Thursday, August 25, 2016

Stevenson 98648

When I accompany my travel buddy on his windsurfing trips, I usually end up in the van with a book to read and a bag of junk food by my side.  (Boredom is fattening!) But this time, his destination was Stevenson, Washington, a cute little town of 1,500 on the north side of the Columbia River.  So I left Daniel Silva and the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups behind.

Of course, leave it to me to find the whiskey and beer tasting rooms, as well as a restaurant with tasty, pulled pork sandwiches.  I discovered a Greek restaurant, too, high on a hill overlooking the river, so maybe, just maybe, he can talk me into joining him again with a promise of a souvlaki and a milky white ouzo cocktail.

I was thrilled to also find two women's boutiques and actually bought a summer dress for sale, much to Mimi's delight.  There were also a few art galleries and a gardening shop, so I kept myself busy for a couple of hours.  Then I took a long walk by the river and to the outskirts of town.  Just me and my camera.  This kind of aimless travel is something I really enjoy.  I try to find the "heart" of a place and capture it with my lens.
But as I meandered my way back to the windsurfing launch, I realized the "heart" of Stevenson is the Mighty Columbia River.  The town is located 44 miles east of Vancouver, Washington, on State Route 14.  Its heyday belonged to the era of the steamboat.  Many such boats, between 1890 and 1920, docked here to be loaded with cordwood.   Indeed, there is still a Port of Skamania here with office space for lease, but there seemed to be a lot of vacant space.

In the parking lots, I noticed many license plates from other states:  Utah.  Arizona.  Alaska.  And even New Jersey.  People had driven thousands of miles to windsurf or kite on the Columbia River.  They would be leaving at summer's end and then the tiny town of Stevenson would once again belong to the locals.

And to me.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Birth of a Lake

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

As I continue to write about this fascinating park, I realize how lucky I am to live within close proximity to it.  It means I can explore this area thoroughly.  A weekend here.  A weekend there.  Which brings me to another topic:  When time is limited, how do we decide where to go?  I've read many articles written by fellow travel writers and we all suffer from the same quandary.  How many times have I read:   I went to Peru to see Machu Picchu but I enjoyed Sacsahuamon more.

 Does that mean we should skip Machu Picchu?

The answer, of course, is "No".  How can you go to Peru and not see Machu Picchu?  And how can you go to Mount St. Helens and not go up to the Blast Zone?

I tend to see the highlights first, and if time allows, visit the more off-the-radar places.   But I'm starting to think that I should reverse this strategy.  While the blast zone trails were overrun by tourists, we had this trail along the shore of Coldwater Lake completely to ourselves.  And I enjoyed it so much more.
Mount St. Helens can be seen in the distance.  It was the volcano's eruption in 1980 that caused this lake to form.  A mixture of water, ash, dirt, trees and rock tumbled down the South Coldwater Creek and ended up here.  Although at first, the lake was a soupy, smelly mixture of brown crud, oxygen-gulping bacteria immediately went to work.  Within three years, these microorganisms had created this pristine gem of a lake.

Along the Birth of a Lake Trail, interpretive signs explain this scientific process in detail.  But it was the quiet beauty of the place that stunned me.  To think I almost drove by without stopping!


It's the detours where magic is found!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Gauzy Cover-Up

After my dermatologist zapped yet another suspicious red spot off my back, I now heed her advice whenever I go out in the merciless skin-cancer inducing sun.  I rub my skin with sunscreen.  I grab a hat.  And I cover up.

This summer my beach cover-up is doing double duty.
I can't help but compare this outfit to the abaya I wore in Saudi Arabia when I lived there.  Although I'm a full-blooded First Amendment Anything Goes kind of gal, I admit there were benefits to wearing the darn thing, especially on hot, shamal driven days.  It protected me from the sun, the wind, sand and pesky insects.  Therefore, I often play devil's advocate when I'm involved in the debate:  Should the burqa be banned?

One thing I know for sure:  My Muslim sisters never get zapped by a dermatologist.

Sharing with Visible Monday.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Mimi Wears a Forest

Mimi approved of this one--a silk Sportmax dress with a tree pattern--a blue and red forest nestled among the shadows.

I bought this dress on e-bay during one of my late night bouts with insomnia.  Since Mimi never sleeps she was right there beside me, tapping my shoulder (very annoyingly).

"Ooohh.  Bid on that one."

Tap. Tap.  "And that one."

Tap. Tap.  "And that one."

Man, oh man, next time I'm popping a pill.  This is getting expensive!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Under the Hoffstadt Creek Bridge

As we drove to the Johnston Ridge Observatory along Washington Route 504, we stopped at each and every one of the scenic turnouts.  There was one, however, that was very odd--a sign enticing us with a rather generic, yet pleasurable promise:  Bridge Viewpoint.

  We pulled into a parking lot filled with cars.  Obviously, other tourists had been lured by the sign as well.  We were all equally baffled.

"Where's the view?" we asked each other.  "Are they serious?  Is this it?"

"This really sucks," one young man complained.  "What a waste of time."

From this vantage point, tall trees now blocked the bridge view.  Clearly, this was a public relations stunt by the Weyerhaeuser Company to boast about its success.  The logging company had lost many camps and equipment during the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980, as well as acres and acres of private timberland.  The documentation at the non-viewpoint informed us that the company had spent millions of dollars in a massive salvage and reforestation project.  Indeed, the new lush forests on either side of the bridge would once again be ready for harvest in a mere ten years.

Everyone else returned to their cars and left.  But not us.  We wanted to see the darn bridge!  During the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, nineteen bridges had been wiped out.  Many of them had since been rebuilt and the Hoffstadt Creek Bridge was the longest and highest of the bunch.  A whopping 2,340 feet long and 370 feet high.  We would soon be driving over it, but we wanted to see its structure from underneath.  So off we went down the hill, bushwhacking our way through thorny vines, deer poop and stinging nettle.

Tenacious, we are.

  We got down to the bridge's underbelly and noted right away we weren't the only ones that had done so.  We marveled at the construction, but truth be told, we marveled even more at the graffiti artists who had undertaken gymnastic feats to climb up inside the buttresses to do their thing.

And we thought we were tenacious.  Ha!
Still . . . What was the point?

Why risk life and limb to spray paint, "Blow me" across a span of bridge that no one can see?  It's not creative, that's for sure.  It's actually rather trite.  Is it frustration?  Loneliness?  A desire to be noticed if only by old farts like us?  Or did they boast about their defacement on Facebook for all the world to see?

I love graffiti if done well.  If it is colorful and original.  But this type of graffiti leaves me depressed.  Its sordidness spoiled the otherwise unblemished beauty of the area.

As I walked back up the hill, my thoughts entered the Dark Side.  But rather than allowing my Vishnu/Shiva/Human Race comparison to ruin my day, I shrugged it off.

Tenacious, I am.

 That dude was right.  What a waste of time!

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Derailment and the Dress

I haven't heard a peep from Mimi for several months.  Cobwebs are forming between her ornate wrought iron limbs.  She's mad at me, you see.  I have been thinking of shutting down Mimi's Suitcase and she's not happy about it.  But I have been derailed.  By a train.  And by life.

With a permanent move from California to Oregon throwing me off my stride, I still wake up daily with a nagging question:  "Did we do the right thing?"  I am saying "Yes" more often these days, but two months ago, the answer was a solid, resounding "NO."

Three days after we rolled up to our new home with all our worldly possessions in tow, a train derailed a few hundred yards from our doorstep.  The explosion shook the ground beneath us.  We looked out our bedroom window and saw a massive cloud of black smoke.  We thought a bomb had exploded, but then realized that several oil-filled tank cars had just rolled off the tracks
.Along with several neighbors we wasted no time evacuating.  More tankers were derailing.  Would the whole train go up in flames?  We weren't about to wait around and find out. I grabbed my purse; my husband grabbed his cell phone and laptop and we drove east to The Dalles on the old Highway 30.  Interstate 84 was closing down.

Checking into a hotel, we spent a sleepless night listening to the news.  The fire was out by 11 pm.  There were no deaths and no injuries.  We learned that 16 tanker cars out of the 96-car train derailed.  They were carrying crude oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota to a refinery on the west coast.
Lady Luck was with us that day. (And with Union Pacific.)  The derailment happened near a popular windsurfing and hiking area, but because there was no wind that day and because it was hot, no one was out.

Not only that, but the 47,000 gallons of oil that spilled poured into our local sewage treatment plant, rather than the Columbia River.   It seems like a miracle.

And that is what shakes me up.  It's the what if's . . . that cause me nightmares.
   But what, you may ask, does this have to do with a dress?

Well, because we were without water for a week, we stayed away.  (I'm sorry.  I just couldn't tolerate the Port-a-Potties)  It was the day I found myself shopping on West Burnside in Portland that I finally began to relax.  With all the house repairs down South and then the move, I hadn't been shopping for a long time.  My husband and I split up and I spent a happy two hours trying on clothes.  I gave myself permission to buy a new outfit.  I needed cheering up desperately.

When I got home and put my new dress on Mimi, I heard her speak for the first time in months.
"Uh, Marea, what in the world is this?  It looks like an oil spill."

Did I hear her right?

I stepped back and to my horror, realized that those What If's had affected me subliminally.

I had been derailed.

Our Oregon Senators introduced a bill in Congress last month called The Mosier Act, calling for federal regulators to investigate every major oil train derailment and to place a moratorium on train traffic until completed.  It calls for the Department of Transportation to establish and to enforce a standard that reduces the amount of volatile gases in crude oil.

  Many people want such traffic to stop completely, but we all know that isn't going to happen.  Oil has to reach those refineries somehow and that promised pipeline from North Dakota to Texas doesn't seem to be happening.  Trains are still safer than trucks.

I still can't walk along one of my favorite trails because it parallels the railroad tracks.  Probably never will.  As long as crude oil is transported by train, we all live with the inevitable.  A derailment will happen again.  Only next time, we might not be so lucky.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sasquatch in the Road

Roadside Double Takes

Although Sasquatch sightings are abundant in the Pacific Northwest, this guy was a monster!
Located along Route 504 in Washington.