Select Page

The new color of fall in the West

fire

Fire-killed standing forest on the flanks of Mt. Adams, Washington.

Another record year of heat. Another record year of wildfire.

The new colors of fall in the West: black, silver, and white.

Reds, yellows, and oranges are now the province of summer – in the form of fire.

I took this photo: some days you’re the spider

black widow spider

Life and death. Eeny, meeny, miny, mo, catch a grasshopper by the toe.

There are good days. There are bad days.

Some days you’re a black widow spider on top of your web. The world is at your feet, and it fears you.

Other days, you’re the grasshopper, caught by the most delicate thread and just by the toe. Yet, each time you hop away, you land in exactly the same place.

I took this photo on a day when I was perceived as the spider –  though I felt like the grasshopper. Gratefully, those days are past.

I took this photo: The surface and what lies beneath

trains, barges, turbines, highway, power lines, Columbia River

Twilight on the surface

The main stem of the Columbia River has 14 dams on it, including the largest dam in the United States. Within the entire Columbia basin, more than 400 dams generate almost half of the hydropower in the US.

Ship locks at several dams and channel dredging allow navigation from the Pacific Ocean to Lewiston, Idaho – more than 400 miles inland.

In the late 1800s, half a million salmon were caught for canning and export in one season. Today four of the 400 dams have fish ladders.

The river irrigates 670,000 acres of sagebrush desert in Washington. As many as 100 illegal dams on private property irrigate an unknown number of additional acres.

Hanford, a Cold War plutonium production site, is the most contaminated nuclear site in the US. For 27 years radioactive cooling water from the eight plutonium production reactors was released back into the Columbia River. The federal government did not disclose this information until more than a decade after the discharge ceased.

Today, an estimated 270 billion gallons of groundwater have been contaminated by high-level nuclear waste that leaked from Hanford’s storage tanks. A million-gallon plume of that radioactive groundwater is expected to hit the Columbia River within the next 10 years at the earliest and 50 years at the latest.

I took this photo in the fading evening light of a typical Columbia River day. Train tracks, carrying coal and oil trains, parallel both banks; grain and coal barges ply its waters; Interstate 84 flanks its south shore; thousands of wind turbines, just visible on the far shore, stand sentinel to the north and south; the slow, warm, slack water impounded behind another dam holds fish that can’t move downstream fast enough and can’t move upstream at all; the final ingredient in the cocktail is three decades of nuclear waste in the water and sediments. The calm water and the pastel light are a lovely façade on a tenacious, living body of water that miraculously continues to survive.

I took this photo: It’s a bunny rabbit

a bunny in the wall

There was no display of huge teeth or horrible monsterness.

Abandoned buildings have long held intrigue for me. Who built them and why did they leave? Where did the builders come from and how did they get there – were they escaping hardship elsewhere or pursuing the dream of their own land? Did they arrive by wagon train or on foot? Where did they go? Did they die in some tragic pioneer episode – botulism or a massacre? Did the wind or the loneliness drive someone mad enough to murder their family and walk off into the winter? Perhaps a more pleasant scenario, a bachelor farmer married the love of his life and moved to town. Or the family outgrew the honeymoon house and built a new home closer to water or in a more protected location. The possibilities are endless.

Then, of course, there is Monty Python. Yes, I know this sounds like a non-sequitur. Remember in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when they arrive at the cave where the Grail’s location is written on the wall? The cave is guarded by a most horrible monster with huge teeth.

As the knights sneak up to the cave and look upon the entrance they see a rabbit quietly grazing. The knight, aghast at the idea of fearing a rabbit, berates his squire, “You bloody tit! It’s a bunny rabbit.” The assault on the cave does not go well but eventually the knights prevail, the rabbit is slain, and the final words of the dying man who wrote the location of the grail are revealed. “The holy grail is in the castle of Aaaaaaaaaaah.” Unable to complete the sentence before dying, the man merely wrote his last gasp rather than the castle’s name.

This still makes me laugh. And I still quote this movie more often than I care to admit. I mean, sometimes it’s just necessary to exclaim, “She turned me into a newt!”

Right. Abandoned buildings. I often trespass. It’s not always intentional and it’s certainly never in the form of walking up to someone’s house and peering through the windows. Unless, of course, the house happens to be abandoned.

I’m fascinated by the construction, by the things left behind, the things that have moved in, the sounds, the views through the missing windows or the leaning doors, even the smells. I’ve found whole barn owl families, pack rats, phoebes, barn swallows, cows, horses, and trees living in abandoned houses, stoves with pots on them, closets with clothes still hanging, curtains at the windows, and pantries with dishes, bottles, and tins.

As I debated whether this particular building was too far from the road for relatively unobtrusive trespassing, a pickup stopped, the driver rolled down the window and told me I was welcome to take a look. Dilemma solved.

It was built with logs and had been expanded, the stacked logs of one structure butted against the cut logs of the addition. The roof had mostly collapsed and an elderberry shrub grew in the middle of a room up through the roof joists. Shreds of wallpaper hung in a few ragged sections – it was cloth with frayed edges and a delicate, pale green leafy pattern still visible.

There was a door between the old section with the log cabin-style stacked corners and the more recent addition. Picking my way through the litter on the floor and ducking under the fallen logs, I stepped through the door and slowly turned to view the whole room, to look out of the windows, to look back into the old house.

And then I saw that I was not alone.

A shiny black bunny eye and twitchy nose were the only giveaways. Perfectly colored and absolutely still, there was no display of huge teeth or horrible monsterness. Just a bunny hanging out above a door in an abandoned house. But… how did it get there? Where did it come from? Did its family get too big and expand into this new home? Maybe it was a bachelor bunny courting a cute girl bunny in a downstairs condo. And who knew rabbits could climb walls?

I took this photo for the sheer delight – it is not often you find a rabbit watching from above a door frame. There was no evidence of rabbit viciousness but, sadly, also no scrawled note telling me who the people were or where they had gone.

 

The commercial strip v. the National Monuments – a request for stay of execution

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

On the executioner’s block: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

 

It is already true that one can be dropped on any commercial strip in the USA and have no idea where they are. Each is so much the same, so not unique, that Chattanooga and Bakersfield look much the same. We have eradicated the prairies, slaughtered the forests, and filled the wetlands, must we also quash the individuality of the national monuments and make them conform to the ideals of capitalism, consumerism, and corporate expansion? What of calm, contentment, and courage to step outside of the box, to appreciate the subtle realm of time, space, and light that is not under our control? Where will we go for peace when we have used up all that is wild?

You have seen my photos over the last year. Many of those photos were taken in national monuments (including the two on this page). If you enjoyed my meager attempts at conveying the intensity of these landscapes, you will enjoy this (free ebook) photographic journey through the national monuments by exquisite landscape photographers

http://landalmostlost.com/

And, I hope you will send comments in support of retaining the national monuments.

 https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOI-2017-0002-0001

Stay the executions.

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument