Sunday, January 13, 2008

Earthquakes, Tsunamis, And Volcanoes, Oh My!

(Continued from Part 1…)

After we parked, Flat Stanley stood in awe outside the car. “Those trees are massive,” he said.

“They’re sequoia trees. The Sisters planted them about a hundred years ago. They had to hand-water them in order to keep them alive the first year. This was long before we had sprinkler systems and such. The trees on this campus are so impressive, that they are under the protection of the city—they can’t be cut down unless the Sisters get special permission. Not that they’d want to.”

Flat Stanley and I brought the donuts upstairs and we all devoured the tasty treats from Beaverton Bakery. My two coworkers looked a bit like this when we done. It gave us a few minutes to chat while their blood sugar levels evened out. Flat Stanley asked what it is that we do here.

I explained that the Information Technology (or “I.T.”) Department handles all of the computer and tech needs of our campus. From printers to computers to e-mail and Internet, it all passes through our department at some point.

“We’re a bit unusual, though, working for a religious organization. The Sisters who live here oversee a bunch of different ministries. We’ve got a daycare center, a nursing home, and schools that cover grades K-12. You could literally enter the school system as an infant at the daycare and graduate from the high school at 18.”

My boss added, “And that doesn’t even begin to cover it all. We make sure that the people who support the schools—like the accounting offices or the maintenance staff—have the software and computer equipment they need to do their jobs. We’ve got a security system that runs off of computers, security cameras that we oversee, websites that we host for each entity…”

“So how does it pass through your office?” Flat Stanley asked.

I showed him our server closet just behind a glass door. All of the computers, I explained talk to equipment in this little space. All of the rooms in the high school have a computer drop—a hole in the wall where you plug in a computer—and it connects up in our little cabling rack. We then patch each computer into all of the servers—really, really big computers that manage the Internet or websites or e-mail or nursing home data—and let them talk to each other. “It’s a bit like Ernestine patching in telephone callers,” I explained.

Flat Stanley helped us change out a motherboard on a computer and asked us more questions about the area. “You’re in the heart of the Silicon Forest,” I explained to Flat Stanley. “Maybe you’ve heard of Silicon Valley in California? That’s where all the high tech companies have offices. Well, the same is true here. We’ve got Intel, Tektronix, Xerox, and many others right in our back yard, so to speak.”

“Intel… They are the ones that make computer chips?” Flat Stanley asked.

“Yep. And don’t forget that Google has offices in the Columbia Gorge!” added my coworker.

If it were summer, I explained, there’d be even more going on. Washington County has lots of golf courses, a hot air balloon festival and the Rose Festival air show. If you traveled a bit south of here you’d get to see all the wineries. The wines made there are direct competitors with California’s Napa Valley wineries.”

“Any that you like?” he asked.

“Well, CrafterKat and I don’t drink much wine but some of the famous wineries are Sokol Blosser, Erath Vineyards, Duck Pond, Ponzi Vineyards, and Rex Hill Vineyards. Right after I graduated college I worked for a winery association—those places kept getting awards. There are two I like, though, just because they are unusual: Honeywood Winery in Salem makes mead, a wine made out of honey. Mead is a beverage that the ancient vikings drank. The other one I like is Argyle Winery; it is run by a (Australian??) man who makes champagne. Except they can’t call it that because champagne is only made in the Champagne region in France. If some place else makes a bubbly wine, you’ve got to call it sparkling wine.”

Flat Stanley made some notes. “I hope you aren’t planning on bringing TLC back some wine, Stanley…” I frowned.

He shook his head. “No, of course not! I was writing down the part about the hot air balloon show before I forget!”

“Well,” I continued, “how about I show you a bit of France?” He gave me a puzzled look. I took him across the hall to the French teacher’s classroom. Flat Stanely smiled wide at all the pictures and props she uses to teach the language.

When lunchtime came, we treated our college intern and Flat Stanley to lunch at Red Robin. Storm clouds were blowing in as we parked. “I hope it doesn’t rain some more,” mumbled Flat Stanley.

At that moment the National Weather Service interrupted the radio station and announced that they had issued a tornado warning for the area close to Vancouver, Washington! “Is that close to us?” asked Flat Stanley worriedly.

We told him that it wasn’t, it’s on the other side of the Columbia River, about an hour away. Oregon can get thunderstorms quite often but tornadoes are really, really rare. “Do you get anything else? Earthquakes?”

Oregon gets a little of everything, I explained. Wild fires are really common in the high summer when the prairies and forest get really dry. Earthquakes happen from time to time because of the tectonic movements up in the Cascade Mountains or off the Oregon coast. We even had a tsunami once, a giant tidal wave that thundered the coast back in the 1960’s after a huge earthquake in Alaska. Since then, the towns along the coast have had tsunami warning signs posted and schools routinely have tsunami evacuation drills. We even have a program at Oregon State University to study tsunamis—they have a huge wave lab.

“And then there’s the volcano,” my coworker said.

I nodded. “Mt. St. Helens, up in Washington state, has been erupting off and on for over twenty years. No lava in all that time but lots and lots of ash and steam. Portland was covered in ash and the state had to call for federal help to cleanup the mess.”

At that time, I lived in Eugene, two hours from Portland, and we heard the mountain blow. It sounded like a power pole transformer had blown up and the windows shook a bit. Later that day, we had a fine layer of ash across the cars and rooftops of our neighborhood. TLC, your grandpa in Klamath Falls used to live up in Yakima, Washington during that time, and worked for the Bureau of Reclamation. When the mountain blew, he had to drive up and make sure that the dam there was still intact. Ask him about it sometime—it’s a good story.

Flat Stanley continued to look worried as we ate lunch. “I’m sure everything will be fine. We’re very far from the tornado warning area, earthquakes are few and far between, the volcano is hours away and we’re too far inland to get hit by a tsunami. We’ll be fine and those people in southern Washington will be fine, too.”

We finished up lunch and then took a short drive to a big business park near the campus where I work. Flat Stanley looked around and noticed the soccer field out front. “Do they play sports here?”

“Sometimes. This is the world headquarters for Nike, the sport shoe company. They’ve got a soccer field, a running track, running trails… They just opened a Tiger Woods Athletic Center in there, too.”
Nike, I explained, started with two men at the University of Oregon down in Eugene. Phil Knight was a business major and he came up with the idea of selling sports shoes out of the back of his car. The track coach, Bill Bowerman, worked with Phil and came up with the waffle-weave rubber sole by pouring rubber into his wife’s waffle iron. The Nike swoosh is supposed to represent the wing of the Greek god, Nike, who was the goddess of victory. The Nike swoosh is known the world over—and the two Nike guys who started the business paid only $35 for the logo.

We drove around the campus some more, noticing the 19.5 mph road signs and the sculpture of a runner before returning to work.

I then took Flat Stanley to meet some of the people with whom I work. First I took him to visit our Admissions Director, just in case Flat Stanley was interested in coming to school here. Since this is a private school, the students have to apply to attend. Mrs. Claudia, though, is a bit of a sports legend. She won an Olympic medal in swimming when she was just fourteen. Four years later, she won a gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and set a world record.

We then swung by the music room to visit Mr. S., the jazz band teacher. Mr. S. is a rocker! He’s played with the Crazy 8’s and was just inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame with his fellow band members. You may never have heard of the Crazy 8’s but your Dad might have. Mr. S. once told me, after I had colored my hair red (it gets rid of the grey!) that I'd make a great singer for his band. I explained that I couldn't sing at all. “That's okay. You've got the hair for it, though!”

Since Flat Stanley had so much fun there, I next took him to visit one of the sweetest Sisters at the Convent, Sister J.T. Sister is the only person I know who plays the harp and gives lessons.

After a long day, we headed home, and I promised Flat Stanley that Critter and I would take him into Portland over the weekend.
Much love to you and your family, TLC.