Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Year in Books, 2013

I hadn't expected this year's reading list to be overwhelmingly spectacular. In my defense, this is usually a sound bet, as none of my yearly tallies speak to a dedicated devotion to reading timei. With much of the year revolving around our impending, and then all-consuming, bundle of joyii I had not expected to get a lot of reading done.

Put down the book, Dad, or I'm totally going to punch you. In the heartstrings.

As it turned out, spending long hours comforting a newborn actually was a boon to reading time. While a large portion of the reading revolved around Lydia's first booksiii, I managed to sneak in a couple of my own. All that sequestered time with baby on lap and book in hand added up, apparently, and some of the weightier worksiv were actually toward the end of the year.

Good, bad, and forgettable, this was my year in 22 books, in roughly the order of their reading. 

 My Antonia (Willa Cather) – My first book of the year actually ended up being one of the most enjoyable. I've never read Cather's O Pioneer!, but may have to consider it. Antonia has captures the sweeping sense of place of the unbroken prairie, and has wonderful characters. The writing doesn't translate as well to modern sensibilities (latter era Antonia comes off as hick-ish), but it's still a classic. For some reason My Antonia and Wyeth's “Christina's World” seem like perfect companions.

BPRD, Volumes 1-14 (Mike Mignola, et al.) - As loathe as I am to count graphic novels as “books” per se, I think the full story arc sweep of this weighty collection makes the cut. In opposition to the super-hero world of barely adequate spandex, Mignola has crafted a world steeped in mythos, with an underlying mix of ascetic aesthetic and dystopian gloom. His heroes are deeply flawed and fragile, without succumbing to the faux-noir grit of a Wolverine, etc. Coming from the greater Hellboy universe (not the bastardized movie version, but the anti-hero-as-solitary-wanderer graphic novels), there is a deeper philosophy to the stories, much like the superb Sandman stories by Neil Gaiman.

Peter and Max (Bill Willingham) – In the same vein as BPRD, Bill Willingham has crafted a fantastic adult take on the storytale characters in Fables. What Frank Miller and Alan Moore did for Batman, Willingham does for the titular fable/fairy tale//nursery rhyme characters like Snow White. This novel is a spinoff taking place in the same universe, but lacks the grit and wit of the original. Willingham just isn't a good enough author to carry it off without the beautiful whimsical-meets-noir art of the graphic novels.

Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins) - While I had my issuesv with the Hunger Games, it was still a fun read, and much better than the surge of paranormal teen trash that seems to be flooding the market since those Books About Glittery Vampires and Bare-chested Werewolvesvi That Will Not Be Named came out. However, this sequel is a step backwards. The repetition of the crises of the first book, without much broader depth, made this a shallow read. You could simply have had one page that said “Hunger Games: ditto”.

Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins) – Like Catching Fire, the end to the series was fairly yawn-worthy. It was nice that it didn't have yet a third hunger games, but it just didn't strike the same sense of urgency as the first novel. As trilogies go, this was more Matrix than Star Wars.

The Twelve (Justin Cronin) – I had really liked the page-turning pace of The Passage. Unfortunately, the follow up really just fell apart. Characters wandered without much purpose, the story moved in uneven fits and starts, and by the end of the book, it really hadn't advanced the original compelling story much. This is another series where I think I would have been happy to leave things as they were at the end of the first book.

Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl (Brian Klems)– Impending dadhood spurred a dip into some baby lit. More comedy than baby guidebookvii, this was a quick, enjoyable read. I dread the onslaught of pink to come.

New Dad's Survival Guide (Scott Mactavish) – As witty as “Oh Boy” was, this was equally dull. Written, poorly, for an archaic stereotype of a clueless dad that could only exist in a 90's sitcom. It's like someone took a baby manual from 1980's Soviet Russia, with all the charm that implies, and then blended it with a Mountain Dew Commercial in a halfhearted attempt to make banal baby guide fodder EXTREME!. There is actually a camo edition. 

The Spirit Level (Seamus Heaney) – When Heaney passed away this year, a great literary voice was silenced. I had a few of his more recent volumes of poetry I'd been meaning to get around to, so I thought it fitting to do so this year. This first go was a pretty dense read, and probably got less time and effort than it deserves. As much as I can appreciate the depth of brilliance represented here, I found it less enjoyable than some of his earlier, more accessible works. This likely says much more about me than the collection. In general, a much more self-reflective work than others previous; no directly powerful poems like “Limbo” or “Easter, 1916”, just much more subtle touches.

The Electric Light (Seamus Heaney) – As above, another dense work, but more enjoyable. I still think his early stuff was the bestviii, but it may be in no small part due to the less-jaded perspective I read “Selected Poems” in back in 1997. I think, in completely unfair fashion, I mentally try to juxtapose Yeats with Heaney such that I'm always a bit surprised at Heaney's depth, and a little disappointed in his relative dryness compared to Yeats poetic wildness.

Guns, Germs and Steel (Jared Diamond) – I'd avoided this piece of pop-history, but in a reading lull decided to finally give it a shot. In general I think he did a fairly decent job of summarizing a fairly vast sweep of human history in one book, even if it mean dramatically oversimplifying a great deal. The book is remarkably less about its titular trio than it is about the advent and progression of agriculture, which was a welcome surprise. However, Diamond steered far too often out onto very specific limbs or spent disproportionate amounts of time talking about his beloved New Guinea, such that there seemed to be a good deal of hammering of square pegs into round holes. Unfortunately, this is par for the course, in my opinion, for any book that tries to make specific, sweeping, simplistic statements about the progress of human history. Engaging, but academically questionable.

The Hangman's Daughter ( Oliver Potsch) – This odd little book got read mostly because 1) I thought it was something else, 2) it was free on Kindle, and 3) I hate putting down a book once I start it. Odd medieval murder mystery, somewhat cartoonish and two-dimensional. Really just sort of forgettable.

The Alchemist (Paulo Coehlo) – This is one of those books people kept being astonished I hadn't read, so I read it. It was satisfyingly well written, although it seemed to be intimating with no degree of subtlety toward a larger philosophyix. I was perfectly happy to read a well written adventure story and leave it at that.

No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy) – This was one of the few McCarthy works I hadn't read, since I had mistakenly seen the movie first. It was great relative to most other fiction of the past couple decades, but not one of McCarthy's best. It read more like a particularly gritty Steinbeck novel than something like the apocalyptic prophecy of Blood Meridian. Still, for all the books that have been ruined by seeing the movie first, I can't imagine better casting than Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin for the characters here and the book translated fairly well to a movie, lacking McCarty's usual depth of language.

The Things They Carried (Tim O'Brien) – this book got read almost primarily because it was within reach on the shelf with a baby in my lap. I knew vaguely of it, and expected the usual sort of collection of war memoirs. However, I was pleasantly surprised at O'Brien's almost surrealistic blending of truth and story, and his focus on how story and narrative affect our perceptions on an individual and historical level. It's like Kazuo Ishiguro and Steven Ambrose had a literary baby.

The Book of Dragons (Edith Nesbitt) – This was another surprise find in the free section of Kindle Books. This collection of short stories is dryly witty in classic English style, with just a touch of Monty Python-esque absurdity. Ostensibly a childrens' book of dragon stories, it's really more of a dragons-as-understated-but-not-remotely-serious-metaphor. It reminded me a good deal of Graham Greene.

The Roundhouse (Louise Erdrich) – Hands down the best I read this year. I routinely like to think of enjoying a book as being dependent on either exceptional writing, or exceptional story, or a fairly good mix of each. It's nice to find those books that meet all the criteria without descending into pretentiousness. The Roundhouse's story full of the rhythm and crises of modern reservation life is earnest, compelling, and tragic, and deeply satisfying. The characters and dialogue are well fleshed out without being overwritten. All in all there is a subtle touch to the balance of story and back story, and I couldn't find much of anything to dislike about the book. Always great to find a new-to-me author with other works to explore.

A Song of Fire and Ice, Books 1-4 (George RR Martin) – Dear Mr. Martin; We, the reading audience, publishing establishment, and critics everywhere have done you a great disservice. Someone, somewhere along the way should have clued you in that it is not only possible, but sometimes quite PREFERRABLE, to write books that weigh in at less than a small child, and are less numerous in page count than the equivalent year span of the Roman Empire. I mean seriously, even Tolstoy would complain about how many unnecessary characters you have. Even Herman Woulk would say “Dude, that book is a little long”. And seriously, the closer the end of the fourth book I got, the more alarmingly rape-y they gotx. Martin does some cool world-building in terms of depth, but it really feels incredibly derivative of Tolkien, Arthurian legend, Dragonlance, etc. The one thing that kept me hooked in the first couple books was the pacing and political machinations. However, that really starts to fall apart in book 3, and book 4 is just a mess. Honestly, I was not at all sad about the Red Wedding. I had sort of hoped it would have a greater death toll if for nothing else than to get rid of even more of the two-dimensional hacky characters. Of course, I read all four and will rear the fifth, so that says something about either the books or me. But man...4000 pages. Damn.
  • A Game of Thrones – The level of writing is certainly not literature grade, and at points is barely above dungeons and dragons fan fic, but the pacing and scope of the story is ambitious. Of all the novels, this one really stands out as a well-crafted work. You can feel Martin's enthusiasm for this new world he's created, but he is patient as he gradually lays it out in expanding circles. It's greatly derivative, but enjoyable. While some of the characters are really novel, a great number are just set dressing. Writing bad; story rambunctiously good.
  • A Clash of Kings – Not as singularly compelling as the first, but the pace keeps up, and the characters get a little fleshing. The cataclysmic ending is satisfyingly epic.
  • A Storm or Swords – And so begins the endless wandering. This for me is where the series has some bright spots, but also starts to unravel. Martin has so many characters, even 1000 page tomes can't flesh them out. Some of the discussion of banner men and minor houses start to read like the Bible passages of who begat who begat who. And it's getting rape-ier. Still, a good following could tie up a lot of these loose ends....
  • A Feast for Crows – is not the tying up that was needed. This book could have been completely omitted and the series would have suffered little loss of continuity. The writing is badly degraded, the characters wander seemingly aimlessly, and little of anything compelling happens. With the exception of one or two characters, most devolve into cardboard cutouts, and some major characters don't even make an appearance. This is just overall bad writing and worse editing. I'm hoping the next book is better.

Ed King (David Guterson) – I hadn't even realized Guterson had another book out, and hadn’t even finished his last, when I got this for Christmas. With time to kill on the vacation and plane ride home, I blew through this book at a fast clip. However, that's not an indication of it's worth. This novel is nominally a modernized retelling of Oedipus Rex (Ed King, get it?), but it doesn't even need to be. If anything, Guterson almost makes the same mistake David Wroblewski made in “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by trying to fit a wonderfully written world to an existing storyline when it really wants to go somewhere much better, In Sawtelle, it failed miserablyxi. In Ed King, it works, mostly because the story Guterson writes around that very basic substructure is so well-crafted. The characters and dialogue are natural, and fully realized. There is a great mix of the underlying absurdity of the mundane, universal humanity, and constant press of destiny. It ends up working very well, but more so as a frank look at the frailty and tackiness humanity is capable of,  the mirroring of these flaws that saturated the 70's and 80's, and their conversion to the modern era.



iEspecially compared with the Good Folks Over At “A Fiercer Delight and a Fiercer Discontent” and “Are There Any More Cookies” whose yearly reading lists routinely rival the enumerated Library of Congress' archives.
ii“Bundle of Joy” does not adequately convey the full range of emotions that fill the metaphorical conveyance that is our daughter. I might also add: Package of Sleeplessness, Knapsack of Cute, Basket of Screaming, Box of Famished, and Pallet of Parental Freak Out.
iiiSome of which actually ended up being more intellectually compelling than the some of the books on my adult reading list. Seriously, some of her stuff was pretty insightful, like the book about the nation's unwillingness to surrender a romantic image of agriculture in the face of modern agribusiness (“Go Tractor, Go!”), and the one about the inherent bias of conservation efforts toward more aesthetic species (“Touch and Feel Cute Animals”), not to mention a really spectacular look at the inherent inevitability of change in the life and death cycle (“The Very Hungry Caterpillar”). It's entirely possible that lack of sleep has made me read more into these works than was intended. Still better than 4000 pages of faux chivalry. Looking at you here, Martin.
ivWeightier either in terms of content, or in the case of Mr. Martin's ponderous tomes, sheer page count and bulk.
vBesides the fact that it is incredibly derivative of much better works like The Lottery, Battle Royale, The White Mountains, etc., I didn't think it was exceptionally well written, even for the intended audience's level.
viIn the race to the bottom of the barrel, I'm pretty sure there is now a series simply called “The Glittery Vampires and Bare-chested Werewolves Chronicles”.
viiI tried not to read too many baby books. By all rights this list should also contain sections of What to Expect When You're Expecting, etc. I have enough trouble vacationing out of a guidebook; I really don't want to parent too much out of one either.
viiiIs this poetic hipsterism? “Oh I totally was into him before he was the Poet Laureate....sell-out.”
ixHowever, I read it in a vacuum, so I really am still not sure if this is part of a broader worldview or just a well-done take on the role of prophecy in traditional hero/quest stories. I tend to be more of a “Moby Dick was just a big white whale” kind of guy than an “Eskimo (highlighted)” sort, trying to read too much into things
xThis was actually a bit disconcerting. I mean, the books were really, really rape-fixated, especially toward the end. I don't mean to make light of it, it's a serious topic, but in a book that's not really making a lot of focused social commentary (despite the extrapolations I'm sure exist on the internet), it's hard to buy that the fixation on rape is really just an empowering statement about the challenges strong women face. Hyperbole aside, I really did have to consider whether I wanted to keep reading the series, given how much physical domination, ownership and rape of women was such a recurring and underlying theme. I hate to say it, but I've really come away with the feeling that Martin has some issues to work out regarding the ladies. I think, especially if I was a woman, I'd be a bit discomfited with the treatment of rape in the book. I mean, I don't expect him to be heavy handed about it, saying “and she was raped, WHICH WAS VERY VERY BAD AND IS A SERIOUS ISSUE”, but he often veers toward the other end of things. There were instances where women were told they needed “a good raping”, and where the mass rape of a woman (Lollys) was treated as an ongoing joke. Even if you argue Martin is using rape as a black hat symbol for the bad guys, it really keeps coming back to seeming like he's fixated on it by its overwhelming prevalence. Even his strong female characters keep getting dominated by, or rescued by, stronger men. I'm sure a hundred and 5 women's studies students have already had a field day with this. However, without even being on a standing where I'm looking to be offended...this creeped me out a bit.

xiOphelia is a literal dog! Sigh.   

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Her Royal Tininess, Queen Lydia I

Obligatory baby-in-a-basket photo

Posts are on hold for a while, since baby Lydia Willow Bower has arrived on 9/16 at 10:16 PM. She weighed in at 7 pounds, and was 19.5 inches long. Lydia and Willow were chosen just because we like them as names, but it turns out we have several Lydias in my extended family tree, including Lydia Gorham, duaghter of Desire Gorham, first generation daughter of two original Mayflower families. Congrats Lydia, you get to carry on the family heritage of being related to that guy (John Howland) who fell off the boat!

All hail Her Royal Tininess, on her Bunny Throne

 I am profoundly awed, proud, and terrified as a new dad, but Kate's parents are here and it's all going smoothly so far (her propensity for being a night owl/banshee in the wee hours of the morning notwithstanding.) More pictures and gushing posts about my little Snowflake to follow, indubitably. 

I'm going to be the most photographed child ever.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What a Friend We Have In Cheeses (Oregon Trip Part III)

This is the third in a three part extravaganza[i]  about our July 4th trip to the Oregon Coast. You may wish to read the first and second posts first, but hey, it’s up to you, I’m not the blog police.

Cape Mears Panoramic
Cape Meares Panoramic (raw)

Day 5
Day 5 is usually the point in a vacation where my grandiose dreams of getting up at the crack of dawn, strapping 40 pounds of photography gear to my back, and heading out into the morning chill start to give way to the allure of soft, warm beds[ii]. Not to be deterred, I dragged myself once more out onto the beach, but didn’t find much of consequence.

GullLeast (?)
SandpiperPocked Rock
Anemones, Western Gull, Least Sandpiper, Pocked Rock

The plan for the day was an excursion out of Cannon Beach down to Tilamook to visit the Tilamook Cheese Factory. I cannot emphasize enough how much a priority this was for my wife; she comes from a cheese-loving people. The drive south through the highlands had some fantastic views of the long stretch of the Oregon coast.   We passed through a half-dozen generic tourist towns on the way to Tilamook as the land gradually flattened to rolling dairy country.

Coastal Vista

The Tilamook Factory is seemingly the big tourist draw for northern Oregon. Even given that it was the 4th of July weekend, the crowds were pretty intense. We took the disappointingly short tour which was made gloriously worthwhile by the “free cheese bins” in the tasting area at the end. I had an unhealthy amount of cheese, and then bought a massive bag of cheese curds to go. The largest lines were for their ice cream, which apparently is a local fave. The ice cream, as it turned out, was not free like the cheese, but pretty tasty anyway.

IMGP5677Cheese Line
Ice CreamIMGP5688
Tilamook Cheese Factory, Cheese Line, Cheese Factory Floor, Ice Cream Line, Family with Ice Cream

On our way back we took the “three Capes” tour of some of the refuges and parks along the coast. I managed to find some sea lions basking far offshore, and vast flocks of Murres and other sea birds. We spent a little time at Cape Meares where they have a Fresnel lens lighthouse which is apparently a big deal. The 180+ degree sweep of the Pacific Ocean visible from the lighthouse was impossible to catch on film in a way that really conveyed its vastness.

Ecola State Park
Murre Colony
Cape Meares Coast, Cape Meares Raw Panoramic, Island (B&W), Fresnel Light, Lighthouse, Cape Cliffside, Sea Lions, Murre Colony

Before we left, we followed signs to see the famed “Octopus Tree”. Sadly, this turned out to pretty much just be a tree with a lot of branches, not a tree full of octopi. However, that utter failing was buffered by the chance to see my old field nemesis[iii], the Peregrine Falcon, making dramatic dives along the cliffside nearby.

So-called Octopus Tree.

That night there was pizza and more Agricola, during which my empire of sheep expanded nicely.

Day 6
On our last full day, instead of heaving my weary carcass toward the early morning shore like an aged Elephant Seal, I lifted a metaphorical middle finger in the general direction of the beach and opted to sleep in.
The whole family went for a long last walk on the beach, watching the wildlife in the tidal pools and got good views of some fairly complacent Pigeon Guillemots learning to fly and feed from a rocky outcrop. If the Peregrine Falcon is the Brad Pitt[iv] of the bird world, the Pigeon Guillemots are the Woody Allen.

Cannon Beach
Beach Wood
(B&W) Dave and
Cannon Beach Vista, Pigeon Guillemots, Beach Wood (B&W), Dave and Mom McColgin

Since it was our last leisurely morning, we went back to the Pig and Pancake for another ridiculously large brunch. One of the local delicacies is, I kid you not, the Marionberry[v]. Unlike its homophonic political counterpart, however, the Marionberry is a fine upstanding part of the local community.

We saw Kate’s brother and his wife off after breakfast, and then went with her parents up to Seaside, another nearby tourist town. It was about the time we rolled into Seaside that we realized our assumptions about the Oregon coast, based mostly on the over-the-top floral niceness of Cannon Beach, may not be entirely universal. Simply put, Seaside was like a particularly bad stretch of the Jersey Shore on a weekend where a booking error lead to Guidofest, the Gathering of the Juggalos, and some low budget Spring Break knockoff happening all at the same time in the same place. We gave it a fair shot, but the combination of ultra-touristy schlock and outright squalor had us returning to Cannon Beach fairly quickly[vi]

The rest of the day was devoted to bumming around the beach, reading, napping and other traditional beach cottage pursuits. We managed to snag some last minute reservations at the Irish Table, a very exclusive[vii] little restaurant we had been trying to get into all week long. The meal was fantastic; full of Irish food[viii], we waddled back to the hotel.

Irish Table
The Irish Table

All week long I had been trying to get one of the fire pits on the beach outside the hotel for an evening on fire. People held on to them like they were gold mines…several times I left a chair or two down there, only to find them discarded and someone else squatting at our fire pit. On this last evening we were finally able to fend off the flip-flop-clad wolves and get our own fire going. As the evening dwindled on I noticed some folks down the beach with large lights along the beach near their fire. As the lights started to ascend, I realized they were launching fire balloons. The sight was a great way to end the trip, sitting by myself in the dark by a fire watching fire balloons rise into the midnight sky above the crashing waves[ix].


[i] Italian for “long-winded, rambling diatribe”.
[ii] It’s also about the time when I start getting tired of taking pictures. I usually end up with hundreds of pictures from the first day, and then am lucky if I feel like taking any by the last day. First day photos are perfectly composed and artistic creations from my best gear. Last day photos are likely to be half-assed phone camera pictures of food.
[iii] I hike in areas where the Peregrines are fairly common, but had never seen one in the wild before. The sheer chance of never having seen one had grown to such an extent that they were officially upgraded to nemesis status. As nemeses go, I suppose a falcon is a more impressive than having to say your primary nemesis is something like a Tufted Titmouse.
[iv] Think Brad Pitt in Troy as opposed to Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys.
[v] They use it in about everything. Marionberries in the syrup, in the milkshake, in the crepes, etc etc ect. Literally the first and last meals, and most in between, had marionberries which are pretty much just Dark Blackberries.  However, much like other things with dark versions (chocolate, Phoenix, etc.), the Dark version is inherently superior to the boring normal version.
[vi] Even the wildlife there was cut-rate. Instead of the regal Western Gulls and seabirds of Cannon Beach, Seaside mostly had actual pigeons and Ring-billed Gulls, the Ringo Starrs of the Gull family.
[vii] Their exclusivity was in part due to the populartity of their food, but also the incredibly tiny size of the restaurant; essentially the back room of a large coffee shop.
[viii] Which apparently consists of more than just steak, potatoes, soda bread, and whiskey. For instance, there was also a parsley garnish on my whiskey-potatoes steak. 
[ix] Though part of me was thinking in less poetic terms about the potential forest fire danger of launching burning things toward dry timber. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In the Footsteps of Lewis and Clark (Oregon Trip Part 2)

This is the second in a three part extravaganza[i]  about our July 4th trip to the Oregon Coast. You may wish to start here, and then procede here after reading this post, but hey, it’s up to you, I’m not the blog police.

Canon Beach Landscape
Cannon Beach Landscape (B&W)

Day 3
As dawn cracked over the ocean on the third day, I was already up and out again while the rest of the clan hibernated on. Unlike the bright and sunny day before it, this morning was a proper Oregon coastal gloom. I spent a bit of time wandering the beach and bumming around taking landscape shots in the surf (involuntarily[ii]).

Sea Stars in Tidal
Cannon Beach
Canon Beach Landscape
(B&W)Windblown Tree
Canon Beach Landscape
(B&W)Western Gulls in Tidal
Canon Beach Landscape
Starfish in Tidal Pools, Beach Texture, Beach Rabbit, Cannon Beach Landscape, Cannon Beach Landscape (B&W), Windblown Tree (B&W), Cannon Beach Landscape (B&W), Cannon Beach Landscape, Western Gulls in Tidal Pools, Cannon Beach Landscape, Cannon Beach Landscape (B&W)

After I was sufficiently soaked and shivering, I meandered back to the hotel to meet everyone for the day’s sojourn[iii] to Ecola State Park[iv]. Located on the north end of the beach, Ecola is dominated by high promontories yielding expansive coastal vistas. It was prominent in latter adventures of Mr's Lewis and Clark, including a tale of a massive expedition to Cannon Beach to get oil from a beached whales. Fun times. 

Ecola State Park
Family at Ecola State
Park Ecola State Park
Vista with Tree,
Ecola State Park Vista Panoramic, Family at Ecola, Ecola State Park Vista, Vista with Tree

Many of its offshore sea stacks and rocks were dominated by overwhelmingly vast colonies of Common Murres[v], and its highlands are covered by dense coastal forests and wildflower stands.

Common Murre
Foxglove Yarrow (Achillea
Common Murre Colony, Foxglove, Yarrow

Along with having craggy cliffs and dense Pacific forests, the park hits the rugged coastal hat trick with views of an austere-looking lighthouse on an outcrop offshore[vi].  It was one pirate ship and a couple old-timey words[vii] away from being a Decemberists song.

I guarantee this thing is haunted by ghosts and/or Colin Meloy.

After a hike along the coastal trail, we lunched at a small rocky beach where I had a run in with one of my all time favorite rodents[viii], the California Ground Squirrel.  Equally fascinating were the Goose-neck barnacles, which demonstrated some sort of phototropism…if you blocked the sun from a group, they would begin to slowly shift their orientation. There were also scenic views, tidal pools, blah blah blah.

Family at Ecola
BeachFamily at Ecola
(B&W) Wood-framed
Barnacles Sea
California Ground
Family at Ecola Beach, Ecola Beach Lunch Stop, Kate at the Beach (B&W), Wood-framed Stones, Goose-neck Barnacles, California Ground Squirrel!

 Later that night we grabbed a casual dinner at a place that would have been fairly forgettable if it had not been that A) they served local beer in massive 32 oz glasses, and B) their fish and chips was made with fresh-caught Halibut[ix].

Sunset Day 3

Day 4
Ever the masochist, I dragged myself out of bed once again the next morning but the gloom of the previous day persisted, accompanied by a foggy shroud, so photography was limited but interesting.

Foggy Haystack
Heerman's Gulls Pigeon
Guillemot Black Oystercatcher
Chick Harlequin
Cannon Beach
Foggy Haystack Landscape, Heerman’s Gulls, Pigeon Guillemot, Black Oystercatcher Chick, Harlequin Ducks, Cannon Beach Vista

 The ladies had booked a spa trip for the day, so the gentlemen took off for another hike. On the south side of the Beach lies Oswald West State Park which, as you can guess from the fact that it’s about three miles away from Ecola, is very similar. That being said, we had a great hike through some massive coastal forests and along a crabshell strewn beach of odd rock forms.

Above the
Pacific Northwest RainforestBridge Lava Flows
Dead Crab
Unidentified snake
(garter sp?) Leaves
Ghost Pipe (Monotropa
uniflora) Waterfall
WaterfallOn the
Above the Beach, Pacific Rainforest, Bridge, Lava Flows, Garter Snake, Leaves, Ghost Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), Waterfall, Waterfall, On the Trail

We finished with a trek up to a waterfall in the cliffs above the beach before heading back to meet the ladies for dinner. Finally, we settled in with a little wine and an incredibly long round of Agricola[x].

It’s Farming! It’s Sheep! It’s Agricola! (Picture courtesy


[i] Italian for “long-winded, rambling diatribe”.
[ii] Soemtimes getting the good shot means getting a little wet. If you see some of the shots of sea stacks with water swirling around in the foreground, you may say to yourself “how can he possibly get that shot without being in the water?” The answer is, “he can’t”. Thank goodness for weather resistant gear and fast-drying shorts.
[iii] Since it was Fourth of July in a tourist town, the only sensible option was to get the hell out and as deep into the woods as we could.
[iv] Part of the beauty of the Cannon Beach location is that it’s sandwiched in between majestic coastal parks of the robust Oregon state park system.
[v] A type of seabird. Think, “weapons-grade mini-penguins”.
[vi] Which apparently isn’t an actual lighthouse anymore, but a repository for cinerary urns. The proper term for this is a columbarium. I could only remember this with the pneumonic device, “what do you do when you have some ashes you want removed?” “Call ‘em, Bury ‘em.” Ok, so it’s not perfect, but I will never ever forget what a columbarium is now, a fact which I’m sure will serve me well. 
[vii] Of which my favorites are “balustrades”, “consumptive”, “barrow”, “wastrel”, and “parapets”.
[viii] If the fact that I have a favorite rodent, let alone several favorite rodents is a surprise to you, you may have mistaken me for Brad Pitt and are understandably confused. It’s ok, it happens all the time. Despite the obvious similarities, you can tell us apart by the fact that one of us is dashing, charismatic, and naturally appealing and the other is named Brad. If you are a long time reader and were surprised that I have favorite rodents, you just haven’t been paying attention.   
[ix] As I’ve mentioned before, I am a fish and chips connoisseur. I have had fish and chips fresh off the boat (the fish, that is…I’m fairly sure the chips were not wild-caught) in remote reaches of Canada, etc. These weren’t the best I’d ever had, but I was pretty impressed that it was made from halibut. As it turned out, despite being about $12/pound at home, halibut was a pretty common cheap fish there.
[x] Think Settlers of Catan, FFA style. Surprisingly fun. “Sheep and a Food!” became a rallying cry for the rest of the weekend.