Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Oregon Coast #1

          The Oregon coast is one of America’s iconic landscapes.  Running the entire Western length of the state, its beaches are open to all, thanks to legislation championed by Republican Governor Tom McCall in l967 which granted the state zoning rights to the seashore.  In this it is unique among all coastal states.

          The northern one-third is the most dramatic, with tall prows of rock thrusting into the sea, creating explosions of waves and scores of intimate coves.  In places these thrusts of rock have been cut through by wave action over millions of years, leaving citadels and castles guarding the land to which it once belonged.   


          These headlands were created 15 million years ago by lava flowing out of what is now the intersection of Washington, Oregon and Idaho 400 miles to the east.  Lava flowed down the channel of the Columbia River, created the spectacular Columbia River Gorge, and then spread out south into rivers of lava which plunged into the ocean.  It must have looked like the lava-meets-the-sea sizzle we can see today on the big island of Hawaii.  The ocean shore was some distance to the west, tides and storms eating away until we have today’s shoreline.

          I knew none of this geologic history coming here and found that fascinating.  But there is more:  these headlands come from the same super-source of heat which created Yellowstone, according to recent geological theory. 

Those of us living in eastern Idaho know that the mammoth system of explosions, vents and geysers that made today’s Yellowstone had previously burned through the Snake River Plain from Oregon.  We knew that it was tectonic plates which slid over a giant hot spot, not the other way around, i.e. the plates moved westward over millions of years while the heat source remained stationary. 

          Now we learn that the earth also moved south to north over this same hot spot along what is now the Idaho-Oregon border.  Think of it like moving wood through a jig saw:  the blade stays in the same place but the wood is moved so as to cut north to south and then west to east.  The hot spot thus burned through 800 miles of the earth’s mantle in a pattern somewhat like the letter “Z.”  Is that clear?  It seems amazing that plates which slid steadily from east to west would previously slide north to south but I’m told this today’s best scientific estimate.

          I once had a legal client named John Masters who was credited with discovering the largest new natural gas basin in the Western Hemisphere in l977.  He had stood on a rock outcropping in Alberta and knew for a certainty that this was where a prehistoric sea tipped into the sky, trapping natural gas below.  “I could hear the seagulls singing,” he said.

          Standing on an Oregon headland knowing its heat source was now in Yellowstone might have been known to John Masters.  It was news to me.

          This revelation came from a charming guy dressed as a Coast Guard lighthouse keeper, a volunteer interpreter at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.  He gave me a written summation of the theory with sources and we discussed the progressive Republican governor and senator for whom the center was named, Mark Hatfield.

          This is my first full day on the Oregon coast and the late October weather could not be better.  I’ll be staying in tiny Depot Bay where the coastal lava wall opens just far enough to admit small boats into a completely protected harbor.  I brought with me both a bike and golf clubs but walking the beach is the better idea.

 I first explore Yaquina Lighthouse which is 95 feet tall and sits at the top of 500 feet of basalt called Cape Foulweather, so named by the first European explorer, James Cook in 1778.  The lighthouse is still in use and full of souvenirs.

The locals are distinguished from people like myself because they are wearing shorts and picnicking, incongruously, under grass umbrellas.  This couple took turns surfing in wet suits while the children make like its summer in coastal Delaware. 

Like primitive people, beachgoers continue to construct wikiups, burial vaults and dolmans or stallas wherever they go.

While Cape Foulweather is not well named on this day, these trees above the beach give you an idea of how strongly and constantly the wind blows.  La Jolla this is not but instead something more dramatic.
Besides beaches, volcanoes, wine and rain, Oregon is a great state for bridges, including the largest number of covered bridges in the West, which at one time numbered 400.  Great bridges, like public beaches, can be traced to a single individual, Conde McCullough, who headed the Oregon bridge department from l920 to 1935.  Highway One, which runs along the ocean from the mouth of the Columbia River to California, was completed in this era, requiring scores of major cuts and bridges.  This one over the Yaquina River is an example of the beauty McCullough demanded in his engineering. 

The phrase “Oregon Coast” has a magical quality for many Idahoans and Oregonians who live inland, for whom it is the closest thing to a beach.  Many come to enjoy winter storms, drink in hand behind sturdy glass, well above the breaking surf.  It is usually windy, the beaches offer more rock than sand and a day in the 80’s is rare.  Many of its towns are charming and heavily-timbered slopes hand over the shore.  For desert people like Idahoans, hiking along the Oregon Coast is fairy tale stuff: huge trees, abundant moss and fern and the chance of running into a herd of Roosevelt elk.  Catch a cloudless day, as I did, and it’s pretty special.    


In the last light of day, the lighthouse at Newport stands above the rocky beach.

Oregon Coast #2 A Biblical Lifetime

Oregon #2, Charles Vanderpool and a Biblical Lifetime

This is not a travel-related posting, as most of mine are, although it begins on the Oregon Coast. It’s a little story about a man who, with no previous experience or education, devoted 27 years of his life to re-translating every word of the Bible from Greek into English, word-by-word and side-by-side with the Hebrew.

1366 words, reading time four minutes.

For my first night on the Oregon Coast, Fodors, the travel guide, led me to the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, named not for a strand but for a famous bookstore owner in Paris.  Sylvia Beach was her name and she ran Shakespeare and Company, a Left Bank literary headquarters for Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, et al in the post-World War II heydays. It’s still going strong today.

Each of the hotel’s 20 rooms honors a famous writer.  I was assigned to Oscar Wilde, across from Dr. Seuss and down the hall from Mr. Hemingway. 

Newport is a bit of a barn as beach towns go but on the lower, Bayfront section there is a quite charming quarter surrounding the hotel, with bookstores, cafes, an art center and an Irish pub.  However only a working class bar a few steps away was showing the Notre Dame-Southern California football game when I went looking.

No sooner had I ordered than a tall fellow who seems to know everyone asks if he can join me.  I’m glad for the company but warn him that I’m nutty when Notre Dame is playing, doubly so against USC.  This doesn’t bother him.  (I’m reminded of a T-shirt I saw in way, way remote corner of  Guatemala in August which read “I’m for UCLA and anyone playing USC!”)  


Charles turns out to be a fascinating guy.  I lost track of the Notre Dame game and we talk into the night.  The next day I move up the coast but we talk by phone, I visit his home and we went to dinner. 

Charles was a poor college student, he says, failing at language and barely getting by at Valparaiso, a sectarian college not far from Notre Dame.  His early life and career were undistinguished but 27 years ago he found his life’s work as a translator and publisher of the Bible.

You’d think the world wouldn’t need another translation of the Bible.  What’s left to be done, particularly by someone with no previous preparation or aptitude?  When he said God asked him to do this I might have walked away.  When he wondered if our meeting was an accident or if he is a Messenger, well, that was not promising either.  But we kept talking.

“God has seen fit to write an instruction manual for living—the Bible.” So begins one of his books.  God “breathed” his word into earthly language; precisely what God said is of utmost importance, of course.  This is best understood through the Greek language.

The Old Testament was recorded in Hebrew but the later books were recorded in both Hebrew and Greek.  While Christ’s everyday language was Aramaic, Greek was the international language at the time and the Epistles were written in Greek to people who spoke Greek (if also another language).  The writers of the New Testament read the Old Testament in Greek, VanderPool says.  Greek was the basis for all subsequent bibles in the Latin, Syria and Coptic scriptures. To understand God’s message, Charles taught himself Greek, traveled in Greece and immersed himself in biblical scholarship, for which thousands have had better scholastic training, he readily admits.

The result is “The Apostolic Bible Polyglot,” now in its third edition.  Every word of the Bible is rendered in Greek, in bold, with the English below it.  Above each Greek word or set of words a number or numbers.  These numbers refer to Hebrew words and their English equivalent.  This numbering system was developed by James Strong in l890 in the first “Concise Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible” and contained 8,674 words .  Strong also developed a “Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament” with 5,624 English equivalents of Greek words. 

Bibles with one or more languages in proximity are called “Interlineal” bibles and have been published many other times in history.  Van der Pool says his is “the first numerically coded Greek Old Testament.”  This allows the student to study both the old and the new testament in the same language.

Rendering the correct word and the correct understanding in English (or any other language) requires understanding the true meaning of the words in Greek and Hebrew and choosing between them, of course, and understanding the context in which they were used originally and subsequently.  An enormous task!  For example, when to choose the Hebrew or the Greek version of portions of the Old Testament?

His bible contains not only the three-part translation (1,600 pages) but an “English-Greek Index “(like Strong’s original text, perhaps) and a “Lexical Concordance.”  The Concordance contains all the Greek words, all the corresponding numbers for Hebrew words using the Strong numbering system, and—apparently—all the places that word is used.

Charles says he did not set out to publish a new bible.  It grew out of his private study.  He had a foundational text and then acquired microfilm copies of a 1519 bible and a l709 Greek Old Testament, working his way forward in time.  What he often saw were “paraphrased” bibles. 

“A paraphrase Bible does not exhibit the original language, as the translator can choose whatever English word suits his taste,” he writes.  “Each translator has the awesome privilege of choosing which vernacular word to use for the God-breathed word of the original.”  Which Van der Pool has done.

To publish hard copies he has several times sold everything he owned.  He is in Newport after selling his mother’s trailer following her death in Southern California (he had taken care of her) and investing the proceeds in his Bible and a house near the beach. I took home a first edition, a gift worth more than $100 and probably a lot more since this was his last copy of that edition.  A third edition was to be delivered within weeks, made possible by a wealthy Texan who distributed  his second edition to Texas prisons for free.

Van der Pool makes his bibles freely available on the Internet. Learning to do so is an exacting and every changing skill. He also offers free online classes on aspects of the Bible.  Understanding the true meaning of each word or group of words and the message it provides to guide people’s lives is his life’s work.   (You can get there by Googling Apostolic Bible Polyglot or

He walks with a decided limp because he needs an operation but there is neither time nor money.  On my last day he was re-siding his house hours before the season’s first storm hit. 

I asked about the accuracy of the Bible since some modern scholars have poked holes in it and modern critics such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have condemned religious texts without exception. To what extent is the story of Jesus historically accurate, I ask?

Van der Pool seemed less than interested in the dispute and the least bit defensive. It’s not on his radar.  He’s more interested in the prospect of selling his bibles and meeting other scholars in England in the summer of 2015.   

Is he a Messenger to me of some sort, the way an angel appears to someone in the Bible saying “Have no fear” and then telling someone to sacrifice their son?  (See a brilliant treatment of Job by Joan Acocella entitled “Misery” in the December 16 New Yorker.)  At our dinner Charles expresses the hope that God will “smack you upside the head;” however he’s as mystified as I am about whether there’s some larger intention behind our meeting. 

When I came to his house, my name had been added to the list of those he prays for each day.  Christopher Hitchens did not welcome believers who prayed for him but I’m glad to be remembered and to respect and commemorate the work of  Charles Van der Pool.