Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mt. Rainier

Black Rock Coffee, where all my road trips begin.

It took three hours on the road to reach Paradise Lodge, up at 6500 feet on the volcano's southern flank. I ditched the car there and began my ascent.

Rainier is only a little over 100 feet shy of being the tallest mountain in the lower 48. It is Olympian in scale. It masses more than any other Cascade volcano, and it and bears 26 major glaciers. At its birth 500,000 years ago, it punched through an ice sheet more than a mile thick. Its prodigious early lava flows created jokulhaup meltwater floods, which exceeded the output of the Amazon river in sheer volume.

At around 10,000 feet, things began to get skewed.

Then the world stabilized.

The aural environment was otherworldly. In the background were waterfalls, rockfalls, and the cracking of glacial ice, which had a timbre like nothing else that I have heard.

This is a place of a priories and ideal forms. Ice moves like a river here, stone is layered in flows, and molten heat holds the mountain's uppermost calderas free from snow amidst the glacial thickness of the Liberty Cap.

Details of the upper Nisqually glacier. Rainier is the fountainhead of several major rivers that flow through the region, down to the Puget Sound, as well as to the Columbia River, sixty miles to the south.

Sharing this space and time, were two quiet ravens: large, shiny and black. While I would have preferred eagles in this setting, these obsidian corvids were welcome company.

Can you spot the least chipmunk?

Heading back down. The far snow-covered peaks on the horizon are the Goat Rock complex--the ancient, highly eroded remains of a former strato volcano. The goat rocks area was active for several million years, and currently no one can say with any certainty if it is extinct or merely dormant. It is possible that it will reawaken someday and add a fourth major volcano to the area.

In the distance, the looming bulk of Mt. Adams. At one point, Adams, Hood, and St. Helens were all visible in a broad panorama--one that haze and distance rendered undetectable to my poor little camera.

The lower portion of the Nisqually glacier, largely covered with stone and debris at the end of the summer. After the winter, much of this matter will be covered with snow and gradually become encased in the ice.

Ironically for being up on an active volcano, one known for its avalanches as well as generating its own spontaneous violent storms, the most dangerous moment (kind of sort of) came at the end of the day when I was only a few hundred feet from the lodge.

As I clumped happily down the trail, I heard a rustling and snuffing the bushes only ten or so feet away behind a Douglas fir. As I passed the tree, I realized that it was a berry-crazed black bear in a feeding frenzy. Fortunately he did not have the least moment of time or any attention to spare on me. Winter in the high country is less than a month away now, and he was gorging himself on blue berries as though his life depended on it.

So, I kept walking down to the next intersection, then removed my camera to take some photos.

Naturally enough, a crowd began to gather.

Back at the lodge

At the peak of its lava production, Rainier was taller by nearly one quarter of its current height, and reached out in a broad, symmetrical cone, which encompassed the whole of the current mountain. As majestic as it is in its present form, the volcano is essentially a highly eroded remnant core.

USGS photo

The mountain is shaped by a tripartite of dynamic tensions. While its heart retains molten rock, Rainier is subjected to the constant grinding assault of its ice mantle. From below, the volcano is infused by heated water and sulfur, which impregnates its structure with sulfuric acid and transforms andesite stone into a gritty, crumbling clay.

Ultimately Rainier is like something from the Hindu pantheon. She is an engine of creation and annihilation.

This volcano is going to obliterate the city of Tacoma, as well as the small towns that the are strung out along the river valleys between the mountain and the ocean waters of the Puget Sound. Its previous collapses have sent dozens of lahars piling down through now densely inhabited areas with the force of liquid concrete. A major collapse of the upper cone, as happened around 5,000 years ago would not only inundate Tacoma, but reach well into the southern suburbs of Seattle.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I seem to be without music at the moment.

Normally music provides a kind of primal engagement with the world. For these past few days, however, it's been a barrier. At present, my sense involvement comes from the audio backdrop of mundane life and the meanings that these sounds carry.

There is a French philosopher who believes that our minds work with two types of information: natural and cultural. Natural information is the implications derived from the world's intrinsic phenomena. The presence of smoke implies fire as well as fire's attendant dangers and advantages. The sight of a large predator's footprint in the sand means that mortal peril may be close at hand.

Cultural information is a bit more complex. It can cover social expectations, values, laws, and rationally derived conceptual abstracts. It can also run amok.

Too much rational chatter in the brain generates a layer of static between an observer and his surroundings. It can distract from the emotional weights that the mind embeds in the material world, as well as mask the innate sense of qualities that highlight the goodness and the melancholy within our environment.

Too much unfocused thought makes the morning light lose its sense of promise, and twilight its feel of closure.

I am just over halfway through my six-month hermitage. I've gotten some good writing done, read great books, and experienced hours-long moments of focus out on the coast. It's also starting to feel a little hollow.

Not that I intend to abandon this inward-looking period just yet, but changes need to be made in the near future. Increased human contact would help, but I think there is bigger issue.

Work sucks, and I don't think that I am made to live the kind of quiet life that I had been hoping for.

I still enjoy working with humanity's close cousins, but the day-to-day tasks of the job here are just not that challenging. In Reno, my department was a self-contained world. We did everything that had to be done ourselves, and often the schedule put us all together in one place where we could work and talk. The days passed by quickly in such good company.

But even then, when I was getting up and looking forward to the next eight hours, my engagement with the world was slipping.

I used to have a fantastic sense of situational awareness as well as a good attention to detail. I was mindful of the things around me and of the positions of people in motion. In that broadly focused mode of perception, there was a sense of meaning drawn from the ebb and flow of each day's events.

I want to hold on to that sense of engagement with my surroundings and daily tasks. Life's best moments are lived in such instants of absorption. The finest hours are spent utterly engaged with another individual, where the fascination is so intense and the bond of shared emotion so complete that the boundary between two people vanishes.

Part of my current disengagement can be remedied by training and meditation. Ultimately, however, there needs to be something larger and more meaningful in the workday. Necessity draws out the best in me, especially when it is a greater need than my own selfish desire for engagement.

I'm thinking about possibly joining the National Guard in 2009. Some of the most focused and alive years of my life were spent as a soldier.

I also miss the state of being married—never underestimate the power of cultural roles to give you a sense of purpose in life. However, I am certainly not planning on getting hitched anytime in the foreseeable future. Matrimony will have to come in its own good time, even if that takes several years.

Another path that I am considering is becoming an ER nurse. That sort of intensity might well provide the missing focus. Of course we will have to see how current events play out in the world of finance. In a few months, just having a job could be something to be thankful for.

So for now, I keep hanging and working at home, while taking weekend excursions to wander the city, the coast, or to see family out in the Gorge.

In the meantime, this hermitage has given me time to go over my assumptions concerning life and to identify the set of premises that underlie my worldview.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The far northwestern corner of Oregon, two hours from anywhere...

...where the Columbia finally meets the sea.

I wanted to take a photo of the Goonies house, but unfortunately it was off a single gravel lane with a sign posted at the entrance that read "Private, No Cars!" I suppose that this must be for respectful best. I can certainly imagine the owners' predicament at the height of the summer: half-a-dozen vehicles blocking each other in as fevered Gen-X drivers jockey to get a camera shot, while the fatter tourist amble their wide asses up onto the lawn to perform the truffle shuffle.

This small city is the place where all of those Scandinavian immigrants who had started off in Chicago met the Pacific at last. This is the western end of what I call America's Swede-Belt. In other words, the lutefisk stops here.

Across from this Finnish fraternal society is a Finnish sauna house, while back in town's center is a Danish bakery as well as a souvenir shop that sells goods and victuals from the four mainland Scandinavian countries. Not far down the road, towards Seaside, is a Sons of Norway lodge.

One of the many aspects that I so love about the Oregon coast is that's a locus of interstices--a hazy strand between the sea's fluid infinity and the realized potentials that make up terrestrial existence.

It's also a probabilistic place between the empyrean and earth.

This interstitial nexus of nature's different realms is different from the self-defining web of the human world, in which the superpositions of the mind's inner reality are collapsed into the discrete moments of an individual's social existence through external interactions with others and corresponding, natural acts of internal circumscription.

It's further inland, on the dry sandy side of beach, that the gnoetic phase-line movement from natural knowledge to human cultural is crossed.  A return to the safe world of artifice and fixed facts from the natural world's mysteries and some times dangerous realities.

Another reason I so enjoy going to the coast is to experience that transition to and back again.  The  preparation of food is another one of those ways that we people transmute unsafe nature into culture, and a great way of further capturing that experience of being out on the coast.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Labor Day Trip According to Lou's Camera

Presented in fabulous techno-color

At the docks in Florence...

...a shameless beggar.

You enter tsunami zone NOW!


Dutch-oven ribs and kraut! Mmmm....