Archive | March 2013

A Song for Good Friday

Sometimes the best words to sum up how you’re feeling in a given day aren’t even your own.  I’ve found that expressing my thoughts on the death of Christ on this Good Friday would best be done by a relatively new song entitled How Deep the Father’s Love For Us–a song that we’ve sung several times over the last few months at church.  It’s a song written by Stuart Townend, and thought it’s only a few years old, it’s one that has the simple rythmns of a song that could be hundreds of years old.  Enjoy.

“How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that left Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom”

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Favorite Gear: Vasque Blur trail running shoes

Vasque Blur

I use to think that the only shoes one should hike in were hiking boots.  That all changed on a three day backpacking trip with some youth in the Summer of 2006.  By the end of that 15 mile trip my feet were blistered to the point that finishing the hike in Chacos seemed a better option than continuing in my boots.  Meanwhile, the leader of the hike spent most of the trip praising the light-weight yet sturdy and durable nature of his new trail runners.

Now I’m not blaming the entire blister-episode on my boots–it could have been as much user error as boot error–but a short while after that trip I found myself in R.E.I. trying on several different brands and styles of trail runners.  As soon as the laces were tied on a pair of Vasque Blur shoes, I was sold.  They felt completely broken in right out of the box, in comparison to my boots the weight was next-to-nothing, and I knew the tread would cut through the muddy conditions found almost year round in the Pacific Northwest.  They were put to the test on-trail the following weekend, and the refreshed feeling of my feet post-hike was closely mirrored by my refreshed outlook on hiking and backpacking in general.  Over the next 3 years I hiked exclusively in my Vasques, and it was only when the tread was almost gone and a few holes on the exterior had developed from wear and tear that I finally put them out to pasture.

S0 out of roughly 3 year of hiking and backpacking, somewhere in the neighborhood of 200+ miles that ranged from the Washington and Oregon coasts to the rugged mountainous terrain of Montana, how could I possibly boil all of the things seen while wearing those Vasques down to just one story?  Actually, it wasn’t that difficult at all.

During the Summer of 2008 my future wife and I decided to go on our first backpacking trip together.  After consulting a few online sources for potential hikes, we finally decided to follow the advice of the same person that had recommended trail runners to me two Summers earlier.  Since he had hiked all over the state of Washington, we felt pretty confident that any recommendation that was labeled as “one of my favorite areas in Washington” would be pretty solid advice.  His suggestion?:  the Goat Rocks Wilderness, an area that falls almost directly in the middle of a diagonal line that could be drawn between the summits of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams in Southwest Washington.  Our route of choice through this huge Wilderness area was a 13 mile loop, with a campsite in the middle that would serve as a base camp for a day-hike to the top of a peak named Old Snowy on the middle day of a 3 day trip.

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Being roughly 3 years into our time in Seattle, and having done several hikes in the Mount Rainier area over those 3 years, we both went into the trip with a mental picture of what the Goat Rocks would probably look like:  deep evergreen forests followed by alpine meadows of wildflowers with great views of the glaciated peaks of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams.  As the slow climb through an evergreen forest gave way to wide open alpine meadows of wild flowers, our mental pictures seemed well on their way to being confirmed.  Then we turned another bend in the trail, and our first glimpse of Old Snowy came into view.

With the only exceptions being the flat plateaus outside of Denver, Colorado and Glacier National Park in Montana that almost instantaneously give rise to mammoth mountains–a change that you have to see to believe–I don’t know that I had at that point ever seen as dramatic a shift in landscapes as what we saw with Old Snowy.  In what felt like only a few steps, the landscape went from alpine meadow to vegetation-less rock, as if a single contour line on a map was established as the ending point of where all forms of flora ceased–and very few plants dared to venture even an inch further.

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Throughout the first two days of our trip we were treated to one amazing vista after another:  a waterfall tumbling off of a ridge-top that disappeared underground before resurfacing as a small creek near our campsite; hiking through the moon-like landscape on the way to the summit of Old Snowy; 360 degree views towards Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and even down to Mount St. Helens with it’s trapezoid-like profile that we were rewarded with from the top of Old Snowy.  Every time we thought we had seen the best that this area could offer, we had to rethink that thought as we turned the next corner.  It was almost an embarrassment of riches, the likes of which wouldn’t be top by another hike until this past Summer of 2012.  Even amidst that embarrassment of riches, what happened the morning of the third day, as we were about to descend from the alpine meadow and rock ridge back into the evergreen forest on our hike out, became the enduring memory of that trip for me.

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For the first two days we had enjoyed the best weather that a Pacific Northwest Summer can offer, complete with cloudless skies and a warm, but not uncomfortable temperature.  During our second night at camp however, a Summer storm rolled in, giving us front-row seats to an impressive lightning show several ridges away.  As we awoke on the third morning, the cloudless skies had turned metallic grey, and the warm air had turned damp with a slight chill.

The first third of our hike out of the Goat Rocks Wilderness on day three had us following a trail that traced its way half-way up the side of an exposed ridge line that towered above the horseshoe-shaped valley it encircled.  At the rounded portion of the horseshoe lay Goat Lake–a decent sized lake that is frozen almost all year.  Shortly after passing Goat Lake, the trail dropped suddenly from the high ridge line through more meadows of lupine, columbine, and indian paintbrush, back into a deep canopy of evergreens.

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Even though the morning had been grey and threatening rain, we had avoided most of it by simply being at a higher altitude than the heavy rain clouds–they clung to the horseshoe shaped valley below us.  Turning the corner of the horseshoe after Goat Lake we could tell that our luck was about to change as a strong wind had picked up and was pushing the rain clouds out of the valleys and up and over the ridge we were about to descend.  We stopped for a quick snack, and to snap some pictures, hoping for enough of a break in the rain clouds for us to descend off of the ridge and into the trees. Seeing a break in the clouds, we began descending as quickly as we could.  Roughly 100 yards into our descent we looked up to see a dark grey mass of cloud barreling towards us, sweeping up the side of the ridge like a wave.  I remember freezing mid-stride in the middle of the steep trail, watching and waiting for the quick-moving cloud to sweep over us, unsure of what was about to happen.

The impact of the cloud as it swept over the ground around us ignited all of our senses almost simultaneously:  the sight of a cloud mass that seemed to hug the ground as it swept up the side of the mountain, almost feeling as though it passed through us instead of the other way around; the sound of the wind rushing towards us before the cloud, followed by a muffling and deadening of all sounds as the cloud enveloped us; the feel of moisture that wasn’t so much falling on us as much as it was being pushed past us; and finally the almost metallic-like smell and taste of a fresh summer rain that was intensified by the wind forcing it into our rapidly-breathing lungs.  One second we were mostly dry, and the next we were completely soaked.  One second we could see most of the mountains around us, and the next we could barely see 10 feet in front of us.  One second we were in the midst of an incredible backpacking trip with scenery that would stick with us for a long, long time, and the next we were standing in a moment and an experience that imprinted itself so deeply into my senses that I can still see the cloud barreling towards us, smell the deep metallic smell, hear the muffled silence, and feel the impact of moisture crashing into us.

Those are the moments that we venture into the wilderness for–those moments where time stops, our senses truly awaken, and nature makes us realize how very small and powerless we really are.  That experience came courtesy of 2 solid pieces of advice from a friend, one of which resulted in me purchasing a pair of Vasque Blurs…one of my favorite pieces of outdoor gear.

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Can Gardening Change The World?

Vacant lots, the other-wise useless strips of grass next to the street, used shipping containers….a shovel, some dirt, and some seeds.  These are the tools Ron Finley proposes be used to take back the streets, kids, and health of South Central L.A. and inner cities everywhere.  Maybe it really could be that easy.

Salmon Confidential

This hour-long documentary has shown up on several fly fishing based blogs over the last week or so, and I finally had a chance to watch the entire hour a few nights ago.  In it, filmmaker Twyla Roscovich sheds light on one of the major issues contributing to declining numbers of wild salmon all over the world:  salmon farms.  She interviews and follows Alexandra Morton, a biologist, artist, and activist from British Columbia (www.salmonaresacred.org), through a long battle with the Canadian government over the issue of diseases spread through these farm-raised salmon. 

Even though the video is based entirely in Canada, this issue shouldn’t have a blind eye turned on it by Americans–the waters listed, and the fish that pass through them, are closely connected to the migratory routes used by salmon moving from Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.  Furthermore, salmon farms of similar types exist in U.S. waters, exposing native fish to the exact same perils.  This is by no means solely a Canadian problem.

I’ll go ahead and warn you, some of the video might be tough to watch because of the deteriorated condition some of the fish are in.  But that in and of itself should cause alarm for us:  if these diseases cause a fish’s external appearances to be altered in grotesque ways, what do the viruses do to the cleaned-up fillets that we buy as “Farm Raised Salmon” in stores? 

Two quick highlights, if you don’t have time to watch the entire video:  from 2:30-6:20, which shows the correlation between the decreasing numbers of salmon and the beginning of salmon farm procedures; 43:30-48:45, as they shop for farm-raised salmon in local grocery stores that not only have the external markings of disease (long and skinny bodies, deformities, open sores), but also test positive for fish-based viruses that are supposed to be reported to international agencies. 

If you have time to watch the entire video, I would strongly urge you to do so.  The more informed we become as consumers and concerned citizens, the less likely we are to have concerning products passed off to us as “all natural.” 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue…

Photographing Downtown

Two weeks ago I realized that I hadn’t gone out to shoot impromptu pictures in quite a while.  Sure, I had taken a few photos here and there, but all of them fell either into the planned photo session or a photo session of an otherwise planned activity realms.  What I hadn’t done in a while was more along the lines of setting out to a place with no agenda, no preconceived photos in my head, and little time constraints to worry about.  In those moments, the photography becomes more relaxed and stripped down–there’s no longer pressure to create a picture that exactly mirrors what’s in your head, or to capture a specific moment for posterity or profession sake.  Instead, there’s freedom to explore and allow your eyes to wander and land on details.  It is then that textures and shapes and shadows that would have otherwise gone unnoticed jump out.

One such place that I have wanted to roam around unplanned to shoot some shots was in the downtown area from Pike Place Market south through Pioneer Square, from the water to roughly 4th Ave.  For those who aren’t familiar with Seattle, this area contains the old part of downtown, where brick buildings still dominate in an otherwise steel and glass city built to withstand earthquakes.  This area is one of only a couple that would qualify as semi-dingy in a city known for its cleanliness:  an area that represents more of its lumberjack, gold miner, and sailor past (read:  rough and rowdy) than its software and aerospace present (read:  not as rough and rowdy).  But in a downtown that can sometimes feel too clean to be the epicenter of a driving cultural force, this area stands out for the years of character and history etched into its walls and alley ways.  And so I drove downtown early one morning this weekend in order to roam around and search out this character.

What I found as I began walking was a city still waking up.  A few of the booths in Pikes Place Market were up and running, but most tables were still entirely empty, and not a single street musician had begun collecting quarters.  As I made my way east towards 4th Ave., it seemed that buses and sanitation crews were the only vehicles traveling the streets, and only the older crowd of vacationers had made their way out of their downtown hotels.

In some ways it was an eerie feeling.  Making my way into Pioneer Square, it almost felt like I could feel and hear the echo of music from the clubs the night before, and the smell of alcohol and food from the bars still hung in the air.  But there were very few people there, and all of the clubs, restaurants, and shops were completely closed and empty.

I’m not sure how far I walked exactly, but it had to be several miles.  Along the way I had a conversation with a homeless man who told me about the city’s budget for artwork and how he used to camp behind the library where he served as a self-proclaimed security guard, I pointed a couple of groups of tourists in the right direction for some of Seattle’s major landmarks, I snapped several dozen photographs, and I walked down streets and alleys that I’m pretty sure I’ve never walked down before.  After a couple of hours it began to rain in typical Seattle fashion–just enough to be a nuisance.  So I headed back towards Pike Place to buy my wife some flowers and a chocolate croissant, and walked to my car where the evidence of Seattle’s coming to life was seen in the line of cars waiting for a parking space in what had been a completely empty line of spaces just a few hours before.

Here are a few of the images:

A Whole World of Issues

Over the last few years the fly fishing industry has taken giant steps forward in the arenas of photography and fly fishing.  The standard “grip and grin” photos and simple videos of people hooking fish after fish, after fish, after fish….after fish, are being replaced by photos and videos that create narrative and dialogue.  The industry has realized that so many are attracted to the beauty of the sport and the serenity of the places it takes you, and not just the reward of holding some massive fish for a photograph, and everything from advertising to magazines and blogs to guide service websites are adjusting accordingly.

But there’s another aspect of photo and video being tapped into:  its ability to call attention to the dangers that some of the world’s great watersheds are facing, which come in a multitude of sizes, shapes, and forms.  There’s the proposed Pebble Mine at the headwaters of the major tributaries of Bristol Bay in Alaska, or the mountain-top removal mining strategies of West Virginia; there’s the fight over water rights for agricultural needs throughout the western U.S., or the potential dredging of new cruise ship canals in the heart of the Florida Keys; there’s habitat destruction and the encroachment of civilization that leads to a multitude of environmental hazards throughout the world; there’s also commercial fishing issues in every ocean that affect the quality and quantity of fish that end up on our dinner plates.  One doesn’t need to travel very far from your doorstep to run into a potential hazard revolving around water and the fish that call that water home.  It is these struggles, as well as many others, that groups of fly fishing based photographers and videographers have been addressing at an ever-increasing level of effectiveness over the last 8-10 years.

The issue with all of this is that so often these videos and photos, and therefore the knowledge of and connection to these issues don’t make it very far outside of the fishing industry.  Issues like the Pebble Mine that are at the very forefront of the industry’s conscience is something few have heard of outside of it, and the blame for this isn’t limited to one side of the equation or the other.  Those of us within the industry often fall into the trap of assuming that the majority of those around us value the resource as much as we do, while we all as Americans often fall victim to a belief that all natural resources are indefinitely renewable either through the course of nature or through our scientific prowess.  At the heart of most of the struggle between the different stances on these issues is that they cause us to ask the following question:  does immediate financial gain from non-renewable resource extraction that often comes through potentially devastating and irreversible methods (mountain-top removal mining, dredging the ocean floor, etc.) always outweigh resources that are renewable if protected that bring economic resources at a slower pace (sport fishing, white-water rafting, access to clean water)?  For some, the answer to that is a resounding “yes”; for others, the answer is a passionate “no!”

This post is in no way an attempt to tell you what to believe, but is instead an invitation to enter into the conversation around these issues that affect us all in some way, and are literally all around us.  It’s my hope that you would check out videos like the ones done by Felt Soul Media (www.feltsoulmedia.com) around issues like Pebble Mine and dam removal that address both sides of the issue, by researching issues like farmed salmon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaculture_of_salmon), or by simply doing Google searches around water-based issues in your area.  If you’re interested in fly fishing-specific issues, there are tons of websites and blogs that give updates on nation and worldwide issues, as well as ones on your local level.  We all have an obligation to become informed consumers and informed citizens because the decisions we make don’t begin and end with us.  As the saying often attributed to Chief Seattle goes, “We do not inherit the earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children.”