Tidal Pull

March 23, 2010

Today is World Water Day, an event intended to draw attention to serious problems but for me evokes nostalgia. That’s what happens when a childhood is spent immersed in a Central Florida lake back when the water was clear and clean. Some days my brothers and I would swim so long that I imagined gills forming below our ears. We and our friends also spent much time in other waters, too: springs and swamps and ocean surf. With little effort, I can still feel the sensations, still smell the smells, of living in a world of tropical waters.

These photos from The Big Picture tell a larger story about world’s water. They’re worth lingering over. My humble offering below (click to enlarge) from a family vacation on the Oregon Coast last summer, makes me want to drift away on the next outgoing tide.

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No Hugging Allowed

March 19, 2010

Two years ago, I was waiting in the hallway of a small Portland high school. I was there to interview students and a teacher for a story. As kids milled about in the din between classes, many hugged each other. Some embraces looked like reunions between dear friends who hadn’t seen each other for years. The hugging was so frequent and enthusiastic that I later mentioned it to my wife and a few others.

Drawing conclusions from a distance and without asking questions makes my other observations — or suspicions — suspect. Still, sincerity seemed lacking. At times the hugs appeared to be a new, more intimate way of saying hello. Some encounters struck me as intentionally over the top, contrived to attract attention. Read More

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Best Movie Scenes

March 17, 2010

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I’m no movie critic but love the medium. That’s why my wife and I yearn for a three-movie day. We squeezed in three on the Friday and Saturday before the Oscars. (Each received a top award: best actor, actress, and movie.) Thus my interest in “The greatest movie scenes ever shot,” touted on the eclectic kottke.org. Compiled by film makers and a critic, the list includes several films I’ve seen. The description of a French movie I had never heard of, Jules et Jim, intrigued me enough to order it from Netflix.

As I read the list and scene synopses, a film that should have made the cut flickered to life. But I admit my objectivity is compromised, considering my emotional attachment to The Graduate. Then again, how a movie makes one feel has to count for something, even with critics. Read More

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Spinning History

March 16, 2010

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Thomas Jefferson loses, Jefferson Davis wins. That’s my headline from the Texas State Board of Education‘s preliminary approval last week of changes to textbooks.

The board voted to delete Thomas Jefferson from the list of luminaries who contributed to the Enlightenment, the period in the 17th and 18th centuries when ideas like revolution, democracy, and capitalism took root. In fact, the board dropped the word Enlightenment from its social studies curriculum. Read More

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Beneath the Heavens

March 14, 2010

This time-lapsed video perfectly punctuates a morning of snowshoeing with my wife, along the glacier-fed White River on Mount Hood. Shot 2,600 miles away on Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, the video reminds me of my insignificance in the universe and, at the same time, the wonder of being part of its grandeur. The photographer had this composer’s music in mind when he created the video. The soundtrack of our mountain trek? Crunching snow, water against rock, and panting breaths.


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Yesterday’s Tomorrows

March 11, 2010

In the 1980s, I tacked up a poster in my newspaper office. It promoted an exhibit at the Smithsonian: “Yesterday’s Tomorrow’s: Past Visions of the American Future,” which I never saw. The poster gripped me in ways I didn’t understand. Maybe it was the fanciful and futuristic scene from a world that never came to pass. Or my childhood love of Tom Swift books. Or the deeper idea that whatever we believe the future holds for us collectively and individually is always wildly wrong — except death.

Then the other day I stumbled upon a movie serial I had watched on TV as a kid, probably in the late 1950s. It had enthralled me like no other film. Made in 1935 and featuring Gene Autry in his first starring role, The Phantom Empire was a 12-episode science fiction western. A technologically advanced people from a sunken continent lived secretly 20,000 feet below the Earth’s surface. They watched the outside world via hidden cameras. When they ventured to the surface on horseback, they thundered into view through a camouflaged stone door in the side of a mountain. They had ray guns and robots, along with an aura of moral and intellectual superiority. Read More

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Old house vs. earthquakes

March 10, 2010

I’ve been thinking of “The Big One.” Long before earthquakes devastated Haiti and then Chile, I wanted to have our 1920s Craftsman house bolted to its foundation with steel plates. That’s enough protection to qualify for earthquake insurance.

The work begins tomorrow, ten months after I arranged for an estimate. Waiting until my wife and I could afford the work was a gamble, considering that scientists believe an earthquake of up to 9.0 magnitude off the Oregon Coast is inevitable within the next 50 years.

The last such quake in the Cascadia Fault, 310 years ago when the indigenous people sparsely populated the region, triggered widespread devastation. There are also three faults beneath Portland — one only a few blocks from our house — capable of delivering quakes of 6.5 magnitude or greater. Talk about Ground Zero. Read More

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Art on the streets

March 9, 2010

Despite Portland’s reputation for attracting artists, I’ve yet to encounter an abundance of street art depicting this level of flair and creativity. Maybe I don’t get around enough, but I mostly encounter incomprehensible graffiti. Much is gang messaging, a defacement uglier and longer lasting than cats peeing to mark their territory.

Some people are trying, judging from these photos. My own finds are here, including some on passing rail cars. An artist known as Cake, whose work has been featured in an Albany, New York gallery, apparently stopped in Portland and left behind two paintings.

I’m a big fan of my friend’s approach — temporary, portable, and free. In a story I wrote before we became friends, he said:

I’m letting go of dormant energy in my world and leaving it to other people to revive it if they want.

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Tall in the Saddle

March 6, 2010

Few blog posts for many months means I’ve been crushed with work. But that’s a good thing in these trying economic times. The heaviest load has come from serving as guest curator for a just-opened exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, called “Tall in the Saddle, the Pendleton Round-Up at 100.”

In May 2009, I began tracking down artifacts and other items for the 3,000-square-foot exhibit. What I thought would be the most challenging part of the project — persuading people and organizations to loan roughly 500 things — proved to be the easiest. The most gratifying part was meeting so many people who were so eager to help. The most difficult was crafting the story for a medium that was foreign to me. Read More

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Space between life and death

January 29, 2010

I’d been told that an acquaintance’s son had arrived home safe from Iraq, his first overseas Army stint. When I asked the acquaintance today about his son’s experience, he filled in the story with details, details that remind me of what we all know but rarely ponder: inches and seconds often add up to the difference between life and death.

The young man had been driving a Humvee. Moving slowly, the vehicle hit an IED. The blast hurled the front wheels more then 250 feet. This slowed the vehicle, and when another IED exploded a few seconds later, the force  was centered beneath the front of the Humvee rather than the occupants. The difference? A broken arm, concussion, and minor burns instead of dismemberment.

As the father told the story, a smile never left his face.

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Unfettered and alive

January 23, 2010

“I felt unfettered and alive.” That lyric from Joni Mitchell’s song, “Free Man in Paris,” sprang to mind during this video. Then came this thought: would I dare be an eagle for a day if given the chance?


Like most people, I’ve had dreams of flying. Even more vivid are dreams of jumping as gravity relaxes its grip. First I’m able to dunk a basketball, a feat impossible even in my youth. Then the jumps take me to treetops and views of a much larger world. Embracing this new power, I bound higher and higher, but with the certainty that I’ll land gently whenever I want. The joy of these moments transcends those of my waking life. In such dreams, however, fear inevitably sets in: what if gravity releases me, and I can’t return?

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Dressed for hire

December 3, 2009

Maybe the unemployment picture is brightening. A very helpful sales clerk at Macy’s told me yesterday that there’s been a rush on men’s suits. Why? “Guys are suddenly getting job interviews, and they want to look good,” she said. “And they want the alterations immediately.” I was trying on a suit for a different reason. In the mirror, I noticed two men half my age looking at me as I checked out the fit. One nodded in approval, and the other gave me the thumbs up. So I had no choice but to do my part for the local economy.

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Best one-liners

October 17, 2009

The term “one-liner” evokes comedians and jokes. Lately the one-liners that stick with me are from songs. Here are two that keep bouncing around in my head long after the music has stopped, courtesy of the Avett Brothers’ newest CD: There’s a darkness upon me flooded in light, and I am a breathing time machine. The lyrics look and read naked without the music but resonate nevertheless.

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