Archive for the ‘small town photography’ Category

I wrote about the Spirit Totem Trail in 2012, our first year here (https://wanderwest.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/the-trail-of-the-spirit-totem-rocks/.) An exotic display of outdoor art, a nearby resident had constructed an approximately two block long display of rock work, the most impressive being a stonehenge look-alike. All were tasteful, elemental, some even quite spiritual.

Green Valley Stonehenge

Green Valley Stonehenge

Mr. Woods, the artist, has since moved away. This spring we were surprised to find that others had pitched in with their own “art” which ran the gamut from ghoulish to kitsch. There were statues of My Little Pony, holographic butterflies, fake saguaros, assorted license plates and birdhouses. “Digby” had spelled out his name in tiny stones.



There were statues of roadrunners and coyotes, as well as a “pedro”—what we affectionally call the sleepiing white clothed, sombrero-clad plaster statues very popular around Green Valley. We found out from some Esperanza Estates homeowners that the Totem Trail had been expanded to include the contributions of local grandchildren, visiting over the winter holidays. Come May many of the most unlikely additions had been removed.

Ceramic Turkey and Saguaro

Ceramic Turkey and Saguaro

Still, new additions remain including a tall silver Saint Francis who now stands guard with his pastel ceramic angel friend.

And there’s the new Santa Muerte prayer shrine—the female Saint of Death, not accepted by the Catholic church but often venerated in Mexico— and an adjacent stack of plastic skulls, relating Santa Muerte to the annual Day of the Dead celebration. The original empty cliff dwelling has gained an entire village of ceramic natives. A teepee has been added to the courtyard; dogs stand guard on the roof.

It’s a strange amalgamation now, far removed from the original, more visceral spiritual feeling, especially the stonehenge which was properly oriented and scaled, and the pictograph rocks. Surrounded by glittery plastic and multi-colored glass stones it seems the totemic spirits moved away, perhaps to join their artist-creator.

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To get to the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site from  I-8 involves taking Painted Rock Dam Road north about 10 miles. It’s on this road where the “new” Gila Bend takes shape.

Solana Solar plant photo courtesy of Abamgpa Solar Co.

Solana Solar plant/Paloma Dairy fields at top of photo
photo courtesy of Abamgpa Solar Co.

On the west side of the road lays Solana Solar Power Plant, the largest parabolic trough plant in the world, which came online in October 2013. It covers 3 square miles of spent farmland with 900,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight onto tubes of oil. The heated oil makes steam which spins turbines. Some of the oil transfers heat to molten salt, enabling the plant to continue making electricity up to six hours after sunset, something traditional solar power plants can’t do.

parabolic mirror photo courtesy of Ray stern, Phoenix New Times online

parabolic mirror photo courtesy of Ray stern, Phoenix New Times online

Looking east across the road, are giant alfalfa fields, part of the Paloma Dairy and Sunset Farms agribusiness owned by the Van Hofwegen family. They milk 4900 Holsteins three times/day and have about 10,000 head of cattle. The cows are fed the alfalfa from the Farms fields.

A few years ago, the brothers Van Hofwegen made a U-Tube video in which they suggest their dairy operation is sustainable. It’s true the Sunset Farms grows alfalfa  which the residents of the Paloma Dairy eat. Still it’s hard to claim sustainability where cows are concerned even if they are also recycling manure etc.  Add the copious amounts of water used for alfalfa production and you have to ask yourself exactly how sustainable especially in light of Sunday’s Arizona Daily Stars banner headline: “Arizona needs to desalinate seawater for drinking, officials say.”

Paloma Dairy Milking Barns from the air photo courtesy of Paloma Dairy

Paloma Dairy Milking Barns from the air
photo courtesy of Paloma Dairy

Sustainability-wise, Gila Bend’s town fathers pitch the solar plants. That they use significantly less water than agriculture would have in the same space is an environmental plus. That the energy is non-polluting from a carbon dioxide POV, is great as well. This solar plants (and others around Gila Bend) are “reusing”  high water demand spent alfalfa and cotton fields (rural brown fields), already leveled and primed for solar. When the Solana plant went on line, it upped the greater Gila Bend area’s solar output to over 300 megawatts. Construction employs over 1000 workers; operation adds 80 jobs per plant.

Solar does seem a creative economic driver for a little desert town. So bring on the “Sustainable Gila Bend” promotion. It’s what Gila Bend’s city manager and planning director, as well as local citizens are hoping for.

Susnet Farm Alfalfa Fie; east side of Painted Rock Road © AME

Susnet Farm Alfalfa Fie; east side of Painted Rock Road © AME

For more on Gila Bend’s latest rebirth see:https://www.hcn.org/issues/44.9/the-fading-arizona-town-of-gila-bend-bets-big-on-solar/article_view?b_start:int=0

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There is a magical garden tucked away within Mingus Park in Coos Bay.

Morning Song Bridge

Morning Song Bridge © SR Euston

We discovered it recently while having a picnic at the park. At the west end of the big pond we spotted a gracefully arched, bright red bridge. It turned out to be the entrance to a lovely Japanese-style garden named for Choshi, Japan, Coos Bay’s sister city.

Quiet Pond © SR Euston

Quiet Pond © SR Euston

Work on the garden began in 1985 by the  local architectural firm Crow/Clay, assisted by an army of volunteers, and in consultation with city officials from Choshi. It was dedicated in 1996 ceremony which Choshi representatives attended.

From Morning Song Bridge © SR Euston

From Morning Song Bridge © SR Euston

It is a 2.4 acre promenade-style garden, where a seemingly meandering path leads from one “scene” to the next, each meticulously composed with tranquil diagonal view lines across moving water and among carefully chosen plantings. It includes the standard Japanese garden elements: water which begins in a small pond and then cascades gently down a narrow stream (the “Creek of Whispering Waters”) and ultimately into the park’s main lake; carefully chosen and placed rocks; artful bridges and benches; a 3000 pound granite lantern (“Snow Lantern”) on a tiny island in the “Pond of Illusion”; fish; and plantings including flowering cherry trees, Japanese maples, dogwood, azaleas, rhododendrons and bamboo. Taken together they form a lovely, seemingly natural but perfectly conceived garden which welcomes leisurely strolls and quiet contemplation.

Contemplation © SR Euston

Autumn Scene © SR Euston

Time seems to slow down for everyone who enters Choshi Garden. Nothing rushes; no one skate boards; people talk in lowered voices. It is immensely calming.

The red bridge, “The Morning Song”, was rebuilt in 2007 and shored up in 2009. It is painted red like the Japanese garden bridges which it copies.

Choshi is maintained by volunteers who keep its trees and shrubs artfully manicured and is a part of the Coos Bay City Park system. When you go, perhaps you’ll even be greeted by this graceful bird—a perfect symbol of  a magical  Japanese jewel in this lumber city by the sea.

Heron © SR Euston

Snowy Egret © SR Euston

Choshi Gardens is open every day. Off US 101, take Commercial Street west to 10th Street. Turn north. Mingus Park is one block away on the west side of 10th. Choshi Garden is on the west side of the park.

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Parc national Wood Buffalo

Wood Buffalo Park
Photo Courtesy of Parc National

In the Northeast corner of Alberta, in the great circumpolar boreal forest of muskeg, lakes, spruce and willow, sprawls Wood Buffalo National Park, 17,300 square miles of it, five Yellowstones in area, the 13th largest protected area on earth, a World Heritage Site.

The Park is the breeding ground of the last several hundred whooping cranes, home to the largest remaining free roaming herds of the threatened Wood Bison (a sub-species, larger than the plains bison), and caribou, moose, brown bear, wolf, lynx, beaver—all the boreal animals. The park includes the immense, ecologically rich inland delta of the  Athabascan and Peace Rivers.

Wood Buffalo Park Lake

Wood Buffalo Park Lake
Photo courtesy of Parc National

Wood Buffalo is the call of the wild country. Here is the deep silence, the wide sky, the northern lights, the fiery, silvery night sky. Around nighttime campfires—maybe the call of an owl, the howl of a wolf, the haunting loon laugher, then all’s quiet. Starlight shines. Sleep comes easily.

Tar Sands Map

Tar Sands Map

Only a few miles south of Wood Buffalo begins a realm of utter contrast. This is the domain of the Athabascan Oil Sands, aka Tar Sands Central, one of the great developing industrial regions of Canada, in total about the size of Florida. The Oil Sands Developer Group assures us that the maximum surface area of oil sands mining will obliterate an area equal to only one ninth the area of Wood Buffalo National Park. That equals a mere 900 square miles.

From the air, the gouges on the land suggest a devastated battlefield. The earth’s skin has been violated, beyond repair.  Industry and the Province of Alberta promise ecological restoration of the used up landscape. The very iidea is preposterous. It is difficult enough to restore a few acres of coastal wetland, much less thousands of acres of virgin forest, lake and muskeg in the far north.

And the great Athabascan River drainage and delta is threatened, no matter the assurances of industry and the province.

Importantly, Canada’s First Nations, most obviously impacted by all this industrialization, are alert and organized to publicize these dangers. (see www.raventrust.com).P1010811

Tar sands mining is energy intensive. From tar to oil, from oil to pipeline, from pipeline to refinery—tar sands oil is extravagant in its bequeathing of carbon dioxide. The immense tar sands reserves, if mined, processed and used, will effectively spell the end of the fragile hope of averting the worst of climate change impacts over the next 50 years.

In this sense, the ecological damage of mining pales in significance to its impact on global warming.

Protests against the pipeline have crystalized into history’s largest, best coordinated,  most crucial and broadly based environmental campaign ever, led largely by new groups like www.350.org.  64433_610876308940769_581445259_n

As fate would have it, the key to full exploitation of the tar sands depends on its transportation via pipeline to refineries and ports on the Gulf Coast. The last step, approval for trans-border pipeline construction, is in the hands of President Obama. He is the decider, as a former president might say. The buck stops at his doorstep, as another president once said.

This single act of approving or disapproving this pipeline is arguably the most historically significant decision Obama will face in his eight year presidency.

Denying the pipeline will immediately call into question the economic viability of full scale tar sands exploitation. The worldwide grassroots  movement toward sustainable energy will gain a new foothold.(Cheap oil is not consistent with green energy!)  A presidential decision to deny the pipeline—despite immense pressure from Canada, industry and the Republican Party might—will show the U.S. at last to be a full partner in international efforts to avert climate disaster.

The administration’s record—the “all of the above” energy policy, the approval of drilling on public lands and waters, the letdown at Copenhagen—is not encouraging.

Yet…we can hope.   SRE

Tar Sands Development

Tar Sands Development

PS   Read Naomi Klein’s eye opening story on systems analysis, climate change and  chances for averting catastrophic  ecological and economic  “melt-down”.   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/10/29-4

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Sunday morning I drove into our local Ray’s Food Place parking lot. There in Bill’s familiar parking spot, instead of the old black beater Datsun pickup, I saw, clustered around a upturned plastic milk carton, bouquets, potted chrysanthemums, a candle, a stuffed bear. And a sign: In Memory of Bill. Uh oh, I thought.

Inside a clerk confirmed my fears. Bill had had an accident Saturday, apparently the result of a massive stroke, and died behind the wheel.

Two other memorials had also sprung up around town, one  where he died near the school, the other in his newest parking lot hang-out “downtown.”

When I first saw Bill, just sitting in his truck in the grocery’s lot, I must say I wasn’t sure what to make of him. His truck had definitely seen better days, his clothes were well used. But as I saw him there day after day, reading a magazine or shooting the breeze with whoever happened by I began to see he was a regular, a fixture, another small town character in a town filled with them. He liked our dog and would give her a shout-out every time we walked past. Once in Ray’s meat, dairy, soda, and snacks aisle (yes this is a small town mainstay—our full service grocery store) we chatted a moment and he invited us to his church’s pie social.

In these days when this crazy world seems to have lost touch with the idea of basic human kindness, Bill’s small town memorials are truly touching. The tributes may not be in standard locations, but they’re where we’ll always remember him.

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Last Saturday here in Port Orford we had the first winter storm of the year…on September 28 and 29.

With hazardous sea and high surf warnings (up to 24 foot breakers) we brought in the plastic lawn chairs and checked the windows and gutters. Sheltered behind the hill to our south, we watched the windswept pines flail and the rain come down in sheets.

Port Orford hoist courtesy of enjoyportorford.com

Port Orford hoist
courtesy of enjoyportorford.com

On Sunday afternoon  we decided to venture out to the port overlook to take a look. There next to the “dolly dock” (where giant hoists lift and lower boats in and out of the water, one of only two in the US) the big story of the first storm was unfolding.

Star of Siam photo provided by Emma Jones

Star of Siam
photo provided by Emma Jones

Bobbing in the port’s open water but jetty-protected harbor, a sail boat appeared to be almost foundering, not quite flipped totally by the successive waves of breakers. Later it was reported the ship was on a run from San Diego to the Columbia River, had run low on fuel, headed into port and decided to weather out the storm there. Although we couldn’t see them, the boat was anchored and, in an attempt to keep it straight, was also attached by ropes to the jetty. The crew of two had left the vessel Saturday night via inflatable raft which was hoisted by crane to safety.

The Star of Siam was not so lucky. Late Saturday night the 36 foot boat had broken its rudder at low tide. The ship managed to stay afloat until 6:00 pm Sunday night when a combination of weather and current changes caused the sailing ship to break its ties and drift toward shore where it went aground on the jetty rocks below the port office.

We got 3.62” of rain according to the gauge near the beach. Wind gusts of 64 mph were reported at Cape Blanco to the north. Many other Oregon locales reported record September rainfall. Most impressive was Astoria’s record-breaker, 10.25 inches, remarkably up from September’s average 2.14 inches and significantly beating out its previous 1906 September record of 8.66 inches.

Star of Siam photo provided by Emma Jones

Star of Siam
photo provided by Emma Jones

Here in Port Orford by Tuesday afternoon all remnants of the Star were gone, hauled away by a local contractor. And the sky and the ocean are again beautiful, calm, serenely blue.

Port of Port Orford circa 1910 courtesy of earth-sea imagery

Port of Port Orford circa 1910
courtesy of earth-sea imagery

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This year’s Fourth of July celebration theme was “An Old Fashioned Fourth.”

If my childhood Fourths served as the model, the festivities would have begun with a fried chicken picnic dinner on a blanket while watching fireworks across the town pond. This would have been followed by excitedly forbidden (if not downright illegal) bottle rocket blasts set off by my best friend’s father in their backyard, with all the neighborhood parents standing around alternatively saying “Now Lew, that’s not really legal is it?” followed by appreciative oohs and aahs as colored sparks filled the sky.

If it were my husband’s and his pals’ “Old Fashioned Fourth” it would have included rice-paper wrapped, LA Chinatown procured, firecrackers placed by each dad next to the breakfast bowl of shredded wheat. Another delightfully questionable walk on the wild side for a solidly middle class, definitely law-abiding neighborhood citizenry.

And at Port Orford’s 2013 Parade? We had: horses, fire engines, the local ambulance sporting fake body parts, a flock of motorcylists, a large group in matching red T-shirts riding on a flatbed, a woman in the back of an old convertible wearing a beaded wedding dress, and a float featuring a loin-clothed “Indian”, Uncle Sam, a colonially-costumed guy reciting the Declaration of Independence (I think he was meant to be Ben Franklin), a young man in full dress military uniform, and someone wearing a chef’s toque holding a dog on a leash.

As you can see here in Port Orford we all imagine our “Old Fashioned Fourths” differently.

For our Fourth, the Friends of the Port Orford Library decided to honor our librarians past, present and future. For the Parade we dressed up as Port Orford librarians of yesteryear, although somewhat mysteriously to me, we carried name signs of today’s librarians. (I guess we were doing double duty and/or channeling past lives.) And our entry included kids (representing future librarians) riding a pick-up and chanting “Read Books! Read Books!” all the way from the start at the Crazy Norwegian’s Restaurant on the south end of town, to the terminus at the “God Bless America” liquor store 14 blocks north. For this amazing entry we netted “Best of Class.” I’m not certain how many classes there are or who our competition might have been. Still a prize is a prize.

One thing that doesn’t change is we throw candy to the kids lining the streets. Now that’s a new fashioned Fourth I can get behind.

And here’s a Fourth of July band I can never get enough of; .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODu888i14-I

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