The Stone Table

They say that Oregonians don’t use umbrellas, which is true in my case. Most of the time I don’t even have a hood. My winter days are spent rushing down the shiny sidewalks, my head bowed at an unnatural angle. This posture does not lend itself to street art hunting (unless it’s by Volvox)  or people watching, which are two of my favorite things.

The last two days have been a different story though, because it hasn’t been raining or pouring. The sky has been bawling. It’s been sobbing like a feverish infant, weeping like Kristen Bell when she’s near a sloth. The Eugenean firmament has been blubbering like it’s auditioning for a part in the Notebook.

The Notebook, cameo by Eugene’s sky 

All of this melodrama still hasn’t forced me into a mackintosh, but I also haven’t been studying the cement. When the sky gets this ridiculous I can’t help but laugh. I take leisurely strolls through the downpour, my upturned face sporting a goofy grin. Visiting Californians may see tempests like this as a sign that God has truly forsaken our small patch of Earth, but I slow down and enjoy the waterworks.

Today I’d barely gotten home before dashing out again for a jog through Hendricks Park. If the sky was going to provide Hollywood effects, I would be imagining some accompanying story lines. First I found Narnia’s Stone Table. The little altar has always puzzled me, though I’m not sure I want to know its true history. I’d rather imagine Aslan rising from it as Lucy and Susan look on in amazement.


Fairies in the woods

A heavy rain is a temporary paint job for the world. It deepens the hue of nearly every surface it touches, and casts glistening highlights on rocks and roads. It greys and fuzzes the sky, slightly depresses the treeline and changes the texture of the lawns. It’s as though the heavens are setting the scene for a Brothers Grimm tale. I’m sure I saw fairies flitting through the rhododendron bushes.


Even as I dipped back into the outskirts of suburbia, the rain remained an enchanted elixir. A surreal cavern appeared among the houses. The water thundered on the structure’s roof as its long tethers whipped in the wind.


I got as close to the monster’s great mouth as I dared, and then I ran away. Maybe I’ll come back to meet it in the sunlight.



Heceta Head Lighthouse

The first part of the journey to Heceta Head Lighthouse is a short plunge into the crook of the Devil’s Elbow. Once upon a time, the coastal alcove was a soft expanse of sand. There’s a black-and-white photo in the lighthouse’s archives of a group of bonnet-clad children huddling against the wind on the flat, swooping shore. Nowadays the Devil’s Elbow lives up to its name. The sand is encrusted with rocky grey scales and the surrounding cliffs bend to form a craggy, muscular plateau on the beach’s north end.

It’s hardly a spot to sunbathe, but it’s about as good a place as any to park your beach blanket on the tempestuous Oregon coast. The real draw is that tower on the hill, which gives a hopeful, blinding glint every ten seconds. Except today.

It was only after we’d mounted the first uphill swoop of the trail that we could clearly see the cage of scaffolding. My heart gave a leap. You may not have caught on, but I like scaffolding.


Well, I liked scaffolding. Now that I’ve witnessed this pillar of spindly perfection, it’s a full-on love affair. I get overwhelmed when I try to explain this fascination. I think it’s sort of like ruin porn, or the Flamboyant Gothic style. You either get it or you think it’s deeply weird.

A group of Parks and Rec folks was outside the lighthouse, surveying the start of the renovation. One of the ladies told us that this is only the second time the 1894 tower has had to shut off its light.

That’s when I noticed the enormous sheet draped over the 2-ton lens. It looked like a giant white eyelid that had come fluttering down, giving the great stolid creature a rest after countless years of staring out at the world.

I remember taking a tour of the lighthouse when I was little. The guide let us climb a little ladder and poke our heads into the middle of the glass turbine. It’s like looking at blank stained glass- not particularly interesting unless you’re an eleven-year-old- but imagine if each pane projected a different scene in the lighthouse’s life. I’m certain I’d glimpse more than one child sitting atop the tower and dangling his feet over the edge. That’s where I would be.



I found myself at Lane Community College again the other day, which forced me to reflect on my sins against our local Hill People school. After comparing it to an ancient ruin and insulting most (but not all) of its artwork, maybe it was time for me to repent.

I dropped my little brother off at the soccer field, grabbed my camera and headed for the heart of campus. Truth be told, I think of LCC as a fascinating alternate universe, a land where the front lawn and the backwoods are equally graced with strange architecture and mysterious, rusting sculptures. The school is so remote, like some sort of lost island… or possibly the LOST island?!?

(NOTE: For an enhanced experience, click this link and listen while you read)


I took in the worn concrete, multilevel cube buildings, and little white carts with wide eyes. This was a Dharma satellite complex if I’d ever seen one.


Only a secret 1970’s government project would be so blatantly ambiguous as to call its main building THE CENTER, or so bold as to decorate it with a stained glass depiction of robot puke.

I was geeking out as I snapped pictures. LOST was once my favorite show, and it felt like I was on a safari through the set. Then it got too dark to take pictures, and I started peeking in windows. Things were suddenly quite a bit creepier:


What in the WORLD was this room’s purpose? Why was there a heavy curtain partitioning part of the floor? The rusty tank with the shiny nozzles and the robotic arm were clearly accomplices in some evil assembly line.


I ducked into the art complex seeking sanctuary and found myself in a white walled, minimalistic temple. An older lady in a flannel shirt strolled through an eerie sculpture garden near the door without looking up.

I followed her, hoping to finally unravel the secrets of this place. Perhaps this woman, this Other, could help me.

I stopped outside some sort of workshop with a long window. The woman was crouched inside, pulling things out of a metal cabinet. My heart started beating faster, and I could hear that notorious LOST “This is a mystery” song playing in my head. Ba-du-du-du-BUM-BUM… Ba-du-du-du-BUM-BUM. What was that she had in her hand? A hammer? Why did she need a hammer?

The woman turned around slowly… There was a quick close-up on my widening eyes… And then…

Ooh, that was painfully geeky.


Haunted wine cellar?

The Excelsior Inn‘s restaurant is so far out of my price range that I usually don’t bother to look past its beautiful gate when I pass by. In Harry Potter speak, you might say the building has a Secret-Keeper, and their secret is a platinum credit card.

Of course, the real trick is to know someone who has a platinum credit card. Just snag a rich uncle, or a scholarship donor like mine. He gives all of his recipients dinner at the Excelsior one night a year.

That’s how I found myself plodding through the quaint garden and up the steps of the Italian ristorante in wet Dockers and mismatched socks last night. I can never quite nail down the dress code.

The interior was lavish and beautiful, and also possibly haunted. On one of my donor’s tipsier years, he told us that the wine cellar was home to spirits, and that once a glass had gone flying off the fireplace all on its own. People have also heard “mysterious” footsteps upstairs, but that’s where the hotel rooms are.

The art was surprisingly less fine, at least in some corners of the establishment.


Karla S. Chambers, Sunspot II

Karla S. Chambers’ Sunspot II was lurid in color and crude in style. Our waitress was quick to defend her, though.

“She has had good things in here before,” she said, looking very concerned. It’s funny to ask waiters at fancy shmancy restaurants to fix problems they can’t. An intense fear of getting fired by the stuffy management is always bubbling under the surface.


James Moon, Rest Stop

There were some pretty great watercolors in the place, though, including some wonderful portraits by James Moon. Can’t you just see Moon setting up a little chair in front of this snoozing gentleman and leaving just as he wakes up?

I love the chaotic shadows on the ground, which subtly change our understanding of the subject’s surroundings, and the even line of bushes behind him. Moon has expertly dropped a whimsical character (his little red bag says “supermercado” on the bottom) into a vaguely ominous location. Do those shadows actually belong to scraggly-armed monsters?

After some I-have-to-close-my-eyes-because-otherwise-they-will-pop-out-of-my-head-and-knock-out-the-lenses-of-my-spectacles delicious desert, I went home and googled Moon. According to Bob Keefer, he’s a former dentist who has traveled through Mexico and Italy. Too bad “supermercado” means the same thing in both Spanish and Italian. I would like to imagine this little gent as a hispanohablante, mostly because he reminds me of Don Quijote in some of his more tired, curmudgeonly moments.

FLASHBACK: The Excelsior guest starred (kind of) in the second photo I ever posted on this here blog! Do you remember Proginoskes?


Sylvan Theater, University of Washington

Isn’t it strange to think that winter break is 1/3 of a summer in length? Now that it’s over, I’m grasping at hazy memories of everything I did. Just like summer’s recollections, they’ve begun to yellow under nostalgia’s warm glow.

There I am on the UW campus at the beginning of break, strolling along with my sister under a deep azure sky. I find an umbrella in the bushes and strut around like it’s one of those fancy, useless canes. We discover four Greek columns, and they’re so stark and serious and naked that I laugh.

“I’ve always wanted to know the difference between the types of columns*,” I say, reaching out to touch one. “It’s not marble!” I say, laughing again.

Oh, but in my memory, the sky has begun to shift from deep azure to robin’s egg blue, and Toy Story clouds have crept in. My sister and I aren’t alone, we’re accompanied by three giggling Muses holding a billowing cloth like a giant parachute, which threatens to lift them off the ground.

You know, kinda sorta like this:

Picture downloaded from my mind

I think that’s why we need breaks, because time is made of a different material then. There’s an added chemical in there akin to the stuff of Polaroid pictures, so that as things sit and develop we can begin to long after them (even if the sky actually was azure, and my sister’s ankle was hurting, and my hands were getting cold).

I can’t imagine ever feeling nostalgic about now, as my eyes droop and I know I have some more Spanish grammar to review and I’m facing crushing work until March.

I’ve already received a faded yellow postcard from the Muses, though, and they said they’ll be back in town over spring break. This time they’re bringing swimsuits.

*ANSWER: The pictured columns are Ionic, which are characterized by their scroll-shaped capitals (tops). Doric columns are simple columns that taper at the top, and are the oldest and strongest order. Tuscan columns are very similar to Doric columns, with simple cylindrical capitals. Corinthian columns are the weakest, and have capitals that look like leafy votive baskets. Composite columns = Corinthian + Ionic.


Young Atlas on the Brice Creek Trail

Remember that time when my family went on a hike through private property to a bone-filled shack? Oh yeah, it was only a couple days ago. Today, my dad was planning a hike through a knee-deep swamp.

I spent last night gnawing my fingernails and searching for an alternative- any alternative- to the journey. If we found bones in the shack, we would probably discover a cadaver floating in the swamp, and I couldn’t imagine what my sister Emma’s reaction would be then.

That’s when I realized that I’ve almost completely transformed into a City Person. I know restaurants, I know cafes, but my outdoorsy electives have dwindled since my Boy Scout days.

Luckily, I know someone who would probably live the Walden life if she could. Her name is Kelsey Ivey, she writes the Joyful Shoehorn, and I last saw her at the Coburg Christmas Light Battle of 2011. On the ride there, she told me about her new and improved bucket list, which is chock full of ideas for rugged voyages.

That’s how I happened upon a post recounting a pleasant hike to waterfalls near Cottage Grove, ending with a cliffhanger involving a broken-down car (in classic Shoehorn style).



I didn’t realize how closely our journey would mirror that of Kelsey’s until I saw this notice posted in the parking lot of the Brice Creek Falls trail head. The Shoehorners spotted some people panning for gold in the area during their hike in July. Could the plea, dated less than a month later, be from the same folks?

Maybe little Lisa Mae and Bobby Joe Jr. were playing Frisbee with the pans when they done throwed them in the crik. It seemed like a bad omen. On a different note, don’t you love the handwriting?


… asymmetrical, rough, slanted…

The next step of our very Shoehorn adventure was to take the wrong path, which I accomplished despite the fact that Kelsey included a warning in her post. We walked for quite a while before my dad realized the mistake, but it was all right because it gave me time to ponder the art (or craft?) of trail construction.

The trail is like a loose, winding string pinned down by points of great tension. “When can I evade an obstacle, and when must I meet the bedrock in battle?” asks the trail builder, knowing that it’ll be a losing fight.

The builder’s weapons are shovels and saws, extruding bolts and rough wood, extreme caution and an ability to carefully direct the flow of crushing kinetic energy. Despite these tools, the human effort is quickly rendered uneven, asymmetrical, rough, jagged, slanted and warped.


Even dynamite won’t ensure an ultimate human victory. A curve in the trail exposed a mangled rock face whose spikes and fractures looked horribly violent. The little brown trail winding below had momentarily won, but it was clearly no match for several precarious boulders waiting for gravity to tip the odds.


When we finally reached the falls, we found the casualties of a more recent fight between nature and humankind. A tangle of logs had been cut from the rocks and deposited in the calm water near the shore. It’s done to prevent stupid people from climbing over the falls, but it made me wonder once again why we try so hard when we know we’ll be thwarted again and again. I suppose it’s all a lesson in humility.

On the way home, I hoped upon hope that our car’s engine would hold out… and it did. No cliffhanger here! Thanks for the adventure, Kelsey.

BONUS PICS: Here’s a photo of a tag I found near the falls (extra credit if you can figure out what it says), and here are some more shots of bulging bolts and creaking bridges.


Delta Ponds footbridge

The only thing more embarrassing than crying in a movie theatre is crying in a movie theatre when no one else is. The fact that the movie was over and I was sobbing in the wet parking lot as silent audience members streamed out the exit only added to the humiliation.

My friend Lily and I had just seen Melancholia, an apocalyptic flick that’s playing this week at the Bijou. When I say apocalyptic, I mean that it wasn’t pulling any punches. The world was really, really going to explode and everyone had to deal with it.

This would all be good fun in a summer blockbuster, but this movie stars Kirsten Dunst a la The Virgin Suicides rather than Spider-Man.

Dunst and her co-stars plod around a mansion looking depressed and disheveled as a planet called Melancholia spins dangerously close to our own. Dread turns to panic and/or psychotic euphoria (if you’re Kirsten, who lies naked in the blue light of the Melancholia-rise) as everyone realizes that their lives will soon end. And then they die.


Lily was a bit worried about my ability to drive after the breakdown (which also included the kind of hysterical laughing that ends in shuddering sniffs), but I held it together enough on the way home to spot some apocalyptic art.

Who could guess the new footbridge over the Delta Highway would look so much like a Bridge of Death? Can’t you see Darth Vader or the Grim Reaper (or both) strolling across it with arms outstretched? The red neon lights were a risky choice, but boy did they pay off in the drama department.

Lee Imonen, Bountiful

At one end of the bridge sits “Bountiful,” which is also unintentionally creepy. The empty net thing, which is supposed to represent the Native American bounty, sways and creeks in the wind. It’s as though an invisible beast is caught in there, or passing nightmares are whistling through on their way to peoples’ heads.

Keep in mind that these impressions were gathered around midnight, with Melancholia still hanging in my mind’s sky. After the movie and before my Bridge of Death moment, Lily and I lounged at Oak Street Brewery and tried to work out a game plan in case, you know, the movie was actually real.

“I would think that everyone who had nukes would just blast it, and then we’d all try to take cover from the debris,” I said anxiously.

Lily smiled. “I think what the one lady did was pretty accurate. She just drove around in her golf cart, trying to get somewhere even though it was pointless,” she said.

I sighed, knowing it was the truth. Those who cry in parking lots don’t have the stomach for nukes.