We were heading south on 82nd Drive, heading for the Clackamas Fred’s when I first saw the idiot in my rear view mirror, coming up fast even as we were slowing for a red light up ahead at the intersection with Hwy 224. We had just stopped in the left lane when the idiot rocketed past us in the left turn lane at the exact moment the left turn light went yellow. “I think he’s going to run that light!” said Annette. And sure enough, the light went red well before the idiot got there and the idiot boomed through. “You’re right, because he’s a fool,” said I.

And then the Clackamas County Deputy also waiting on the red light three cars ahead of us grinned widely and flipped on his lights and siren and took off in hot pursuit and we cheered like bastards. As we moved through the intersection we could see the blinking lights a couple blocks down the road and the spotlight coming on. The idiot was about to have a very bad day. We cheered like bastards. Then we laughed. And then we cheered like bastards.

Justice happens seldom. I am glad to have seen it make a rare appearance.



DSCF1470The morning of my 61st birthday, just after dawn, and I am driving down through planetary history on the road to Imnaha. There’s a river at the bottom of the canyon there that has been chewing patiently through several thousand feet of rock for several million years and hasn’t got to the bottom of the stack yet. I know because I got down there and saw for myself:  it’s still basalt.

Good old basalt. It’s what you get when the seafloor spreads like at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Atlantic Ocean grows about 4mm wider every year. It’s what you get when a mantle hot spot punches through oceanic crust to build Hawaii. And it’s what you get when, for reasons still unclear, the continental crust in the west of North America stretches, faults and gets thinner, allowing thousands of cracks to begin leaking a fluid and runny lava in prodigious quantities.

“Prodigious” is actually lame understatement. Those cracks in NE Oregon opened for business seventeen million years ago, and flooded intermittently over the next six million years. There are places in central Washington where the basalt layers are ten thousand feet thick. Saddle Mountain on the north Oregon coast is capped with basalt. Cape Perpetua on the central Oregon coast marks where basalt floods from NE Oregon flooded and filled an old river valley. Spokane sits on top of basalt from NE Oregon. So does Yakima. So does Pasco and Richland and Kennewick. The cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge are all flood basalts from NE Oregon, and the entire series of flows is named for the Columbia River. All those endless ridges from Goldendale north are folds in basalt. The outcrops in my backyard are basalt from NE Oregon. There is a lot of basalt in the Northwest.

The Snake River is badass enough to have carved deep enough to finally get past the Columbia River Basalt flows and you know what’s down there at the bottom of that deepest canyon in North America? Greenstone, which is metamorphosed…wait for it…basalt. It’s really, really old, though: Paleozoic, which takes it back to before there was a North America and when the latest thing in land animals was low-slung amphibians. That is what I was hoping to see at the bottom of the Imnaha Canyon, but to no avail, alas.

It’s okay. the river has time, even if I don’t. That greenstone shall see daylight some day. Meanwhile Netto is happy to sleep in, and I’m happy to drive down through history on a birthday morning, looking for what was there before the basalt.


Big Spring Creek.

Just before the Forest Service road on the west flank of Mt Adams north of Trout Lake meets the Forest Service road that eventually (very eventually) leads one west toward Mt St Helens, it passes over a culvert carrying Big Spring Creek on its way to the Pacific. There is a decent place to pull off the road there, and the reason to pull off the road there is the glorious cascades of the creek. Walk a bit uphill, and one comes to a place where the lawn chairs may be erected, which we did, in dappled shade where the falls roar so loudly that normal speech is replaced by friendly shouting.

It was chilly in there. Netto promptly layered up. It was so chilly in there, in fact, that I spotted salmonberries hanging from a bush on a tiny island in the stream, nearly three months after salmonberries have come and gone everywhere else. Since it is now waning August, and Big Spring Creek is about three thousand feet up where Fall comes early, this means that Summer lasts about a month where Big Spring Creek dives under the road.

We now have a place to set up the lawn chairs in a place reminiscent of Wahkeena Falls, with NO PEOPLE, a mere 90 minutes from our front door. No phone service, though. Damn.

An even more extreme microclimate may be found at the ice cave a few miles east of Trout Lake. Walking down the staircase into the cave is very like walking into a huge underground walk-in cooler. There is still some ice on the cave floor, and a gallery of icicles just around the bend if one want to don a hard hat and carry a lantern and walk a ways. (I took a pass on that.) Around the rim of the cave one may see Trillium plants with seed pods attached. Trillium shows up in April in normal places, and the plants are long gone by late August in normal places. This cave once supplied ice for Hood River and The Dalles. Now it hosts loads of bats and a few curious visitors. Sic transit gloria mundi.

We have decided to spend much more time in the future hanging out in the neighborhood of Mt Adams. It has all the alpine attractions of Mt Hood, with the additional bonus of not a lot of other people. Trout Lake on an August Saturday is a terrific place to be; a backcountry town way off the highway with no big rigs, no big noise and no big lines at the rest rooms. No lake, either. Weird.



The Water Smelled Like Roses

Living in my head is challenging.

World-class artistic temperament, a mind given to the analytical, white hot emotional responder and ADD. When Star Trek came on TV, Spock was my hero, with his cool logic and ability to control his emotions. The logic part was easy-it fit right in with the analytical mind-but, God, how I wanted to be able to control my emotions. Forty five years later, I still do. Every single thing I can think of that I regret and would like a do-over is due to immediate hot emotion, and my inability to use reason to control it.

It’s quite the task. I depend a lot on using my forebrain to ride herd on the reptiles down there in the basement. it takes work, lots of it, but Reason, like muscle, gets stronger with exercise.

The thing is, Reason can’t explain diddly about the things I care about the most.

Music. Explain to me rationally how sounds ordered just so please us, or make us sad, or make us dance, or make the heart soar, or break it.

Landscape. I just last year figured out that my true passion is the amazing world we live upon, and the myriad ways that world shapes itself. I see well-tilled earth or stark desert or mountains or orchards or sea or prairie and my heart fills with joy. Simple bliss, no words attached. Explain that rationally.

Love. No comment necessary.

My rational mind tells me that the universe is material, and God need not be invoked to account for the Universe. It constructs tight arguments. I find I cannot refute those arguments.

One thing, however, that my rational mind cannot tell me is just how and why the holy water we acquired as brand new Orthodox catechumens back in 2001 began to smell like roses. Really. Craziest thing, but it’s true. It lasted for several months and gradually faded away.

Whatever view of the Universe I eventually embrace, it is going to have to account for when the water smelled like roses. All the data must be included, even the uncanny. If that undermines Materialism, so it goes. Love happens. Joy happens. They are as real as the Periodic Table.

Everything is made out of matter. So says my mind.

Bullshit to that. So says my heart.

Like I said, challenging.

Living In The Material World

We are made out of matter. Matter wears out, breaks down, erodes away. Even the rocks crumble back to the sea. Plants and animals? We die. We always did, from the beginning, because we are living in the material world, and matter always-always-crumbles into dust and is reworked. There never was a time when plants and animals did not get old and die. Death is inevitable in the material world.

The Hebrew creation myth says that death is a punishment sent by God. It’s not. St Paul says death is our enemy. It’s not. Death is inevitable if one is made out of matter.

We might as well quit fretting about it, and relax. Everything is going to die. Give matter enough time, and eventually even  protons decay. Entropy wins, and it’s not because God is angry, it’s because the Universe is material and not a Bronze Age creation myth.




Clinical Depression, Meet Morbid Obesity

I started working full time for my living when I was 18. Being unable to do that any more was jarring. We all bitch about our jobs, but try living without one. I was 54 when I had to quit working, so in addition to trying to cope with pain all the time, I had three and a half decades of workaday habit that was no longer applicable. There was no reason to get up, or take a shower, or get dressed, because nobody cared if I showed up or didn’t. I did of course get up, take showers and get dressed-and then faced the prospect of dead, empty hours. I found that I had really, really liked working every day, and missed it fiercely. There was nothing to fill that void, and time seemed to just stall. I felt useless, and nothing but a burden to Annette.

Add the increasing load of pain to all that, and it is no wonder I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Oh, and the opioid pain meds I was taking in ever increasing doses are depressants, which amplified it all. (They also generated vicious rebound headaches. Migraines twice a week.) Nothing felt good any more, except eating, and that only for a little while. It is no wonder that I crossed the line from obese to morbidly obese. I gained fifty pounds in a bit less than a year.

I found myself in my late 50’s on a trajectory I hated. I felt myself to be well and truly stuck with a painful incurable ailment, a growing dependance on narcotics and a body that had morphed into a fat tub of goo. If the tale had ended there, it would have been bleak indeed.

But it didn’t. Some Good Things happened.

The first Good Thing: I was found eligible for Social Security Disability, so at least we didn’t have to file bankruptcy, One huge source of anxiety gone. Thank you, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The second Good Thing: I discovered that cannabis works about as well for chronic pain as vicodin, with far fewer side effects. As soon as I quit vicodin, the rebound migraines I was getting every week went away. I also notice my energy level increasing. In addition to helping pain, cannabis is known for improving mood, and the inside of my head gradually became a happier place to live. Thank God for this amazing plant and for the compassionate people of Oregon.

The third Good Thing: Earlier this year I was indulging my passion for gummy bears. The next day, I had a crippling pain spike in every one of my major joints, and my brain made a connection-sugar=inflammation. I changed my diet that very day, as pain can be quite the motivational speaker, and shortly thereafter found the fat melting off. As of today, I’ve lost the weight I gained a few years ago, and am now lighter than I was even before the Bad Stuff began. I am giving my Fat Clothes away. Just like everybody says, once the extra weight comes off, other physical problems improve.

And one more Good Thing: Andy, Abby and Caleb moved to Grants Pass. Nothing helps depression better than grandchildren close by. This was the biggest and best Good Thing.

Two years ago, I was pretty much ready to die early, as more pain was all I could see for my future. Today I’m thinking that once I get my titanium knees, and possibly a titanium hip, there really is no reason not to make that Wallowas pack trip. Pain sucks, but life goes on, and i intend to live til I can’t.

Sixty, gimped up, but happy. It’s not a bad trajectory.

Sir Duke, Satchmo and Black and Blue

Black and blue is a song from the late 20’s, from a revue of the same name which played Broadway. I have several versions of this song, but the two I play most are by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. The refrain is “What did I do to be so black and blue?” and it follows a litany of indignities visited upon black people, essentially for the crime of being black people. It is a cry from the heart, but what I want to talk about is the middle eight which goes: “I’m white inside, but that don’t help my case. What I can’t hide is what is on my face.”

Think about the dissonance. Think about the implications of I’m white inside if one is black outside. Here are two strong black men at the beginning of spectacular achievements, performing a song about how they’re white inside, as if the default position for human is white.

That, friends, is what racism does to people. Yes, I know the laws have changed, and it’s light years ahead of where it was when I was born, and we have a black President and all of that. It’s all true and it’s all good, and I believe it gets better still over time. (That may be a leap of faith, but so be it.)

Still, I’m white inside is fucked up. Generations of people have been thus fucked up. The effects of that do not vanish in twenty, or forty or maybe even a hundred years.

Nobody is white inside, except for the bones.