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Clinging cactus leads to nagging question: Are they spreading?

I bear no particular grudge against the cactus. In fact I have an affinity for many succulents.

What I dislike, though, is believing, for even an instant, that I have been bitten by a rattlesnake.

Especially when I haven’t been.

And a prickly pear cactus can put on a pretty convincing performance as a rattler.

Which is impressive, considering the cactus lacks all the characteristics that define the serpent, most notably fangs.

Also, a cactus can’t move.

But then a cactus doesn’t need to move, because, much like a kid whose older sibling drives a car that their parents pay for, it can always catch a lift.

On my boot, in the case of the cactus if not the hypothetical whelp in the preceding paragraph.

No carless native New Yorker can hail a ride as effortlessly as a pad of prickly pear can.

The cactus’ spines have adhesive abilities that would make the chemists in a glue factory go green with jealousy.

After much experience, I’m not sure you even have to actually touch a prickly pear to take it on as a passenger.

If you get within a few inches a sort of magnetic field hauls it aboard, like a feather duster plucking cobwebs from a corner.

On a fine spring day about a dozen years ago I went hiking in the sage hills east of town, near Virtue Flat.


Here’s hoping hate group fails to find a haven in Grant County

The Aryan Nations leadership does not possess an abundance of what you might call intellectual prowess.

Their leadership skills aren’t exactly prodigious, either, come to that.

It’s a bit of a stretch, after all, to call yourself leaders when the vast majority of Americans think you’re hatemongers who rank, on the list of desirable dinner party guests, in the same sub-primate range as pond scum and various infectious bacteria.

It does not surprise me, at any rate, that a branch of the white supremacist group (although “tentacle” paints a more apt word picture in this context than does “branch” ) seems to have misjudged our neighbor to the west, Grant County.

And by misjudged I don’t mean the equivalent of pouring soda too quickly so that a wisp of foam crests the rim and slides down the side of the glass.

I’m talking about a cliff diver who can’t tell an ebb tide from a flood.


Baking ‘fun’ can get messy

February is Bake for Family Fun Month.

Hmm.

I love to bake, and I’m always on the lookout for a new recipe to try — homemade bread, a healthier cake, scrumptious cookies.

But gone are the days of my solitary puttering in the kitchen.

My daughter, Olivia, is 2 1/2, which means she’s quite aware of everything we do.

See if you can picture this: I grab a mixing bowl and set it on the counter. Immediately her eyes light up and she runs (she never walks) to the dining room.

Next I hear the scraping noise of our wooden chairs dragging across the floor — I cringe every time — and then silence as she hoists it in the air to carry it across the carpet.

Back in the kitchen, she pushes the chair to the counter, climbs up and rolls her sleeves to mimic my own preparations.

She cannot be deterred, so I pull out her apron and get out the measuring cups.

And prepare for a mess.


Steens Mountain: A backyard with room for wind turbines

I can attest to the prevalence of wind on Steens Mountain.

My contact lenses, in particular, would gladly sign an affidavit.

Or an arrest warrant.

The lenses harbor a real grudge against the mountain.

And I don’t blame them.

I’ve never visited a place that combines wind gusts and desert dust with such gritty, lachrymose consistency.

Neither have my lenses, so far as I know.

I rarely go anywhere, anyway, that I can’t keep an eye on them.

So to speak.


Not much snow and even less sunshine: What a dismal winter


I’m beginning to miss the sun.

This is a rare affliction in our valley, which is sheltered by not one by two rain shadows and as a result is a pretty sunny place.

The Cascade Mountains, the more imposing of these topographic barriers, siphon much of the moisture from the storms that ride the jet stream inland from the Pacific.

Then the Elkhorns wring out most of what’s left.

It’s quite common, then, for the Elkhorn peaks to be shrouded in cloud while sunshine brightens the valley below.

Which is nice if you enjoy skiing in the mountains but are less enthusiastic about shoveling your driveway.

These pleasant circumstances prevail, generally speaking, even during the depths of winter, a season renowned in less beneficent climates for conjuring skies of various slaty shades for weeks on end.

The typical winter sequence here, by contrast, begins with a day or less of storm followed by two or more days of clear.


Oregon’s roads safer than ever (at least since cars came along)


We Americans can do just about anything in our cars.

Die, for instance.

Fortunately we’re dying in our cars far less often in Oregon than we used to.

Last year 381 people were killed in crashes in Oregon.

A terrible toll, to be sure.

But that’s also the fewest traffic deaths in the state in any year since 1949, when 356 motorists were killed.

This hopeful trend has continued into the first month of 2010, as well.

A dozen people died on Oregon roads in January.

That’s the fewest in any month since the state started keeping track in the 1930s, said Troy Costales, Safety Division administrator for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The average for January is about 33.

January was also just the third month in which fewer than 20 people died in Oregon wrecks. The two others are February 2009, when 16 motorists were killed; and February 1999, when 18 died.


It's about time someone studied the 'Halfway Grade Effect'


As great divides go, the Rocky Mountains get a lot of press, but I think the Halfway Grade puts the Rockies in the shade.

Not literally, of course.

In terms of topography, the Halfway Grade (and its shadow) would seem pitifully diminutive compared to the most inconspicuous foothill in the Front Range.

Even measured against our more modest local standards the Halfway Grade — the sagebrush ridge that separates the Eagle and Pine valleys in eastern Baker County — is hardly imposing. The summit where Highway 86 crests the grade is a meager 3,653 feet above sea level. That’s barely 200 feet higher than Baker Valley.

But in meteorological matters, I know of few eminences as mighty as the Grade.

I drove over it on Sunday.

There was no snow in Richland, on the Eagle Valley side.

In Halfway, the Pine Valley town a mere eight miles away as the chukar flies, the snow was about belly high on a mule deer.

But this vast discrepancy was not the product of some rare confluence of weather phenomena, akin to a tornado that destroys one home but disturbs not a single shingle next door.

What I’ve described is in fact the normal state of things, snow-wise, for mid-winter in this part of Baker County’s Panhandle.


Forests are beautiful, even if you don’t see them come of age


I went snowshoeing Sunday in the ponderosa pine woods near Phillips Reservoir and managed a brief bout of melancholy despite being surrounded all the while by beauty.

This is one of my skills.

And it is one I would happily trade for any of a whole roster of abilities, among them a decent vertical leap and a mastery of basic carpentry techniques.

It was as I mentioned a fine winter day.

A heavy snow was falling. The flakes were fat and slushy, more like snow in the Cascades than the powdery sort that frequents our mountains. I never got more than a mile and a half from the highway but the snow muffled sounds and the hum of traffic was distant and unimportant.

There was little wind and the temperature was mild for the season, perhaps a degree or two above freezing.

I parked beside the Powder River and climbed a thousand feet to a plateau that plunges off its east flank to California Gulch.

I saw a white-tail deer running across a draw, wending its way between the red-barked pines, its graceful gait so different from the bounds of the mule deer.


Tim Johnson’s first challenge: Getting his feet under him


I hope Tim Johnson has a pair of boots with sticky soles.

Or better yet, the new Baker City manager ought to buy a pair of those metal-studded rubber webs that you stretch tight over your footwear.

There’s still ice around despite the recent thaw, and it makes for treacherous going.

Of course that’s not the only sort of traction Johnson needs to worry about.

He is, after all, starting a job where he has seven bosses.

Which is six more than most of us have to try to please.

Besides which, three of those bosses — which is just one short of a ruling majority — didn’t even want to hire Johnson to run City Hall.

None of his several relatively recent predecessors, dating back 25 years or so, was picked by a City Council as divided as this current version seems to be.

The Council’s motion to offer Johnson the job on Dec. 18 played out almost precisely as did the motion, made on June 9, to fire Steve Brocato.

Councilors Dennis Dorrah, Beverly Calder, Aletha Bonebrake and Clair Button voted to hire Johnson — and to fire Brocato.


Motorcycles, hiking and chain saws: The perfect job


The typical motorcycle has two levers on the handlebar, and one day I managed to break both of them.

Actually I’m being too modest.

Snapping off those levers required little more than an hour of basically effortless ineptitude on my part, as near as I remember.

If I’d had the whole day I might have dismantled the machine altogether, like one of those exploded view pictures they put in repair manuals so mechanics can figure out which washer goes on first.

Although to be precise I can’t claim sole credit for the damage.

The ground helped.

I didn’t, you know, grab the levers and wrench them off, as though they were turkey drumsticks.

What I did was crash the motorcycle.

But not on purpose.

This was a recurring problem for me.


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