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Home arrow Opinion arrow Columns

Waylaid again by those garden catalogs

Along about the middle of December they begin barging in, mocking the snow and upsetting the tranquility of our winter household.

Garden catalogs.

These thin pamphlets, crammed with glossy color photos of plants that are almost obscenely healthy, can distract me for as long as an hour from more worthwhile pursuits, such as napping or watching football.

After even a brief bit of browsing I can become overwhelmed by the compulsion to go dig a hole and plant a hybrid poplar, or perhaps a paper birch. That such a task is impractical — even if I scraped away the snow the frozen ground would be no more receptive to a shovel blade than asphalt — seems not to matter.

The photographs alone, showing trees in full leaf against backdrops of blue sky, affect me much as a balmy afternoon in March does. I can feel the  warmth of sunshine bathing my neck, the soft grit of fecund soil clinging to my fingers.

But the writing is powerful, too, in spite of its flowery tone and over-reliance on adjectives and exclamation points.

My natural skepticism, which is usually quite keen when it comes to detecting, and dismissing, outlandish claims that come by mail, dissolves when I read about the clever tricks the horticulturists have been up to with their gene-splicing and grafting.


No one asked, but I’ve got a suggestion for that stimulus package

The federal government is getting ready to write another 12-digit check, ostensibly to benefit the taxpayers. Which is to say you and me, who will of course subsidize this endeavor whether we brand it as brilliance or folly. If I were a shopkeeper I’m not sure I’d accept this as legal tender, though, even if the feds can produce two pieces of ID.

So far as I can tell the account lacks overdraft protection. It certainly hasn’t any taxpayer protection, and yet I’m certain the creditors, in a pinch, will be able to acquire our addresses as readily as the IRS can.

I suppose I ought to feel thankful that the people we elected have decided it’s time to return to us, in some fashion, a portion of the money they’ve taken. But I can’t muster much gratitude.


Molding a reader, one story after another

“In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of — the cow jumping over the moon...”

I’ll spare you the entire story of the classic “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown — but just know that I can recite it, word for word, from memory.

We received this book as a gift upon the birth of our daughter, Olivia. She didn’t really take an interest in it until she was about 14 months, and ever since we have read it before naptime and bedtime. (She’s now 19 months old and says “Moon! Moon!” when it’s time for bed).

It’s a wonderful book, and I haven’t yet felt the need to hide it or throw it away (by the number of books in our house, it’s apparent that we never throw books away).

That, however, is not the case with some other stories. One in particular is “Little Quack’s New Friend.”


A warm front plays a prank on predictors, professional and otherwise

Baker Valley battled the invaders with rare courage, stubbornly resisting even as its allies fell, one after another, before the mild onslaught.

But the juggernaut of slush was irresistible.

Surrounded and vanquished, its situation hopeless, the valley at last laid down its thermometers and surrendered to the meteorological inevitability.

Which is to say it warmed up around here Wednesday morning.

Finally.

Warm fronts bluster into our mountain valley pretty regularly during winter, and predicting their snow-softening progress requires little in the way of scientific prowess.

This I appreciate, as my knowledge of science is, well, limited. (Which is akin to saying that Baker County is limited in its allotment of tide pools.)

Except sometimes the jet stream plays a prank.

The trick the atmosphere pulled off earlier this week was clever indeed, making fools not only of amateur prognosticators like me, but also the professionals from the National Weather Service.


Government protects pupils, but allows a chain-saw free for all

I used to think, as I suspect most people do, that a chain saw posed a greater threat to eyesight than a contact lens does.

Recent events have forced me to reconsider the comparative danger of the two items.

The thing is, it’s easier nowadays to procure a chain saw — or for that matter pretty much any powered implement with sharp metal pieces that spin really fast — than it is to replace the contact lens you washed down the drain.

Or snapped in half, as I did last Saturday.

I was cleaning the lens, too, which amplified my frustration.

Few things annoy me as completely as preventive maintenance that backfires.

It’s like changing the oil in your car and then blowing a piston because you forget to tighten the drain plug.


A Marine reminds us that even amateur poetry can possess power

It’s all too easy to sulk these days, so dire are the dispatches which daily pummel even the casual consumer of news.

The news business depends on bad tidings, of course — the assorted awfulness that afflicts our world is as essential to the media as forage is to the cattle rancher.

People complain that they’re bludgeoned by this onslaught of negativity but I think they’d miss it if went away altogether. We are, most of us, attracted by stories of disaster and despair — mainly, I suspect, because they remind us that no matter how rotten we thought things were going for us, we’re better off than those poor people who were just on TV.

This is at best a meager and brief sort of solace, but accept it.

The tenor of things has turned particularly pessimistic, it seems to me, during the second half of 2008.

There has been but little respite since the start of summer. First fuel prices rose to unprecedented heights, then the housing and financial markets sunk to levels unimaginable mere months before.


Remembering Jeff Rogers

If you read the obituaries in Friday’s Baker City Herald you will know that Jeff Rogers died last Tuesday.  You might also have noted that he delivered newspapers for the Baker City Herald.

What you might not have known, unless you knew Jeff, was that he was a special kind of guy — the sort you just don’t come across often anymore.

For as long as I’ve known him, Jeff had battled kidney disease and its complications. Most people would accept that having a chronic disease, and the frequent dialysis and doctors appointments that accompanied it, would end working at any job.

But Jeff was not most people.


Bass Pro Shops gift runs into a minor snag

Bass Pro Shops sent me a Christmas gift, which struck me as a pretty thoughtful gesture considering it’s been at least a year since I hooked a bass.

And I landed that smallmouth without the assistance of any of Bass Pro Shops’ quality products.

They didn’t pay me to write that.

Truth be told, I’ve never bought anything from the company. Not even a little bag of those black rubber worms. I’ve heard bass go for those worms almost every time. Although I suppose if you’re a famished bass there is only one time, unless you come across an angler who believes in catch-and-release. That’s the bad thing about being a fish — the likelihood that your last meal is fake.

Well, that and all the swimming.

Anyway I felt guilty as soon as I opened the envelope and read the letter from Bass Pro Shops announcing, and here I’m quoting: “We are pleased to enclose your 2009 Bass Pro Shops Media Discount Card for catalog or retail purchases.”

With all those capital letters I knew right off this was a heck of a lot better present than a Chia Pet.

Except maybe for Chia Scooby Doo.

Bass Pro Shops even spelled my name right, both on the letter’s salutation line and on the discount card (I mean Discount Card). That’s a feat rare enough that it qualifies as its own little stocking-stuffer.


Oregon cleans up on poker, and other matters involving hands

I’ve been aware for some years that the government harbors what seems to me an unhealthy fascination with my life.

And with yours.

(I mention this only to avoid implying that there’s anything special about my life that has attracted the government’s attention. There isn’t. My exploits are, in fact, rather routine.)

Still, I was taken aback to learn that the government’s curiosity about our habits extends even to the proper care of our hands.

This has got me a little worried.

I haven’t analyzed my lathering technique in a while, for instance.

And I’m pretty sure I don’t scrub with anything like the violence necessary to dislodge every germ.


Bend might be worthy of bypassing, but its beauty has endured

A couple decades ago you could bypass Bend if you wanted to, except you never did.

In most years during the 1980s my family traveled east every Thanksgiving from our home in Stayton, over the North Santiam River and through the Cascades to Sunriver, where we rented a house for the long weekend.

Back then Bend was small enough that the one main route through town — Highway 97 — was sufficient to handle even heavy holiday traffic. There were an awful lot of signals, sure, but the delays were of a tolerable duration.

If anything, the brief interlude as we traversed Bend only heightened my sense of anticipation for Sunriver and its fabulous (to a kid and, occasionally, to an orthopedist) sledding hills and sleeping lofts. I remember how my heart would beat a little faster when our car cleared the last intersection and the roadside pines appeared and the sign for the High Desert Museum loomed out of the darkness (it was almost always dark, because we left after school on the day before the holiday).


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