Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 11, 2017

I Simply Have to Write About This: A Sentence Diagramming App

This is too perfect to pass up; it’s just too Much. I’ve had it. This is the living end.

Some of you may have learned to diagram sentences. It’s a graphical way to analyze the structure (grammar) of sentence. It is a teaching tool. Like this:

Sentence diagram Brad Nixon 8055 (640x370)

(Note: this diagram is incorrect. The line separateing “is” and “tool” should be diagonal, because a verb of “being” requires it, not a vertical line. I’ll post a corrected version soon. Thanks to reader Godlovesalcohol for pointing it out.)

That diagram demonstrates the basic form: the subject on the left, separated by a vertical line from the verb, then another line above the horizontal line for the object, with two modifying words: the article and and an adjective.

For today, class, whether or not you know how to diagram, ever did know or intend to do it in the future, doesn’t matter. I had to do it, and so did some millions of other students, at least here in the U.S.

Diagramming has its uses. For example, if one is reading particularly complex sentences, diagramming can assist in sorting out dependent from independent clauses, compound subjects or parallel actions, intermediating phrases, and so forth. I occasionally resorted to it when I was reading Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu.

When I started thinking about diagramming as the subject for a blog post, it occurred to me that there must be apps that robotically parse and diagram sentences now.

Sure enough, an online search revealed plenty of diagramming apps. I checked a couple of them out. The first app that popped up (promoted by an ad, natch), had a website so poorly constructed and unreadable that I bailed out in 30 seconds. That company paid Google to promote it, but they should’ve paid someone to write their web copy for them.

Then the second one: readable — at least if you’re accustomed to reading technical documentation composed by non-native speakers of English — but barely.

Here are the features of the app, as represented on the website. I quote:

Sentence a grammatical unit of several words, and provides a narrative, question, comment, etc. It begins with a capital letter and ends with proper punctuation. 

  • Sentence diagram intend for illustrating of sentence parts.
  • The diagram has best value for visual organizers and satisfy all needs for analysis.
  • A grammar study will help students see more clearly of how concrete sentence is organized.
  • Sentence diagrams are clear to everyone graphic material for sharing projects.

The mind reels.

If you were looking for a language tool in which you’d place confidence, would you trust the developers of this app to diagram your English language sentence?

It seems to me that some familiarity with basic English sentences, however rudimentary, should be in evidence. You know, those boring old things: Sentences require both a verb and and a noun, verbs and nouns should agree regarding number, that sort of thing.

Not those dudes.

That’s all for today. I simply had to share.

Were you taught sentence diagramming in school, in any language? I’d genuinely love to hear from you, especially from you many readers not in the United States, or who command languages other than English. Leave a comment. Thank you.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 9, 2017

Too Late to Rescue a Word from the Hurricane: Decimated

Languages change; sometimes they disappear. A few languages, secreted in remote jungles, or on distant islands, may remain stable, relatively untouched by contact with the new words, behaviors and ideas inevitable in our mobile, connected world, but very few. The world shifts, and language transforms to accommodate the world.

Nothing — not government decrees, shutting off a population’s access to the outer world or even the Académie française  — can insulate language from alteration. Even without the importation of foreign words, new modes of behavior or the advent of new things (e.g. technologies) revise how we speak and write.

What about the rules in dictionaries?

Dictionaries Brad Nixon 7978 (640x480)

The most prestigious, authoritative dictionaries are no bulwark against change. As someone once said, dictionaries are history books, not law books* — they record language, but don’t control it.

The language you and I share, English, may be one of the most volatile ones. As a lingua franca across the globe, it’s exposed to influences from a billion people every day. We Americans, with our polyglot society, contribute, but so do approximately 125 million speakers in India and millions more, including all of you who are reading this post in the U.K, Australia, Canada, Russia, Serbia, Brazil and a hundred other countries (thank you, as always, for sharing our common language with me).

We can’t hold back the tide, make the sun alter its course or wind the clocks back. New words replace old ones — we need new words for new things — and old ones shift their meaning or fall from use. I sometimes bemoan the loss of accuracy or the erosion of precision regarding usage. I chafe at losing the distinction between “its” and “it’s,” and the disappearance of  subject-verb agreement.

Regardless, the language marches on. The process that formed our current version of English out of the Old English I studied in graduate school has never ceased, and never will.


“Decimate” is a powerful word that’s been used frequently in the past two weeks as, first, Hurricane Harvey struck the south-central U.S., followed immediately by Hurricane Irma, which has devastated islands in the Caribbean and is threatening southern Florida with the prospect of massive destruction at this moment.

News reports have variously described Houston and the surrounding area, Barbuda, St. Martin/Sint Maarten and the Turks and Caicos Islands as “decimated.”

That’s not strictly accurate, inducing self-appointed word wonks, usage police and vocabulary vultures to write letters of protest to the editors of the publications in question.

Historic Origin

In its original sense, “to decimate” signified something specific in the army of ancient Rome. The Roman army was a large, well organized and disciplined military force that rarely failed to overcome opponents (although there were defeats). It was the iron hand that not only conquered vast territories, but enforced Roman rule and maintained the empire’s dominion.

Discipline in the army could be severe, and nothing demonstrates its ferocity better than decimatio, “decimation,” meaning “removal of a tenth.”

If a unit of the army was found guilty of mutiny, desertion, cowardice or dereliction of duty, a commander could order that unit to be decimated, one of the most dreadful punishments I can imagine.

The unit (sometimes hundreds of soldiers) would be divided into groups of 10, and each group drew lots. The soldier selected in each of the groups would be beaten or stoned to death by the other 9 soldiers in the group. The punishment fell to all, regardless of rank.

Current Use of the Word

Technically, anything that’s been decimated has had one tenth of its substance removed or destroyed. Current descriptions of hurricane Irma’s aftermath on Barbuda, where 95% of the buildings are estimated to be damaged, makes “decimation” far too weak a word. Fortunately, so far as is known, human deaths haven’t approached actual decimation anywhere in Irma’s path, and let us hope it remains so. Irma has both exceeded and fallen short of “decimating,” depending on the context.

There’s no point in writing letters to editors who allow the word to be applied in a manner that doesn’t match the exact meaning it had 2,000 years ago. No one I know uses Latin as their daily language (and I hope no extant army practices decimation as a form of discipline). Our sense of the word has evolved.

Instead, we are left with a deeply ingrained cultural memory of the horror of decimation. Imagine being a child in Rome, hearing tales from your uncle of his service on the edge of the empire in Dalmatia or Dacia: In addition to hardship and fierce battles, he witnessed the decimation of a cohort of soldiers. That memory persists somewhere in our subconscious, associated with the word in a way that makes it apropos for “catastrophe” 20 centuries later, long after our own languages have crowded Latin aside.

The fact that our notion of decimation has shifted doesn’t invalidate its use. It’s one of the ways language adapts. Let’s accept decimation as a term for utter destruction; it’s apt. We can’t hold back the language. In a sense, we celebrate the power of language by associating decimation with unspeakable, wanton destruction, recalled from across two millennia of history.

However, do try to remember that “its” is possessive and “it’s” is a contraction for “it is.” I’m still fondly attached to the distinction. Thanks.

*I did not originate the “dictionaries are not law books” saying. I’ve lost track of where I first heard it. If you know, I’d appreciate hearing from you in a comment.

FYI, the header photo of “legionnaires” depicts actors outside the Roman colosseum in Verona, Italy, before a performance of “Aida.”

Aida Actors Verona Marcy Vincent 0988 (640x508)

© Brad Nixon 2017. “Legionnaire” photo © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 6, 2017

Stepping into 1912: Carnegie Library, Albany, Oregon

I enjoy visiting historic library buildings as I travel, particularly ones built with funds granted by the Carnegie Foundation in the early part of the 20th Century. The Carnegie grants helped establish or foster a significant majority of the library systems in the U.S., as well as in several other countries.

On a recent trip to Oregon, I made stops to see several of them. One never knows what condition an old building will be in; has it been well maintained, does it retain any of its original character or has it been entirely remodeled?

Albany, Oregon, located in the Willamette River valley between Eugene and Salem, received a Carnegie grant and opened its library in 1912.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7588 (640x480)

Now a city of about 52,000 people, the seat of Linn County, Albany was thriving in 1912. The library is in the Monteith section of the city that’s been given protected status by the National Register of Historic Places, including a large number of houses and business structures.

From the outside, Albany’s Downtown Carnegie Library looks like hundreds of other old Carnegies, with its stairs (that originally would not have had handrails) and stone entry (Albany’s exterior doors have been replaced, but the original entry doors are inside). One always goes in with the same question in mind: What’s left of the original interior? Some details of ceiling moldings or woodwork? An old wooden bookcase, one or two chairs?

The answer in Albany: It’s all there. While not every single detail is intact, the library looks very much as it did in 1912.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7591 (640x475)

Even the oak furniture is original…

Albany library Brad Nixon 7598 (640x480)

… including the reception desk where you check out a book or ask the librarian a question.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7618 (640x478)

The original card catalog?

Albany library Brad Nixon 7615 (640x580)

Check (although now kept in an office, no longer in use for the collection).

A reading nook with requisite portrait of Andrew Carnegie, too.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7599 (473x640)

Few public buildings manage to fulfill their original functions amidst the wear and tear of daily use for more than a century with so few alterations. The Albany library is a rare exception.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7597 (640x480)

One of the requirements of a Carnegie grant was that buildings were to be libraries, not multifunction spaces: Carnegie didn’t want to fund meeting halls or civic offices. However, the lower level of the Albany library was originally just that: meeting space and even a small auditorium with a stage for community use.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7606 (640x480)

One has to assume that the city funded that portion of the building separately. Carnegie’s sharp-eyed accountants would not have permitted applying grant money for other uses. Today, though, the library occupies most of the lower level, although the area is available to civic groups.

There have been alterations to the library, but done discreetly, and one has no difficulty, with a little time and a few deep breaths, to feel that it’s 1912 again (even the computer terminals are in a room that’s out of view of the main room, resting on more of that furniture).

Albany library Brad Nixon 7596 (640x472)

Albany does face some challenges with its library. Typically, one sees a ramp zig-zagging to the main entrance of old buildings with entrances above street level, in order to provide access in accord with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Another access problem is that once one’s on the main, upper floor, the restrooms are on the lower level (they’ve been modernized), with only stairs for access. Being contained in a National Historic District gives the library a certain amount of relief from being ADA-compliant, but the issue will have to be addressed, whether via ramps, an elevator, or some combination.

Albany also has a larger modern structure that serves as its main library, so citizens have an option regarding accessibility. One hopes that the city will find a solution that will accommodate patrons with limited mobility and still retain as much of the building’s original character as possible.

Albany library Brad Nixon 7602 (640x537)

As always, I remind readers that it took significant effort to turn a Carnegie grant for a building (Albany received $12,500) into a functioning library. The citizens of Albany rose to the challenge – and they’ve continued to support, fund and expand their local library system. It’s to their credit, and testifies that libraries still play an important role.

When You Go 

Albany lies immediately west of Interstate 5, 25 miles south of Salem, 40 miles north of Eugene. From the north, take exit 234B; from the south, exit 233. Continue west to Route 20, Pacific Ave. Exit north on Lyon St., turn left on 3rd Ave., then left on Ferry, and you’ll find the Downtown Carnegie Library on the right at 302 SW Ferry St. It’s on the southwestern edge of downtown, within easy walking distance of other interesting attractions.

A Note of Appreciation

My thanks to the Albany library director, Mona, and her helpful staff, who graciously found time to show me their library and provided me with more history and local lore than I have space to report.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 4, 2017

Wistful Thinking. Etymology at the Breakfast Table

Even if you’ve never eaten breakfast here at UWS Intraplanetary HQ, longtime readers know the drill from many posts from past years: A word gets used in conversation and one of us pauses, squints (or indicates “deep thinking” in some way), then asks, “Where does that word come from?”

This week, it was “wistful.” We were discussing the song from a film we’d seen that was stuck in both our heads.

We agreed that the song, although hauntingly lovely, was sad, melancholy — wistful. Thus the question.

The first thing to do in that circumstance — the irresistible challenge — is for The Counselor and I to try sussing out the word’s etymology, unassisted by dictionaries.  Despite some acquaintance with Romance and Germanic languages (not all of them still spoken), this only goes so far.

If you want to play along at home, now’s your turn to jot down where you think “wistful” originated.

Here are the ideas we came up with:

Perhaps “wistful” is related to “wishful.” Or, there was an Old English noun, wist, one of a number of spinoffs of a verb of being, wesan. OE wist signified being, substance or plenitude. That didn’t seem likely, but etymology isn’t always logical. Even farther out on a limb, I wondered if wistful could’ve stemmed from one of the senses of wit (to know) — an old word that’s been in English since well before it was written down, derived via a number of Germanic forebears, then from a more ancient proto Indo-European root from the dawn of spoken language.

So much for possible Germanic origins. Romance languages are problematic when dealing with words beginning in “w.” Latin didn’t have “w,” it used “v.” As a result, Italian and Spanish have, essentially, no words beginning with w, and French has a scant handful, primarily loan words. Any words entering English from those sources would have already endured a transformation from “v-” as they were imported into English, making it unlikely an amateur etymologist will come up with a reasonable guess.

It was off to the dictionaries.

Dictionaries Brad Nixon 7978 (640x480)

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language tells us what it assumes is enough for most people: “wistful” is possibly derived from an obsolete English word, “wistly,” but provides no entry for that word.  That’s no satisfaction. Where did wistly come from? It was time to get out the big book.

The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines “wistly,” as, “With close attention; intently; with implications of wistfully.

OED cites the earliest recorded use of wistly as ca. 1500 (spelled wystly), the latest in 1730. A relatively short run for that word during a time when the language was changing with enormous velocity.

Origin? OED says, “Doubtful.” Uh oh, That’s a danger sign for practiced readers of OED. Prudence counsels closing the book, stashing it back on the shelf, forgetting your curiosity about the origins of words and doing something simpler: like taking apart the microwave to see if you can get higher gain to bake potatoes faster.

Once those OED editors declared a word’s origin “doubtful,” they were duty bound to suggest possible sources, which in wistly’s case included whistly. Whistly is the adverbial form of an archaic word, whist, meaning silent, quiet, hushed. Chaucer used it ca. 1400; Milton used it in a poem in 1629, and it reportedly persisted in a colloquial spoken form into the 19th Century (I’ll spare you a lot of detail here). By some unknown path, we’re left with “wistful,” and can only speculate whether or not it derived from whist, via wistly.

The latitude English speakers have to transform words, adapt them, adopt them from other languages and pretty much do as we will is one of the language’s greatest assets, but the result is a confusing morass of interlocking, undocumented changes. Somewhere along the line, it seems, a word may have come into use because the sound of it — whist — suggested quiet, empty stillness. There seems to be no trail that leads back to some predecessor word in another language. Another speaker or unknown scribe, lost to us, generated the adverbial form, wistful, and it showed up for breakfast in suburban Los Angeles in the 21st Century, still part of the contemporary word hoard.

To quote a superior etymologist, John Ciardi, good words to you.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Sources: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., Houghton Mifflin, 2000; The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1971; A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Clark-Hall, Wilder Publications, 2011.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 1, 2017

Getting Vertical in La La Land: Angels Flight Reopens

Because Los Angeles offers visitors so few attractions — only beaches, nearby mountain wild lands, the Getty and LA County museums (and dozens more), Disney Hall, DisneyLAND, Hollywood, Universal Studios, theaters, great food of every description and a few thousand other things — I have good news: Angels Flight is back in operation, effective August 31, 2017.

Angels Flight Brad Nixon 3449 (640x480)

What is it? Angels Flight is a funicular railway that traverses a steep 298 feet from the base to the top of downtown’s Bunker Hill: essentially, from the edge of the shopping district up to a plaza bordering Grand Avenue, along which are located the new Broad Museum (officially “The Broad,” pronounced brōd), LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Music Center complex, office buildings and a number of other points of interest.

Angels Flight opened in 1901, when Bunker Hill was a residential area of Victorian mansions. Bunker hill is steep, and the railway was a boon to pedestrians going to and from work and shopping in the city.

After operating for 68 years, Angel’s Flight spent several decades in limbo while Bunker Hill became a center of commerce, full of towering buildings (resulting in the loss of some scores of Victorian-era houses). The ride was revived briefly in 1996, but safety problems, including a fatal accident, resulted in its closure, the most recent for the past 4 years.

Now it’s back, having resumed service yesterday. By itself, unless you’re a railroad buff, it’s probably not enough of a reason to brave the traffic congestion, parking challenges and not-entirely-straightforward grid of downtown’s streets. Fortunately, downtown Los Angeles, although visited by a small fraction of the visitors to this metropolis, is replete with interesting places to eat, shop or simply admire the city’s impressive array of architecture.

One reason you might have is to reenact the romantic ride Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling made on Angels Flight in the 2016 film, “La La Land.”

Angels Flight in La La Land Summit Entertainment (640x341)

Officially, Angels Flight was closed for safety reasons when the film was shot. No one has officially revealed how the production managed to get the train functioning in order to shoot the scene. Someone knows. It’s a movie town. Magic happens.

In any case, Angels Flight is running. The antique funicular — 2 identical cars making opposite-direction trips to counterweight one another — will lift you from Hill Street, and take you back again.

Angels Flight Brad Nixon 3452 (473x640)

The round trip now costs $1 (slightly up from one penny in 1901).

I’ve made the trip a few times, when the fare was 25 cents each way, but it’s still a bargain. Not something you can do in just any city. It’s good to know the old cars are running again. They looked forlorn these past few years, idled on their hillside.

At the foot of Angels Flight on Hill Street, you’re almost directly outside one entrance to the endlessly interesting Central Market, with its vast variety of multicultural fruit and vegetable stands, butcher and bakery counters, and always-evolving (and hip) casual dining options.

Walk out the opposite side of Central Market onto Broadway, and across the street is the Bradbury Building. If you’re a film buff, you know the Bradbury. If not, READ HERE.

Bradbury Building Brad Nixon 3447 (640x449)

(Hint: you have to go inside to see the good part. It’s open during regular business hours.)

Right there are three good reasons to head downtown, found nowhere but in La La Land. Walk down to 648 South Broadway and have lunch at the unique, unforgettable Clifton’s Cafeteria, making four. Read about Clifton’s here.

Cliftons Cafeteria Brad Nixon 3453 (640x371)

Harry Potter and Mickey won’t even notice if you take an afternoon off from the theme parks.

Scheduled operation is 6:45 am – 10 pm, 365 days a year. The top location is at California Plaza, 350 S. Grand Ave. The lower terminal is at 351 S. Hill St. More information at  It’s “Angels Flight,” plural , not possessive (this is the City of Angels, if you missed that). Angels Flight is on the National Register of Historic Places. Tell Emma and Ryan I say hi.

If you ride the revived Angels Flight, I’d love to hear from you. Post a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Image from “La La Land” © Summit Entertainment 2017, used for illustration. No reproduction for any commercial purpose without the permission of Summit is allowed.

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.

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