Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Rapid By Any Other Name: Chieftain column 8/11/10

Here's my Chieftain column from last week...this here photo gives a look at some of the new rock in the river at high water.

And Furthermore
Jon Rombach

That resurfacing job on our highway looks great, if I tilt my head so I can see past the crack in my windshield from all the rocks kicked up during the chipseal project. Ah, well, good roads are important and it stimulates the economy. I’ll be swinging by Mountain View Glass for a quote from Joe and Mandy on just how stimulating a new windshield is going to be.

I got that crack driving to Minam for one last rafting trip down the Grande Ronde before the river gets too shallow. All that rain and snowmelt we had a couple months back blew out tons of rock in the section of river near Barnes Spring and, by golly, Wallowa County and the Grande Ronde River have a brand new rapid. It’s a bouncing baby Class II, I’d say. Has its mothers eyes. I floated over right after it was born, and at high water it just kicks up easy waves. At low water, the Grande Ronde now pools up on the right side, then zags left over the new gravel bar through shallow braided channels. Not difficult to negotiate, just interesting to see a new feature.

This new rapid doesn’t have a name yet …I talked with Dennis the BLM river ranger at the boat launch and we briefly discussed this lack of a name. I casually referred to it as Rombach Rapid just to see what he thought, but he didn’t seem to think much. I’m just worried this rapid is going to be named the obvious ‘Barnes Spring Rapid.’ Booooring. No offense, Barnes. The other rapids would just be picking on Barney his whole life. Martin’s Misery will steal lunch money. Minam Roller will start fights. And The Narrows – well, The Narrows is a Class IV and can be something of a bully. Wears a leather jacket. Moved out and got it’s own apartment in Clarkston. Drives a muscle car. You know the type.

Maybe we can do a write-in campaign to name this thing. Whittle your suggestion onto a piece of driftwood and drop it in the Wallowa River. All entries will float down toward the confluence with the Grande Ronde and some might even make it to this rapid I’m talking about. We’ll have Ranger Dennis check in the springtime and if there’s a name on a stick floating in the eddy, then there we go. If not, we go with ‘Barney Rombach Rapid.’ I’m sure the Geographic Names Board will approve of this method. It sounds almost scientific.

I’m disappointed with myself, though, for not being able to come up with a decent name in this situation. Ever since I was a young boy, my dream job has been to grow up and get paid to think of names for colors of housepaint. You ever pay attention to those? Rustic Tangerine. Misty Floormat. I think the paint industry people cut words out of old 18th century novels and cooking magazines, then spinning all the words inside a Bingo ball cage to draw out unlikely matchings when they need to name a new shade of semi-gloss ... ‘OK, people, here we go … our new version of tan shall be … “Croissant” aaaaand … “Countryside.” Oh yes, that’s lovely. Soon all the breakfast nooks of the world will be graced with the gentle hue of Croissant Countryside.’

Actually, that’s not a bad name for a Class II rapid. I’m going to go carve that on some driftwood right now.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Kesey, Cassady, Kerouac: Chieftain column, July 28, 2010

Here's the 'Furthermore' column from the Chieftain from last time around...I don't recall if Fargo ever did get that blue 70's Camaro on the road.

And Furthermore...

Ken Kesey once asked if he could help me. I didn’t know much back then, so I said, Nope, I’m just waiting. Kesey wrote ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ ‘Sometimes A Great Notion’ and helped co-author the 1960’s. The man knew more than others about how certain things work. Or stop working.

He also knew some kid was in his barn, staring at his crazy painted bus. Apparently trespassing. I grew up about five miles from Kesey’s farm, in Pleasant Hill, Oregon. My buddy, Fargo Kesey, bought an old Camaro in high school and asked me to help get it on the road. The Camaro was parked in his uncle Ken’s barn. Fargo was late. And that’s how I had my big conversation with literary heavyweight Ken Kesey: Can I help you? Nope.

Years later, I did have questions. What are the odds that the same man, Neal Cassady, would drive Jack Kerouc’s ‘On the Road’ and other work, which helped drive the Beat Generation … then Cassady ends up behind the wheel of Kesey’s bus, Further, helping to drive another cultural shift. Did Cassady use his turn signals so America could brace itself? Did anyone ever ask Neal if they were there yet? Did Cassady ride the brakes, or use them at all?

‘Kerouac, Kesey, Cassady’ became the title and focus of my final research project in college. It was supposed to be a history paper comparing cultural shifts among the Maori in New Zealand with North American tribes, specifically the Blackfoot Indians. My notes from studying abroad in New Zealand got soaked with saltwater during a sailboat wreck in Hawaii. I took an extension on that final paper. Then another. The University of Montana finally hinted that if I wanted my piece of paper with ‘Diploma’ on it, I’d better send them their paper. Soon.

My copy of Kerouac’s ‘The Dharma Bums’ had more notes written in the margins than what survived after my New Zealand research floated around on the bottom of my ruptured boat, so I wrote all night about cultural shifts America experienced because Neal Cassady learned to operate a clutch. If Ken Kesey had asked, ‘Can I help you?’ during that frenzy, I would have said yes. Get this down to FedEx and overnight it to Missoula, would you, Ken?

Japhy Ryder turns the engine off in ‘Dharma Bums,’ sets the e-brake and takes Kerouac for a walk. Shows him the mountains. Gets Jack interested in Buddhism. Slows him down. Gets him to listen for quiet. It almost seems a yang to the full-throttle yin Kerouac picked up from speeding around with Neal Cassady.

This Japhy Ryder is based on Gary Snyder, Pulitzer prize-winning poet who was here in Wallowa County at the Fishtrap writing conference this month. My favorite moment came during a question-and-answer session when someone in the audience explained they had taken a year-long course studying poetry, and the instructor had asked them to answer this question: What is the poet for? They never found the answer. Could Snyder help?

Snyder’s studied Zen Buddhism, so I prepared myself to not understand his answer. To be honest, I didn’t even understand the question and never really understood poetry. What is the poet for? Snyder took two seconds and cleared it all up with the answer: To write poetry. Next question. No wonder he got the Pulitzer, this guy.

I should have asked Ken Kesey what his bus was for when I had the chance.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Slight Chance of Rainbows

What the hail? Wallowa County has been getting slapped with sudden thunder and lightning spurts this week, sometimes with hailstones, often with ripping wind....

These here shots were at the lake yesterday and that monster of a cloud was building quick.

You have to peel your eyes, but there's a chunk of rainbow under the base of the cloud in that upper photo.

Got home and talked to Mom Rombach, who described an identical cloud forming out from her backyard over in Washington State. We think it was the same one, though can't explain the atmospheric anamoly that had it appear in both places at once. Please investigate, Bureau of Clouds.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bigfoot and Butterflies

‘Where Bigfoot Walks’ is a sturdy title so I pulled that book off the shelf when I was staying in a cabin down in Troy, Oregon between the Wenaha and Grande Ronde rivers earlier this year.

Robert Pyle is the author. He’s a butterfly guru and got on the trail of Bigfoot between netting mariposas. Met him out at the Fishtrap Billy Meadows writing workshop last week and it’s a good thing when you can look into the eyes of whoever typed out some words you’ve processed with your own eyes. Office newsletter, classified ad, whatever. Things make more sense once you put the writer and message together.
So. He’s a helluva guy to walk with through a field full of wildflowers and butterflies. I can vouch for that one. New book, ‘Mariposa Road’ hitting bookstores soon.

Here’s some pictorials from an afternoon at Buckhorn Lookout, perched over Imnaha Canyon.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Grande Ronde N-N-N-Narrows

The lower stretch of the Grande Ronde is miles and miles of gentle flow, then boom, a Class IV. The Narrows. The river gets squeezed on a tight left turn and water interacts with basalt in some interesting ways.

I know one rower who got catapaulted from their boat, right behind their dog which took flight first. There’s a cross on the bank where you stand to scout the rapid, and that tends to add to your concentration.

Morgan and I were shuttling Graning Weed Control through the lower corridor, stopping to spritz noxious weeds with growth inhibitor.

And there were a couple bear sightings, which is always interesting. One of them more than usual. Details here
in the Wallowa County Chieftain report I typed up.

So we take a look at the Narrows this time and the usual left-side sneak is not so sneaky. It wants to push you right into a frothing hole that’s not so inviting. Next option is to dodge some upstream rocks and run right over a shelf of rock that’s got enough water to form a miniature one-foot waterfall-like feature…but we settle on a compromise and decide to just clip the edge of this shelf and squirt down the center, dodging a somewhat menacing rock that’s cutting through the water.

As Morgan is going through fifty yards in front of me, he passes that rock and stands up to wave me further right. OK. I adjust further right. Now I’ll be going over the shelf.

He waves right some more. Right, right, right. OK, I pivot in the relatively slack water above the rapid and move right.

Now Morgan and his passenger are both directing me right and I head for the far side.

Getting closer to game time. Point of no return. I’ll be sliding over that drop in thirty seconds. Water is picking up speed.

Then we stop.

I’d been looking ahead for the best tongue of water to slip over and came to rest on a barely submerged rock, lurking just below the surface.

And there I sat.

Well allrighty. This gave me plenty of time to study the situation and the results were that I was probably going to be running this rapid backwards once I spun the boat off the rock. Swell.

We adjusted the seating arrangement so Jake moved to the back of the boat and Chance bounced up and down while I wrestled with my left oar to spin us off.

Didn’t even have to run the Narrows backwards, which was handy. Down below, Morgan and Bill described that fin rock as much sharper and menacing up close than it looked from the bank. A potential boat ripper they figured called for as much distance as possible.

So that’s my new Narrows strategy. Park on a rock to get a look at things right above the technical stuff and you get a much better perspective that way.

We got home, had just enough time for a laundry scurry and headed back out for a Hells Canyon expedition with high school students from Hood River. River season is moving right along with a few calm moments in between trips. A lot like parking your raft on a rock to look ahead and see what’s coming.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

This Week in Raspberries

Elsewhere on the internets this week, the Gearboat Chronicles gives a rundown on our Hells Canyon rafting trip last week, surveying for a rare shrubbery that snubs the rest of the globe and chooses only to reside along Snake River in the HC. Click here for that. Or use that link on right side of this page, lazybones.

The Chieftain column  -- you better sit down for this -- involves a bush in Hells Canyon we went looking for last week. I tried to mix it up a little bit, but there's an outside chance of the weeist bit of overlap. Ah, but it's about thornless raspberries. And who doesn't like raspberries.

Snowed all day yesterday and here it is Seis de Mayo with the woodstove cranked, snow on the ground and more of it 60% likely to fall yet today.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cat Creek Bat Room in Hells Canyon

Floated Hells Canyon last week and pulled over at Cat Creek, which I'd never stopped at before.

Jordan Manley was telling me about a room in the house where bats holed up and, by golly he was right. I guess. I somehow assumed bat guano would be white. No reason, I just figured it that way. But the floor in there was piled up with blackish looking stuff and while I'd never smelled bat poo before, I'd say that's what it smelled like.

Jordan says he's seen bats pouring out of there and we did see a robin nearby, up in a walnut tree branch. So I'm fairly sure there's some crimefighting going on in Hells Canyon based out of that old house.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

One Mississi…Holy $#!%

Taking pictures of lightning is harder than you think.

The gods were bumper-bowling the other night, just hurling shots one after the other without waiting for the rack thing to come down and reset the pins up in the mountains. Must have been dollar beer night. I mean, it was something to behold. Whole valley lit up. Great big zig-zag bolts. My dog peed her pants. Actually they were my pants, I don’t know what she thinks she’s doing wearing my stuff.

So I thought if I’m ever going to get a lightning bolt picture, it’s now. Set the tripod up and took several million frames but the closest I got was this sort of whitishly lit-up sky photo. Really, there was an impressive bolt right there, just a second before.

On a sidenote: trying to hold a phone conversation when someone’s trying to take pictures of lightning is a bad time. Here’s a transcript:

“Hey, how’s it…O my god…

Sorry. There’s a lightning storm going on and…whoooooooaaaahhhhhh……

What’ve you been up to?…juh-eeezeeus…did you hear that? Man.

Yeah, I’m trying to….seriously, this is….you should….”

And then more of that, until your friend kindly suggests they should let you go.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lawn care

Planted fireweed in the lawn this year and it seems to be taking off pretty well.

Mowing is going to be exciting this summer. I’ll have to wear my asbestos shorts.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Giving Away Tree has a special this week on electric ranges

A gas leak blew the knobs off the last propane stove I had in my kitchen. The mini explosion also lifted the rings off the burners and caused ringing in my ears. Too bad, since it was an ultra-cool appliance from the 50’s. I hated to take it to the scrap pile in the sky but blowing up is a feature I decided just wasn’t worth it.

So I’ve been using a free stove I loaded up from some stranger’s driveway. It wasn’t pretty, but worked. Now I have a pretty one again. New. Snazzy. And the free stove is going back into the universe from whence it came. Thanks, free stove, for your service. You heated water and baked things with the best of them. Now you can continue to roam the earth, preparing meals for other people. Godspeed.

So I’ve plopped the old one under the spruce tree at the end of my driveway. The giving tree, I’ll call it from now on. Or the giving away tree, I guess. Swing by and load the thing up. The price is firm and no matter how hard you haggle with me, I will not budge from free. Because, frankly, I don’t want to help load it up. You’re on your own there. Please, no need to come to the house. Free is free. Enjoy it, whoever you are.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Portrait of me with an underwater person

And here we have photographic proof that I am the finest fisherman in all the world.

I caught this one with my hands and got all Mr. Miyagi because normal fishing tactics make me yawn. That flyrod in the background was left lying on the bank by some random dude. I don’t know what his deal was.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Even I Can Catch Fish. Sometimes.

Pursuing steelhead really isn’t my bag. I don’t care for being cold and have a short attention span. Also I’m not a very good fisherman. So. There’s that.

However. Yesterday on the Wallowa River these things didn’t matter. The sun came up, I couldn’t help but catch fish and it was an everlovin’ blast.

Caught six. Two males and four wild females. Broke two more off. Lost track of how many whitefish I caught. A bonanza.

Didn’t start out that way. Note the ice buildup on the guides of my fly rod. And you can’t see it in the photo, but my feet were not working at the time, having iced over from wading in thirty-six degree water.

Gearboat Chronicles has a few more shots and details about riding the fish train. Met a state senator on board and also a guy who runs a blog for Field & Stream. More on that later.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Don’t make me buy this boat. I’ll do it. I swear.

I’m getting a full-blown boatyard. First the sweet Star Craft I grew up being towed behind, water funneled into my nose trying to get up on water skis. Then I got custody of dad’s old cataraft, which was traded for a 26-foot sailboat…in perhaps the sweetest deal to ever grace a bill of sale.

And now I’m presented with this little number. The mermaid does not come with it. Nor the pile of sand. But it’s a cute rapscallion of a watercraft and belongs to a friend who wants it to belong to someone else. I think that someone else might be me.

I will have the first boatyard in landlocked northeast Oregon, or go broke trying.

Updates: subject of this week’s Chieftain column is Chuck Fraser’s tie from the Thrift Store Formal. Read all about it by depressing the mouse feature above that link to your right.

Further update: I am drinking water in the photo to be found at this week’s Gearboat Chronicles. Not beer, as has been suggested. I was on driving duty. That’s tap water. And I normally wouldn’t put a picture of myself on there like that, were it not for that jacket. Sakes alive, I’m proud of that coat and cannot deny the world a look at it too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sportsmen's? Really?

Spent some time with Winding Waters at the Portland Sportsmen’s Show. I’ve gone to this with my pappy quite a bit over the years, and we’ve always called it the Outdoor Show. Everybody I know calls it the Outdoor Show. Probably because “Sportsmen’s” sounds stupid.

I didn’t consult Strunk & White on this, because I quit checking with those guys years ago. I punctuate, conjugate and hyphenate however I damn well please and it’s a system that works really well for me.

But it bothers me when other people throw apostrophes around haphazard. Even if they're technically correct, if it looks clunky, there's other words out there. And they're free. Take them for a test drive.

Sportsmen’s looks double-plural to me. It’s not, and I see it’s suggesting this show belongs to the sportsmens, but have you ever in your life deployed the term ‘sportsmen’ when talking? You have not, unless you’re the coordinator of a large trade show catering to outdoorsmen, which is also a word not often used, but slightly better than sportsmen’s.

So the sportsmens cruised around the Expo Center, investigating the many outdoorsmens activities while businessmens sold trips and equipments to their customers’s and I met some nice folks’s and we talked about rafting trips’s and, all in all, I had some good experiences’s.

If this insight into sportsmens and outdoorsmens hasn't satisfied your burning curiosity about trade shows, my Chieftain column this week and the Gearboat Chronicles are what you're looking for.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pile of Sheetrock

Two photos for comparison. In the one, you have a landscape/still life depicting the crooked stove pipe on my writing shack with the Buick parked next. But notice the landscape part. Blue sky. Snowy mountains. Crisp air. They’re actually filming a Ricola ad far in the distance.

Other picture is the nineteenth circle of Hades. Sheetrock. My current gypsum board to bear. Been catching up with a lot of sheetrocking in the upstairs of Rombach mansion. It’s long overdue. And it’s hot up in that attic. And sheetrock makes me angry.

And whilst I think my log cabin is peachy, there is not a straight plane, nor plumb or true line in the place. And so then I start throwing things. And inanimate objects get yelled at. And noone likes that.

I know a guy who was working in Portland in the sheetrock trade and he was receiving just indecent amounts of money for his efforts. It was a union gig and with the benefits package and all, he was right below Sri Lanka for annual income. I was appalled.

Now I just want to hire him. Here’s a fun game. See if you can spot how many different ways I did something wrong in this one picture. Ah, but that’s what joint compound is for, no? The texture on here is going to be four inches thick when I’m done.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Link to Haiti Links

I suppose most folks have chipped in for Haiti efforts by now, but if by chance you were waiting or feel like adding more chips, the Gearboat Chronicles this week has agencies recommended by a local guy out here who's wise in the ways of how things work, or don't, in some cases, in that part of the world. He's recommended organizations and I recommended his recommendations. Read all about it here.

Meanwhile, lay your eyes on this lovely portrait of the old pickup, Betty Ford, looking fetching in morning light. She's a striking old gal.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Abracadabra & A Blizzard of Stars

With apologies to Art Linkletter and William Cosby, I find myself passing along things kids say.

My wee niece Claire (pictured here in superheroine's blurry because she's moving so fast. She's a superhero.) says ‘Abracadabra’ when asked what the magic word is. I plopped that in my last Chieftain column, so I’m going with the short version here. But I must point out that not only is that off the cute charts, it’s absolutely accurate and I thank her for straightening me out after all this time. ‘Please’ isn’t even close to the magic word and I just hope I’m not so old that I’ll never be asked again what the magic word is, because I cannot wait to lay an Abracadabra on someone. I’ve been trying to instigate this by being rude lately, but so far no dice.

So I saw a friend who saw the Abracadabra thing and she passed this one on…

It’s a cold, frosty morning. Real cold. Real frosty. My friend’s granddaughter is taken outside by her grandpa and they take in this expanse of glittering sparkles of ice as the sun is coming up.

“Grandpa,” she says, “it’s a blizzard of stars…”

Man, I wish I could come up with that. It’s too bad we learn to talk right.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Buenas Dias, Wallowas

A lot of mornings, I go for the two-course breakfast of a cup of coffee and a look around. Some mornings them mountains out beyond my back yard look awfully purty. Now and then, they’re fetching enough that I go get my camera.

And in the interest of supporting Wallowa County tourism, I’ve widened the angle on these morning shots to include our new scenic attractions. Those rail cars there.

WC has relied on tourism for some years now, dangling the landscape out there to entice people to come take a look and spend a few bucks. Then we made it even better by storing rail cars. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

There has been talk of putting together a scenic rail cars of Wallowa County calendar, and I’m no fancy photographer, but you can get a sense of how majestic it will be by my snapshots here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Use your turn signals, Claire...

My niece Claire is only two and a halfish years old but already knows how to drive. And not just little regular cars either -- look at the steering wheel on that thing. It's like a tugboat. She's not even in kindergarten and already has her CDL.

The real little one is Anna. She’s like 5 minutes old. They didn’t let babies into the place we were at, so her mom had to disguise her as a woodland creature.

The other two ladies are my sister, Jessica, and Ma Rombach.

Claire’s driving them to ‘the pumpkin patch,’ she said. Little holdover from Halloween.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Path to the Rose Bowl...and a mysterious government facility

I’m writing this just hours before kickoff of the Rose Bowl game. I might wish the Ducks good luck, except my family are staunch Oregon State supporters and would drive me from the family estate with hurled stones if they caught wind of me aiding or abetting any U of O activities. So you’re on your own, Ducks.

You always hear what a big deal it is to get to the Rose Bowl, but I was just there a week ago or so, and I have to say, it’s really not that hard. I wasn’t even trying.

I was driving the Winnebago north for Christmas, towing my Toyota truck, so that makes me roughly 50 feet long, considering 29-feet of Winnebago, plus the truck and tow bar. And that’s a lot of long when you’re merging over to make your exit in traffic. And if I ever catch the son of a witch who pushed me off my exit, forcing me south toward Los Angeles, I fear for him. I do. I would recognize those headlights anywhere. And there are many, many tortures I wish to visit upon you, you dog.

So anyway, there I was in the holiday spirit, asking Santa to let me apply a crowbar to every joint belonging to that jackass driver who, in retrospect, I should have just side-swiped and laughed while watching his car burn in my rearview mirror . . . but I took the first exit to double back and get another shot at my onramp.

Took a right. And another. Then wondered why there were bleachers facing the street I was on. Lots of bleachers facing the street. Odd. Until I saw “Parade Route” signs and remembered I was in Pasadena.

Then I ended up in the parking lot of the Rose Bowl. And took that picture you see here.

Later, I would ask directions from a lady walking her dog on how the hell to get out of here, and she told me, and I quote: “Oh, it’s not hard at all. Go up here, take a right at the first electric stoplight, and it’ll put you on the freeway.”

Electric stoplight? As opposed to, say, candle power? I didn’t get that, but followed her directions and went for miles through neighborhoods, finally saw a discrete sign promising the freeway, then all hell broke loose.

I thought I was rolling up to an onramp, but then it looked like one of those inspection stations where they ask if you have any live plants in your car.

But it was a security checkpoint, with guard booths, and a man ran out waving his flashlight at me, ordering me to stop. Here, then, is a transcript of our chat:

“Back that thing out of here, this is a government facility…”

“I’m just looking for the freeway.”

“Well, you missed it, it’s two streets back. Turn that thing around and get it out of here.”

Turning a Winnebago around with two lanes of room is not possible unless you have a helicopter or a crane. He wouldn’t let me go through his gate to turn around and I was sworn to never, ever, try backing up with a car on a tow bar behind a Minnie Winnie. The tow bar manual was adamant about this. Something to do with automatic, cataclysmic jack-knifing of the vehicle, the seas boiling and the sky raining blood.

“I can’t back it up.”

He didn’t believe me. People were going by flashing their security clearance and he was waving them through while losing his shit.

I explained I could unhook the truck and then turn the Winnebago around Austin Powers-style, pulling a little bit forward, a little bit back, until I heaved her around.

“O boy, what a mess . . . what a mess . . . if an emergency happens and you’re plugging up the entrance, I’ll . . . O boy, what a mess . . .”

It occurred to me then that this resembled a not-very-good action movie where I was supposed to gain entrance to a government facility by pulling up in a motor home, playing the rube and regrettably insisting I must get past the gate to turn around, thereby fooling the security guard and somehow stealing top secret information or plans to a rocket.

He’d seen the same movie and wouldn’t let me near the gate. I was, in fact, a rube who was insisting I couldn’t turn around without going past his gate first, and thankfully I didn’t get tasered and he seemed to believe I was just a dumbass who missed the freeway onramp, not a threat to national security.

So I set a world record for unhooking a Toyota Tacoma, doing four burnouts in a Winnebago to turn it around in a tight space, then re-hooking a Toyota and getting the hell out of there.

And that was my evening in Pasadena. Hope it goes better for you, Ducks.