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Bicycle and beer bottle caps: All a boy needs


When I was a kid the ingredients for a perfect day were a bicycle, a Hardy Boys book and some bottle caps.

Although I could get by with just the bike and the book.

The bottle caps were sort of a bonus — akin to getting two hits in a Little League game and then heading straight to Dairy Queen for a butterscotch sundae.

(As a light-hitting infielder, such a feat was about as rare for me as a Willamette Valley blizzard.)

The era of the bottle cap, at least as an attraction for a kid with time to burn, ended so far as I can tell somewhere around the Reagan administration, but whether its demise was gradual or sudden I can’t say.

I am writing here specifically of beer bottle caps.


A mechanical klutz, afraid of his dishwasher


The list of skills I wish I had is longer than many novels, and at its top are the ability to build things and to fix stuff that gets busted or stops working.

I don’t mean complicated things, like brains or nuclear reactors or jet aircraft.

I know how modest my limits are.

But aside from the occasional triumph of swapping a car’s starter, or assembling a stone wall that’s still standing after several years, my attempts at building and fixing even relatively simple items usually end with profanity and, frequently, a minor but painful flesh wound.

(Fortunately to my own flesh, most generally.)

I’m sufficiently self-aware, though, to realize that even my successful exploits, besides being rare, mainly result either from dumb luck or from the task being so simple that most fifth-graders could pull it off.

(And I mean no disrespect to fifth-graders.)


Feeling the pressure to put Baker in best light


I spent an hour or so on the phone the other day trying to explain what sort of town Baker City is.

This is not as easy as you might think.

At least not when the conversation feels more like an interrogation.

The man who called said he and his wife are considering buying a home in Baker City.

Of several towns they’ve visited, Baker City is by a large margin their favorite, he told me.

But he still has questions.

A whole lot of questions.


Taco Bell’s genius; and Sam Bass has a big fan


How many ways can you think of to combine ground beef, refried beans, various forms of cheese, and sour cream?

Not as many as Taco Bell can.

Probably it’s not even close.

The fast food giant employs people whose creativity with taco shells and tortillas is boundless.

(I don’t know what to call these people, but “chef” just doesn’t sound appropriate for a business for which, it seems to me, the ultimate culinary achievement is to offer the most calories per dollar.)


Outdoors can be a tough place for headphones


Somewhere along about the mid 80s headphones broke out of the home, and although they occasionally slink back inside they’ve never been quite the same since.

They’ve become disposable, for one thing.

Not by design, to be sure, in the manner of a diaper or a coffee filter.

If used as headphones traditionally were used — to listen to “Dark Side of the Moon” while you’re sprawled out on a waterbed, for instance — even the flimsiest set could last for years.

But modern headphones, which must be small and light because we expect them to deliver our music and our podcasts and our audiobooks while we jog and pedal and rappel off the north face of the Eiger, simply can’t withstand the rigors of the iPod, cross-training world for long.

Although you don’t even need to be especially energetic to destroy a set.


In Baker County, history groans, clatters, bangs


The train pulled out of the depot in a grudging way, building speed with a series of jerks and pulls that few modern machines can mimic.

Not that they’re intended to.

The engineers still rely largely on internal combustion to move us around, of course, but they’ve pretty much sheltered from us the explosive nature of the technology.

Cars, for instance, don’t rumble much anymore.

Most models emit instead an inoffensive whir, rather like a sewing machine.


Snowballs, an alleged rape, double standards


Is a real snowball fight worse than an alleged rape?

I pose the question not because I expect anybody will answer it.

My point, rather, is to illustrate how America’s obsession with athletes can contribute to situations that would be laughable if they were fiction.

Except they’re real, depressingly so.


Fake trees might fool the eyes, but not the nose


The traditional Christmas is under assault, and I fear the wounds will be mortal.

A cherished symbol of the holiday is being replaced by the ersatz concoctions of the chemists, who would swap the wild beauty of the snowbound forest for the antiseptic creation of the test tube.

If the genuine Christmas tree can’t survive then I fear the season’s decline in other areas is inevitable.

I can foresee the year when Muzak drowns out Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby on the hi-fi, when the celebratory dinner begins with dad plunging his carving knife not into a succulent turkey breast but into a glistening glob of tofu.


In a season of giving, don’t forget cats and dogs

By Carmen Ott

My name is Carmen Ott and I am a member of Best Friends of Baker Inc. I became involved with Best Friends of Baker in May 2005. I never realized how important it was to become involved with the rescue of cats and dogs in Baker County until I was asked to foster a dog.

Since that first dog, my husband and I have taken more than 200 dogs and cats into our home and fostered them from days to weeks and even months until they were ready to be adopted and placed in “forever” homes. 

As we sit here tonight in our warm home, we watch “Cole,” a young rescued pup as he sleeps with a full stomach and a clean bed, wondering how he would have survived the past four weeks had he not been rescued from Old Auburn Road. It makes us ask, “what makes people dump puppies, kittens, dogs and cats out in the cold without food, water or a warm place to sleep?” If you cannot keep a pet or need help finding a home for it, please ask for help from Best Friends of Baker before dumping it.

Best Friends of Baker is alive and well even though the past four years have been extremely difficult. The economy has taken its toll on Best Friend’s membership and finances. The donations are down, yet the demands of animal rescues have increased.

We are now dealing with pets whose owners have lost their homes, jobs and have no place to take their pets. People cannot afford to feed their family members and pets, so the pet must go, whether it is out on the street to be picked up by the police and taken to the impound facility, killed on the highways and freeways, or dumped at the end of lanes near farms and ranches to starve and freeze to death, or become a meal for cougars, coyotes, owls and eagles in the mountains.

Best Friends of Baker assists with the rescue and adoption placement of  surrendered family pets, stray cats and dogs and unclaimed dogs in the impound facility so that they do not have to face euthanasia.  These animals are placed in the few foster homes we have or are boarded until a foster home opens up or they find a “forever home.”

 Best Friends of Baker could care for more animals if they had more foster homes. Best Friends needs foster homes for large and small dogs and especially homes for cats and kittens. There are just two foster homes for cats at this time. Consequently many cats and kittens are not helped. They will starve and freeze to death because there is no place for them. Best Friends of Baker provides food, beds, bowls, collars and leashes for each animal so there is minimal cost to the foster home. The main requirement is the means to house the animal and to provide love and care for the animal until it is adopted.

 Best Friends of Baker has been rescuing animals since 1986; it was incorporated in 1989 when it became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. There are a lot of animals out there that need to be rescued. They do not deserve to die because there is nobody to provide care. Best Friends of Baker has rescued more than 2,000 cats and dogs from Baker County since 2005. We look to others in Baker County to continue to support and assist us to re-home, rescue, spay/neuter, vaccinate, treat medically, provide food, protect from abuse and neglect and find a “forever home.”

If you care, please remember that Best Friends is here to help. You can make a financial donation with a check to Best Friends of Baker, Inc., P.O. Box 183, Baker City, OR 97814.  You can make food donations for cats, kittens, puppies and adult dogs. You can make a memorial to someone who has passed away or make a donation as a personal gift to a loved one. Tax season is just around the corner. If you are looking for a donation for the end of 2013, please remember, Best Friends of Baker needs your support. 

If you cannot afford to make a monetary donation, perhaps you can provide a foster home which can make a difference in caring for an animal. The time spent in a foster home can make the difference in whether the animal lives and is adopted or dies because there is no place for it to be safe until it can be adopted. 

I have had two cancers and yet I continue to care about the animals in Baker County. My wellness and strength comes from giving myself to these animals. “My passion and compassion comes from within. I live because I give. I give because it makes me live.”

Please check out our newspaper ads, Petfinder.com and the Best Friends of Baker website to see the wonderful cats and dogs that are looking for “forever homes.”

 “He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog.  You are his life, his love, his leader.  He will be yours, faithful and true to the last beat of his heart.  You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”

— Author unknown

 Thank you for your support.


When the mountains were feared, not beloved

Like most towns Baker City lies in a valley, but this place, it seems to me, is defined by its mountains.

I use the possessive form here because cities tend to have a palpable pride of ownership in the peaks visible from their streets.

When you are blessed with mountains, and in particular with a truly imposing range such as the Elkhorns, you might as well flaunt them. And so we do, on T-shirts and postcards and coffee mugs among quite a lot of other items.

Nor is this trait peculiar to places of modest size.

Portland bills itself as the Rose City, but there can be no quarrel that its true icon is Mount Hood.

Hood’s volcanic sibling to the north, Mount Rainier, fulfills an equally symbolic role for Seattle.

Baker City’s affections are not so singular.

Our mountains more resemble the Rockies than the Cascades, which is to say there are long ridges from which an occasional peak juts, as opposed to the Cascades’ solitary, but spectacular, fire mountains.

We harbor perhaps a special love for the Elkhorns because they are so near to the west, forming a sedimentary wall that casts its shadow clear across the valley.

But we lay claim as well to the more distant, but indisputably magnificent, Wallowas, which sprawl over the whole of the northeastern horizon.

I have been thinking recently of mountains, and the way we feel about them, after reading Robert Macfarlane’s book “Mountains of the Mind.”

Macfarlane, a British travel writer and mountain climber, wrote the book a decade ago. I managed somehow to avoid the volume for all those years although I relish travelogues of all sorts, and in particular ones dealing with mountains and people who climb them.

(I would like nothing more than to be a travel writer but am afflicted by the insurmountable handicaps of never really going anywhere, or doing anything interesting when I get there.)

The gist of Macfarlane’s book is that modern society’s veneration of mountains, their purple majesty and all that, is, well, modern.

Until around the start of the 19th century many people at least feared, and in many cases acutely loathed, some of the world’s greatest mountain ranges.

Macfarlane, being a European, devotes much of his book to the Alps.

He writes of 17th century travelers whose descriptions of crossing Alpine passes bear a decidedly Tolkien flavor. These accounts, largely taken from contemporary diaries or journals, lament the frightful precipices, the awful blizzards, the utter absence of civilization.

You have a sense that these writers, if they actually believed such creatures as dragons exist, would not have been altogether surprised to come across one in the icy wastelands of Mont Blanc.

Macfarlane explains how science, and especially the budding field of geology, contributed to a wholesale reversal in our opinions about mountains.

Pioneering geologists such as the Scotsman James Hutton, and Charles Lyell, a Briton, came to recognize that by studying mountains and glaciers they could understand how the Earth’s surface had been formed — and moreover, reformed — over the eons.

Their writings encouraged people, most of whom were not scientists, to have a look for themselves.

When they left the sanctity of the valleys and they saw for the first time such awe-inspiring sights as the Mer de Glace or the Italian Dolomites, these visitors stopped worrying about ogres and started thinking about building chalets and cog railroads.

By the middle of the 19th century the Alps were, to the British aristocracy, what Vail and Sun Valley are to modern America’s upper class.

Writers and poets waxed rhapsodic about the sublime spectacles among the peaks.

Doctors touted the pure air as the ideal antidote for Londoners’ soot-stained lungs.

Alpinists, most of them Englishmen, breached summits long thought impregnable. In July 1865 Edward Whymper of London led a party to the top of the most famous peak of all, the Matterhorn.

(Although four of the seven climbers plunged to their deaths on the descent. Whymper and two others were saved when the rope connecting all the climbers snapped.)

Macfarlane’s book intrigued me because I can’t imagine standing in my yard, watching a snow squall sweep across the face of Elkhorn Peak, and feeling anything but ebullient at my good fortune to have such beauty so accessible.

That I might dread the mountains is a concept so foreign as to be beyond my ken.

Yet there was much in “Mountains of the Mind” that seemed familiar.

In particular I felt a kinship with those of Macfarlane’s subjects whose love of the mountains is broad and complex, who are equally entranced by sunlight exploding off a glacier’s surface and by the immensity of time represented in a band of layered stone.

Sometimes when I look at the Elkhorns I see them as objects to ogle. Science seems a minor matter in that moment when the alpenglow slides its pink brush across the slopes, at dawn of a January day when the temperature has plummeted below zero.

At other glances I am overwhelmed by the colossal scale, both in size and in time, that the mountains represent.

I ponder the forces required to move slabs of tropical seafloor thousands of miles — the great upheavals that elevated them and the ice that sculpted the great slabs into pinnacles from which, on a fair day, you can see parts of three states.

Mountains, to borrow Macfarlane’s title, are indeed often on my mind.

And, I hope, they will never be far from my eyes.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald. 


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