Friday, January 18, 2013

An Addendum...

Every once in a while, I get a real kick out of people.

In my previous entry, I posted a photo of a gentleman named Tom Holloway. He's the carpenter at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. In the photo, he's holding up a big chunk of Maple that he hoped to fashion into a potato masher, and he hoped to fashion it as they would've done in the 1800's.

Here's the photo:

Carpenter Tom Holloway...

Well, Wednesday night, Tom sent me an updated photo, in which he's clutching the potato masher he made in his circa 1860 carpenter shop. I think it's pretty cool:

Tom Holloway and his "made-it-by-hand-'cause-I-ain't-got-no-'lectricity" potato masher...


I think that's kinda' cool. Had I made it, like everything else I ever tried to make in shop class, it would've ended up as an ashtray.

I wanna' say "THANKS!" to Tom for sharing some of what he is so clearly passionate about, and for helping to contribute to the blog. Honestly, it's a first, and I really appreciate it.

If you ever find yourself at Fort Vancouver, pop in and tell him I said hi...









Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Today is a day I never thought I would see. Today is the one year anniversary of me deciding to put into action the plan of standing by a decision I made at the end of 2011.

You see, today, I am proud to say that I am a non-smoker. 




At 10:53am, January 16, 2012, I crushed out what was destined to be my final cigarette.

Honest to God, having been a smoker for 35 years, I never thought I would see a day in my adult life when I could say "I've been smoke free for a year". I knew it would be a challenge, and it has been. To be totally honest, though, it wasn't as difficult as I'd feared. If I knew it was going to be as easy as it has been, I'd have done it 25 years ago.

The  simple fear of failure kept me from even wanting to try.

Some stats - consider these to be the averages over 35 years:
  • # of cigarettes per day: 30 (pack and a half)
  • # of packs in a year: 548
  • Cost per pack: $3.25
  • Cost per year: $1,779.38 (literally going up in smoke)
  • Cost over 35 years: $62,278.13
  • Total # of packs smoked: 19,180
  • Total # of cigarettes smoked: 383,600

Initially, I lost weight. Then I gained weight. I gained a lot of weight. I got up to 277, which is the heaviest I've ever been. At 6'2", I've been able to carry that weight, and most people seem surprised when I tell them how heavy I was (and if they feigned surprise, I appreciate that!), but I'm trying to work on that. Now, I'm sitting around 263. Still, I believe that it's probably better to be a bit overweight than to be a smoker.

I still get cravings; every day, in fact. But they're a lot easier to get through now than they were a year ago. I've come to realize that the cravings will pass whether I light up or not, so I choose not to light up. I still enjoy the smell of cigarette smoke, and I don't run away when someone lights one up near me. I just no longer have the need to join them.

This past year has been, without question, the most tumultuous of my life. I faced more personal pitfalls and challenges than I ever could've imagined. 2012 was absolutely a life changing year for me, on so many levels. It would've been easy, and some would even say understandable, if I'd started smoking again. It was one thing that I could absolutely control, though, and I wasn't about to let it win.

I used Wellbutrin and the patch, and I was successful. A good friend of mine is using the e-cigarette, and that's working for him (although he still needs to address the nicotine part). Whatever works is worth it. I feel better, I no longer get winded climbing a flight of stairs, and I'm able to hike distances without feeling like I'm gonna' die. My clothes don't smell like smoke. If it's cold and wet outside (hey, it is Portland) I don't have to worry about where I'm going to go to have a smoke.

A year ago I decided to quit for no other reason than I didn't want to be a 50 year old smoker.

I now proudly say that I am not...










Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fort Vancouver...

Sometimes, you come upon the unexpected.

That's what happened to me yesterday. I had an appointment in the morning and, upon finishing with that, decided to drive north to Vancouver, Washington. Now, ask me why I went to Vancouver? Hell, I don't know; seemed like the thing to do at the time.

Actually, I'd hoped to meet up with a buddy for lunch but, for whatever reason, I wasn't able to leave him a voicemail. His phone just kept dropping out. So, since I wasn't going to be having lunch with my buddy, I decided to follow the advice another friend had send me in a text, and go check out Fort Vancouver. I didn't have the 5D or the 40D with me, so the trusty Canon G12 would get the nod:

The entrance to Fort Vancouver...
 
Fort Vancouver wasn't a fort in the traditional sense, as it wasn't built for the Army to have a forward, yet protected, presence in the Pacific Northwest. It was originally built by the Hudson Bay Company in 1824, as an outpost to facilitate trade. In June of 1860, HBC abandoned the fort, and the fort was immediately taken over by the US Army. It contains a large parcel; some 166 acres, and contains a number of facilities, including the US Army's Pearson Field:

The hangar at Pearson Field...

The hangar at Pearson Field...
 
Most of the fort burned to the ground in 1866.What stands now is a reconstruction of the fort that burned. Materials and techniques used in the 19th century were used to build what now stands.

This is where furs were stored. It now houses the Fort Vancouver Archaeological Laboratory...

Fort Vancouver had only one guard tower...

The "Counting Room"...

Some of the buildings within the ramparts of Fort Vancouver...

Since this fort is a recreation of the original, I figured I'd recreate an old photograph of Fort Vancouver...

The Chief Factor's (Manager) house...

One of the recreated buildings within the rampart walls...

The "Bake House"...

Fort Vancouver remains an active archaeological site...

Inside the laboratory...
 
The National Park Service assumed responsibility for the fort in 2012, which ended Fort Vancouver's reign as the US Army's longest continuing operation west of the Mississippi River.

Fort Vancouver is also the site of what's believed to be the largest fireworks display west of the Mississippi River. In 2008, the display featured over 5,400 shells, and it lasted for over half an hour.

Today, volunteers and docents take visitors back into the mid 19th century to try to convey what life was like here, on the Columbia River, 150 years ago:

This is Carpenter Tom Holloway. The block of Maple he's holding will soon become a potato masher...

The Carpenter Shop at Fort Vancouver...

For me, Fort Vancouver simply solidifies my position that there are things to see; very cool things, right here in our own backyard. Everyone loves to travel, but not everyone knows that the trip doesn't have to be a long one. Fort Vancouver sits a whopping 15 minutes or so north of Portland, just over the Columbia River.

How hard is that?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Silver Falls State Park, Oregon...


So, now that you know what went wrong during this little excursion of mine, let me tell you about what went right.

I woke up way too early. It was the final day of my four days off, and I was jonesin' to do some shooting. The weather was cooperating to a fault, so I had a pretty good idea that today would be a good day. As much as I'd hoped to be out of the house by 6:00am, it just didn't happen. After having some breakfast and checking my e-mail, I think I was out the door by 7:15am. It was still dark, though so, if nothing else, I could enjoy the illusion of having left really, really early. I hopped on I-205, and followed that down to I-5, and headed south.

Before too long, the sun started to rise. Originally, I'd hoped to be at the falls when the sun came up but, since teleportation is still just a theory, I'd have to accept the fact that I wouldn't be. That was okay, though. The sunrise was quite a sight after having so much rain, and I loved having to shield my eyes from the glare as I drove into it:

Sunrise in northern Oregon...
One of the things I'm learning here is that there are far more little towns than there are big cities or suburban areas. Little towns with names like Silverton, Mount Angel and Woodburn are places where I'm pretty sure I could kill hours shooting and, most likely, will at some point.

After passing through Silverton, only some 35 miles south of Portland, I started to climb into the mountains.

If nothing else, I've become more of a cautious driver since I've been here. I'm learning a new respect for the elements; something I've not needed to do for the last 30 years. Just like Christmas day, I decided that, since I had nowhere I had to be, I would take it easy on the roads. Unlike Christmas day, though, there would be no sideways-sliding-down-a-snow-covered-mountain-road to contend with.

As I came around a bend, a saw a parking area on my right, a footbridge and a river. "Photo op number one", I remember thinking, and stepped on the brakes.

I recall watching the parking area go by as I slid down the road. It wasn't a terrifying slide or anything like that, but it was clear that there was enough a frost on the road that it would preclude my truck from stopping. Not really wanting to do a three-pointer on this road, I lifted my foot off the brake and continued to a turnout about a hundred yards up the road. I grabbed my camera and hoofed it:

The turnout along the road. It was about 30 degrees or so...

To be honest, this area wasn't nearly as picturesque as I'd hoped. Don't get me wrong, it was nice enough, I suppose. It just didn't have that "wow factor" I thought would be around every turn:

This fed into the North Falls...
I'd hoped to see four or five of the falls on this trip. Due to the conditions, I got to see three...

A frozen over water fountain. Like I said, pretty boring stuff...

As much as I was disappointed here, I was confident that I would be finding those scenic views I was looking for. This is, after all, northern Oregon, and the scenery is just begging to be shot.

After leaving the North Falls parking area (you remember: the one I slid past?), I found myself stopping once again at a view point to the falls. I don't know exactly how high up I was, or how far from the falls, but it was a pretty spectacular view of the North Falls:

The North Falls as seen from the appropriately named "North Falls Viewpoint"...

The North Falls at one second...
After I got done shooting, I got back in the truck and reviewed what I had. I was pretty happy, as I love how the trees look in those photos. I was more eager than ever to get shooting.

After driving down the road a ways, I found a large parking area which would end up serving as the jumping off point (no pun intended) for the rest of the day. This first large area is clearly geared towards summer fun, as there's a swimming area, general store, etc. The entire area sits, for the most part, abandoned during the winter months.

The swimming area north of the Upper South Falls...
I took my glove off and dipped my fingers into the water. The water was warmer than the air temperature, although it was still pretty damn cold. I dried my hand off, grabbed my gear, and headed down the trail.

The Upper South Falls is one of the more accessible waterfalls I've shot. That seems to be a recurring theme here in Oregon. When I shot Multnomah Falls back in September, the hardest part of getting to the falls was the drive from Portland. Once we were in the parking lot it was easy. This was much the same. A short walk down the trail brings you to the top of the falls:

At the top of Upper South Falls... 177 feet high...
And they're not kidding; from here, it's 177 feet straight down...

Of course, the place I wanted to be was at the base of the falls. That locale would provide the best view and, one would surmise, the best photos.

Not long before the commencement of the "Slide Of Death", which was chronicled in the previous entry, I stopped to grab some shots. I love shooting waterfalls, especially with a slightly slower shutter speed, as shown in the third photo below:

Upper South Falls...

Upper South Falls...

Upper South Falls at around half a second...
 
Suffice it to say, I made a hasty descent into the gorge after that third shot. After making sure that everything; both me and the camera, worked properly, I continued on.

At the base of the falls is a footbridge, and it offered a perfect vantage point to shoot the falls from the bottom. The sun wasn't in the best location, but there was little I could do about that:

The footbridge at the base of Upper South Falls...

Upper South Falls, from down below...

Upper South Falls, from down below...

Once again, a slower shutter speed helps the shot...

After shooting those falls, it would be about an eight tenths of a mile to the Lower South Falls. I picked up my bag, threw the tripod and 5D over my shoulder, and put the Vasques to work.

Admittedly, there wasn't a lot to see between the Upper and Lower South Falls. To be honest, it wasn't much more than a nice hike in the woods. But when I came upon the Lower South Falls, though, it was pretty dramatic:

The Lower South Falls, at 93 feet, in Silver Falls State Park...

One of the attractive features to this park is that about half of the waterfalls allow access behind the waterfalls, and the Lower South Falls was one of those falls. Considering my quick lesson in winter hiking in the American northwest, though, I concluded that finding my way down these steps (and there were a lot of steps) to get behind these falls probably wouldn't have qualified as the best idea I'd ever had. The steps, and the handrails, were iced over, and it was just unsafe. I wouldn't have wanted to try it empty handed. Carrying photo gear? Not a chance.

Even still, there were some wonderful views of the falls from the top of the stairs:

The beginning of the steps leading to the base of the Lower South Falls...
As I wouldn't be making the trek down the steps, it seemed mildly pointless to spend too much time here, although I did stay long enough to get some shots. After about 20 minutes, though, I decided it was time to head back up the trail. It would be a relatively easy hike back to the truck, with only part of it a mildly steep incline.

As I got back to the base of the Upper South Falls, I looked up and was almost startled to see how the sun rays were coming through the trees above the falls. I'd packed all my gear down at Lower South, but took the time to set it all up again.

I had to:



I know I'll make it back to Silver Falls again; probably in the spring. I think the combination of lush, green foliage and raging waterfalls and rivers will make for some amazing photo ops.

I also want to give the ice a chance to thaw...









 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Watch Your Step: A Cautionary Tale (And Why I'm A Canon Fan)...

Up until recently, I always said I was a Canon user because, well, because I'd always shot with a Canon camera.

I got a new reason last Wednesday.

I'm a recent transplant to Portland, Oregon. Prior to moving here, I lived just east of San Diego. Ergo, I'm not exactly used to the weather which is common in Oregon and, accordingly, I have some things to learn about how to deal with it.

On Wednesday, I decided to venture out to Silver Falls State Park. It has ten waterfalls in total, and I'd hoped to photograph four or five of them. I left the house early and, when I got to the first falls (the North Falls), it was about 30 degrees. I didn't venture to the down to the falls, though, and elected to shoot them from a viewpoint along the road:

The Upper North Falls in Silver Falls State Park, Oregon...

From there, I drove down to a parking area for the South Falls. To get to the Upper South Falls was all of about a five minute hike down a dirt and partially paved trail. To get to the base of the falls would be about a 15 minute hike down some switchbacks along the trail.

The thing about waterfalls and winter is that the spray ices over on just about everything it touches. Maybe I'd just been living in sunny SoCal for too long, but this is something I neglected to offer even a passing thought. I had my Lowepro over my right shoulder, my 5D & 24-70 f/2.8L on my Slik tripod on my left, and I was on my way. I was watching my footing, and consciously made the decision to avoid walking where there was water running down the path; some idiotic thing about getting my new Vasque hiking shoes wet and dirty.

Of course, the thing I should've considered is that the water was running in these places because it wasn't frozen. Because it wasn't frozen, it offered a secure (or relatively so) foothold. The areas where the water wasn't running were, in fact, frozen and, as I would soon learn, offered nothing that even approached being a secure foothold.

I remember the feeling as my feet came out from under me. That happened almost immediately after I started sliding towards a low railing. "Oh", I thought, "This is going to suck". There was no way I was going to avoid going over the railing. Somehow, though, I did manage to avoid it. I'm happy to report that I didn't go over the railing.

I did, however, go under it.

I went under it and commenced a fall, down a steep embankment, of about 25 feet. I pinballed my way down the embankment until I stopped just above the path that, on a nice sunny day, I likely would've just walked to. This time, I just took a short cut. I hurt. A lot. Nothing was broken, but I knew I bruised some things internally; ribs and maybe a kidney. My left leg, clad only in denim, was soaked, as were my gloves. All I could think about on the way down was how I was going to be on the news in two or three days after they'd found my lifeless body on the trail. Okay, that's a bit dramatic; it's a popular place even in winter, but I remember believing that I would probably end up being carried out.

As it was, though, I was able to pick myself up and brush myself off. I was wet but, oddly, not really cold. I looked over, about ten feet or so from where I stopped tumbling, and saw my camera laying in the brush. It was still connected to the tripod. I don't recall ever letting go of it but, clearly, I had. I don't recall watching it careen down the embankment but, clearly, it did. I walked over and picked it up, absolutely certain that it was going to be useless. At the very least, I figured, the lens would be destroyed.

I picked it up, and brushed dirt and grime and brush off of the camera. The lens looked fine. There was some mud on the lens hood, but that was it. I turned the camera on and ran it through every mode it has. I encountered exactly zero issues. The camera and lens, aside from being dirty and a little wet, worked perfectly. I was amazed. I have to figure that, because it was on my shoulder, the camera hit the ground with the same amount of force that I did. That, alone, should've ruined it. But my 5D wasn't content with that. The 5D wanted to go along for the whole ride.

So, there's my tale of (almost) woe. I was real lucky. Not only was I lucky because my gear ran the gauntlet and survived, but also because I, too, walked away when it could've been a lot worse for me. I can't say whether or not a camera from another manufacturer would've survived the same, and I'm not suggesting it wouldn't. What I'm saying is that the 5D was subjected to more in that fleeting five or six seconds than it should've been over the entire course of its useful life, and it came through with flying colors. That is why I'm a Canon devotee.

Oh, and here's a shot of the falls I took after the fall:

A "post fall" photo of the Upper Southern Falls...

Let's Talk Apps...

From time to time, I'll be talking about cell phone apps as I find good ones. Let's face it, it's almost impossible to get thro...