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Home arrow Opinion arrow Columns

Another owner with an eye — and a heart — for history


The loss of any historic building saddens me, but the transformation of a structure from landmark to eyesore seems to me an even worse fate.

This process — and I’ll veer here briefly from an architectural to an automotive analogy — is akin to parking a vintage Ferrari in a drafty old barn and letting the packrats soil the fine leather and gnaw the spark plug wires.

I would rather have only memories and photographs of such a thing, at the apex of its beauty and utility, than to have to watch it decay.

It is, of course, vastly easier to lament such episodes than to prevent them.

When it comes to City Council write-ins, experience counts

Baker City voters value experience in their city councilors.

But not necessarily current experience.

For certain voters, past incumbency seems to be a more valuable political attribute than present.

County Clerk Tami Green this week faxed me a tally of the write-in votes from the Nov. 2 election.

The spreadsheets, which show the vote totals for everyone whose name showed up on more than three ballots, make for interesting reading.

Overall, residents cast 1,021 write-in votes.

Which isn’t very many, really — barely 10 percent of the total votes cast.

The urban-rural divide in Baker County; and eating crow on Dudley

There’s a common lament heard around here which has it that those infernal city voters, on account of their superior numbers, run roughshod over us in the hinterlands like a schoolyard bully.

Take last week’s election.

(Or leave it, if you’d rather.)

Almost three in four Baker County voters wanted Republican Chris Dudley to be Oregon’s next governor.

Yet it’s Democrat John Kitzhaber who will be hauling his luggage to Mahonia Hall, and the reason is that a slightly higher percentage of Multnomah County voters said it should be.

And there’s 417,000 of them as against 10,000 of us.

But what if “those city voters” in this case live not in Portland, nor even in the smaller but still substantial urban centers of Eugene, Salem or Bend?

What if they live in Baker City?

What if Baker City were that urban liberal bastion jutting arrogantly from a conservative rural sea?

Well it is.

Sort of.

All right, barely.

It's noisy out there, but the truth keeps getting through

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.

An amusing scene in the woods; and a new threat in the hills?

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.

Protecting free speech for people you'd never invite home

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.


The continuing, curious case of bicycles and wilderness

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.)


Eyes wide open: When fathers hand the keys to their sons

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.

LAMP gap is bridged; and 'The Oregon Desert" returns

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.

Moved, not by mountains but by a field of brown grass

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 as well.

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.

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