Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Lightship Columbia

Soon, in the shadow, I discerned a light, pale and half discolored by the mists.  It was shining from about a mile away.
"A floating lighthouse," said a voice close to me.  I turned and saw the captain.  "It is the floating light of Suez."
                                  from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

I can't imagine anything more comforting to a sailor than that first glimpse of light on a dark, rolling sea.  He now knows where he is.  He can avoid the danger.  Make his way safely into port.

Lighthouses have always been on my itinerary when I travel.  They are, of course, beacons of the past.  Many are now museums or better yet, bed and breakfasts.  But a lightship?  I had never had the chance to see one until my visit to the Columbia Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon.  The Lightship Columbia is moored behind the museum and can be toured as part of the museum's entrance fee.  The ship was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1979 when replaced by an automated navigational buoy.
A lightship is a floating lighthouse.  It remains at anchor in all weather, warning mariners of reefs or in the case of the Columbia, the dangerous sandbar that ships need to cross as they enter the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean. She was one of the last active lightships on the west coast.  Moored six miles off the entrance, her bright light, foghorn and radio beacon guided small fishing trawlers and large freighters over the most dangerous river bar in the United States.  "Crossing the bar," we hear this term a lot around here.  It is spoken with the same deep respect as "Rounding Cape Horn."
I have a tendency to romanticize life inside a lighthouse or on a vessel at sea, but life was far from ideal.   For the men who lived on this floating vessel, their days were either terrifying or extremely boring.  The delivery of mail and supplies were highlights of their existence.

But to those mariners approaching the "The Graveyard of the Pacific," the Columbia was a welcome sight.  On sunny days and on foggy ones.  In their eyes, the men on this floating lighthouse were heroes, saviors and true luminaries.

And I doubt if Captain Nemo would have gazed upon an automated buoy with the same reverence as the Suez floating lighthouse.  The romance, real or imagined, is no longer there.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Shopping in Astoria

Astoria, Oregon is a charming town at the mouth of the Columbia River.  It is often compared to San Francisco.  On one hand, I get it.  The Victorian houses.  The Fog.  Hills.  A waterfront tram.  Fish and chips galore. On the other hand, it has its own vibe.  It's small and artsy.  Unpretentious.  Very walkable.  Fishermen and artists live side by side.  Everyone here seems happy.  And this is why shopping in this little town is such a delight.  All the young women chatted me up the second I walked into a store.  In San Francisco, I may not even get a nod, let alone a "Hello.  How are you?"
 Mimi wears the polka dot Habitat dress I purchased on the sale rack at 4 Seasons.  It's one of those pieces I will wear summer, spring, fall and winter.
In fact, I already have!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Tsunami Boat

"The Museum is honored to be able to display this boat and share its story."

My travel buddy and I tend to separate in museums and meet up at a designated time and place later.  So this is what we did at the Columbia Maritime Museum at Astoria, Oregon, last Sunday afternoon.  It's a wonderful museum, filled with the history of the area:  the fur trade, fishing trade, early exploration, shipwrecks and recent search and rescue operations by the Coast Guard.  But what haunts me still, one week later, is this little boat tucked against the back wall of the main room.

"Did you see the Tsunami Boat?" I asked when we met up two hours later.

"No.  Where was that?"

So I took him back and he, too, was jolted into a state of contemplation.
This little abalone and sea urchin fishing boat was swept to sea during the massive tsunami that hit northeastern Japan in 2011.  We all watched in horror the incredible videos of a giant wave crushing everything in its path.  About 16,000 people were killed.

Two years after that event, this boat washed up at Cape Disappointment in Washington.  The owner was found, but did not want it back.

Our hearts bled once again for the massive loss of life.  But it also made us take heed of the dire forecasts that seem to be in the news almost every day since we have moved to Oregon.  A similar earthquake with a magnitude 9.0 and resulting tsunami WILL HAPPEN at anytime.  This part of the Pacific Rim of Fire is about 100 years overdue.  Japan and New Zealand on the west side of the rim have experienced them.  Now, it's our turn on the east side of the horseshoe.  The Juan de Fuca tectonic plate has been sliding underneath the North American one for years.  Pressure has been building up.  A lot of it.

All we can really do is prepare ourselves.  Have food, water and first aid kits at hand.  We all hope we aren't in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This blog is all about the search for magical moments.  And I have found many during my travels.  Heaven is on earth, I have concluded.  But so is Hell.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Fort Clatsop Reverie

In my own small way, I am an ambassador of travel.  It is only through travel that history jumps off the pages of a dry, boring book and smacks you in the gut.  Only through travel does history become meaningful.

Such is the case with the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Any child growing up in the United States, learns about their journey from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.  They learn about Sacagawea and the  Louisiana Purchase.  They pass the end-of-the-chapter test.  And move on.  Not giving it another thought.

But take that child canoeing down the Missouri River.  Rafting on the Snake.  Fishing on the Columbia.  Take that child to a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Or watch a ranger firing a musket at Fort Clatsop and suddenly, the enormity of what these two men and the Corps of Discovery did, seems both impossible and truly heroic.
The above fort is a replica of the one built by the men who were part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  They wintered here from Dec. 7, 1805, until March 23, 1806.  It is located south of Astoria, Oregon.  On Monday, when we were there, the skies were gray but it was warm and the scent of cedar wafted through the air.  When they were there, it was freezing cold and wet, wet, wet.  It rained every single day but 12.  These men split the logs, dragged them through mud and hurriedly cobbled together shelter.  They were frozen to the bone and sick with colds and dysentery.

Once inside, they kept the fires going and stayed warm and dry, but boredom soon set in.  They tried to keep busy by mending clothes and making moccasins for the journey home, but Captain Lewis was worried. He writes:

Many reasons had determined us to remain at fort Clatsop till the first of April. . . .About the middle of March, however, we become seriously alarmed for the want of food:  the elk, our chief dependence, had at length deserted their usual haunts . . . We were too poor to purchase other food from the Indians, so that we were sometimes reduced, notwithstanding all the exertions of our hunters, to a single day's provision in advance,  The men too, whom the constant rains and confinement had rendered unhealthy, might we hoped be benefitted by leaving the coast, and resuming the exercise of travelling.
There is a small museum at the site which gives you a good overview of the whole expedition.  Thomas Jefferson sent these men on a mission:  To explore the Missouri River to its source and establish a direct water route to the Pacific Ocean.  They were also to keep a journal of plants, animals, and geographic points.  Make maps.  Study the Indians along the way.  The Journals of the Expedition of Lewis and Clark are, without a doubt, one of the most treasured sources of American history that we have today.
All week long I have been reading them non-stop.  These men were amazing.  Not only explorers, but botanists, cartographers, anthropologists, diplomats, traders, writers, artists.  But what we must realize, is that no one back on the east coast knew if they were dead or alive.  Night after night, they diligently wrote in these journals.  Sometimes it was Lewis  Sometimes, Clark.  Sometimes, one of the other men.  But every step of the way was duly noted.

When they left the fort, Lewis wrote out a certificate to give to the Chinnook chief.  It read, in part:

The object of this last, is, that through the medium of some civilised person, who may see the same, it may be made known to the world, that the party consisting of the persons whose names are hereunto annexed, and who were sent out by the government of the United States, to explore the interior of the continent of North America, did penetrate the same by the way of the Missouri and Columbia rivers . . .

And this is what gives me pause.  They had no idea if they would make it home alive.  They had no idea if anyone would get this certificate or read their monumental journals.  It is possible, they realized, no one would ever know what they had accomplished.
Fast forward to 2015.  If two weeks go by and I don't get a text or an e-mail from my sons, I'm close to 911 panic-mode.  We have our cell phones and computers to document every single thing we do all day long.  We have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.  We take pictures of what we eat and what we wear and make them all public, as if we're the most fascinating creatures in the world.

The humility of these men is very apparent in their journals.  They write about fur traders and a blue-eyed, red-headed Indian.  Clearly, other "white men" had been here before.  How many men had done exactly what they had done?  Crossed the Continental Divide from the unmapped prairies to the Pacific Coast.  Who were they?  What happened?  No one will ever know.

Not to mention the millions of Native Americans who treated these foreigners as guests until, they realized, their intentions were far from noble.  These foreigners were here to stay.   It didn't take long after the Lewis and Clark expedition that stagecoach trails and railroads opened the corridors to mass immigration.

 It is another reason why visiting such historic sites is so valuable.  It sends us into a state of reverie.  It humbles us.  It gives us a thirst to learn more.  And if, by posting about my day at Fort Clatsop, I make just one person download the Lewis and Clark Journals on his or her Kindle or plan a trip to the mouth of the Columbia River . . .well . . . it's far from epic, but it's good enough for me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mimi Wears Clover Canyon

Mimi couldn't stand it anymore.  "I  need COLOR.  I need PRINT.  I need AIR CONDITIONING," she said.  (Okay, screamed!!)  "I've had it with your boring white and ivory tents. I've had it with the wind.  Put me in Clover Canyon.  And leave me indoors."

And so I did.

I suppose I should be thankful for her periodic outbursts.  She keeps me from getting into a rut.  I'm not a print person (much to her dismay) but I do make an exception with the fabulous prints of Rozae Nichols and her team of designers over at Clover Canyon.  I am totally in love with their vision and it's not surprising.  They are inspired by travel and art.  Just like me.

Clover Canyon is designed and produced in Los Angeles.  Their clothes can be purchased at high end department stores like Bloomingdales and Saks.  I, on the other hand, get my fix through e-bay.  Lately, their digital printing has focused on sunsets and city scenes.  They are all gorgeous.

And, yes, Mimi, I'll be buying more.  And, yes, Mimi, I will keep you in this dress in my nice air conditioned condo all summer long.

"Thank you, Marea.  I love you."

Oh, brother.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Trail of Two Forests

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

We almost ignored this one.  Our brochure of the national monument park said this was a quarter mile hike on a boardwalk trail.  Easy.  Breezy.

Too easy, you know?  We wanted a bit more of a challenge.

Man, oh, man.  Am I glad we stopped.

What in the world had we walked into?  Never have I seen anything quite like it.  A beautiful verdant moss carpet filled with giant holes.  It instantly brought to mind Louis Sacher's wonderful novel Holes--a favorite book of our boys when they were young.  Juvenile delinquents are sent to Camp Green Lake and forced to dig holes as their punishment.

These holes, however, weren't dug by youngsters, but by an ancient lava flow from Mount St. Helens in Washington.  The hot molten rock entombed the trunks of trees as it flowed down the mountain.  The trees turned to charcoal and eventually weathered away, leaving trees molds in the hardened lava.  It's a unique, surreal landscape.
There's actually a lava tunnel you can crawl through, but we didn't have flashlights with us.  We watched as a young family crawled out the exit.  The kids all had huge grins on their faces, but the dad was groaning.  "I'm getting too old for this," he commented.

We laughed, but his comment struck a chord.  As we continued to explore the area around Mount St. Helens that day, we vowed not to let the aches and pains of age slow us down.  Stop at the easy, breezy trails so we don't miss a thing.  BUT continue to challenge ourselves.  Explore.  Climb.  Crawl through caves.  Seek the magic. 

Feel young.  As long as we can.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Lava Canyon Revealed

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Thousands of years ago when this volcanic mountain erupted, lava poured down through a narrow gorge.  Water followed, eroding the hardening lava.  But all was covered up by a beautiful forest of trees and ferns.  No one knew what lay beneath.  Until . . .

she blew again in May of 1980.
The eruption was so violent, it loosened mud and boulders and uplifted trees, sending them all down the canyon lying beneath.  Once the ash settled and the mountain silenced, the locals were stunned by the magical landscape that was suddenly revealed:  Lava Canyon.

Over the next three decades, the river and the rain washed away all the mud.  Moss started to form and trees took up new roots.  Clear, icy water now roars down the narrow path, forming rapids and waterfalls.  The water tumbles over and around ancient lava islands.  It is a masterpiece of nature.  Mother Earth's way of apologizing for the havoc she can create.
The l.4 mile loop around this spectacular area is called the Lava Canyon trail and is located to the southeast of Mount St. Helens in Washington.  There are boardwalks, ladder steps and a pedestrian swing bridge that crosses the canyon, making it a very fun hike.  A longer one-way trail goes further up, but it is more difficult.

But please, please, stay on the trail.  Like I said, Mother Nature may be apologetic, but she does not suffer fools gladly.