Along about the middle of December they begin barging in, mocking the
snow and upsetting the tranquility of our winter household.
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.
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
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.
“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.”
Baker Valley battled the invaders with rare courage, stubbornly
resisting even as its allies fell, one after another, before the mild
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
Which is to say it warmed up around here Wednesday morning.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 sent me a Christmas gift, which struck me as a pretty
thoughtful gesture considering it’s been at least a year since I hooked
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.
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.
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
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
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).