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№ 75 Posts

Waltz of the profiteers

Sol Duc Valley, December, 2008

The snow stuck with us for a while over most of December and into the first week of January. Unusual for the lowlands, valleys and even the foothills nearby. But great fun to wander in. The way the light tends to  break, I’m glad I thought to buy some gaiters over the summer for this winter. I can now wade in and stand thigh deep in the snow for the half hour it sometimes takes to set up a shot or wait for the clouds to part and not loose feeling to the knees.  It’s so magnificent, even among the destruction of storms and logging, that it’s difficult to focus, literally. I sometimes draw out the minutia of taking a photograph, even standing in knee deep in melting snow, and fumble clumsily even with my own breathing.

But it is startling, these voids where once were dense forests. Incredible new views are opening up, which is a guilty pleasure to say the least. As with Striped Peak, the Sol Duc Valley now is lousy with photographic possibilities. This guilt seems to want to exclude it from alignment with any pure notions of beauty. Not sure why exactly,  except for extemporaneous, politically correct reasons. But still, I’m not really sure how to feel about it yet. Certainly I’ll take advantage until I sort it out. Which might take some time: my deepest thoughts this week have been if I should print this series in Albumen, or Saltprint, or some such hollow gimmick to match the period feel of the project? I really need to snap out of it.

The very bones of cliche

Striped Peak, December, 2008

Today I’m painstakingly doubtful of my ability to say anything of note in this project- everything I’m coming up with seems mere scaling of the usual cliches- on many levels. The perspective of history and industry is not a static thing, ever changing in a crucible of science, demand and public opinion. I’m not convinced I have the mental chops to be here. I generally try to work above my skill set, but this feels different. The void feels altogether different here than staring out into the Pacific, and it irritates me when I try to use the same meter on it.

Who the hell am I, anyway? I liked the initial project idea of charting my own evolving opinions, but surely this is an old trick; and the fact is I’m relatively static in my own buffeting ignorance, or indifference. The winds don’t move me so much as muss my hair. This feels like getting old,  a brain pinching shut. What happens next? The suspense is excruciating.  Ok, maybe not so much.

Tableau vivant

Striped Peak, January, 2009

The notion of presenting this project as children’s fable did occur to me, a sort of Sendakian parable of the grotesque, populated with anthropomorphous events and shapes. But the fact is I’m having difficulty finding movement or personality in the wreckage, other than the occasional monstrous stump of course. But I do really like the unnatural uphill movement of this image, a land wave of cataclysmic predation, flailing monster at its crest, ready to devour the remaining trees.

Lesson I: Acquiring a Vocabulary

Striped Peak looking SE, January, 2009

The jargon for logging overlaps a bit with pornography. For example, I’m now aware that ‘donkey punch’ has meaning quite different than ‘donkey puncher’-  the guy that ran the donkey, a steam operated yarder. Live and learn! I wasn’t going to mention it, but though some might assume I was trying for some unintended metaphor in my previous post. But we wont speak of it again.

In this lesson we intend to instruct you sufficiently in the language of the woods to enable you to carry on an intelligent conversation with the bull cook or other high company officials. Now bear in mind that the Big Three of logging are donkeys, lines and blocks. When you are able to ‘punch’ a donkey, ‘buck’ 2000 feet of straw-line and ‘hang’ a block you’ll be a man, my son, for a’ of that. To the untutored brain, punching a donkey might seem like a ticklish occupation. However, once that you have discovered that the donkey is not one of the long-eared variety the situation becomes less involved. The much-cussed and discussed species of steam engine known to the profession as a ‘donkey’ is to the logging game as the mainspring is to your dollar watch. You will find that actual logging operations are carried on by whistle signals relayed over the wire from the ‘whistle punk’ in the brush to the donkey engineer on the landing. The whistle punk is usually about 16 to 18 years old and the hardest boiled egg in the outfit. He is usually deaf, dumb and blind, according to a report in ‘The Hooktenders’ Gazette.’ An important part of your education is to learn the whistle signs. For the present, however, it will suffice to know that a long and a short whistle means quitting time. This is the most important signal.

-D. D. Strite, How to Become a Logger: A Complete Treatise in Six Lessons. Details: Bare Understory, Windstorm

Whistlepunk or donkeypuncher?

Crescent Bay from Striped Peak, January, 2009

The history of the Olympic Peninsula is conspicuous, but not without it’s romance. It’s like the whole area was planned during a fistfight. Despite the devastation of bottom’s-up industry, it’s hard to not to feel a sort of ignorant devotional pride over it, the old time religion of absolute resource depletion. A soft guffaw, as it were, from a pew.

This new project pigtails such yokel pride with a fairly unsophisticated ecological bent in me. I’m curious to see how that duality will manifest itself, and which ignorance will prevail. Or simply where my interest will go, even if it is the path of least resistance.

The Admiralty mile

Puget Sound, January 1, 2009

A new installment of a fledgling tradition. Standing on a bulkhead, New Year’s Day morning, greenish, pondering imponderables. I get to Seattle maybe once a year anymore, and this is good.

I like this spot- the prow of railing seems to be doing a steady 10 knots, although of course Bainbridge Island never seems to get any closer.

Which is a suitable metaphor for other projects that aren’t getting any closer to getting done.

Blind landscapes

Salt Creek Delta, December 2008

Visit a place often enough, and the geometry becomes confounding. I wonder if the impact is the same for a casual observer of a photograph without the inertia of stored visual moments, and of known boundaries. In the fog things can appear new and placeless without the expected margins, highlighting form and giving even blind repetition a friendly nudge. Which gives the scene the impression of the rarely glimpsed, and the stumbled upon.

You can’t get there from here

Port Angeles Harbor, November 2008

The waterfront trail in Port Angles runs alongside the old site of the Rayonier Mill, a gated, toxic wonderland with seep tendencies. Having qualified for the EPA’s Superfund program the site is being cleaned up, but the dilapidated guardhouse and busted security cameras stand in punitive memorial of the town’s industrial heritage…

Further down the trail, park benches are the somewhat more utilitarian memorials of the town’s patrons and, perhaps, civic leaders.

Skinny Woman Blues

Kalaloch, September 2008

I’ve been overdoing it lately, blues-wise. RL Burnside, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James..Oh, the humanity!

Now, I don’t want no, no skinny woman
I want the woman, she got-a plenty of, Lord!
I don’t want no skinny woman, I want some
A woman wit’ a-plenty of meat
Now, we can roll all night long, an this woman
Won’t have to stop ‘n eat

-Sonny Boy Williamson

Or another favorite:

Hey Miss Maybelle let me be your hoppin’ frog
drink muddy water sleep in a hollow log
Hey Miss Maybelle let me be your hoppin’frog
I got 10 little puppies and 12 shaggy hounds it takes them 22 dogs to run Miss Maybelle down

– RL Burnside

A cautious invincibility

Hurricane Ridge, November 2008

I think it will be a good year for storms. Just around town I’ve already seen encouraging festerings and festoonings on high, voluminous arrays dwarfing the highest surrounding peaks.

I love inclement weather, working in it, shooting it in. On some level it reminds me of being a kid bundling up and caroming through mudpuddles, snow banks or just piles of leaves. A down-stuffed buffer zone, cautiously impervious and wanting to test it. Even all grown up, what’s the worst that could happen? A tub and a whiskey after?