In October of 1750, Englishman Jonas Hanway had the nerve to walk through the streets of London carrying an umbrella. To be clear this was well before the umbrella became the preferred mode of transportation for magical English nannies. Though the umbrella had been introduced through much of Europe at the time, it’s most notable use was as a favorite accessory of the more fashionable ladies of France.
Anything that can be referred to as a bumbershoot is probably a little funny anyway. And it certainly doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that an otherwise well-respected Englishman walking down the street sporting the latest in 18th century French ladies’ fashion might draw some attention and (possibly deserved) ridicule.
But why would someone carrying an umbrella in 21st century Oregon deserve a similar reaction? When we relocated to Salem, Oregon a few years ago, we knew that with a 2000 plus mile relocation would come a few small cultural differences. We expected that we might pick up a few new bits of slang in our vocabulary, learn some variations on well-known songs, and maybe stumble on the recipes of some local specialties.
One thing that did surprise me, though, was when I was warned that in this region in which it rains pretty much from November to July, I could expect to be mocked if I used an umbrella. It made a sort of sense, I suppose. Salem rain most often consists of tiny little droplets that swirl around in the air and are more likely to coat than douse and so are difficult to stop with a traditional umbrella.
Still, even when the rain came down harder, more similar to the sheets that fall in the Midwestern springtime, the Oregonians merely pulled their rain jackets tighter, and ran a little faster. Few were willing to take a cue from 18th century French ladies’ fashion. Or common sense.
So now I’m back in St. Louis and it’s April, which means it is storming. The rain comes down in sheets (like rain is supposed to) and when I venture out (and I’m not cowering in my basement under a tornado warning) I carry an umbrella. Because it’s the sensible thing to do. It would have been the sensible thing to do in Oregon as well, but I am sad to say I wasn’t bold enough. When the rain came down in sheets, I pretended to be a native Oregonian and simply pulled my rain jacket a little tighter and ran a little faster.
As for Jonas Hanway, he stayed the course, determined that the umbrella (used by many ancient civilizations) was a sensible and worthwhile idea. Come rain or come shine, he stubbornly carried his favorite and slightly silly-looking accessory through the city streets for nearly thirty years. Eventually the idea caught on and soon enough the men and women of London began carrying umbrellas (for a long time referred to as “hanways”), though it would still be a few years before the bumbershoot would catch on with practically perfect nannies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.