Roused by rain, and misplacing an old habit

By Jayson Jacoby June 29, 2012 09:52 am

I was awakened, a little before dawn Tuesday, by the gentle patter of rain splashing off the elderberry bush outside my bedroom window.

This shower briefly escalated into a rather more percussive one before subsiding.

On the roster of things likely to rouse me in the night, rain ranks way down there.

It’s above, say, earthquake or avalanche.

But far below the soft thud of two little feet, followed by the tale, told in a whimpering tone, about a bad dream.

The rain made for a pleasant interlude, even if it interrupted my last hour of sleep.

Dripping water creates a sort of white noise, but it’s of the soothing sort, capable of lulling you back into dreamland after yanking you from it.

Except in this case I couldn’t go back to sleep straightaway.

I was plagued by the notion that, when I pulled into the driveway on the previous sunwashed, 80-degree afternoon, I had neglected to roll up the windows.

I was pretty sure I had done so.

But pretty sure isn’t good enough to banish, from the fuzzy thoughts of 4 in the morning, the specter of sitting on a saturated driver’s seat and soaking your slacks.

So I slunk out into the storm, keys in hand.

The windows were snug.

Naturally.

This dilemma is limited to the warmer months, and for an obvious reason.

In Baker County, from somewhere around October clear through til at least April, the temperature rarely is conducive to leaving any windows open.

And in particular the windows of a vehicle that can create a pretty respectable wind chill even at town speeds.

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When I went to the office on a recent weekend I found a copy of The Sunday Oregonian lying among the desiccated leaves which the wind spins into the little alcove that forms the Herald’s front entrance.

Right then it occurred to me that a considerable span of time — months, and perhaps more than a year — had passed since I last read the Sunday edition of Oregon’s largest newspaper.

Or any edition, come to that.

This wasn’t an epiphany, exactly.

Rather, it was the sort of queer feeling you get when you are reminded suddenly of a former habit which you have, seemingly without noticing, discarded as though it were a sock with a hole in its heel.

It’s an unsettling sensation — one that causes me to ponder whether I control my endeavors quite as strictly as I’d like to believe.

That the habit in this case is reading a newspaper — a matter of considerable importance to me — made the episode seem stranger still.

I felt a twinge of empathy, too, for The Oregonian’s editors who, in common with most everyone in our business these days, are trying to figure out how to satisfy their customers. Some of whom, I’m sure, can be as muddle-headed as I often am, blundering about and casting away long-held traditions as though I were tossing breadcrumbs to a flock of geese.

The most common explanation proferred for the declining popularity of people reading actual physical newspapers is online competition.

This competition is both cutthroat and, in some cases, cannibalistic. To keep from being suffocated by the avalanche of technology, a publication must, in effect, set off the occasional slide as a precaution, by way of by putting some of its content on the web. By and large, this information is free. 

Even McDonald’s might get into money trouble if it went around delivering Big Macs door to door.

As recently as five years ago, most people who acquired at least some of their news online did so with a home computer, which spent most of its time parked on a desk.

Today, smartphones, tablets and other portable devices are gaining on, and threatening to overtake, their more corpulent electronic cousins (hardly surprising, that — have you ever tried to wedge a 17-inch monitor into your back pocket?)

In the case of The Oregonian, I have the paper’s free web version bookmarked on my home and office computers.

But here’s the thing: I’ve never sat down with a mug of coffee and spent an hour casually perusing the binary nooks and crannies of that website.

What I have done, many times, is while away that much time or more leafing through the real, finger-smudging newspaper, and not minding that by the time I was finished my toast had gone cold, or my cereal was the consistency of cheap cardboard after a thundershower.

That I misplaced this habit, it seems to me after some consideration, reflects changes in my life rather than abandoning my belief that words rendered on paper have a value that pixels can’t replicate.

 My son Max turned one in March. The arrival of a newborn, as any parent can attest, results in a certain amount of upheaval no matter how well you think you’ve prepared.

Some of this is tangible — few things are more tangible, for instance, than a messy diaper.

But in other ways, it seems to me, the birth of a child, and its inevitable reordering of your daily routine, can effect subtle changes which sneak by while you’re engaged with more pressing matters.

(Like messy diapers — perhaps the ultimate example of a problem which does not become easier through procrastination.)

I didn’t stop reading The Sunday Oregonian because I no longer thought it compelling, or worth the time.

I just missed it once and then, well, forgot to go back, as it were.

The lesson here, I think, is that just as a person can struggle mightily to banish his bad habits, so too must he sometimes persevere to reacquaint himself with good ones.

 Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.