Another election has passed, and the predominant sentiment among Americans, or so it seems to me, is that we’re exhausted and could use a vacation.
Preferably to some place in the tropics which is not at present having its topography rearranged by a hurricane.
Our commonest complaints, as we languish in the post-election malaise, are that the campaigns were slimy, and the media’s appetite for the vitriolic stew was insatiable.
This ability of Americans to rediscover our disdain for politics every couple of years, to react to its ugly but utterly predictable excesses with the innocent wonder of a child discovering some previously unknown aspect of the world, tickles me as always.
We came across an amusing scene the other day in the pine woods on the north side of Phillips Reservoir.
Although whimsical is perhaps the more apt adjective in this instance.
There is no surplus of whimsy in the world, certainly. And it seems to me that we would be well off were our lives to incorporate a little more of the fanciful and the silly.
It was a Sunday. The morning was chilly but clear and so we decided to hike the dirt path that traces the reservoir’s shoreline.
This is a nondescript route by local standards. It is in the main flat, a rarity in a county which would make a swell testing ground for the makers of emergency brakes.
The great paradox of the First Amendment, it seems to me, is that the pure beauty of its purpose must on occasion give aid and comfort to people whose acts are so ugly as to defy description.
I don’t believe, though, that this noble treatise, now well into its third century, is sullied even slightly by its associations with vile characters.
The truest test of any right, of course, comes about when it’s claimed by the sort of people you wouldn’t let into your house.
Or your dog’s house.
Dan Ermovick, the main recreation man for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, posed an interesting question to me recently about mountain bikes and wilderness.
Actually that’s redundant.
Pretty much any question that involves bicycles and wilderness piques my curiosity.
That bicycles came to be banned from America’s federal wilderness areas has always seemed to me a peculiar aspect of this country’s admirable campaign to shelter our beautiful places from the more obnoxious trappings of modern civilization.
(Hummers, for instance.)
I tend to get awfully drowsy during long road trips, but last weekend I discovered a sure cure for this annoying and potentially dangerous affliction.
Surrender the driver’s seat to a 15-year-old.
It’s a more effective tactic than propping your eyelids open with toothpicks.
Less painful too, I expect.
Although I’ve always tried, in my dealings with toothpicks, to keep the little implements as far away as possible from my eyes.
The 15-year-old, in this instance, is my son, Alexander.
Walked the new stretch of the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway on Sunday
afternoon and christened it, unofficially, the Twin Bridges section.
(All my pronouncements are unofficial, as I lack any authority to mandate that they be used.)
This name, though hardly inventive, is at least accurate.
There are indeed two bridges, of what looks to me identical design,
spanning the Powder River along this latest segment of the Parkway,
between Madison Street and Washington Avenue.
As a result this portion of the path — the asphalt is so fresh it
gleams — gives travelers an especially intimate look at the river.
Other, older sections also nuzzle the Powder’s shore, to be sure.
But it’s quite a different experience, it seems to me, to look at a river from above rather than from beside.
The bird’s eye view reveals details — the depth of the water, the
shapes of the rocks over which it flows, the occasional flash of a
fish’s silvery fin.
I recently toured two national parks which are renowned worldwide
for the beauty of their landscapes, yet neither place made my throat
swell with emotion nor my eyes sting the way that a third park did.
This despite the latter park being, by comparison, shabby in
appearance and unlikely ever to grace the pages of a calendar or a
coffee table book.
The scenic grandeur of the other parks — Grand Teton and Yellowstone — is beyond dispute.
I quite enjoyed gazing at the granite spire of the Grand, with its
imposing precipices and the almost cartoon-like scene it paints against
a backdrop of blue sky.
And the immediate and rampant volcanism of Yellowstone, this blatant
evidence of the molten world that lies beneath our feet, impressed me
But there is a great difference, it seems to me, between pondering
the works of nature and imagining the scene behind the buffalo robes of
a tipi, where two women lie dead beside a newborn whose skull has been
crushed by a heavy blow.
Between the carnival atmosphere at Old Faithful, which spews on a
schedule that’s scrawled on dry-erase boards outside kitsch-crammed
gift shops, and a thicket of lodgepole pines where men gouged into the
soil to gain meager shelter from the misguided policy of their
government and the bullets that it spawned.
The third park is Big Hole National Battlefield.
I found a perfect T-shirt the other day sporting this question: “Is there a hyphen in anal-retentive?”
A close runner-up is: “A semi-colon is not a medical procedure.”
These shirts — amusing to those of us who work with words — are on sale to celebrate National Punctuation Day, which is today.
Who celebrates punctuation?
On any given day, our newsroom is likely to have a conversation about apostrophes, semi-colons or quotation marks.
English teachers also are mighty fond of punctuation.
Not everyone is so concerned.
My affinity for that anal-retentive shirt comes from my obsession with
reading signs — countless times I’ve fought the urge to stop at a
business to correct its misspelled signs. (I’m pretty sure that would
embarrass my family.)
“Bend” is the favorite four-letter epithet uttered by people who
fear Baker City might soon succumb to the creeping suburbanism that has
inflicted its architectural and commercial banality on so much of this
But I spent the night in Redmond earlier this summer, and it
occurred to me that that city, rather than the budding metropolis that
is Bend, perhaps offers the more compelling comparison.
There is, it seems to me, a widespread fallacy that not so long ago Bend and Baker City were akin to twins.
In fact, Baker hasn’t bested Bend since the 1920 Census.
That year, Baker’s population was 7,729, Bend’s 5,415.
A decade later Bend had gone ahead — 8,848 to 7,858 — and the Central Oregon city has widened its lead every decade since.
Redmond, though, is the classic late-bloomer.
As recently as 1970 (I realize this hardly qualifies as recent, but
it happens to be the year I was born and so I’m inclined to downplay
the significance of that span) Redmond was a mere stripling of 3,721
That same year Baker boasted 9,354.
For a month now I’ve been tending a patch of new grass, and the
stress of this endeavor, on which I embarked with great optimism, has
begun to wear on me in a considerable way.
I ought to have known it would.
I figured out quite some years ago that my personality is ill-suited to the peculiar pressures of cultivation.
I lack the necessary patience, for one thing.
The process of horticultural germination, even at its speediest, seems to me painfully sluggish.
I just can’t go in for watching a patch of dirt, pining for the appearance of the first sprig of green.
I need instant gratification.
My current project is a path that runs between our backyard patio and the toolshed.
I built this path more than a decade ago. It’s maybe 30 feet long, with a comely curve along the way.
Initially the path’s surface was a mixture of pea gravel and
decorative white stone. Last year I added a dozen or so round brick
pavers, to keep a little girl from bruising her bare feet on the gravel.
But this summer Lisa decided grass, being vastly softer, was the better choice.
She spent many hours shoveling gravel and sifting out the dirt by
means of a pair of metal screens. As is typical, she graciously failed
to mention that I contributed not the least bit of effort to this task.
Until the first day of August, when I prised out the remaining pavers and smoothed the base of the path.
Then I put the pavers back, spaced out along the whole of the path,
hauled in a dozen or so wheelbarrow loads of dirt and tamped it around
the pavers to level the surface with the rest of the lawn.