Pine Creek Reservoir is the best place in the Elkhorns.
It’s one of them, anyway.
I just gutted a tenet of grammar, I know. Best is a superlative adjective and thus, technically, bestows on its subject exclusivity.
The phrase “one of the best,” then, is colloquially appropriate but linguistically clumsy — cousin to another common construction, “very unique.” Something unique, by strict definition, is one of a kind — the “very” is implicit and thus superfluous.
I don’t care.
Well, I do care about grammar and its sometimes stuffy conventions, as anyone who writes ought to care about those matters.
But the thing about the Elkhorns is that they’re so rich in places of astounding beauty, and since I can’t visit any two of them simultaneously, it seems to me reasonable to brand the place I’m visiting as the best if, while I’m there, it feels that way.
On the first morning of my first job in Baker I was late because I went to the wrong place.
This was a quarter century ago, in late June of 1989. The town was no larger and no more bustling than it is today so I can’t blame anything but my own stupidity for the mistake.
I wasn’t even driving, so traffic wasn’t a factor, either (not that traffic is ever much of a factor in getting from one place to another in Baker).
It was, though, I’d argue, a plausible bit of blundering on my part.
The job was with the Forest Service’s Baker Ranger District. At that time the ranger station was a building at the northwest corner of Pocahontas Road and 10th Street (the building is still there; it’s the Oregon State Police office now).
So that’s where I went.
What I didn’t know then is that the Forest Service owns another complex of buildings at 11th and H.
That’s where I was supposed to go.
I remember the day the man with the unusual last name phoned to tell me a fantastic tale about motorcycles and Baker City.
His name is Eric Folkestad.
I’d have remembered that, more than eight years later, if I remembered nothing else.
I asked him to spell Folkestad.
Later I asked him to spell it twice more so I could be sure I hadn’t swapped the “l” and the “k” or misplaced the “e.”
I was so worried about botching his last name I nearly forgot to ask him the equally vital question about his first name.
Nobody on the cable show “Finding Bigfoot” can actually find Bigfoot, but they can, apparently, move an entire volcano a couple hundred miles.
Which seems to me even more implausible than the notion that an unidentified bipedal primate has been slinking around the forests of the Northwest for decades yet not one has been clipped by a Camry on the freeway.
Wolves can’t even avoid that fate, and wolves are more nimble than any biped.
I watch “Finding Bigfoot.”
I would describe this as a guilty pleasure except I don’t get a great deal of pleasure from the experience.
Exactly one century ago from Saturday, the world changed in a way it never had before.
Perhaps it is hyperbolic to deem June 28, 1914, the most momentous day in human history.
But if this indeed qualifies as exaggeration then it is
of the mildest variety — the antithesis of, say, referring to “You
Light Up My Life” as the best song of the 1970s simply because it sold
the most records.
What happened on that day, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, a city
little known outside Europe, is a frail teenager named Gavrilo Princip
fired a pistol into a car.
Princip’s bullets killed two people: Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie.
Franz Ferdinand was the nephew of Franz Joseph, emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The federal government does a pretty fair job of making sure our soldiers, when they fight on our behalf, have cartridges for their rifles and shells for their artillery.
But after the battles, when these men and women get sick, they often don’t get so much as a “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” from our supposedly grateful nation.
The widespread failures of the U.S. Veterans Administration, and in particular its medical care apparatus, are of course appalling.
People who don’t even work, much less risk their lives carrying out our country’s policies, will be sitting in a doctor’s office maybe a day or two after they notice the symptoms.
Veterans, meanwhile, wait a month.
If they’re lucky.
In Oregon, by and large, veterans are not even that fortunate.
I had a baseball glove and a ball and a bat and just down the block there was a grassy field smooth enough that only rarely would a grounder take a nasty hop and smack you in the nose.
But none of those things made me a baseball player.
Or want to be a baseball player.
You need a dad for that.
And not just any dad.
You need a dad, like my dad, who can wield a glove with his left hand and a bat with his right, hit a ground ball, catch the return throw, flick the ball out of the glove and rap another roller with just enough speed to test your mettle.
I own two vehicles, which have between them 12 forward gears.
Not so long ago you needed three or four rigs to get that many transmission cogs, but such is progress.
The unusual thing about my modest fleet, though, isn’t the gearbox tally — showrooms abound these days with 7-, 8- and 9-speed transmissions — but rather the type.
Both are manuals, which is to say stickshifts.
It used to be you could tell oftentimes what kind of transmission a car had without wriggling onto the floor to count the pedals, which can give you a crick in the neck. Or worse, if you rise up too fast and whack your forehead on the fuse block.
If the shift lever poked out from the floor, the transmission almost certainly was a manual.
But if the lever jutted from the right side of the steering column, the odds were better than even that it was an automatic.
Baker County Assessor Kerry Savage has created a spreadsheet that makes you wish you had owned a home here since 1970.
Although it’s quite likely, I’ll concede, that you already felt this way and need no spreadsheet to confirm your feelings.
Measured as a long-term investment, this theoretical house reminds me of those intriguing stories — some of which have the not minor advantage of being true — of people who had the foresight, or the dumb luck, to pick up a few thousand shares of stock in, say, IBM back when most people thought a microprocessor was a very small person who helped you apply for a bank loan.
Savage’s spreadsheet shows the market values of the various categories of real estate in the county — residential, farm, forest, etc. — for each year dating to 1970.
Like all such documents, it seemed to me at first glance indecipherable.
Also at the second glance, after which I had to plead to Savage for help.
I had the worst vacation of my life last week.
And the best.
On the negative side of the ledger I list the common ailments of a manual laborer whose skill with even basic hand tools is so meager as to be dangerous to passers-by.
I refer here to myself.
I tweaked a tendon or a ligament or anyway some part of my right wrist while shoveling gravel into a wheelbarrow.
I gashed my left arm on a section of plastic fencing whose ends ought to have been labeled “Ginsu.”
I almost glued two fingers together.
(My own fingers, fortunately.)
Yet the aches dissipated, and with a speed no salve or balm could match, the instant on Friday, May 16 when I glanced over at the new playground in Geiser-Pollman Park and saw that children were climbing every ladder and careening down every slide.