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Our skies never safer, but fear of flying persists

Statistically speaking, being afraid to fly on a commercial airliner has never been a rational reaction.

That cloying cliché — “you’re more likely to die in a car wreck while driving to the airport than in a plane crash” — happens to be true.

And today it’s even more true.

Last year was the safest for commercial aviation since 1945, when record-keeping began.

Flying is especially safe in the United States and other developed nations, where deadly crashes are as uncommon as cellular phones with retractable antennas and new cars with roll up windows.

Even during the infancy of the jet age, when engineers and pilots and air traffic controllers and airport designers struggled with the immense difficulties of dealing with planes that carried so many more people, at such higher speeds, than the piston-engined planes of the past, crashes were rare.

But when the big jets did go down, hundreds of lives could be lost in, almost literally, an instant. The inevitable torrent of publicity that followed each crash was guaranteed to contribute to the aura of dread and black humor associated with traveling by air.

This anxiety is understandable, of course, even if it’s not altogether rational.

Despite the indisputable data regarding car crashes, people feel that, when they’re driving, they are at least in control of their fate.

Besides which, driving a car is, for most people, an activity so common as to be routine, and the routine, unless you’re, say, a soldier, rarely is frightening.

Flying, by contrast, is for most of us an unusual, even glamorous, event. Few of us are pilots, so there’s an element of mystery to the endeavor that breeds distrust and, for some, fear.

Specifically, the notion of being belted inside an aluminum tube, utterly helpless while hurtling toward the ground at 600 mph, fosters a level of horror that a highway collision, no matter that it’s much more likely, simply can’t match.

That such disasters have nearly been eliminated from the major U.S. airlines over the past decade or so seems to me high on the list of technological achievements in human history.

From 1962 to 1971, a period that included the launching of the Boeing 747, the first “jumbo” jet, the death rate for airlines in this country was 133 out of every 100 million passengers.

Pretty good odds, those.

The rate for the last 10 years: 2 of 100 million.

During that span, four years passed when not a single passenger died.

This amazes me.

That airlines can haul 700 million passengers per year and not lose a single one of them (insert luggage joke here), despite operating in all weathers and with machines that, for all their immense complexity, can be brought down by a flock of geese or a wind gust invisible to the most sophisticated radar, strikes me in fact as very nearly miraculous.

I remember, while growing up during the 1970s and ’80s, that no year passed without an awful crash happening somewhere in the U.S., with its attendant death toll measured in the dozens or hundreds.

It is, I think, testament to the persistent power of irrational fears that although the last tragedy on that scale happened here more than 11 years ago — American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed just after takeoff in New York on Nov. 12, 2001, killing all 260 aboard and five people on the ground — the “person who hates to fly” remains a popular character in our culture.

It’s been almost that long since I last flew on a jet — at the end of December 2001, from Boise to Phoenix to watch the Oregon Ducks beat the Colorado Buffaloes in the Fiesta Bowl.

But I had occasion to ponder the matter this past weekend when my older daughter, Rheann, flew from Boise to Seattle to visit a friend.

And although I’m as powerless as any parent to be completely sanguine when it comes to the safety of a child, the only nagging worry I had while Rheann was gone was that she might be accosted by some creep in downtown Seattle.

That she was flying was, if anything, a relief. Better that, I figured, than her driving across Snoqualmie Pass during a cold snap.


Bill Ward, one of Baker’s inveterate watchers of wildlife, sent me an interesting email the other day.

He had seen a robin perched in his cherry tree on New Year’s Day.

“I had to take a picture of it to prove it was here this early in January,” Bill wrote. “I don’t know if it doesn’t have a calendar or global warming is responsible, but I do know it is earlier than we have ever seen a robin in my yard.”

I can’t answer Bill’s question.

But I too have seen a robin — several of them, in fact — in my yard this winter.

Which is nothing compared to what’s going on at my office.

The crabapple trees that border the Herald’s parking lot — specifically, the north side of Court Street between First and Second — are absolutely lousy with robins.

Their presence, though pleasant if you’re an avian aficionado, is rather less so for my unfortunate colleagues whose parking spaces are next to the trees.

The robins, after gorging themselves on the desiccated fruits, must, of biological and aeronautical necessity, rid themselves of excess ballast.

And the inconsiderable birds are ridding themselves all over hoods and fenders.

Which is unpleasant in any season.

But it’s especially troublesome during this chilliest January in more than 20 years.

Who among us is willing to head out to the driveway, clutching a bucket of sudsy water in one hand and a sponge in the other?

Although you might be able to sell your story to one of the medical journals.

Hypothermia tests can be fascinating.

Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.

Signs of a real winter: Some perfect, some not

The berms have returned.

These icy vertebrae of Baker City streets, along with their slushy cousins, the white monoliths that loom over certain intersections, are of course nuisances.

And potentially dangerous ones, capable of concealing any of several models of subcompact car.

Not to mention a person of average height.

So it goes without saying: Slow down out there. No errand is so pressing that it’s worth showing up to it with a Ford Fiesta dangling from your front bumper like an eviscerated yellowjacket.

Yet these frozen eminences represent something else for me, something welcome. They are tangible evidence that this winter, at least temporarily, is the genuine article.

Occasionally a winter passes around here when snow is so scarce that the city’s public works crews never need to scrape off the streets.

Last winter was notably niggardly in this respect.

Which is a boon for the city’s budget, to be sure.

And for fenders.

But I’m invariably disappointed when the season fails to get up to the sorts of inclement dickens of which it’s capable.

That goes for all seasons, actually.

I feel similarly bereaved when, for instance, summer spawns not a single decent lightning show, or autumn goes by without a series of those 20-degree mornings when the atmosphere is so crystalline that the Wallowas seem to have moved 10 miles nearer during the night.

(Which would be nice, making for a shorter drive to Eagle Cap Wilderness trailheads. But alas, plate tectonics operates at a pace that makes that archetypal slacker, the tortoise, seem like Usain Bolt. Or the international space station.)

To put it another way, I’m not satisfied with having four distinct seasons — I want four distinctly dramatic seasons.

My affinity for arctic weather is influenced largely by my growing up in the Willamette Valley, where winter rain is prevalent but snow is rare, and sub-zero temperatures almost unknown.

I never learned, in my coddled youth, to hate the snow shovel. We never owned one, so far as I can remember, so it would have been strange anyway for me to take a dislike to the implement. My dad, whose ability to acquire tools is formidable, certainly would have had a snow shovel had he been able to make even a flimsy case to my mom that one was necessary.

It’s too early, of course, to yet brand this winter. The January thaw could intrude, and Februarys tend toward the dry and climatically banal.

But the season’s timing was at least fortuitous.

A heavy snow began to fall on Christmas morning and it continued through much of the day, creating the sorts of scenes Currier and Ives cashed in on.

The cold settled in on the holiday, too. The temperature didn’t go above freezing for the next 15 days, the longest such stretch in more than seven years.

(There was a 16-day spell, Dec. 4-19, in 2005.)

The chill kept the Christmas snow from going stale, as it were, from turning into the unpleasant slush of the city, marred by dirt and boots and the droppings of dogs.

The more scientifically inclined prefer the yardstick but I’ve long measured snow by way of the two steps that lead to the lawn on the north side of my house.

When the snow reaches a respectable depth — probably around 7 inches — the individual steps are no longer recognizable as such.

That’s what it looked like out there after Monday’s storm — a smooth white expanse, as yet unsullied by feline paws or mule deer hooves.

Nothing so pristine can last long, of course. If the animals don’t get to it the infuriating warm front surely will.

But it was, in that moment, perfect.

Which you can’t really say about those berms.

Fascinated by French pastry chefs — no, really


By Jayson Jacoby

Baker City Herald Editor

There is no subject which could conceivably interest me less than the exploits of French pastry chefs.

Pastry chefs from any country, come to that.

And so it is a testament to the skill of documentary filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus that I recently sat for nearly an hour and a half and watched.... the exploits of French pastry chefs.

But I didn’t just sit there, fuming about the time I had wasted and would never recoup, and wishing instead that I were watching “The Hobbit,” a film which, I suspect, doesn’t mention chefs of any sort.

I was in fact captivated by the stories that unfolded on the big screen at the Eltrym during a New Year’s Eve showing of “Kings of Pastry” sponsored by the Baker Art Guild.

I laughed.

I cringed.

I didn’t cry.

But it was a near thing.

Mainly, though, I cared.

I truly cared about a bunch of Frenchmen who whine because the sugar is too dry and because the egg yolks are too yellow and who grouse about the consistency of nougatine.

Whatever that is.

The reason I cared is that Pennebaker and Hegedus conveyed, with the almost voyeuristic intimacy that marks the finest documentaries, the absolute obsession that drives people to ascend to the pinnacle of their profession.

That obsession, and the ways it reveals itself, is so compelling that it renders the profession itself of only passing interest.

Well, maybe not precisely passing.

Watching people turn a substance as simple as sugar into sculptures that could easily pass for bouquets of tropical flowers is fascinating in itself.

Even for a person who considers a well-executed maple bar a major culinary achievement — that’s me — there is a strong element of “how in the heck do they do that?” in “Kings of Pastry.”

I’ve been similarly entranced watching master mechanics slip pushrods into a V-8.

The film’s focus is a competition that takes place every four years in France to determine which handful of pastry chefs deserve to wear a special blue, white and red collar.

There is, so far as I can tell, no equivalent event in the U.S.

Indeed, most food-related programming on our TV networks or cinema emphasize gluttony rather than artistry — how many pounds of bacon can you cram into that sandwich?

(Never enough, apparently.)

The obvious comparison with the French pastry chef contest, given the once-every-four-years interval, are the Olympic games.

And there are similarities — intense practice sessions interspersed with bouts of self-doubt, hugs with wives and children, a considerable amount of sweating.

The defining characteristic for me, though, about “Kings of Pastry” is how effectively it shows how vast the gulf is between the average practitioner of some pursuit — any pursuit — and the truly elite.

I know nothing of pastry, to be sure.

I could no more construct the sugar sculptures these chefs assembled than I could unclog a calcified aorta.

But now at least I understand that these Frenchmen have distilled their natural talents, through sweat and tears — and, given all the knives involved, probably blood too — into a skill every bit as formidable as that displayed by a surgeon in the operating room, or by a quarterback in an NFL stadium.

There is, it seems to me, a unique beauty to watching people who have honed a particular attribute, whether it be work or play, to the finest point achievable by human hands.

By the end of “Kings of Pastry,” as you watch the 16 chefs emerge from the ultimate competitive crucible of their lives, the likes of which hardly any of us will ever experience, I expect that you’ll understand why grown men would cry over matters as seemingly trivial as whether they get to wear a corny-looking collar.

You might even shed a tear yourself.

It doesn’t matter that you burn toast as often as you get it nicely browned, or that you consider the Pop Tart a landmark achievement in pastry history.

When the toil of four years and the dream of a lifetime can be rendered, in effect, worthless by a minor slip of a hand and the fragility of spun sugar, drama is guaranteed.

And emotion.


It’s rough country — especially if you’re a boot

I have this pair of winter boots, a stout design made by Sorel, a firm famous for its long-lasting cold-weather footwear.

The breaks of the Snake River killed them.

Limestone fins shredded their thick rubber soles into something resembling the scraps you see strewn about the freeway after a semi trailer blows a tire.

The constantly angled terrain etched fissures in their leather flanks.

Stitches, which probably were sewn by a massive and immensely powerful machine, burst from the constant pressure of uphills and downhills and sidehills and the occasional cliff, simply gave up like the heart of a horse made to haul howitzers across the Somme in 1916.

To describe the eastern fringe of Baker County as rugged country is to indulge in colossal understatement. You might as well call Mount Hood a pretty big hill.

Remembering Dick Haynes

My first real boss was Dick Haynes.

I worked at Maxi Mart department store after school and weekends as a receptionist, answering phones and typing correspondence. I remember typing a letter from Dick to President Jimmy Carter, and wondering if the president would really read it, or respond.

One thing I knew, even then, was that many other people did pay attention to Dick Haynes. He had built the farm store Farmterials into a successful retail business and then developed the adjacent Maxi Mart department store. To boost summer sales and bring visitors in to Baker, he started a July mining competition and street dance in the Maxi Mart parking lot that became Miners Jubilee.

Let’s face it, over the course of 50-plus years in business, there have been a lot of us in Baker that have worked for Dick Haynes. Even more people here owe their jobs to him.

Your Christmas displays light up a toddler’s eyes

My son Max has the typically limited lexicon of a 21-month-old, but one of the favorite arrows in his modest verbal quiver is “light.”

He doesn’t just say the word. He proclaims it.

And when his audience fails to show a satisfactory level of interest he will repeat himself as often as he deems necessary, and accompanied by increasingly frantic gesticulations.

His zealotry can seem either cute or obnoxious, depending on how often the listener has been subjected to it.

Anyway he’s dedicated.

A little girl hears the president say her name

My daughter Olivia, who’s 5, pointed at the TV and yelled to me.

“Obama said ‘Olivia,’ ” said Olivia.

She was right.

The president, with whom Olivia has been on a last-name basis since his first term, did say her first name during his speech that aired on a whole bunch of channels Sunday evening.

Mr. Obama wasn’t talking about my Olivia.

He was referring to Olivia Rose Engel.

She was a little girl who sounds an awful lot like my little girl, and never mind that they share a first name.

Olivia Engel was 6. Like my Olivia she was a big sister. Both Olivias are fond of pink and purple. Both took art classes and swimming lessons.

These two Olivias made silly faces when you took their photograph.

Probably they would have been friends had they ever met.

That never happened.

Now it won’t ever happen.

Olivia Engel was one of the 20 students fatally shot last week by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

I don’t pretend to feel some uniquely strong sense of despair from this tragedy because my daughter has the same name, and the same goofy smile, as one of the Sandy Hook victims.

You don’t even need to be a parent to grieve at the loss of so much potential.

You only need to be human.

That said, the Connecticut massacre affected me in a way that Clackamas and Thurston and Columbine and the whole rest of the terrible litany of slaughter did not.

Mainly this was because of a photograph.

Probably you know the one I mean, as it’s become a symbol of the Sandy Hook shooting.

The students stand in a line, each little pair of hands resting on the narrow shoulders of the child just ahead.

The scene reminded me strongly of what I’ve seen when Olivia and her kindergarten classmates walk out of Baker High School.

Except for the fear.

The naked fear of a child for whom life will never be the same, never as innocent nor as good.

Olivia and the other kids never look that way when they gallop out to the parking lot.

Usually they’re giggling, most of them.

Which is how we want our kids to be all the time. Smiling and laughing and safe and secure, from the moment they bound into the living room in the morning, pleading for pancakes for breakfast, until the last glimpse we see of their faces after dark, blanket pulled up tight against their chins.

It doesn’t take a tragedy on the scale of Sandy Hook Elementary to scare a parent, of course.

It’s all too easy to succumb to the terrible lure of the daydream, to imagine your child run down in the street by a drunken driver, to watch, with nauseating clarity, as strong arms yank her into the abyss of an anonymous van.

You can ward off this fear with the reassuring magnitude of statistics, the lottery-like balm of odds measured in the millions to one.

But I suspect Olivia Engel’s parents must at some time have indulged in this mental calculus, that they never truly believed the worst could happen to their daughter, any more than anyone really expects they’ll win a jackpot.

Now their Olivia will always be 6.

I’ll watch my Olivia. I hope I’ll watch her graduate and marry and prosper and achieve everything she’s capable of.

I’ll remember when she was 6, a little girl who liked pink and purple and made the silliest face when we asked her to smile for the camera, and who never heard the president say her full name on TV.

Peering into the maelstrom of the Opinion page

By Jayson Jacoby

Baker City Herald Editor

No section of the newspaper prompts as many questions, and leads to as many complaints landing on my desk, as the page with “Opinion” printed at the top.

(That’s this page, 4A, by the way, and much of its fallout doesn’t literally land on my desk, with an audible thud, but instead arrives in my email inbox with silent, binary stealth.)

That the Opinion page would have such an effect is hardly surprising.

As its title implies, it’s the place where opinions are unleashed to mingle freely with facts — a sort of coffee klatch, only less visceral and without maple bars.

And since, as the saying goes, we’re all entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts, the temptation to wage rhetorical warfare proves too powerful for many opinionated folks to resist.

I think this is a fine thing.

Maybe the finest thing, in fact, in our land where the freedom to express yourself is so vital our founders put it right at the top of the list of rights.

I hope I never become so jaded that I’m unable to appreciate the simple yet inestimable value of being able to have a go at the City Council’s latest endeavor and have your take printed and hand-delivered to thousands of households.

And it’s free.

The inky maelstrom of deeply held beliefs and occasional antipathy that is the Opinion page tends to be rather messy. Rarely does the page exemplify the sort of ostensibly objective balance of a “point/counterpoint”-style debate.

This is especially true for the letters to the editor section.

I field fairly regularly the complaint that the letters on a particular page lean strongly toward one side of an issue. This came up most recently during the Baker School Board recall campaign that concluded this week.

That one opinion predominates in a certain Opinion page has nothing to do with the Herald editorial board’s opinions, nor with some other unstated bias inside our office which conspires to silence alternative viewpoints.

It’s coincidence.

Or, rather, a matter of timing.

Our system for letters is simple: We publish them in the same order we receive them.

Only rarely does the volume of letters exceed the available space, so most letters run in the first issue that’s published after the letter arrives.

As an example, if Monday’s and Tuesday’s mail (both traditional and electronic versions) bring a total of four letters, it’s likely that all four will appear in Wednesday’s issue.

Here’s another rarity: We receive a local letter that we decline to publish.

(By “local” letter I mean one written by a local resident, which means the letter is more likely to deal with a local topic. I prefer to reserve the space on Page 4A for them. We don’t often publish letters from, say, Texas or New Jersey; these missives, I suspect, are emailed to every newspaper that has a website, in a sort of shotgun approach.)

We give writers considerable latitude, which seems to me appropriate since opinions, being rugged individuals, don’t thrive under the confinement of sentence parsing and heavy-handed editing.

We don’t of course permit gratuitous profanity, or character assassinations which lack even a veneer of sober thought or legitimate purpose. We do limit writers to 350 words per letter, and at least 15 calendar days between letters. 

I mentioned the editorial board several paragraphs back. I don’t much like that term — attaching “board” to an entity confers on it an elevated status which in this case is not warranted — but it’s the commonest way to refer to the people who come up with a newspaper’s editorial positions.

The Herald’s editorial board is rather smaller than what you’d find at a larger publication, consisting of three members: the publisher, Kari Borgen; reporter Chris Collins; and me.

This roster isn’t ideal, and not only because there are so few of us.

Reporters, generally speaking, don’t participate in formulating opinions — which of course is what editorials are — because reporters strive, in writing their stories, to be objective.

To avoid conflicts, then, when the editorial board is pondering a topic that Chris covers as a reporter, her role is to give Kari and me information — just as she does in her stories — but not to contribute toward the crafting of an opinion.

That crafting, by the way, is a democratic process rather than a dictatorial one.

The Herald’s editorials do not convey my personal opinion, or Kari’s, or Chris’.

Which is not to say, of course, that we never publish editorials that each of us agrees with, with little or no reservation.

Sometimes our individual opinions are pretty much identical.

Frequently, though, our three viewpoints diverge. So we discuss. Sometimes we argue and cajole and (at least in my case) gesticulate. The goal, in any event, is to conceive an opinion which is rational and reasonable.

Perhaps it’s even persuasive, although none of is either naíve or arrogant enough to expect anything more than occasional success in that sense.

I write most of the editorials, although my efforts to put on paper our combined work are always subject to editing from Kari and Chris (and inevitably, the better for it).

The other common elements on the Opinion page, with the exception of guest editorials from other newspapers, are generally the product of a single person.

These include columns and editorial cartoons.

The latter tend to be the most, well, flamboyant items on the page — not only because they are opinions rendered in pictures rather than just words, but also because editorial cartoonists, who don’t have a couple dozen paragraphs to make their point, tend to prefer the blatant over the subtle.

The satire in an editorial cartoon usually is more overt, too, and some readers are offended by the exaggerations that satirists necessarily employ.

But I don’t think the page would be earning its keep if nobody ever muttered epithets while reading it.

I’m not talking about opinions designed only to inflame or to anger. 

But one byproduct of a logically expressed viewpoint can be that it frustrates people who, though they disagree, recognize the validity of the opposing arguments, and even admire the skill with which it was put forward.

That’s a healthy thing. Moreover, it can lead to spirited but respectful exchanges between people who agree on almost nothing, save, perhaps, the importance of whatever topic it is they’re tussling over.

Warm memories of life in a wood-heated home

My thoughts, in this season of the early dusk and the occasional arctic front, turn inevitably to the unique warmth of a woodstove.

This must take the form of nostalgia, unfortunately, as I don’t own such an appliance.

(I’m also lacking in cordwood, kindling, matches and other combustible essentials.) 

I am left then to bask in the accumulated but faded heat of memory rather than the tangible and current sort, which, alas, is the only kind that matters when you’ve just come in from shoveling out the driveway.

The temperature inside my home is regulated by burning kilowatts rather than tamarack.

This staves off frostbite and keeps the pipes from icing up but is otherwise unsatisfying.

The ducts which convey the electric furnace’s BTUs around the house sometimes crackle and pop, a racket which tends to frighten a 5-year-old girl who needs little prompting to get out of her bed at night anyway.

A woodstove, by contrast, exhales its heat silently but for the occasional muffled pop of a knot.

Mixed feelings during the journey back home

I recently drove twice with my family on precisely the same 250-mile route through Oregon’s abdomen, the only change being the passage of four days, yet the trips seemed to me vastly different.

This was a purely psychological matter.

I think so, anyway. I’ve never taken a psychology class but I’m eternally fascinated by the hijinks my mind can get up to.

The day before Thanksgiving we traveled from Baker City, by way of John Day, Mitchell and Prineville, to Sunriver for the Jacobys’ annual holiday weekend gathering.

On Sunday we retraced our path.

This two-part experience reminded me, with unusual clarity, of something I think each of us instinctively understands — which is that the giddy anticipation of any long-awaited event is offset, to some degree, by the disappointment that intrudes when that event ends.

This dichotomy seemed to me especially poignant this year, and for a few reasons.

For one, the Sunriver rendezvous was noteworthy, and in a good way, because it was the first for my family since our newest member, my niece Lily DeRenzo, she of the bewitching infant grin, was born on Aug. 20 to my younger sister, Alison, and her husband, Jonathan.

This was also just the second time in the past several years that we’ve all congregated in the same place: my three siblings, my parents and all their grandkids (who, with Lily’s arrival, now number an even dozen — the girls outnumbering the boys 7-5).

This rare and happy occasion was made possible because my older sister, Julie Pennick, and her family recently returned to Oregon after living the past seven years in Virginia.

The third factor was that my older son, Alexander, didn’t come back with us to Baker as he always has in the past.

He hitched a ride instead with my parents to Corvallis, where he’s a freshman at Oregon State.

Alexander’s absence left a distinct gap in our little two-car caravan as we plodded east through Deschutes, Crook, Wheeler, Grant and Baker counties, my older daughter, Rheann, following us.

I don’t mean to come off as excessively maudlin.

The sadness of saying good-bye to your kin is partially counterbalanced by the satisfaction of returning to the familiar comforts of home.

By Jayson Jacoby

Baker City Herald Editor

There’s much to be said, I think, for being able to navigate to the refrigerator, when a powerful thirst comes on at 2 a.m., without barking your shins on a bureau waiting to pounce in the dark.

Rather than feeling depressed for the whole five-hour trip, there was a singular moment during our drive home on Sunday that for me distilled the miasma of melancholy peculiar to such situations.

The culprit, as it were, is an abandoned home that stands beside Highway 26 between Mount Vernon and Dayville.

I’ve driven past this structure close to 100 times over the past 25 years (I pretty well owned that highway while I was in college, traveling back and forth between Baker and Eugene).

But I had never really noticed the decrepit building.

I certainly paid it no attention on the trip west to Sunriver four days earlier.

During that drive we listened to The Beatles’ remastered box set on the stereo, relished the ice-free asphalt, rejoiced in the likelihood that we would arrive before dusk, and generally basked in that beneficent glow of a vacation barely begun.

On Sunday, though, this pre-holiday joy had withered, the flavor of the turkey and the pumpkin pie a fading memory, the anticipation of a family reunion as congealed as day-old gravy.

And so as we rounded a curve (of which there is a surplus along the sinuous John Day River) and the house came into view, the scene struck me as almost inexpressibly sad.

A neglected home, which gives shelter only to rodents and arachnids, needn’t be depressing, of course. When you are in a more optimistic frame of mind such a place can even instill a pleasant tinge of nostalgia, one in which it’s easy to imagine happy children frolicking in the manicured yard while their parents watch with fondness from the front porch.

Yet on a chilly Sunday in late November, with the ground devoid of snow and the trees barren of leaves and the gaiety of a familial celebration dissipated, the peeling paint and the crooked fence and the desiccated weeds can transform the same place into something inhospitable, even malevolent, its desolation awful and overwhelming.

This feeling, fortunately, was brief.

By the time we got to John Day, half an hour later, I was eager to show Max the wonderful model train display at the Dairy Queen.

(At 20 months, Max is still enamored of all sorts of things that fail to excite his 5-year-old sister, Olivia, whose attention was occupied with ice cream.)

And once we cleared Prairie City and started the climb to Dixie Pass, I felt the flutter of excitement of our impending arrival at home.

That night in bed only a fragment of the day’s emotional gloom lingered.

And that may have been because I suddenly remembered, with distinct regret, that I left my six-pack of Rainier at Sunriver, having drank but one of the 16-ounce cans.

The rest are probably chilling in my brother’s refrigerator as I type this.

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