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With a Little Help From My Architect Friends

Excuses are superfluous when invited to drive the pinched length of the Columbia River Gorge. Verdant green drips from every vertical surface. Slender fissures in rock yield to tumbling waterfalls. The roadway cantilevers over a rabid, fizzing cauldron of river, droplets racing themselves to a union with the Pacific. Vertigo evaporates with eye contact, drinking images resplendent with wet, with ooze, with confounding drama where it joins the desert and is sucked dry.

The face of Nature’s preening wasn’t what mattered to me when my architect friend Alice asked me to drive from Portland, through the Gorge, to the Maryhill Museum of Art. My notions were taken with History, the ghostly echoes of bedraggled explorers, Lewis and Clark and their whoring, whooping Corps of Discovery. I strained my ears to hear them, shuffled my feet to (maybe) stand where they once did. With a weaving, distracted gait, I drove while Alice made background noise for my epic main soundtrack.

She kept talking about this………..Thing. The music swelled Thing! with History, crescendoed with Thing! Actual Historical Marker, Thing! teased with a pianissimo of Thing! sighing whispers, built itself into Thing! a lathering Thing! climax Thing! of Recorded Thing! Lookout Thing! Point ThingThingThingThingThing!.

Sigh.

So, this thing. What is this thing we’re going to see again?

Alice’s glasses flamed in time with her passion for the Thing. It’s an outdoor sculpture designed by architect Brad CloepfilShould be some sexy concrete. I’ve wanted visit since I read about it in Dwell.

Great I thought to myself. Concrete. Why do architects get so flipping orgasmic over the stuff? It isn’t sexy, and it hurts when I fall on it. The sour taste of my foot flooded my mouth, a remnant of Barcelona that sealed my comment in my head.

A neo-classical pile of a house waved from its perch at a lazy bend in the river. We cracked the doors and stepped into desert air mingled with the swirling liquid sounds.

This house is like fifty we could see in Charleston. Really, we didn’t drive all the way out here to see THIS, did we?

Silence.

I found Alice next to a series of concrete diving boards. They decorated the lawn before it took its suicidal plunge into the Columbia River.

Snap.

Snap.

Snap.

She pointed her camera at the champagne-like flow of water, at the cloud creatures shifting in the sky, at blades of thirsty grass. But, she took nary a picture of the Thing.

We drove all the way out here to see this…..Thing. Why aren’t you taking pictures of it?

Andra. It’s not about the sculpture. The beauty of the design is how it frames everything around it. See how it highlights the hump of that mountain across the river? How its shadow enhances that open square of rusty rock peeking through the dirt? Can you hear the river reverberate when you stand right here? How it morphs when you move over there?

But, I wasn’t listening in my urge to see.

Snap.

Maybe Lewis stood on that spot.

Snap.

Or that one.

Snap.

Maybe that was his whisper fluttering through the winds of time and breathing understanding into me.

From the Maryhill Museum of Art web site 

56 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on huynhhayenlong and commented:
    too great. How do you write fast and good?

    February 22, 2014
  2. Andra, have you ever noticed that when there’s one thing you don’t want to see, you see it over and over again… or maybe that’s just me…

    February 22, 2014
  3. Park benches for giants.

    February 22, 2014
  4. wow

    February 22, 2014
  5. We were right there, in Oregon, where the Gorge turns dry. And missed it. Of course.

    February 22, 2014
  6. Wow.
    Now that I’ve seen that photo, I have to agree with Lou’s comment. 🙂

    February 22, 2014
    • I just spent two days lecturing architects to see the world differently. At least, I proved with this post that it can be done. 🙂

      February 22, 2014
  7. Different people see and hear different Things. The craft of the creator is filtered through the mind of the perceiver to create the final work of art. Art is the Thing, and art is fluid.

    But I did go to a vintage car show in Portland, Oregon, once. Motorized works of art.

    February 22, 2014
    • Here’s what I’m tired of, though, and I think it requires a blog post.

      I’m really tired of how people instantly decide they’re not going to like something, and they don’t do that thing, even though they might like it if they tried it. I made everybody at the architecture firm retreat think of a time they did something they thought they’d hate and ended up having a good experience. Almost every person could come up with something.

      Life isn’t about safety. It isn’t about ruts and order and doing what’s comfortable. It’s about everything that exists beyond those lines. We grow when we move those lines.

      I wish more people saw life like that.

      February 22, 2014
      • You need to devote a blog post to JUST that topic, Andra! Could we get all that 3rd paragraph on a T-shirt? I’d wear it! 🙂

        February 22, 2014
  8. Ummm…OK. Well, next time you are up north, come and visit me and our concrete sculpture.
    http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMDNJV_Fox_River_Oracle_Appleton_WI

    Yeah, I don’t know what it is either.

    February 22, 2014
  9. Imagine the wonders of the world forgotten before the camera was invented. Smile *snap*

    February 22, 2014
  10. Lance #

    Bobina is a chef and an office manager for a vet. So she’s an expert in food and pets. She can describe a sauce by smell and a breed of dog or cat by head size. I’ve learned to appreciate her perspectives.

    February 22, 2014
    • I think differences are more interesting than similarities.

      February 22, 2014
      • Lance #

        always…I’ve learned this over the past few years

        February 22, 2014
  11. That’s a magnificent hillside looking across the river to Biggs. Sam Hill had an eye for view. Did you go up the road a bit and see the concrete replica of Stonehenge? It was created as a memorial for the local boys who died in WWI. It alway blows my mind when I decipher their ages.

    February 22, 2014
    • We didn’t know it was up there, Jim. We spent hours at the museum, and it isn’t very big. We also stopped at the Gorge Formation museum. We watched the very old movie in there and kept saying, “Magma” in really deep voices and laughing. I still mumble it to myself sometimes.

      February 22, 2014
  12. Wow, kid. So you were reading my mind last night – I was playing that very song on my guitar, singing, thinking about how I have to start looking into things to do in Portland when we land there during our Summer Surf Adventure this year. Mme. Ross likes to call it “the Great Pacific Northwest Tour” but to make enough time for surfing and a three-day stop in Portland to prospect for a far-future move we don’t have enough time to stop-and-go between all seven or eight states we had originally considered. That being said, I will have to Pocket this post and add the things you’ve mentioned to my list.

    February 22, 2014
    • Looks like I got a little help from you, my friend. 😉

      February 22, 2014
    • Oregon surf is epic. The water is very cold and the waves are very thick. It’s a different animal, for sure. Did I say it was epic?

      February 22, 2014
      • I’m looking forward to it – it’ll be my first time surfing and so I’ll be renting gear and taking lessons. I figured since there was a wetsuit involved it
        might get a little chilly out there!

        February 22, 2014
      • So what are the must-see attractions of Portland, then?

        February 22, 2014
    • Jim (Narble) lives in Portland, Rob. You ought to pick his brain, for sure. I haven’t been to Portland since 2005. Too long. Way too long. MTM and I both loved it there and had serious talks about moving there for a couple of years.

      February 22, 2014
      • Yeah, we are entertaining the notion but I’m thinking it’ll be at least a decade out since I want to build equity in the new home and I’d like to be ready for a big move like that.

        February 22, 2014
  13. My part of the world. The Stonehenge replica is pretty cool. You drove past Elephant Rock and Preacher Rock, cool natural formations. Kind of hard to find, that Elephant rock. It’s gorgeous where the tree line begins in The Dalles.

    February 22, 2014
  14. Hmmmm? So she was seeing the sculpture more as a frame to the larger picture? Interesting; and there you were, listening to Meriwether’s whispers. What an interesting post.

    February 22, 2014
    • She used the sculpture as a frame for landscape shots and sky shots. Some of them were really captivating.

      February 22, 2014
  15. Carlos Ovalle #

    I have a problem understanding monumental works that attempt to define nature and its views, feelings, or what have you. Is it a “man over nature” thing? If someone comes up and demolishes, paints, or otherwise changes the appearance of this sculpture, who is to say that the resulting work is any better or worse than what was there? Who is to say that nature was somehow enhanced or better appreciated than when there was no sculpture to begin with?

    February 22, 2014
    • I’m sure Brad Cloepfil thinks it is 1000 times better. Ha.

      February 22, 2014
  16. I was excited for a moment, and thought you were talking about Ben Grimm. 😉

    February 22, 2014
    • I wish I could talk intelligently about comics and comic book characters. I never got the Thing as a superhero.

      February 22, 2014
      • There are elements of the co-creator’s life in the character, but like most superheroes, it’s to be outlandish and fanciful.

        February 22, 2014
  17. Hmmm … I’m probably missing something here. I think I would like that scene better without the giant concrete park benches (thanks to your friend Lou for that astute description :))

    February 22, 2014
    • You’re not missing anything. Whatever you see is what you see, and however you process it is right for you.

      Having said that, I never think it is ok to dismiss an experience from a photo.

      February 22, 2014
      • I’m not sure I understand. Does my comment suggest that I’m dismissing an experience from a photo?

        February 24, 2014
    • No no no. That’s what I get for letting my mind reference something that happened several months back and making a comment reply.

      February 24, 2014
      • Gotcha. And in reconsidering my first comment … I was in Oregon briefly many years ago and loved it. We are hoping to visit the state this spring and, frankly, I would like to see that concrete sculpture.

        February 24, 2014
  18. I love driving down the Columbia River Gorge but haven’t visited the Maryhill Museum before. Maybe I’ll add it to my next trip. 🙂

    February 22, 2014
    • It’s small enough to do in a few hours, without getting overwhelmed.

      February 22, 2014
  19. This sets the scene so beautifully, Andra. What an amazing building.

    February 22, 2014
  20. All that talk about Things had me only thinking of one Thing:

    And that scene in particular because I sometimes don’t like being hauled to new places but always enjoy it when I get there. Unless there’s a Thing there I’d rather not see (or have to run screaming from)…

    February 22, 2014
    • 🙂 Your references are always so refreshing. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      February 24, 2014
  21. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

    February 22, 2014
  22. You can’t escape the ‘eyes’ of an architect, can you? Those eyes do give us a different perspective. That’s a great thing.

    February 24, 2014
    • It has been for me. I know it’s transformed my writing and they way I see the world.

      February 24, 2014
  23. I’m not at all familiar with this installation or the area! It’s quite dramatic and it would be mesmerizing. I can imagine how you’d be caught in a whirlwind of thoughts! Friends do help us see things differently. I know mine often do!

    February 24, 2014

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