Play what’s not there

As another example of pencil calligraphy, here’s a page from one of my journals, featuring a quote from Miles Davis:

Miles was one of my early jazz idols. I started playing the trumpet when I was about 8 years old, I think, and in my high school days played several hours a day. I continued to play through college in marching band, concert band, and orchestra, and even during my working career in engineering I continued to play in a jazz band at Bell Labs for many years. These days, I’m more of a several hours a month player, playing mostly seasonal special music for our church with one of my good friends.

Skilled calligraphers learn to do their lettering not just by looking at the forms of the letters themselves, but also looking at the “negative space” inside the letters and between the letters and words. I think this is something like what Miles Davis may have been saying in his quote – music isn’t just the notes, but it’s also the space between the notes, and the interpretation which can’t be written in musical notation.

The last week or so I’ve been thinking about yet another aspect of negative space and “what’s not there.” My mother has been in the hospital for cancer surgery, having had a large tumor removed, and while she seems to be recovering well, this has started me thinking about all that becomes missing in our lives as we age. Anita and I have each lost a parent in the past 9 years, and I’m now old enough that friends of many years are starting to exit the stage; one good friend succumbed to cancer this past October. I was thinking about how we keep all these people alive in our lives and our memories, and the quotation above came to mind – we have to “play what’s not there.” We mourn our losses, of course, but I think it’s much more important that we honor those we have lost by thinking of how they lived, and, when we can, acting as they would have acted and living as they taught us. If we keep our eye on those negative spaces as we draw our own lives, we can create a beautiful unity between what once was, and what still is, and what can be.

Oregon Coast part 2 and back to Seattle

Wow – it’s been over a month since my last post! I’ll spare you my weak excuses, and just say that I’ll try not to do that again.

I wanted to wrap up the northwest coast trip photos with just a few more of my favorites. After leaving Newport, we continued north on Highway 101, and began to see impressive examples of the power of ocean, as we approached Boiler Bay. Here’s an example:

As we moved further north, Rte. 101 bent inland, and it began to look as though our incredible luck with the weather was running out. A side trip to Cape Lookout gave us only a view of mist and fog, so we returned to 101 and entered Tillamook County, which our guidebook said has the highest rainfall in Oregon (80-90 inches annually, with some spots as high as 200 inches). Just as we saw the “Welcome to Tillamook County” sign, it began to rain, and we drove through the dairy farming valleys under a steady downpour. We had been advised that we should stop at the Tillamook Cheese factory (“ice cream to die for,” was how my Internet contact put it), and somehow, as we entered the town of Tillamook, the sun came out again. We turned our backs on the Heart Association for a delicious lunch of macaroni and cheese followed by ice cream, and then continued on to Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park. The latter was my favorite spot of the trip, and even though we found ourselves running out of time and energy, after a long drive down a single-lane road, we made our way to Ecola Point, where I also got my favorite shot of the trip (if you click on the image, you’ll be taken to a larger version than I usually post):

I loved that shot for the old tree, the ferns, the redwoods in the background (note the small cones in the upper right), the great light,¬†and especially for the little window through the trees, showing the rocks in the ocean. For me, it was almost a perfect summary of our coastal tour experience. By the way, I have made 12×18 prints of this shot, and it holds up very well to enlargement – if you’re interested in a print, drop me an e-mail (see the contact page link at the top of this page).

We had thought we’d spend the night in Seaside, just on the other side of Ecola State Park, but there was a convention in town that was tying up most of the hotel space, so we decided to go on to Astoria for the night. We found a room right on the banks of the Columbia River, so close to the fishing docks that we were serenaded all night long by barking seals, who apparently like to sleep on the floating gangways where the boats tie up. I watched the sunset over the river, looking out towards one of the few remaining buildings from the hundreds of canneries that operated in Astoria before the salmon were overfished almost to extinction:

And the next morning I was able to see the seals clearly amid the boats:

I couldn’t figure out the rules of the seal union. Both late at night and early in the morning, it was clear that most of them were sleeping away like sacks of potatoes, but at least a few were always barking. So maybe they work in shifts? How does a sleeping seal know when it’s time to get up and start barking? Does the seal on barking duty just go over to a sleeping seal and nudge it awake? Do males and females share this obligation equally?

Our AAA guidebook listed Astoria Tower as a “gem,” and compared it to the famous Trajan Column in Rome. Since Trajan’s column is a treasured icon to calligraphers (the inscribed letters on the column are considered the most perfect examples of classic Roman caps), I felt we had to check it out. Calligraphically, it was disappointing, as the letters were nothing to brag about, but the artwork spiraling up the column, which tells the story of the settlement of the Pacific Northwest, was interesting, and from the viewing platform you can see a 360-degree panorama of the Columbia River area:

Our favorite spot in Astoria turned out to be the Columbia River Maritime Museum, which I suspect we might never have discovered, had it not been just down the street from our hotel. It’s right on the river, and has real Coast Guard lightship and rescue boats which can be visited, and fascinating videos about the Columbia River Bar pilots (who know the river so well that they can draw a map including every sandbar entirely from memory), showing them boarding the incoming and outgoing freighters by jumping from the pilot boats onto a rope ladder tossed over the side of the ship. The “bar,” we learned, is the area at the mouth of the river where the tides of the Pacific meet the outflow of the river, leading to swells which can be in excess of forty feet. The river is so hazardous in this area that more than 2000 vessels have been lost since record-keeping began. Here are a few shots from the museum:

If you’re in the Astoria area (and why not, since that’s where “Goonies” was filmed ;-) ), this little museum is well worth your time.

After our visit to Astoria, we returned to Seattle for our last two nights, and got in a visit to Pioneer Square and a trip to the top of the Space Needle for a sunset view. I’ll end this travelogue with this view of the city (click on the image for an larger version):

It was a great trip – can’t wait to go back.