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Home arrow Opinion arrow Columns

After a century, the fire lookout is still a key spot

The fire lookout is one of those rare analog anachronisms that remain useful in the age of the app.

Vital, even.

We have cameras in space that can peer through the Earth’s atmosphere and focus on a single tree.

We have airplanes that can scan a million acres of forest for smoke in a couple hours. 

Yet none of our wizardry has managed to make obsolete the individual sitting atop a mountain, binoculars in hand and surveying the land rather like a raptor waiting for a careless ground squirrel to peek from its hole.


Unforgettable: The Baker County fires of 2015

Fifty years from now, when the 21st century is on the wane and the black scars have long since healed to green, we’ll still talk around here about the great fires of 2015.

Over backyard fences and over plates of pancakes at the cafe, we’ll remember the August afternoons when acrid smoke draped over the valleys like a Dickensian London fog, and the dusks when the sun set as if in blood.

We’ll recount the heroic tales of people who stayed to protect their homes and their land and the animals.

We’ll recall when we first learned how a Level 1 evacuation notice differs from a Level 3.


Economics: Pie charts, booze and video poker


The economists have had a go at gauging Oregon’s commerce, and they’ve examined the usual entrails of tax revenues and workforce trends and seasonally adjusted jobless rates.

The daunting columns of statistics that define the science of economics are well enough for its practitioners.

But I think the layman gets a sharper sense of how things are going in our state by looking at data that are more, well, organic.

How many gallons of Fireball cinnamon whisky Oregonians are downing, for instance.

Enough to incapacitate a city of modest size, as it turns out.

The spiced spirit was Oregon’s favorite tipple in 2014, accounting for about $13 million in gross sales and barely edging out Jack Daniel’s, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC).

(My theory about Jack’s runner-up finish is that fewer heavy metal bands made tour stops in Oregon last year than is typical, but I haven’t had a chance to test this hypothesis with anything approaching rigor.)

All told, booze brought in better than half a billion dollars to Oregon last year, which was 4.3 percent more than in 2013.


Kids bored with summer? Not those at the Fair


The statement, along with its companion question, mark summer’s advent as reliably as the yellow jacket that shows up as soon as the burgers emerge from the barbecue.

“I’m bored. What can I do?”

Summer break spawns spontaneous celebrations for students — the opening sequence of the movie “Dazed and Confused” captures the essence nicely — but it generates rather less enthusiasm among their parents.

This is especially so for mothers who work from, or at, home. They are the advance troops, as it were, tasked with the hapless mission of trying to stave off incipient boredom among the ranks, many of whom aren’t happy until they’ve spilled a bottle of glue all over the dining room table or inflicted on a sibling a wound that requires stitches.

The very notion of summer as punishment is more than a trifle childish, of course.


The difference between hunters and lion-killers

I like to hunt.

But I wouldn’t shoot an African lion.

Unless the beast was bearing down on me and Marlin Perkins wasn’t there to save me and I didn’t think I could get back to my Land Rover before the lion plunged its teeth into my neck.

Then I might make an exception.


Thereís just no excuse for this lack of judgment

The scenario would induce panic in any parent.

And cause apoplexy in anybody who frets about the government flexing its legislative muscles with an immodesty that would cause Arnold Schwarzenegger to blush.

Here’s the situation:

In Oregon, 15-year-olds can undergo sex reassignment surgery not merely without their parents’ permission, but without even their parents’ knowledge.

And if that fact hasn’t quite set your blood to a figurative boil, surely this one will:


Lure of the little: Hunkering for huckleberries

We drove up past the drought-shrunken Wolf Creek Reservoir last Sunday, hunting for the forest’s smallest and sweetest quarry.

Huckleberries.

Which at least offset their diminutive nature by being far more numerous than, say, elk.

Slower, too.

And although the successful pursuit of either can leave you with slimy hands, the innards of berries are notably less unpleasant than the equivalent parts of an elk.


An autumn preview during the middle of July

I lay in my bed at dusk of a recent day, listening to the tranquil patter of a gentle rain tapping the kids’ plastic picnic table outside.

Nature, which boasts an infinite repertoire, to my ear conjures few sounds more pleasant or more soothing.

This liquid melody, alas, is one rarely heard at any season in our high but arid valley, where quite a lot of the moisture we do get falls silently, if beautifully, as snow.


Summerís real arrival; and the Popeís big coup

I don’t wish to quarrel with the calendar or with the weather, but for me summer arrived neither on the solstice nor on the first day when even the shade failed to soothe.

The season barged in Monday afternoon while I was driving west on Auburn toward my house.


Potís quiet debut; and flags dominate the news

Day 3 of Oregon’s great marijuana experiment has arrived and I have yet to detect a miasma of patchouli wafting over Baker City, or a cacophony of the Grateful Dead reverberating through the streets.

I’m not surprised that this legal milestone has thus far been marked by mellowness.

Pot tends to induce a certain placidity in most people, after all, unless there’s a platter of burritos nearby.


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