Friday, June 11 2010
location: Lily Pad Out 'n' About Satellite Treesort, soutwest of Cave Junction, Oregon
This morning we were promised a proper vegan breakfast at Sandy's house near our treehouse, and she did not disappoint. She'd made us a splendid tofu "scramble" (which, due to my egg aversion, I referred to as a "stir fry"). It was a good savory meal, exactly the kind of thing Gretchen and I could eat at any time of the day.
It turned out that Susan is something of a chatty Catherine. She turned into a firehose of information about both the treesort and the region around it. It seems that this part of the world is extremely depressed and the economy runs entirely on "medical" marijuana (and has done so for years, well before the term "medical marijuana" existed). But now the growers are worried that outright legalization (a real possibility in Oregon) will destroy their carefully-structured business models. Meanwhile there's the relationship with the treesort and the people who come to stay in the treehouse and a pension from a dead husband and the son who will one day inherit the treehouse franchise. But I can't remember the details and they aren't too interesting anyway. Sandy used the phrase "such a hippie" as a perjorative at one point (about a certain treesort guy) and we had a good chuckle about that.
We hadn't had any WiFi in our treehouse, but it turned out that Sandy has WiFi in her house. So I suggested she run some Cat-5 cable out to the treehouse and staple a wireless router underneath it.
Our next destination would be Crater Lake, but as we passed Cave Junction, Gretchen decided we should stop at something of a burl-based minimall along US 199. Burl, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a kind of localized growth that forms on trees. On large trees, burls can be massive. Woodworkers love them for their crazy grain patterns and unusual shapes. I first became aware of the value of burl on an episode of Intervention in which an obsession with burl was a fascinating aspect of the life of a logger addicted to methamphetamine. Burl and meth are two important aspects of life in the Pacific Northwest, and it was great to see them come together in that one episode. As for burl itself, as displayed in endless racks of the burl minimall, it neither it nor the many things cleverly whittled from it resonated with our æsthetics. But we walked around and marveled at it, as if we were in some tacky roadside museum. The vendors all had punful names like "It's a Burl" and "Burl of Fun" and there were treehouses and old dogs for those who didn't much care for the wood art. Some of the pieces were clever, especially a bicycle made entirely of burl that probably would have worked if only someone had carved it a burly chain.
One of Gretchen's old friends from high school had mentioned to her something about southern Oregon having a "vortex," and Gretchen had found a flyer for it at the treesort. It's called the Oregon Vortex and House of Mystery, and it was along our drive to Crater Lake, so we decided to stop there and have a look. The flyer claimed that physical laws break down inside the vortex and that we should expect to have our notions of the universe's physical laws challenged. People would appear to grow and shrink and objects would appear to defy the effects gravity. Basically, our minds would be blown. I hoped it would be something like a 19th Century medicine show, perhaps with a bit of magic act thrown in.
The Oregon Vortex lay in rural countryside up a small road north of Gold Hill. There was gift shop and a place to pay to enter. Admission was $9.50 each, which seemed like a bargain when compared to the cost of the education in natural science I'd soon be abandoning.
All access to the vortex is done via tours, so we had to wait for the next one to begin. We were actually allowed inside the vortex as we waited. Supposedly it's a perfectly spherical field, half beneath the ground and half above it. It's called a "vortex," which implies that something is swirling. But what is actually doing the swirling, well, there things get a little vague. As we waited, we could examine two poles rising from a perfectly-level concrete pad. Each was ruled into units of height, and (using a reference pole and pieces of eight and a half by eleven inch paper), I was able to determine that both were ruled essentially identically, plus or minus a quarter inch or so. At one point Gretchen seemed to shrink when standing against one versus the other, but for the most part nothing especially mysterious was going on. There were also several circular concrete pads we were encouraged to stand on to "feel" the vortex. If one stood on them and relaxed completely, you could feel yourself swaying or swirling a bit around the center, but I think that was probably just being consciously aware of the process the body naturally uses to keep itself upright. Also, I noticed that at least one of the concrete pads could be rocked back and forth slightly with respect to the ground (I could see a tiny crack opening and closing) and this suggested to me that the pads had been set on a foundation designed to encourage a swirling motion in someone trying to stand on one.
Eventually our tour was about to begin, and our tour guide, a chubby young woman, came out and gave us a little background. Something about this being a site where Indians had feared to tread, where mammals will not venture and birds will not nest (though lizards and snakes are completely comfortable here). A gold mining company came here and built a toolshed (which subsequently slid off its foundation), but it wasn't until the 1920s that someone got a handle on what was going on here. That someone was John Litster, who proposed that a 150-diameter spherical vortex of force was causing an anomaly in natural forces, causing matter to compress as it approaches magnetic north and expand as it returns south. Our guide asked if we knew what a vortex was and I said no I didn't (because I didn't know what she meant when she used the word). So she said it was like water in a flushing toilet. I neglected to ask what was moving in this particular vortex, though I suspect she would have said either "the magnetic field" or "nobody knows." She said "nobody knows" a fair amount on this tour.
Before things got rolling, our guide showed us an interesting trick. She took a cube-shaped neodymium magnet and dropped it down a copper pipe and it seemed to float slowly down, braked by its strong magnetic field interacting with the conductive copper around it. I knew this effect existed, I just didn't know it was so strong. Our guide admitted that this had nothing to do with the vortex, just that it was a cool trick and we could buy the kit in the gift shop for $20. (Not necessary; I have plenty of neodymium magnets and copper pipe at home.) Next copper dowsing rods were handed out and we were encouraged to feel the force of the vortex through those. I don't really feel the need to debunk dowsing rods, though I can understand why the ignorant might think they provide useful information; as they amplify small tremors and biases in one's holding of them, they seem to confirm our suspicions about the direction of whatever it is we're seeking. I had mine draw me to the Red Bull in a drink vending machine (which I did not buy).
At first it had seemed like our tour group would be just me and Gretchen, but then we were joined by another slightly younger couple and so it began. We revisited the ruled posts and our guide had us do a number of demonstrations where she hoped we'd see each other grow or shrink as we stood at first one pole and then the other or traded places between them. Though Gretchen later claimed to have seen this growing and shrinking, nothing I saw blew my mind. I attributed whatever shrinking or growing people were seeing to the steeply-sloping wooden fence in the background, which introduced an optical cue familiar from a well-understood optical illusion. Our guide specifically mentioned the fence background as one of the explanations people give, but then made the claim that the effect persists in photographs even when the fence is removed.
We did a demonstration in which one of us stood with our eyes closed between the two poles and the guide stood beside us on either side. We reach over with a hand to touch her shoulder and then she'd change size and we'd do it again. When asked which side was higher, both Gretchen and I said the opposite side from the one she'd hoped we'd say (honestly, they'd felt about the same to me), so then she said that this could be due to the fact that the vortex changes polarity on the summer solstice (which was fast approaching). This explanation seemed just a little too convenient.
By now our guide was pulling out all the stops in an effort to convince us that what we were seeing was all based on a mysterious new form of physics. She claimed that Litster had been in correspondence with Albert Einstein, and why would Einstein have bothered carrying on such a correspondence if this was all a big hoax.
The best part of the tour was the old tumbled-down mining shack, whose wooden floor now lay at a steep angle and all of whose windows and doors were now parallelograms. Our guide asked us to guess the difference in elevation between one of the shack's corners and the one diagonally across the floor on the other end. We guessed two to four feet, but she said it was more like ten. Then again, she'd also told us Litster had been in correspondence with Albert Einstein.
Inside the shack, all sense of up and down and plumb and level dissolved. A plumb line had been hung from the ceiling, but because of the skewed nature of the shack, it seemed to be going at a crazy angle, as did a broom that was made to stand on its bristles (a classic "magic" trick). Our guide was trying to tell us that the broom was actually standing seven degrees off of plumb because of the effects of the vortex, but she could have made any claim in that disorienting context.
The only good optical illusion of the tour was a golf ball on a ramp that appeared (because of the disorienting context) to roll uphill. Despite the fact that this was the House of Mystery's greatest trick, our guide conceded that it was entirely an optical illusion.
Though I was pretty sure there were no mysterious forces acting on my body, walking around inside the shack provided my body with all sorts of disorienting and conflicting information, leaving a vaguely unsettled feeling in my stomach. The trees outside the window seemed to be rising from the ground at odd angles, and it was strange to have to exert real effort to walk across a floor (whose surface had been covered with strips of wood to keep feet from slipping). At some point I noticed cables strung from one wall to the other just beneath the ceiling joists. Without those holding it in its present shape, the shack would have long ago collapsed into a pile of scrap.
Later we went behind the tumbled down shack so our guide could demonstrate the growing and shrinking without the distracting slope of the wooden fence in the background. But here again there was another wooden fence in the background, this time experiencing a downward step. By this point I was growing awfully weary of the Oregon Vortex.
On the drive out of there, Gretchen was seeming just a little too credulous that something mysterious had been going on there. She'd seen the growing and shrinking and had seemed to accept that because the guide had specifically mentioned the effect of the fence in the background, then that couldn't be the explanation. Gretchen asked why, if this shrinking and growing was all just an optical illusion, I hadn't seen it too. I said that this might be because I have developed an "artist's eye," that is, I've trained myself to look at negative space around objects and to ignore common illusions as part of being able to paint convincing pictures. I also have a lot of experience with working with materials which tends to inform my eye about common perceptual pitfalls (such as background distractions). By the way, those wanting to read another account of my experience at a hokey geomagic location should read "rose coloured heart resonant gelatinous energy bubble."
In this part of the world, the Rogue River is as ubiquitous as Esopus Creek is back in our hometown. Whenever we thought we'd left the Rogue River Valley for good, we'd drop down a slope and find it again. It stayed with us most of the way to Crater Lake.
We'd been scouting for vegan lunch possibilities since finding our way out of the vortex, and eventually we stopped at a Mexican restaurant called Miguel's (42.613038N, 122.812552W) in a village called Shady Cove. The restaurant had a back deck overlooking the Rogue, and we sat out there eating our rice-and-beans-rich food. I was able to order a perfectly acceptable burrito, and Gretchen seemed to make do with taco components that she assembled herself. The setting was so festive that I ordered a beer (but because I was in Oregon, it was an IPA, not some wimpy Mexican pale lager).
We climbed up a spectacular valley, passed a dam, and then drove along a reservoir. At some point the forest of large evergreens closed in on both sides of the road and stayed that way. The road proceeded towards Crater Lake in a series of long segments that seemed perfectly straight, and the ground didn't seem to be sloping much until the trees gave way and snow started appearing on either side of the road. I don't know if I'll ever get tired of seeing snow in June.
By the time we'd made it to the lodge atop the southwest rim of Crater Lake, the snow on the ground was nearly five feet deep.
We checked into our room on the second floor of the lodge. We'd been told we'd have a "valley view" from our window, meaning it faced southwestward, away from the lake. In theory this could have been a beautiful view of the shimmering flatlands below, but in practice it ended up being a view of the lodge's parking lot. Though we were in supposedly one of the most beautiful places on Earth, what we could see out our window wasn't really too different from the view from the Budget 19 Motor Inn in Kingston.
I usually like to kick back and relax after arriving after a day of travel, but not Gretchen. She always wants to sieze the day and go do something enegertic. Unfortunately, though, there wasn't much one could do alone in a room at the Crater Lake Lodge. There was no teevee and no WiFi signal. Upon finding out the latter, Gretchen ran down to the front desk to inquire only to be told that there was no internet or teevee anywhere in the lodge. Indeed, if one wanted a cellphone signal, one had to go to the east end of the building and scrape by on one bar at best (we'd actually had somewhat better cellphone reception in the treehouse).
Still, I stayed behind in the room and Gretchen headed off. I ended up doing some makeshift laundry and hanging the clothes to dry over the room's radiator.
When I found Gretchen, she hadn't made it beyond the lodge's great hall, where a park ranger was explaining the Crater Lake to a throng of people (some of whom may have taken heart in the fact that the mountain's geologic timeframe didn't much exceed that of the creationist world view). We broke away from this group and went outside, snapping pictures the whole time.
Though there was plenty of snow on the ground and a wind was blowing, it wasn't actually too cold out there. The sun was brilliant in that clear air (we were 7000 feet above sea level) and we were getting those photons both from above and ricocheting off the snow. Down below us to the north was the lake itself, a deep blue circular body of water some five miles across and hemmed in by sparsely-forested thousand foot cliffs all the way around. The most remarkable structure inside the lake was a 700 foot volcanic cone rising from its surface to form a cone-headed landform known as Wizard Island. It was much more heavily forested than the rest of the landscape.
Once we'd seen these things, there really wasn't much else to see. There they were, off in the distance, and we could walk back and forth across the snow along the rim and things didn't change all that much. The scene was a bit sterile for my tastes; I tend to prefer lusher landscapes such as moss-covered waterfalls. This thing looked like a structure on a marginally-inhabitable alien planet. Its water looked unappealingly cold and antiseptic.
As we walked northwestward from the lodge, we came upon a group of park rangers and would-be park staffers sitting around a woman who appeared to be constructing a classic science fair "experiment" — a baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano. As she did so, she spoke to the assembled as if they were three year olds whose fragile attention had to be constantly tended and nurtured. "Why is she talking to them like they're retarded?" Gretchen asked me, and then in a moment we figured it out: the assembled were not retarded; she was giving a demonstration of how this matter was to be taught to children and the mentally challenged.
We found our way down some steps to a balcony overlooking an especially bleak part of the lake. We were entirely in the shade and the wind there was cruel, so it was a good thing that there was a heated interpretive museum nearby, complete with a movie displaying the geological history of the mountain on the loop. It had been a much taller mountain seven or eight thousand years ago and then exploded and collapsed, leaving a deep hole in the ground that had subsequently filled with water. Interestingly, there are no creeks flowing into our out of the lake. It depends almost entirely on direct precipitation to maintain its water, which it loses by evaporation and seepage through the crater walls (it is the latter that keeps it from becoming a salt lake).
As we were leaving the interpretive museum, we came upon the couple who had been on our tour of the Oregon Vortex. Gretchen asked them what they thought had been going on, and the guy said "optical illusion." By this point, though, I was coming to believe that most of the Oregon Vortex's magic comes from the persuasive power of the tour guide(s).
We continued northwestward along the rim of the crater until our progress was blocked by a ridge of steep cliffs. Gretchen kept making me nervous by walking a little to close to the edge of the escarpment (usually a bit beyond any existing footprints in the snow), and I kept imagining the snow beneath her giving way and her falling down that mountain. Gretchen thinks I worry too much, but occasionally something bad happens to her and I'm reminded that she doesn't worry quite enough.
On the way back towards the lodge, I found myself walking mostly barefoot on the highway, whose asphalt had been appealingly warmed by the sun. But occasionally, as a mindfuck for future passers by, I'd walk briefly through the snow to leave bare footprints. My feet are so big and crazy that the footprints occasionally looked like those of some fearsome wild animal.
In general Crater Lake was proving to be a lot more tasteful and a lot less commercialized than, say, Niagara Falls. But then we went into the gift shop and for a slap in the face by the invisible hand. There were plenty of tasteless teeshirts and even some fake burl art (made with injection-molded plastic), but we were astounded to find them selling $6 bottles of locally-produced wine. We had to buy one even if it was terrible. From the gift shop, we found our way back to the lodge using an unconventional path that included a trek through an ice cave (it had formed along a stone wall) and then sliding down a steep snow bank.
Lacking entertainment or forms of communication, most of the guests at the Crater Lake lodge spend their evenings sitting in the great hall (preferably near a window or a fireplace) drinking overpriced alcoholic beverages. This seemed like a perfectly acceptable way for us to spend our evening here.
So we took up residence at a table over in the corner. We had a view of the lake but no fireplace. Several other couples were nearby, and it struck me that an unusual number of them contained a male component who was decidedly older than the female component. If these couples hadn't had their hands all over each other I would have thought a daddy was taking his daughter on vacation.
When it came to drinks, I stuck with my Oregon IPA obsession, though Gretchen decided to try something from the oddball cocktail menu. In harmony with the lodge's setting, one of the beverages was a Wizard Island Ice Tea (Curaçao made it a deep Crater-Lake blue), and since Gretchen couldn't make up her mind, I suggested she try that.
Back in the treehouse I'd been showing Gretchen Tableform, my database visualizing and editing suite. She doesn't know anything about database design, but it had been easy for me to demonstrate the ease with which a relational database could be created and then used. All the appropriate editing tools magically appear once the database has been created, and then it's easy for someone with modest skills to enter data and keep track of where information is and how it relates. Tableform has been in continual development for over four years and is a well-polished system now, and I'd been talking about it as a possible source of income (it's actually been a source of income already, but only as a proprietary tool used in the context of other jobs). So once we started drinking, Gretchen started playing a game in which she wondered what we would do if we had a million dollars. Her goals were fairly modest: she'd want to give a lot to animal rights charities (she does this anyway) and also, when we'd travel, she'd want to fly non-stop, perhaps business class. Oh, and she'd also want to have an apartment in the West Village (I think at this point she'd no longer have any of the original million dollars, but okay). I found this game tiring and a little depressing and said so, so we ended up having a little fight after which we didn't talk to each other for about twenty minutes (and the lovey dovey May-December couples nearby started shooting us sidelong glances).
We'd signed up hours before for an 8:30 seating in the dining room, but that schedule was all backed up so we decided to eat where we were. The vegan revolution might have swept through the rest of Oregon, but it had yet to rise up to the rim of Crater Lake and there was almost nothing for us to eat except French fries and pizza (but only if they left off the cheese and pesto). So that was pretty much what we had for dinner.
When we got back to our room, it reeked of stale cigarette smoke. At first we thought maybe a burglar had busted in and smoked a cigarette while robbing the place. But the laptop and iPhone were still there, exactly as we'd left them. Gretchen went to get the woman from check-in, and she sent for maintenance. Both of them agreed that our room smelled terrible. Evidently the smoke was coming out of our bathroom vent, probably from some idiot who thought he could smoke in his room if only he blew his smoke into his bathroom vent.
In the end we were located to a much larger room in the southeast wing of the building. There we had gabled windows facing in three different directions (one of these really did have a valley view) and fragments of a cathedral ceiling. The main downside was that now we were above the kitchen and a loud unbalanced ventilation fan would be starting up early the next morning.
At the vortex. Watch out for those crazy oscillating terralines!
With all this scientific information, it's got to be for real!
Gretchen being overwhelmed by the power of the vortex.
Me at one pole and the guy from the other couple at the other.
We trade places and our height supposedly appears to change because of the vortex.
Our guide with a broom standing on its bristles in the shack.
Inside the shack with our guide and the female component of the other couple.
The other couple and our guide (in a bluish teeshirt) outside the shack.
A butte on our way to Crater Lake.
I'm taking a photo with the iPhone.
The snowy west rim.
Wizard Island and Gretchen.
Gretchen and me on the rim.
"The Phantom Ship" — a rock formation on the south side of the lake.
Snow plow turnaround. Notice how high these signs had to be on their poles.
Gables in our new room after we had to flee the smoky one.
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