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Home arrow Opinion arrow Columns

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.


Once again the hunter returns, humbled by a bunch of birds


The point when you know, beyond all doubt, that you’re the worst wingshooter alive is when a fleeing bird slows right after you’ve fired at it.

And I mean “at it” in the theoretical rather than the literal sense.

It’s as if the bird, having recognized that the person wearing the vest with a recoil patch is about as malignant as a kangaroo rat, is curious to see how wildly astray the next wad of pellets will fly.

This is, of course, a dangerous habit for a chukar to indulge in.

The odds are good that the next hunter who comes along will pose a rather more immediate threat.

Actually the odds are better than that — 100 percent, not to put too fine a point on it.

In my hands a 12-gauge is not so much a weapon as it is a noisemaker that litters lead.

Although I suppose I could inflict grievous wounds on a bird by clubbing it with the shotgun’s butt, if only the bird would sit still for a moment and let me get my feet set.


Baker is aging, gracefully


Baker City never seems to me quite so old as it does around Christmas.

I mean this in a good way.

With rare exceptions such as fine wine, advanced age is associated with an inexorable deterioration in utility, vigor and appearance, whether the object is animate or not.

Both cars and people, for instance, tend to accumulate sludge in their circulatory systems as their mileage rises. This comparison doesn’t hold up, of course — you can sometimes cure a balky fuel injector by simply pouring a bottle of additive into your gas tank; fixing a clogged artery is a rather more ticklish task, and not one you’d be wise to tackle with that tool set you got at Sears for 59 bucks.

Anyway, the sense of age I’m talking about, as regards our city, is more clearly expressed with a different analogy.

The notion I’m getting at is akin to the way the face of an elderly person can attain a peculiar beauty, when its wrinkles are clearly the brands left by a lifetime of smiles. The sight pleases our hearts as much as our eyes; we feel the welcome weight of many decades of love and laughter, and bask in their kind warmth.


Christmas tradition: Battling the boiling brittle


I must confess: I overdosed on peanut brittle.

Again.

Well, actually, I prefer almond brittle, and even then I seek out the shards without any nuts.

And when you’re the one pulling the molten candy across a greased surface, it’s easy to “make” these nutless pieces.

I blame my aunts, Betty Braswell and Evie Plankinton, for my addiction to this wonderful sweet.

The recipe, smudged with years and years of candy-making, came from Aunt Evie. Aunt Betty was the one who decided peanut (and almond) brittle would make a wonderful addition to the holiday baskets she delivers to family and friends.

Near as we can figure, it was 17 years ago that we — my cousin, Emily,  Aunt Betty’s friend Connie Howerton and me — first spent a few hours pulling brittle.

Let me explain the process, for those of you who have never made this candy.


In a world full of conformists, Don Clark always stood out


When I think of Don Clark I think first of him standing in a college football stadium, surrounded by people clad in clothes bearing the vibrant colors of their school.

Don is wearing a brown coverall.

Which is neither vibrant nor, so far as I know, a color affiliated with any college’s athletic teams.

It might have been a Carhartt, that coverall.

The garment certainly gave the impression, at a glance, of being a Carhartt.

Although I don’t believe the company has patented that particular loamy shade which is its trademark.

Possibly Don himself didn’t know on that chilly October evening in Pullman, Wash., whether he was, as they put it in the high-fashion business, “wearing Carhartt.”

(As in, the model is “wearing Dior.” Whenever I hear that grammatical construction I envision a waifish woman lurching along the runway with Christian himself riding horseyback.)


Obama’s perch on the fence might be the best place for America

President Obama, as I understand the situation, is too cautious as a war leader to suit conservatives, yet too bellicose to gain the favor of liberals.

This puts the president pretty near where I’d like him to be.

Quite a lot of Obama’s critics have accused him, since his speech last week, of that most overused metaphor. He’s sitting on the fence, they say, unwilling or unable to commit to one course of action.

Well I don’t think there’s anything much wrong with fences, or with sitting on one when you want to get a look around from a slightly elevated vantage point.

I happen to believe the president is correct in concluding that America’s military has vital work yet to do in Afghanistan, and that some of those tasks, once completed, will help to protect Americans.

For instance, we ought to afford the Afghans a chance to reward themselves with those gifts we cannot give them no matter how many lives or dollars we sacrifice on their behalf: a stable government and a society that is sterile ground for the likes of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.


Why bother with toys? A simple tree captures a toddler’s attention

Went to the woods Saturday to saw down the year’s Christmas tree, and by Sunday afternoon the house was infused with the pleasantly earthy scent of fresh fir.

So was a little girl’s blonde hair.

We expected of course that Olivia would be intrigued by the sudden appearance of a 7-foot conifer in her living room.

She is, I should mention, 2 1/2.

And at 2fi your sense of cynicism is so stunted that pretty much everything that happens to you is intriguing.

Olivia raises the alarm when she notices irregularities much less conspicuous than a tree — a single cracker crumb on the kitchen floor, for instance.


Mad at the police? Wise to confine your fighting to the courtroom

Some people seem to think police officers should be capable of feats that would amaze David Copperfield and Doug Henning.

I just want cops to arrest, as quickly and painlessly as possible, anybody who poses a threat to innocent people.

People like me, for instance.

Not everyone is satisfied with that simple standard, though.

They expect police to not merely apprehend suspected lawbreakers, but to always do so in a way that doesn’t look, you know, violent when you see it on a grainy black-and-white videotape.

That is a pleasant thought.


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