Avast Ye Wedding Lubbers

Multnomah Falls

On a recent family excursion to Multnomah Falls, a place I’ve been too few times, I noticed a sign along the trail that I hadn’t read before, probably because I assumed it had something to do with rock formations and/or water volume as most of the signs do.

But this one was different. It described an event from September of 1995 when a boulder weighing 400 tons (according to the sign that is approximately the same weight as a school bus filled with concrete, and go ahead and disprove that) fell from the rock face next to upper Multnomah Falls, plunging 225 feet into the pool at the bottom. Upon entering the water the school bus boulder produced a 70-foot splash that washed over the observation bridge, completely dousing a wedding party that had been posing for pictures. Now, I may not care much about geology, but I am a big fan of wedding photos.

In case you haven’t been to the falls, though, let me just provide a little background. Located on Interstate 84, just outside of Portland, Multnomah Falls drops a total of 620 feet, making it the highest waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge and the second highest year-round waterfall in the United States. Between the upper and lower portion of the falls spans Benson Bridge, constructed in 1914.

And if geology is your thing, Multnomah Falls is allegedly a fascinating place to visit because rumor has it you can see something like six different lava flows, evidence of flooding that occurred thousands of years ago, and probably even some really interesting differences in rates of erosion that have led to the tiered formation of the falls and the occasional plunging school-bus-sized rock. Personally, I just care that it’s pretty.

In fact, all those impressive geological goings-on coupled with the well-placed bridge in the middle make the easily accessible Multnomah Falls an ideal spot for all your magical wedding photo needs. Then there’s the tragic and super romantic mythological accompaniment that I didn’t even mention yet.

According to one Native American legend, the chief of the Multnomah people had a beautiful and beloved daughter. He arranged for her to marry a strong young chief from the neighboring Clatsop people and planned many days of feasting and celebration during which tragedy struck. A terrible sickness descended on the wedding festivities. The only solution, as determined by an honored medicine man, was for an innocent maiden to sacrifice herself. The idea was that her sacrificial love would impress the Great Spirit and the sick would recover. When her betrothed fell ill, the young maiden took it upon herself to save her people. She climbed up to the high cliff and leapt to her death. As a token of her loving sacrifice, a spring welled up on the cliff top, the water descending as a lasting bridal gown testimony to the young maiden.

I don’t know about you, but had I gotten married in Oregon, I think we would have made the effort to get that picture. But even though the myth lends a certain wild sentimentality to the photo op, I have to wonder if it ultimately makes a lot of sense to get fancied up in tuxedoes and ball gowns and go for a hike. Assuming here that your daily wear is somewhat less formal, don’t the memories painted by such pictures just ring a little false?

Yet as anyone who has ever tried to make small talk with relative strangers for hours at a wedding reception while waiting for the bridal party to arrive knows, couples do this kind of thing all the time. In fact, my husband was a groomsman at the beginning of this summer and while I’ve not yet seen the photographic evidence, it sounds like things may have gotten a little out of hand. Let’s just say there are some modern art sculptures on an undisclosed Midwestern college campus that are probably feeling a little violated. What that has to do with the celebration of marriage, well, you’d have to ask the couple. No one else seems willing to talk about it.

So the sign at the falls got me thinking about wedding photos and it happens that a few days ago some good friends of mine celebrated their wedding anniversary. It’s one of those that I always remember not only because I was a bridesmaid (and I actually liked the dress, and yes, I have even worn it since), but also because they had the foresight to get married on International Talk like a Pirate Day.

They’re a great couple and I am honored to be featured in their wedding photos, in which I never once posed with any modern art sculptures. But as I was looking back through the pictures, I realized that along with the lined up bridal party, the first kiss as husband and wife, and the gathered family, were some of the other kinds of photos as well: the ones in which excessively well-dressed people are deliberately posed in unnaturally casual ways.

Clearly these men are pirates. You can tell by the way they are standing.

Ultimately, though, I think these are the ones I like best because it says a lot about a photographer (and how well they know the couple whose wedding they are trying to capture) and even more about the couple themselves, because if the photo didn’t somehow resonate with who they are, then it never would have made the wedding album. For my friends, their memories will forever include a nod to the internationally celebrated holiday with which they share their special day. And because of their willingness to embrace it, their friends will never forget to leave a heartfelt message on their Facebook pages: “Arr. Ye be havin a jolly anniversary ye old scurvy dogs.”

I am happy to report, too, that the Multnomah Falls wedding deluge resulted in no major injuries. In an interview after the wedding, the bride said of the event, “We got the tragedy out of the way and now we’re home free.” That’s a great attitude that I assume has led to many years of happily ever after. I just hope someone managed to snap a picture of the splash.

Just a bunch of well-dressed people casually hanging out in a courtyard, cuz that’s how we roll.

Wedding photos by Layne Aumann Photography. www.aumannphotography.com/

These wedding pictures are used by permission and may not appear elswhere without consent, lest ye be wantin to walk the plank.

Something Kind of Awesome

Gulf Shores, Alabama. Beach.
Gulf Shores, Alabama. Beach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Hurricane Isaac slammed into the Gulf Coast causing evacuations, flooding, property damage, fear, and all the terrible things a hurricane can bring with it, something kind of awesome happened, too. On a thin little stretch of Alabama beach that reaches between Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan on the east side of Mobile Bay, Isaac’s fury revealed a shipwreck, about 136 feet long and previously burned, from days gone by.

English: Map of Bon Secour National Wildlife R...

If you’re unfamiliar with the location, glance at a map of Alabama, concentrating on that little southern piece that meets the Gulf of Mexico. And then look more closely because you probably missed it the first time. It’s not much more than a single main road lined by bits of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and beach front vacation homes.

Every couple of years for as long as I can remember a portion of my family vacations there. It’s always the laid back family reunion sort of vacation where folks may come and go as they can and you’re always sure to see some cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends you haven’t seen for a while along with a few new faces, too. There’s never much of an agenda beyond a little beach wiffle ball (in the water is probably a homerun; if you cause someone to plunge into the surf chasing your ball, you’re a hero) and inside someone is always cooking something wonderful.

And at the risk of sounding like a court mandated BP commercial, it’s really beautiful. If you’re a beach vacation kind of a person, it’s worth giving a try. I don’t always make it for the big family gathering, but I have been there several times over the years and I have managed to take both of my sons as well. Sometime in the coming  years, I’m sure we’ll return because we love it.

So when my cousin (via my aunt) brought the story of this discovery to my attention, I immediately pulled out vacation photos and explained to my 5-year old son that an old ship had been found upon the very beach where he played in the sand as a small babe. His eyes as big as saucers, he whispered, “You mean a shipwreck?”

I can only imagine what was going through his head: images of sharks chasing frightened little fish through portholes, peg-legged pirates running wildly to save their damaged ship, a prince floating adrift in the open sea awaiting rescue by a pretty singing mermaid. And why not? Don’t we all love a good historical mystery?

But even though this was the first time I’d ever heard of the ship, it’s not the first time it has ever been seen. Hurricanes in 1969, 1979, and even 2004 all revealed parts of the wreck in the sand, but Isaac has shown us more of it than has been seen in a long time. In 2004, when Hurricane Ivan uncovered a smaller portion, there was enough of the wreck visible to get historians really going, trying to figure out just what ship they were looking at.

The list pretty quickly got whittled down to just three good possibilities:

  1. The 136 foot Monticello was a Confederate blockade runner that failed to outrun a Union navy gunboat and burned to the keel.
  2. At close to 150 feet, the schooner Rachel was run aground with a load of lumber (and rumor has it, illegal booze) in 1923 by a tropical storm. The ship was later burned, for unclear reasons, though local legend chalks it up to insurance fraud.
  3. A captured rum runner, Aurora, carrying around 1400 cases of liquor (toward the end of prohibition) was being towed toward Mobile by the US Coast Guard when it caught fire and sank somewhere near Fort Morgan.

Kanawha "cutting out a blockade runner fr...

Though these wrecks each bear some resemblance to the mystery boat, there are a few clues that have pointed historians to their final conclusion. First, the wreckage contains woven steel cables, not used in shipbuilding during the Civil War era. The beam construction of the ship, too, points to a design that was more useful for stability than for speed, so it’s not likely that this was the blockade runner Monticello or any of the other many sunken Confederate Blockade runners that might have been contenders for consideration.

There’s also some evidence that suggests that the wrecked ship was a steam-powered vessel, and though little is known about the Aurora, its 8 crew members were safely aboard the Coast Guard vessel when it burned and 8 seems to historians a pretty small crew to be operating a steam vessel of that size.

This leaves us then with the Rachel (not just a popular 90’s hairstyle). I confess I am a little disappointed. Historians have pretty much all agreed that this was just a working lumber ship that fell under some trouble. Thankfully, her crew made it to safety. But they never were very forthcoming about her cargo so if she was smuggling booze, well, we’ll never know for sure. And whether she was burned intentionally in order to cash in on insurance we can only guess. So maybe there is still a little mystery.

And who knows?  Maybe the crew was rescued by a singing mermaid. They never said they weren’t.

The Trouble with Wallabies

A week or two ago, a suspiciously happy circle cropped up on a hillside near my home. This constitutes my only first-hand experience with a crop circle so I was delighted to discover that in the great state of Oregon where I live, this is not a terribly uncommon occurrence.

Though the vast majority of crop circles in the 20th century have been located in southern England there are examples from 26 nations throughout the world. Circles have been reported in forty-seven out of the fifty US states. And yes in 1991, Puerto Rico even got into the action when a group of concentric rings turned up on a rocky plateau near the city of Ajuntas.

Oregon ranks 11th among the fifty states with 19 reported circles by 2008 (Not quite as impressive as the 23 boasted by my native home state of Illinois, but not too shabby). Ohio claims the title for most reported crop circles in a single US state with a whopping 42, confirming what researchers have long suspected: there really is very little to do in Ohio.

This data comes from the Independent Crop Circle Researchers’ Association (ICCRA) which describes itself as a cooperative of researchers with a wide variety of interests in crop circles dedicated to objective data collection, independent of individual theories about crop circle formation. And it’s a good thing it exists because it’s a heated debate, contributed to (according to Wikipedia) by paranormal enthusiasts, ufologists (I can’t help but wonder if this field of study requires post graduate work), and anomalistic investigators. For some reason practical historians didn’t make the list.

Many of these enthusiasts, investigators, and ‘ologists have come to different conclusions as to the cause of crop circles. Which makes me wonder how exactly the large happy face appeared because there are a number of possibilities to consider.

The first good picture we have of crop circles comes from a 17th-century English woodcut pamphlet entitled Mowing-Devil on which appears the story of a farmer who said he’d rather have the devil himself mow his field than to pay the high price demanded by a laborer. Apparently no one ever told him to be careful what he wished for because that night, his field appeared to catch fire and the next day it was perfectly cut (at a rather higher price I assume). The accompanying picture includes the image of the devil cutting a circle into the field with a scythe. Of course, since he went on to cut the entire field, and because I don’t usually think of the devil as a particularly happy chap, I don’t think this explains my mystery circle.

1678 pamphlet on the "Mowing-Devil".

The more modern crop circle phenomenon took off a few years after a curious event near the city of Tully in Queensland, Australia. In 1966, a farmer by the name of George Pedley reported hearing a strange hissing noise. Looking toward the sound, he saw a saucer ascend from the nearby swamp. When he investigated the area, he found a circular depression in the vegetation, about 30 feet in diameter. Officials determined the cause to be vaguely related to a dust devil. The saucer sighting was “officially” overlooked.

Then in the 1970’s, circles began popping up all over the English countryside. Most of these would turn out to be the handiwork of pranksters Doug Bower and Dave Chorley who patterned their initial circles on the Tully “saucer nest.” The two later claimed over 200 circles, many of which sparked at least a little bit of serious scientific study.

In 1980, a meteorologist and physicist by the name of Terence Meaden weighed in with a complicated theory that the circles were caused whirlwinds bouncing around the unique topography of the southern English countryside. The theory gained some momentum, even garnering a tentative endorsement from Physicist Stephen Hawking who said that it was a plausible explanation if  the circles weren’t just part of some elaborate hoax. When Bower and Chorley finally came clean, I imagine Meaden’s response was something like: “Or it could all just be part of some elaborate hoax.” It is, however, worth noting that a lot of cereologists (one who has a post graduate degree in the study of crop circles, or maybe Cheerios) claim that crop circles which can be attributed to hoaxes are in fact promoted by governments as a way to discredit the true origin of others.

My favorite explanation for the appearance of crop circles, though, comes from Lara Giddings, then Deputy Premier of Tasmania, whose theory appears in a June 2009 article from the BBC. To give a little background here, Australia produces about 50% of the world’s legally grown poppies for use in the pharmaceutical industry. Australia also has wallabies. Giddings apparently said the following: “We have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting high as a kite and going around in circles. Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high.”

So I guess that explains it.

Except as far as I know, there are no wild (high as a kite) wallabies in Oregon. And while I can’t completely discount alien visitation, this particular hill is highly visible from a pretty busy road and I haven’t heard any reports of UFO sightings in the area. So maybe, just maybe, there’s a mystery artist or two out there having a little fun and spreading a little joy. But I should probably report it to the ICCRA just to be safe.

Red necked wallaby (picture taken in Australia)

Note: I know that some of you are probably still thinking about the Mowing-Devil and just can’t let it go because technically a crop circle is created by bending crops and not mowing them. I understand your concern, but the way I see it, if visitors from another planet decide to use lawn mowing equipment to communicate with us then who are we to cry foul? Just to be clear, though, I don’t think it’s a good idea for gorked wallabies to be operating heavy machinery.

One big puddle

About 7,700 years ago Mt. Mazama blew its top. While I am no expert volcanologist, I’m reasonably sure that this was not your average eruption. Actual volcanologists tell us that the eruption was around 42 times greater than that of Mt. St. Helens in 1980, and since 42 isn’t a round number, I have to assume they aren’t just randomly guessing.

But the exciting thing (if an explosion of molten rock out of the top of a mountain isn’t enough for you) is that this volcano just kept going until the entire thing had collapsed in on itself forming an impressively large caldera where a mountain top once stood. Over the years the steam vents sealed themselves off and the deep caldera became a giant bowl for catching precipitation and snow melt. Since the area receives an average of 44 FEET of snow per year (along with a measly 66 inches of rain), well, let’s just say that’s one big puddle!

Today, nestled in 286 square miles of national park in the middle of Oregon, this former mountain peak is known as Crater Lake. At somewhere around 2000 feet deep, it is the deepest lake in the United States and ranks seventh in the world. Of course since geologists can tend to be a quarrelsome bunch, it should come as no surprise that some have argued for naming it the ninth deepest in the world. I’m sure there’s a strong case for that, but, frankly, I lost interest.

What really matters to me, is that with an approximate volume of 4.49 cubic miles of water, there’s more than enough room to comfortably support the Crater Lake Monster. It’s true that Crater Lake’s elusive pleisiosaur doesn’t have the vast following or pizzazz of its more publicity crazed Scottish cousin Nessie, but then given that the volume of Loch Ness is a mere 1.8 cubic miles, it makes sense that Nessie would be observed more frequently.

Actually there have been shockingly few sightings of the monster in Crater Lake. To some skeptics out there, that might seem like good evidence that there is no such thing as the Crater Lake Monster. From where would it come after all? With no way in or out of the lake and no naturally occurring fish, it doesn’t at first seem like the ideal habitat for a sea monster.

But at least one witness has come forward in the recent past with a compelling monster story. Mattie Fletcher of Albany, Georgia, recounted her terrifying tale in a May 2002 issue of her local newspaper. When the now adult Ms. Fletcher was a young child boating on Crater Lake, she recalls, she observed a shadowy something swimming beneath her rowboat. She says it resembled a dragon, which, if you’ve ever seen the 1977 B movie The Crater Lake Monster (and who hasn’t?) you recognize as a pretty accurate description, though she forgot to mention that it was slow moving and made of paper mache.

And Ms. Fletcher is not the only person ever to claim that Crater Lake is home to a monster. Though numerous Native American legends surround the unusual body of water, the most consistent version tells of a battle between Llao (the god of the underworld) and Skell (the god of the sky). The story explains the massive eruptions of Mt. Mazama and how a demon soldier of Llao may have come to dwell in the depths of the lake.

Regardless which version of the legend though, Native American tribes consistently viewed Crater Lake as ominous and guides generally led exploration parties around the area, avoiding the lake altogether. As a result it wasn’t discovered by pioneers until 1853 when a group of miners looking for gold stumbled upon it.

I can kind of see why the lake might be a little unsettling. I recently visited the national park for the first time and the impossibly blue, incredibly deep waters that are difficult to access even in the height of summer do inspire awe. It’s the kind of place one expects to find a monster and to snap a picture of a long slender neck peaking up to say hello. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time until this monster has a cult following and a catchy nickname of its own.