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Home arrow Opinion arrow Columns arrow Speaking up for talkies; fickle winds, and a secret juniper


Speaking up for talkies; fickle winds, and a secret juniper


A silent movie, shown in black-and-white, was judged the best film of 2012.

As an occasional cinema patron, I hope this does not mark the beginning of a trend.

I haven’t seen “The Artist.”

But I don’t need to see it to know that when I shell out the best part of a sawbuck for a couple hours of entertainment, I expect to be entertained in full rich color.

The world comes that way, after all, and I can go out and look at it for free.


Without anybody kicking the back of my chair and spilling my Milk Duds, either.

I also like to hear what’s happening on the screen.

The odds are pretty high that “The Artist” is only an anomaly.

It’s just the second silent film to receive the most coveted Oscar.

The first — “Wings” — was honored at the inaugural Academy Awards ceremony, in 1929.

That was so long ago that they didn’t need Roman numerals to distinguish between the world wars.

An era with lots of flappers but absent The Clapper.

(1929 also was the year Hotel Baker opened, to make the history lesson more provincial if less well-known.)

As unlikely as it seems that modern moviegoers, many of whom never leave home without their MP3 collection, would regularly embrace films in which the actors don’t speak, Hollywood is nothing if not unpredictable.

This is an industry, mind you, that still treats (and pays) Paul Walker, Vin Diesel and Keanu Reeves as though they were real actors.

(I might need to reconsider my stance regarding silent films. A movie starring any member of that trio — or worse still, the first two-thirds of it, in the case of the “Fast and Furious” franchise — probably would be more palatable if you couldn’t hear the monotone dialogue. Let the cars and explosions handle the audio.)

The potential malignancy of a blockbuster such as “The Artist” is that it might entice studios to try to replicate the formula and ride the box office coattails.

This of course would be touted as an earnest homage to the masters of a bygone era.


Those old directors didn’t make silent movies because they had artistic sensibilities which have been buried, in the ensuing decades, by an avalanche of technology.

(And Jerry Bruckheimer.)

I’d wager that D.W. Griffith would have made full use of Dolby surround sound and Panavision had those been available to him.

I suspect too that, were he told certain of his successors have purposely eschewed such wonderful tools, D.W. would have given a rueful little chuckle at their pretentiousness.


. . .


We’ve been treated recently to a couple of excellent examples of what can happen when you live in the geographic equivalent of a funnel.

Wind, I mean.

But not just wind.

Two days began with a balmy gale from the south that littered streets (and at least one power line) with limbs.

But before dusk on both days the gusts went clear round to the north, bringing a chill and the stench of the city’s sewer lagoons, newly free of ice.

Although I’m incapable of grasping even the basic tenets of meteorology, the atmospheric forces that can transform a headwind into a tailwind in the span of a few hours is pretty simple.

Basically, air, though it’s a gas, acts more like a liquid.

Which is to say, it flows.

And, like liquids, air tends to flow downhill.

Except air doesn’t, strictly speaking, need a hill to get moving.

What it needs is a difference in air pressure.

Air flows from places where pressure is high (the air is sinking) to places where it’s low (air is rising).

Often, a cold front — that intruder so beloved of TV weather personalities — marks the boundary between areas of higher and lower pressure.

When a cold front is advancing toward Baker County from the northwest, the air pressure in that direction (say, Astoria) is markedly lower than it is to our southeast (Boise).

The wind blows toward the low pressure along the cold front, making for south or southeasterly winds in Baker Valley.

The valley’s topography helps to accelerate the wind by constricting the air flow between the Wallowas and the Elkhorns. The valley’s relatively smooth floor, with few obstructions to block the wind, plays a role too.

To belabor the liquid analogy, mountains are to wind what boulders are to a stream.

Once the cold front crosses the valley, on its way to Durkee, Huntington and points east, the pressure situation (forecasters call it the gradient) shifts as well.

The air continues to flow toward the lower pressure along the cold front. Because that lower pressure is now southeast of the valley, the wind blows from the opposite, or north/northwest.

And we re-hang wind chimes, gather shed limbs, and pine for the balmy, benevolent breezes of summer.


. . .


There is a secret juniper tree in downtown Baker City.

It’s not really a secret, of course.

Trees, being generally stationary, are poorly equipped to hide.

This juniper, though, has managed to conceal itself quite effectively by growing among buildings.

One of which is the Baker Tower (Hotel Baker back in the silent, black-and-white era), at 10 stories the tallest in the whole region.

The tree’s brick-and-stone grotto is open only on its west side.

I was walking recently along the sidewalk on the east side of First Street, just north of Auburn, when I looked to the right and saw the tree.

I must have seen it before.

I’ve strolled that section of sidewalk dozens of times.

Yet this occasion was, or so it seemed to me, the first time I actually noticed the juniper — and in particular how peculiar its setting is.

Baker City’s downtown is hardly an urban wasteland, of course.

There is a pleasant profusion of flowering trees, particularly along Main Street.

This juniper, though, looks as though it ought to be growing out in the arid sagelands east of town, a sentinel that casts the only significant shade for miles around.

The very incongruity of the scene was compelling — rather like coming across a bus shelter at the summit of a wilderness peak.

This juniper is the sort of subject I’d like to paint or to sketch, except I can do neither of those things.

Rendered by a skilled hand, though, it is a view of which I don’t think I would soon tire.


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.


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