Thursday, October 30, 2003
Wednesday, October 29, 2003
Friday, October 24, 2003
Thursday, October 23, 2003
The Illinois River
As you faithful readers may have deduced, I spend my summers in the employ of a whitewater rafting company. We have operations in four western states, and thus I am fortunate enough to have boated many of the finest wilderness rivers in the country. This April I managed to see one of the crown jewels of them all; I’ve run the Grand Canyon, the Yampa, the Middle Salmon and the Selway, and the Illinois in southwestern Oregon is the equal of any of them.
There’s a reason you’ve never heard of the Illinois: it’s very difficult to catch it at runnable water levels. Unlike most commonly rafted rivers, it is fed not by snowmelt or reservoir, but by rain. It therefore can be boated only in winter and spring, and even then the levels are touchy. A few dry days can leave insufficient water to squeeze a raft between the boulders, and a decent storm system can transform its already challenging whitewater into screaming insanity. Below 800 cubic feet per second or above 3000 we don’t go; and it’s the only river I’ve ever run where one worries about its being too high and too low in the same week. I drove from New Mexico to southwestern Oregon well aware that scheduled trips often never launch.
Preparing to launch on a new river is always an exciting experience, and this time I had numerous factors contributing to my excitement. The weather in Grant’s Pass was cold and rainy, and our guidehouse did not yet have a water heater up and running. I was quite aware that certain Illinois rapids would be a step up in difficulty from anything I had ever rowed. And we were constantly thinking about the water level, trying to guess just how the storm drumming on our roof was affecting a river valley thirty miles to the south. A Coast Guard weather radio on our kitchen table gave comment in a slate-gray automated baritone: "forecast for western Josephine county is… rain… eastern Curry county… rain… fifteen foot swells in Brookings harbour…." Throughout the day, periodic internet flow updates came via our manager’s girlfriend in Eugene. At eight in the evening she reported a spike from 1300 cfs to 2400, which certainly grabbed our attention; it was a joke, but hardly an outrageous or unbelievable one, as events three days later would demonstrate. I fell asleep to thoughts of whitewater and the sounds of the wood stove and the raindrops.
It was still raining in the morning as we drove south to Selma in the Illinois valley, then west on dirt roads into the river canyon, where the Illinois slices through the coast range on its way to the Rogue and the Pacific. To run the Illinois is legally easy; there is no decades long Grand Canyon waiting list, no Selway permit lottery with astronomically poor odds. All you have to do is drop a form in a box on the side of the Selma grocery store and go. But the difficulty of the rapids and the inconvenience of transporting river gear long distances to a river which may well not be boatable in any given week tend to keep the crowds away. The locals seem to derive a good deal of their winter and spring entertainment from news of Coast Guard rescues of incompetent or unlucky rafters, and hence few of them run the river. We launched our boats in splendid isolation, in which we remained for the entire trip.
For one like me who delights in moving water in all its manifestations, the Illinois canyon is a paradise. Almost the first thing one sees after pushing off from shore are waterfalls, a side stream plunging in two branches into the bedrock gorge. There are waterfalls throughout the canyon, around almost every bend, sometimes four or five in a mile, of all sizes, heights and steepnesses, sometimes two or three together. The raindrops bead up and roll like quicksilver on the river’s surface, and when the sun appears the river water blooms a transparent, luminous emerald. The rapids for the most part are friendlier than I had anticipated; from the sheer quantity of rapids in the guidebook (well over one hundred in forty miles) I was expecting the continuous whitewater of the Selway or upper Middle Fork, where rapids flow straight into one another and one is constantly rowing. But these had (at 1300 cfs at least) good recovery pools in between. The most common anatomy was a tight but slow-moving rock garden feeding into a pushy, splashy bedrock chute full of waves and medium-sized pour-overs. Many of the more difficult rapids call for a tricky, twisty set-up, one last push, then shipping your oars for a drop into a steep slot between boulder and cliff, barely wider than your boat. The side streams are gin clear or pale, almost glacial blue, and they and the river sculpt themselves into gravity-defying slopes and fins and rooster-tails, smooth and clear as glass, stationary forms in flowing water.
Though it is not far as the crow flies from roads and towns, the Illinois feels remote and isolated like nowhere else I have ever been. Even the Selway, so rightly renowned for its remoteness and isolation, has trails and pack bridges and airstrips, but the Illinois has none of these. It flows through the northern end of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, and the Tututni Indians and miners who once lived here are long gone. There are some trails marked on the USGS maps, but when you go to look for them you find nothing but eroding dirt and poison oak. It is country which inclines one to believe in sasquatches. The botanical diversity is the best in the west, with dozens of conifers and broad-leaved species, rare purple kalmiopsis flowers, and carnivorous California pitcher plants raising their green cobra hoods at the water’s edge. Our second night campsite was covered with the droppings of Roosevelt elk, and nearby we found a salmon skeleton which certainly did not get so far from the river on its own.
Even after launch the Illinois calls for flexibility in scheduling. We always bring food for an extra day, canned beans and powdered soup and the like, so that if the water should rise suddenly we can wait it out. On our standard four day schedule, we plan for a short second day on the river with lots of hiking, and a long, difficult third day through the biggest rapids in the gorge section. But the Coast Guard radio was out again on our first night and second morning, in case a forecast of heavy rain should dictate a long dash the second day all the way through the gorge and past the most dangerous whitewater.
As it happens, we stick to our ideal schedule, with a beautiful sunny hike the second day, through a pit of sunbathing snakes, wading up a creek, and climbing a ridge to a cliff overlooking a Peregrine nest. The third day is full of hard rain without a break. The rapids are challenging, but again mostly easier and more fun than I had expected. The exception is the Greenwall. It’s quite fortunate that the Greenwall is there, since without it the Illinois would probably see much more traffic than it does; but during our scout I find myself distinctly desiring it to be gone. The left side of the river laps against and sometimes flows through a vast array of enormous boulders; the right side races along a towering cliff covered in green moss. The top half of the rapid is not terribly difficult, but complicated enough to clutter the memory and full of plenty of hydraulics big enough to interfere with a boatman’s plans. The bottom half flows very fast through several holes and waves big enough to flip a sideways boat, and with the dangerous undercut wall always threatening on the right. And between the two halves is a pounding ten foot fall between boulders. The entire thing looks very unpleasant to swim. My anxiety is not helped by the knowledge that I will be the first boat through; even though I have never run this rapid, I am carrying no clients, and the other guides hope to have me waiting at the bottom to rescue any of their passengers who might swim. My run is neither very good nor very bad, but the other guides learn from watching me and their runs are clean.
We continue downriver through splendid, less nerve-wracking whitewater. The rain persists into the evening, and by the time we finish setting up camp there is a waterfall coming off the rocks behind our kitchen which was not there when we arrived. The river is changing colour and growing cloudier, and is clearly on the rise. After dinner, we put up an extra rope to the boats and move our gear uphill. I fall asleep listening to the basso ostinato of the nearby rapid, the soprano clatter of the growing waterfall, the alto murmur of the raindrops on our kitchen tarp.
Our head guide joins me under the tarp a little past midnight, reporting that there is now current through his tent site, which was by no means foolishly close to the water when he went to bed. In the morning our boats, which we left with their noses pulled up on the sand, are now thoroughly afloat in two feet of water. We have to swim to retrieve an overlooked box lid, and must scramble over the rocks to reach our toilet, the trail to which is now well in the current. The rapid has completely changed character, its formerly exposed rocks deep underwater forming some impressive standing waves. We ride to take-out on what we later learn is well over double the volume of the previous day’s water*, making the manager’s girlfriend’s joke seem feeble in comparison.
*The spike was from 1300 to 3400 cfs on the gage upstream at Kerby; actual flows in the canyon, below so many side streams, are substantially greater.
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
I was unable to take as thorough a look at the area as I would have liked, but I saw the same thing on a smaller scale all over the west this summer. All the reservoirs are low, from Oregon to New Mexico to Montana, some extremely so. I even saw one (whose name I do not know, but it’s in the Tusher mountains between Beaver, UT and Elk Meadows ski resort) which was completely empty; the small stream which flowed through it had carved a ten to fifteen foot gorge into the crumbling silt. The exact same thing is of course happening in Lake Powell’s tributaries, where current is again flowing through stretches where the silt had long been settling in still water. Such cliffs and flats of sediment are very unstable, and they will erode very quickly and are likely to intensify greatly the sedimentation problems further down the reservoir.
One of the greatest ironies to me is that the dams were largely sold to the public by touting the recreational opportunities they would create; but recreation at Lake Powell is the industry most palpably suffering. Hite Marina is pretty much shut down, Bullfrog and Antelope Point Marinas face a grim near-future, and power boaters are greatly inconvenienced. White-water rafting upstream in Cataract Canyon, a multi-million dollar
industry which predates the dam, is likewise faced with safety and logistical issues caused by the low reservoir. More and more I am glad that I guide in Idaho, where the rivers flow free and civilization is safely downstream.
Saturday, October 18, 2003
Even two hundred years after Lewis and Clark, the West remains a very strange place. Take this, for instance: in the '80s, the Utah Department of Transportation was for some time afflicted by a Hopi curse. The construction of I-70 required the destruction of a rock formation and petroglyphs associated with Spider Woman, a Hopi creator deity:
A Hopi religious leader visited the site as the leveling had started, and asked that the ridge be saved because it recorded the Hopi legend of the creation of the world... The ridge was destroyed and hauled away. When the Hopi religious leader returned and saw what happened, he put a curse on UDOT through Spider Woman and her daughter Salt Woman who controls all natural phenomena such as weather. After this curse was invoked on UDOT the major flooding problems of 1983 began. Billies Mountain slid, blocking Highway 50 and a railroad track and flooding Thistle, Utah. The waters of Utah lake rose, covering I-15 near Provo. The Great Salt Lake covered I-80 near Kennecott. The bridges on I-70 over Fish and Shigle Creeks have never completely settled, and some of the workmen said all the concrete poured after the curse seemed to crack in the pattern of a spider web. [Quotation from Spider Woman Rock flyer published by Fremont Indian State Park]
If you haven't visited Fremont Indian State Park, you really should, next time you're on I-70 in Utah. I have been reasonably familiar with the history of the Fremont Culture for some time through my experience as a river guide on the Green and Yampa. But all we see of the Fremont on our trips is rock art and a few granaries, and with so sparse a record on the ground it's too easy to think of them as merely degenerate, hillbilly relatives of the Anasazi. So I was quite delighted when I took refuge from a rainstorm in the Park museum, and found it full of artifacts far in excess of the pot sherds and stone tools I was expecting. Sandals, baskets, figurines; really excellent stone amulets; twine so well preserved you could confuse it with the stuff in your garage; and the characteristic Fremont moccasins made from the skin of a whole deer leg, with the dew hoof incorporated into the heel to provide traction. These are the sort of artifacts which speak not merely of human survival, but of human creativity and personality.
What is more, the cliffs around the visitor center are absolutely teeming with rock art, and the Park's material on rock art interpretation is very interesting. It presents perspectives from both Paiute and Hopi interpreters. My first impulse was to regard such mixing and matching from two very different tribes as rather fast and loose; but on reflection, the approach is fairly coherent. The more naturalistic, representational art, depicting animals and landforms and the like, is approached from the Paiute perspective, whereas the panels which appear more abstract or symbolic are given a Hopi mythological interpretation. The Fremont were almost certainly more akin to the Hopi in their religion and social structure than to the Paiute; and many perplexing panels seem surprisingly comprehensible in the context of Hopi creation myths or ceremonies. On the other hand, the Paiute have an undeniable connection to the Fremont simply by living in the same region: however different their intellectual culture may be, finding food and water and traveling must have been a similar affair for both peoples. Therefore Paiute interpretations of certain panels as maps to water sources, or hunting stories may well be legitimate. The meaning of rock art intended by its creators is almost certainly an archeological unknowable, but I found many of the Park's speculations surprisingly convincing.
On two occasions I met with in this province some oxen of a very curious breed, called nata or niata. They appear to hold nearly the same relation to other cattle, which bull or pug dogs do to other dogs. Their forehead is very short and broad, with the nasal end turned up, and the upper lip much drawn back; their lower jaws project beyond the upper, and have a corresponding upward curve; hence their teeth are always exposed. Their nostrils are seated high up and are very open; their eyes project outwards. When walking they carry their heads low, on a short neck; and their hinder legs are rather longer compared with the front legs than is usual. Their bare teeth, their short heads, and upturned nostrils give them the most ludicrous self-confident air of defiance imaginable.
--Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle
The niata cattle would appear again in Origin of Species, as an example of a race dying out. Their lips, not meeting, did not allow them to browse leaves from trees.
Niata, as we're all aware, is Gaelic for "courageous", a singularly appropriate term for such ferocious-seeming ungulates.
Thursday, October 16, 2003
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
"Today, non-Israeli Jews feel themselves once again exposed to criticism and vulnerable to attack for things they didn't do. But this time it is a Jewish state, not a Christian one, which is holding them hostage for its own actions."
I'm not going to deal with the fiskee, except to ask one question, though--is the "Christian state" in question Spain, at the time of the Inquisition? It certainly wasn't Germany at the time of the Holocaust, where the religion was National Socialism:
"National Socialism is a religion, born out of blood and race, not a political world-view. It is the new, only true religion, born out of a Nordic spirit and an Aryan soul. The religions still existing must disappear as soon as possible. If they do not dissolve themselves the state has to destroy them."
If the nation in question is Spain, there's certainly a case to be made for its oppression and massacring of Jews. To make a contentious statement, though, the Inquisition was directed at Christians--although chiefly and most violently against those Jewish converts to the religion, who were believed to be practicing their traditional rites.
So, if the nation in question is Spain, the connection seems like rather a leap, ignoring Germany, and if the nation in question is Germany, it seems false. Perhaps Mr. Judt is trying to avoid the embarrassingly recent secular European origin of the perceived need for a Jewish state.
UPDATE: My friend Javier tells me he wants to be "fayo, fuerte, y formal". To each his own, I guess. I also guess at the spelling above, but there you go.
Neither the Archbishop nor the people he's defending seem to grasp that virtue rests on self-determination. There is no victory in a chastity enforced with necessity (see Aberlard, Peter!), and it is those who wrestle with the enemy, and throw him, who receive the laurels, not those who never enter the arena. This argument, by the way, is my chief complaint about socialism.
Moreover, how can one possibly say that the U.S. have lost the "power of self-criticism"? We have never been more self-examining than we are now. We take our dissenters, and instead of locking them up we give them radio shows. We worry more about enemy casualties than other countries worry about civilians.
I wasn't going to bother with this article, which is a school of sluggish fish in a tiny barrel, but then I came across this sentence: "'Violence is not to be undertaken by private persons'". I seem to have taken the opposite stance: I wonder if violence is only so to be undertaken. It is the private person who defends himself that leads to peace, and not all the police in the world can change that. I am the judge of my own interest, and the state would do well to remember that when the consequences of the social contract are worse than barbarism, that contract no longer stands. See The Ball and the Cross for some idea.
Law is just experience trying to get a word in edgewise about morality. Morality is a priori, although the specific instances of it may be occasioned by experience. I can't tell if Archbishop Williams agrees to this division, or if his statement that the recent war was "immoral and illegal" is something like the Prayer Book's "acknowledge and confess": a "doublet of synonyms".
UPDATE: Yes. We must have a right to defend ourselves that is independent of any artificial polis.
My translation (which actually is "the translation owned by the late founder of the restaurant at which I work, now owned by her offspring, who have themselves little gout and no idea what treasures remain in the bookshelves of her apartment, which is now used for seating large parties, of which I am always the server, since the apartment is reached up a long flight of high, narrow stairs, and, thanks to my daily regimen of grands plies and Hindoo squats (and Hindoo pushups and back bridge, &tc.) I can go up and down them with ease, even with a football tray full of freaking heavy Nambe plates, and also I am very good at what I do, as has been written previously") is by MFK Fisher (bet you forgot there was a clause coming here!), who does a marvelous job capturing the essence of the book. It's no substitute for the original, but since I don't have that, it does very nicely.
He's right about so many things, from the necessity to change wines throughout a meal, to the versatility of vin de methode champagnoise, which, should I ever be executed, will begin and end my last meal. He's also right that such a wine causes gregariousness at first, but that continued drinking leads to solemnity, which makes it an even better choice for such a sad event as described above.
He loves truffles more than anyone I've ever heard of, except perhaps the pigs who search for them, though Professeur Brillat-Savarin deserves a better comparison. He has great affection for the gourmand--so long as they do not eat too fast! He would have approved of my great-grandfather, whom I'm told ended meals with the pronouncement, "Thank God for capacity!"
The attention he pays to each stage of the meal is something we seem to have forgotten; it's the necessity for uninterrupted digestion in the aftermath of a good meal that leads us to prohibit politics and religion at table. He divides the experience of a meal into several sections, but the most interesting to me were those that precede and close it: digestion, as above, and appetite. The experience of appetite, the slight tightening of the stomach, is itself a pleasure, he writes. And, thinking back, he's right. The book is full of moments like that, where a previously unexamined sensation is recognized as he describes it, and aha! one says, that is what it is like.
His Gallic nature is quite well suited to his subject, although this reader smiled a bit to see that he placed "sexual attraction" among the six senses. The book is flirtatious in any case, making sly references to a "private diary" which appears not to have existed except as a figment to make certain ladies of his acquaintance nervous. The ladies need not have worried; the professor would ever have been a perfect gentleman. Indeed, he would have made an excellent dinner companion, able to discourse on any subject with ease, pleasant, a lover of food and wine. Alas, his book will have to take his place, which it does with charm and a touch of wistfulness-for the meals, and conversations, that might have been.
But what is osmazome?
Also, the spell-checker does not recognize "truffles"? Who writes these programs? Monkeys? Not that I use a spell-checker....
UPDATE: I plan a flip return to blogging, and find myself seriously thinking on a subject. Rats.
Why don't we settle disputes with force? Or rather, why do we look on it as a last resort, since we do (and have quite recently) so settle them? We are assuming that reason is more than a working out of will-to-power. In fact, we are assuming that reason can accurately represent reality in such a way as to allow us to make predictions about it. If we truly thought that reason was entirely disconnected from reality ("Whose reality? Yours or mine?"), we would assume that it could never tell us anything about the actions we should take.
Taking the strong opposite, if we assume that reality is nothing but Reason ("Granted: that all force can be explained as the workings of these [wills-to-power]...." --Nietzsche), we can view the working out of a battle or a fistfight as the flowering of Geist. Only the view that reason can come to true conclusions about the causal world, but that such a world is not, itself, Reason, allows us to avoid hitting each other. It's a view I myself hold, but, as I said above, I'm willing to make exceptions.
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
How do you make a small fortune in the restaurant business?
Start with a large one.
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Monday, October 06, 2003
Contrast Newton, grinding lenses and losing his eyesight to the sun, Darwin with years spent with his barnacles, Kepler, Brahe, etc... they all were out there in the real world, testing the minute details of it to make sure that it conformed.
Our conception of science has been rather deformed by Einstein's success, and too many people think of wild-haired geniuses forever losing their socks, instead of the keen-eyed geniuses who can keep track of the rings on a prawn's tail.
Sunday, October 05, 2003
Raw beginners don't notice my feints, so they don't respond to them. They don't attack from efficient angles, which means that their attacks come in unexpectedly. They're perfectly willing to attack into my attack, which means that I must get used to continuing, and winning the point on right-of-way (I fence foil. Do I read like a Cossack or a sadist (saber or epee)?), which I dislike for practical reasons. They parry with ludicrous force, and get over-excited and jab me in various off-target areas which are sensitive. Also, they often score against me, which is by far th most irritating aspect of the whole thing.
Beginners with a bit of practice respond nicely to my feints. They attack predictably. They try to hit me in the torso, not, say, the knee.
I suppose the point of this post is just to stress the old martial arts truism: "There is no defense against the random."
Saturday, October 04, 2003
Thursday, October 02, 2003
--William Hazlitt, On the Ignorance of the Learned
Wednesday, October 01, 2003
How Christian is Christian?:
The Unreliable Narrator and The Pilgrim's Progress
"...Then Charity said to Christian, Have you a family? Are you a married man?
Chr:I have a Wife and four small Children.
Charity: And why did you not bring them along with you?
Chr.: Then Christian wept and said, Oh! how willingly I would have done it! but they were all of them utterly averse to my going on Pilgrimage.
Charity: But you should have talked to them, and have endeavoured to have shown them the Danger of being behind.
Chr.: So I did...."
Of course we see that Christian has done nothing of the sort. Immediately upon meeting Evangelist, he considers only his own safety. Indeed, he runs from his family, hands in his ears that he may not hear their pleas. And his cry is only for himself: "Life, life, eternal life!" Christian, however, does not divulge his rather cowardly behavior to Charity, and makes his family out to be such a burden that she congratulates him on freeing himself from them!
Thus we see that salvation, such as it is, in The Pilgrim's Progress, is fundamentally a selfish act. It does not involve the society which surrounds and creates an individual, but only that individual him- or herself, as if such a being, separate from others, could exist. Christian's journey is a rending of the bonds of family, society, and thus spurning of the very values (charity, faith, etc.) it is meant to espouse. Salvation is directed inward, in an inherently limited manner, and refuses any responsibility for others.
Moreover, because Christian is alone, the truth of his journey is mutable according to his whim. With no others except those he abandons on his journey to confirm or deny his story, he alters it to his advantage. We see this transgressive quality most clearly....
That's about all the nonsense I can write for now. I've probably got tenure somewhere just for that little section.
Having once conquered the forces of the Gauls in Magetobriga, Ariovistus is exercising a proud and cruel tyranny, demanding as hostages the children of the greatest nobles, and perpetrating upon them all the direst forms of torture, if anything be not performed at his nod or at his pleasure. He is a passionate, a reckless barbarian: we can endure his tyrannies no longer.
--Caesar, The Gallic War
The human rights link should not be opened by the squeamish.