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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.


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.

The ultimate Beatles collection; and some ducks get their due

I’m something of a Beatles aficionado and so it causes me considerable shame to admit the following:

For a lamentably large number of years I believed the group’s last album was “Let it Be.”

I am not at all consoled by the fact that I recognized this error before I was old enough to drive.

Nor does it lessen my embarrassment that my mistake, besides being a common one among Beatles fans, is not, in a semantic sense, even wrong.

Misleading maps: For travelers who get around afoot, not all miles are equal

The place where we hunt elk lacks certain amenities, including, rather unfortunately, elk.

I don’t really mind, though.

A rifle is no great burden, slung over a shoulder, and I enjoy getting out in the clean air and having a look around the country on the cusp of winter.

Besides which, elk could enter the picture at any time. In theory, if not always in reality. Every hunter will tell you the elk are out there; it’s just that “there” is never where I happen to be. At least not when I have a hunting tag in my wallet.

And even if, say, a six-point bull does wander into view, it’s apt to vacate the premises before I can bring my scope to bear. Which is just as well, since I’m a lousy shot.

I don’t care what the wildlife biologists say — elk can disappear. And I mean literally disappear, not merely step behind the camouflage of a Douglas-fir. I’m talking about different dimensions, or astral planes, or whatever.

The scene of childhood bliss looks different after so many years

There is something uniquely sad about the sight of a certain sort of barnyard on the gray morning after a hard autumn rain.

This affliction does not affect outfits which have enjoyed a long and consistent run of bountiful harvests. The prosperity of such enterprises is easy to gauge from the well-tended lawn and the freshly painted buildings and the general absence of disorder and neglect.

Even these farms are not immune to grime — it’s awfully hard to grow anything edible without the occasional appearance of mud — but the mess is in the main confined to the fields. The public face of the place, what passers-by see from the road, must at all times and in all weathers present a picture of constant care.

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