Finding Middle-earth in the Pacific Northwest

While our proto-fellowship wordlessly trudges east toward the Last Bridge, let’s take a look at some photos of my very own Middle-earth.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p200, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
As most have probably noticed, each day I post a photo attempting to depict some land feature of whichever chunk of Middle-earth we’re talking about.

For example, I used this for Weathertop:

Camera: Holga 120N Film: FujiChrome Provia 100 (x-pro as C-41)

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: FujiChrome Provia 100 (x-pro as C-41)

And this to depict the Nazgul:

Camera: Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 || Film: Fuji FP3000B

Camera: Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 || Film: Fuji FP3000B

Sometimes I have to be a bit abstract, like when I used this for the Prancing Pony:

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100  Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100
Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

And so I’ve been thinking that while I have a ton of photos on my Flickr account (here!), I’m probably going to have to travel a bit this spring and summer to gather up some other locales.

I’ll probably try to find something art deco-ish for Rivendell (maybe my shot of Diablo Dam?), and some Cascades shots for the path along the Misty Mountains (like this amazing trail called the Kendell Katwalknot my photo)?

What I love most about the Pacific Northwest is the incredibly wide range of ecoregions, much like Tolkien’s Middle-earth. And while they might not match up exactly, there’s definitely enough diversity here that I can make a good argument for almost anything.

And when that’s not possible, like, for example, the Mines of Moria, there’s my shot of an abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel (okay, not exactly local, but that’s okay too).

We’re not exactly dedicating this summer’s travels to my Middle-earth photography project, but we’ll be hitting places like Craters of the Moon, Idaho (not my photo), that might come in handy.

And though this won’t be the culmination of our wanderings, we plan on hitting Mt. Washington in Oregon. Any guesses why? (Again, not my photo. I’ve never actually been there.)

Maybe everybody’s got a little Middle-earth where they live. But I’m pretty convinced I’ve got it all.

A Few Notes:

  • All of the photos that I post on my blog were taken by me using vintage cameras and (usually) 120 film. In almost every case, the photos have also been developed by me. It’s just one of the things I like to do in my spare time, I guess.
  • This summer, I’m going to focus upon using my 1914 Kodak camera. It’s 100 years old, so I sort of want to show off what it’s got.
  • It’s a shame I’m not doing the Hobbit. This would make a fine Carrock (again, not my photo).
  • Feel free to take a breeze through my Flickr account and let me know which photos you’d think could represent parts of Middle-earth.


About the Photo
It’s a photo of my taking a photo! Come on! It was taken about a minute before I proposed to Sarah. I was setting up a shot to capture the moment. This was overlooking Spiral Jetty in Utah.

  • Day 60
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 291
  • 169 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,488 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Still south of the East Road, southeast of Weathertop. (map)

The Sackville-Bagginses of Cricketdom (Day 38)

Camera: Imperial Savoy || Film: Fuji NPS 160 (expired 10/1999)

Camera: Imperial Savoy || Film: Fuji NPS 160 (expired 10/1999)

Our hobbits and Strider arrive at their campsite on the western edge of the Midgewater Marshes only to pass a horrible night.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p182-3, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Their night was horrible, but it’s interesting in how it was so bad. It was certainly better than the night of bad dreams at Tom Bombadil’s House. It was leaps and bounds better than the night in Bree (which was only three nights before).

Tolkien describes (from the hobbits’ point of view) that the camp site was “damp, cold, and uncomfortable.” Also, the biting insects wouldn’t let them sleep. From personal experience, I know this is miserable. I mean, it’s not like being tracked down by undead Ring Wraiths, but it’s not too far behind.

On top of that was this: “There were also abominable creatures haunting the reeds and tussocks that from the sound of them were evil relatives of the cricket.” Words like “abominable,” “haunting,” and “evil,” are hardly words that would commonly be used to describe loud crickets, but by this point in the journey, our hobbits are clearly nearing their wits end. The marshes have really taken their toll.

In an earlier manuscript, from the “First Phase” of writing, Tolkien described the same scene quite differently: “Their camping places were damp and cold, for there was no good fuel. Armfuls of dry reeds and rush and grass blazed away all too soon. And of course the biting things would not let them sleep. There were also some abominable over-grown cousins of the cricket that squeaked all round, and nearly drove Bingo [Frodo] wild. He hated crickets, even when he was not kept awake by bites to listen to them. But these crickets were shriller than any cricket he had met, and even more persistent.”

In the first version, we get so much more detail on the camp site, and a strange peek into Frodo’s detestation of crickets. For whatever reason, Tolkien dropped it all, kept the word “abominable,” and decided to build up on it. Rather than incredibly shrill cricket cousins, we get “evil relatives.” These are the Sackville-Bagginses of cricketdom.

About the Photo
Just as I had no marshy photos, I don’t have any of campsites. But I do have a photo of abominable creatures haunting damp ground! (flickr)

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 180
  • 34 miles to Weathertop
  • 280 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,599 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: At the western border of Midgewater Marsh! (map)

Day 11 – There’s Something More to Our Sam

As a sort of New Years Resolution, I’ve decided to elliptical my way from Hobbiton to Mordor, following Frodo and Sam’s path from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Each day, I do a few miles and then read about the same miles the hobbits covered, before writing about the whole thing in the blog. Here’s today’s entry:

Our hobbits start their third day, and we’re with them for the first five miles. The crux of the writing is actually spent at breakfast. But soon Frodo decides to leave the road again, cutting through the woods toward Buckleberry Ferry. Pippin protests, but mostly he just wants to go to Stock and drink beer. It is good that they leave when they do, as Sam sees the Black Rider in their old campsite from a mile or so away. The woods and brambles are much slower going then Frodo figured.

Camera: Tru-View (Diana Clone, circa 1960) || Film: FujiChrome RDP (100D), x-pro as C-41, expired 10/1997

Camera: Tru-View (Diana Clone, circa 1960) || Film: FujiChrome RDP (100D), x-pro as C-41, expired 10/1997

Thoughts on the Passage – p 86-90 (of the 50th Anniversary Edition)
Today we learn a bit more about Samwise Gamgee. In the first part of the book, Sam is little more than Frodo’s gardener. Sure, they’re friends well enough, but mostly he’s not Frodo’s peer. Early on, we see a slight hint of what’s to come with Sam, however. Sam is in the Green Dragon with the miller’s son, Ted Sandyman (the Shire’s very own Scut Farcus). They’re talking about the Elves moving west and Ted is being a chump. Anyway: “‘They are sailing, sailing, sailing over the Sea, they are going into the West and leaving us,’ said Sam, half chanting the words, shaking his head sadly and solemnly. But Ted laughed.”

Sam, here, is nearly a poet. This is more than we might have expected. And in today’s passage, Sam is more, still. Frodo was thinking of what to do next, and trying to figure out how to dump everyone off at Crickhollow (where he was supposedly going to live) while he set off for Rivendell. Frodo said to himself: “It is one thing to take my young friends walking over the Shire with me, until we are hungry and weary, and food and bed are sweet. To take them into exile, where hunger and weariness may have no cure, is quite another – even if they are willing to come. The inheritance is mine alone. I don’t think I ought even to take Sam.”

For me, it was easy to recall the idea that Sam was merely going along to protect Frodo. That, like a good servant, friend and gardener, Sam would follow Frodo into Hell itself. But next I was reminded that there was something more.

Frodo then asked Sam if he felt any need to leave the Shire now that he had finally seen Elves for himself. Sam replied:

“Yes, sir. I don’t know how to say it, but after last night I feel different. I seem to see ahead, in a kind of way. I know we are going to take a very long road, into darkness; but I know I can’t turn back. It isn’t to see Elves now, nor dragons, nor mountains, that I want – I don’t right know what I want: but I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire. I must see it through, sir, if you understand me.”

Frodo did not, but concluded that “Gandalf chose me a good companion. I am content. We will go together.”

When I read this, it sort of took me by surprise. It’s easy to miss. Because of his nature, it’s easy to miss a lot of what Samwise Gamgee says. And I’ll admit, I missed this the first few times I read it. But if we’re smart, we’ll pay attention. Sam is no ordinary Hobbit and he’s not simply following his master. He’s not even just following his friend. Tolkien argued in a 1964 letter that Sam only becomes paternal after Frodo is injured at Weathertop (and we’re not there yet).

What drove Sam was never explained, and soon his love for Frodo would take over whatever selfish motives he had (I don’t mean ‘selfish’ in a nasty way). But it could possibly have been the same thing that drove Bilbo to have his adventure with the Dwarves. Maybe there was a line of Took in Sam’s blood, or maybe he was just influenced by Bilbo as Pippin and Merry were. But be watchful, there’s something more to our Sam.

“Shortcuts make long delays.”

Thoughts on the Exercising
I love this project. I’m feeling so great right now (I’m writing a few minutes after getting off the elliptical). Five miles hardly seemed like enough. And to be honest, before hopping on the machine, I seriously contemplated just skipping today. I felt sort of washed out. But now I’m quite the opposite. My thighs, which had been hurting a great deal, hurt a lot less. My arms are now what’s aching. But now it’s a good ache. I sprinted (well, “sprinted”) the last quarter mile, and now I think I’ll try to do that more and more each day. We’ll see how that works out.

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 51
    • 12 miles to Farmer Maggot’s
    • 84 miles to Bree
    • 189 miles to Weathertop
    • 407 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,728 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Walking south (but not too south) through the woods. (Map)

Day 5 – I Don’t Keep Water in My Pockets

As a sort of New Years Resolution, I’ve decided to elliptical my way from Hobbiton to Mordor, following Frodo and Sam’s path from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Each day, I do a few miles and then read about the same miles the hobbits covered, before writing about the whole thing in the blog. Here’s today’s entry:

Camera: Imperial Savoy | Film: FujiChrome Provia 400D (expired 10/1994); xpro

Camera: Imperial Savoy | Film: FujiChrome Provia 400D (expired 10/1994); xpro

This morning, I discovered that a blogger from Australia (I think) had stumbled onto my blog and it doing her own walk to Mordor! This is ridiculously inspiring and just fun. Also, it really makes me wish that I could walk this in the wild instead of swishing along on a cheap elliptical machine. She found it by searching the “vegan” tag on WordPress. I had misgivings using the vegan tag since this isn’t an expressly vegan blog. But whatever. Now I’m glad I did. And so I did an extra mile today in celebration. Also, vegan donuts. One step forward, two donuts back. Take that, lembas bread!

Today, I find that our hobbits, Frodo especially, wake up cranky and get a late start. “I don’t keep water in my pockets,” says a clearly frustrated Frodo to a thirsty Pippen. Since the passage is vague about everything, after my five miles, I left them as they continued walking on, zig-zagging to the top of a ridge.

Thoughts on the Passage – p 72-73 (of the 50th Anniversary Edition)
When you’re camping, or on any journey, really, I’ve found that getting an early start and being happy that you’re not back at home are essential. Frodo wakes up and complains to himself about the tree roots, lamenting the lack of his feather beds, which he gave to those dreadful Sackville-Bagginses. Me, I prefer the tent and the sleeping bag to almost any bed you can imagine.

The short passage (it’s only a few paragraphs) focuses upon how road-weary the three hobbits have become already. Shortly after they stepped off, their packs and supplies seemed too heavy, though they were actually a meal lighter than the night before. The road-weariness at the beginning of a trip is sometimes a bit daunting. By this time in my life, having traveled across the country more than a handful of times, I’m pretty used to this, but for hobbits and those unaccustomed to being on the road, it really is a shock, and enough to make anyone cranky.

For them, the weariness set in just as they were about to ascend the switchbacks leading up the side of a ridge. But upon the top of the ridge, where I left them, they could see Woody End and the Brandywine River – a view that should make it all worth the trouble. Still being within 20 miles of Hobbiton, this view was probably a familiar or was at least known to all of the hobbits. But the road winding off into the distance led to places unknown. As we’ll see tomorrow, this didn’t particularly set well with everybody.

After rousing Pippin, Frodo walked away from the camp and looked east toward the rising sun. Tolkien mentions that it was rising “out of the mists that lay thick on the world,” which is a lovely bit of foreshadowing of things to come. The mists to the east were already gathering, and soon they would darken. By the end of this day of walking (which, going at a slower pace, I should reach on Friday or so), our hobbits would experience a bit of that darkness.

“Away eastward the sun was rising red out of the mists that lay thick on the world.”

Thoughts on the Exercising
This is getting so much easier! So much so that I went five instead of four miles today. Most importantly, I’m feeling better and moving faster. Admittedly, I have no idea at all how the elliptical machine keeps track of distance or mile per hour. I assume it’s akin to a bicycle (in fact, they make incredibly geechy elliptical bikes that are so ridiculous they somehow manage to put recumbent bikes to shame).

However it’s done, it seems to be helping me quite a bit. I think it’s a better workout than I’d give myself by walking (though I really really would rather be walking), but it’s incredibly low impact when compared to jogging or swimming or fleeing from orks.

That said, I increased my speed today, going from 10.5mph to about 11.5 and even 12. Like I said, I don’t really get how that’s actually calculated, but it was like going from a slow jog to a speedy jog, though not quite to a slow run. Right now, I’m feeling it in my thighs and my arms are sort of numb.

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 23
    • 40 miles to Farmer Maggot’s
    • 112 miles to Bree
    • 217 miles to Weathertop
    • 435 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,756 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: At the top of a ridge overlooking Woody End.