Complicit in a Complicity

Since I first moved to Oregon, one of the things I’ve been most struck by is the quantity and quality of the scenic natural beauty around here, which the state leaves carelessly lying all over the place. It’s been part of life since the move, so it’s fitting that when zaiah and I decided to have a commitment ceremony, we would do it in a place that had a particular abundance of it lying about.

The place we chose was the ruins of an old stone cottage in a large park here in Portland. This particular park has a ruined stone cottage a short hike from the road, that we thought might make a lovely place for a gathering of friends and family.

We first started mooting the idea of a commitment ceremony about a year or so before it happened. One of the things that was important to both of us was the idea of a ceremony that wasn’t just about the two of us, but that was about our entire extended networks. Being part of a polyamorous network can be a bit tricky, sometimes, in that there is a tension between dividing up into couples and honoring all of the people who are important to you. zaiah and I wanted a ceremony that showed our commitment to each other, but also to the people we have chosen to make part of our families.

Even the name we chose, borrowed from figmentj, was an expression of the fact that this is something that involves all of us. Rather than a commitment ceremony, we opted to call it a “complicity,” and to make everyone who attended an accomplice in our union.

Not everyone in our extended networks was able to show up. In particular, my sweeties emanix and figmentj weren’t able to be there. A lot of people did make the trek out to Portland, though, including my entire Florida network–people I don’t get to see nearly often enough.

We gathered together and hiked out to the ruins of the stone cottage. Along the way, we passed over a small foot bridge where someone unknown had written good wishes on strips of masking tape and placed them on the path.

I have no idea who wrote this, or why, but I think these are good sentiments.

As I’ve mentioned, Oregon is known for the abundance and exuberance of the scenic natural beauty it manufactures and scatters about the landscape. Even the walk up to the stone cottage was drenched in it, which can be a bit disorienting for folks from places like Florida, where scenic natural beauty is kept tightly guarded and is sold in small parcels by licensees of the Disney corporation. The Florida part of the network paused along the way to recover from the onslaught of gorgeous, which they had developed little natural resistance to.

That’s my sweetie joreth, her boyfriend and my former archnemesis turned apprentice datan0de, my partner Shelly, datan0de‘s wife femetal, redheadlass, and her partner zensidhe. These are folks who have been my family for a decade or more, datan0de‘s attempts to eradicate me, destroy the world, and crush all of you beneath the massive iron treads of his robotic war machines notwithstanding.

When they had recovered sufficiently, we finished the journey out to the stone cottage. We’d tried to be selective in the number of folks we’d invited to this part of the Complicity, but it was still a bit of a tight fit.

My friend edwardmartiniii graciously agreed to oversee the whole shebang, and did an absolutely fantastic job of it. Here, he is seen at the start of the Complicity asking for volunteers to be given over to the Great Old Ones, so as to appease them and call down their blessing of protection upon all who attended. My friend Amanda volunteered; I’m sure going to miss her.

KIDDING! I’m kidding. Of course I jest. There were no sacrifices to gods ancient or modern; for one thing, where would we even find a virgin these days?

Why yes, don’t mind if I do!

One fo the central parts of the ceremony involved passing out dollar coins, which everyone made a positive wish on and then placed in a container. As people left, they drew out a coin, to bring into the world with them with a wish for good things.

I like the idea of mindfully passing out something which represents a desire for good. The wish itself may not have any material effect on the coin–there is no metallurgic Transubstantiation at work here–but the idea that this represents something is a powerful one, I think.

A part of the ceremony that we’d planned for quite some time was the creation of human Langdon charts, using lengths of rope to indicate the connections between the various people there.

What we hadn’t really counted on was the size and complexity of the network, and how much space (and rope!) it would require. Plus, with not all of our sweeties in attendance, it would have been impossible to create a full chart anyway.

But we were able to map out bits of it. Here are zaiah and I with the Florida part of the Squiggle:

We also did Langdon charts centered only on certain parts of the network. Here’s zaiah‘s Portland portion of the network:

Here’s the bit that centers on me, with the partners who were able to make it (emanix and figmentj, you were both sorely missed!):

It’s fascinating to me how human communities of all sorts tend to follow the same structure. If you map romantic connections in poly networks, or business contacts on Linkedin, or friends networks in a large company, you see the same patterns emerging: most folks have small numbers of connections, with a smaller number of people forming large numbers of connections that act as bridges between different groups. There’s something really interesting lurking somewhere in there. I’d love to make some software that lets people easily and quickly create charts of their poly networks, and then analyzes the network and puts the data into a database somewhere.

I still like the idea of doing photographic Langdon charts. I’d very much love, if everyone in my network could ever get together in one place, to do a photo that shows all of us. Perhaps if I suddenly find myself receiving a suitcase full of cash from shadowy government figures in exchange for, like, foiling a plot to hold the moon for ransom or something, I will fly all of us out to Easter Island to do a picture with all those funky statues of giant heads. Or, less ambitiously, maybe I’ll just register or something. (Anyone know a good database programmer?)

But I digress.

I won’t say that I am lucky to live the life I do. I don’t think that’s accurate, for reasons that I outline here. But I will say that I am profoundly grateful for, and humbled by, the people who I have chosen to be my family, and who have chosen me as well. These are all people who, every day, make my life richer simply by being who they are.

A world of fragile things

Tuesday morning, my friend Scott and I went out on a photo excursion of the waterfalls around the Columbia Gorge.

I’ve explored the falls before, in the summer. In winter, they’re a very different place, almost alien in their beauty.

The path up the side of Multnomah Falls, entirely encased in ice. Getting out just this far was treacherous, as the walkway along the base of the falls was covered in a thick layer of very slippery ice. A sign warned against traveling any farther, on pain of a $300 fine and visit from the sheriff (who, I would hope, would have better things to do than to pay personal attention to tourists who climbed too far up the path). The sign didn’t say anything about ending up in a pool of one’s own blood at the base of a 200-foot cliff, which I think might have provided a greater disincentive to the overly ambitious.

In another few months, this will all be green again.

Click here to see more huge, bandwidth-destroying images!

Six Views of Mt. Hood

A couple of weeks ago, zaiah and I went out a couple hours shy of sunset to do a photo study of Mt. Hood, which looms over Portland like a…well, like a volcano looms over a valley, now that I think about it.

We traveled in a semicircle, getting nearer and nearer to the mountain as the sun set. Sunset on the face of a mountain is nothing if not dramatic. Idon’t think I’ll ever get tired of the view as long as I live here.

Clicky to see more!

Fragments of Oregon: Reed Canyon

A couple of weeks ago, zaiah and I had a chance to tour the Reed Canyon Watershed here in Portland. Oregon is a place of amazing and sometimes unexpected natural beauty; they have so much of it they just leave it lying aorund all over the place.

The Reed Canyon Watershed is a natural spring and stream smack-dab in the middle of the city. You could easily drive past it and not even know it’s there. There’s a footbridge and a vehicle bridge crossing over the canyon, with Reed College wrapped around it, but once you get down into it it looks like this:

Click for lots more images!

Life in Oregon: Das Beach

Last weekend, gidget23 invited me to go out to the beach and hang with the local goth/industrial crowd.

Now, I’ve been to beaches before. In fact, I used to live in Tampa, Florida, so I’ve been to beaches that are claimed to be the best beaches in the world before. So I think I can be forgiven for believing that I had some sort of idea what “going to the beach” is like.

I’m not much of a beach person, so the internal dialog went something like “-1 for beach, -27 for getting up at 10 AM to make it happen, +10 for meeting the local goth/industrial peeps, +30 for spending time with gidget23, -1 for not knowing where the place is, +2 for iPhone GPS win, -10 for ‘it’s going to be really cold, dress warmly!’…that adds up to a net positive, so what the hell. Sure!”

Little did I know.

You see, Gentle Reader, they do not do beaches here in the Pacific Northwest the way they do beaches in Florida.

The Pacific Northwest is all about rugged natural scenic beauty. It’s a little silly, in fact, just how beautiful this place is. Imagine, if you will, a temperate rainforest that comes right up to the coast, and stops at the sheer cliff face that marks the beginning of the beach, and…

Yeah. Not like Florida at all.

I sadly neglected to bring my real camera, and had to content myself with the camera in my iPhone. The iPhone camera does a pretty good job with even lighting, but struggles hard with unusual or challening lighting conditions, like backlighting.

Anyway, this is a rock. A big-ass volcanic rock just jutting up out of the beach. It’s probably about two and a half or three stories high at the uppermost point, and my god, is it gorgeous.


The rock has this really cool planar stress geometry, and fractures in these really interesting cleave patterns. When pieces break off, they’re a bright red rust color inside, which fades to a darker color when it’s exposed. Rich in iron, I reckon.

I hear there’s a big future in iron, though I don’t know why we have to keep changing things all the time. I mean, bronze has been good enough for me, and it was good enough for my father, and this newfangled iron stuff is dangerous and hard to work with, and…

Ahem. Anyway, this chunk of rock is so friggin’ cool that if I had unlimited time, I can see myself dedicating three or four years to learning about geology and chemistry and materials science just so I could understand it better.

And CAVES! Did I mention this beach has caves?

Yes, that’s the entrance to a cave. Not a very big one, but still… Caves! At the beach! How cool is that?

The view from another opening on the other side of the outcropping. This particular cave is underwater at high tide, which is also pretty cool. The 10-year-old me would have been absolutely delighted, dreaming of pirates and lost treasure; the adult me is, if anything, even more delighted.

Caves! At the beach!

This narrow crevasse fissure opens up into a larger chamber beyond; it was a fairly difficult scrabble, but totally worth it. Too dark to get any pics inside; the iPhone camera has no flash.

The view looking down from the top of that big chunk of rock.

The 20-year-old me used to free-climb buildings, which kind of makes the current me shiver sometimes. The 20-year-old me was definitely laughing at the current me with the amount of effort it took to get to the top, but no matter. The current me has a laptop computer and the Internet and a cell phone that’s also a computer, so I think the current me wins.

I like the sand castles arranged like a line marching to the sea.

Okay, seriously, a waterfall at the beach? That’s just scenic beauty overkill. At this point, the landscape is just showing off.

Upstream of the waterfall, and it’s still ridiculously gorgeous.

If I live to be ten thousand years old, I will never stop being awestruck at how awesome life is. One tiny little insignificant speck of a universe vast and magnificent beyond human comprehension, and even that little speck is able to blow my mind with the beauty of the physical universe. How can life ever be anything but a constant celebration of wonder?

I saw a tiny little plant growing up between the stones that tend to litter the base of the cliffs around northwestern beaches, and I just have to say:

Exploring Portland: Bull Run

My sweetie zaiah has her master’s degree in engineering with an emphasis in water resource engineering, so last weekend she scored us seats on an eight and a half hour tour of Portland’s water collection and distribution network.

Which was pretty cool, actually, even if it did mean getting up at 7 AM.

Of the thirty or so people on the tour, I was the only one without a degree in engineering and/or working in the field of water resource management.

Portland’s water supply is interesting. The city’s water comes from the Bull Run watershed, which includes streams, rivers, and lakes in the Federally protected Bull Run watershed district–a largely pristine temperate old-growth rainforest.

It starts in places like this–streams fed by rain and springs. You can almost drink the water straight out of the stream here (at least if it weren’t for the possibility of microorganisms)–the water’s so clean that Portland doesn’t do any filtration at all. They chlorinate it to kill bugs, and they let it sit for a while in huge underground bunkers to give sediment a chance to settle out, but other than that it’s straight from here to the pipeline.

Well, with the exception of a couple of dams along the way.

And the dams are, heh heh, pretty damn cool, heh heh. Clicky here to see more!