Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earl Returns To Strum Creek

In November of 1977, both my friend Earl Rivers and I became the latest hires by the Dept. of Forestry in Astoria. Although more than a few years have passed, I still remember our early days as “new out of the box” foresters. To say that we were filled with wonder and awe for the job would be putting it politely. In those days, everything was new and exciting and we could not wait for the next experience offered by the job. Do you remember those days?

At any rate, Earl stopped by the house yesterday and wanted to take a ride to woods and see some forest tracts in which we worked during the early 1980s. For some reason he was especially interested in finding a track known as Strum Creek No. 3 and asked if I might remember where it is. Oh sure, no problem; the district on which we once worked is about 68 square miles in size and the area of his inquiry might be the size of a K-Mart parking lot. Since Earl left our work unit in 1985 and moved to eastern Oregon, I figured that his recall of the area might be somewhat fuzzy. If I got him close, that might be good enough for this trip down memory lane.

Not two minutes after leaving the highway, Earl commented that this part of the forest sure looked different than we he last saw it in 1985. I reminded him that over the past 24 years the trees have had a chance to put on a little growth; even an old forester has to be reminded that the forest is dynamic. As we rounded a sharp bend in the road, I reminded Earl of a time that he and I had spent a day measuring trees in this very spot. Sadly, he failed to remember, time is funny that way.

After twenty minutes of travel through the “forest of our youth” I stop the truck on a ridge high above Strum Creek. At this point, Earl got out of the truck and said that he remembered the access point being not from a ridge but adjacent to a creek bottom. He was saddened to learn that the access road he remembered had been closed or in forestry speak, put to bed, 15 years ago. In order to make it a total experience, I offered to drive back down to the highway and wait while he walked down hill through the tract. He showed little interest in my suggestion when I reminded him that he would be traveling 2.5 miles before meeting me at the highway. Somehow, the forest of our youth seems to have become a whole lot bigger with time!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Easter Tradition

Since the early 1940s, the local Pioneer Church has adorned their front lawn with a cross made from the clipped daffodils blooms. The cross announces the arrival of Easter and serves as a reminder to all who drive by of Christ's death and resurrection. It is also one awesome sight, especially when you consider that a hand full of people spent a day cutting and arranging the blooms. The church’s web site claims that the display requires 50,000 blooms; I honestly didn’t take the time to count but as the cross is over thirty feet in length, the estimate is certainly plausible.

Directly behind the church is the pioneer cemetery, the earliest burial dates back to 1850. Time has certainly weather the site and many of the graves are now unmarked because the original wooden markers rotted away long ago.

There are however several stone markers like the one shown in the picture. I have always been fascinated by this particular marker, it has stood the test of time and continues to reach for the sky.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Terse Message Indeed

In the early hours of January 7th, the steamer Rosecrans transmitted the following message: “We are breaking to pieces on the bar – send assistance – ship breaking up fast – can stay at my station no longer - goodbye.” This quick message announced the end for one of the unluckiest ships to ever set sail.

To fully understanding the story, perhaps more detail would be helpful. The steamer Rosecrans was a tanker owned by the Associated Oil Company, loaded with 19,000 barrels of oil, bound for Portland, Oregon. As the ship approached the entrance to the Columbia River with gale force winds driving a blinding sleet, the ship’s second officer made a small but fatal navigational error. The year was 1913; radar and GPS were yet to come, navigation depended solely on charts and the reference points provided by the light from lighthouses. In the stormy darkness, the officer mistook the light of the North Head lighthouse for that of the Lightship Columbia. His error placed the ship on a course that was less than two miles off shore. The standard course for entering the river is to approach no less than five miles from shore and then turn east into the river. His mistaken course directed the ship to steam head long into the south jetty (the massive rock wall in the picture) and as it rode up and over the jetty, the hull was torn to pieces. The ship quickly sunk sending thirty-three crewmen into a watery grave.

So why was the Rosecrans consider to be so unlucky? During its life, the ship was reincarnated several times before finally sinking. Originally launched in Glasgow, Scotland in 1833 as the Methven Castle, she served as a mail carrier until 1898. Later that year, the United States purchased her to serve as a troop transport during the Spanish-American war. Following the war’s end, she was sold as surplus and acquired by the Associated Oil Company who converted her into a tanker, renamed the Rosecrans.

In the early 1900s, while sailing along the California coast, she was driven onto the beach during a fierce storm. Following the grounding, insurance listed her as a total loss; however Associated Oil decided to rebuild the ship. Shortly thereafter while loading oil while tied to a pier, the ship caught fire. Once again the ship was rebuilt and placed back into service. On the night of January 7, 1913, the final bell tolled as the steamer quietly sunk into the grave yard of the Pacific.