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.
The bladder is the prankster of organs.
This stretchy sack of tissue will plod along for months, performing its simple but vital duties with unremarkable consistency.
But under more pressing circumstances the bladder can turn as sneaky as a petulant three-year-old who’s just been told she can’t have dessert.
Let’s say, by way of example, that you’re backpacking in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, and an ill-tempered August snowstorm comes up, and you’re ensconced in a clammy tent trying to stave off hypothermia until dawn, when you can actually see the trail that leads to parking lot, where there should be a pickup truck with a heater.
That’s precisely the situation in which your bladder will get up to its mischief.
My bladder will, anyway.
’m not sure what to make of the Himalayan blackberry.
Except when I happen to have a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
This temporarily clarifies the situation.
A handful of blackberries, dusted with a skim of sugar and gently
bruised with the back of a spoon to release their pungent juice, can
transform a scoop of soft serve into a dessert that’s positively
My predicament, though, has nothing to do with the various culinary
uses of the blackberry. These, ranging from cobblers to jams to
munching them fresh-plucked, are pretty much above reproach.
What I can’t figure out is whether, speaking ecologically rather than gastronomically, I’m for the fruit or against it.
The thing is, the Himalayan (also known as the Armenian) blackberry, according to biologists, is a noxious weed.
And we’re supposed to abhor those.
It’s been a strange summer in Baker County, weather-wise, but in my estimation a particularly pleasant one.
The season, should its current patterns persist clear through until
autumn, now scarcely a month away, will rank as an especially moderate
example of its kind.
This pleases me because our summers, when they diverge any great distance from average, tend to be decidedly uncomfortable.
Abnormally hot summers, for instance, annoy me because they soil what
seems to me the essential reward of this golden season. This of course
is the ability to go outdoors wearing a minimum of clothing and not
worry overmuch about whether you’ve memorized the proper remedies for
I’m troubled, albeit slightly, by a federal judge’s ruling last week
declaring California’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
But the cause for my dismay is not that Judge Vaughn Walker sided with those people who believe gay marriage should be legal.
I happen to be one of those people.
I don’t care if two people of the same gender get married.
And it bothers me not a whit if the government deems this legal
arrangement a marriage rather than a civil union or some other silly
So far as I can tell, society would do well to encourage pairs of
adults — any pair of adults — to make lifetime commitments to love one
another and to raise their children in a nurturing environment.
The greater problem in this country, it seems to me, is not that too
many people want to get married but that too many of us can’t stay
I was awakened on a recent morning, and long before dawn, by the bleating of a deer fawn, searching for its mother.
This is the sort of benign annoyance I happily endure for the privilege of sleeping so near to where deer walk.
Which is a slightly less happy circumstance, at least when the
bleating deer happens to be bleating right outside my bedroom window at
Nor did it improve my attitude that the fawn’s plaintive cries had
frightened another youngster, this one a little girl who insisted on
climbing into her parents’ bed.
I can confirm as a result that, on the spectrum of effective
sleep-deprivation techniques, a whining deer falls far short of a
three-year-old who kicks you in the shin every few seconds.
Or someplace more sensitive than the shin.
Although I suppose the fawn’s kick could cause real damage, what with the hard hooves.
The story apparently ended as I hoped it would, with a reunion of mother and offspring.
What an interesting year to run for a seat on the Baker City Council.
In the same sense, you’re perhaps thinking, that swimming across the anaconda- and piranha-infested Amazon would be interesting.
I’ll concede that serving as a councilor has of late been an experience that couldn’t reasonably be described as tranquil.
In the past 14 months the Council has:
• Fired one city manager (Steve Brocato — or, to avoid potential
confusion with city managers named Steve whose last name starts with
“B” — Steve-1); had its top choice for his successor (Tim Johnson)
first accept then reject the Council’s offer; hired a third person
(Steve Bogart, or Steve-2); who announced that he’ll resign Sept. 23.
• Endured a campaign to recall from office two of the four
councilors who voted to fire Brocato (Dennis Dorrah and Beverly Calder).