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The good and the bad of leaf hitchhiking season

By Jasyon Jacoby

Baker City Herald Editor

The season of the hitchhiking leaf is upon us, and neither our soles nor our kitchen floors will be safe for some weeks.

Or until the snow gets deep anyway.

Making we the public pay dearly for our records

The Freedom of Information Act — FOIA, not to be confused with a fancy food made from the forcibly fattened livers of waterfowl — is one of those laws that sounds a lot better than it is.

(Unlike fois gras, which I’ve heard tastes better than it sounds. Although considering the recipe it could hardly be otherwise.)

President Lyndon Johnson signed the original federal law in 1966. Congress has tinkered with FOIA several times since, but the basic idea remains the same.

Which is that Americans ought to have reasonable access to the immense volume of data their federal government exudes.

The public servants who expectorate this avalanche of information are supposedly serving us, after all.

Many states, including Oregon, have enacted similar laws that deal with records from state and local governments, including cities, counties and school districts.

We journalists harbor a particular fondness for these sorts of laws.

We disdain secrecy, for one thing.

For another, unshackling reams of official documents makes possible more thorough, and responsible, reporting on important topics.

Frequently it’s a plain manila folder, not a flamboyant and shadowy off-the-record source with an affinity for clandestine meetings in parking garages, that breaks a big story.

Trouble is, neither the federal nor the Oregon law entitles citizens to go poking around in government file cabinets or computer records with what could reasonably be described as ease.

A thin sliver of hope for health

The collective corpulence of Americans has become cliché.

Which is not the same as quiche.

Although I’ll concede the two words look pretty similar.

And what with our appetite for eggs and cheese, it’s little wonder we see unwholesome dishes where none exists.

If you spend a few minutes kicking around the online data (and knock it off; if you’re going to kick anything it ought to be a soccer ball, an activity which at least burns extra calories), you can’t help but conclude that the most dire danger facing mankind isn’t melting polar ice caps, but that our united mass will shove Earth out of its orbit and send it careening into the asteroid belt.

Of course you don’t need to study the average number of holes in an American male’s belt to recognize the validity of the statistics.

We’re fatter, generally speaking, than we’ve ever been.

Yet I’m not convinced that this trend is inexorable.

A couple weeks ago, in Boise, I watched a scene that made me optimistic about the future of our arteries.

The setting, near the Boise River, was the finish line for the City of Trees marathon and half-marathon.

I was not a participant.

It’s not that I can’t run 26.2 miles.

I just can’t do it without stopping.

And by stopping I don’t mean a few brief water breaks.

I’m talking about overnight pauses — with pizza and beer — after each 5-mile stretch.

It turns out, though, that quite a lot of people can keep their legs churning for that entire daunting distance.

I don’t even like to drive that far if I can avoid it.

What impressed me isn’t that hundreds of people paid to voluntarily subject themselves to such a muscle-straining ordeal.

Running a marathon, which for most of the 20th century was relegated mainly to Olympians with aerobic capabilities more cheetah than human, migrated toward the mainstream during the jogging craze of the 1970s.

(A phenomenon which boasts considerably more stamina, by the way, than its contemporary, calorie-burning counterpart: disco. Check any major department store these days and you’ll find dozens of pairs of featherweight running shoes. But you’ll have to paw through a lot of bargain bins to unearth a Gloria Gaynor CD.)

I was heartened, rather, by the overwhelming normalcy of the competitors.

Almost none of them had the streamlined physique I associate with long-distance runners, who always look to me as if they’re stepping on springy rubber rather than asphalt. They sort of waft along for hours at a pace I couldn’t duplicate if I were sprinting. Very annoying.

The group at the finish line in Boise was fitter, on average, than the typical shopping mall crowd.

But quite of a few of these bodies that had just covered the equivalent of running from Baker City to Haines and back, followed by a round-trip on the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway, exhibited the same morphological mixture of flabby-and-toned that most people recognize who have bid a sad farewell to the hyperactive metabolism of adolescence.

They looked like regular people, is what I mean — regular people who had just accomplished something extraordinary.

We went to Boise because my wife, Lisa, who has finished two half-marathons, wanted to run six miles of the marathon route with two friends from Baker City, Autumn Swiger-Harrell and Jennifer Kelley.

Lisa ran with them many times during the summer and early fall as they trained for the full marathon.

I’m not suggesting here that my experience in Boise, which is but a minor anecdote, comes close to countering the overwhelming evidence that Americans’ appetites lean too heavily toward saturated fat instead of aerobic activity.

Yet I detected, in the jubilant atmosphere at the race’s end, a camaraderie that belies the stereotype of the American who can’t be roused from the sofa except to slide another frozen pizza into the oven or extract another 2-liter torpedo of soda from the refrigerator.

I have no idea what motivated those marathoners.

Some of them, I’m sure, fulfilled a longtime goal and have no intention of ever running another marathon.

But exercise, and the happiness it provokes, can become an addiction every bit as potent as the lure of the cheeseburger.

(Well, almost as potent.)

And I suspect that most of the runners, even those who never again enter a race more taxing than a 10K, won’t be content to toss their shoes into a closet and settle in with the remote control and a jumbo bag of Fritos.

You don’t need to run a marathon to get fit, of course.

But perhaps running one can be only the start of a healthy lifestyle rather than its triumphant conclusion.

Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.

A new forest that’s as natural as the old one

We hiked up to the Elkhorn Crest Trail on one of those early autumn days when both the nostalgia of summer, and the treachery of the coming winter, are palpable.

It was, to be specific, the final day of September.

Which is about as early as you can get in autumn.

Although quite late, obviously, for September.

Our route was the Cunningham Cove trail. 

This path starts next to the North Fork of the John Day River, within sight of the Forest Service’s historic (and rentable, July 1-Oct. 31) Peavy Cabin, and climbs 2,000 feet to the Crest Trail.

And by “climb” I don’t mean the gentle ascent of the quadriceps-friendly, switchbacking trails common to the Wallowas.

The grade of the Cunningham Cove trail alternates between merely grueling and borderline ridiculous.

Sometimes casting a vote feels like a gamble

By Jayson Jacoby

Baker City Herald

When I read “The Grange” I think of potlucks where the apple pie is always exquisite and the conversation, inevitably, turns to crops.

I don’t think of slot machines and roulette wheels.

But I might have to start.


The personal touch that can mean so much

I spent part of the summer of my 16th year in southern Germany, honing my language skills and acquiring a taste for large, soft pretzels and Bavarian pilsner.

The language skills, never formidable, have atrophied considerably over the ensuing years.

I still enjoy a cold beer, though.

For the first few days of my European tour I wasn’t thinking about my accent or about malt beverages.

I was just miserable.

Homesick, to be specific.

And my case of that common affliction was, or so it seemed to me then, an especially nasty strain, one peculiar to teenagers who haven’t ever been alone in a foreign land and who struggle mightily to conjugate vital Germanic verbs.

(Even today, more than a quarter century later, the phrase “past participle of the neuter form” fills me with dread.)

A sea of relative tranquility in a fiery summer

By Jayson Jacoby

Baker City Herald Editor

Wildfires have been much in the news this summer, as is typical here in the arid inland West.

Yet Baker County ranks as something of a tranquil anomaly amidst the breathless recounting of square miles scorched, and the dramatic scenes of leaping flames.

With the notable — and unfortunate — exception of the Sardine fire in mid-August, which temporarily damaged about 6,100 acres of valuable livestock grazing land east of Baker City, the 2012 fire season hereabouts has been distinguished by the absence of fire rather than the abundance.

Wilderness slobs staining Baldy Lake’s beauty

By Jayson Jacoby

Baker City Herald Editor

I like wilderness but I wouldn’t want to live there.

It’s not enough like my family room, for one thing.

Sitting on an old log in a camp a dozen miles from the nearest road, and watching the rays of the westering sun transform a slope of drab granite into ivory sculpture, is memorable indeed.

The government is ruining little kids’ big days

Never mind what President Obama wants to do to your tax bill.

The man is up to something vastly more insidious than squandering your nest egg.

He has ruined thousands of little kids’ birthday parties across our fair land this summer.

And who knows what’ll happen with Halloween and Christmas coming up.

I’m serious.

Kids are being turned into social pariahs because their soirees lack the necessary and expected accoutrements.

Helium balloons.

The culprit in this scandal is the federal government.

And we know who’s in charge of that.


Watching a child’s first steps to independence

The real landmark moment for a parent isn’t watching your child walk with timid steps into a classroom for the first time.

It’s what happens later the same day.

When the kid comes bounding out of the building, backpack straps bouncing off her little shoulders and a big smile on her face.

That’s when you know that her world has expanded, finally and irretrievably, to include a place where you will always be something of an interloper.

A place where you are always welcome, to be sure.

But also a place where you are not, strictly speaking, necessary.

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