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Sometimes the beaten path is the better path for the land

There’s a heap of roads in Eastern Oregon and I’ve gone the wrong way on quite a lot of them.

And sometimes even when I take the right turn I come to a bad end. Usually rocks are involved. Sometimes there are snowdrifts. Always there is profanity.

I have at any rate become accustomed to running into trouble — literally, in many cases — when I set out to cover great distances by motor vehicle without ever putting a tire on pavement.

Which goal I continue to pursue, afflicted as I am with a sort of cheerful stupidity, despite my frequent flirtations with disaster.

I strive to prepare properly for these outings. For instance I own enough maps to wallpaper my whole house. (I have in fact experimented along those lines, but my decorative efforts were rebuffed, and resoundingly, despite their obvious educational value.)

But though I grasp the basic idea behind a map, I am helpless to decipher, with any reliability, the overwhelmingly detailed guides the BLM puts out for the millions of acres it manages in the southeastern part of the state.

Honoring veterans; and breaking a vow against litigation

It seems to me not so long ago when most every Second World War veteran I met looked hale enough to still wield an M-1 Garand or drive a Sherman tank.

But that era, however near it might feel to me, has passed us all by, inevitable as the tides.

There is nothing to be gained from pretending otherwise.

Although I’ll bet some of those aging fellows still get their buck.

The math is simple, and blunt.

The war ended in August 1945.

Even allowing for those soldiers and sailors who turned the military’s flank, as regards the minimum enlistment age, it’s unlikely that any veteran is younger than 82.

Which means even those men, who probably took up a weapon before they ever handled a shaving razor, have already been defying the actuarial tables for all of half a decade.

Where's Manson? Political discourse can always use a new villain

I keep waiting for Charles Manson to get involved in politics.

Yes, the old lunatic is still around, although he doesn’t make the news much these days.

Manson is 75 now. And judging by the most recent photograph I’ve seen, he probably has to strain to achieve anything like the wild-eyed glare that earned him such infamy during his murderous heyday, when even a president, without provocation, once mentioned him during a press conference.

Yet the Manson mystique — his brand name, if you will — could still carry a certain cachet, I think, if only Charlie would cast his lot with one side or other of the political spectrum.

As a villain, Manson has few peers among the living or the dead.

And villains have rarely been as valuable, when deployed as political pawns, as they are today.

Hitler, for instance (who was, by the way, Manson’s favorite world leader), is launched so often as a propaganda missile that it’s hard for somebody who is at all deficient in partisan zealotry to figure out just whose side the fuehrer was actually on.

Or would be on were he still alive.


Feds fail to find flaws in our water, but they keep looking

Every now and again, while I’m standing in my kitchen and chugging a glass of cold tapwater, I think about the journey these refreshing ounces had recently made through many miles of concrete pipe.

I wonder whether I’m quenching my thirst with the bounty of Mill Creek or of Goodrich.

Probably this is a riddle which has no solution.

Baker City diverts water from fully a dozen streams and springs, and it all goes into a pipeline that spans more than a dozen miles between the mountains and town. I suppose that by the time the liquid flows from my faucets it’s been mixed up as thoroughly as a well-made martini.

(And as mixed up as I would be if I had just knocked back a couple of those.)

It seems to me rather wonderful that when I wish to see where my water comes from I need only look west at the forested slopes of the Elkhorns.

Global warming: I sure hope the pika pulls through

Were I asked to name my favorite animal — and I’m still waiting patiently for that particular query — the list of candidates would certainly include the American pika.

Whether this diminutive mammal — it’s about the size of a squirrel, only more adorable — would win, I can’t say.

I’m rather partial to the mountain goat, to name one competitor.

Also I have long harbored a peculiar fondness for the fisher.

I say peculiar because I’ve never actually seen a fisher, which is a sort of weasel, in the wild. It might well be that if I ever do see one I will come away feeling rather cheated, like a man who is told again and again about a certain charming woman and then, when he finally meets her, is chagrined to realize she has the personality of a bobcat that has one foot caught in a trap.

And she has bad teeth besides.

Of course it’s conceivable that I wouldn’t impress a fisher, either, were one to ever catch sight of me.

Not that I care what a fisher thinks.

Census Bureau like a nosy neighbor: annoying but harmless

I heard Lars Larson deliver quite the verbal lashing to a couple of Census Bureau workers on his radio program the other afternoon.

I was amused, but also a trifle disappointed.

Not that he’s likely to ever seek my counsel, but I’d prefer that Lars focus his prodigious persuasive abilities and piercing sarcasm on matters rather more malignant than the federal government’s once-every-decade head count.

The increasingly deft way Congress has of getting through a trillion of our dollars, for instance — a task which takes lawmakers considerably less than 10 years.

By comparison, the government asking me how many people live in my house seems an innocuous, and comparatively cheap, exercise.

Around here there’s always a perfect place, whatever the season

Spring debuted this past weekend in Baker County, on the ground if not the calendar, and I celebrated its arrival with a great burning.

Actually I just touched off the dead grass which lay in the irrigation ditch, flat as scythed hay.

This spawned a brief, but satisfyingly intense, blaze.

A little too intense, as it turned out.

I had to sprint to the shed and grab another section of hose when it looked as though the flames were going after one of the fledgling lilacs.

Except the hose, a cheap brand that probably was fashioned from the bald tires pried off some kid’s tricycle, was frozen into its coil like a winter-sluggish snake.

And was about as cooperative.

Anyway I saved the lilac.

Toyota’s travails prove no carmaker is immune to big troubles

I’m feeling pretty lucky these days. I own a Toyota that hasn’t been recalled.

Nor has it tried to gallop away on us, like a horse that sees a rattlesnake and spits the bit.

Not yet, anyway.

Although I keep expecting, as I shuffle through the day’s mail, to come across an envelope with the Toyota logo printed on it.

The rig is a 2008 FJ Cruiser. That’s Toyota’s modern version of the classic Land Cruiser FJ40 — the jeep-looking model with a white top that you used to see on TV, chasing wildebeests across a dusty African savannah while a rugged-looking man wearing khaki clutches the roll bar and narrates.

We’ve owned the FJ for two years and change and its gas pedal hasn’t got up to dickens even once. When you push it down you go faster and when you ease up you slow down. The brakes do the same (well, actually they do the opposite, sort of, but you know what I mean).

Our Toyota has in fact performed flawlessly over its 21,000 miles. Given the company’s reliability record, we expected as much.

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.

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