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Portland buildings wearing Baker County faces

I learned recently that quite a number of Portland buildings have Baker County faces, as it were.

I’m referring here to stone faces.

Specifically I’m referring to something geologists call “rhyolite breccia” but most everyone else, whose tongues are not familiar with words such as “breccia,” probably knows as “moon rock."

Half my life at the Herald, and I’m still loving it

It came to me, in one of those rare and random numerical epiphanies, that I have worked at the Baker City Herald for more than half my life.

These occasions are rare for me because numbers and I have had a troubled relationship. A long one, too, that dates to my introduction to algebra, which was roughly akin to a teenager who throws up on his date’s dress while trying to pin on a corsage before the homecoming dance.

This relationship — the math one, I mean, not soiling a poor girl’s new gown — might have contributed to the early retirement of multiple math teachers.

It certainly emptied a lot of red ink pens. Although the teachers eventually resorted to the ink-saving tactic of just scrawling a question mark next to my answers. It was as though my attempted solution to the problems veered so far from any recognizable principle that even the experts couldn’t figure out what I was trying to do.

‘Saturday Night Live’: An American institution

“Saturday Night Live” is the greatest TV show in American history.

I didn’t know, until Sunday night, that I believed this.

But then I watched NBC’s 3 1/2-hour extravaganza commemorating the program’s 40th anniversary, and was convinced of SNL’s unique position.

Actually I watched 2 1/2 hours of NBC’s 3 1/2-hour extravaganza Sunday night, and the rest later in the week.

The problem is the special started at 8 p.m. Most nights my eyes start drooping before 9 and my wife ends up nudging me and asking when did I learn to read with my eyes closed.

Kitzhaber scandal comes too late for the voters

I’ll bet Dennis Richardson wishes Oregon voters picked their governor this February instead of last November.

Possibly some of the 733,230 people who voted for Richardson’s opponent, John Kitzhaber, giving Kitzhaber an unprecedented fourth term, also regret Oregon’s electoral calendar.

The initial scandal involving Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, started a month or so before the election, but it seems almost trivial compared with the revelations of the past couple weeks.

Most of the pre-election stories focused on things Hayes did years before she met Kitzhaber.

Midwinter, and spring overtakes most of Oregon

On a date that defines the term “depths of winter,” we drove most of the way across an Oregon which seemed to have persuaded itself that spring had arrived two months early.

Until we got home to Baker County, anyway.

The date was Jan. 25.

The route was the topographic roller coaster from Salem to Baker City via Highways 22, 20, 126, 26 and 7.

The more relevant numbers, though, are 4,817, 4,720, 4,369, 5,277 and 5,124.

Those are the elevations at the summits of the major passes along the way (in order, from west to east, Santiam Pass, Ochoco Summit, Keyes Creek near Mitchell, Dixie Butte and Tipton).

A wonderful man is gone, but his legacy lingers

I was in a motel room in Meridian, Idaho, when I got the word that my brother-in-law, Bill Pennick, had been taken to the hospital after his heart stopped.

Bill died a couple days later, on Jan. 20, at Salem Memorial Hospital.

He was 41.

It seems to me not only tragic, but also ridiculous that a man who never smoked and was active and otherwise healthy should die at that age from a heart problem.

In 1898, Portland gushed over Baker City, Sumpter

Have you ever read a Portland newspaper that described Baker City this way?:

“Baker City enjoys the distinction of never having had a setback by hard times. During the late years of financial and business depression Baker City continued her steady march to the front and she has trebled her population and quadrupled her volume of trade... a large number of commercial houses carrying heavier stocks of goods than those of any other town in the state outside of Portland. The national bank there does a larger business than any other banking-house in the state outside of the metropolis.”

The same publication had this to say of Sumpter:

“Counties of Eastern Oregon can boast of no place that is more solid, sturdy and assured of a brighter future than the town of Sumpter, at the head of Sumpter valley.

“Nestling among the wooded rolling foothills of the mountains, protected from the biting winter breezes of the north, in a spot that is a veritable garden of nature, is Sumpter. Climatically the Sumpter valley is one of the favored spots of earth, summer or winter. No extreme heat or cold comes to the sheltered city.”

The newspaper is The Evening Telegram.


The dark days when nuclear war seemed certain

I’m too young to have a proper fear of the atomic bomb.

I was born in 1970 — a quarter century after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

By the late 1970s, when I was old enough to begin to comprehend such things, the threat of nuclear holocaust, though it seemed real enough in that Cold War era of the bellicose Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, had lost its immediacy and thus some of its potency.

When I was in school the experts had long since figured out that having pupils hunker beneath their desks wouldn’t help much if the Russian missiles were landing nearby.

The $15 minimum wage, and ‘Monopoly’ money

A government-mandated minimum wage of 15 bucks an hour sounds great, but when I see that figure I think of the stacks of money that come with a “Monopoly” game.

Especially those bruise-colored $500 bills.

It’s easy to insist that every worker should earn at least $15 an hour.

It’s also easy to plunk down $300 to buy Pacific Avenue.

In each case the money isn’t yours, and no dollar spends more effortlessly than the one you didn’t earn.

Winter blues: Planning summer backpacking trips

I got my flu shot this fall but I’ve been infected by a powerful seasonal virus anyway.

And no inoculation exists, so far as I know, for this affliction.

I’m obsessed with planning summer hiking trips.

That this inclination consumes me every year about this time, when our favorite trails in the Elkhorns and the Wallowas are obscured by snow and will not emerge in some cases for seven months, seems cruel.

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