I had a Facebook message the other day from Jeannie Wilhelm of Baker City, and it frightened me.
To be specific, the story she related frightened me.
It frightened me in that tangible way that an anecdote can when, even though you weren’t involved, the situation is so familiar, so terribly plausible based on your own experience, that you immediately cast yourself or your loved ones in the scenario as it replays in your mind.
Jeannie related what happened recently when she was driving on Campbell Street, in heavy traffic, and she reached the Leo Adler Parkway crossing at the Powder River just north of the library.
She wrote that two kids on bicycles pedaled across the street without stopping and without pushing the button that activates the flashing warning lights on both sides of the street.
Jeannie said the driver in front of her stopped suddenly, as she did.
Nobody was hurt, but Jeannie, pointing out that summer vacation had just started, wrote that she was concerned about similar situations playing out for the next two months.
She asked if I was willing to publish a reminder to children about why it’s vital to take advantage of the warning lights available at the Campbell Street crossing.
I told Jeannie that was an excellent idea.
Which, of course, it is.
Anyone who either has children or who cares about their welfare — I presume this is very close to all of us — undoubtedly agrees with Jeannie, and not just about the potential hazards on a busy thoroughfare such as Campbell.
I live at the corner of Auburn and 15th and I quite like my place. I’ve been there for 24 years, anyway, so it either suits me or else I have a surfeit of patience, and considering I get annoyed waiting for the microwave to warm my coffee I can’t make a decent case for the latter.
What I don’t like so much is the speed of traffic, or at least a goodly percentage of it, on Auburn.
My daughter Olivia, who just turned 12 but is already uncomfortably close to my height, relatively recently gained the privilege of crossing Auburn on her own to visit her grandparents, who live nearby.
Occasionally she escorts her brother, Max, who’s 8.
Although I’m satisfied this is a reasonable thing to allow, I am also unable to resist the compulsion, when I know either Olivia or the pair of them is heading that way, to stand by the screen door or on the porch and watch until they’re safely across.
In those moments I am also helpless to block the mental images that afflict every parent — those horror films we don’t believe, not really, but which we also can’t completely suppress.
I think of the two of them scampering across the street whenever I see a vehicle roar down Auburn, obviously exceeding not only the posted speed of 25 mph but also surpassing the velocity that any reasonable person would deem the boundary between the merely careless and the indefensible.
All of which is to say, thanks, Jeannie, for scaring me.
And thanks for convincing me to try to scare lots of other people.
Fear, of course, can be a useful emotion when it reminds us to act with appropriate caution.
And that applies to all of us — to the young cyclists on the Parkway and to the drivers on Auburn and Campbell and every other street.
I happen to drive the western stretch of Auburn at least a couple times most days, and since I read Jeannie’s message I’ve been looking more often at the speedometer.
I’m trying mightily to remember that in every block I roll past there might well be a child getting ready to take a walk, and a parent standing at the window, watching and worrying.
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The word “face” is sometimes applied to a particularly steep side of a peak, and although mountains are decidedly inanimate objects I find this linguistic quirk wholly appropriate.
Just as you can tell quite a lot from a brief glance at a familiar person’s face, so too can a mass of stone express itself.
I’m thinking here about the east face of Elkhorn Peak.
I have for more than a quarter century looked at it most every day that it’s not cloaked by clouds. Which in our arid climate is most days — a condition to which the Elkhorns themselves, by casting a secondary rain shadow that augments that of the distant Cascades, contribute a great deal.
In that time, and over many thousands of views, I have come to rely on the face as a sort of bellwether, a marker of the seasons more meaningful than a calendar, if not so precise.
It struck me the other afternoon, while I was walking home and looking at the Elkhorns, that the east face goes through a particular sequence of visages during the late spring and early summer.
As the snow recedes it creates a distinctive pattern that I’ve noticed over the years, which suggests to me that it’s quite consistent. Through winter and well into spring the face is almost solely white. But though the slope seems relatively smooth from the distance of a dozen miles or so it is, in common with most mountains, a mottled surface, with ribs and nubs of rock jutting here and there.
These protuberances, being generally more sheer than the surrounding slopes of scree, don’t accumulate as much snow, so they shed the white layer sooner.
I don’t have a thorough archive of photographs of the east face to compare but I suspect that if I saw a photo from decades ago, taken toward the end of June, it would show a mixture of snow and rock that I would recognize.
This is a small matter, to be sure, but I find it comforting all the same.
The Elkhorns beguile me in all sorts of ways — the stark beauty of their white wall against the blue backdrop on a frigid January afternoon, the Tolkienesque scene when only the tip of Elkhorn Peak juts from a layer of pink puffy clouds along about dusk.
But I relish too, and perhaps most of all, their consistency, their absolute, somehow aloof, reliability.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.