Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Volcanoes, Log-jams, Dams, Bridges, and Earthquakes.



I am enamored with contemplation, which is just a fancy word for daydreaming, but these days I feel compelled to find a highfalutin label for everything -- so I'm sticking with contemplation.

When I was a child, I often liked to imagine that I was the first person to set foot on a particular piece of land. I don't mean that I thought I was discovering new continents, but I was a pragmatic enough of a kid to think that perhaps, just maybe, nobody in the history of the earth had stood exactly where I was standing. Usually when I was off building forts in the urban forests that still are found all over Portland, I would imagine these things. And, I guess in the way that one cannot ever stand in the same river twice, I am right (thinking of the earth in orbit, and our solar system's movement in the galaxy, and then our galaxy's movement in the larger universe, we are always somewhere unique in space) but, again as a practical child, I was thinking as far back as the Native Americans (of which, the greater Portland area had a population of hundreds of thousands only 200 years ago) and maybe, dinosaur hunters before that! I still wonder if I've ever actually had a foot print on a piece of land that had never seen a human foot. More importantly, this is the first instance that I can think of where I was really thinking of history in a way that was personal.

This has continued, in that I've increasingly become interested in the past of the places (and the people) where I spend my time. Of course I am intrigued by the different dynasties of Egypt, the rise and fall of the Roman empire and the narrative of how the United States came to be -- but all this seems academic when compared to finding out how the neighborhood, house and school I spend my time in came into existence -- and the story of these places extending back as far as my imagination can take me. An extension of this is imagining the natural history of a given place. On May 18th, 1980 Mt. St. Helens blew it's top, forever altering part of the observable landscape of my childhood. 



I don't remember the mountain without having a flat-top, but for whatever reason, pictures of the "pointy" version of Mt. St. Helens seem so interesting. 

This photo below, which is the one I had used before the current title photo (I feel compelled to change it with every post) got me thinking about natural history. 


This photo is not one that I took myself, but it is of a place that I've been to many times: Oneonta Gorge, which is in the Columbia River Gorge, just east of Portland. I picked this photo not because I planned on using it in my next post, but after staring at it, I got to wondering when exactly this photo was taken, and I engaged in some google-fu and found some interesting things. This blog makes a compelling case for clearing the log jam, which as far as I can tell, seems to be right where the photo above is taken. Check this comparison out, using a different, older photo with one post-log-jam-formation:

This clearly isn't the same photo as the one I used before, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were taken by the same person, during the same day. In this picture above, on the right, that shows the log jam, the sheer size and potential danger involved in crossing it is hardly properly communicated. This video does a nice job of not only demonstrating the pitfalls of crossing the log jam, but why this particular place is one of my all-time favorites. 



Supposedly the log jam is the result of 3 large boulders (the size of small school buses) falling off the cliff walls, near each other creating, a choke point, and then all the logs that fall into the gorge are no longer able to make their way down to the Mighty Columbia, but are instead piled up into the mangled mess we now have. In 1996 (the year I graduated high school!), in the spring, there was so much rain that I remember downtown Portland had a wall of sand bags nearly as tall as me along the sea wall where the Willamette River flows through the city. This rain (again, I couldn't find absolute documentation) and subsequent flooding is what caused the huge boulders to be sheered off the cliff walls. I can't help but wonder if the water in this small, short, narrow gorge was dozens of feet deep, and that is what caused the boulders to be loosed. If that is the case -- that would have been a tremendous and fearsome sight to behold. 

Further east, past the end of the Historic Columbia River Highway, there is another wonder of natural history. But, this one is under a hundred feet of water. Celilo Falls was a place where migrating salmon could be plucked out of the air, and was used as such for hundreds if not thousands of years until the construction of the Dalles Dam, in 1957. Here are some before and after shots of the larger area:


Here is the landscape now. The green space on the left is what is called Celilo Park. 


These dams are hydroelectric, and as such, may have a role in providing the very current involved in running this computer, as much of the electricity is "shipped" along high-voltage lines through Oregon, all the way to California. Even more interesting (in my opinion), since this blog is hosted by a Google owned entity (Blogger), and because all of the websites and images in this post were found via Google search, the data most likely was routed through or originated from one of the world's largest server farms, which is found in The Dalles, Oregon -- which of course is where The Dalles Dam is, which provides the cheap and abundant energy to power such a huge data center. 

The point of this is not to damn the dam, but because this place is no longer accessible, and just as the top few thousand feet of Mt. St. Helens is no longer there, I am intrigued by what can no longer be experienced -- or at least, a reasonable similar experience. We all want what we can't have, to a degree. 

A similar dynamic, (in my warped mind) is being played out right now in San Francisco. The eastern most span of the I-80 Bay Bridge is close to being replaced by a span that is being built right next to the current, working one. 


This, of course, is not natural history -- at least not completely, as earthquakes are definitely natural, and the Loma Prieta Quake is definitely in the past. Every time I drive on this bridge, which as been frequent this summer, I can't help but imagine what it was like to have part of the upper deck collapse during the earthquake. 


All of this provides good fodder for my active imagination. When the new span is finally in use, a major part of Bay Area history will be gone -- not only from the earthquake, but a bridge that has seen so many millions of people back and forth across the Bay, and that has dominated the skyline for so many decades will be changed. And, that is the crux of it all: change. I'm glad to be alive during a time of photographs, tremendous collections of books, archives and documented oral histories -- and of course, all of this is increasingly at my fingertips -- all thanks to the dam which flooded the great Celilo falls. A good lesson which reinforces the principle which states that everything comes at a price. 

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