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We don’t have many votes, but we use them

Another campaign has passed and Baker County’s electoral voice barely nudged the decibel meter.


We were, as is customary, thwarted in several statewide races by the much more densely populated counties on the wet and windward side of the Cascades.

The numbers loom as an insurmountable electoral obstacle. It has been so since maybe the second or third decade after statehood in 1859, a period when gold miners briefly made Baker County made one of the more thickly settled counties.

Today, with 9,924 registered voters, our county accounts for less than one half of 1 percent of Oregon’s total.

(0.453 percent, if you’re not into the whole numerical brevity thing.)

Regional Theatre revives radio, but on the stage

The Internet hasn’t ruined radio but it has robbed the airwaves of much of their mystique.

Including the static.

Which for some listeners is no great loss, I suppose.

Except static is part of the personality of radio — an annoying part, perhaps, but an element which gives radio a sort of organic richness that distinguishes the medium from the robotic coldness of the microprocessor.

An actual radio, as opposed to one of the Internet radio services, requires a subtle, human touch that computers, in general, do not.

If Kitzhaber isn’t vulnerable, is any D in Oregon?

The Oregon governor’s race, previously as dull as a “Golden Girls” marathon, has been jolted to life by scandal.

I’m certainly more curious than I was a month ago.

This isn’t because I think incumbent John Kitzhaber will lose.

I believe Oregonians will give Kitzhaber, a Democrat, an unprecedented fourth term.

Legalizing pot: An embattled weasel says ‘yes’

I don’t go in for conspiracy theories — except ones involving suppression of evidence proving Bigfoot is real — but I’m intrigued by the timing of the federal government’s proposal to list the American fisher as a threatened or endangered species.

The fisher, in case you’ve not come across one (and except in a zoo, you probably haven’t) is a type of weasel that was prized by trappers in the 19th and early 20th centuries for its luxurious pelt.

Not surprisingly, given the prevalence of trappers in that era, there aren’t many fishers around these days.

If you haven’t seen a picture, imagine a diminutive wolverine — cute, albeit in a weasly way, but no doubt quite capable of inflicting grievous damage if you tried to cuddle one as if it’s a kitten.

The gift of a good book: The magic never ends

The words hand-printed in blue ink on the inside cover of the book have faded some over the 35 years since they were written, but their magic remains.

There is at least a dollop of magic, I believe, in every book.

But this particular book, a paperback copy of “The Incredible Journey” by Sheila Burnford which looks not so much dog-eared but as though an actual dog had given it a couple of half-hearted chews, is more magical than most in my library.

It was a gift, given to me at Christmas 1979 by my cousin, Leanne.

She recorded these facts with the blue ink I mentioned earlier.

Fine line between good Samaritan and tattletale

Distinguishing between a good Samaritan and a nosy buttinsky tattletale is not always easy.

Consider a recent case from South Sister mountain near Bend. This dormant volcano, one of a cluster of glacier-clad mountains that dominate Central Oregon’s western skyline, is Oregon’s third-highest peak at 10,358 feet.

South Sister is noteworthy not only because it’s tall, but because it’s easy to climb.

“Climb,” in fact, exaggerates the endeavor.

The trip to the top is more aptly described as a hike.

Internet obsession, and Eugene’s torrid summer

In the dim and distant past, before man had Tweeted, before the culinary magicians had impregnated pizza crust with not only cheese but cheese and bacon, I lived a simple life.

Simpler, anyway.

It occurred to me the other evening, when I very nearly ruptured a neck muscle reaching for my smartphone to check a football score while I was in bed, that my obsession with the Internet’s instant information is not altogether healthy.

And not only for my trapezius.

My complaint is a common one, of course, in these days of wi-fi ubiquity and powerful computers smaller than one of those Casio calculator watches the smartest kid in your high school was always fiddling with during algebra II.

Bomb threat raises easy, and difficult, questions


A bomb threat on a school day at Baker Middle School qualifies as news under any reasonable definition of that word.

We didn’t hesitate, when we heard on the police radio scanner that officers were searching the building around 7 o’clock the morning of Sept. 9, to talk to police, gather as much accurate information as we could and then post a story on both our website, www.bakercityherald.com, and on our Facebook page.

With about 255 students affected — some already eating breakfast at the First Presbyterian Church just south of the school, and others set to show up in less than an hour — this was obviously vital information for quite a lot of local families.

Fortunately this incident ended as most of them do — there was no bomb.

Students, who had been taken by bus to Baker High School, were back at BMS by 8:30 a.m.

No one was hurt.


A document reveals Baker County in its youth

It is a rare and pleasant occasion when someone brings to my office an historical document so rich in compelling detail that almost instantly on opening it I forget that I’m surrounded by the microchip-laden devices that define our era.

Kim Lethlean gave me a copy of just such a record recently.

Lethlean, who lives in Baker City, has a keen interest in local history — particularly mining history, as his family owns the Virtue mine.

The Virtue, a hard-rock gold mine in the arid sagebrush hills about six miles east of Baker City, plays an outsized role in the city’s story.

When its early owners, among them Col. J.S. Ruckel, realized there wasn’t enough water near the mine to process its ore, they decided, rather than dig a ditch as was customary in those days, that it would be simpler to haul the ore to where the water is.

Specifically, to the Powder River.

Book examines virtues, vices of our freeways

When I stand in my driveway, and if the weather is fair, I can look east and see trucks climbing the Campbell Street on-ramp leading to Interstate 84.

Even when fog or a snow squall obscures the view I can still hear the diesel engines, as Bob Seger put it in the greatest rock song about life on tour, “moaning out their one-note song.”

Although the big rigs seem in fact rather small, and their noise is subdued at the distance of a mile and a half.

It’s a familiar scene, and sound, and as such I rarely notice either except at the subconscious level.

But I recently read a book that reminded me how significant that freeway, and that view, are.

Indeed the road’s presence represents a reality that would have seemed miraculous, were it believed possible at all, little more than half a century ago.

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