28 January 2007

A Devil of a Time on the Coast

On Friday evening, I headed up the road to Portland to celebrate my cousin's birthday. After my obligatory trip to Powell's the next morning, I decided to take the scenic route back to Eugene and drove out to the coast. You couldn't ask for a better day to take a trip to the Oregon Coast. It was windy enough to throw up some fairly impressive surf and the tide was particularly low, always a plus if you like tidepooling or beachcombing. Most importantly, it was bizarrely sunny and warm: 65 degrees according to a bank reader board in Newport (though a second sign in the same town said it was 18 below). I decided to spend most of the afternoon at the beaches below Cape Perpetua, one of the more imposing headlands along the central coast. It turned out to be well worth it, largely because of the Devil's Churn. The Devil's Churn is a surge channel, one of the wave-cut fissures that crop up all along the coast and often make for spectacular interplays between water and rock. I've seen my share of surge channels (during my summer of fieldwork on Tatoosh Island, we had to leap a pretty good-sized one almost every day), but this one is unique. Though it's fairly normal in terms of depth, it is both extremely long and extremely narrow (just a few feet wide in places). Because the Devil's Churn is so long, it runs far up into a ravine on the face of the cape, and because it is so narrow, it channels a massive amount of tidal energy into a roiling, frothing maelstrom (hence its name). Even on a warm, sunny day conducive to cheerfulness, it's a creepy place. It's perpetually in shade, the walls of the ravine are continuously dripping with water, and the rocks around the edges form weird, sharp-edged figures. Perhaps uncanniest of all is the sound of it: when a large surge hits the channel, it runs up to the end and smashes into it with an audible crash. This is pretty normal for a surge channel, but because of the sheer ravine walls on either side, the noise echoes around impressively with a sound like a kettle drum; you can actually feel the concussion. My point here is that if you're looking for a taste of the sublime (in the literal sense of the word) and you happen to be in the vicinity of Florence, Oregon, this is one you shouldn't miss. For those of you with less of a taste for such things, I can vouch for the rest of the beaches around there being very nice on a sunny day. Either way, it's worth the trip; so, dear readers, when are you coming to visit?

24 January 2007

How do you keep the music playing?

I'd like to depart from my usual ramblings for just one post, because one of the seminal figures in my life died yesterday, and I want to do my small part to honor him. Many of you have probably never heard of Floyd Standifer, but it would not be an exaggeration to say that he was the heart and soul of jazz in Seattle. He also was one of the founders of The Northwest School and led the jazz ensemble there for somewhere in the vicinity of two decades. I had the inestimable privilege of playing trombone for Floyd for seven years, and much of my love of and appreciation for music is due to him. Besides just putting into words my sincere appreciation for the personal benefits I reaped from him, I can attest that Floyd was a truly remarkable person. His life's story is a fascinating one, and makes for a good read. However, if you really want to appreciate Floyd, look up one of his albums: you'll seldom hear a sweeter-sounding trumpet, flugelhorn, or sax, and you'll never hear another musician who loved what they did more than Floyd Standifer. So, to a classy human being, an excellent teacher, and a musician of the highest caliber, thanks for everything, Floyd. You will be missed.

22 January 2007

Denouncing Dr. Dino

This news is a few days old now, but as many of you may have heard, infamous Creation "scientist" Kent "Dr. Dino" Hovind has just been sentenced to 10 years in prison for tax evasion. Apparently he had claimed that he didn't have to pay taxes because everything he owned belonged to God. I'm not writing this to poke fun at Hovind (though if you want a laugh at his expense, check out the back of an "educational" children's placemat he put together a few years back); rather, I'm writing it because I am decidedly partisan in the battle between Education and Ignorance, and I certainly didn't want to pass up the chance to point out the glaring hypocrisy of the latter side. Of course, I'm no theologian, but I know enough about the Bible to know that the issue of taxation is specifically raised in its pages, and that even a good Christian should "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's." So, effectively, Hovind is going against both Biblical and United States law, and yet he makes himself out to be some sort of martyr. The scary thing is, people believe him! Just look at some of the comments people have posted on the article I linked to at the top of this entry. They say he's a good man, and that should excuse him from being punished for being greedy (one of the Seven Deadly Sins, I might add). They're effectively saying that it's OK if you don't actually act as the Bible says just so long as you say you do, which is just about the most un-Christian thing I can think of. At any rate, it's nice to see that for once one of these creeps got caught. Lest we forget, though (and because I like ending on an ominous and melodramatic note), figures like Hovind are just pawns in this game; there are far more insidious and effective forces out there on the side of Ignorance, and I fear the people at the Discovery Institute are far too clever to ever get caught at tax evasion...

19 January 2007

I have a master's degree...in science!

A brief, albeit disproportionately eventful, chapter of my life ended today. Fifteen and a half months ago, I headed off to the University of Bristol. This morning, I got an email from the head of the palaeobiology master's program there to make it official: the final grades are in for my thesis, and I passed, meaning that I am now entitled to add three extra letters to my name (yes, that's right, three: that's one of the overlooked benefits of getting a British MSc rather than an American MS). I hope you all don't mind me patting myself on the back a bit, but it's not everyday I actually get to revel in the glorious feeling of accomplishment. Mind you, sending an Anglophile paleontologist to a England for a year to study fossils hardly constitutes torture, so I really can't claim I suffered much. I also did well enough in the classes there that there was never any real danger of not receiving my degree. Still, to have started something that big and to have finished - especially after having been out of academics for a few years - is a very nice feeling. That's all I have to say about that for now; back to my normal, self-deprecating self tomorrow.

11 January 2007


Sure enough, it snowed last night and sure enough, the city of Eugene came to a screeching halt this morning. Every school and college in town was closed for the day (except, of course, the U of O, which apparently hasn't had a snow day in decades). Still, I had just enough free time to take a stroll to take a walk through the woods up the hill (yes, I have a forest behind my house, yet another reason why you all need to come visit more often) to snap a few photos as promised yesterday. My whining about local snow driving abilities (or lack thereof) aside, Eugene does look very nice under a coat (well, really more of a dusting) of snow.
Also, I read what I thought was an interesting
article on the Chicago Tribune's website today about how democrats are hoping to gain a lot of ground in Western states, particularly Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. Of course, I'm not at all qualified to opine on politics, but I think it's a splendid idea. Despite appearances to the contrary, I've long thought that it's fertile ground for fiscally conservative but socially liberal democrats. Here's hoping; as the article points out, the West could make the difference in 2008.

10 January 2007

I was dreaming of a white Christmas, and all I got was this lousy white Treaty of Versailles Day...

As I write this, Eugene is crippled under the onslaught of what passes for a major blizzard in these parts. I have something like half an inch of snow in my yard right now, with periodic minor flurries still passing through now and then. This wasn't enough to deter a large group of particularly brazen-looking racoons that I spotted out of my window earlier, but it's enough to spook all the locals into thinking they'll have to miss work tomorrow. As you all know, I love the Northwest to the point where I start becoming horribly depressed if I spend too long anywhere else. However, we Northwesterners do have out faults, and one of them is that we really have no idea how to handle snow. In Chicago, there could be an order of magnitude more snow on the ground, and there would be absolutely no talk of anyone missing work; the snowplows would be out that night and the streets would be back to their usual crowded selves the next morning. Here, though, even the mention of snow is enough to get professors to collect everyone's emails so that they can send out a cancellation notice for their class. Of course, we hardly ever get snow here, so this is at least somewhat understandable; I doubt most Chicagoans would know what to do if it rained steadily for a month. Also, we have hills here, which makes getting around on icy roads considerably more difficult. It also, along with the larger number of trees here, makes for a much nicer looking snowfall than has ever graced the Midwest (or at least the urban Midwest). So, while snow in Hyde Park always put me in a foul and complaining mood, I'll admit I was actually kind of glad to see that the flurries they had predicted this week actually made it without turning into rain on the way. Expect pictures tomorrow if I am able to find photography time between classes...

06 January 2007

Merry Un-Christmas!

Well, as you're all no doubt aware, today was Epiphany (or, if you prefer, Three Kings Day), the last day of Christmas. I kid, of course. No one ever seems to be aware of that. Oh well. At any rate, the tree's down, the decorations are packed up, and it's time to reflect on a fairly remarkable Christmas. In the last 12 days I've sold my old car, bought a new (used) one, spent a relaxing New Years in the San Juans, and adopted a cat named Dabby (special thanks to Michael for the name suggestion; it may be meaningless, but somehow it just fits). Tomorrow it's back down to Eugene for a quarter of GIS, geobiology, petrology, and perhaps even potoroo teeth. The fun just never stops!