive glass and brand on the market.

For the record, my favorite camera equipment I use is a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and a 24mm Leica lens. (Here is a sample of how my images look with it.)

These test shots were all taken on Nov. 17, 2017, near my home in Southeast Portland.

Surf so fine at Seaside

 

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Today was one of those perfect days for surfing on the Oregon coast that only seem to come every other month. The forecast at Seaside, Oregon for Saturday (Nov. 11, 2017) called for a high tide at 6:56 a.m., waves two to four feet high, and calm conditions, with sets spaced about every 10 seconds. For surfers in Oregon, this is damn close to paradise.

Seaside is a beautiful spot to surf at high tide under such conditions, when the wind is not coming from the northwest. The natural cove creates some beautiful breaks. Thankfully, the ocean provided lovely set after lovely set.

When I arrived around 7:15 a.m. there were already a dozen surfers in the water. By the time I was in for an hour, I counted 40 surfers. It is a rare sight to see that many surfers in any surfing beach in Oregon.

I discarded what my body told me to do, which was to stay out and let my injured shoulder heal.

I may have set myself back another month with my existing surfing injury. Who knows. Given we may not have surf this good until April, I do not think I had a choice. In the end, I caught more than 20 waves, all with little effort. My shoulder, however, it did not like what it was feeling when I finished. Oy vey, tomorrow I will have regrets.

As for the shark warning earlier in the week, in Pacific City, about an hour south, no one seemed too worried. Great whites are usually out there, whether we see them or not.

Fall surf season has arrived with the Alaskan storms

It has been little more than a year now since I began surfing in Oregon, mostly at Seaside. It is about 85 miles from Portland, which means I can only get there once a weekend, if I am lucky, given my commitments.

My regular weekend trips that have been taking place since May are now drawing to a close with the arrival of storms that howl out off the North Pacific, from Alaska all the way down to northern California. Waves can kick up to larger than 10-12 feet when they hit the Oregon Coast. It can be a nasty brew of churlish waves, dangerous rips, and strong winds that stop even the hardiest surfer. I have been thoroughly pounded in these conditions.

I went out last weekend, and I paid dearly. The waves ranged from five to seven feet, and many pummeled me. Two weeks earlier, it was almost the same.

From here on out through the spring, surfing will be sporadic. I will monitor the weather forecasts and see if those red blobs on the radar translate to large winter swells offshore. We occasionally get breaks in the weather, and everyone comes rushing to the coast.

It is amazing to see how tough and talented many of the local surf crew are. The best and also the more protective “locals” were ripping it at Seaside Point, which is infamous for its localism and attitude. I spotted overheads at least 10 feet high that the very best short board surfers were carving gracefully with their lines. The point is just to the far left of the moonrise shot, where the rocks touch the water by the trees.

A year of exploration and surfing on the Oregon coast

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Rudy Owens on the southern Oregon Coast, August 2017

A year ago this weekend, I became an Oregon surfer. I now feel confident enough to be in the lineup with every other surfer who shares my passion.

In September 2016, I bought a beginner board, the right wet suit, and other gear, and I began the long journey of mastering the art and sport of surfing by travelling from Portland to nearly all surfing spots on the Oregon Coast and even California and Washington.

The journey far exceeded all of my expectations.

I learned how to understand surf forecasting and paid close attention to the storm systems in the Pacific Ocean that control the weather from Alaska all the way down to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. I met people who shared my passion for the ocean and this highly alluring sport. Many of them have lived and surfed all over the world and country, and we all speak the language of surfing. Some are visitors, and others are residents who now call Oregon home. We all come together in the water, waiting for the wave, patiently sitting on our boards and scanning out for the next set rolling in.

I have learned how to read waves and practice the craft of positioning myself at the right place at the right time. In Oregon’s tough, stormy waters, this involves punching through feisty breaks that pound you as you try to reach to lineup in the water, where the waves give you that window of opportunity to tap their energy and capture moments of transcendence.

I have surfed during snowfalls and blinding rainstorms.

I have seen sea otters, harbor seals, humpback whales, and signs warning me of great white sharks that are common in these waters.

I have made new friends who love to wake up at crazy morning hours and meet at the ocean, just to capture the magic of the ocean in the morning, as the smell of saltwater fills your nostrils and the sound of the wares creates a feeling of calm in morning’s first light.

I have also learned how to ride waves during this time. When I started, I could barely get any. Now, when I go out, I can catch sometimes 20 or 30 rides, if the conditions are perfect or near perfect. Even on bad days, I am mastering the art of riding our very common cheeky waves. These can be fun.

Yesterday, on Sept. 16, 2017, I rode perhaps one of the best waves of my life. I started in the lineup at Seaside, near the rocky shore, and grabbed an overhead that took me almost 100 yards to the beach, riding its face and seeing the translucent water carry me on a pulse of energy. My grin grew wider with every second I was steering my 9-foot Stewart longboard.

Now, a year into this journey, I capture each outing with a surf diary, describing the ocean color and smells, currents, sets, wave patterns, colorful characters, my memorable experiences with wildlife and aquatic life, and my memories of the day. As a lifelong writer and journal writer, I can say this is perhaps the funnest journal I have ever kept.

 

The Murals of Cottage Grove

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In 1994 and 1995, I worked as a reporter in the small Willamette Valley community of Cottage Grove (pop. 10,000 as of 2017). The city is 20 miles south of Eugene, along the Interstate 5 corridor. When I was working there, the old economy based on timber production and milling was shutting down, and one in five residents was living near the poverty level. In terms of that grim statistic, not much has changed. Today, more than one in five live in poverty, according to the last Census count.

I reported on just about everything in Cottage Grove as a local reporter: crimes, sports, civic life, local government, police, fires, successes, tragedies, inspiring people, pets, redevelopment, land use battles, racism, anti-racism, and more. I loved how I was exposed to all of humanity by simply writing stories about people’s lives.

I paid a visit to Cottage Grove on my way through in early August 2017. I stopped at my old employer, the Cottage Grove Sentinel, and walked through the historic downtown. It is still a beautiful place, with old brick buildings and merchants working to keep civic life and that social place alive.

Some big murals caught my eye. One of the iconic Coca-Cola brand liights up an otherwise dull brick wall. The other celebrates the many covered bridges near Cottage Grove and the celebrated writer and local resident Opal Whitely, painted in 2001 by artists Connie Huston and Howard Tharpe. There are just some of the city’s mural art.

Whitely was born in 1897 and died in 1992. She was a child prodigy, and also schizophrenic. According to a Cottage Grove historian and writer, Stephen Williamson, at the age of 21, she traveled to Boston with her book, The Fairyland Around Us, considered one of the most remarkable blends of science and faith ever written. He writes, “The Atlantic Monthly turned that book down, but did publish her childhood diary. It quickly became a worldwide best seller. Presidents and kings read it. Mothers named their babies after her. Opal was an international star–at least outside Oregon. Opal’s diary describes the life of a lonely child from logging camps in the Cascade Mountains.”

Whitely eventually moved to Europe, where she spoke of abuse growing up and not being related to her family. Eventually her mental illness worsened and she was “committed” to England’s psychiatric system, where she was poorly treated. Says Williamson, “The gifted child genius from Oregon’s wilderness spent nearly fifty years buried in a tiny cell on a crowded asylum ward. In the 1950’s she was given a lobotomy.” She died in the place that imprisoned her for decades.

Today, however, Whitely lives on as one of the main tourist attractions for the community. If you are travelling down I-5, pull off. Travel to the city center. Take a walk. Shop. Eat at a local restaurant and see all of the murals. You can then pause and reflect upon one of Oregon’s most famous daughters who died in a virtual prison, whose only crime was being hyper-creative and afflicted with a mental illness.

 

Seaside, Oregon surfing on a windy summer day

Seaside, Oregon is my favorite surfing beach in the state. It is less than 90 miles from my home in Portland. It has a consistent break, usually better than most other beaches that are driving distance from Portland. Mostly the vibe at Seaside is relaxed, and the community of surfers who share the beach are welcoming to most levels. There is space for advanced surfers and novices, so long as the novices stay out of the lineup. Some locals may not want beginners here. You have been warned.

I mastered the craft of Oregon surfing at this beach, logging many winter hours in the pounding surf. Only recently have I felt I belong in the lineup.

Most of the surfing websites that describe Seaside Cove accurately note the hazards are rips, rocks, locals, and sharks. And the order of danger is probably in that order. In the winter, the waves can hit well over 10 to 15 feet. In the summer, because of the northwest exposure, sets can easily top five to seven feet.

These scenes capture a choppy, mushy day that I mostly associate with winter and shoulder seasons, but it was mid-August. There is often little break time between the sets, and if you do not ride the rip out to the lineup, you will be pounded pretty hard.

The footage, admittedly shaky, captures how rough the surf can be, with nonstop sets and overheads, even on a summer day. If you are a surfer and want to visit Oregon, put this beach on your list. Support the local economy while you are there. Share the aloha and the Oregon surfer stoke. You will find many good rides.

Just be sure to bring a 5/4/3 suit. The water has very little temperature variation between summer and winter.

South Oregon coast in black and white

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

During the first week of August 2017 I took a road trip to a part of the state I had not seen since 1987. My original plan was to visit multiple surfing beaches south of Coos Bay and try them out with my nine-foot Stewart surfboard. Well, that was the plan. My plans changed, and everything worked out well. I decided to tell my story in black and white images that capture the feel of the place.

Port Orford and Humbug Mountain

I first stopped at Coos Bay, a city still gripped by economic woes. It has a nice surfing location on the south jetty and some beautiful beaches and state parks on the west and southwest corner of the community. But the surf was rough when I arrived, and I decided to push further south to Port Orford. The small community of little more than 1,000 is about 60 miles south of Coos Bay and has a beautiful cove and southwest facing ocean view. Sadly, I found no real waves the day I arrived. I picked another surfing spot one mile south of Port Orford, called Hubbard Creek. There, the breaks hit close to shore and I was skunked. With temperatures in inland Oregon hitting 105F, it was still a great day to be in the water on the coast, and I found the water temperatures about five degrees warmer than in northern Oregon.

I then spent two glorious nights at Humbug Mountain State Park, about six miles south of Port Orford. It has a beautiful and large campground, well-maintained by volunteers and the camp host. There must have been well over 400 people there both nights.

The park’s only downside was the truck and road traffic next to the campground. On the upside, there is walkable beach access and a clean creek next to the campground. I climbed the 1,700+ foot mountain, played photographer, and watched one of the nicest sunsets of my life here. I tried to surf my first morning, but the waves also pounded close to shore. So I was skunked again for the second day.

The highlight of my trip was being befriended by families from California camping on both sides of me. Who says Californians aren’t nice? The experience reminded me how fun travel can be and how nice people can be when you are ready to welcome positive energy. Two young girls of one family I spent a day with from San Jose dubbed me “Shmoosh Broccoli” because of my green tent. The name will stick.

South to Brookings

The following day I headed south. The area has phenomenal beaches. I stopped briefly in port city of Gold Beach and caught the spectacle of a salmon derby and the steelhead and Chinook run at the mouth of the Rogue River. Scores of boats were circling the river mouth, casting for fish. Everything was shrouded in mist. It was a beautiful moment.

Loaded with warm coffee, I then drive about five miles south of Gold Beach to Cape Sebastian State Scenic Corridor, which has a lovely protected surf spot called Hunter’s Cove, as well as some of the most amazing beach scenery in the state, with basalt seastacks jutting out of the beach and ocean. It is easy to put in here at the Highway 101 turnoff and viewpoint.

Finally, I finally caught many lovely rides. It was the first time I surfed without booties or gloves in Oregon, and I loved the feeling of the board on my toes. I also spotted a juvenile sea otter. The little critter did not see me at first and practically flipped when it realized a guy in a wetsuit was next to him in the water. The species is now making a comeback in the state.

After my surf, I drove another 20 miles to Brookings, a coastal community with a large fishing port and lots of nice camping spots upriver on the Chetco River. My dream of surfing here was dashed. The forecast predicted one- to two-foot waves. I decided not to spend the night and head home early. In the winter, the south jetty of the city is famous for its protected breaks. Maybe I will come back again.

Just another roadside attraction in Oregon

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I have seen my share of roadside attractions and airports in my life. But every time I drive Oregon State Highway 18 to the coast, to surf, I marvel at the audacity of the  Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, created by Evergreen Aviation Airlines, an air cargo operation out of McMinnville Oregon. It has two 747s, including one mounted on the top of an air hangar (see it in the distance to the left of the photo).

The company was ubiquitous in Alaska during the six years I lived there, 2004 to 2010, so I feel a connection to Evergreen in my own personal way. Anchorage is one of the busiest air cargo hubs in the world, and I would see Evergreen air cargo planes parked with all of the other air cargo aircraft at Ted Stevens International Airport.

The museum is literally next to the highway, just before you turn off for McMinnville. I have never had time to visit, and I do not plan to stop. I usually come by here in off hours. Also, I have seen my share of aviation museums, including one of the best, the Museum of Flight in Seattle, next to Boeing’s south Seattle facilities.