Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Witnessing the Greatest Flood on Earth

Imagine. A flow of water greater than that of all the rivers of the world- combined, measured in cubic *miles* of water/hour. A waterfall three miles wide, five times the width of Niagara. A wave 1,000 feet high running at 80 mph. This is the Missoula Lake Flood, the largest flood that we have conclusive evidence for in recent times- larger than the possible Black Sea Flood, far more recent than the Mediterranean Flood 5.5 mya. The Missoula Lake Flood was only 13,000 years ago, when humans were around. And I've seen it.

Or at least, its results.

I will let the Earth direct my story, since the story belongs to the Earth. So we back 270 million years, to the Pliocene. This was a time when a strange plant family was widespread over the Earth, called Ginkgophyta- including in North America. Today, only one species of this family remains, and that only because of cultivation over 1,000 years by Buddhist monks. The range of the tree became more and more restricted, until it was only found in China. Today the Ginkgo tree remains only because of domestication, as one species, discovered by Europeans the 1600s. And there is only one petrified forest of Ginkgos, which I found on my way to the Missoula Flood, and picked up a live version for my brother's birthday. Those that didn't make petrification became coal.

Outside the Ginkgo Petrified Forest was a vast channel cut into the rock. Something large- much larger than this river- had thundered through. The multiple lines indicated whatever it was had come through multiple times. I was getting close.
Ginkgo on its way to becoming coal.

Glacial Lake Missoula formed in Montana as a result of glacial dams, eventually reaching half the size of present-day Lake Michigan. 90% of ice is under the water, so as the lake level rose, it slowly began to float the ice. Once the water was over 90% of the height of the ice dam, it floated the dam, and the water burst forth, breaking the glacial dam into chunks that floated out through the massive surge. This happened not once, but about twelve times (though some like David Alt suggest as many as thirty-six), with great amounts of water flowing out, draining the lake, and the glacier moving slowly forward to again dam the lake, beginning the cycle again. Since this was the end of the Ice Age, each glacier was a little thinner, meaning the lake filled more quickly each time, and so the greatest flood was the first, and each one afterward slightly smaller. This is the record we see in the accompanying pictures- the widest lines are the highest, and the oldest marks of the great flood.

From the Ginkgo Petrified Forest I crossed the Columbia and drove up the channel to Dry Falls. This was the fall spoken of in the first paragraph of this article.

I drove to the top of the great falls, and considered the torrent that would have here flowed, and overpowered, had there been one to see it.

The deluge broke apart the igneous rock into columns, slowly widening the dry coulee valleys, making them larger than any river could.

These segments are a mere fraction of the falls- only 1/4 of it is viewable at any one time from the ground. Imagine with me then, a wave of water coming over the plain, to plunge down into these pools- these plunge pools, incredibly deep from the force of tons of water excavating hard igneous rock. But the remember that the first flood, when it first came, didn't come here. It came 15 miles downstream, and over many floods, and many years, it undercut the rock cliffs, crashing them into the sea of water, pulling the rocks with it downstream, and pushing the falls further upstream. Only the strongest rocks, like this ridge in the middle of the photo, remained.

The Visitor Center at the top of the falls had information and some great CGI from a Nova video. This is where I also was informed on the dangers of ticks. I thought that was just an East Coast thing. Evidently, we just don't have Lyme Disease, but it's also an Eastern Washington thing. They showed me a tick, and talked about needing to wear long pants and socks, and after the hike, when you get back to the car, check "those areas that you usually don't check."

I thanked them for the tick talk. (Yes, I actually said that. You try it. Say it three times.) Then I headed down below the falls.

The hike below the falls was much more of a walk, Screealong gravel road, but punctuated by fear that a small arachnid would find a never-ending feast in my skin. Along the way I passed an old friend- scree- and was reminded of sliding down a hill of liquid rock to the cliff of nothingness. On the right was a giant rock, one of the erratics- giant multi-ton rocks scattered erratically all over the Eastern Washington, all the way down to the Willamette of Central Oregon, witness to the great power of this flood.

Underlying the Earth's story is the story of the discovery of the floods. We didn't always know about this catastrophe. The problem is that for many years most Europeans and Middle Easterners believed that the literal flood of Genesis had actually occurred. It wasn't until the 1700s that scientists were able to prove that geology happens slowly, gradually, and not through catastrophic events. But that wasn't an easy sell, and took many years and the accumulation of much evidence. Thus, scientists were loath to accept any ideas that smacked of catastrophism.

It took a pioneering individual, J Bretz, willing to endure ridicule for decades, to change the nature of geology. He had ample evidence to indicate a catastrophic event had occurred, but geologists were reluctant to give up their sacred cows, or welcome back into the fold something that smacked so closely of religion, like allusions to a great flood. It was only after decades of insisting on the evidence that Bretz was able to convince the geologic world of the Great Missoula Food.

I had one last stop on my journey - to visit the fabled Channeled Scablands, so carefully studied by Bretz, near the town of Othello. Unfortunately, that meant staying the night in Othello.

The people in the hotel were incredibly sweet and kind. They did things like offering me an upgrade to a queen-sized room because the sink in my original room was clogged up. However, the clogged sink was rather indicative of the rooms, with burn marks on the bed, and iron stains on the rug and this for $50/night rooms.

And the rooms were indicative of the town. I asked if the smell lingering everywhere was perhaps the result of large cattle ranches nearby. I was in turn asked, "What smell?" There were a couple items I needed to pick up for my car, and I kept on being directed to Walmart. When I told people I would never in my life enter a Walmart, they were shocked, and wanted to know why, as if they'd never contemplated the idea of boycotting Walmart. When I told them why, they were pleased. Sadly, Walmart has eviscerated the town of Othello, with many stores boarded up. One resident told me Walmart had had a negative impact on business years ago, and the town had never recovered. This was the feel of Othello.

The next morning I was out to visit the Channeled Scablands. The Scablands are like nowhere else on Earth, and were the pivotal place which indicated these Biblical floods. Unlike the rest of the Eastern Washington flood plain, there isn't one channel, but many- 100s of channels, cut back and forth through the land. And the smallest channel is hundreds of feet across.

It has the appearance exactly like the water from a hose, crawling through sand. But it is the hose of a giant. There is the same tear-drop shaped formations, and interlocking channels, magnified 1000s of times. And there is only one other place where we see these formations.

Yes, nowhere else on Earth. But the plains of Mars show an eerie similarity, but with structures much larger. It is for this reason that we began to suspect that there was once great amounts of water on Mars- after we had identified the source of these structures here on Earth, in Washington.

Though come to think of it, I have seen structures that are very similar here on Earth. Some of these canyons, particularly those in the video, look much like what I saw in the Hadremowt of Yemen. Makes one wonder how that might have formed.

I found a marked trail heading up the mesa, so that I could view from above and below the many channels I walked through. This was more of a hike than through the Dry Falls basin, but it was still far too easy. I think climbing the tallest mountain in North Africa has spoiled me.

I climbed to the mesa top, and in the midst of the high winds contemplated my future, the possibility of someone breaking into my car below or of getting ticks, and my need to trust in God that he has my good in mind. Below me was a vast expanse, once filled with rolling waves of fury. And I was struck with how great is the power of God.

As the waves churned through the land, they created giant tornadoes of water, like waterspouts but within the water, like whirlpools but far more intense. These were the kolks. They were intense enough to form holes in the land, digging into solid basalt rock, which later filled with water, creating strange circular ponds throughout the Scablands.

The floodwaters continued on, each time they continued on, till they reached the Columbia Gorge. There the narrow canyon concentrated the flow, increasing the speed and height of the wave to 1000', but down to a measly 500' by the time it reached Portland. And I can imagine native tribes in Portland, hearing the thunder through the Gorge a full hour before it came, and then the wall of 80 mph water approaching, as they contemplate what true apocalypse is, in the few seconds they had left.

Time passes, and nothing stands still- her land nor life. The kolks filled with rainwater, and humans built a dam, allowing the water to seep through, creating a wetlands in the midst of the Scablands, which became a bird flyway, and home to many other animals.

This was particularly fun. I caught a red-winged blackbird chirping next to one of the ponds.
The video was too quiet for humans to hear over a distance of 20 feet, but evidently not for birds. I played it back for the blackbird, and immediately he stopped, and then changed his voice.

I played the second video back, and the blackbird changed his voice a third time.
On the hunt for gas under $4/gallon, I stopped in Ellensburg on the way home. I'm glad I did. It's so rare these days to be able to find hitchhikers and give them a lift. Eric was homeless, on his way from Nebraska by way of Las Vegas to Seattle, to visit the graves of his father and grandfather on Vashon Island, and see some of his family that are part of the Blackfoot Tribe. Las Vegas was to be somewhere where it was warm, but unfortunately he got fined for panhandling there, $150, and has to return in a month for a court date. I encouraged him that we are more hospitable in Seattle. We had a good time sharing on the drive over the Cascades, and, as we approached Roslyn, it turned out that not only had he never been there, but he was a huge fan of Northern Exposure. If he wasn't in the car I wouldn't have thought to stop in and visit. I'd been there before with my brother and sister-in-law, but in the years before digital.

The entire series was filmed in Roslyn, but in real life, it's a camel, not a moose.

This is the story of the land. A time of myth and legend, with floods out of apocalypse, shaping and shifting the land to become a home for new life. And eventually, humans, building their homes and their cities, and using them as models for new stories, of a wild land, far to the North, shaped by the elements.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The Oldest Resident of Seattle

Sometimes I wonder
as I wander,
what life was once like,
if only we were witnesses to times past.

The Duwamish- People of the Large Lake and People of the Inside- live in what will one day be Seattle. The Vancouver Expedition sailed by in 1792. The first Europeans to settle here were members of the Collins Party in 1851. In 1853 the town was renamed Seattle, after the local chief, instead of Duwamps. Soon after Native Americans attack in 1856 in the Battle of Seattle. In 1885 and 1886 Seattle residents rioted, expelled, and killed Chinese workers. In 1889 we had the Great Seattle Fire, and in 1896 Seattle became the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush. The first general strike in the country occurred in 1919, in response to which 950 troops occupied the city. If only there were someone still alive who could see all these events unfold.

It turns out there is one Seattle resident who does remember all these events. She's been watching since 1600 or 1700. In a hat tip to Capitol Hill Seattle, the only native oak left in Seattle is up on Capitol Hill. After reading about it, I drove up there, and drove round and round, until I could finally locate it at the intersection of Belmont Ave. E, Bellevue Pl. E, and Summit Ave. E. She is as awe-inspiring as is the contemplation of all she has observed.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Sometimes the best things in life

are written in dry bureaucratic prose.

Dear Mr. Palosaari:

I have enclosed a transcript of your 2005 tax period. On the second page I have highlighted the $1,454.00 tax decrease and the resulting refund of $103.46, which posted this week. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will mail you that refund, which includes $8.09 in interest, on Friday, May 23, 2008.

Refund checks are generally received by the middle of the week following the mailing date, but if you do not receive your refund by June 6, 2008, please let me know. I am closing your Taxpayer Advocate case at this time. It has been a pleasure assisting you. Again, I apologize for the problems resolving this issue created for you.


Case Advocate

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Heartbreak of Ethics

It wasn't a career, or even a job I was looking foward to for a long time. But it was a job.

I was providing administrative support for a company that provides healthcare. The first day the supervisor mentioned, off-hand, that abortions were done in the building. The next day I went to her to ask if I was expected to provide support for anything associated with abortion, and she said no- just for the person who heads a department that handles women's health, and a small portion of that is abortion. But I myself wouldn't be scheduling anything related to that.

Unfortunately today, I found out not so much. I was asked to schedule a meeting to discuss RU486. I had to go to my supervisor, and suggested that they need someone who isn't going to have these issues, since they appear to be coming up, and there is a conflict of ethics here for me as a Quaker. I had a coworker schedule the meeting, and offered to stay on till they can get someone else to fill the position. So I have the job, probably for the next few days, and then it ends. A well-paying job. Money I really needed right now. Gone because ethics got in the way.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Remembering al Nakba يوم النكبة

The last time I protested was also over Palestine. It was the only time I've participated in a protest in a foreign country. This week - on the 15th - commemorates the 60th anniversary of al Nakba, The Catastrophe, when 700,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from Western Palestine. It also commemorates the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel.

I and a mixture of Arabs, Jews, and European-Americans gathered around Benaroya Hall in Seattle, where a number of people were attending a celebration of the creation of the State of Israel. There were numerous police about, both inside and outside Benaroya Hall. I saw some of them on very friendly terms with the Israeli supporters, exchanging hugs as they waited for the celebration to begin.

We set up mock coffins, signs, and representations of houses to show the crumbling state of homes in the West Bank, as the Israeli government destroys houses and takes lands.

Someone had the brilliant idea of writing the names of some of the hundreds of towns destroyed during al Nakba. They were chalked all over the streets around Benaroya Hall. I began writing the names of some of the towns in Arabic, and others with better writing than I followed suit. Anyone walking by, getting off the bus, or walking into the celebration for Israel now had to see the names of the towns obliterated by ethnic cleansing.

In masks with painted tears and Palestinian scarves (keffiyas) around the shoulders we showed our solidarity. For most of the time I stood alone at one of the entrances to the hall, symbolizing the standing of the Palestinians in the international community. It began to be cold so I wrapped the keffiya in the traditional manner around my head, and stood there in black trenchcoat with the crying mask over the keffiya. Occasionally the Israel supporters inside would look over.

And this was largely our goal. In a completely nonviolent manner, we hoped that those celebrating Israel's birth would realize the violence that was part of that birth. We stood aside to make sure they could freely get in to the celebration, and some greeted them in a jovial manner. Others like myself stood it silent witness. Most Zionists ignored us until they got inside. Some made insulting remarks as they walked in; a very few pushed some of the women wearing hijab. It can't have been easy for them. They have a great love for their country, and a strong commitment to the morality of their cause. It is difficult to be confronted with anything that would suggest that there is some ambiguity to that morality.

Friday, 2 May 2008

A Sojourner in a Mosque

I went and visited another mosque today, as I had a rare Friday without work. But rather than go all the way up to the major mosque, Northgate, I thought I'd check out one closer to home. Yahoo Maps tells me that there's a Jamaatul Ikhlas on Capitol Hill, just the other side of downtown from where I live.

After a bit of driving, and a bit of driving past the location a few times, I found it. It's just East of Capitol Hill, where most of the buildings were falling apart, and the ones still whole had boarded-up windows. (If you've never been to Seattle, it's not Detroit. This is unusual.) I climbed up the steps to the mosque and noticed the entryway just to the right had a giant stain pouring out of delivered cardboard box. UPS had left it there on the step. It looked like someone had delivered a bunch of brown blood. Or chocolate. It was probably a giant box of liquid chocolate.

No one was home, and the door locked. I had to peer though the window to read the hastily scrawled sign inside, directing you to Seattle Community College a few blocks away. Nicer neighborhood; less parking. After the 3rd trip around the block, I found some, and waited for the Muslims to arrive.

The mosque was a small interfaith room on the main floor of the dorm, with no adornment, but a large Arabesque rug on the floor, and two small rooms on either side for doing wadud, the ritual purification washing done before prayers. One room was for men, and one for women, which was odd. Women are not required to go to the mosque in Islam, and in many cultures they are discouraged from doing so. But when they do, they are in a separate room from the men, or upstairs on the balcony, or behind a partition. This room for prayers was so small that, had any women shown up, there would have been no room for them. No women showed up.

For those who don't know me, my long practice has been to ask permission of the imam before praying in a mosque. I do this even in the U.S., where it is commonly acceptable for someone of any faith to visit any house of worship. However, imams are not like pastors- they give the sermon, but they don't lead the congregation. In the U.S. they tend to have more authority, and they are perhaps more like a Quaker pastor in terms of leadership. But the service can easily go forward without them.

So I waited, and made conversation with a guy who arrived from Saudi Arabia 6 days ago. Looking at the time I went to perform wadud. The room for wadud is actually fairly advanced, with special long trays that look like communal urinals, one low for the feet, and one higher for the hands. I cleaned the extremities and parts of my face three times, but probably in the wrong order. There is something very cleansing in cleaning out the ears, nostrils, and mouth. It truly feels like you are about to begin something holy, and you are setting apart that next few minutes for something different. Sure, it is only a metaphor, a symbol, but every symbol takes part in the referent, and so the cleansing with water by this spiritual amphibian effects my spirit as well.

We heard the adan, the call to prayer, going out, muffled behind the wall, and hastened into the mosque room, removing our shoes. But it was an early call. Unusual in mosques in my experience, nearly every man did individual prayers ahead of time. Usually it's only the most devout who do this, making up for prayers they missed earlier. But still no imam.

And then, with nearly everyone finished with their extra prayers, and most of us sitting on the rug waiting, the Imam arrived- but too late for me to ask permission. It looked like today was going to be a day of simply blending in.

The imam was a young man, probably in college, and he gestured for the mu'ezzin, the Call-to-Prayer, to give the call again. As is my practice, I silently affirmed the majority I agreed with, and prayed to Jesus at the same time. The mu'ezzin sat down, and the imam began his sermon- traditionally first in Arabic, and then in English. His delivery was not particularly inspiring, but he shared how Mohammed (pbuh) stood at the funeral of a Jewish man, because the man was still a spirit, like anyone else. (This was before serious acrimony developed between Mohammed (pbuh) and the Jewish tribes of Yathrib - I mean Medina.)

We performed the ritual prayers with the two cycles, raka, mandated for the midday Friday prayer. Near the end you count with three fingers as you sit cross-legged, silently putting out a finger each time you say a particular phrase. I like to take the opportunity to pray to each member of the Trinity at this time. Then there is a greeting to the angel on your left and right shoulder, who records your good and bad deeds. (I appear to have an angel only on my left shoulder.) We turn our heads, greeting each in turn with a'ssalam aleykum. Since I don't believe in these, I take the opportunity to turn and silently pray blessing on my brothers to either side.

And then, not a serious investment in community in this small mosque. The imam left. The men filtered out, except for some who needed to make up more prayers. There was little in engagement in conversation, so I also went. But feeling a great buoyancy, a freedom, from this time in speaking with God, with brothers following the self-same God.