Towards Y2K9 (5): Another Green World

The American northwest, especially the Olympic Peninsula with its National Park area west of Seattle, contains old boreal rainforests with lots of ecological diversity. Here are some shots from our visits to 1) the Marymere Falls near Crescent Lake, and 2) the Hoh rainforest.

Big trees here. I was already looking forward to meeting even larger redwoods further to the south of here, but these trees, mostly Sitka spruces and hemlock trees, were quite stunning already.

The rainforests in the national parks are almost completely left to themselves. Old trees fall and rot and on the rotting stumps, new trees find enough food to grow. There is lots of rain here, with the winds from the Pacific being stopped by the high mountain ranges.

Because of the high humidity, there are lots of lichen and moss growing everywhere on the trees – I have never seen trees so completely covered with long strands of moss. For some reason, it makes the place look like an enchanted fairy tale forest. I was wondering, what’s the connection between moss and fairy tales but I didn’t really know. The fairy tale look was very distinct though.

There is a lot of wildlife here of course – racoons, bears, cougars, otters, deer, elk. If you walk a trail through the forest, it is quite likely that you meet a deer, like we did. These deer are used to walking people, it seems, and they don’t really seem to be afraid.

At first we thought that elk were moose because „Elch“ in German stands for „moose“ in English. Some language confusion here. The elk that roam these forests are more similar to what we would call „Hirsch“ in German, with the males carrying large antlers sometimes.

A sign at the visitor center had warned us that elk were in the mating season, and that being full of testosterones, they would sometimes attack visitors. We didn’t really take this too seriously but when we had almost completed a round trip trail and were near the parking lot again, a group of people that had passed us minutes ago came back the other way, more running than walking. They said a large elk was on the way, and that he was not happy seeing people walking around in his stomping ground.

We decided to wait for a few minutes, and then slowly proceeded, looking out for the elk. We eventually saw it not far from us, but it was slowly walking away from the path into the deep forest. He hadn’t seen us and we could eventually get back to our car safely. We definitely wouldn’t have felt like dealing with an attack of this impressive animal – he was quite large and strong and he had a full set of antlers. Too bad I couldn’t take a picture!

After spending several hours in this beautiful forest, we were all the more sad about the fact that most of the forests are cut down – on our way south from the Olympic Peninsula, we met lots of huge log trucks, and we saw miles and miles of destruction where wild forest used to grow.

Usually, trees are replanted to be harvested again after several years, but of course the resulting tree areas are lacking the ecological diversity, and bear little similarity to natural rainforests. Large old trees disappear completely because replanted trees are harvested when they are still young.

Very often, the logging companies leave a narrow belt of forest along the highways, maybe to prevent people from seeing all of the destruction, but the truly sad and desolate looking clearcut areas can often be seen behind them.

The northwest forest area is one of the US’s main sources for timber, and it is even exported – all sorts of wooden products are made of these rainforests. And of course, there is the paper industry that turns the trees into pulp and paper.

For nature loving people like us who come from Europe where the rate of recycled paper is much higher than in the US, it is painful to see how precious rainforests are cut down for stupid things like paper cups that are thrown away without thinking. The amount of waste, especially of paper waste, in the US is staggering for us (it is bad enough in Europe). If you go somewhere in the US for a coffee or a little food, you will very likely get them in paper cups and on paper plates, instead of real porcelain cups that have to be cleaned and reused which would be more expensive. There is much talk about ecological thinking but fact is that nature is still brutally exploited.

Towards Y2K9 (4): Mountains And Rivers Without End

We started our last Seattle day picking up Ted, Letha, and Tallulah at their beautiful house – Sabine held Tallulah for a few minutes which turned out to be an interesting experience for both of them 🙂

We had a fabulous breakfast at Geraldine’s together …

… before setting out north and then west towards the Olympic National Park which was our next destination.

We arrived in a small town called Port Angeles, dropped our luggage, and drove straight up the mountains towards a place with the promising name Hurricane Ridge. After the sunny days in Seattle we were a little disappointed to see clouds pile up in the mountains, and we expected low visibility.

We were all the more delighted to find that once our car had climbed through the clouds and forests with huge trees, we suddenly could see for miles and miles, like in the Pete Townshend song.

Being up on a high mountain is something special (even if you went there by car, and even if you just have a few hours to spend there). It touched my heart. The light up there was different, very bright and clear, and once we were on a trail away from the people, there was that timeless silence that is at the center of everything.

Of course I was reminded of my all-time hero poet Gary Snyder who had spent much time on mountains like this.

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

Towards Y2K9 (3): The Guitar Sculpture

A tourist visit to Seattle, especially for a retro-futurist enthusiast like me, is usually (literally) topped by a visit to the magnificent Space Needle that was built for the 1962 World Fair and that is still the city’s landmark. And of course, we had to ride to the Space Needle with the monorail train that was also built for the World Fair almost 50 years ago.

We entered the monorail at the downtown station – the ride takes just a few minutes but while one approaches the Space Needle, it is difficult not to feel that nostalgic techno optimism that was so prominent in the American „Zeitgeist“ at the time … even though the monorail looks a bit battered today.

The view from the needle top was quite stunning – we had a very clear and sunny day and could easily see Mt. Rainier in the south (behind the skyline on the right side here) and even Mt. Baker in the north.

The space needle area also contains the new Museum of Pop Culture which is both a music museum and a science fiction museum. The building itself, designed by Frank Gehry, is quite a sight – I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it elsewhere, and one might say that it is hard for the museums that it houses to top the outer appearance.

I hadn’t expected much from the Science Fiction museum but I must say that I rather liked it. Its many exhibits were quite nicely presented, clearly by people who love Science Fiction, and lots of thought had obviously been invested in structuring the many aspects of this genre. Very entertaining!

The music museum, founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is mostly dedicated to American rock music, most prominently to the electric guitar and to Seattle’s most famous guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix. The tree-like guitar sculpture in the lobby, called Roots and Branches, is quite impressive when one stands under it. Many of the guitars in the sculpture were quietly plucked by some robot mechanism. Actually the thing looked less like a tree and more like a fountain or a volcanic eruption, spouting instruments in the air.

Although the two museums are largely unrelated, there is currently a wonderful exhibition that relates to both, showing tons of Science Fiction and space travel related record covers from the 50s. I love this stuff!

In the evening, we met Ted and Letha and their rather charming little daughter again – they took us to a Greek Festival which, somewhat surprising to us, has been very popular in Seattle for years, so much that it was difficult to find a parking lot for the car. The huge tent was full of hundreds of excited visitors who ate Greek food (wine leaves stuffed with rice – yummy), listened to nice Greek folk music that was played at top volume, and watched Greek group folk dances. A most enjoyable evening!

Towards Y2K9 (2): All Red

We knew we’d be completely jetlagged on arrival in Seattle – and we were, but there was still a good half a day to spend although our system believed it was already evening. We took a first look at the city and the waterfront, had a coffee, had some sleep. Then in the evening we met my old friend Ted who I hadn’t seen for 15 years.

It must have been around 1990, in the old Compuserve days before the internet really took off that I „met“ Ted – we discussed some R:Base problem online. At that time I worked for a company that was the German representative of Microrim, whose main product R:Base was the first relational database for PCs (MS-DOS and OS/2) – a really good product for its time. Ted and I had stayed in contact, he had visited us in Cologne in the early nineties, and I had visited him in Virginia in 1994, at the time when I finished my HOP screensaver. I still remember the day when Ted showed me Charlottesville’s university computer department where I saw an internet browser (Mosaic) for the first time. My god, only 15 years ago!

Ted, his wife Letha and their 3 months old daughter came to pick us up and we had a fabulous dinner at an Indian restaurant. When we left the place, I was so jetlagged and tired that I could hardly stand upright.

The next day was spent running around in Seattle, doing some shopping – a new rain jacket, some books, some adapters for my computer and phone. We visited the famous market on our way to the aquarium …

Seattle’s aquarium hosts a number of species that actually live in the surrounding ocean, such as a colorful plethora of seastars that one could touch …

… and a giant red octopus called „Buster“ – the aquarium staff decided to keep the name even though they had found out that he was actually female. What an incredible animal ! on this photo Buster, usually all red, had just turned grey for a few minutes.

After all these excitements, what could be better than a coffee and some tasty cakes, looking out over the sea. I think I look somewhat grumpy on this photo but that was mainly due to the fact that I was still very tired and that the sun was so bright!

Towards Y2K9 (1): All White

The first day of our trip to the West Coast: sitting in planes for 11 hours. We had to fly from Cologne to Amsterdam first – for some reason, the ticket that we bought didn’t allow us to take the train – we had to fly. Ok so we did. One thing that I found out about the Amsterdam airport is that they offer a meditation centre. How nice of them! Now I’ve spent many weeks of my life in meditation centres but on this day, I felt more like drinking coffee and looking at people.

The huge airbus that took us from Amsterdam to Seattle was flying right over the Dutch coast where we had spent such a nice weekend recently. Thanks again to our fabulous travel agent, Mr. Pflug from the Reisebüro Sonnenschein in Bergisch Gladbach – he knew which seats to reserve so we got a very nice view. I love flying and looking out of the window – when I can look down on this planet, travelling somewhere, I am a happy boy.

Travelling from AMS to SEA takes roughly 10 hours, and you move back through 10 time zones at the same time, so one could say that in a way, time stood still during that flight. It was late morning when we started, and it was still late morning when we arrived.

The most amazing thing was that we flew north of Iceland and right across Greenland, something that I had never done before. I had no idea what Greenland would look like – I thought it would be a featureless white desert. It really was for a while but the east coast was full of incredible mountain ranges – an alien planet without any signs of humans.

I really felt very much like a happy boy. While flying in a spaceship to alien planets will not be something I will ever experience, this was quite close. We both were in awe about the beauty of our planet. I was also awestruck how science fiction this trip was – there we sat, several miles above Greenland, heading towards the US where we would spend a hopefully nice vacation and play some concerts with my own music – thinking about it, even my recent music is very much science fiction. I listened to Robert Fripp’s Vista soundscapes while looking down on the icy scenery far below – a perfect soundtrack.

Flying over Greenland from east to west, the mountains got covered with more and more snow until there was only a white desert. All White, wasn’t there a Soft Machine track with that title?