Beacon Rock, Columbia Gorge

Beacon Rock, Columbia Gorge

Beacon-RockOutdoors the sun was mostly shining and it felt and smelled more like spring than winter when Andy and I hiked Beacon Rock on February 14, 2015. It was our first hike of 2015 and it was our first visit to Beacon Rock.

Guide books say the Beacon Rock climb is a great introduction to the Columbia Gorge because of the views.   And there is no denying that the sights from every spot on the rock are stunning. But what is just as cool as this two mile hike is the rock’s backstory.

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South Facing View from Beacon Rock

I first read that Beacon Rock was the eroded core of an old volcano, which adds a certain Land Before Time mystique to the hike. But recently I came across a counter-argument that suggests Beacon is the remains of basalt lava oozing up through cracks in the earth’s crust about 50-60,000 years ago, which still gives it a mighty intriguing beginning. So after being born out of lava one way or the other, the rock was further shaped by the big floods that powered down the gorge in the last Ice Age.

Fast forward about 58,195 years. Lewis and Clark named the monolith “Beaten Rock” on their way to the Pacific. Their moods must have lifted on the way back because in 1806 the explorers changed the name to “Beacon Rock”. (Maybe they were happier because they were headed home. I choose to believe they were moved by the monumental beauty of the gorge and shamefacedly took back their original sad-sack name).                                                

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Bridge of the Gods on way to Beacon Rock

Just less than 100 years later a man named Charles Ladd purchased Beacon Rock to save it from the Army Corps of Engineers who wanted to blast it apart and use the pieces to create a jetty at the mouth of the Columbia. Fourteen years later, in 1915, Ladd sold it for $1 to Henry J. Biddle on the condition he would preserve the rock somehow.

This is how Biddle fulfilled his promise: from 1915 to April 1918 Biddle and a helper named Tin Can Johnson built an amazing array of trails, ramps, stairs and railings to the top of the rock. Although with a name like ‘Tin Can’ you can just imagine who did most of the back-breaking work.   In 1935 the CCC improved the routes and construction from top to bottom.
                                                                                

Get this, Biddle’s heirs offered Beacon rock to Washington State so it could become a park that everyone could enjoy.   Demonstrating their time-proven elitist thinking Washington refused the offer. But wouldn’t you know it and oh boy par for the course, Washington reconsidered when they realized that the same offer was going to be accepted by Oregon.  Babies.

Had the park become Oregon’s it would have only cost you, the Rocky Scrambler hiker, 5 bucks to climb to the top instead of the $10 Washington charges at their state parks. Money grubbers.

Okay, all kidding aside, the rock is on the Washington side of the river anyway so it makes sense that Washington is its guardian, the price is worth it, and Washington really isn’t all that elitist.

It’s an easy hike up with awesome views due to the effort of Mr. Tin Can and his engineering skills and artistic sensibilities. After the hike we visited Mr. Tin Can’s grave at Cascade Cemetery, just up the road from Beacon Rock. His headstone spells out the detail of his inspiring accomplishment: 4,500 feet of 4 foot wide trail, 22 bridges, and 52 switchbacks.

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If you need a wilderness hike, this isn’t the place. It’s a busy spot out in the open. But if you’re looking for views of the incomparable Columbia Gorge, I don’t know where you’ll find better because sightlines are not obscured by the trees as they are on the paths further back from the river.

Because the hike is short and tends towards ‘easy’ you can  add numbers to your fit-bit by travelling across the road and hiking around Little Beacon Rock, Hamilton Mountain, and Rodney Falls.

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At Little Beacon Rock

                                                                        

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The Seduction and Romance of Faulty Memory, Part Three: The Indigo Bunting

           

Maybe this also happens to you. Intense images rise up and swirl in your mind and you can see parts of a day from your past with almost frightening clarity. Scents can do that. Music does that, too. Poems.

I was thinking of some poems about romances and relationships as Valentine’s Day approaches. I thought of Browning and Shakespeare – and a youthful, sexy poem by Georgia Robertson. And then this scene snaps up in my mind and memory, sharp and scary:

26 August 1983 – Hastings College, Hastings, Nebraska. Move-in weekend, freshman year.

The dorm room is tiny, cramped. A couple of desks and beds with a few scattered items working weakly to personalize the place – posters, photos, a package of cigarettes. Space was tight. Still, the cell had a liberating effect as I was away from home and in almost complete control of my own time.

I AM SURE THERE WAS A JAMES DEAN POSTER IN MY DORM ROOM. I THOUGHT HE WAS GREAT.

I AM SURE THERE WAS A JAMES DEAN POSTER IN MY DORM ROOM. I THOUGHT HE WAS GREAT.

I knew a few people at the school, but not many. I moved in on a Thursday, (classes would start the following Monday,) and I hadn’t set foot in a college classroom yet as a student.

 

I KNEW SOME KIDS - BUT NOT MANY.

I KNEW SOME KIDS – BUT NOT MANY.

During the first day of my first year of college, I used some of my time in that tiny room to read a poem in The New YorkerThe Indigo Bunting, by Robert Bly.

I am changed by the poem. Thinking of it recently, in the context of Valentine’s Day, conjured vivid memories from that long ago Friday. I had the out-of-body phenomenon of looking down upon my younger self in that Hastings College dorm room.

I am alone and look younger than 18. I am sitting on the floor, reading The Indigo Bunting for the first time. There is a record rotating on the turntable. Bright sunshine is coming in the windows from a hot, high afternoon sun. I have a very dumb proto-flop haircut, a ridiculous earring, and stupid clothes – penny loafers, green peg leg pants, a striped, short-sleeved button up. I am tan and a bit chubby.

I smoke cigarettes like mad, and with each of the thirty or more that I smoke each day, I have a correspondingly wispy idea about what trajectory I want my life to take.

One of these songs may have been playing on the stereo:

Zebra Club by The Bongos from Drums Along the Hudson (1982 PVC Records).

THE BONGOS

THE BONGOS

I Go to Sleep by The Pretenders from Pretenders II (1981 Sire).

Love at First Sight by XTC from Black Sea (1980 Virgin Records).

I watch myself finish reading the poem. I stand, remove the needle from the record, and in the sunny, silent room, I read the poem again, while standing.

That evening, the college hosted an outdoor, opening-week party. Twilight in hot late summer – music and dancing – even though there was little relief from the heat of a day that had been in the high-nineties, kids were dancing like crazy. The party was set on a wide bridge that crossed and separated a little stream and Heartwell Pond, north of the campus in Heartwell Park. The tree-filled park forms an overgrown boulevard with tidy, pretty homes facing it from all sides – set back from and lining the surrounding, curvilinear streets.

I was a terrific snob and snot about what music was good and what was bad, and I thought the party music was garbage. Hit-machine bands with four-letter-word names like Asia, Toto, and Taco. You can be sure that I made anyone who gave me five seconds absolutely miserable with my opinions about what the DJ should be spinning. Mostly, everyone else was having a great time, but I could not understand how. Not with the terrible music.

Somehow, someone blessedly persuaded the DJ that in between the likes of Kajagoogoo and Michael Jackson, he should play Dance This Mess Around by The B-52s from The B-52s (1979 Warner Bros). Two hundred kids exited the dance floor. Not me. I danced like a kook, pretty much alone. In hindsight, that incident pretty quickly and more or less permanently set the tone for my college days.

SO COOL. THE B-52s.

SO COOL. THE B-52s.

Walking back to my room, I thought of the poem again, and read it when I returned. I would not have had the words for it, but I resolved then to find the people there that could help me harness the kind of blazing power that Robert Bly conjured from his quiet, quite beautiful metaphor: a migrating bird.

In the spring of 1987, the poet, Dwight Marsh, gave me a collection of Robert Bly’s poems as a college graduation gift. He had been my professor for a number of classes, but he was very much more than an English teacher to me. We spent a fair amount of time together outside of the classroom – he led me in directed studies, we performed together in plays, and we even did an event together just the two of us – reading works of our own writing. The gift was curious – I am sure I never discussed The Indigo Bunting with Dr. Marsh, or how much Bly’s poem meant to me. I didn’t know it myself at the time.

But there it was, The Indigo Bunting, unexpectedly looking up at me from the page during the final day of my undergraduate career – as it had on the first. Here it is again today.

 

SOMETIMES LIFE IS A BLUR - SOMETIMES NOT. CLICK THE IMAGE TO READ THE INDIGO BUNTING.

SOMETIMES LIFE IS A BLUR – SOMETIMES NOT. CLICK THE IMAGE TO READ THE INDIGO BUNTING.

Old Friends/Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel from Bookends (1968 Columbia).

I OWE THIS GUY MORE THAN LUNCH. WITH POET, DWIGHT MARSH, SOME 25 YEARS AFTER STUDYING AND WORKING WITH HIM.

I OWE THIS GUY MORE THAN LUNCH. WITH POET, DWIGHT MARSH, SOME 25 YEARS AFTER STUDYING AND WORKING WITH HIM.

12 February 2015

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Songs for Sunshine (and Superlatives)

Belle and Sebastian formed as a college project in Glasgow nearly twenty years ago. They tended from the start to be divisive.

Album One - TIGERMILK

TIGERMILK

Derided by some for being overly precious and twee, many others hailed them for their sensitive, searching approach, and their unusually sentimental discernment.

They had already released three records by the autumn of 1998 and I had not yet heard them. Friends were fans, and much of their critical attention was marvelous, but they hadn’t seemed up my alley.

My friend Amy encouraged me to give them a try. After all, they LOVED the same bands I LOVED, sharing especially the visual, emotional, and musical sensibility of The Smiths. They LOVED and openly imitated Felt.

I checked them out…

THE BOY WITH THE ARAB STRAP

THE BOY WITH THE ARAB STRAP

…and instantly became drawn swirling into their unapologetically nostalgic orbit. It turns out that what was being mistaken for calculation and affect was really just their great cleverness and sincere collective introspection. It was honesty and youth that made them sound they way they did – made them BE the way they were. Time has proved that.

There haven’t been a half dozen other bands that have meant as much to me as Belle and Sebastian have. Since the late-1990s they’ve combined their most original style and devotionally stylistic homages to craft the musical equivalents of bowlfuls of shimmering pearls. Along with Stereolab they have been the most consistently satisfying band of my adult life.

BELLE & SEBASTIAN

BELLE & SEBASTIAN

For this fan, it has been like a long sunless stretch since their last release in 2010, Write About Love. The seven-piece band released its tenth album this week, entitled Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. It is Great.

GIRLS IN PEACETIME

GIRLS IN PEACETIME

The preciousness polarization continues, but whatever side you may fall onto, one thing is difficult to argue: this band has not compromised. They have done things their own way, proven to be extremely durable, and have earned steady and enthusiastic support. It’s an odd phenomenon – whatever it was that folks found appealing about them as college kids remains appealing now.

 

PRECIOUS - A Kitten in a Hat

PRECIOUS – A Kitten in a Hat

To be sure, Belle and Sebastian’s sound is evolving, but the band’s vibe and much of their music are still drenched in 1960s folk and pop. Their lyrical luster and straightforward artistry provides the experience of music as a method of traveling in time. For example, the wicked wit and intense introspection of the words can transport me to college days. Their study of musical and visual influences manifests a whole art that is somehow both original AND saturated in heartfelt tribute.

NOT PRECIOUS - BELLE & SEBASTIAN AT METS GAME

NOT PRECIOUS – BELLE & SEBASTIAN AT METS GAME

Belle and Sebastian was not, and is not, like any other group. Except, they kind of are… That may explain their appeal. There is and has always been something familiar about them. But, that something avoids the slippery path of derivative-ness. The sound is always unmistakably and originally Belle and Sebastian. They have alloyed freshness with maturity. They are very long on style and pretty unconcerned with fashion. When they have spoken about their music, it has always been from a place that is genuinely surprised and thrilled about how well the product eventually turned out.

They provide lots of angles and come at listeners in so many ways – here are some horns, there are some flutes – there’s rock over here, there is Latin jazz over here,  even a bit of disco thrown in over there. And they are often SUPER FUNNY. The product – well, I am always thrilled, too, and I never seem to be able to find enough superlatives.

–Consider this a perfect representation of the band. You cannot tell what decade this is from.

Ease Your Feet in the Sea by Belle and Sebastian from The Boy With the Arab Strap (1998 Matador).

–As I listened to this song performed live in Minneapolis in 2006 – standing next to Judy – I was so happy – possibly as happy as I have ever been. I remember thinking that it would be okay to die when the song was over. I lived.

Song For Sunshine by Belle and Sebastian from The Life Pursuit (2006 Matador).

–Their introspection is exquisite and Stuart Murdoch is so undistracted in his storytelling that this is like inanimate sand and water washing and forming a gem in an oyster shell.

IF YOU'RE FEELING SINISTER

IF YOU’RE FEELING SINISTER

Judy and the Dream of Horses by Belle and Sebastian from If You’re Feeling Sinister (1996 Jeepster).

–This is live, pretty long, and really rough (in places actually a bit of a mess!) – but I love the commitment and the almost beatnik mix of jazzy guitar, bongos, and tambourine. Stevie Jackson’s energy is so great – he even sort of raps – but the overall performance is more like one from a rock star combined with a beat poet.

Perfect Couples performed live by Belle and Sebastian from Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (2015 Matador).

–Hugely influenced by artists as diverse as Robin Guthrie, MorrisseyCarole King, and The Beatles, perhaps no artist influenced Belle and Sebastian more than Lawrence. The first song features Elizabeth Fraser and it is miraculous.

Primitive Painters by Felt from Ignite the Seven Cannons (1985 Cherry Red).

–And another.

Dismantled King is off the Throne by Felt from The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories (1984 Cherry Red).

Belle and Sebastian’s early lineup and by their first, second, and third LPs were captivating. It’s worth mentioning two key individuals from that time who are no longer in the band. First Stuart David, co-founder of Belle and Sebastian, left in 1998-99 to form the brilliant Looper. And since 2002, Isobel Campbell has carved for herself a wonderful and varied career that includes both solo and collaborative work, most notably with her band The Gentle Waves, and on her albums with singer Mark Lanegan, formerly of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age. (More songs linked below…)

Pretty Things by The Gentle Waves from Swansong for You (2000 Jeepster).

SWANSONG FOR YOU

SWANSONG FOR YOU

Come On Over (Turn Me On) by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan from Sunday at Devil Dirt (2008 V2 Records).

Modem Song by Looper from The Geometrid (2000 Sub Pop).

23 jan 2015

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See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid

Thoughts from J:

“…But what if a surprise awaited him just inside the door, for even a poor unfortunate man as he, for so Mr. Sweet thought of himself, unfortunate to be married to that bitch of a woman born of beast, the surprise being the head of  his wife just lying on the counter, her body never to be found, but her head severed from it, evidence that she could no longer block his progress in the world, for it was her presence in his life that kept him from being who he really was…”

Unknown            That sentence is from See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid.  My Bookmarks magazine tells me See Now Then, Kincaid’s first novel in ten years, is one of the Most-Reviewed Books in February and March of this year.  So you don’t’ need a review here. There are plenty to choose from.

images     But if I was going to add my two cents, I might say that Allen Shawn, (Ms. Kincaid’s former husband), a composer (like Mr. Sweet in the story), who lived in New England (like Mr. Sweet in the story), with his English professor wife (like Mr. Sweet in the story), with whom he raised two children (like Mr. Sweet in the story), who left her for another woman (like Mr. Sweet in the story), might be happy and thankful that his former wife’s weapon of choice is only words.

She seems kind of upset.

P. S. To be fair…Kincaid says See Now Then is not autobiographical.

P.P.S. Just sayin…

 

 

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Can you judge a book by its cover

J asks: Can you judge a book by its cover?

Last summer I was just coming off the final week of comprehensive exams, the last of three where I read nothing but research and wrote opinions and proposals based on the literature in my field.  At the end, I was craving escape. But when your go-to relaxing activity is reading, and you’ve just spent a week doing nothing but that in a very un-leisurely way, how do you select the perfect story? One that’s not too demanding, doesn’t carry a heavy cognitive load, does not require interpretation of complex literary themes? …etc.

In the movie version of this library scene…I am scanning the “Recent and Readable” shelf for just such a novel.  Zoom in on the book Poor Little Bitch Girl.  The cover catches my eye.  I mean, look at it. Then the title… “Sound’s pretty shallow,” I thought, “Could be just the thing.” And the author: Jackie Collins has written 29 best-sellers. 90,000 + fans can’t be all wrong. So I checked it out, using the self-scanner (lest a scholarly librarian judge me).

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And…? It was perfect. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, and politics all make the scene with beautiful young characters jet-setting from coast to coast. I spent a Saturday and Sunday afternoon under the umbrella on my patio with it. A completely satisfying read.

But before I draw a conclusion based on this one experience—(if my comprehensive exams taught me anything, it’s to weigh the evidence. And one data point is not conclusive evidence)—a few months later my friend lent me Severance Package.  Check out the cover…form an opinion of what the book might be about…(if you think comic book style office action thriller, complete with illustrations each chapter, you’re right)…read…and enjoy.

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So, can you judge a book by its cover? Yeah. Sometimes you absolutely get what you see…in books anyway.

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