Monday, March 28, 2011


The spring's cold dawning
Brings no coating snow to paint
camellias white.

It's the time of year when the trees flower.  This tree is not in our yard.  We have a camellia, which is dropping fleshy pink blossoms onto the grass.  Where they rot and turn into a pile of decomposing brown necrotic detritus.  With slugs on them.  Oh wait, that's not quite right; some of them turn brown and rot before they flop off of the camellia bush.

I wouldn't mind so much if the blooms were smaller and white.  The pink makes the blooms look like toiletry items from my grandmother's boudoir. Or body parts. Of course, Mark loves the camellia because it's an evergreen, and says disparaging things about the roses and the irises looking like dead sticks four fifths of the year.

Ah spring.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ladybug Photo

I was walking around the other day with my camera and noticed a ladybug. So I took its picture.

This ladybug is more orange than the ones I'm used to seeing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Grape Hyacinth

These are some of my favorite flowers. I think what I like most about them is their color, followed by how robust the blooms are. 

Mark planted some in our front flower box. 

The tiny fractal blooms are cool, too; I like how their development seems to travel up the stem of the plant.

They grow from bulbs.  I think they're too tiny for bees to pollinate, but I could be wrong.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Water Bottle Rockets

For a while, we've been wanting to make Water Bottle Rockets at our house. I grabbed an empty plastic soda bottle and went to a local garden supply store and bought a cork. At the store, I fitted corks into the bottle's neck until I found a good fit.

Back at home, I dug around in our garage until I found the basketball inflation insert for our bicycle pump. I put it through the cork. The cork was a about a half-inch too long, so I trimmed the narrow end down with a hack saw (if I'd trimmed the wide end, it wouldn't have sealed the bottle).

The launch site was created by sticking fondue sticks into the ground to keep the bottle pointing upright instead of at our neighbors' cars. Landscape picture windows. Cats.

Next we filled up the plastic bottles with water...

...and put the bottle on the cork. The tricky part was to make sure that we didn't pull on the pump in such a way to re-aim the bottle and to be sure that we didn't place our heads over the bottle while...

...we were using the bicycle pump to inject air into the bottle.

It usually took two, sometimes three, pumps before the bottle would pop upwards into the sky.  We tried different bottle sizes and shapes.  I'd say the highest shot went about 1.5 telephone poles high.  Too much water in a bottle made it too heavy, and it would only rise about eight feet.  No water in a bottle provided little lift, and the bottle popped off the cork only about two feet high.

Our homemade rockets only changed the vehicle and foot traffic patterns a little.  The pedestrians thought rocketing soda bottles were The Coolest Things Ever.  And those other cars weren't moving anyway.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More On The Outdoor Shrine

I went through my photos and made a collage of the "temple" Mark found last weekend. It's hard to believe that we were there only last week.

I'm still trying to articulate what I like about the place.  Maybe it's the repeating geometric elements, like these pillars.  Or perhaps it's the faux-oldness of the place.  This structure can't be much older than sixty years. 

Or maybe it's the play between the natural and the cultivated; between geometric shapes like circles and pillars and fractal ones like the trees; between stone and water.

But mostly, I think it has something to do with it being an outdoor shrine.  While making photographic discoveries, I had a sense of the elemental and of enclave.  I don't want give the impression that I was frolicking with Flower Fairies, or waiting for Ents; but there was a current there -- something vast and mysterious:  like where a river meets the ocean, or where two tree trunks make a portal, or when the moon rises over a desert mesa.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Spring 2011 Equinox!

At our house, we have some stain glass art pieces crafted by Mark's Mother. Since mid-November, a six-fold snowflake of diamond prisms has hung in our front window.

Today, it's time for the Mackintosh-esque Rose. Our rose is a little less geometrical. I can't decide if I like the red glass in the petals or the green glass in the stem more. The rose will stay up until the Summer Solstice, at which point it will be replaced by the Mermaid.

We might still have snow, though; last year it fell in April.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Solar Dates for 2011 (Kind Of)

I like to keep track of when the Equinoxes, Solstices, and "Seasonal Ides" (some folks call these the cross-quarter days) are. I went to the US Naval Astronomy site and got the Equinox and Solstice dates, then took the average between the them to compute the Ides. All times are in Universal Time (UT), which is the time at Greenwich.

Spring Equinox 3/20/2011 23:21:00
Spring Ides 5/6/2011 8:18:30
Summer Solstice 6/21/2011 17:16:00
Summer Ides 8/7/2011 13:10:30
Fall Equinox 9/23/2011 9:05:00

It turns out the Ides dates are not as exact as the Solstice and Equinox dates. I'm guessing that since the Earth moves in an ellipse, taking an average between two dates does not jive with the sun's apparent position in the sky.

Technically, the Ides should be when the meridian sun is at a height of 44.06 (Eugene's latitude) plus or minus 11°43' (half the distance in degrees between a solstice and an equinox). Going back to plugging in the date 5/6/2011 for Eugene, the computed table says that when the sun is near the azimuth of 180, it's altitude is ... 62.6 (higher than the mid-point, 55.-uh-75, by about seven degrees). Fiddling with dates, around April 20, 2011, the sun will pass through 55.6 at noon. (April 21, it overshoots slightly.)

Oh well; so much for using The Gregorian Calendar to calculate solar events.

On a completely different topic, I looked in the mirror this morning and there's no denying it: my current hair arrangement makes me look like the Thunderbird Mail icon. I think it's time for a trim.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Observations from Sunday

While were were in Redmond, a fierce windstorm blew into the Willamette Valley. Our first warning came from an IM I got while we were exploring a lava tube cave: one of our friends wanted to know if our house had power.

It was about 3:30 PM. Mark drove. We gassed up the car and began the trek from Redmond, through Sisters, and along Highway 126, the McKenzie Highway, to Springfield and Eugene.

As we approached the Hoodoo Ski area, the driving rain turned to a blizzard. The snow was wet, and we were glad that we had opted not to ski that day, as Saturday's snow had been wet and sticky. This snow would be worse (or better, if one didn't want to wind up skiing too quickly).

As we descended the western slopes of the Cascade Mountain range, the snow turned back to rain. But the tops of the trees were swaying, and every now and then a gust would rush up against the car.

We were about ninety minutes from home. We passed the new Ranger Station, and began to see LTD Bus stop signs. But the farther into the Willamette valley we got, the more we started to notice small branches on the highway. The small branches turned into larger branches. At one point the highway was covered with a dirty white, mashed pulp of pine -- which smelled nice.

We approached Blue River. "Whoo!" Mark said, "Don't touch the car, I think I drove over a power line!"

"What?" I'd been too busy looking at the trees on the side of road.

Then we passed three road flares underneath a line sagging from a leaning power pole. A little farther, a line of brake-lights stopped us. Mark pulled up and stopped the car.

On my side, I watched smoke rising from the chimney of a rural home. Its owner was prominently puttering about his front yard not looking suspiciously at the line of cars.  Mark rolled down his window, and we smelled woodsmoke from the widely spaced houses and cabins lining the highway.

Someone was out of their vehicle and speaking to a red SUV idling in front of us. Words like, "blocked" and "two hours" were all I heard of the snatches of conversation. The SUV made a hard turn and went the other way.

By this time it was around 5:15. We waited for the blockage to clear. Headlights in the distance turned out to be ODOT cars or the occasional fellow traveler turning around. Through the rain streaming down the windshield, I saw a damaged filbert orchard. Snapped limbs littered the field and here and there trees were blown over, their roots pulled out of the water-saturated soil.

Going back up the mountains, a small white car approached; it stopped every few cars. When it reached us, the driver said, "There's been a landslide, it will be a four or five hour wait before they clear the road." Then she drove off (it turned out there were only downed trees and power lines, but it did take about five or so hours to clear the road).  At this point I pulled out my secret stash of chocolate and passed it around.

There was poor to no cell phone coverage where we were. We decided to look for a restaurant. And a place to pee. Mark pulled the car around and we drove back to Blue River. He was able to get some ODOT alerts on his phone, but they were vague, saying only that there was storm damage and that maintenance would cause three hour delays.

I called my Mom -- my folks had been in Redmond also and had been on the road home a little before us. Luckily, the route they took had been clogged and limb-strewn but clear for them to get through (though not without worries over possible punctured tires). We decided not to try to get more ODOT information via Mom-net, and told her we'd call her back later.

Then we tried to find a place to eat. As we left Blue River, I noticed a homeowner had lit two tiki torches outside her home. Then I noticed folks hanging out on their front porches watching the rain and traffic. It wasn't night yet, but the afternoon was grey and I noticed no one appeared to have lights on in their houses.

"I think the power's out," I said. The later it got, the more more apparent it became that all the country stores and taverns, the Pepsi and Coke machines standing outside gas stations were dark.

Mark pointed out blinking LEDs in junction boxes high atop power poles. "I've never noticed them blinking before," he said. We guessed they would help maintenance folks pinpoint a systemic power failure. We drove past the 365 Christmas store -- closed. We drove past a hotel -- closed. The last store for 50 miles -- dark.

At last we gave up and turned back to see if the highway was clear. We drove past a tavern and supply store; it was open -- or at least there were people inside -- but only because someone illuminated the check-out counter with the headlights from their jeep.

We had to detour through Blue River again; ODOT had closed the section of highway were we'd drove over power lines.

The way to Eugene was still blocked.

By now it was 7:15-ish. We had a discussion; it was too late to try to drive back up to the probably-by-now icy pass and then try to sneak past any downed trees my folks had avoided. In the dark. The McKenzie River corridor appeared to be without power, but we had enough snacks so we wouldn't starve. We had enough gas in the tank to not worry too much about running out. Mark knew of a place further up the river that might be open. So we went back up the valley.

Our fourth pass through Blue River, Mark stopped to talk with the flagger, but all she knew was that there was road maintenance. As we continued east, other drivers behaved oddly aggressive, and we surmised they were tired, hungry, and irritated at the blocked road.

Mark drove us into the deepening darkness and rain. Everywhere along the road were empty and shadowy gas stations and cabins with woodsmoke streaming from their chimneys.

At last, we turned down a short, debris-strewn drive. A short dip and rise in the road later and white twinkly lights shone in the rain. A lodge appeared and we parked near the front. When I got out to see if they had any vacancies, the thrum of generators told me where their power came from.

Around 8:00 PM, we secured a room. After I found a place to stand where my cell phone worked, I let my folks know where we were. After a scanty meal of over-priced canned tuna and crackers and other food scavenged from our car, we played in their hot springs, then went to bed.

Around 9:45 the generator's thrum cut out, and the power stayed on. The hush of the McKenzie River lulled us to sleep.

What I get out of all of this is
  • Wow; I'm thankful this was just a downed power line and some trees and not a tsunami or a nuclear melt-down;
  • We were only twenty miles or so from a major metropolitan area, and still a storm isolated us from good information, food, and shelter;
  • Other folks made interesting choices because they were stressed;
  • With no information, people made guesses and then passed mis-information along to other drivers who then trusted the information and source;
  • I'm glad Mark knew about the lodge; 
  • I'm glad we had the means to pay for our lodgings;
  • I'm glad we were able to fill up the gas tank in Eastern Oregon; and,
  • I'm thankful that the biggest impact this adventure had was to give me some source material for story-crafting

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mark Finds a Temple

This weekend we got caught behind repairs to power lines when we were coming home on highway 126. We drove up and down the highway trying to out-wait the repairs or find a place to hang out.  But a windstorm had blown multiple trees down and the electricity was out along McKenzie River cooridor. Finally, Mark remembered a resort likely to have a generator, and we managed to book a room there.

The next morning Mark said, "I found a temple!" when he returned from his hike. So we visited it. I was expecting something goofy with Americanized Greek sculpture or faux-Egyptian statues or Phoney Flower Fairies. What we found instead, hidden by stone walls and bamboo, was a kind of architectural folly.

Flowing water tumbled over a circular cascade. I loved it and I wanted it in our back yard. The arrangement was a temple: a temple to water.  Afterward, I saw some pictures of it with blooming flower beds, and I'm sure it's lovely, too; but in the losened grip of winter, the play of stones and water was more apparent.  (And using the internet, I see that it gets used for weddings.)

The moss growing on the pillars reminded me of the nearby trees.

Because I was there on a Very Late Winter Monday Morning, I had the whole place to myself -- there were no wedding receptions, church retreats, or wandering campers.  The flowing water masked noises of traffic and RVs.

The fountains were enchanting.  I loved the mystery of the ruins, although I could see that the columns had a tile façade instead of real stone. The builders made clever use of walls, boulders and the existing stream to create an enclave to watery currents. Each spot had a niche or window. I would love to see the structure's geometry in snow (and the internet has provided a glimpse).

Surrounded by forest hills wreathed in mist, it was easy to imagine I was in another world.  It was the sort of place Arthurian characters might tarry for adventures in.  It was the sort of place I could bring tea and sandwiches (and chocolate) to and write (but probably not on a weekend or during wedding season).

Monday, March 14, 2011

When Writers Ski

Saturday the family went on a ski-trip. My fantasy about skiing and ski-trips is gauzy and rose-colored. We get onto a lift, which takes us to slopes where we disembark and swoosh downhill on the powder, all holding hands and singing The Lonely Goatherd; repeat, and add cocoa by a roaring fire in the lodge. The reality is that I'm an intermittent skier at the beginner level and everyone else would like to imitate an avalanche on the double-black-diamond trails. If there were parachutes involved it would be a different story. So skiing turns into a strategy to ditch everyone.

Swooshing down the slopes was a last-minute decision for me. My memory was that we went two years ago. When we were talking about it, Mark reminded me that I haven't been skiing in about four years. Mark doesn't ski, he snowboards. I don't really ski so much as I RollerBlade.

The biggest lesson I brought away from the skiing was: whoa, I am so totally out of shape. I expected that pushing through snow to turn would be difficult, but getting out of the lift chair was harder than I remembered; I felt like I looked like my grandmother trying to get out of an easy chair. Getting pushed into the snow by the lift as I exited probably didn't help. And this was the "easy rider" lift on the bunny hills. The secondary thing was that it took my body a little longer to remember how to do things than I thought it would.

Eventually, I was ready to graduate from the bunny slopes with the brightly colored traffic cones (so fun to swoosh around!) and reacquaint myself with the beginner's trail.

A blizzard hovering on the edge of a rain storm dumped snow onto the area. Snowflakes melted on my goggles. Icicles hung from pines. The lift operators had to squeegee snowmelt off the seats before we sat in them. So the snow wasn't exactly the best, but that was fine with me because I wasn't freezing my fingers off, either.

While riding the lift, the dichotomies of the day were especially striking. On one hand, the snow hushed everything; on the other, loud music (first country, then hip-hop) played. I sat alone on the lift, isolated on a seat dangling from a cable; but there were skiers and snowboarders ahead of, behind, and below me. I glided along tree-tops, with wind whistling snowflakes around me, surrounded by a wintry wildland; and then I passed a black lift tower, its spinning wheels tugging the steel cable along. I only thought about what would happen if the cable snapped or the lift chair broke a few times -- mostly when the lift stopped and cable and the chairs in front of me swung like a Newtonian physics demonstration.

Suspended in nature, I ask myself questions like:
  • From this height, would the snow break my fall? 
  • How is this cable constructed; Is it woven; how do the chairs attach? 
  • If the cable snapped, would it recoil and hit me? 
  • If the chair started to fall off the cable, would I have enough time to grab the cable? 
  • If I did grab the cable, would I be able hold it in such a way to keep my fingers when the cable went over a tower's wheels? 
  • Or would I have to try to jump onto the tower? 
I'm not worried about me, I'm wondering how I would write a scene for a story.

And then I saw Mark, snowboarding beneath me, swooshing and swishing as he followed a trail beneath the lift. There was a moment as I was watching him and moment of admiring a stranger turned into the discovery of admiring Mark. Then the lift moved again and it was time to de-chair. By this time I had re-learned how to get out of the chair.

There was more skiing. And hot cacao.

As we left, misty clouds shrouded the mountain in mystery.

And yes; my calves are sore today.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Girdled Trees

Over the weekend I saw some trees (and ivy) that were being removed. I'm not sure if the trees were rotten, or if they wanted to remove the ivy and the trees were collateral damage or what.

In any case, I'd never seen a tree girdled this way. I imagine that a chainsaw was used. Trees move nutrients from the ground and their leaves through and just underneath their barks -- what we think of as "wood" is like a skeleton, in a tree it mostly provides structural support. Removing a band of bark all around a tree's trunk kills it.

At first I was drawn to the contrast between the curved lines of the tree and the geometric square cuts around its trunk. But looking at this photo reminds me of a pirate skull's teeth.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Soap Cube

Here's what happens when you dip a wire cube into soap solution; the soap makes multiple membranes, then all the membranes try to figure out a configuration where everything is under the least amount of tension.

Hmmm. I wonder... if you made the wire frame electric, could you make the membrane a kind of analog computer? If you knew the capacitance of the soap solution, the wire could be a series of resistors.

Oh well. It looks cool, anyway; although the room the frame was in smelled like it was stuffed full of microscopic flakes of detergent.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Phosphorescent Film

Have I said how much I enjoy that green film that glows in the dark, and how much fun a room full of the stuff is? 

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Salem Train Station

I got a chance to return to the Salem, Oregon, Train Station. I had seen it in the dark from a bus earlier, and the light fixtures drew me back.

In the dark the building seemed more mysterious and baroque. In the gray of an overcast Oregon day, the building seemed almost plain. Or was that plane?

What struck me most about the building was how squares and rectangles made use of threes and thirds. Eyeballing some of the pictures, the design uses golden rectangles, too.

My main photographic goal was to obtain some studies of the lamps. The entrance is flanked by two lights with modern looking glass globes on them. It would be interesting to me to know if these were originally stain glass globes. I think the ones here are a clever, low-cost reference to the lamps inside.

I'd wondered the first time I saw them if the huge fixtures inside were made of curved glass or if the were little flat rectangles soldered together in an approximate globe. They're flat.

This is a Beaux-Arts style building, about nine decades old. Mark told me it was Palladian style. I'm not sure what the difference is other than Palladian seems to be a half-century older.

I think part of what I like about this building is that it has a strong geometry. Maybe I'll allow myself the luxury of making a model of it, as it appears to be made completely out of cubes, cylinders, and spheres. And, uh, no... I haven't finished (yet) that geometric tile pattern I've been working on.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Notes on Writing

I was speaking last night with some writer friends about current projects. "I'm using Scrivener," I said, "which is a good thing because it allows me to section off the scenes in my stories, which prevents me from going back to the beginning and re-writing it." That's what I do when I get stuck in a story; go back and re-work the story's beginning. At least when I'm using Scrivener, I can only scroll up to the beginning of the current section.

Right now I've been resisting the urge to re-work the beginnings. This manuscript has been resisting me -- or rather I should say that as I get closer to the climax of the story I've been finding it more difficult to write. I like happy-fun stories, and ultimately, this current story is about transformative loss.

What I'm resisting is the Stanislavsky method of writing. In order to write believable characters who are operating at full emotional and mental capacity, I have to get into their heads. Which means that I have to get inside their loss. Which means that writing this story will be a little like going to a funeral. The tricky part will writing this while not having an End-of-Moulin-Rouge-Tearfest.

On a slightly different topic, I woke up sore today. In that vein, "And now for something completely different..."