Why I Love Waterfalls and the Origin of Shag

By Shawn “Shaggy” Bolker

My passion for waterfalls dates back to when I was only four years old. I recall driving into Yosemite National Park on a rainy spring day and instantly being amazed by the countless roaring waterfalls that seemed to appear around every corner! One that stood out to me in particular  was Bridal Veil Falls. I recall being floored by its towering plunge — nothing  moved me quite like that before. The waterfall was just so magnetic, majestic and sublime. Also, the cliffs that surrounded it rose so high and steeply into the clouds that I could not see their summit. It seemed like the cliffs were rising to the heavens and the waterfall was pouring down from them. I loved their vigor and the sense of discovery I felt every time I saw a new waterfall. That sense of excitement and discovery remains to this day!

Waterfalls are miraculous, dynamic, unique sites that are quite unlike anything else in the world. Standing beneath a towering waterfall is a sublime and incomparable sensory experience.

From the picturesque sight of falling whitewater to the invigorating (and sometimes overwhelming) feeling of turbulent, drenching mist, a waterfall visit is unlike anything else in the natural world. Waterfalls are one of the only natural features that can  virtually come back from the dead. I recall camping in Zion National Park in Utah several years ago and waking up to a towering waterfall that appeared right next our campsite after a rainy night. It was merely a cliff the day before! Witnessing the revival of a waterfall is inspiring and cannot be replicated.

Waterfalls are irresistible; they draw people in. I drove through Yosemite Valley last year to see people literally stop in the middle of the road, get out of their cars and wander towards Yosemite Falls, gazing in awe at its towering plunge.

In the past few years, I have developed a “shaggy”  vernacular that was meant, in part, to describe certain aspects of waterfalls in an interesting way. The “shag” started in my latter years of high school and really blossomed after I came to Lewis & Clark. There is no particular reason for this, the progression of “shag” just seemed like the natural thing to do. It has grown to refer to pretty much anything. “Shag” can be a descriptive term referring to something positive, relaxed or good but it can also be used in place of a person’s name. “Hey shag” or “that waterfall is shag.”

Waterfalls can be “shaggy” or “miami.” Miami developed when my friend Phil and I discovered an urban waterfall in San Francisco that is lit up at night with multiple shades of purple and blue. When “miami” is used, it is not in reference to the city in Florida, but to this waterfall in San Francisco. We just started saying “shag” this, “miami” that and it caught on. Many of my friends and even people I don’t know use it now. I’ve overheard it several times around campus, even from professors.

Shag can also be used as an affirmative statement. “Shag shag” means ok. From here, the vernacular expanded to include words like “busted,” “surreal” and “trapped.” None of these have origin stories in particular, they just naturally evolved. Who knows how the shaggy vernacular will grow in the future.

My lifelong passion for falls has not wavered at all upon coming up here to Portland. Waterfalls are my sanctuary — they are endless sources of inspiration and rejuvenation. The countless number of falls here in Oregon and across the border in Washington are miami. They are just waiting to be explored!

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