From Oregon

Volume 10: Winter 2005

Here I (still) am in Corvallis, Oregon.

It was a quiet year. I’ve been doing my darnedest to stay out of the hospital, which means avoiding colds. Hence, I’ve been doing less social stuff. The strategy is working, but it leaves me with less to write about. Sorry, I’m boring.

Ten Years

The end of 2005 was the tenth anniversary of my move to Oregon. It’s been an interesting time here, marked by good and bad. There hasn’t been much bad for the last few years, so I’m pleased. The most unexpected thing is that I’m still in the same studio apartment that I moved into a week or two after moving here. I expected it to be a stopgap place, but here I remain. There’s not much to commend it except for adequate parking (which I don’t need), its (usually) quiet neighbors, and its proximity to the center of town and the university. If my behavior is any judge, these make up for its two main deficiences: lack of light and ventilation, and small size. It would be nice to host a party or gaming session.

Actually, the summer wasn’t quiet. A young guy moved in next door who played his stereo loud almost every day. He also had some other weird habits, like spending a few hours power washing the sidewalk on some evenings. He wasn’t aggressive about the music, and turned it down if asked, but he just never got the idea of doing it voluntarily. I grew to dread The Doors. He also liked to ride around on his gas-powered scooter. Lacking a muffler, it was the sonic equivalent of a gas-powered leaf blower. Then there was the morning I got asked by the police about the shattered glass in the construction site across the street... ah, so many memories! He moved out at summer’s end, and I don’t miss him.

This year also marked the disappearance of Dumpster Danny. I don’t know the guy’s real name; I call him that because it flows nicely, and he appeared to be a gleaner. He’s been around the neighborhood for years. He had a pickup truck with camper shell that was full of stuff he’d picked up. By “full”, I mean full; it didn’t run, and even if did, he’d have to remove a lot of stuff before he reached the front seat and ignition. It was full to the top of the windows. He’d leave the truck on the street until it got ticketed, then get friends to push it to a new spot. I didn’t mind this until he parked it on the side of our building. From past experience, I knew that if he were around, there would eventually be shouting. Lucky me, I got to be the target this time, after asking him to move the truck. After a few stressful weeks (see previous paragraph, which was happening simultaneously), he pushed the truck to a spot two blocks down the street. A month or two later, the police emptied it out and it disappeared. I’ve seen the guy a few times since (he curses me when he sees me), but he doesn’t hang around the neighborhood like before. It’s made the place the littlest bit nicer.

Annual Geology Field Trip #3: The Glacial Lake Missoula Floods

For the third in what’s turning into annual geology field trips, Glacier and I traveled to eastern Washington to see how the landscape was changed by the glacial Lake Missoula floods. I’m not going to recount the geological story here; there are better sources than me. Suffice it to say that huge floods (of a size that until the mid-twentieth century were not believed to occur—imagine one of the smaller Great Lakes emptying in two days) radically changed some parts of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. We went to look at the evidence.

Along the way east, we stopped at a number of falls in the Columbia gorge. They were indeed a sight, especially the basalt chimneys behind them, but my attention was captured instead by kiteboarders on the river. I thought it would be great fun to try someday, but Glacier had no interest.

Our second destination was Palouse Falls in southeastern Washington. It’s a good-sized falls that is dwarfed by the channel it lies in. Geologically, there’s no way a falls that small could cut the landscape that way; it must have been a torrent at many times in the past.

To give you a sense of the size of the Palouse Falls, here are two pictures. One’s a detail of the other, showing a few people. (Hint: it’s in the upper left quadrant.)

Palouse Falls, the Teeth, and the plunge pool Hikers and the Teeth

Unfortunately, we got to Palouse Falls too late to spend as much time there as we wanted. Glacier really wanted to hike down to the falls, but the trail wasn’t marked. After exploring and not finding it, he watched in frustration as some Mennonite-looking women (each in a different sherbet-colored dress) we’d seen earlier appeared near the falls. Before we left we discovered that the trailhead was further from the park than expected, but by then it was too late to attempt it. Next time!

From there it was on to Grand Coulee and Dry Falls, which at one time were the largest falls in the world. At the time you wouldn’t have been able to tell, though, as the water passing over it was three hundred feet deep. Given the immense amount of water involved, the falls would have looked like a dip in the water level. Now that’s something.

Dry Falls panorama mosaic (not very well done)

Strangely, we didn’t take many photos at Dry Falls. That might have been due to an unconscious realization that standing on the rim, there’s no way to take it all in, much less through the limited eye of a camera. Or perhaps we just had camera fatigue. Or perhaps we were just astounded to see a landscape that looks like the American Southwest in Washington. I do wish that we’d stopped to take pictures in the fields south of the falls; they were littered with boulders, some of them huge.

So where to next year? The mud pots of the Salton Sea?


As I wrote at the top, I’ve been doing fewer social things. However, when a childhood friend from back East said he was going to be visting Seattle, I had to make the trip. I did, by train, and it was a fine (if tiring time). I got to spend time prowling around downtown Seattle on my own, I spent time catching up with an old friend who’s doing well, and I was treated very courteously by another friend who hosted me. My thanks go to Bill, Wayne, and Terry.

There were a few amusing “small world” moments. The first came while I was exploring the city on my own. As I approached a corner near the waterfront, I glanced into the window of an art gallery. Before me was a painting I not only liked, I recognized. I’d seen it a show at OSU, the only art show I’ve been to there. It was odd to see it once more after expecting to never see it again. The other small world moment was running across the guys who created Talk Like a Pirate Day. I’d met one of them a year or two before, drinking after a theater show with friends. I don’t think he remembered me.

I returned home to find out that a college friend had been trying to reach me. She too was in Seattle then, but didn’t have any way to reach me. Oops! Score one for cell phones.


The academic year was a fizzle. I decided to sit in on a course, which on the first day of classes somehow grew to three. Then, that very evening, I decided not to continue with any of them, deciding instead that I could do just as well by studying on my own. Have I? No. But I could.

The only academic thing I did this year was to finish a project begun last year, writing a paper on the curvature of the torus. I’m pleased with the result, though there’s still one area to explore (calculating the shortest distance between two points on a torus). That may yet become an appendix.

How Others See Me, #2

One July morning, I got on my bike to ride to the bank. As usual, I turned into the alley next to my building. There was a car approaching from the opposite direction, so I swerved into the empty parking spaces to wait for the car to pass. As I waited next to the dumpster, the car slowed to a stop and the driver’s window lowered. An old woman said to me “Please don’t go through our dumpster.”. After getting over a moment’s surprise, I said “Excuse me? Ma’am? Ma’am?”, trying to get her attention, but she was raising her window and driving on. As she neared the street, I said “I live here! I’m a tenant!”. She heard, briefly apologized, and drove on.

After all the fuss about Dumpster Danny, I worried that being mistaken for a dumpster-diver would give me a serious case of pique. Fortunately, I got over it within half an hour. But it’s interesting as another example of how others perceive me. And yea me for contradicting her assumptions.


I’ve continued to knit, mostly hats and ponchos for friends. I tried my hand at growing tomatoes, which turned out okay. The real surprise were the ones I gave to a neighbor, which loved the fertilizer she used on them daily. I learned that I don’t eat tomatoes very often, even when they’re freshly homegrown. Aside from this, I’ve spent time reading, writing and rewriting Perl scripts to automate boring computer tasks, and playing lots of Black & White and Black & White 2. I know, I need a life. But it's okay.

Last updated 16 December 2006
All contents ©2005 Mark L. Irons.

Previous: From Oregon vol. 9 ··· Next: From Oregon vol. 11