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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bacon magicians have gone too far.
I write this with regret.
(And a rill of saliva running down my chin.)
I hesitate even to suggest that anyone can love bacon too much.
Cardiologists no doubt would disagree, but those killjoys disdain all processed meats.
The problem is that entrepreneurs want to use the essence of bacon, rather than actual bacon, to sell products you can’t even eat.
Or shouldn’t try to eat, anyway.
I have a connection to Marcus Mariota that no one else has.
This is, I admit, a grandiose claim. But I make it with supreme confidence.
I don’t mean to suggest that I am acquainted with Mariota, the quarterback at the University of Oregon, my alma mater, who on Saturday won the Heisman trophy as college football’s most outstanding player.
I’ve never met Mariota.
Almost certainly I never will meet him.
For some months we had confined our 3-year-old son, Max, to his bedroom after dark by wedging a sturdy plastic gate between the door jambs.
I never felt quite right about this despite the necessity.
(Besides which I was prone to pinching a finger in the thing.)
The gate seemed to me the sort of tactic you would employ with a puppy you don’t trust not to soil the carpet and chew up the sofa.
Max, so far as I know, has not gone after the furniture with his teeth.
Your most boring day can become a family heirloom, more valuable than any diamond.
But only if you write down the details, however banal they might seem at the time.
The passage of decades transforms the routine and forgettable rituals of life into memories that provoke laughter and tears.
I’m referring, as you’ve no doubt figured out, to a diary.
With rare exceptions — Anne Frank’s being the obvious example — diaries have very few readers.