Reminiscing about 2010, and missing a great Duck fan

By Jayson Jacoby December 31, 2010 11:27 am

We’ve been assembling the Herald’s annual special section that chronicles the major news of the past year, a task which requires that we forego our normal obsession with timeliness in favor of a quest for the timeless.

(Although I was assured that there is, nonetheless, a deadline to be met. The proof that we succeeded is the 14-page publication tucked inside today’s edition.)

Time pressure aside, this job makes for a pleasant diversion each December, rather like snooping about in the scrapbook you find while rummaging in the closet for a wool watch cap.

Only with less chance of running across an embarrassing photograph from elementary school, when the only thing more prominent than your front teeth was your eyeglasses.

As ever with this exercise, I’m surprised by the breadth of events that accumulate over 12 months even in a relatively placid place such as Baker County.

2010 wasn’t even a month old when I learned a new word: biochar.

This sounds to me like a high-tech barbecue, or else a euphemism for napalm.

It is in fact neither of those things.

Biochar is a soil fertilizer that can be made from burning all sorts of waste, ranging from the mundane — logging slash — to the, well, unexpected — chicken manure.

Which makes the chicken, by my estimation, the nobility of the avian world.

Now that chickens are contributing to the fecundity of our fields, you could very nearly put together a whole picnic just from the chicken and its byproducts.

A menu of drumsticks, egg salad and corn on the cob, for instance.

This reminds me that Ben Franklin was on to something when he suggested that the wild turkey — which, after all, is little more than a husky chicken that can fly — might be a more appropriate national symbol than the bald eagle.

The raptor won out, of course.

But besides soaring majestically, what has a bald eagle done for you lately?

I would recommend against dipping one in a deep fat fryer, at any rate, unless you can afford a six-figure fine and a few years in federal prison.

Anyway, we reported in January about Baker County resident Eric Twombly, who wants to start biochar factories here.

Probably we ought to check with Eric and find out how things are progressing, almost a year on.

(I write quite a lot of notes to myself, of this sort, while putting together the year in review section. It requires constant vigilance in the news business to remember that although each edition is in its way final, each also contains flecks of glittery stuff that are worth pursuing, in the manner of a miner who tries to track a trail of gold dust to its parent vein.)

Taxes were often in the headlines this year.

We started in Oregon with a pair of measures, both passed by voters in late January, that raised state income taxes for wealthy families and some corporations.

As 2010 waned, President Obama signed into law a bill that continues, temporarily, the controversial federal income tax cuts from the preceding administration.

Locally, and having nothing to do with taxes, Baker City Hall thwarted a late bid from the Baker County Courthouse to claim a predominance of publicity in 2010.

The city had three managers this year — in chronological order, Tim Collins, Steve Bogart and Mike Kee, who looks as if he’ll be here a while.

The manager tally might have been trimmed to two had Tim Johnson accepted the City Council’s job offer, but he declined in January because he needed to care for his ill mother.

In May a former city manager, Steve Brocato, sued the city, the four councilors who voted to fire him in June 2009, and a city resident.

After that boisterous beginning, though, city government settled into relative tranquility.

Baker County Commissioners meanwhile decided, to the delight of some taxpayer and the disgust of others, to have a go at the ski resort business.

Anthony Lakes’ first season in quasi-public hands began nicely, with plentiful snow early.

Then the Ski Patrol and resort staff — many of them Anthony Lakes veterans — handled with aplomb the evacuation of skiers from the chairlift, an operation precipitated (like so many other problems, come to that) by a single broken bolt.

The chairlift mishap, however, was a trifling matter compared with what happened inside the County Courthouse after two other pieces of metal failed.

A pair of water pipe valves, in the crawl space between the second and third floors, froze and broke during the Thanksgiving weekend.

The resulting deluge inundated parts of the 101-year-old building, causing damage that could exceed $1 million and forcing most county offices to move temporarily to North Baker School.

I’m curious about why those valves froze, as they had endured considerably colder weather.

In particular I wonder about the possible correlation with the replacement, this fall, of the building’s heating and cooling controls. County officials say they haven’t found evidence of a connection, but we’ll keep asking.

The Courthouse dousing wasn’t Baker County’s only flood during 2010, though. Nor was it the first.

In early June the combination of downpours and rapidly melting mountain snow caused widespread flooding in the Eagle and Pine valleys east of Baker City.

Although newspapers are frequently accused of accentuating what could in general be called the negative — floods and busted chairlift bolts, for instance — after perusing the 3,376 pages that the Herald published this year it seems to me that this charge, though reasonable, is also, as the saying goes, only one side of the story.

We also printed dozens of articles this year that would extract a smile from all but the most committed curmudgeon.

Or tears.

Either emotion was an appropriate response to a February story about “Marla’s Mall” at Baker High School.

That’s the room where students can pick up donated clothes and personal hygiene items. The name honors Marla Cavallo, the longtime BHS teacher who died in 2007 at age 45.

We reported about Special Olympics coach Paula Moe of North Powder, and about BHS senior Mallory Bailey becoming the first Bulldog to place at the Future Business Leaders of America national conference. Mallory served as Oregon president of the organization during the 2009-10 school year.

The successful year for Baker High culminated in early December when the football team beat Douglas to win the school’s first OSAA state championship in that sport.

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Football was a big story statewide in 2010, in particular the rise of the Oregon Ducks.

They were ranked No. 1 for several weeks and will play for their first national championship on Jan. 10.

I will be watching. Besides being an alumnus, I have an affinity for Duck athletics, one which several people have characterized with less pleasant nouns.

Obsession is a popular alternative, often tarted up with an adjective.

Silly, for instance.

That’s a fair assessment, I suppose. But at least it’s a shared affliction.

And of all the people who are similarly plagued by their devotion to the Ducks, the one who I especially wished could revel in the team’s unprecedented success this season will not.

Don Clark died in December 2009.

He graduated from the U of O, too, although almost half a century separated our tenures in Eugene.

Age, fortunately, is a measure without meaning among football fans.

I miss Don’s occasional visits to my office, miss in particular his chortling about the Ducks’ latest triumph or the Beavers’ most recent defeat.

I was disappointed that Don didn’t get to see the Ducks play in the Rose Bowl on the first day of 2010.

I’m sadder still that he wasn’t around for any of our school’s greatest season.

But when the Ducks score their first touchdown against Auburn on Jan. 10 — the first of many, or so I devoutly hope — I’ll toast Don and perhaps hear, one more time, his inimitable cackle of a laugh.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.