Ridgefield Winter Trains and Birds

I got the opportunity to shoot with the new Sony RX10 IV; I spent a few days getting used to the settings and controls and shot pictures in the house.

Train ornament

Train ornament

This camera has Phase Detect Auto Focus (i.e. fast focus) paired with a 24-600 equivalent zoom lens. The perfect camera for photographing moving objects like kids playing soccer, birds in flight and trains.

Trains! Yeah, I should get out and grab some pictures of trains! Our normal winter weather is low clouds with all the drizzling rain you could ask for. But nature has given us an early winter break thanks to a huge high pressure system east of Washington and Oregon. This means plenty of sunshine and a rare opportunity to get some nice outside pictures. So, I texted my buds Jay and John asking if they wanted to get up early Friday morning grab some coffee and donuts and head up to the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge for a photo shoot and finish up with breakfast. John had a work commitment, but Jay – the local bird expert –  was willing to give up a toasty bed on a cold morning for an adventure.

Our first stop was a little strip mall near the house that has both a Starbucks and Sesame Donuts. We picked up coffee at Starbucks and donuts at the donut shop. Properly outfitted we got on I5 and headed up over the Interstate Bridge to exit 14 and headed west to the refuge. Adjacent to the entrance to the River S unit is a great spot for spotting trains; but BNSF and Union Pacific roll north and south between Seattle and Portland.

First job: look south to check out the signals to get a hint of train direction and activity.

BNSF Signal Lights at Ridgefield

BNSF Signal Lights at Ridgefield

Hmm, red lights probably indicates the block is occupied by a northbound train. Sure enough within the first minute a BNSF freight comes into view. I barely had time to get my camera set up for continuous shooting with continual auto focus before it barreled by.

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

Just a few minutes later an oil train come up the line.

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

Then we had a lull in the action so I got out to grab some winter-at-the-refuge pictures. I found the moon dropping behind some bare trees.

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Soon, Union Pacific had the right-of-way and boomed along north.

Union Pacific at Ridgefield, Washington

Union Pacific at Ridgefield, Washington

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Three trains in less than half an hour; time to head over to the refuge. Bam! No sooner had we entered then we saw a Great Egret. Note: if I get the names wrong, it’s because I wasn’t paying attention to Jay, not because he gave me the wrong names.

20171208 DSC00284 DSC-RX10M4 Ridgefield Trains and Birds

Then a black bird; not a red-winged blackbird like we saw back in May.

Black Bird at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Black Bird at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Then Great Blue Heron hunting for mice.

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Great blue heron at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

And another going fishing (love the reflection here).

Great Heron fishing at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Great Heron fishing at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

And as we headed out another Great Egret.

Great Egret at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Great Egret at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

We saw plenty of other birds including some American Widgeons (sp?) ducks and geese.

The banner photo for this post (look up on top) is a flock of geese on the wing.

Birds in Flight over Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Birds in Flight over Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

I had a hard time deciding which banner photo to use; here are a couple of other candidates.

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BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

BNSF at Ridgefield Washington

We exited the refuge and headed over to a diner next to the freeway. As we walked in the diner the waitress said “sit anywhere you’d like” that is my favorite set up. I walked over to a nearby table and told them she told us we could sit anywhere so would they please move. Fun time. 🙂 It was pretty good; the hashbrowns weren’t covered in oil. When we finished the guys at the next table told us “hey we paid for your breakfast but you have leave fast! Don’t let her catch you!” Fun times!

The best part of the diner is the beautiful view of Mt St Helens; so after eating we crossed the street to get grab a couple of pictures. Those of us in the Willamette Valley have to take pictures of our mountains when we can during the winter just to prove to ourselves they are still there behind the clouds.

Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens

Let’s try that zoom.

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I’ve been to the RidgeField Wildlife Refuge a few times – mostly with Jay.

Or for the full list; search for “Ridgefield” in the search box (or just follow this link).

 

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Reading: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan BeachManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finished: November 30, 2017

Note: I’m not trying to be coy in this review; I’m trying to describe it without spoiling the story for you.
Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel “A Visit From the Goon Squad”. I read the reviews and thought the plot structure might be a little confusing so I picked up “Manhattan Beach” to become accustomed to her style.

Before World War II young Anna accompanied her father on his errands and quick meetings members of the underworld. But when he switched employers he stopped inviting her along. And then he disappeared. “How could he stay away when she was waiting so hard? She had never cried. When she’d believed he was about to return, there had been nothing to cry about, and when at last she’d stopped believing, it was too late. His absence had calcified.” [p59]
Then we find her a few years later when she is working on the New York navy docks during the war. We follow an excellent tale of her growing up and moving on after her sick sister dies and her mother leaves for Minnesota. As a single woman she is disliked by “the marrieds” at her job: “they treated her with bruised politeness, as if their husbands had whispered her name in their sleep.” [p 129] Anna is a strong willed woman who, against all odds, is determined to be a diver – in the old suits and brass helmets with air supplied from an overhead barge – to repair ships.
Eventually Anna connects with one of the men whom she visited with her father and gets closer to the secret of what happened to him. The book is a bit slow at the beginning but from this point forward is a riveting page turner full of drama and suspense.
This novel has a beautiful structure. We see foreshadowing and parallel relationships throughout. During one visit with her dad Anna helps some kids who are having a hard time putting together a train set. “They always looked [at the pieces], which was as useless when assembling things as studying a picture by touching it.” [p 5] I originally highlighted this because I loved the description but later found it was a foreshadow of her first test in a diving suit.
There is also a parallel between and exhausted Anna climbing the ladder in her diving suit and a difficulty another character had. Both found “there was just enough each time for one more [movement].” [p 359]
We also find a parallel relationship between the Third Mate on a tramp steamer and the bosun; and Anna with the Lieutenant in charge of the diving program.
It’s not all about the diving; Anna has other struggles through her efforts to find out what happened to her father. But she continues to adjust and move forward with every challenge.
This is an excellent book with great characters and a tense well-paced plot. It’s easy to see why the author won the Pulitzer Prize with her earlier work. I’ve found another seam of ore in my book mining.

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Reading: The Great Influenza by John M. Barry

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in HistoryThe Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finished November 3, 2017

I work at Oregon Health Health & Science University which is comprised of hospitals, medical schools, and research facilities. Each year we are encouraged to get our flu vaccines – even those of us with no clinical responsibilities. My physician also recommends I get a flu shot and I have for as long as I remember. As I was standing in line to receive my vaccine this year I got to wondering about influenza and remembered hearing about a deadly epidemic in 1918. I came across this comprehensive study of the disease. John Barry tells the story of the deadliest epidemic through three lenses: the development of modern medicine that was occurring at the time, the mechanics of the disease itself, and the impact of public health and public policy – or lack thereof.
The disease is popularly known as the Spanish Influenza but Barry argues that it may have come from Kansas. As World War I was ramping up, the draft pulled thousands of young men into overcrowded camps for training. A couple of men came from an area in Kansas where people complained of influenza symptoms. “On March 4 a private at [Camp] Funston, a cook, reported ill with influenza at sick call. Within three weeks more than eleven hundred soldiers were sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, and thousands more – the precise number was not recorded – needed treatment at infirmaries scattered around the base.” [Loc 1576]
Within a matter of weeks “like falling dominoes, other camps erupted with influenza. In total, twenty-four of the thirty-six largest army camps experienced an influenza outbreak that spring. Thirty of the fifty largest cities in the country, most of them adjacent to military facilities, also suffered an April spike in ‘excess mortality’ from influenza, although that did not become clear except in hindsight.” [Loc 2636]
This was the first wave of the disease. Overall, through three waves “[e]pidemiologists today estimate that influenza likely caused at least fifty million deaths worldwide, and possibly as many as one hundred million.”[Loc 149 ]
Barry covers the technical details of the virus which invades cells that have energy and then, like some alien puppet master, subverts them, takes them over, forces them to make thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands, of new viruses” [Loc 1606] The influenza virus is incredibly nimble mutating very quickly. It would soon turn more deadly. “When the 1918 virus jumped from animals to people and began to spread, it may have suffered a shock of its own as it adapted to a new species. Although it always retained hints of virulence, this shock may well have weakened it, making it relatively mild; then, as it became better and better at infections its new hose, it turned lethal” [Loc 2767]
It was up to humans to try to contain it. William Henry Welch led the charge. He was responsible for pulling medicine from the dark ages into the scientific era. “Welch had turned the Hopkins model into a force. He and colleagues at Michigan, at Penn, at Harvard, and at a handful of other schools had in effect first formed an elite group of senior officers of an army; then, in an amazingly brief time, they had revolutionized American medicine, created and expanded the officer corps, and begun training their army, an army of scientists and scientifically grounded physicians.” [Loc 1457]
Prior to modernization medical students did not perform autopsies or see patients; rather they took art of less than a year of lectures. [Loc 569]. Welch and his colleagues brought the scientific method to studying the disease. “It was the first great collision between a natural force and a society that included individuals who refused either to submit to that force or to simply call upon divine intervention to save themselves from it, individuals who instead were determined to confront this force directly, with a developing technology and with their minds.” [Loc 168] This battle is the primary focus of the book; Barry does a wonderful job bringing these people to life.
Although they were not immediately successful in stopping influenza, they did know how to combat its spread. Here we look through Barry’s third lens on the disease. Caught up in war fever, the military and public officials paid no mind. Warned to quarantine transferring soldiers, the military changed nothing. This caused the spread of the disease to the camps and to the war in Europe.
Public officials did little either. Often these officials were products of political machines such as Tammany Hall in New York who achieved their post due to connections rather than any skill. At the same time information was not published in the press for morale reasons. As a result people were fearful – they knew the disease was in their midst but there was no information on what to do – even though the scientists and provided information. “As terrifying as the disease was, the press made it more so. They terrified by making little of it, for what officials and the press said bore no relationship to what people saw and touched and smelled and endured.” [Loc 5199]
The head of the Public Health Service – made part of the military by Woodrow Wilson – “had done nothing … to prepare the Public Health Service, much less the country for the onslaught.” [Loc 4804] Even though the military draft was suspended, “Blue still did not organize a response to the emergency. Instead, … [he] reiterated to the press that there was no cause for alarm.” [Loc 4825]
The second wave of the disease was much more lethal there were not enough doctors and nurses to treat the afflicted. Harriet Ferell recalled “an open truck came through the neighborhood and picked up the bodies. There was no place to put them, there was no room.” [Loc 5082]
Although the entire social system was on the verge of collapse and the industrial output of the country was in peril [Loc 5165] “no national official ever publicly acknowledged the danger of influenza.” [Loc 5188]
On the political front, Barry argues that Woodrow Wilson contracted influenza at the peace talks and his weakened condition caused him to give in to French demands for reparations thus setting the conditions for World War II. [Loc 6062]
Influenza is serious and though we have vaccines to combat certain strains it still has the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. The Center for Disease Control says that the worst case scenario 422,000 Americans would die. [Loc 7064]
John M. Barry deftly pulls together the three strands of history, the development of modern medicine, and the importance of public health policy to weave a fascinating story of this deadly period.
Barry blames public officials for their ineptness at handling this pandemic. “Those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first, and best. Leadership must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.”[Loc 7230]
Let me stand up a little higher on my soap box here. It is clear that influenza is different from the common cold virus. It is deadly. I often hear people tell me that they got sick even though they got their flu shot. Well, they may have gotten a cold; but they probably didn’t get the flu. A few years ago I called the nurse advice line thinking I had the flu. The nurse asked if I could stand up; when I said “yes” she said, you don’t have the flu. If you had the flu you probably wouldn’t be able to make a phone call. Do yourself a favor; get the annual flu vaccine.
As long as this reading report is, you probably figure I’ve covered it all or even transposed it. But I’ve only scratched the surface. Although this is a narrow subject it is a fascinating read.

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Reading: The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

The Ninth HourThe Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finished: ~October 13, 2017

What would you give up for your friend’s or loved one’s happiness?
In the early 20th century a husband and soon-to-be father commits suicide by blowing up his apartment. A nun, Sister St Saviour, visits in the aftermath to comfort the widow and straighten things up. Later her granddaughter comments about the nuns: “For years we believed the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, Congregation of Mary Before the Cross, appeared in every household whenever crisis or illness disrupted the routine, whenever a substitute was needed for She Who Could Not Be Replaced”[Loc 954] The mother, Sally, goes to work in the convent laundry and the daughter, Annie, grows up among the nuns. As their lives progress we see their strengths and weaknesses.
On the practical side, this novel is an illuminating study of the work nuns did back before there were social programs and safety nets. They worked HARD to comfort the afflicted sacrificing so much to pursue their calling. Alice McDermott’s descriptions are beautiful: “The contrast of the nun’s broad black back, solid and shapeless in her veil, and the woman’s thin, bare, flailing white extremities was groteque, startling. They might have been two distinct species: an ostrich in the arms of a great black bear, a grasshopper in the beak of an enormous raven.”[Loc 1312] Will Sally pursue that calling?
Twice we are told that love is a tonic, not a cure. And yet two of the characters do so much for this tonic.
This is a beautiful novel; but if you are new to Alice McDermott, I recommend starting with “Someone”.

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Pernil Al Horno – Roast Pork

I cooked this a bit before Thanksgiving but held off on publishing on the blog because “Turkey recipe” is what everyone was searching for. Time has passed and it is still the Holiday season. This is a great dish to serve for a big family dinner.

I originally saw this recipe on the Food Network show “Food 911” with Tyler Florence. I’ve cooked it a few times; although I’ve never blogged about it. I did make a different version of this three years ago – which you can read about here – that was good but not as good as the original.

This is a pork shoulder marinaded in rosemary, garlic, salt, oil and vinegar before roasting. Even though there aren’t many ingredients there is plenty of flavor. It is best marinaded overnight.

Marinade for Pernil Al Horno

Marinade for Pernil Al Horno

The original recipe calls for mashing together the garlic, salt, rosemary leaves, and pepper in a mortar and pestle. Yeah, you can do that; but I got lazy and just put in a food processor.

Pernil Al Horno dry marinade ingredients getting ready for a spin

Pernil Al Horno dry marinade ingredients getting ready for a spin

And pulsed a few times.

Pernil Al Horno dry marinade ingredients waiting for oil and vinegar

Pernil Al Horno dry marinade ingredients waiting for oil and vinegar

Then the food processor lid goes back on and we drizzle some olive oil and white wine vinegar until it smells wonderful and is ready to slather on the pork shoulder.

Pernil Al Horno ready for an overnight marinade

Pernil Al Horno ready for an overnight marinade

We then wrap the roast in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight to brine and marinade.

Once that is in the fridge we move on to the accompaniment of pickled onions and carrots – super, super easy.

Pickled Onions and Carrots ingredients

Pickled Onions and Carrots ingredients

Adding a sliced serrano or jalapeño will provide heat if you’d like. I used some crushed red chile peppers instead. The recipe calls for regular vinegar. Ugh; as Alton Brown says, that should only be used for cleaning. I substituted white wine vinegar.

Pickled onion and carrots ready for the brine

Pickled onion and carrots ready for the brine

Boil everything but the onion and carrots for one minute; let cool a bit. Place the onion and carrots in a jar or bown and pour the liquid over the top. After it cools put it in the refrigerator – overnight is best.

The next day you will be rewarded with yumminess

Pickled onion and carrots

Pickled onion and carrots

There may not be quite enough liquid in the 2014 Oregonian Newspaper recipe I used so you might want to multiply it by 1.5 – it all depends on how big your onion is.

Ah, everything is prepped for tomorrow so let’s walk around the house and look at Fall rolling into Portland.

It was a beautiful fall day - our sunset maple put on a show

It was a beautiful fall day – our sunset maple put on a show

Closeup of our wood duck box - just because

Closeup of our wood duck box – just because

The beauty of this recipe is that a lot of the work is done the day before; and the cooking is all done by the oven; this provide a stress-free day when the guests arrive.

I cooked at 350° for 3 hours until the skin was so nice and crispy. Make sure you check the internal temperature to make sure it’s safe to eat.

Pernil Al Horno out of the oven and ready for carving

Pernil Al Horno out of the oven and ready for carving

That shadow at the bottom of the photo makes the roast looks like it’s hovering over the cutting board; it’s good but not THAT good. Pull out your sharp carving knife and have at it. This is a boneless roast so carving was so easy.

Pernil Al Horno carved and ready to serve

Pernil Al Horno carved and ready to serve

Our lovely hostess cooked some orzo with olive oil and parmesan cheese – which was lovely. Pressure cooker risotto would be another great side dish. We also had some nice crusty french bread.

I held everyone back from the table while I took a picture.

Dinner is served

Dinner is served

Our dinner guests were people I’ve worked with for so many years. Karen and I started at Portland Community College back in the early 90’s to implement the Banner (TM) student and financial aid systems. Her husband, Frost, was or vendor consultant (after a year of intermittent training they weren’t sick of each other – quite the opposite). We continued to work together as the years roll on. I bowl with Frost on Monday Nights (we are the Trophy Husbands) and our workspaces are right next to each other at OHSU.

I worked with Kara when we managed technical teams in the same division at OHSU. Just as I was diving into my first attempt at retirement she met Patrick who is the bees knees. Karen earned a Master’s Degree and taught in the Information Systems program at U of O; where Kara is now the director. They had never met but they  had a grand time getting to know one another.

Kara especially *LOVED* the pickled onions.

We prepared the day before and had a simple cook; nevertheless, we were faced with this after the party. But it was worth it.

Dinner party aftermath

Dinner party aftermath

Rating: ★★★★  If I knew how to display half a star I’d give it 4 1/2. This is a pretty simple dish to prepare with a big payoff; I’ve served it for guests many times and it’s always been a hit. That said, if you are vegetarian, don’t eat pork, or watch your salt intake you may want to skip this dish. That crusty exterior is so flavorful but you’ll get your day’s requirement of salt. Yummy; so, so yummy.

Want to cook it? Here are the links:

By the way; I store my recipes in DropBox. A while ago they changed their links for sharing information and some many of my older recipe links don’t work anymore. If you see that, please add a comment to the problem post and I’ll fix it up. I’m slowly – ever so slowly – working my way through them but want to get a jump on the things you look at.

Thanks

 

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Reading: Plansong by Kent Haruf

Plainsong (Plainsong, #1)Plainsong by Kent Haruf

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finished: September 23, 2017

 

My favorite book of the past few years. Kent Haruf has written a stunning character study of a group of loosely related people in the small town of Holt, Colorado. The story follows the lives of a father and his two sons as they deal with their wife/mother drifting away from them; a struggling teenage girl kicked out of her house; and two elderly bachelor farmers.
There is a bit of plot tying the narrative together but for the most part it is a study of relationships and the fierce unforgiving world of the plains. The authors writing is breathtaking with beautiful descriptions of the world: “But the air was turning sharp, with a fall feeling of loneliness coming.” [p 27] Coming early in the story this line sets the tone.
Everyone has struggles: “The girl looked tired ands sad, the blanket wrapped about her shoulders as though she were some survivor of a train wreck of flood, the sad remnant from some disaster that had passed through and done its damage and gone on.” [p 31]
But there is also plenty of wry humor; I love his descriptions of the elderly brothers which sets the stage for their characters: “They looked as stiff and motionless as if they’d been shaped out of plaster and then stood up on the porch like two lifelike statues of minor saints.” [p 117]
This novel is full of realistic people struggling to find rewarding relationships in an otherwise lonely world. It is beautifully written. It’s difficult to provide some of the later beautiful passages without spoiling the plot.
I just love this book, which was a National Book Award Finalist. Just before stumbling across it, I felt as though I’d exhausted my modern fiction mine; but discovering Kent Haruf has written at least five other novels I feel like I’ve hit a vein of gold. Even better, Plainsong is the first of a three book series; I can hardly wait to dive into Eventide and Benediction.

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Reading: Trajectory by Richard Russo

TrajectoryTrajectory by Richard Russo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finished: August 27, 2017

A collection of four long short stories with each capturing a moment in people’s lives where relationships are changing. In “Horseman” we encounter a female college professor paralleling her academic life – in which she challenges a plagiarizing student with her personal life and her own history.
“Voice” is a slight reworking (or maybe just straight re-publishing) of his earlier story “Nate In Venice”. Nate, another academic has left teaching after a traumatic experience and his trying to reconnect with the world in general, and his obnoxious brother in particular.
“Intervention” shows the relationship of two couples – one of whom needs surgery but is not facing it. It captures a terrific moment that goes a long way to show why long-term relationships can work: “He and Paula had been married for close to thirty years, thanks in large part to a mutual willingness to let an arched eyebrow do the heavy lifting of soliloquy.” [p 136]. As a person married over 40 years I can say that perfectly captures a part of married life.
“Milton and Marcus” shows a film writer trying to reconnect with his career while his wife is sick. As one relationship – writing – may be picking up; the other may be ending.
This short but beautiful collection of stories is Russo in a nutshell, capturing people in their innermost thoughts as they work their way through the world – either successfully or not. The world just never stops: “Hanging up, I felt worse for Cassie than myself. Because this brutal world simply will not spare you – even when you’re young – knowledge of the work in the apple.” [p 242]

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