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.