A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

Sleep Deprived In Portland

On Sleep Deprivation, The Chinese Gardens, Powell's City of Books, Old Town Pizza, and Moments in Portland

It’s October 23rd, 2011, and I have been awake for 23 hours straight. The fun began seven hours ago when I helped dock the ship to the floating dock down in River Front Place near downtown Portland. After docking, I realized I technically was off duty, but I stayed on, as there was luggage to move from the ship to the dock. The easiest way is to hand it down from the upper deck to the main deck through a gate. This involves many spinal compressions, as travellers are apt to bring their antique typewriters and cast iron stoves on cruises; I don’t know why. I was the catcher, as I have some height to me, and am all right with hard work.

My good deed has cost me 10 minutes of my time. I feel good however, as the process went much more smoothly than without me. Luggage sucks when you are a guy down.

I went to my room, decided on a shower, refreshed with eucalyptus. Koala bears know what is good.

I leave the boat heading to the nearby coffee shop for some Stumptown, perhaps one of the world’s great coffees, and a cinnamon roll. I have a weakness for cinnamon rolls. I monkey around on the internet, posting a blog, making some inane commentary about my day on facebook, pull ahead of my brother in a game of scrabble, and snap my computer closed. The lighting is getting good.
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I amble back to the ship. I grab my camera, tripod, and offload my computer. I call my brother and I’m gone. I find a park bench lit up in perfect lighting. I have to photograph this light, as it is perfect. Not only that, but I’ve been waiting to compose this bench all season. I settle in, take my self-portrait, and enjoy the scene. It smells faintly of pee from the bums that sleep here at night, but the lighting remains beautiful. I call my brother back and the conversation resumes. It’s a good one. I haven’t talked to my brother in quite some time, and it is good to catch up, to philosophize, to laugh aloud, to reconnect, to be brothers.

I pick up and walk. I head towards Chinatown. I remember something about gardens, and I would like to see them. I’m wandering. Runners run. Biker’s bike. Good looking people look good. Frumpy looking people eye me frumpily. Nobody says, “Hello, may your day go well for you.” No matter, I’m lost in the conversation.

I find the gardens with little trouble. Pretty much the first place I looked. Damn, I’m good. At this point, I have been up for 18 and a half hours and feeling good. My phone battery is dying, and I’m dying, and I want to see the gardens before I die. So I say farewell to my brother who is drinking wine in a soft rain by a slightly silted river in central Minnesota.
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I enter the gardens, pay my fee, and say thank you to the garden hosts. The hosts are garden loving people and they remind me of plants by their quietness and composure. I let my senses take over. The gardens are wonderful. They offer a concoction that is irresistible to my senses. It smells fresh. Fragrant plants are important to a good Chinese garden. It is beautifully simplistic in some areas, strikingly complicated in others. The Chinese are into harmony, the yin to the yang, the tall to the short, the wet to the dry, the dark to the light. Every space has balance and beauty in nature. I’m smitten. I get it. My mind thinks. “I wish the surrounding city was silent. I wish the imposing neighborhood buildings weren’t so tall. I wish I were hanging out in classical Chinese gardens in midmorning without a care in the world. “HA! I am exactly where I want to be, and I’m happy.
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The koi fish are rascals, beautiful as dragons, swimming in erratic designs through the pond. The are intriguing, colorful, and hard to photograph. I follow them across the pond attempting to catch them off guard, but it’s impossible. I leave them be.
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The garden is wonderful. The pamphlet tells me this is the best example of classical Chinese gardens outside of China. I take out my camera and search the chambers closer than I could with my eye. I was looking and freezing the Zen moments that poured out of every chamber of this garden, and I was satisfied. I love taking photos, but I’ll not dissect that subject today. I walked through the garden twice, meandering a path in one direction and backtracking the same path in reverse. I pause to sit beneath a quiet tree in the Hall of Scholars.
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I decided to go and buy Frank Herbert’s "Dune" from Powell’s. It is a pleasant walk along streets I haven’t visited before. I cross through the park and take more photos of the elephant. When thinking of perfect conditions, I was hoping for rain. These elephants would look quite good in a gloom with nobody about, but alas, not today. I walk west along Burnside, pass the auto mart, and ignore the noisy traffic. There it is, Powell’s City off Books. I think I hear a chorus of angels singing.

On my entrance, I realize there is a handicapped person in a wheel chair with their family in tow behind me. I hold the door for them. Then I hold it for three more people leaving. They say, “Thank you,” I say, “You’re welcome.” A warm feeling buzzes around us.

I walk into the tall shelves of books. I know where I’m going. At least I think I do until I realize I’m in the wrong section. I ask a redundant man pecking at a keyboard which way to science fiction. “Gold Room, on the right.” “Thank you, sir.“ I’m on my way.

Frank Herbert is huge. He has written arguably the best science fiction series in history, and I want to read it. I want to restart with "Dune," and continue. My personal favorite science fiction series is "The Worthing Saga" by Orson Scott Card. I’m keenly interested in "Dune" for some reason. I like Science Fiction but only read it a couple of times a year. I find a copy for six bucks and move on, remembering the name of one more author I like Greg Garrett. He’s only written two books it turns out, and I had already read both of them. Ah well. I leave Powell’s purchasing only one book. It is possible.

Back to the park, to the north end, where the bums lie on benches, the ground, in the shade, and amble by working on their troubles. At this point, I have been up for 21 hours, and I’m looking forward to my pizza date with my fellow deckhands. I have some time to kill before one however, and sit down to read my new book. It goes well, but I’m nagged by the feeling of very deep tiredness, hunger, and the thought that they aren’t going to arrive at the restaurant until 2 pm. I want to be in bed by 3 pm… Not good.

I decide to go to get my pizza. I have to. I’m weary and losing my focus. I wander down Davis St. to Old Town Pizza, and enter. The place is terrific. It’s dark, hardly lit at all except by natural lighting from the front window. It smells good. A bar to my right made of good dark wood and high mirrors. Straight ahead, a politely smiling miss waits to hear my decisions. Looking at the menu, I decide on the following: Classic crust, pepperoni, bell peppers, and roasted garlic. I love roasted garlic. To me this is heaven and soon to be in my possession. I get a glass of wine at the bar and take a seat at an old wrought iron table with wood top. I love the lighting. This building is haunted, so they say, and I can believe it. This is an old building in Old Town, and it feels right for a ghost.
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It also feels right for a pizza, and it wasn’t long before it arrives. I called my friends, told them my plans, and they won’t make it in time. Ah well, I’ve dated myself before, and happily dig into my carbohydrates. It’s a damn good pizza. I eat half. I’m stuffed. I’m happy. I ask for a box. I get one. In the process of putting my leftovers in the box, I spill the last swallow of wine on my jeans. I catch the glass, somehow, and look at my jeans. It appears I wet my pants, and I now smell like wine. I laugh. This is funny. I dab at it with a napkin, cut my losses and exit.

I decide I may as well stagger back to ship and ask bums for pennies. Why not? It’s not too hard to act the part. I forget it when I near my first bum. I’m tired as hell, full, and happy.

I notice the small moments of life along the way home.

A haggard woman steps out of the public ladies room singing a happy song. A man makes out with his woman along the rail where not too long ago, I did the same thing.

A smile begins to form at the corners of my mouth. A smirk. I’m thinking of my wine stained pee pants, and the moments of my day. It’s been a good one, and I feel my face light up into a grin. I chuckle aloud to no one and everyone. Thom knows how to walk through Portland.

Geese give me the stink eye as I walk past the large flock eating grass. I hear the chomping of the blades and think of the shortening of the grass. I see many panhandlers and street people plying their trade. A man will sing you a ditty on his banjo on any subject you offer him. A talented young man plays the violin quite well. He’s not gifted, but he is good, and I toss him a buck. What do I need it for? I move on, swaying down the sidewalk. An odd-looking man in a black leather jacket talks quietly with his friend. I get the feeling he’s shy. He doesn’t strike me as a leather jacket type of guy. I think to myself that everyone has a self-image. Everyone wants to look like there own self-image of themselves. They know how they want the world to perceive them. This is too deep for me. I’ve been up for 22 and a half hours and homing in on the ship. I’m close to my bed.

When I arrive it is 2 pm, and I have been up for 23 hours. I’m completely inspired to write this, and sleep will have to wait. I stand next to my bunk in my underwear and begin typing. I don’t usually write standing up in my underwear, but I’m ok with it. The words come fast, and my typing accurate. I know I have to write this while I’m in this mood, so tired, yet so perfectly poignant in my thinking about my day. I remember everything. I want to get this all down before I forget. At this point, I’m getting tunnel vision. Must keep typing. I feel the ghost of Kerouac pacing behind me whispering, “Yes, Yes, YES! Dig IT! GO, MAN GO!” I think I’m there. In eight minutes, I’ll have been up for 24 hours straight. I’m satisfied. I take another shower. I think to myself. I soap. I rinse. I can call it a day, a very satisfying full day.

I’ve been up for 24 hours and seven minutes, and I’ve turned out the light.

Posted by Rhombus 15:39 Archived in USA Tagged gardens parks flowers photography pizza portland Comments (3)

A Week of Photography of the River Lands

A Dozen River Views.

semi-overcast 67 °F

I don't have much to say this week. It's been a good week on the river, and I've been making the best of my time here. Of late I've been viewing the river scenes through the lens of my new camera. All in all, I'm happy with it, and I hope you continue to enjoy my takes on this amazing planet of ours. Without further ado, I give you a weekly dozen of delicious delectables courtesy of planet earth.

Cloud In Pastels.
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This cloud had a good vibe floating around on a sunny afternoon.

Vintage Picture
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Portland used to be a wild west town, full of violence, corruption and sin. This is a picture of one of the many saloons from the 1800s. When the Willamette River would flood, the shop owners would build scaffolding sidewalks and carry on their business as usual. This is a great picture of the era, showing the patrons of the saloon going to great lengths to get their booze.

I learned all of this by taking an interesting "Walking Tour of Portland". I went on the Portland Underground Tour which talked a lot about the darker side of early Portland. It was cool, and I'd recommend it if you are into history and want to learn more about the Old Town, and China Town of Portland.

Fountain of Old Town
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I like this fountain a lot. In years past it was a watering hole for horses and men.

High Desert Wrinkles
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Eastern Washington and Oregon is an endless landscape of highlands. It is quite beautiful to see these open lands. I had forgotten how expansive the western landscapes are.

Highland Landscape
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Along the Snake River are beautiful bluffs and overlooks. I want to hike to the top of this bluff to see what lies beyond.

Me and the Big Tree
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This mammoth tree can be found on the little island park near Cascade Locks. The Pacific Northwest is home to giant trees and this one made for a good climb. Long Live Giant Trees!

Sun Dappled Park Scene
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This is my favorite park in Clarkston, Washington. I've spent a lot of my time here, hanging out, slacklining, reading, eating breakfast, and contemplating the finer things in life.

Kite Surfer
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Wind Sports are very popular on the Columbia River as the wind is tunneled down through the gorge at very high speeds. This kite surfer was tearing it up catching rides of up to five seconds through the air.

The New Bell
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The Sea Bird has a new bell after we finally polished a hole in the old one. It only took 30 years. This one is a beautiful piece, crafted in Italy. It has a very warm tone that lasts a long time when tapped with the knuckle of a finger. I took this photograph one morning at dawn, and I'm quite pleased with it. It does the bell justice, and makes the sunrise far more interesting.

The Elder Statesman
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A peaceful scene on the Columbia River. The little park near the river at Cascade Locks is beautiful, and full of spectacular trees. This is one of them.

"Red Sky in the Morning.."
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The sky caught fire again. When the sky is red in the morning, it often signals low pressure and possible storms. In my experience the old addage proves correct more often than not.

The Tent City
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If you want to live in a colorful tent city and protest everything the government is doing, come to Portland and chill out in the park. I dug the tent city and wanted to join, as tent cities are a lot of fun.

Posted by Rhombus 08:10 Archived in USA Tagged parks rivers fountains oregon columbia photography washington Comments (0)

The Soul of a River

Rivers and Grandfathers, Be like Water, River Grandeur

semi-overcast 70 °F

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There is something calming about a river. The scenes of a river are a soothing balm to an unsettled spirit. When the trivial petty little differences of life start to get to you and change your perspective, go outside, lean on a rail, a tree, a fence, or a friend and watch a river. Rivers are great listeners. They will listen to all your problems even if you don‘t voice them aloud. When you have finished venting, a river will often offer up some solace in the form of a continuous chuckle of the water, a dragon fly landing on a nearby flower, or a reflection of a cloud.
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To me, rivers are a lot like grandfathers, patient, understanding, often slightly amused by your petty problems, but too kind not to give it away except for the twinkle in their eye. I doubt I’m the first to come to this conclusion. Whoever coined the term “old man river” was probably of a similar disposition. Besides that, some rivers have a musty, earthy smell to them, which might remind you of your own grandfather.
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A troubled mind is not the only reason to venerate the qualities of a good river. I like them in all moods and temperament. There is something proper about a river. Perhaps it is their ancient quality, as if time doesn’t pertain to them. Take a hike down through the ages and layers of the Grand Canyon and you will understand what I mean. People come, and people go, but the river just keeps on running.
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One of my old teachers recently had this to say, “The other day I immersed myself in the Traprock River, as I had yet to do that this year. Do you see a difference between the Ganges and the Traprock?”

I think not. Rivers have been a part of humanity since humanity began. It doesn’t matter where you are, man and river are intertwined.
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Their greatest virtue is their laziness. Rivers are lazy. They never go out of its way for any unnecessary movement. If they move at all, it is because gravity is doing the work for them. Watts reminds us “to be like water. Watch water move over a piece of ground. It sends out little fingers of water, feeling its way along. When it comes to a dead end, it waits until it finds another way. Water always finds a way to go. You never see water cry out when it reaches a dead end, ‘Oh, I have failed’ for that would be neurotic water. Just wait patiently and like water, you will find a way without using any effort at all.” (Beware that this is roughly paraphrased).
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I have been spending my time on some of the once great rivers of the Pacific Northwest. Even though man has put tremendous effort into controlling and regulating these rivers, the rivers carry on patiently, waiting the day when they will be free once again. I doubt it will be in my lifetime, but I would like to think that in time the Columbia and the Snake will run free once again.
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In the mean time, these rivers are still offering up their solace and grandeur. I can lean on the rail late in the evening, look out over the star streaked sky, and listen to the sounds of the river. It is time well spent. I think I could have summed up this whole essay in one sentence. Rivers are good for the soul.
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Posted by Rhombus 10:35 Archived in USA Tagged rivers oregon rocks sunsets photography washington philosophy Comments (0)

Anatomy of a Lock Toss

Navigating the Columbia and Snake River Locks, Tossing, Calling, and the Art of the Toss

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Each week, I travel up and down the Columbia and Snake rivers from Portland, Oregon to Clarkston, Washington. Along the way, I pass through seven different lock and dam systems that the US Corp of Engineers has constructed for hydro electrical power. The dam is for electricity. The lock is to allow easier navigation for shipping between upper and lower parts of the river.

The Columbia used to be a wild river, full of treacherous bars, sand shoals, rocks, waterfalls, rapids, narrows, not to mention salmon (I‘m not going to get into that topic). The late 1800’s was a golden era along the Columbia with steam powered paddle-wheels navigating these attention demanding waters, carrying cargo and people upstream and back down. I have seen pictures of these stern wheelers out in the middle of a series of big rapids, and it is impressive to see such shaky looking boats handle the rapids. I would love to see this with my own eyes, but alas, those days are long gone. Nowadays, a large portion of the Columbia and Snake rivers has morphed into a series of lakes with water levels controlled by the corps.

While I long to see what this river used to be like, and curse the “progress” of man, I must admit, I enjoy the challenge of navigating through the locks.
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Every deckhand running up and down the Columbia River needs to be skilled at “lock tossing.” Lock tossing, is an acquired skill that involves making a loop of heavy mooring line and throwing it cleanly over a floating bollard. This line is then whipped around the bollard another time, and made fast, thus securing the ship to the side of the lock. The water can then be pumped in, or out depending on where the ship is headed. Since the bollard floats, and is secured to the wall, the ship rises or falls along with the water level.

I first started lock tossing about a year ago, when I first joined the Seabird, and it is one of my favorite parts of this job. I like the challenge of relying on my judgment and athletic skill to get the job done. Not very many people get to do what I do, and this is another example.

The Anatomy of a Lock Toss

There are three people involved in successfully navigating a lock. The watch officer, who is driving the boat. The caller, who gives the watch officer distances to the bollard. Finally, the tosser, who is strictly focused on throwing the line around the bollard.

After setting up three fenders on the bow of the boat that protects the hull from the concrete wall of the lock, the caller and the tosser go to their prospective starting points. The caller starts out directly below the wing station which is where the watch officer will be operating the boat from. This station allows him to see the entire length of the side of the ship. This helps them maneuver when getting close to a lock, or a dock. The watch officer lets the caller which bollard they want, and navigates as close to the side of the lock as they can.

This is not easy. There are all kinds of factors involved in putting a ship right next to a lock wall: the wind/direction, the water currents, the speed of the ship, the skill of the watch officer. As you might imagine, it doesn’t always go according to plan.

Usually, the officers get us within about five feet of the wall, give or take, and it is up to the tosser to decide if they can make that distance. I like the challenge of a long toss, but I can appreciate the skill of the driver who puts us within six inches of the wall without touching it.
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When the target bollard is inline with the caller, they hold out there hand and walk with it, calling distances to where the tosser is waiting. This is usually mid ship at the number three cleat. The caller calls out, “30 feet, 20, 10, 5, 3, 2, 1, and Abeam,” meaning we are dead even with the bollard. When the bollard gets close, the tosser must decide when to go for the toss, and again, that is not easy. If the ship is close to the wall, it’s easier to make that toss then when it is nine feet away.
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There are different techniques used when tossing. The most popular is to hold two coils of line one in each hand with a “tongue” of line to throw over the bollard. Tossing is not about upper body strength, it is about technique, and the better throwers will have their technique down. You want your tongue to land over the bollard, which is roughly two feet wide, and two feet tall. In order to do this, you must throw the line not only outward, but spread apart to land over it. It takes practice.

I don’t use the popular method of coiling my lines. I hold two long curls of line in each hand between three fingers with the tongue hanging down. I don’t really think about the toss too much, I just let my judgment and athletic ability do its thing, and most of the time I’m successful on my first toss.

The following photos were taken by Clay Collins, and used with permission. You can follow his travels, at www.atlastrekker.com
Sequence Of The Toss
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If the toss is made, the watch officer will have you “make it” meaning securing the line to the ships cleat in a series of figure eight wraps, or will have you go for the second wrap. The second wrap is applied by pulling in all your slack on the line, and making a smooth wrap around the bollard making doubly sure that the ship will be secure to the bollard, and the lock wall. After the second wrap is on, I pull in all the slack and make the line fast.
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In adverse conditions such as high wind, or if we are locking with another vessel, it’s important to get the ship secured as quickly as possible. This added pressure sits pretty much on the tosser, and this is what separates the good ones from the average.

After securing the vessel, the deckhands stand by to make sure everyone stays away from the line, as there is an immense amount of pressure and strain on the line. If the line snaps, it is an extremely dangerous situation. A snapped line has been known to take peoples legs off or worse. I’ve never been around a snapped line, but I’ve moved far away from lines that have stretched.

The big doors of the lock will close, sometimes with a resounding BOOM! and the lockmaster will pump the water until we are at the right level to depart. It’s a good time to lean on the rail, and chew the fat. In the early morning, when the stars are out, and everyone is asleep, and I’m deep in the philosophy of the night, I realize that these are the moments I love about this job.

Posted by Rhombus 20:57 Archived in USA Tagged rivers ships columbia photography locks navigating Comments (4)

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