A Travellerspoint blog

October 2010

Two Hours In Portland

An Aimless Jaunt Into a Downtown Park

rain 57 °F

I had a couple of hours on my hands while this morning, and I thought I would take advantage by going ashore to go for a mini -exploration of the city of Portland, Oregon. To fully explore a dynamic multi-layered city such as Portland could take months or years to do it properly. I had only two hours. I decided on an aimless approach, wandering north into downtown, more or less wanting to see what I could see.
I walked north along the Willamette River, watching the river traffic, flocks of birds, joggers, walkers, bums, bikers, and scenery. I turned west into the downtown area via Salmon Ave, and made it about a block before I saw a beautiful green park that piqued my curiosity.
The park was three square city blocks, neatly contained in a perfect grid of concrete thoroughfares. Inside the grid, a pleasing natural space was composed of towering trees, green grass, a plethora of wrought iron benches, and two statues. Everything was covered in a thin layer of bright yellow leaves that had fallen from the towering trees. The leaves had a steam rolled flatten look, softened with water and compressed.
The park had a few statues in strategic locations, one commemorating veterans and their battles, an elk, and one saluting the pioneer spirit. I like statues. I like art that is meant to last for a long time. I always thought it would be cool to carve up a huge rock in a random spot in the woods-scratching in symbols, and numbers (which would be meaningless) for future generations to ponder. It would be my lasting symbol of my unique brand of weirdness. Picture the Maois of Easter Island. Plus, I like the idea of annoying archeologists long after I’m gone.
A heavy mist began to fall, and the few people around picked up their pace and walked faster to their destination. I didn’t have one, so I walked slower, and tried to find appealing compositions. I like rain, and it deepened the mood nicely: A wet autumn afternoon in an oasis of green. The city was ever present, but city parks aren’t meant to be deep wilderness. To me, they are a place for recreation, relaxation and respite. Parks are a reminder to city folks that nature has an important role in our lives. Who doesn’t feel better after spending some time in a city park? My primary way of judging a city is by its green space and parks.
It felt good to get off of the boat and act like a normal person again. There isn’t a lot of room to roam on a boat, and I enjoyed stretching my legs on the earth. To celebrate my “grand day out” I bought mocha, a bagel, and a cinnamon roll to eat later on the boat. A small gesture towards recapturing my freedoms, but welcome all the same.
I was looking for a good quote about city parks, and I found this one. It doesn’t really go with my theme, but it made me laugh.

“I hate small towns because once you've seen the cannon in the park there's nothing else to do.” ~ Lenny Bruce

Posted by Rhombus 15:50 Archived in USA Tagged parks walking autumn photography portland Comments (0)

Out to Sea: The Next Journey Begins

Starting Life Aboard a Ship, My New Home, First Impressions of the Watery World.

sunny 55 °F

My latest attempt at money making has me signed up for six months aboard a 152-foot cruise ship that will be sailing the Columbia and Snake rivers this fall, and down the west coast to Baja California, Mexico this winter. It’s exciting, and seemingly a perfect job for a curious wanderer and inspired student of the world such as myself.
I am a deckhand. I’m one of a crew of four that work aboard this vessel. We work long shifts, 12 hours on and 12 hours off, on a rotating swing schedule that changes every week. Our shifts cover the entire day, so the ability to be flexible in sleep schedule is already apparent. This is my fourth day on the boat, and while I still have a lot to learn about my job, everyday I feel more comfortable here. I’m settling in to my new home. My deck partner and I, who is also my roommate, and the person who works opposite schedules to me, has the same birthday as me. When we found that out, it was kind of like a twilight zone moment of weirdness. How bizarre! What are the chances of that happening? Astronomical. Anyway, I’ve decided our room needs to be decorated with May 10th paraphernalia, in honor of the situation.

My “home”, my berth, my cabin, is much what you would expect for a crewmember aboard a relatively small ship. Its cramped quarters, designed for efficient living, where mostly to get at anything you want in your berth you only have to turn around. However, my cabin living space is actually quite a bit larger than my van is, so I’m more comfortable than one would expect. It also has lights, electricity and a functioning head (bathroom) which makes it quite a bit more accommodating. In the head, you have three options: toilet, sink, or shower. All of which are easily used by turning around in a skimpy three and a half foot wide area. I’m sure you could use all three fixtures at once, if you were pressed for time.
The food is excellent and plentiful, and available at three meals for the crew, and a make your own snacks all day long, providing you don’t get in the galley crew’s way. Coffee, Cappuccino, and other beverages are readily available as well. The coffee is terrific and helps keep you going during your long shift. My current shift has me eating a small breakfast at about 10 am, and then attending crew lunch at 11:30. I could wait, but I like to start my mornings with breakfast food.

My first insight is that it’s going to be an interesting dynamic between living and working on a boat. As I’m going to be onboard most of the time, I’m going to have to get used to the fact that while I’m traveling and seeing new territory, I’m more or less on a fixed position moving around the globe. It remains to be seen how I get used to doing my work, then shutting down and enjoying my “me” time. So far, it hasn’t been a problem, but I’m only on my first week. The other cool part about being a deckhand is that, when you are on, you’re on, and when you are off, your off, nobody is going to ask you to work other than attending the weekly emergency drills. In addition, everyone knows when you are off, and so they give you some breathing room, and let you do your thing.

I’ve seen some cool things so far while on the ship. There is a lot of river traffic on the river, and a long series of locks to navigate through. I’ve taken part in tying off the vessel, by either calling bollard distances for the pilot, or actually making the toss and securing the vessel on the bollard. Then we rise or fall depending if we are heading upstream or down, the gates open, and we are on our merry way.

I really like making the rounds at night. I love the way the moonlight shimmers on the near glassy water of the Columbia and the Snake Rivers. The night starts with deep cool blue, which in time deepens to the dark of night. While walking the decks, I feel the beautiful solitude that lone deckhands on the watch have felt since sailing began. There is something about it, that’s hard to describe. Maybe it’s just wanderlust realized, embraced, and lived, combined with a changing natural environment.

“So it goes”, the river, life, and the ship. Therefore, I will as well.

Posted by Rhombus 02:12 Archived in USA Tagged boats rivers cruises oceans jobs philosophy Comments (2)

The Life of a Leaf

Honoring the Last Leaf of Autumn

semi-overcast 50 °F

The leaf, long before it fell, was a bud, a lush green protuberance on a maple tree. A pleasant life; swaying in the breeze, warm in the summer sun, a good view. Then came late September and early fall-colder temperatures, frosty nights, and loss of fluid. It dried, died and fell. Before doing so, the leaf read the secret writing on the Philosophers Stone and turned golden orange. The Leaf blossomed for a brief period, no more than two weeks of vibrancy. The leaf fell with his mates on a cool autumn afternoon. Humongous slabs of gray purple clouds loomed overhead with pale blue air surrounding them; islands in a sea of autumn sky. The wind which finally dislodged it was gusty all day, showing strength and ebbing, until it finally plucked it free. I didn’t see it fall. In my experience, the leaves that fall in late autumn descend with grace, making the most of their one and only flight. It made a perfect landing, gently and upright, on the tufts of green grass. It was perched higher than some of the other leaves-poor flyers, those. Waiting patiently, it was rewarded for the last time; catching the sunlight just right to highlight the vessels and veins, completing the cycle of life to death.

Posted by Rhombus 05:59 Archived in USA Tagged leaves autumn photography Comments (0)

Michigan's Autumn Splendor

A Celebration Of Autumn: The Foliage, The Sounds and The Tastes Of My Favorite Season

sunny 63 °F

The northern forests have once again succumbed to charms of autumn, and so have I. Autumn is the equivalent of a grand finale in a fireworks show for leaf producing trees. In fact, the whole region has been in the grip of autumn since late September. It starts slowly, the hot temperatures of summer begin to temper and cool, especially at night. The cooler air temperatures begin a chain reaction in the hardwood trees; their life flow of sap slows and stops. With no more nutrients flowing through to the leaves, they turn color and die. Utah Phillips, that great American storyteller and folk hero, used to tell us about a whiskey called Autumn Leaf, “You’d take a snort, turn color and fall.” It’s not an immediate process; the “fall” often takes several weeks depending on temperatures, rainfall, wind strength and type of tree.
Autumn is the Yang to Spring’s Ying. A subtle reminder that all that lives will eventually die. But what a send off! What a great final show. If you knew the end was near how would you want to go out? The forest has collectively chosen to go out with a bang. It makes an awe-inspiring farewell, a celebration of life in vibrant colors, textural sounds, earthy smells, and ripe tastes before death. Autumn is a good reminder to pay attention to all of your senses, as each will find a satisfying meal.
The visual feast of the vibrant varieties of autumn leaves is what I think of most when I think about Fall. In Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, the multitude of hardwood forests, mostly maple, oak, birch and aspen make for a pleasing display for the eyes. For roughly the last two weeks, I’ve spent at least part of my day wandering about the fields and forests, taking in the variety of colors. I especially like red leaves, as they aren’t as common as yellow and orange were this year. I don’t know if leaves vary their color from year to year, or if certain trees always turn the same color. A dendrologist could probably answer that question.
This year, the trees on the edge of the old farmer’s fields hit their apex of color before the main forest. It made for some likeable compositions, and I was lost for hours at a time composing the trees with my camera.
I was walking along the banks of the Traprock River, when I happened upon one of the more beautiful phenomena that I’ve seen this year. Leaves were falling from the trees directly into the water, and in doing so, became small color full leaf shaped canoes. The stream moved them at a variety of speeds through the dark tannin, root beer colored water. Some of the leaves floated by underneath, some on top, others joined other leaves to make a raft, then abruptly would spin away and change partners like a square dance. I was mesmerized. I could’ve watched this “dance” all day.
The sounds of fall are much like a symphony composed of many different movements, using different techniques to coax sound from leaves. I like listening to the leaves land as they fall from the tree. It’s not long before a thick blanket of dry leaves collects on the forest floor and with each new leaf that falls onto it, a soft crunch can be heard.

Leaves are more or less a wind instrument. The gusty winds of autumn use the crispy leaves like giant maracas, shaking them for a time, then letting them settle down once again. The wind makes soft noise through the forest as well, a pleasant white noise to which the rustling leaves play over the top of.

By late fall, most of the leaves have fallen, and the thick carpet of tinder dry brittle leaves becomes a terrific cacophony of crunch. Walking through the forest is pleasurable, a nonstop din of crunchiness that overpowers all else. The only sounds the ear can concentrate upon are your footsteps. I like to shake it up, and shuffle my feet, then jump up and stomp, kicking a couple of times, and taking exaggerated steps to keep the rhythm going. Yes, autumn jaunts in the woods are good for the soul.
Autumn also has its own array of earthy aromas. A fresh pile of dead leaves smell great. I love the smell of hot brown pine needles that have been baking in the afternoon sun for several hours. The tannin-filled rivers smell acidic and earthy, but not unpleasant. They smell as a river should. Perhaps my favorite smell is that of the freshly baked apple pie cooling on the counter. This makes me think about the tastes of Autumn.
My favorite taste of fall, is that of the apple. Apples fresh off the tree are delicious, and can be used in a variety of ways. I like baking apple pie with my apples that I pick. Is there anything better than a fresh piece of warm apple pie, with its gelled apples and cinnamon, sandwiched in a flakey tender crust? I think not. My aunt and uncle have an apple orchard, from which they use the apples to make cider, possibly the world’s finest. It’s so very fresh and pure, that my sister once said, “It’s like drinking an apple.” My mom makes applesauce out of some of the apples, mostly the late august yellow variety. When the yellow apples are ripe, it’s a good sign that autumn isn’t far away.
Through the ages, many civilizations held festivals in a salute to the harvest of fall. I think the autumnal equinox should be celebrated. To do it properly, a long walk through the forest would be a good start. Let your senses do what they do best, and enjoy the whole scene with each of them. Follow that with a fresh piece of apple pie with good cup of coffee, to get a taste of autumn. Then a bonfire under the inky black star filled skies, listening to the fire pop and crackle, accompanying the wind rustling the leaves of the forest. This would make a fitting end to a day spent in celebration of autumn, my favorite season.

Posted by Rhombus 10:12 Archived in USA Tagged leaves fall autumn forests color Comments (0)

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