Couldn't come up with anything topical for today, so I thought I'd talk about animals.
I now have a cat in the shop. My in-laws had a kitten they needed to give away, and it ended up in the shop with me. I'm hoping the little furball will eventually develop the skill to catch the mice that inevitably come in from the adjacent wooded area. This would be in stark contrast to our house cat, who runs screaming in terror at the sight of anything resembling feline obligation.
Speaking of stupid animals, you may recall a post almost exactly a year ago regarding our dog, who refused to sleep in his house. He spent the last two years sleeping (through rain, wind, snow and ice) simply curled up in front of our door. Miracle of miracles, he started sleeping in the doghouse this week! I have no explanation for his sudden change of heart, though he just celebrated his second birthday - perhaps he's getting smarter as he ages.
He now lays in his doghouse and looks out at the rain with an expression on his face that says "yup, I'm a smart dog! I sure am, yup yup yup yup yup..."
I remain convinced that he is a stupid mutt. Which, as I think about it, makes him eminently qualified to run for Congress.
That, however, isn't the end of the story. In the aforementioned article I learned of a blog devoted to flea circus research. No, I'm not kidding.
There are some really odd blogs out there. As I always say, though, “everyone needs a hobby!”
-=[ Grant ]=-
P.S.: It just occurred to me that there may be even odder blogs floating around the intertubes. Post your strangest blog finds in the comments. (No extremely profane sites or anything dealing with sexual fetishes. We want to see odd, not disgusting.)
It seems fitting that, since we started off with a musical number set in inter-war Germany, that we see some money from that general time. I'll leave you with the infamous 500 Million Mark note, which by mid-1923 wasn't enough to buy a load of bread:
Today, you can buy one of those notes for less than $10.
It's a Hollywood staple: man and woman driving down road. Obviously lost. Woman suggests man stop at gas station and ask directions. Man refuses, insisting he knows exactly where they are. Hilarity or tragedy ensues, depending on the theme of the movie/TV show.
Aircraft, as you may have heard, are vulnerable to missiles. Whether launched from the ground or another aircraft, even a small missile can easily down the largest plane. One of the few defenses to an incoming missile is the dispensing of chaff (small metallic particles/strips) and flares, both of which are intended to fool the navigation systems that guide missiles to their prey.
What's odd is how pretty those countermeasures can be.
The site English Russia entices me to visit the former Soviet Union - the sheer number of abandoned installations makes my head spin. Today the site beckons me with two related stories about abandoned railways in the former superpower.
First, a look at a never-operational line in northern Siberia, apparently built at Stalin's personal request. The reason for a railroad from nowhere to nowhere remains a mystery, though in all fairness we do the same thing with highways in Alaska.
The second is of a locomotive depot in the same part of the country, but these were all operational - until the USSR broke apart. At some point, everyone just walked away...
My sister is an organist, and one of her ambitions is to someday build a custom house - around a pipe organ. If you aren't familiar with what that entails, let's just say it would need to be a big house.
Pipe organs, even modest examples, are large instruments. As they increase in complexity, though, they grow seemingly exponentially. A large organ can have thousands - even tens of thousands - of precisely tuned pipes that produce notes when fed with pressurized air. Just the valving to make one of these behemoths work is mind-boggling in complexity.
Even the part you can see - known as the console - can make a 747 look positively simple:
The LIFE website this week unveiled a photo retrospective of Project Mercury, America's first human spaceflight program. If you look at the picture captions, you'll notice one name on most of them: Ralph Morse. There's a good reason for that.
Ralph Morse was a staffer at LIFE (and later TIME) when he was assigned to cover a press conference in Washington in 1959. That event was the announcement of the Project Mercury astronauts. Sensing the long term importance of the announcement, Morse contacted his editor and told him that there would be a lot of public interest in these men. He suggested that the magazine assign someone permanently to NASA, which was then less than a year old. Morse got the job.
It was a good choice; Morse had already been with LIFE for over a decade, bringing back some of the most well known pictures in their archives. NASA was a fledgling agency, and Morse had gotten himself in on the ground floor of what would become the Space Race.
Over the next couple of decades, Morse would become an insider at NASA. He got exclusive access, and was even allowed to place his cameras in restricted areas his competition at NEWSWEEK couldn't even dream of. Along the way, he produced some of the most iconic images of the various NASA projects.
It all started at that press conference, where an idiot reporter (some things never change) asked the astronauts which of them expected "to come back alive." Morse grabbed this shot of the astronauts showing their mettle:
Some of his shots were very well known...
...while others weren't:
All of them, though, came from the camera of an inventive genius whose enthusiasm for his job knew no bounds. Were it not for his eye, his ingenuity, and his nose for news, we wouldn't have this great visual record of our nation's greatest achievements. George Hunt, at one time LIFE's Managing Editor, said “if LIFE could afford only one photographer, it would have to be Ralph Morse.”
Ralph is now 92, but unfortunately for us gave up photography some years ago.
If you ever get to attend a major shooting match, one thing that will impress you is how accessible the top competitors are. If you want to meet Rob Leatham or Jerry Miculek, no problem - they're usually happy to shake hands and talk.
The same is true for the top jazz musicians. Jazz is a personal music, and because of the smaller fan base getting to meet even the biggest names is relatively easy. Imagine being able to walk up to a well-known pop or rock artist and being able to do that. Unless you're a buxom groupie with a purse full of cocaine, their security staff isn't likely to let you get within a country mile of the star! Jazz musicians aren't like that, and I've had the experiences to prove it.
My interest in jazz matured in high school, which is also where my first brush with fame occurred. I went to school with the brother of Alan Yankee, who at the time was a saxophonist in the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Kenton was my idol, then and now, and meeting Alan was a highlight of my young musical life. Little did I know that it was only the beginning.
When I was attending college in Portland (Oregon) in the early '80s, there were a bunch of jazz clubs in the city. Portland was known as a jazz town, and major players would often make a stop on their way between San Francisco and Seattle. We had not one but two jazz radio stations (one commercial and one funded by a local college), as well as an internationally regarded jazz festival. Life was good for a jazz musician and lover of the genre.
By the turn of the century, the Festival had been reduced to a weekend in one of the city parks, one of the radio stations was gone and the other played more blues than jazz, and virtually all of the jazz clubs were no more. I was lucky enough to meet quite a few notable jazz musicians before jazz disappeared from Portland.
Freddy Hubbard played a single set at one of the local clubs, to a packed house. Despite the cramped surroundings, he made sure that he got around and shook people's hands before jetting off to who-knows-where.
One of the high schools managed to snag the great Clark Terry for a benefit concert. The school was in a bad part of town, and the concert was not well promoted. Still, I was surprised at the sparse crowd. For a city with a jazz reputation, it was embarrassing. That didn't stop Clark from putting on a great show, and I told him as much when we met afterwards. "I"ve played bigger crowds, but that's not important - I'm just happy that people appreciate my music." Clark is known as a consummate gentleman, and his reputation is well deserved.
One summer a local college held a small jazz festival, and the headliners were guitarists Herb Ellis and Barney Kessel. During a break between acts, I went to use the facilities. Standing at the next urinal was Herb himself, and we started talking. I normally wouldn't remember a conversation from almost 30 years ago, but the surreal setting burned this one into my mind: gardening. After finishing our respective business, we went outside and sat at a bench, still talking gardening. Nice guy, that Herb. (For those who think the sun rises and sets on rock guitarists like Van Halen, check out the link - Herb is the gray-haired gentleman. Perhaps you'll learn something.)
The Woody Herman Big Band, one of the most popular in the history of jazz, made a surprise visit to Portland one year. I don't remember the details, but for some reason they unexpectedly found themselves in town. Somehow they managed to find a venue at one of the colleges, which had an open auditorium that day. Word went out on the jazz radio stations that tickets were available for that evening - dirt cheap, with all proceeds going to some charity. The place was jammed, and the band was in top form. Later I got to thank Woody for the unexpected treat, and expressed my appreciation to number of the band members as well. One of them was Frank Tiberi, who would later take over the organization after Woody's death.
Trumpeters Pete and Conte Candoli appeared in Portland one year, and of course I saw their show. At the time the Candolis were at the top of their game; it was virtually impossible to find a big band that hadn't had one (or both) in their trumpet section at one time or another. I got to meet Conte, but Pete disappeared somewhere after their set was over. The next day The Oregonian newspaper had a review of the show. The writer, who apparently knew nothing of jazz, lamented that when they soloed together they often hit "clashing notes." I wrote a letter to the editor that said something along the lines of "yeah, that happens with simultaneous improvisation, you moron!" They didn't publish it, which wasn't a surprise.
I remember taking my buddy and roommate, Ed, to see a then-unknown Diane Schuur. Between sets I introduced myself and told her Ed was dying to meet her. She giggled and I motioned Ed over; he was quite taken with her. That was understandable, as she was a terrific singer and a wonderful person. I hope she hasn't changed in the intervening 25-odd years ; she certainly still sings well.
Of course, there has to be the exception that proves the rule, and in jazz that was Maynard Ferguson. I found him to be the single rudest person I'd ever met in music. That attitude had rubbed off on some of his band members, as the rest of his trumpet section was as obnoxious as he was. (His sax players, who apparently didn't get as much attention, were nicer. I almost felt sorry for them.) I originally chalked the snub up to his having a bad day, but have heard from many people since who tell me that it was SOP with him.
If memory serves it was the second Mount Hood Festival Of Jazz that featured an appearance by a young and highly touted Wynton Marsalis. I ended up (unintentionally) running into him around the venue, and though he was polite enough, I frankly didn't find much in his music to be impressed with. I haven't heard anything from him since which changes that impression. My contrarian opinion hasn't seemed to hurt his record sales, though, and I hope he doesn't hold it against me!
My favorite trumpet player is the late, great Red Rodney. In the early '80s he had a quintet with the phenomenal Ira Sullivan, a group which to this day gets my vote as the most overlooked in jazz. They showed up in Portland once, and my buddy Bob and I were there front row, center. Between sets Red ambled over and introduced himself, and asked if I was a trumpet player. Confused, I asked him how he knew; he said that I was the only one in the audience who "got" what he was playing. I never did quite understand what he meant, but he sat down at our table to chat and eat his dinner. It remains my favorite jazz experience, and on that note I'll leave you with this video of Red at his best.
Kodachrome They give us those nice bright colors They give us the greens of summers Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, Oh yeah I got a Nikon camera I love to take a photograph So mama don't take my Kodachrome away
Kodachrome wasn't the first time the company had influenced musical history, however. It's true that Kodachrome was invented by a couple of amateur chemists who were also professional musicians, but the influence I'm thinking of goes far deeper.
As it happens George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak, was an aspiring flutist and music fanatic. His love of making and listening to music led him to found the Eastman School of Music, cementing his place in American music history.
Now you're probably thinking "Eastman School of Music? Never heard of it!" Most people, when asked to name a prestigious music school, immediately think "Juilliard." While Juilliard is a fine school and better known to the general public, those with a deep knowledge of musical education will often quietly refer you to Eastman. Since 1921, Eastman graduates have enjoyed a solid reputation for being "musician's musicians", which persists to this day - it is often ranked as the top music school in the country in major media surveys.
George Eastman was a remarkable individual who also gave major grants to engineering and technical schools such as MIT, and involved himself in a range of social and business innovations. It could be argued, though, that giving the world both Kodachrome and Frederick Fennell would have been enough for any one person.
In 1997, NASA launched the Cassini spacecraft to study the planet Saturn. It finally reached the ringed planet in 2004, and started sending back some positively amazing images. The craft continues to work perfectly, and as a result the mission has been extended to 2010.
Many people have heard of the Maginot line, a series of fortifications designed to protect France from invasion by Germany. As you may have heard, it didn't work all that well - the Germans simply went around it, through Belgium and the Netherlands, and right into Paris for coffee and gloating.
You may not have heard of the Mannerheim line. It was Finland's fortification intended to protect it from Russian aggression. During the Winter War (where the Soviets sustained losses heavy enough to make them wish they'd never set their sights on Helsinki) the Mannerheim sustained heavy damage. Unlike the Maginot line, the Mannerheim was very lightly constructed and took the full force of the Russian advance. The majority of the installations were destroyed, leaving little behind but memories.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the Office of War Information (OWI) shot tens of thousands of photographs. The vast majority - and the images we most associate with their work - were in black and white:
However, there were a number of assignments which were shot in color. That number was far smaller, likely because of budget constraints, but produced some stunning images:
Way back in the mid-70s I was a geeky high school student whose career dreams were split between playing trumpet in the Stan Kenton band, or designing optical systems for spy satellites. Kenton died in 1979, which quashed my first ambition, and a dismal showing in differential calculus (don't ask) convinced me that engineering wasn't my forte, either.
(What happened between then and now is a long story...)
Anyhow, back to high school. Our science teacher was an ex-JPL scientist who'd taken early retirement and ended up in our small Oregon town. This was a major score for a backward mountain community, and he was a wealth of information. I took every advanced physics and chemistry course our little school offered.
One day, he presented to the class what was then a very recent scientific find: the existence of a natural nuclear fission reactor. That's right, a nuclear reactor where atoms were split without human design or interference, and long before humans walked the earth. At the time, despite learning all the details, I found it hard to believe that such a thing had happened. I understood that it was theoretically possible, but it seemed fantastic that just the right physical conditions necessary to sustain natural fission had occurred anywhere.
In 1936, an audacious Henry Luce changed the way we looked at the world. He took a staid publication, gave it a new, photojournalistic makeover, and created the legendary LIFE Magazine.
Luce hired the best photographers he could find, and sent them out to cover whatever was interesting - if not always the biggest story. LIFE became the must-read periodical for the next several decades, owing to a combination of superior illustration and good writing. People of my generation, and those of the previous one, can easily remember at least one great LIFE photo - if not a whole bunch. That's what LIFE was about, and it is not too great a stretch to say that LIFE defined American photojournalism.
Many of LIFE's photographers would become well-known, like Margaret Bourke-White...
...as well as many more whose names weren't as familiar, but were stupendous "shooters" in their own right. LIFE was THE gig to have, and it attracted (and got) the best talent.
Now, in the digital era, Google and TIME have teamed up to bring the entire LIFE photo archive to the web. The hundreds of thousands of images in the LIFE vault are being digitized and indexed by Google as fast as their scanners will scan. At this moment, only about 20% of the collection has been archived - but more photos are added every day, and they hope to be finished with the project in mere months.
The collection includes everything - photos that have been published, and those that haven't. You'll get to see images that didn't make the "cut", those that weren't good enough to be published, as well as those iconic images for which LIFE was so well known.
Nope. This is the Middle East. Yes, it is! It's the beautiful country of Lebanon.
Hard to believe? What's hard to believe is that people go to Dubai instead of Baalbeck!
I have good friends who are from Lebanon; from them I've learned a great deal about the country, the people, and the history. Lebanon is truly the jewel of the Middle East, with a beautiful coastline, verdant valleys, and ski resorts. (Yes. Skiing. In the Middle East. With real snow on real mountains, unlike the artificial stuff that attracts crowds in Dubai.)
Why, you may ask, is Lebanon known for war and strife instead of scenery and recreation? The answer would take pages upon pages of explanation; let's just say that when a healthy national pride is replaced with violent sectarianism you get hell instead of paradise. The Lebanon of the late 20th century (and, it appears, the 21st as well) was closer to the former than the latter, which tends to explain why the mention of the country brings to mind bombed-out Beirut instead of the gorgeous Bekaa Valley.
I've previously mentioned my appreciation for the work that NASA has done over it's 50-year history. NASA grew up right along with me - or me with it - and NASA was always doing the exciting stuff boys of that era were smitten by: Astronauts. Fast planes. Rockets. The Moon.
(It wasn't just spectacle, though; NASA was the catalyst for technological progress that continues to be felt today. A surprising number of the things we now take for granted can be traced directly back to some NASA project.)
We learned about the exploits of the engineers, technicians and astronauts through NASA-supplied pictures in the magazines of the day. My early interest in science was kindled by those pictures, and some of them I still remember.
NASA documented everything, but not all of their photos were of general interest. A large percentage of their images were never seen by the general public because the media was understandably reluctant to publish anything of interest only to nerds. Through the magic of the internet, however, we now have ready access to some of those great pictures.
The agency has launched a new site just for NASA images. You can search or browse and download your selected pictures, drawings, and illustrations - some of them of quite high resolution. You'll find lots of astronomical images, of course, but you'll find all kinds of other things too.
Two of my favorites from the 1969 launch of Apollo 11, taking the first men to the moon:
Saturn V rocket FTW!
If you're a science buff like me, you can spend large amounts of time on their site. I recommend that you not try this a) at work, or b) when your significant other expects you to be paying attention to him/her/the kids/household chores/your dinner guests. You have been warned!
Portland, Oregon has for years had one of the highest numbers of movie theater seats per capita. Oregonians, it would appear, can't get enough of the silver screen. (Save for this Oregonian, who sees one theater movie every five years or so whether he needs to or not.)
It seems to have always been this way. Portland had a large number of neighborhood movie theaters up through the '60s, and many of those buildings are still standing. The theaters were converted to other uses, and some of them actually retained some of their former features. Finding and exploring those old locations is a hobby for some, an obsession for others.
Back in the early '80s, when I was doing some moonlighting as a commercial photographer, I was retained by an older gentleman to photograph the abandoned Egyptian Theater in northeast Portland. The theater, originally built as a vaudeville venue, had been converted to the newfangled "moving pitchers" in the early '30s. It operated until 1962, when it was closed and used as overflow warehousing space for the chemical company which had purchased the location.
The gentleman who hired me was a serious movie buff, and was writing a book on old Oregon theaters. He wanted me to shoot pictures of the interior of the Egyptian. (I got the job because i was the only photographer he found who could light an entire large interior without benefit of electrical outlets or a generator. The power in the building had been shut off for years, the wiring having been declared a fire hazard. I'll leave you to guess how I pulled it off.)
Once in the building we found many of the seats still in place; the entire balcony was intact, as were the Egyptian-motif decorations and appointments throughout. There were torn ticket stubs littering the floor and even remnants of coming attraction posters in the lobby.
When theater closed, the awning (shown in this 1933 photo) was removed, and the front of the building simply covered with a false wall. The ticket booth and original doors were still there!
It was a surreal experience, as if the building was simply waiting for the janitors to arrive to clean up for that evening's business.
The building was torn down in 1989; sadly, the book never materialized. I had a good time, though.
If you're under 40, the name Douglas Engelbart probably means nothing to you. It should, though, because a huge amount of the machine on which you're reading this sprang from his fertile mind.
Engelbart (yet another product of Oregon, having been born in Portland) worked at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) before the dawn of the personal computer revolution. Many of the things we now use without a second thought were developed by him, or made possible by his work: bitmapped screens, the graphical user interface (GUI), hypertext, and networking. The very birth of the internet occurred when his lab at SRI and it's counterpart at UCLA networked their computers to become the first two nodes of ARPANET.
His greatest moment would have to be his "Mother of All Demos" in 1968. In that presentation, he introduced to a stunned world the early working implementations of video conferencing, teleconferencing, interactive text, email and the aforementioned hypertext. It is, perhaps, the single most important event in the history of modern computing.
One of his inventions revealed for the first time at the Demo was a new invention: the computer mouse. It would take over a decade before his now-common pointing device finally reached the market (attached to the ill-fated Xerox 8010 Star Information System), and several years after that before it came to the notice of the general public (as an integral part of the original Macintosh.)
(John C. Dvorak, computer pundit, wrote in 1984 of the new Mac and Engelbart's invention : "The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a 'mouse'. There is no evidence that people want to use these things." Dvorak is not known for his prescience, which surprisingly fails to deter his continued employment.)
When I was a wee lad, America was at the forefront of space exploration. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, we'd recovered from the shock of the Soviets beating us into space, and had responded in a big way with Gemini and Apollo programs.
In those days, our grade school classes would literally come to a halt as we gathered around a television set to watch a liftoff or a splashdown. The mighty Saturn V rockets - spewing a fireball that remains unequalled for sheer excitement - would take our astronauts into space for yet another thrilling mission. Landing men on the moon was our crowning achievement, watched by just about everyone in the country.
Space flights were national events on a scale that I haven't seen since - and probably never will again. The SuperBowl and American Idol Finals may draw larger audiences, but in terms of captivating our collective conscious, of instilling pride in our country and what we were capable of doing, they will ever equal the NASA of the mid 20th century.
Before Honda, before Kawasaki, Yamaha or Suzuki, motorcycle racing was dominated by the great Italian marques. Legendary companies like Gilera, Moto Morini, and MV Augusta held consecutive world titles, some of which would stand for years. All of these makers had their adherents, but the undeniable "big boy" of Italian motorcycle racing was Moto Guzzi.
The company was formed when three friends - Carlo Guzzi, Girogio Parodi, and Giovanni Ravelli - were serving in the Italian Army during World War I. Part of a flying unit, they had complimentary skills: Guzzi was a talented, though as yet amateur, engineer; Ravelli was an up-and-coming name in racing before the war; and Parodi, like his successful father, had demonstrated business acumen. The three agreed to pool their talents and form a company to make motorcycles. Ravelli, sadly, was killed only days after the war was finished, but Guzzi and Parodi soldiered on to form the company they'd all dreamed about.
Guzzi designed the machines and Parodi (whose father financed the enterprise) handled the business aspects of the fledgling firm. They knew that the key to commercial success was a reputation in racing, and thanks to their combined skill they were almost immediately successful at both. Only four months after their first prototypes were completed, company rider Gino Finzi picked up first place at the prestigious Targa Florio - a win that surprised the industry.
The company rapidly expanded their pool of engineering talent, and they would flex their muscle by making amazing motorcycles: a magnesium-cased, supercharged 250cc; a 4-cylinder supercharged 500cc in 1930; and a 3-cylinder supercharged 500cc machine in 1940. Despite these advances, their racing reputation would be made with their more pedestrian - but wonderfully engineered - single cylinder twin-cam motorcycles.
Those bikes quickly came to dominate the 250cc and 500cc classes, racking up win after win. In 1934 they cemented their hold on the top 500cc class with their introduction of the two-cylinder 500cc bicilindrica, which allowed them a spectacular win in both the 250cc and 500cc classes at the Isle of Man TT race in 1935. in 1953 they entered the hotly contested 350cc class, again with a twin-cam single, and won every World Championship until 1957.
By the mid-50s, though, they were losing ground in the "top dog" 500cc class. The twin-cam singles were decidedly out of date, while the bicilindrica had been inexplicably killed off in 1951. Guzzi needed a new bike that could not just take on the increasingly successful Gilera and upstart MV Augusta designs, but would rule over them.
Chief designer Giulio Carcano put his considerable talent to work, and what emerged in 1955 stunned the world: a water cooled, 500cc V-8 motorcycle. With dual overhead cams and a separate carburetor for each cylinder, this audacious design pumped out a then-unheard-of 72hp at a scarcely believable 12,000 rpm. Guzzi was ready.
Sadly the tire, brake and suspension technology of the day weren't up to the demands of the magnificent engine, and the otto cylindri never achieved the success intended. Moto Guzzi retired from racing entirely at the end of the 1957 season, and the bike was shelved. This didn't stop it from leaving a stumbling block for its rivals, though - in its short 2-season career it set several lap speed records which would end up standing for more than two decades, a parting shot to those who would succeed them.
Today only two authentic examples remain, both in the possession of the Guzzi company in the picturesque Italian town of Mandello del Lario. They occasionally fire one up for a demonstration run on their test track behind the factory. The sound of the engine is unmistakable, and reminds us that there was a time when Italy did, in fact, rule the world - or at least a small part of it.
You know, I had a pretty darned good childhood. I grew up on a small farm, outside a small town (I remember when the town passed the 1500 resident milestone) that was nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Range.
After chores were finished and if there were no other pressing jobs to be done (like hauling hay), I got to do what I wanted. I could go down to our pond and fish, or take off with my friends Dan and/or Tom for an overnight camping trip - all with very little administrative (parental) hand-wringing. Even a two-day trip up the river and into the woods wasn't out of the question, though such an outing did prompt some worrying from my mother.
Not a bad way to grow up!
Living as I do in suburbia, I long for the time when we would run into the forest with little more than a small tent, a blanket, a sheath knife, maybe a couple cans of baked beans, and a fishing pole. (If we planned our trip into a particular area that we knew contained several small caves, we didn't even bother with the tent.) Woodcraft, such as shelter building and fire making, was an expected part of any well-balanced upbringing. I miss those days.
I have found a way to keep the hunger for simpler times at bay: I curl up with Nessmuk.
What is a Nessmuk? Properly, the question is phrased "Who is Nessmuk?"
Nessmuk was in normal existence one George Washington Sears. Sears was a slight, asthmatic individual who was born in 1821 in Massachusetts, and spent much of his life - at least, that portion when he wasn't working just to finance his next adventure - in a canoe or on a boat or in the woods.
He was able to combine his love of the outdoors and his considerable talent as a writer by having narratives of his adventures published in Forest and Stream magazine.
He wrote two books, Woodcraft and Camping, which are still in print - combined into one volume titled Woodcraft and Camping (no surprise there, right?!?) It is still available to this day, which must be some sort of record in the publishing business. (Another book, called Adirondack Letters, is a compilation of his articles in Forest and Stream.)
Woodcraft and Camping is not a thick book, nor is it solely a "how to" manual. It is the collected wisdom and insights of a man who lived just to be able to commune with nature. Nessmuk wrote in a beautiful, lyrical style that makes the reader salivate with the desire to get out into the wilderness.
At only $6.95, I believe it to be one of the greatest bargains - as well as one of the "must haves" - in outdoor literature. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone who enjoys living in and exploring the wilderness, or even just dreaming about it!
That was my dear, departed father's question whenever I was found to have done something that wasn't all that bright. Of course, any self-respecting 10-year-old knows how to answer: look at the ground, shuffle your feet, and say (sotto voce) "I dunno."
Unfortunately, once you become of age and start asking yourself the same question that tried-and-true answer know longer works. As luck would have it, sometimes it takes a while before you ask. Sometimes, it takes years. The great part about this delay is that it allows you to once again say "I dunno!"
This is a story about just such an event.
Here in Oregon we're blessed with some phenomenal scenery. From our gorgeous Pacific Coastline to the high desert east of the Cascades (a treasure unto themselves), there is something here for every taste. One of the most visited natural wonders is Multnomah Falls, located just a short 45-minute drive from downtown Portland.
The spectacular waterfall - the second-highest year-round fall in North America - is fed by a spring way up on Larch Mountain. In fact, it's not the only falls served by that spring: there are several other (much smaller, of course) falls that the water travels over before reaching the "big one."
(From the U.S. Forest Service website.)
Multnomah Falls is 620 feet high - a straight drop of 542 feet, then a bit of a pool, then another drop of a mere 69 feet. A footbridge spans the small canyon over the top of the smaller section, and leads to a trail which snakes its way up the side of the mountain to a viewpoint at the top. There, safely contained behind fences and guardrails, one can look over the incredibly scenic Columbia River Gorge.
However, back in 1982 there were no such amenities at the top - just a small sign that warned visitors (those hardy enough to make the steep climb) to stay on the trail. That didn't stop my buddy Ed and me from doing something stupid, however!
A quick digression: Ed and I were aspiring photographers who spent our days selling Nikons and other assorted high end gear to people who also aspired to be photographers. Most of them, however, would never put themselves on the line for "that shot"; we, on the other hand, continually stick our various body parts in harm's way just to get pictures that no one else would dare.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we found ourselves in the middle of that cold little river at the edge of Multnomah Falls!
I decided that I wanted a different shot of the falls - one that no one else would take. So we lugged our 35 pounds of gear (per person, you understand) up the trail and sloshed out into the water.
I walked to the edge of the falls, where I found a couple of rocks between which I could wedge my Pentax KX-Motor camera on its Bogen Monopod and shoot at a low enough shutter speed to capture the movement of the water. I framed the scene to show the water going over the edge on its way to the bottom (542 feet below my, umm, feet) as well as a glimpse of the river and gorge, and made 3 exposures.
Once I developed the film, into my archives the negatives went - to be resurrected here for the first time in a quarter century:
Looking at this shot today sends chills down my spine. It was foolhardy in the extreme; I was literally leaning out over the edge of the falls to take the picture, knee-deep in cold water, just a slip away from certain death. I was either invincible or ignorant - I'll leave it to you to determine which.
It shouldn't surprise you to learn that this wasn't the first - nor was it the last - stupid thing we did in the name of photographic immortality. My wife, one would think, would be used to this sort of thing - yet when I told her the story (several years later), she asked "what the hell were you thinking?!?" Need I tell you my answer?