Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 14, 2017

Hayward Field Homage. And Did Those Feet?

There are many lifetimes’ worth of “pilgrimages” one can make as one travels. One can tour the scenes of famous battles throughout history, or the sites of illustrious meetings and historic speeches. Visiting the birthplaces of illustrious or notorious people is popular, as are the former homes or gravesites of the famous (or infamous). A bit more macabre, perhaps, you can seek out the places where eminent people died, including the house in Winchester, Hampshire, UK, where Jane Austen breathed her last, then walk to the cathedral, where she’s buried.

Winchester Cathedral Brad Nixon 5629LR2PS (507x640)

(You don’t need an admiration for Ms. Austen’s work to justify a visit to Winchester and its stunning cathedral.)

For fans of every category of literature or film, there are the real-life settings in which stories took place or iconic scenes were filmed, from Hemingway’s Paris to “Hobbiton” in New Zealand.

Whatever your interest in some category of human endeavor, the possibilities to make an homage can overwhelm you and consume a great deal of time. But who could pass without stopping the courthouse in Lincoln, New Mexico where Billy the Kid was taken into custody (and escaped!)?

Lincoln NM courthouse bullet holes Marcy Vincent (534x640)

That’s me in 2001, standing next to holes in the wall purportedly made by bullets from Billy’s gun. Believe what you will.

You can view the house in Savannah, Georgia that was the setting of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or regard with somber mien “the grassy knoll” at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas.

Dealey Plaza Brad Nixon 2331 (640x475)

Some sports fans make a practice of visiting stadiums where their favorite players have trod the turf. If you’re my buddy, veteran sports columnist, Joe, you get the assignment to cover the 2004 Olympics and go to Olympia, itself, the site of the original Olympics, as he described (with photos) for Under Western Skies at this link.

If you’re a runner you probably know that Eugene, Oregon, is known as “Track Town, USA.” Since the 1920s, the University of Oregon has been a highly successful competitor in track and field (“athletics” in the UK).

Built in 1919 as the school’s football stadium, Hayward Field is now Oregon’s track and field venue. It has a glorious past, and is one of the meccas of track and field.

Hayward Field Brad Nixon 7500 (640x480)

“Hayward” was Bill Hayward, Oregon’s track coach for 44 years, 1904 – 1947. His runners claimed 5 world records, 6 American records and included 9 Olympians.

Hayward was succeeded by Bill Bowerman, who coached Oregon from 1948 – 1972, built on Hayward’s success and turned Oregon into a track powerhouse, with more records than I have space to mention, and whose teams included 33 Olympians.

One of those Olympians, Steve Prefontaine, attended Oregon from 1970-73, and once held every American record between 2,000 and 10,000 meters. Here’s Pre on the first turn at Hayward.

steve-prefontaine-oregon4 - Copy (514x640)

Hayward Field’s identity as a track and field center continues. Before and since Pre ran that oval, innumerable outstanding athletes have competed at Hayward, including in the annual Prefontaine Classic, which each May features many of the world’s top track and field performers.

The Counselor, a lifelong runner, and I — a longtime runner, thanks to her — paid our respects to Hayward on our trip to Oregon this summer.

Hayward Field Brad Nixon 7567 (640x471)

It was a treat to see that storied place. It would be even better had we been able to set foot on the track. Perhaps we’ll return some April to run in the Eugene Marathon-Half Marathon, which finishes on the track itself.

Any recollection of Pre is tinged bittersweet. Born the same year I was, he died in a car accident in 1975, at age 24. Had he achieved all he would ever do, or were there faster times, more records, an Olympic gold medal in his future? It’s impossible to answer that question, just as we’ll never know what music Mozart might have created had he lived beyond age 35. All we can do is keep running.

You may not get to run at Hayward, but just across the Willamette River you can run on Pre’s Trail, a 4-mile course through a portion of the extensive system of parks and trails that lace through the city. It was a facility Eugene lacked in Pre’s day, and he envisioned something like it. Now it’s there.

Pre's Trail Eugene Marcy Vincent (640x480)

Just keep running.

What’s a favorite historical or significant site you’ve visited on your travels? Leave a comment.

I wrote previously about a visit to Prefontaine’s home town, Coos Bay, Oregon, here.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Some photos © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission. I cannot determine ownership of the photo of Steve Prefontaine. Assume that it is not to be used for any commercial purpose.


Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 11, 2017

Oregon: Mountains, Coast and Forests. Also … Architecture

The northwestern U.S. state of Oregon is a big tourist destination.

There are so many attractive and appealing things about Oregon that the most difficult part of planning a trip to Oregon is deciding what not to see.

Here’s a map of Oregon. Much of its northern boundary with Washington is defined by the Columbia River, and a bit hard to follow at this resolution:

Map of Oregon - Google

The iconic Pacific coastline should be on everyone’s list. You can drive the entire 340 miles along U.S. Route 101 and, unless you stop at every gift shop, you’ll never tire of the panoply of vistas: forests, dunes, rocky crags and windswept beaches.

Oregon coast Brad Nixon 0235 (640x480)

Or, pick a town — Gold Beach, Florence, Newport, Cannon Beach — settle in and explore the area, dig for razor clams and roam the beaches to your heart’s content.

Oregon dunes Brad Nixon 1946 (640x480)

There are towering mountains, wild rivers, dense forests, a vast eastern desert, waterfalls and the deepest lake in the U.S., Crater Lake, the dramatic remains of a volcanic eruption (map, blue star):

Crater Lake Brad Nixon 1666

There are cities large (Portland, Eugene) and small, like Hood River (map, red star), along the incomparable Columbia River Gorge.

Hood River OR Brad Nixon 0051 (640x469)

TIP: Do not plan a visit to Portland without allowing at least half a day to drive eastward along some portion of the Columbia River Gorge. See my post here for more.

But Wait, There’s More

Architecture buffs will find interesting structures — historic and recent — everywhere in Oregon.

Here are just a few highlights from a recent trip along Interstate 5 that crosses Oregon south to north, for those days when you’re not out exploring the mountains, forests and beaches.

Eugene (map, red oval)

The state’s second largest city, Eugene (pop. 156,000), is a university town (University of Oregon) that offers dining and shopping opportunities downtown and pleasant neighborhoods scattered across the city. If you’re a fan of railroads, it also has its original 1908 Southern Pacific Railway depot on the northern edge of downtown, still providing Amtrak passenger service.

Eugene Oregon train station Brad Nixon 7506 (640x464)

The depot’s waiting area is a classic, preserving much of the character found in other depots of the era.

Eugene Oregon train depot interior Brad Nixon 7453 (640x468)

On the platform side, the projecting bay of the stationmaster’s office allows a view of incoming and outgoing traffic, and a look at progress on loading and unloading trains.

Eugene Oregon train depot Brad Nixon 7508 (640x480)

Salem (map, blue oval)

Just over an hour’s drive north of Eugene is Salem, the state capitol and Oregon’s 3rd-largest city (pop. 154,600). Salem has a lively downtown, where we enjoyed a tasty lunch at Wild Pear. On the western edge of downtown, in Riverfront City Park along the Willamette River, the Riverfront Carousel is a delightful attraction.

Riverfront Carousel Salem OR Brad Nixon 7625 (640x476)

While it recalls merry-go-rounds from another era, the carousel is new, installed in 2001. That doesn’t matter to the kids (and adults) whirling around. There are horses galore, a mule, a unicorn and a deer, but here’s my favorite carousel beast:

Riverfront Carousel Salem OR Brad Nixon 7634 (640x530)

Perhaps a carousel isn’t technically “architecture.” But this is my article and I define the terms.

Downtown Salem has its share of interesting and historic buildings and some picturesque residential sections. A block from the carousel, at the corner of Commercial and State, this Italianate beauty, from 1868, housed Salem’s first bank, Ladd & Bush.

Ladd and Bush building Salem OR Brad Nixon 7622 (640x401)

The interior’s been remodeled, with some elements preserved, but the exterior harkens to a day when a bank building’s solidity stated clearly, “We’re here to stay. Trust your money with us!”

In subsequent posts, I’ll report on a number of historic Carnegie Library buildings we saw on this trip. While we’re in Salem, I’ll cover theirs, at 790 State Street, immediately across the street from south side of the state capitol building:

Carnegie Library Salem OR Carnegie Brad Nixon 7638 (640x449)

Constructed in Beaux Arts style in 1912, the building served as a library until 1972. It’s now the Oregon Civic Justice Center, part of Willamette University’s College of Law. According to the Wikpedia entry, the interior has been significantly remodeled from the original.

For reasons I can’t readily explain, I’ve always been curious to see Oregon’s capitol building. Dating from 1938, it’s the 4th-newest capitol building in the U.S., and its mix of Greek and Egyptian elements in Art Deco style, surmounted by a rotunda rather than a dome, was a controversial departure from the norm (although my home state, Ohio, also has a statehouse with a rotunda).

Oregon State Capitol south side Salem Brad Nixon 7646 (640x474)

That’s the south side, not the entrance. The main facade fronts an extensively landscaped mall worth a visit in its own right, but was in shadow against a brilliantly lighted sky, and wasn’t at its best for photography. Here’s the rotunda topped by the golden figure of the Oregon Pioneer with his axe:

Oregon Capitol front Brad Nixon 7658 (531x640)

Portland (map, gold oval, top)

Oregon’s largest city (pop. 640,000) would require thousands of photos and tens of thousands of words to cover even a fraction of its extremely diverse architecture. While you’re in town, stop into Powell’s City of Books and ask them for books about Portland architecture. I’m certain they have a large selection among their 2 million books.

I’ll limit myself to one Portland building, a former Masonic temple I saw on this trip. I’m fascinated by the Masonic buildings one sees all across America, and, if life were longer, I might devote more time to photographing them. Downtown Portland’s former temple has everything one could expect from the genre, including fortress-like walls and few windows (those are secret rites, after all).

Portland Art Museum Brad Nixon 7811 (640x480)

Since 1992, the ex-temple has housed a wing of the Portland Art Museum (PAM), and I spent much more time inside it viewing art than studying the exterior. I was pleased that our guides pointed out its Masonic origin. PAM’s adaptation does an admirable job of minimizing the Krak des Chevaliers aspect of the big pile.

There’s more Oregon architecture scattered through other articles I’ve written. Click on “Travel – Oregon” in the Categories widget in the right-hand column.

What’s your favorite Oregon building? Leave a comment.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 9, 2017

Ray and the Rasslin’ Bear

Guys spend a lot of time determining who’s the strongest dude in the room. Not the smartest — strongest. Some hearkening to a primordial time, perhaps. Anyway, it matters, at least to us.

The strongest man I’ve ever known was Ray, who came to work with us in the construction business when he and I were both in our late 20s. He was a great guy: big-hearted, straightforward, an excellent, tireless worker.

Ray didn’t lift weights or work out. He’d been a laborer since some time in his teens, and his physique showed it: broad shoulders, massive biceps, deep chest, thick forearms and big hands. He also had a kind of Berserker mindset that didn’t allow him to even consider the possibility that some mere physical object could resist him; whatever it was, he’d overpower it, no matter what.

A lot of construction work involves destruction — “demolition” is the official term — like tearing down walls or breaking up concrete so you can replace the old with the new.

Ray was a prodigy of destruction.

When some especially problematic, dense obstacle — a concrete wall, a stone chimney, a steel I-beam — needed to go away, we simply handed Ray a sledgehammer or a 5-foot steel pry bar, stood back and admired one of the world masters of devastation at work, while we dodged flying debris.

One of the most extreme tools in the demolition trade is the pneumatic jackhammer.

The thing about jackhammers is that they weigh about 90 pounds. Once you break through whatever piece of sidewalk or slab you’re busting, you have to lift the hammer up, move it to another spot and start hammering again. Over and over. Do that for 8 hours and you’ve moved tons of iron, up and over, again and again, and you’re beaten-up.

Unless you’re Ray. If there were a jackhammer hall of fame, he’d be in it.

There were only two occasions on which I saw Ray meet his match.

Ray vs. Rail

We had a job by a railroad track. Lying alongside the track was an extra steel rail. A standard rail, solid steel, about 30 feet long. Just lying there.

What was Ray to do? What else could he do? He couldn’t ignore a challenge like that. He walked to the end of it, bent his knees, got his hands under it and lifted.

It didn’t budge.

Ray stepped back, shook his head but said nothing, flummoxed. He’d never encountered a simple, discrete physical object he couldn’t overpower.

Sizes and weights vary, but a standard rail weighs about 1,000 pounds. It was a mark of Ray’s astounding power that he fully expected to lift that baby.

Ray vs. Bear

One day, a local mall announced that the famous Victor the Wrestling Bear would appear there and take on any and all challengers. Anyone who could step into the ring, wrestle Victor to the ground and pin him for 3 seconds would win a new car!

Ray figured that car was his. Rasslin’ (in his Kentucky vernacular) a bear!

Victor was an American Black Bear whose trainer took him around the U.S. to appearances like the mall event. Reports vary, but Victor probably weighed between 450 and 600 pounds. His claws and front teeth had been removed in infancy, and he wore a muzzle to prevent an opponent from getting a hand into his mouth where Victor’s back teeth could sever fingers.

At the time, Victor had probably “wrestled” something like 50,000 opponents. In 2 disputed instances, humans claimed to have pinned him, but Victor’s promoter (who also served as referee!) had disallowed them, and no one had ever won that car.

I was present for that epic event.

There was an actual wrestling ring with mat and ropes, and a crowd of people around all four sides. In one corner of the ring, calmly biding his time, was Victor, a big black bear. After some explanation of the rules (designed to protect both bear and challengers), the promoter started calling challengers into the ring. There were quite a few. One by one, Victor got them wrapped up, lowered his weight on them and immobilized them on the mat, usually in less than 30 seconds.

Once one actually saw people up against Victor, the enormous disparity between human and bear became immediately apparent. Still, I figured if anyone I ever met should wrestle a bear, it was Ray.

He climbed through the ropes when his turn came, facing a bear that outweighed him by a factor of 2 or 3 and (once on his hind legs) was at least a few inches taller than Ray.

Victor didn’t behave like a ferocious, wild animal; he was doing what he’d been trained to do. The sooner he could envelop this blond-headed human and bring him to the mat, the sooner he could claim his treat, which was something like a piece of candy. Victor was a vegetarian.

Ray went at it with all the force he could command, trying to position himself for some leverage, but it’s very hard to get your arms around any part of a creature that large, accustomed to evading the moves of humans and their limited agility. In a disappointing amount of time — less than a minute — Victor had Ray immobilized on the mat, match over. Another conquest, another piece of candy.

Afterward, Ray wasn’t happy. He didn’t think that bear rassled fair. The worst thing, he said, was that Victor drooled all over him, which distracted him and kept him off his game. He didn’t think that was at all sportsmanlike. No threat of violence or force had probably ever daunted him, but no one had said anything about one of the risks he was incurring was being slobbered to death.

It didn’t diminish the guy in my eyes at all. I give him credit for the effort, and to this day, when there’s a big, heavy piece of work to do, I wish I could see that guy have at it again. He was a good man, as honest a person as I’ve ever met, unassuming and friendly. Long departed now, but fondly remembered.

I don’t condone the use of captive animals for entertainment, and in a just world Victor would probably have spent his life in some other fashion. By all accounts I’ve read, Victor was well cared-for and not abused. I hope it’s so.

There are a number of stories with more information about Victor and his trainer:

This story on Deadspin

A story by Frank Deford in Sports Illustrated, 1970

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 7, 2017

Walking Among the Giants

At its best, travel includes the realization of a dream. Whether you’ve always wanted to see the Gobi Desert, the Shwedon Pagoda in Myanmar or the pyramids of Egypt, you know what I mean.

I’ve been fortunate, and visited a great number of remarkable places (although all 3 of the ones named above remain on my list). A natural wonder I’d never seen, despite living in California for more than 20 years, was the forest of Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) on the Pacific shore in the northwestern part of the state.

Redwood NP Marcy Vincent 8306 (480x640)

Much of the natural world, which is always a feature of travel for me, is threatened, everywhere on the planet. We humans have contributed to much of the change. That includes the logging of most of Earth’s old-growth Coast Redwoods since 1850 (estimates of the percentage of surviving old growth coast redwood forest range from 4 to 10%).

Redwoods are the tallest living organisms, the current record-holder being 379 feet high. They’re one of the most massive tree species on Earth, and typically live for 1,200 – 1,800 years. Redwoods once ranged far along the coasts of northern California and southern Oregon.

Redwood National Park Brad Nixon 7396 (640x480)

On a recent trip to Oregon, I  finally got there.

Redwood NP Marcy Vincent 8301 (480x640)

Once covering an estimated 2 million acres in California alone, the surviving stand of old-growth redwoods is now about 100,000 acres*, approximately half of it protected in preserves and parks, including Redwood National and State Parks (red lines, below), where we hiked among the giants.

Redwood NSP map Google

The map shows the northwestern corner of California, with the Oregon border at top. U.S. Route 101 runs through the park. Interstate 5 runs north-south on the right. The nearest cities are Eureka and Crescent City (yellow ovals).

Redwood National Park was created in 1968, although nearby Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith, Prairie Creek Redwoods and Humboldt Redwoods State Parks were established in the 1920s in visionary conservation efforts.

The parks provide a variety of ways to appreciate the world’s tallest trees, from simply driving through the forest to hiking on trails that range from well-curated, highly accessible ones to challenging back country hiking.

Redwood NP trail Brad Nixon 7402 (480x640)

Although our time was limited (we’ll return!), we weren’t going to leave without at least spending some time on foot among the trees. There are numerous trails, and we chose the Lady Bird Johnson Trail, an easy 1-mile loop approximately 2 miles along a park road from Route 101.

Redwood NP Brad Nixon 7413 (480x640)

A grove of redwoods provides the archetype of forest hiking. The canopy of redwood branches and leaves is scores or even a hundred feet overhead. Below, in muted green light is an understory of low brush and ferns.

Redwood National Park Brad Nixon 7397 (640x480)

And, yes, there’s a hush. The trees rise through it: spectacular pillars of coruscated bark soaring impossibly high. I walked with my neck craned back, peering up and up; how can any living thing be so tall?

Redwood NP Brad Nixon 7400 (480x640)

From the trail, you peer deeper into the forest, across ravines and slopes tangled with fallen trees, new trees struggling upwards, ferns and moss covering the ground in an impenetrable, silent redoubt.

Redwood NP Brad Nixon 7406 (640x480)

Look closely, because there’s as much beauty at ground level as there is towering overhead.

Redwood NP Brad Nixon 7409 (640x513)

On a popular trail like the one we walked, we heard human voices, encountered other people. In a way, those voices — many of them children’s — were welcome, too. If we’re not going to surrender the final sliver of redwood habitat to commerce and convenience, humans have to understand what is there and what could be irrevocably lost.

The redwoods cling to a small slice of their former world at the very edge of the Pacific. The coast and the narrow strip of meadows and woodland between the ocean and the slopes of the coast range are all worth exploring, home to elk, bear, deer, and innumerable species of flora and fauna. Less than 2 miles after we continued along 101, we encountered a herd of elk.

Elk Marcy Vincent 8334 (640x619)

It bears stating that throughout the United States — from the Adirondacks, the southern pine forests to the plains and the southwestern deserts — it’s not only natural habitat that was “tamed” as settlers claimed the land.

When Europeans arrived in the Coast Redwoods area around 1828, it had been inhabited by native cultures for more than 3,000 years. By 1895, the majority of the natives had been displaced, forcibly removed or killed. Some native tribes still live in their traditional homeland, but the human losses can’t be recovered. Their shadows hover, wherever we travel.

I was delighted to see the mighty redwoods, gratified that the giants still stand, immense and, essentially, beyond our ken. We can only stand next to them, listening, looking up. That tree may be there a thousand years from now. Let it be so.

Redwood NP Marcy Vincent 8292 (480x640)

*While I’ve tried to report responsibly, my figures are approximations gleaned from several sources, and the distinction between areas of original old growth forest and second growth land previously logged is beyond my ability to capture with genuine accuracy. Without exaggerating, it can be said that the surviving stands of redwoods represent a precious fraction of what once existed.

Sequoia sempervirens is related to the massive Sequoiadendron giganteum, the Giant Sequoia, which grows only in California, farther inland on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I wrote about them and Sequoia National Park, here.

Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson was a businesswoman, nature advocate and First Lady of the United States, 1963-69. She campaigned for civil rights and conservation causes. Her many honors and recognitions included the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

Copyright Brad Nixon 2017. Some photos © Marcy Vincent, used by kind permission. Map by Google.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 4, 2017

Catching the Title Wave: A Carnegie in Portland, Oregon

In the coming weeks, I’ll post a number of articles stemming from a recent trip through California and Oregon.

Longtime readers won’t be surprised that a number of posts will feature Carnegie Library buildings encountered en route. For the large number of recent subscribers to Under Western Skies, welcome, thank you, and fear not: I don’t ALWAYS write about libraries. When I do, they’re often about buildings financed by the Carnegie Foundation in the first part of the 20th Century. I got my first library card from a Carnegie library, and I like seeing the old places, whether they’re still libraries or not. There are more than 1,600 of them still extant, so I don’t expect to exhaust the possibilities.

I’ll start with a Carnegie-financed building that’s no longer a library, but is an important part of a library system, the Multnomah County Library, which has 19 branches serving metropolitan Portland, Oregon.

In 1901, Portland received a $165,000 Carnegie grant to build 6 libraries. One of them, the Albina branch at 216 NE Knott St., opened in 1912:

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7773 (640x480)

A large, superb looking structure in Spanish Renaissance Revival style, it has most of the features Carnegies share, including a highly decorative exterior.

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7778 (640x480)

This Carnegies — like others, as well as most public buildings of the day — had imposing front steps to the main level.  Almost universally true at the time, there were no safety railings.

Mulnomah Albina Carnegie historical 7798 (640x470)

There was a lower level with an auditorium.

The interior? Impressive:

Portland Albina library historical 7797 (640x506)

The building’s intact, in sound condition, still part of the Multnomah system, no longer a library, but not just offices, storage or administrative space. It’s a book store.

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7793 (640x470)

Libraries all face the challenge of making responsible disposition of their discarded materials, and the extensive Multnomah system has an excellent way to do it.

Multnomah County had moved the branch library out of the building by some time in the 1960s and put it to other uses. In 1988, a volunteer coordinator suggested the idea of an ongoing book store to resell books removed from the library collection. Thus began the Title Wave Used Bookstore, where books, CDs, DVDs and magazines removed from the library collection are available for sale at bargain prices. Educators get a discount.

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7799 (640x469)

As you see in the image above, the original archways to the back portion of the main floor have been filled in, but much of the original woodwork, ceiling moldings and other details are intact. The library uses the back space as well as the lower floor for offices, meeting rooms, archival storage and a number of other purposes.

There’s been other renovation and restoration, sometimes undetectable, with a good job of changes being made in the original style. A good example is the new entry vestibule, now ADA-compliant with automatic doors. The clock is original.

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7790 (504x640)

There are something like 20,000 items on the shelves at Title Wave. One thing that’s interesting is that the items are shelved according to the Dewey Decimal numbers which which they’re already labeled as they come from the library.

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7789 (480x640)

Donations to the library are managed and sold separately, not there. In addition, like many libraries, Multnomah donates books to worthwhile causes. I was especially impressed that some of Multnomah’s books go to the county court system’s juror rooms. If you’ve ever spent 3 days in a jury room, waiting to be called, you can appreciate the value of having something other than 2 year old copies of magazines to read.

For film buffs, the 2000 film, “Men of Honor,” has Cuba Gooding, Jr., visit a library. The scene was shot at Title Wave.

One paid staffer — who graciously showed us the facility — manages Title Wave, supported by 65 volunteers, some of whom have been involved with Title Wave from its inception.

That’s a good place to conclude, because it makes the point I always have in mind when I write about public libraries. Libraries exist because citizens support them, in a number of ways. Volunteers, Friends of the Library and other organizations are essential to the continuing survival of libraries. Citizens vote for bond issues, tax levy renewals and operating funds to keep them thriving.

Andrew Carnegie donated something on the order of $25 million (not adjusted for inflation) to build libraries, one of the largest philanthropies in history. Well, he was one of the world’s wealthiest humans. That was only for structures: not land, operating expenses, books or anything other than buildings. People in large cities and tiny villages alike undertook to make them into functioning libraries, a task that hasn’t lessened in its importance. That’s the work those volunteers are continuing at Title Wave.

How does your library handle discontinued materials? Leave a comment.

To see more of my library posts, click on “libraries” under the Categories widget in the right column. Click the Title Wave link in the body copy above for hours.

© Brad Nixon 2017. All photos courtesy of kind permission of Multnomah County Library. Historical photos are the property of Multnomah County Library. Angelus Studio, credited with the historical exterior photo, operated in Portland from the 1880s to 1940s. Information at this link.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 3, 2017

“Is It Art?” Part II: Black Box

A few months ago, I wrote a post about a massive piece of art on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: “Levitated Mass,” by Michael Heizer.

Levitated Mass Brad Nixon 7014 (480x640)

It’s a 300-ton boulder suspended above a 15-foot-deep concrete trench.

The question I asked, “Is it art?” generated a number of interesting comments.

Recently I saw another work — albeit much smaller — that begs the same question.

McCracken Black Box 7838 (640x480)

That is “Black Box,” by John McCracken, created c. 1965. It’s on display in the Portland (Oregon) Art Museum. The museum’s description reads, “Polyester resin on fiberglass and plywood.” I didn’t measure it, but it’s approximately 18″ on each side.

As you can see, the visible faces are reflective. It’s only occurred to me now that there are two sides — the “back” and the bottom — that I did not see. Does one assume they’re identical? Is part of the artistry to make us question our assumption that the parts suggest the whole?  A question of the gestalt?

I went out of my way to avoid reflections in the image above other than the unavoidable one of the white plinth and the object’s own shadow. A second image shows the reflection of a passing museum-goer and the descriptive card to the right.

McCracken Black Box 7839 (640x524)


There is certainly “artistry” involved: imagining and then executing the fabrication of a (presumably) perfect cube with no surface variation other than in the reflection of light on its surface.

That, after all, is precisely what is going on in adjacent rooms of that museum and every other museum in the world: Light is reflecting from paint, stone, bronze, ceramics or precious metals used by Monet, Degas, Tiffany et. al. One of the most profound lessons a beginning painter learns is that she isn’t painting the object, she’s painting the light reflected from it.

Black Cube is an object, not a representation. If it represents anything, it embodies the idea, “cube.” But it’s also about light, because it reflects light (and does almost nothing else). Is that enough to call it “art?” René Magritte famously painted a pipe with the label, “Ceci n’est pas un pipe,” naming the painting “The treachery of images.” McCracken calls this a cube: Is that what it is? If that’s all it signified, wouldn’t he have simply made the surface a nonreflective matte black?

At the very least, McCracken makes us think about the light, not just the object.

So, is it art?

I already know what I think. What about you? Leave a comment. I relish discussions like this.

Additional information:

John McCracken on Wikipedia

John McCracken Survey, David Zwirner

© Brad Nixon 2017. Black Cube © John McCracken, Portland Art Museum, gift of Karen and Henry Groth. No commercial use of the image without express permission.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | July 16, 2017

The Joy of Pain

You know one: an exercise geek.

Their workout routines and the progress of their strength, speed or endurance — related in excruciating detail — dominate their conversation. You make every attempt to stick to safe subjects like politics or religion, but, inevitably, you end up hearing a blow-by-blow narrative of their latest killer ab crunch or the dy-no-mite new series of inverted hanging military presses they’ve discovered. You sidle away, explaining that you’re in a hurry, on your way to the Kazakhstan Consulate to pick up your visa to hike the Silk Road, and that you’ll see them when you get back in 18 months or so … if you survive.

Heaven forbid that you encounter them limping toward you. Run away.

They’ve blown out their knee, torn a rotator cuff or ruptured an Achilles tendon. If you give them an opening, not only will you learn exactly how they incurred it, but why: improper form executing the forward one-and-a-half dismount from their balance beam practice, overstriding while running the curve during their 800-meter speed intervals or prematurely moving up from 200 to 220 pounds on the bicep curl.

If they stopped there, it might not be too bad. You could express sympathy, wish them well in their recovery, and hustle off, perhaps even thinking this might tamp down their focus on workouts for a few weeks while they heal so you could chat about other things.

But there are no days off in Workout Obsession World. There are underlying causes to consider, and you’re going to hear about them. These range from overtraining (they only rested an hour between running 20 miles and putting in 2 hours free-climbing the gym’s vertical wall), an electrolyte imbalance (they knew they should be getting more hydromorphic diethylene citrate in their diet!) or something equally involved, requiring exhaustive explication.

Only with injury does the real fun — the absolute joy of pain — of working out begin for these lost souls. If exercise and all its attendant details is an obsession, recovery is a religion magnified to cult status.

They have a plan, a program. Whether it takes weeks or months — the more extreme, one way or the other, the better — they’ll be back, better than ever, and you’re going to hear a day-by-day outline: the stretching; application of cold, pressure and heat; progressively shorter periods of rest and concomitantly longer stints of easy, then moderate and finally strenuous activity, applied with the single-minded passion of a physicist measuring the electronic discharge from sub-atomic particles moving at the speed of light in the Hadron Collider.

But wait, that’s not all! There’s the task of describing, analyzing and categorizing the pain itself.

I don’t know any other languages well enough to compare them, but in English, we possess a vast word hoard of pain descriptors. They include tender, stinging, throbbing, pulsing, aching, dull, sharp, searing, to name only a sample of the single words. Once we expand our list to include multiple word phrases, there’s a veritable encyclopedia of agony. Even better, as the injury either heals or (OMG) worsens, the descriptors change, and what was a searing pain subsides to an ache, then soreness, in endless procession. You’ll know exactly what stage they’re in, where they started, and what’s next.

The true devotee will have not only their own testimony, but draw citations from a rich literature of physiological research studies, websites, newsletters and podcasts to quote to you about the incidence, causes, prognosis, treatment, recovery and future avoidance of their injury.

So, did I tell you about how I pulled my calf muscle today at the Torrance South track? Really, this’ll just take a minute. There I was, a few miles into my run, with only a couple more to do ….

IMG_3353 wide track

Where’d everybody go?

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | June 30, 2017

2017 Reading: Midpoint Observations

At the halfway point of 2017, I’m pleased to report that it’s been a good year for reading.

I’m not going to get into whether I’ve read more books than your sister has; the number isn’t important. I’ve made some excellent discoveries, with books by authors from 6 countries. Exactly 50% of my books were borrowed from the library, and the bulk of the rest I received as gifts, pulled from the shelves of Rancho Retro or picked up for a dollar or two at the Friends of the Library book sale. Amazon and the brick-and-mortar bookstores aren’t happy on my account.

The books (almost all fiction) span just under 200 years: 1819 – 2016.  That range will expand by about 400 years at the end of 2017, assuming I finish out the year with the traditional rereading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Speaking of Re-reading

I’m an inveterate re-reader. I return again and again to a few treasured favorites, but this year has been an exception, only one of my 2017 books to-date being one I’d read before; even that was for a specific reason. I discovered the French writer, Emmanuel Carerre, and the first of two of his books I read (in English translation) was I Am Alive and You Are Dead, a biography of one of my all-time favorite authors, Philip K. Dick.

Having just become aware of Carerre’s work, and waiting while I moved up the library wait list for his 2016 book, The Kingdom, I was delighted to find that he’d authored a study of Dick. The book is a mixture of thoroughly researched fact and personal reflection and associations, a hallmark of his work.  As it happens, 2016 had been my year to re-read a number of Dick’s novels, so the references in Carerre’s book were fresh in my mind, but it had been many years since I’d picked up A Maze of Death, a classic bit of Dickian storytelling, set on an alien planet and mixing myth, interpersonal conflict, psychotropic drugs and — inevitably — disaster.

By an incredible stroke of luck for me, The Kingdom (about the relationship between  Saint Paul and Saint Luke) once it came to me, is replete with references to the period in Carerre’s own life when he was suffering a crisis of faith that informed his investigation of Dick’s life. The science fiction writer also wrestled with matters of faith, converting to a committed Catholicism at one point, and using it as a platform for much of his writing that followed.

Sadly, A Maze of Death didn’t hold up to the high regard I developed for it when I first read it 40 years ago, but I recommend Carerre to you if you’re not familiar with him.

Previously Reported

The first 2 months of the year included 2 impressive books, The Bridge over the Drina by the Serbian writer, Ivo Andrich, and Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. I was moved to write blog posts about each of those, which you can find by clicking on the respective book titles.

Czars of the Name Game

Still looming on the list of books I intend to read this year is one of the Big Ones: War and Peace. I’ll get there. You’ll probably read about it here. In preparation, I’ve done a couple of Russian Lit warm-ups: Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons and Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.

My previous experience with Russian writers —Dostoevsky, Anna Karenina, Chekhov and a handful of others — came flooding back in one notable way.

Those names! Every character has a first name, a patronymic, a family name and one or more nicknames (Arcady Nicholeyevich in Fathers and Sons gets a raft of nicknames from his mother, who seems to generate a new one with every appearance she makes). Fortunately, my editions of both books provided a list of characters with most of their names. Perhaps that’s a fixture of all Russian novels; a necessary survival tool.


Some time ago I wrote a blog post about a list of “100 Greatest British Novels.” I majored in English literature in college, and I’ve read a large number of the books on that list … until about 1960. I was stunned to discover that I had read none of the 29 books on that list published after 1962. None.

I’m continuing my catch-up game, and so far this year my reading’s included fascinating work by four British women: Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea, 1966), Zadie Smith (The Autograph Man,  2002 and NW, 2012),  Monica Ali (Brick Lane, 2003), and Ali Smith (There But For The, 2011). All have things to recommend them. I particularly enjoyed There But for The.

American Masters, Old and New

As for American authors, I’ve been filling in gaps, too. I revere Mark Twain, but had never read any of his travel writing, so I started with A Tramp Abroad. There are brilliantly hilarious portions, and some powerful ones, too sometimes simultaneously. I don’t actually know whether or not to trust his first-hand account of the dueling fraternities at Heidelberg , but it was captivating. There are, I must say, some long, slow-moving and not inspiring sections of the book, too. I was fortunate that my library’s copy was a reprint of an 1880s edition of the book with several hundred illustrations, including 4 by Twain. It was a reminder of the cultural context in which Twain was working. Books were one of the primary forms of entertainment in a world before recorded sound and moving pictures, and that edition by the American Publishing Company put me in the place of a person 130 years ago, reading about travels through Europe as told by one of the world’s foremost (and most entertaining) writers.

I’ve read my share of Henry James, now some decades ago, but had never read The Portrait of a Lady. I was riveted by it, both the narrative structure and the language, and now I’m at risk of going on a James bender, reading or rereading a big portion of his novels.

I knew Willa Cather’s stories, but not a single one of her novels. I broke the ice with O Pioneers! Highly recommended.

I continued my exploration of the work of one of my favorite recent discoveries, Richard Ford, although he’s now 73 and I should have found him sooner. I finished working backward through a trilogy I began at the end last year, reading The Sportswriter. Ford has all the archetypically American perspective of Updike, Cheever and O’Hara, a marvelous ear, and compelling command of narrative. I have more of his work on my to-read list.

Late in the game, I’ve discovered another writer, a slightly older contemporary of Ford’s, whom I should’ve known long before this, Robert Coover. While waiting for my turn at his recently published Huck Out West (continuing the story of Huckleberry Finn, an outrageous idea if ever three was one), I read his staggeringly audacious novel, John’s Wife. I can’t think of a book that’s slammed me in the head with the impact of that one. Everything about it is stunning. How I could have read Pynchon, Gass, DeLillo, Barthelme, Gaddis and the rest of his generation and not come across Coover is a mystery, but I look forward to making up for lost time with more of his books.

Muy Borracho Under the Volcano

I’ll conclude with a perennial theme of fiction: alcohol consumption.

Hemingway is probably the gold standard when it comes to novels that feature drinking, especially The Sun Also Rises, but you may have other favorites.

Personally, I’ve always held Kingsley Amis’ description of Jim Dixon’s hangover in Lucky Jim as the single funniest bit ever written about drinking, and the role alcohol plays in Dixon’s misadventures is just one of the many charms of the book. Last year, I discovered that Amis’ son, Martin, took on the old man and out-Heroded Herod, as the saying goes, in Money, which, page for page, derives about as much entertainment value from imbibing as one can pack into a book. Or so I thought.

However, this year, I finally tackled Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. There’s a lot to say about a book that’s been lauded as one of the greatest 20th Century British novels without discussing all the drinking. The main story takes place in one 24-hour period, and I don’t know of any fictional character who’s managed to consume as much alcohol as the protagonist, Geoffrey Firmin, and with such panache, although it’s not humorous. That’s not a reason to recommend the book — there are much better ones — but Lowry sets the bar higher than ever ol’ Papa leaped.

What’s your favorite book of 2017 so far? And, really, has anyone ever had more drinks per page than Lowry’s character? Let me know.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | June 27, 2017

Call to Action: Saving Organ Mountains Monument (et al)

In preparing for an upcoming trip to southern New Mexico, I visited the National Park Service (NPS) website to plan a visit to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, created by President Obama in 2014, spanning nearly half a million acres in south-central New Mexico.

Rugged, dramatic peaks, some still wilderness, the Organ Mountains have significant natural, prehistoric and historic value. Archaic inhabited sites dating as far back as 7,000 years have been identified, and more likely remain in areas not fully surveyed. The list of diverse bird, animal and plant species that live in that harsh land fills several pages.

It’s a strikingly dramatic landscape, but I’ve only seen it in passing along the highway and from within the city of Las Cruces and the Mesilla Valley of the Rio Grande. As a result, I don’t have photos to share with you, but I look forward to exploring it and writing about it here.

However, the Monument isn’t listed on the NPS site. Its “Monument” status hasn’t been approved. More dire is the news is that it’s one of 27 previously approved Monuments the current president and administration intend to cancel.

Currently, the areas encompassed by the proposed Monument are public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). There are trails, parking areas and campgrounds, so it is accessible. However, the difference between BLM and NPS remits is that as BLM land, the area is still subject to applications for mining, grazing, logging and other commercial uses. With Monument status under the aegis of NPS, the area would be removed from future development of any sort and preserved as natural space.

The White House has clearly stated its intention to revoke Monument status for 27 pending National Monuments created during the past 20 years. The action is a microcosm of the administration’s egregious disregard for the environment, the welfare of U.S. citizens and of its adamant opposition to anything that impedes the ability of commercial enterprise to exploit any resource, no matter the impact. The administration isn’t saying that there is some number of proposed Monument sites that are problematic. They are ruling against the very concept of protecting lands from development in any way.

Click here to see the list of 27 Monuments under review.

Like Organ Mountains, all the proposed monuments received extensive public review and comment. In many instances, the agreements to move forward to Monument status were forged through long and sometimes contentious debate between residents, communities and interests with differing points of view. Despite that fact, the administration is making haste to establish a new rule of governance that spans not only the environment and public lands, but the health, welfare, equality and freedom of citizens: the rule of money. There shall be no infringement on the flow of dollars into commercial enterprise. It’s a supremely un-American approach, given our country’s long tradition of embracing the protection of natural lands.

Take Action. Time Is Critical

The U.S. Department of the Interior (of which the NPS is part) has set a deadline of July 7, 2017 to receive any public comment on this issue. Nearly all of you who read this blog are travelers, and many of you are outdoors people: hikers, bikers, runners and adventurers, or have the well-being of our natural spaces at heart. It’s time to act.

In the case of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, go to this link:

There, you can write and send a message to Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior, adding your voice to those who oppose canceling National Monument status.

The Sierra Club also provides a link to take similar action. The link below addresses the 7 pending Monuments in California, but you can tailor your message to address any or all of the Monuments under review.

Link to Sierra Club communication.

I always suggest including some of your own text rather than using the boilerplate copy provided by any organization; it proves that you’re a concerned individual, a voter and not a robot.

Here’s my letter:

I urge you to confirm National Monument status for New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. This natural land encompasses important natural environments and watersheds, serves as habitat for numerous plant and animal species, and contains numerous  important archaeological and historic sites.

A full public review with the engagement of all vested parties has already been conducted, and there is every reason to move forward with Monument status for the area, as previously approved. 

With full Monument protection, these scenic and valuable lands will be a resource for generations to come, and serve as one more demonstration of our commitment as a nation to preserving our natural and historic heritage. It will also be a significant generator of travel, tourism and the associated employment that will benefit southern New Mexico and its people.


Most of you are writers; you know how to do this. But it requires action. Silence is acquiescence.

Many of you write about the outdoors, the environment and associated subjects in your own blogs. This would be a good week to bring this matter to the attention of your readers.

Some time this year, I expect to write a blog post describing what I saw when I hiked in the Organ Mountains. Will I be describing a National Monument? Not if we’re silent.

Thank you.

To my international readers:

I make every effort to be as inclusive as possible, and I deeply appreciate having you read Under Western Skies. I enjoy reading about your visits to your national parks, whether in Poland, the U.K., South Korea, the Philippines or anywhere else in the world. I know you treasure them. In this instance, writing about a domestic U.S. issue, I ask your forbearance. Wish us well. 

Note: the featured image some of you see at the head of this post is not the Organ Mountains, but the Jumbo Rocks area of Joshua Tree National Park, another of the spectacular natural treasures protected by the National Park Service.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 30, 2017

Watch the Water. This Isn’t “Baywatch.”

This weekend, the Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., was our ad hoc official start of summer, at least insofar as the consensus for the date on which swimming pools and beaches are open.

Wherever you are, and whatever season it is in your part of the world, take a moment to consider water safety with me, please. Consider this a message from my mother, avid swimmer and Registered Nurse, who is no longer here to deliver the message in person.

Learn to swim, teach your children to swim and watch the water.

“Watch the water” is the guiding principal of lifeguards everywhere. In a moment of inattention, a person can lose their life by drowning, whether they’re a practiced swimmer or not.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that an average of 3,536 people drowned in the U.S. each year between 2005 and 2014: about 10 each day, not including another 332 people per year in boating accidents.

Here in southern California, the Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard Division lifeguards watch 72 miles of coastline. With about 50 million people visiting the beaches during a year, they perform an average of about 10,000 rescues per year. That is serious business.

There’s a dramatized version of lifeguards on the big screen right now: “Baywatch.” Without having seen the movie, I can speculate that onscreen, lifeguards are more glamorous and their work more dramatic than is apparent in the real-life work they do day in and day out. There is, though, nothing much more dramatic than saving a life, and with being prepared to act on a moment’s notice every minute a lifeguard’s on duty.

Here’s a photo I shot two weeks ago on Redondo Beach near the Pier:

LAFD lifeguards Brad Nixon 7042 (640x427)

What I like about that photo of actual lifeguards (red jackets) at work is the fact that the lifeguard on duty in the tower has come out to talk to the supervisor who’s just driven up in the vehicle. Notice that whatever they’re discussing, they’re sitting side-by-side, both WATCHING THE WATER. It never stops.

They’re not watching for what you might expect. It’s important for you to know what it is, because sometimes you are the lifeguard, not a trained professional.

You may be at a backyard pool, a lake in a nearby park or at a cookout by a river.

If there are people in the water, young or old, non-swimmers splashing by the edge or excellent swimmers out in the water, someone should be watching from shore. Here’s why.

A drowning person doesn’t call for help, doesn’t wave their arms to indicate distress. They’re drowning, and their only concern is with saving themselves through something called Instinctive Drowning Response. They have no air with which to call for help, because they’re trying to breathe. Their arms are engaged in pressing against the water to keep their heads above water and they can’t signal for assistance. They’re fighting for their lives and have no energy or mental attention for anything but survival.

I know, the pool’s only 15 feet from the back door, and you and all the adults are sitting right there, just inside when the kids run out to the pool. If something happens, you won’t hear it. There won’t be any noise. You have to watch. The pool, the lake, the river, whatever, are off-limits unless someone’s watching. Period.

I’m not a trained lifeguard, either, so I’ll direct your attention to an article and an instructive video that explain what to watch for. Keys you’ll learn are that drowning people don’t LOOK like drowning people do in movies, because they’re not thrashing about: They’re entirely focused on trying to stay above water. If they’re drowning, you have less than 30 seconds to get to them.

Please CLICK HERE to read the details.

Teach your kids to swim. It could save their lives, but it could also give them something they’ll enjoy for a lifetime. That’s straight from Nurse Nixon. She and I wish you a safe, happy summer in the water.

The link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention above has additional information about preparedness and prevention.

Read about the Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard Division here.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Older Posts »