Monday, April 30, 2007

Conquering fears and feeling at home in Astoria

I had another opportunity to visit the Oregon Coast Sunday with plans to check out the Crab and Seafood Festival in Astoria. While I was there, I decided to check out two more curiosities.

We drove into town on Highway 202, and I decided I liked Astoria as soon as we crossed the welcome sign. The first street after that was called Williamsport Road, and I was quite surprised and pleased to see the name of my hometown on a street sign.

I was sure to pull over and take a picture of the sign, as well as one of me under the sign. I also learned that Young's River wraps around Astoria. That name has personal significance to me, which made Astoria even more special.

From the street sign, we made our way into town, and I was ever more giddy with excitement when I saw the so-called Bridge to Nowhere -- the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
The bridge crosses the mouth of the Columbia River, stretching 4.1 miles, making it the longest continuous truss bridge in the world. Construction work lasted from November 1962 to August 1966, but critics wondered who would take a bridge from small-town Oregon to an empty shore in Washington, or "nowhere."

Apparently, lots of people. In the final months of '66, about 240,000 vehicles crossed the bridge. And by 1993, more than 1.6 million cars a year were trekking across the toll bridge. That year, the bonds were paid off more than two years early, and the toll was removed.

I'm usually afraid of bridges, but I couldn't let a little fear keep me from driving across it. The bridge starts out pretty high above the water. I'm not sure of exact feet or anything, but I know it was high enough to make me second guess my decision.
I did chance a glance out both sides of the window and was happy I did. The view was breathtaking up there. I handed my camera over to my buddy Mitch, who snapped away at the water, the mountains, the ships and anything else we could see.

About halfway across, the bridge takes a dip and levels out with the water, making it seem not so scary anymore. But it felt like we were on that bridge for half of the day. We finished the 1,232-foot journey and turned around and did it again, enjoying more scenery and taking more pictures.

We were feeling pretty good about ourselves after conquering the bridge and decided to head over to the seafood festival. But on our way, I noticed a sign pointing the way for the Astoria Column, another item on my list. The sign was sort of a surprise, and I hooked a quick left, taking the corner on two wheels.

If I thought the view from the bridge was amazing, it was nothing compared to the view at the top of Coxcomb Hill, the highest spot in town. It was a beautiful clear sunny day, and we could see for miles. But even that didn't compare to the sight from atop the 125-foot column.

There were four people in our party, but Brittany and Trisha decided they didn't want to hike up the steps, so Mitch and I were on our own. Just before we entered the spiral staircase, several people had come out, high-fiving each other or pumping
fists or proclaiming, "We made it."

I didn't quite understand why until a little later. We started our ascent to the top, and I soon realized that I'm not in very good shape. Luckily, there are landings every 20 or so steps to allow someone to take a break.

We made the first 60 steps with no problem, but after that, we had to take a breather before continuing our climb. Another 40 steps, and I was feeling winded again. I got to the next landing and the next, and before I knew it, we could see sunlight coming from the top of the column. We decided to skip the last landing and finish the hike.

At the top, I also realized pretty quickly that I have a strong fear of heights. The observation deck up there isn't very wide, and I also believed that the fence wasn't quite high enough. But I did get to enjoy yet another magnificent view of the state from up there.

We hung out for a few minutes, then Mitch and I made our descent. And at the bottom, it was our turn to high-five and pump our fists. We were feeling quite victorious after that, like we could do anything. We made our way over to the souvenir stand and promptly bought a pin and a pen that proclaimed, "I made it to the top of the Astoria Column."

I also added another magnet to my collection, and much to my delight, a pair of earrings that resemble the column. All in all, it was a pretty fantastic day.
The tour will take next weekend off, as I take a small detour to Orlando. But when I return, we'll talk about Oregon's burger crop. I currently have no plans for the weekend after I return, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Farmer's Rap

During our annual spring meeting and training session with the Capital Press staff, Spokane-based reporter Scott A. Yates treated his coworkers to a rap song he wrote about farmer's and agriculture. I won't spoil it by telling you too much about it. This is one of those things you really have to experience for yourself.

You can check it out here on our podcast site.

Thanks for sharing Scott.

Scott launched into his rap near the end of our meeting, just after the reporters had all been equipped with new digital audio recorders. So the reporters got a chance to try out their new toys and capture the rap on, um, well, not tape but... audio. I happened to have the digital recorder we've been using for our podcasts there too, so now you all get to share in one of the more lighthearted moments of our conference. However, be forewarned, the language in the rap is more PG-13 than G. But that's shouldn't scare off too many farmers or ranchers.

I am kicking myself a little though. If only we had captured the rap on video. It could have been the first ever Capital Press music video.

Oh well, live and learn, as they say.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Oregon Garden becomes photo training grounds

Anyone near Oregon Garden, near Silverton, Ore., today would have felt probably a bit invaded by a flock of photographers.

Once a year all the Capital Press editorial staff get together in Salem, Ore. for staff training, long term planning and a chance to hear what’s happening at the newspaper from other department managers. For part of our meeting, several freelancers also joined us.

Part of today’s training involved a half-day at Oregon Garden, hearing our award-winning photo coordinator Mark Rozin and associate editor Gary L. West give photo tips to the rest of our staff.

Rozin is a great inspiration: last year he won Photo of the Year honors from the American Agricultural Editors Association annual photography awards that was held in Portland, Ore.

Our reporters are busy when they go to cover stories. Usually they are expected to take photos as well as write stories, so this was a good chance for everyone to learn more about how to use their equipment better, how to make their photos more dynamic and how to write better news cutlines.

We were then set free for an hour or so to invade Oregon Garden and snap away, almost every one of us armed with a camera: Nikon, Canon, Fuji and whatever other brands we carried.

I felt sorry for anyone who got in our path. Armed with wide angle, zoom, or whatever lens we had, we targeted the unsuspecting as well as the poor strangers who were suspicious but couldn’t run fast enough.

When we returned to our meeting spot called the Gordon House, a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright that was moved to the spot from 24 miles away in 2002, we gathered around a computer to glance at the images we each had shot. Rozin provided a critique, and others offered feedback as well.

We had a few good laughs when Rozin very calmly, diplomatically would ask someone, “What were you thinking when you took this picture?” and there was a quizzical look on his face and some photographers really couldn’t explain their thought process.

But there were also some exceptional shots, worthy of publication in our newspaper or other publications, showing creativity, originality, and showing some of the lessons learned earlier from Rozin’s lesson. Reflections in water, backlighting on flowers, rule of thirds, profile shots, use of balance … all these examples shown earlier were now finding their way into the photos shot in the short assignment of the rest of the staff.

A useful part of today was sharing what people experience when they are in real-life reporting/photographing situations and they asked for advice on how to do things better. For example, what should they do when a digital camera quits working in cold weather? And what is the best way to warm that battery up without fogging up the lens? How do you take pictures of people speaking at a podium and still make it interesting? What should you do when you’re in a large room filled with people, what’s the best crowd shot to take? Do you ask parents before you take pictures of their children? How do you get a farmer to cooperate when you want to take his picture, and how do you get him to look more natural in the picture?

These and other questions were answered, sometimes after interesting discussions among several of the people at the meeting. It’s nice to have such as variety of experience at the table — from one of our Washington State reporters who has 21 years with Capital Press, to our newest Salem-based reporter that just got hired a few months ago. A lot of experience and knowledge can be shared.

The best part of all was the enthusiasm everyone brings to their job. They spread out with their cameras, looked for new things to photograph, then patiently gathered around a computer later to hear what others have to say.

It was obvious that many people taking pictures felt this is more than just a job, it’s something they truly enjoy. What was even more obvious was how much these people wanted to do their best, thinking of what would appeal to newspaper or even website readers.

Later, as the staff gathered in McGrath’s Restaurant downtown, Rozin asked people about what they thought of the photography training. If they learned even one thing from the session, he’d be happy, he said.

Definitely more than one thing was learned: during the upcoming weeks we look forward to seeing what images will appear from our newly inspired photographers.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Remember what you forgot

Any reporter would probably grin after hearing what Chairman Patrick Leahy , D-Vt., and ranking Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, from the Senate Judiciary Committee said to a certain someone who didn’t want to answer their questions.

Most reporters have probably been frustrated at some point when someone, particularly a politician, has danced around questions, refused to answer, or totally ignored a chance to share the facts.

Unfortunately, most reporters probably just admit defeat and move on with the interview or attempt to find someone else to help complete the story.

In the case of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, his avoidance of answering questions became the story last week, and the public — through media coverage — got to see first hand how frustrating it can be to nail down answers from a politician.

But here’s the difference between a politician facing a reporter and facing the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It doesn’t matter who you are, the committee can demand you return.

Leahy and Specter wrote a great note to Gonzales, and it’s got a big hint of what’s to come when he appears before them again.

As AP’s reporter from Washington described it, he was asked to “refresh the memory that Gonzales claimed had failed him 71 times during the seven-hour session.”

The note, according to AP, stated: “Provide the answers to the questions you could not recall last Thursday.”

It doesn’t matter what political party you support: wouldn’t you just love to say that sometimes to people who tell you they can’t recall, remember, or recollect what happened — and you know they’re lying?

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Checking out Portland's underground

Unfortunately, I don’t have any ghost stories to tell after my trip through Portland’s underground. That will have to wait until that haunted tour.

Apparently, the Portland Walking Tours frowns on conjecture and its guides are made to tell just the truth. And as they said, the truth of Portland’s past is often more scandalous, sexy and scary than a legend anyway. The guides don't work from a script, so each tour is unique.

The tour is rated PG-13 and “not for the faint of heart.”

My friend Brittany and I were both excited for this opportunity, but we almost lost our chance for a spot on the tour because it had sold out already. We were fortunate that another woman had purchased two tickets for Sunday's tour but was unable to use them. She kindly sold them to us for face value.

We started out at Pioneer Courthouse Square, where we purchased our tickets from the kind woman and met up with the rest of the group. It was then a quick MAX ride over to Old Town/Chinatown to begin the trek into the seedy.

We heard tales of discrimation, politics, flooding, displacement, tunnels, crimping and sex and got quite a history lesson along the way.

Our group was led to the waterfront of the Willamette River, which frequently floods its banks, the last time in 1996. Our guide was very insistent that it would happen again, despite measures to add sea walls to contain the water.

We heard about Vanport, a town just north of Portland that was wiped off the map by flooding of the Columbia River in the 1940s. At the time, it was Oregon’s second-largest city, made up mostly of blacks. But in a situation similar to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the city was devastated by floodwaters and the population was displaced.

May of Vanport’s residents moved to an area known as Albina, but they were displaced yet again when a new highway was built through there.

Portland is not a terribly diverse city, the tour guide noted, and some of that stems from its unwelcoming stance to minorities throughout the years. Another black eye for the city came during World War II when Japanese-Americans were rounded up and placed in internment camps.

A headline in The Oregonian from the time even proclaimed, “Portland to be first Jap-free city.” A memorial plaza now lines the waterfront. A copy of the Bill of Rights is etched in stone as a reminder that those amendments were forgotten for the Japanese. The plaza also contains etchings of poems from those who were held in the camps and an apology from President Reagan.

Also along the waterfront, we were told of the process of crimping, sometimes known as shanghaiing. When ships came into port, the crew members would often hit the saloons and flophouses and not come back.

But the ship’s captain needed men to do the labor on board, so he would turn to nefarious dealings to fill the slots. During a saloon visit, a poor unsuspecting man would be slipped a Mickey or so-called Kelly’s Comforter. While he was passed out, he would be taken to the ship, and the captain would pay about $20 for him.

When he woke up in a strange new floating bed, he’d be too far out to sea, to escape in most cases and be forced to accept his fate as a ship worker.
This practice has long been tied to the tunnels beneath the city, but our guide said there’s little historical evidence to suggest they were actually used for crimping. He says the term shanghai tunnels didn’t show up until about 1975, about 100 years after the practice had ended.

Though clearly a despicable practice, I did admire the ingenuity of one such crimper, Bunko Kelly. He was sent off to find a crew member for one captain but returned instead with a cigar store Indian wrapped in a blanket. It was a few days before the captain had realized he’d been hoodwinked.

He wasn’t the only one who fell for one of Bunko’s scams. One night while walking the streets of Portland, Bunko heard moaning coming from one of the tunnels, along with a foul smell. Upon further investigation, he found several men down below, most of them dead or dying.

Apparently, they had plans to break into a saloon and drink the spirits, but they got the tunnels confused. Instead, they forced their way into an undertaker’s office. And what they thought was alcohol was actually embalming fluid.

Bunko carried the dead men one by one to a ship and loaded them on board, telling the captain he got him lots of new staff. So happy was the captain with Bunko’s efforts that he paid $30 a head, instead of the usually $20. There's no telling what happened days later when the captain realized the truth.

Not all stories on the tour were so grave. We learned that Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons,” uses things he saw growing up in Portland in the show. Blinky, the three-eyed fish, for example, came from the Willamette River. And Flanders is the name of a street in Old Town.

And we made a stop at Dan and Louis Oyster Bar. We were there to check out some sistern and hear about the crooked dealings of volunteer fire departments. But I was thrilled to see the world’s largest oyster cracker, which is another curiosity that I got to scratch off my list. The cracker was baked for the oyster bar on the occasion of its 75th anniversary back in 1982, at which time the restaurant had served more than 3 million oysters. The cracker is at least a foot tall and a little cracked, but I think that was the highlight of the tour for me.

We also trekked over to Voodoo Doughnuts. I had already been there (as detailed in a previous blog), but this time, there was a wedding about to happen. The owners double as ordained ministers and perform marriage ceremonies under the giant doughnut. On Mondays, the place also offers free Swahili lessons. And occasionally, performers give concerts in the small space.

We were also guided past Saturday Market and Skidmore Fountain. Pharmacist Stephen Skidmore left $5,000 in his will for the fountain, but it wasn’t enough money. Other businessmen were asked to donate, and brewery owner Henry Weinhard agreed to kick in $10,000. But he had one stipulation. On the day the fountain opened, he wanted it to be filled with beer that he would pump from his brewery about two blocks away.

Under his plan, the fire department would use its hoses to transport the beer, but fire officials saw major problems with that. They feared that people would poke holes in the hose and suck the beer out, so that plan was nixed. Beer never did flow in the fountain, after all.

Other interesting facts we picked up: Portland has more breweries than anywhere else. Portland has more adult businesses per capita than anywhere else, thanks to Oregon’s liberal free speech laws. Courtney Love, lead singer of Hole and Kurt Cobain’s widow, got her start stripping at a club in Portland. Very few, if any, Asians live in Chinatown. The streets in Portland were designed to face
magnetic north on a compass when it was originally laid out by founders Francis Pettygrove and Asa Lovejoy. But when Captain John Couch came along with his addition, his streets pointed toward true north. Walking down Ankeny to Second Street, it's easy to see where things went crooked. At this intersection stands a rare five-sided building, as well, a product of the new layout. It's also at that intersection where perhaps the only true shanghai tunnel is located. The bar there is called Shanghai Tunnel.

Couch was so enamered with Pettygrove and Lovejoy’s plans to number their streets that he decided to use the alphabet. However, other areas were annexed into the city, and there were four A streets. So, Couch’s streets became Ankeny, Burnside, Couch, Davis and so forth.

We ended our tour at Old Town Pizza, which is supposedly haunted by resident ghost Nina. According to the menu, Nina had been sold into a life of prostitution and worked at the site, a former hotel. Missionaries came along and convinced Nina to share information with them in exchange for her freedom. But before that could happen, she was pushed down an elevator shaft, and some say she never left. I guess I had a ghost story, after all.

We did get to take a quick tour into the tunnels below the pizza place, but some of the mystique was worn off after learning that they probably weren't used for crimping after all. And there were no run-ins with Nina, either. However, I did get some photos of the tunnels with my digital camera, and it appears as if some orbs show up in a few of the frames.

I had a lot of fun and learned lots about Portland I never would've guessed. I didn't tell all the secrets, however. You'll have to take the tour to find out the rest for yourself. The same company also has Best of Portland tour that shines a more favorable light on the city and its inhabitants and an Epicurean Excursion through the Pearl District, sampling some of the best food the city has to offer.

Next up, I check out the curiosities in Astoria, including the bridge to nowhere and Trajan's Column.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Tulip farm wraps up festival

WOODBURN, Ore. — It was easy to spot Barb Iverson, of Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, at the end of the annual tulip festival yesterday.

Tired, but happy, she was near the gift shop and food concession stands, giving some last directions to people who were cleaning up as the day's visitors left.

This year was a good one, she said. While rain had been frequent, there were at least two or three nice weekend days during the festival — and that made all the difference, making it the most successful one they have had in more than three years.

Also, this year the stars aligned, she explained: several sponsors came on board, helping take financial pressure off the family to hold the event. They could concentrate on other things, such as assist events taking place, and arrange bulb orders of customers.

The Iverson family hosted thousands of visitors this year from March 20 to April 22. The farm has 40 acres of tulips and daffodils, as well as a gift shop (that remains open until mid-May), wine tasting, pony rides, a farm equipment display, and children’s activities including a climbing wall. During the festival, various vendors bring food, music and crafts to keep the crowds busy and entertained.

The main draw were the fields themselves, a patchwork of bright colors. People traveled from Portland, Salem and other cities to wander the rows of tulips. For many it was a family event, people bringing their kids and dogs, or asking people to take pictures of them and their spouses surrounded by flowers. It was a chance for strangers to meet and show kindness to each other, even if it was for a few minutes of helping out with a picture.

One woman was having problems getting her daughter to pose, as the young girl kept dashing ahead row by row and grasping a different colored flower each time.

“I’m busy, mom,” she explained, as she bent over and buried her nose into the tulip. “I’m smelling the flowers!”

Occasionally a teenager, trailing parents, would grumble about the experience being boring. Immediately one of the parents would begin to growl that this was quality family bonding time and the teenager better appreciate that and be patient.

One parent, attending the fields on April 15, overheard another parent say that, and she smiled and cried out “Alleluia!” She then explained that she had been telling her own son that same point only moments before.

As for her teenaged son, his day didn’t get better, as he accidentally stumbled into a huge mud puddle and soaked his shoe. His mother showed little sympathy as she eagerly sought more flowers to photograph.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about events such as tulip festivals is how it draws so many cultures, as well as rich and poor, to participate. Throughout the fields, there were many different languages being spoken as well as many styles of clothing. If you ever wanted to learn to say cheese in another language before snapping a photo, this was the place. This was a place where in one day you could see people from Europe, Mexico, India, Russia or Asia. And there were even some Tibetan monks wandering round.

This is a real family event, and many families came out with several generations represented. They did family photos, sometimes with large groups of people, sometimes with only a child or two hidden among the tulips. For the adults, it created a pleasant memory; for the children, it was magical.

For Barb Iverson, while she admits this time of year is exhausted, it also is one of her favorite. She gets to spend every day in the fields, enjoying the flowers. A lover of photography, she carries her digital camera around and takes pictures — a lot of them. “I love digital,” she laughed.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm

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Friday, April 20, 2007

How closely do you follow the markets?

How important is daily agriculture commodity market news to you?

The Capital Press is currently testing some market charts that show various market prices for commodities like beef, hogs, grains, and dairy prices traded on various commodity exchanges.
The test charts currently appear here on our blog site on the right side of the page.

The editors of the Capital Press staff are asking readers for feedback on whether the information listed in the charts is helpful.

The charts being tested are currently only updated after the markets close each day. However, the service we are considering for our website would give us the option of monitoring specific stocks and do updates throughout the day. We are currently considering something like three updates each day on the indicies and/or stocks.

Let us know if this service would be of interest to you as a reader. If so, would three updates a day be enough? Too much? Not enough?

If you like, or don’t like, what you see, please send Associate Editor Gary L. West an e-mail or leave a comment on this post with your thoughts on the charts or other suggestions. For example if there are certain agriculture stocks you would like us to provide updates on, that would be helpful to know. If there are commodities that we shouldn't list, like perhaps coffee or cocoa, that would be helpful too.

We are working to make our website the best online for agriculture news and information for farmers, ranchers and agribusiness industry professionals in the Western United States and you can help us do that by sharing your thoughts on what news and information you need to do your job better.

Thanks for your help.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

How well do you know your family roots?

If you were asked how far back you can account for what your ancestors did as a living, how far back can you go?

There are farmers and ranchers in this county who can proudly tell you of at least a few generations, especially if they also worked the land. There are farms that have signs in their driveways that announce they have already been recognized as Century Farms.

But imagine being able to say what ancestors did 26 generations ago.

A story in this week’s Capital Press (published April 20) reports on the opening of Col Solare, an $8 million winery on Red Mountain in Washington state that has some impressive historic ties.

According to the story, written by reporter Peggy Steward, the winery is a partnership between Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington and Marchesi Antinori, from Tuscany, Italy.

Piero Antinori first visited the Columbia Valley in 1992, leading to the partnership and first wine produced in 1995.

Steward wrote: “Col Solare’s stated goal is to meld the two wine-making cultures to produce Washington’s best Cabernet sauvignon-based wine. Period.”

They created an 18,650 sq. foot winery and 28-acre vineyard on 40 acres, and the buildings sound impressive.

“Massive stone walls, even a soaring bell tower, are a fusion of old Italian and new Northwest styles,” the story said.

While the view and the wine sound incredible, it’s the history of the family from Italy that perhaps is the biggest marvel of all.

Antinori’s family has been making wine for 26 generations, more than 600 years: how many other families can even say what their ancestors did 100 or 200 years ago?

In some cultures, the last name can give a hint of occupation was done by ancestors. For example, in the English language, last names such as Carpenter, Butcher, Archer, Miller or Smith usually could be linked to trades done by families in the past.

Sometimes, however, not everyone is delighted to find the meaning of a family name.

An uncle of mine had been determined to search our family history and traced it back several generations to Eastern Europe. He hoped to perhaps find some rich or royal ancestors, perhaps a great leader.

However, he didn’t go very far before he reached the point of discovering the meaning of our last name translated into “peasant.”

He determined it just wasn’t worth investigating any further, and our family tree still has its roots deeply hidden.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Innocence lost, protection needed

Watching all the heart-wrenching coverage of those who grieve such a senseless crime at Virginia Tech university, we all keep wondering how can someone become such a hateful person seeking so much bloodshed?

Growing up in a very small isolated rural community, I never had to worry about whether I would be alive at the end of the school day. There were no fences around our schoolyard, no metal detectors at the door, no police or security officers to patrol the hallways to keep us safe. There simply was no need. Heck, we were just a bunch of farm kids and small town school students.

Sure, there were bullies. There were physical fights, verbal attacks, and psychological torture that kids can all be so great at inflicting upon each other, and particularly on the most vulnerable children in the schoolgrounds and classrooms.

To pretend none of that existed would not be realistic. To say that all of us were perfect and never said or did a mean thing to another kid would be a lie. Sometimes we gave, sometimes we received. Sometimes we cried, sometimes we laughed. Sometimes we all worried whether we would survive the day, but life was so exaggerated in our minds that it probably wasn't as much of a life and death struggle as we thought.

So instead, we'd swallow our pride, carry home our wounds and shame, and quietly went about doing our chores, and often pretended nothing happened in school that day to us. After others hurt us, we slowly healed and hopefully forgave. Sometimes we were bullied — and sometimes we were the bullies. Things are never black and white in those school years. There is always someone stronger and someone weaker.

While we hate to admit it, we probably rarely gave a second thought to the other kid we ganged up on and teased or tormented, because it just seemed like fun in our immature minds. It just all seemed to even out.

At least, that was what it seemed like, until we became acne-faced, gangly awkward teenagers and suddenly the games became more cruel, more painful, more horrible in their consequences.

High school years triggered — even in small rural schools — suicide attempts by peers.

There was always the hushed voices of the teachers as they tried to herd students away from the location of where something had happened. There were gasps, sobs and shock among the students when they learned what happened, although usually everybody attempted to keep things quiet. There were rumors of emergency races to the hospital, of the amazing efforts of doctors and nurses, and somehow, miraculously, these kids pulled through. They might be gone a few days, a few weeks, the rest of the school year. But these kids usually came back.

And we, the fellow students, never felt the same in our small rural school — while those kids were gone or when they were back. We couldn’t understand what had happened, yet were furious at ourselves for not doing more, for not reaching out, for somehow preventing whatever happened whether it was our best friends or just a passing acquaintance.

But we didn't know what to say or do when these people returned to our classes. We always wondered what was this person thinking, feeling, and whether a suicide attempt might happen again.

In high school, there were several suicide attempts — that we know of, but how many never even made the rumors?

It was a world where we learned that sometimes life became so challenging to our peers that they felt they needed to end it all. However, at that time, it always was against themselves that they did this. It never crossed our minds that these kids would ever endanger the lives of their classmates. We were still innocent, Columbine and other tragedies still years away.

University was supposed to be better. The knowledgeable, the wiser, the more mature, the strangers who know nothing about your past, your family, your living conditions. Everyone was supposed to start new, fresh, equally inexperienced, we thought. We were eager to seek these halls of higher learning.

How quickly reality hit. There was pressure from professors, competition among students, and suddenly everyone treated us like adults — which we wanted so desperately to be, and yet in many ways really weren't ready to handle — and we now needed to worry about more than just our homework being done.

We needed to think about rent, food, transportation, living expenses, relationships with others. We worried where the money would come for next week, and how to pay for all those expensive text books.

Some of us took part time jobs to help us afford university. We took what we could get.

That was how my friend Brad and I became security guards for one of the colleges. Our duties were simple. We took turns doing lock-up at night. We would carefully walk through all the college, check every classroom, hallway, bathroom stall, even church chapel pews to make sure no one was hiding in the college. We checked behind pop machines in the cafeteria, the heavy curtains on stage in the auditorium, behind sofas in the lounges. There was a bank attached to the college, so there was even more pressure on us to make sure no one was left in the building.

Sometimes a pack of friends would accompany us, sometimes the two of us would go together for moral support. For the most part, we did our jobs alone, flicking lights on and off, jingling keys, opening and closing doors and locking them tight.

We had our regulars we needed to deal with and sternly order to leave. The students who liked to drink alcohol in the student offices in the back. The homeless woman who wore a cape with some religious writing sewn on the back, and rode city busses to keep warm if she didn't find a chapel’s wooden pew as a bed at the college.

There is one person who especially stands out in my mind. Considerably older, he was the perpetual student who never seemed to earn his degree. He was a loner with no real friends, yet liked to lurk on the fringe of other groups of friends or students. Occasionally he spewed religious rants — he had changed religions already several times — and sometimes he just made very rude, inappropriate comments. But at the college, my friends and I still tried to treat him kindly.

His behavior became more erratic, and we all increasingly felt more uncomfortable around him, but still didn’t think of him as a threat.

One night, Brad and I went into one of the college study lounges to lock up when we stopped abruptly and stared: there was that guy, and he was red-faced, upset, agitated, acting erratic, and swearing out loud. In a frenzy, he scribbled all over the blackboards in big, chalked letters words that made our hair stand on end. Occasionally he read out the words, like a mantra.

Kill, mangle, destroy. Kill, mangle, destroy. He wrote those words over and over again along with various profanities.

We quickly exited the room, afraid to do anything. We didn't return for an hour or longer, until we were sure he had finally left out a side door. Long into the night, my friend and I talked about what we witnessed. We later talked to others. It was a sleepless night.

Most people felt it was a joke. Surely it was a joke. No one could really be like that, no one could have that dark of a side, right?

Years later, listening to what happened in a university so far away from the one I attended, I find I still shudder, thinking back to what evil might have lurked among us. I wonder what that student was capable of doing — and what ultimately prevented anything from happening — and the rest of us becoming some horrible statistic. I sometimes wonder what happened to him.

My friends and I have been blessed to have gone on with our lives. We have graduated, many of us now have spouses, families, careers in different parts of the world.

We see the sun rise, feel the wind against our faces, hear the laughter of children, and tell our loved ones what they mean to us. We welcome spring, celebrate special occasions, and almost every day we communicate with our friends, family or others who may have influenced our lives in some way.

For those at Virginia Tech, so many lives have been robbed of that: those who died, and those who loved them. So many suffer so greatly from what one person inflicted in so little time.

Our innocence is gone in schools and universities, whether we live in big cities or even in rural communities, but we must stay vigilant and be our brother's keeper for the future.

Life is too precious to let it escape in such a way in such a tragic ending. Whether a young kid or a teenager, they deserve us to be on guard for them. We need to protect them, whether it’s from us, from each other, or from themselves.

It is time for the violence to end.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Wedding cake and singing bridges

I've been having a great time seeing the state of Oregon, and searching for more curiosities gives me a sense of purpose. I doubled up on the oddities during a drive out to Hood River Sunday morning. I don't think the weather could have been any better or the view of the Columbia River Gorge any more breathtaking.

So, with my car sunroof open and the stereo cranked up, I hit Interstate 84 on my quest to see what is possibly the world's oldest piece of wedding cake, which resides at the Hood River County Museum. Most of the museums I've visited lately have been no more than a small room with some artifacts, and I was expecting more of the same during my most recent outing.

But I got more than I bargained for in the Windsurfing Capital of the World. This museum had lots of displays and exhibits that covered quite a bit of ground. But I wasn't really there to see an early 20th century dental office with a foot-powered drill or toys that my grandparents grew up with. Although they were both quite interesting, I was there for that piece of cake. From 1887. And it's still holding up pretty well today in a glass container inside a glass case.

As the story goes, Jennie Boynton married Joseph Shoemaker in Pendleton in 1887. The fruitcake survived the couple's move to Hood River about two years later. It even survived long after the couple died -- Joseph in 1922 and Jennie in 1936. For some reason, someone hung on to the piece of cake before donating it to the museum in 1963.

This is what I love most about Oregon. When people find things like giant hairballs or old fruitcake, their first thought is not to throw it away. Their first thought is that there must be some worth in such oddities. And somewhere along the way, someone clearly agrees with them and puts said oddities on display. And it gives curious tourists like me something to do and look forward to. It's a harmonious system.

The Shoemakers were pioneers to the Hood River area, so it makes sense that the cake should be kept around. There's some conjecture that the cake lasted so long because fruitcakes are typically laced with alcohol, which could have preserved it. It is hard to kill a fruitcake. Even if a nuclear bomb wipes out the Earth, I'm thinking cockroaches will be munching on them and Twinkies.

I expected little else to captivate me at the museum once I saw the celebrity cake, but a worker pointed out a wind surfboard in the back. It was one of the first 10 ever manufactured in 1964 and certainly the first to be used by a woman. There's even a picture of the woman riding the board, which looks a lot like a barn door with a sail. The accompanying explanation also says the surfboard warranted a mention on "The Price is Right."

The worker also noted the rail station display and pointed out that the Mount Hood Railroad turns 100 this year. Taking an excursion is on my list of things to do, even if it isn't quirky.

I wrapped up my fun at the museum and headed over to the so-called Singing Bridge, a mile-long structure that connects Hood River with White Salmon, Wash. When the bridge was built, it had a wooden deck. But that was replaced with steel grating in 1950. Since then, people have noticed a hum as they crossed, and many locals often roll down their windows to listen in.

I was sure to do the same as I crossed the toll bridge, but I have heard that song before. There's a bridge in my hometown of Williamsport, Pa., that crosses the West Branch of the Susquehanna River that sings a similar tune. It didn't dampen my excitement, however.

And when I turned around to cross back into Oregon, I saw the most amazing view of Mount Hood. You can't see that in Williamsport. I was so tempted to stop right in the middle of the bridge to take a picture, but that certainly would've been frowned upon by my fellow motorists coming up behind me. Instead, I turned back around, paid another 75-cent toll and crossed back to Washington. I found a lot on that side that afforded me a great view and took some pictures. I think they are postcard-worthy.

Next on my list is a tour of the shanghai tunnels in Portland. According to the Web site, the tour is rated PG-13 and not for the faint of heart. I'm hoping to have a ghost story to tell after that.
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Monday, April 16, 2007

Tragedy on a college campus

The shooting today at Virginia Tech is dominating the news on national mainstream media outlets, including Associated Press. The death toll has now topped 30. It's still too early in the investigation process to know what motive the shooter may have had in this deadly rampage.

As a Land Grant university, Virgina Tech is one of the higher education institutions in this country with an agriculture college. In recent days and weeks we've had coverage on this blog and our main site related to some of the West Coast's ag education institutions. Fortunately, we have been able to share some of the good things going on at West Coast colleges. Even coverage and commentary related to some of the budgetary woes some schools are facing, while serious, is not so dire as the tragedy the this East Coast ag school and their families are facing.

It's almost too stunning to comprehend.

What do ag journalists need to know?

The Capital Press news staff, which is scattered in four Western states, will converge on Salem, Ore., next week for its annual spring gathering.

For two days, April 26 and 27, reporters and editors will meet to discuss what we do, how we do it and get some hands-on training.

Our staff members, collectively, has many years of experience using words and pictures to tell stories about agriculture. But in one of the sessions we will also discusses the explosion of other story-telling devices that the Internet now makes possible, including audio and video.

To be honest, I'm not sure what I want to share with the staff during my portion of that presentation. We don't have a budget to go out and do statistically valid studies of farmers, ranchers and other agriculture professionals, or folks who turn to the Internet for news about what's happening in agriculture. So, I'm hoping maybe you folks who have stumbled on this blog can share with us some information about what brought you here and how you use the Internet for information or entertainment.

When you read printed publications, do you look for information in stories you are interested in about how to get more information on that topic online? If so, what types of information will take you to a website to read more? Is it fill the full text of reports, legislation? Video of the story? Audio? Interactive maps?

How often do you go online? How much of your online time is spent looking for information on agriculture-related topics? What brought you here? Are you looking for information about specific crops? Livestock? Horses? Land conservation? Land use? Sustainability? Pesticides and herbicides? Outdoor recreation? Rural living? Rural property?

If you feel like sharing any information about what you look for online and why, it would be appreciated. You can just post a comment to this post.

If you had an opportunity to talk to agriculture journalists covering farm and ranch news in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California, what would you want them to know? What would you tell these people about what you want to see online or in a print publication?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Governor will live on $3 per day: challenges others to do same

Consider yourself challenged.

No matter where you live, or what are your circumstances, do you think you could live on $3 per day for a week?

How about longer?

Unfortunately, for people on food stamps, that is the average amount of money they receive, and the challenges of affording food stretch much longer than just a day or a week.

Sometimes people can understand a situation better by walking a mile in someone’s shoes. Or in this case, sitting down at someone’s kitchen table.

One of the people who has decided to do more than just discuss this situation during Hunger Awareness Week, which runs April 23-29, and actually experience this firsthand is Oregon’s Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

He announced that he and his wife, Mary Oberst, will live off $3 per day, $21 for that whole week.

“I challenge all Oregonians to experience first-hand what thousands of Oregon families go through every day,” he said in a press release. “Budgeting just $1 a meal each day for food, and trying to make that food nutritious, is a difficult task that sadly is a reality for too many Oregonians and their families.”

The press release said more than 425,000 Oregonians use food stamps for meals. This helps support $855 million of economic activity, from grocers to farmers’ markets.

(Comparing another place in the West, Idaho had 155,000 people use food stamps last year. One of the challenges Idaho had was a large error rate, more than 11 percent when examined four years ago. Since then, the state has made a lot of changes, and finished 2006 with a less than 5 percent error rate, compared to the national average of 6 percent, and making it the second most improved Food Stamp program in the country.)

Food stamps are currently receiving a lot of debate as changes are being made to the Farm Bill this year. Many people are watching closely or attempting to influence what will be in the final version that is adopted.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, in an earlier speech to America’s Second Harvest Food Research and Action Center National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference Washington D.C., outlined how the government plans to cover food stamps under the proposed Farm Bill being worked on: “We’re recommending spending an additional $500 million over the next 10 years specifically targeted to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for these programs. And we’re recommending spending $2.75 billion over the next 10 years to buy fruits and vegetables for our nutrition assistance programs.”

For the West, any program that is encouraging more fruit and vegetables be purchased is good news for farmers.

Johanns went on to explain how much of the USDA budget goes to food assistance programs.

“I believe that these proposals make effective use of taxpayer dollars while strengthening and improving our food and our nutrition programs… Food assistance is a very large part of the USDA budget; 59 percent of USDA’s budget goes to these programs.

“I often comment that I think people sometimes look at the USDA and say, well that’s where the farmer programs are at, and that’s what they do over there. Well, we do that. And it’s very important to our mission. But far and away the largest piece of our budget would go into our food and nutrition programs.

“The President’s 2008 budget continues to strengthen the nutrition safety net by increasing funding for these programs by $2.5 billion for 4.4 percent,” Johanns said.

It’s fine to promise money for programs in the future, but many people are struggling to survive day-to-day now. They need guarantees, not promises, and their kitchen tables are empty now.

“Many of us will never know what it’s like not to know where our next meal will come from or whether we’ll have enough food in the cupboard to make it through the week,” Governor Kulongoski said.

“My hope is that participating in the food stamp challenge, Oregonians will gain a better understanding of what hundreds of thousands of Oregonians experience each month as they try to afford their families’ basic needs — transportation, housing, child care, health care — and food.”

Prior to his week of modest meals, Kulongoski planned to be in Washington, D.C. lobbying Oregon’s congressional delegates to fight to reauthorize the Food Stamp Program.

Perhaps it’s ironic that he’d visit there — at a place with some of the most expensive restaurants, hotels and other services — before settling down back at home trying to figure out his $3 days in Salem.

Curiously, the press release didn’t mention what the governor’s itinerary will be like the week of April 23-29: how much will he be at home, versus being on the road for work? Or attending business meals to make speeches? Will he plan to do any entertaining, and if so, how does he plan to feed his guests?

Hopefully Kulongoski can later share how he planned his meals, and gives us a glimpse of how they survived.

One big issue being addressed during Hunger Awareness Week is there is a need for food stamps. People are starving. Schools are trying to feed kids at least once a day to help them survive.

But Hunger Awareness Week should also be used to seek more solutions rather than just showing how tough things are and begging for more food stamps.

For people who can do so, teach them how to grow food, preserve food, invest their time and energy into some more sustainable way to provide for themselves and their neighbors.

Community gardens are one of the ways this can be done; perhaps there are other alternatives to help those people in such great need.

For the very young, the elderly and the ill, maybe there are other ways to ensure they do not go hungry but continue to have access to the safe, nutritional and healthy food American farmers and ranchers provide to the nation and the rest of the world.

For now, Kulongoski will help educate people who are more fortunate in life to understand the challenges faced by those who need help.

Now the challenge is for all of us to do more than just sympathize.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Portland keeps weird with various oddities

People have been clamoring for my latest blog entry about my offbeat travels through Oregon, so I won’t make them wait any longer. And by “people,” I mean my good friend Tara. She and I spell our names the same way but pronounce them differently. She’s really a good person otherwise. Except for that one major flaw.
Anyway...back to the blog. My most recent journey took me back to Portland to witness more of the weird that the city is so proud of.
My first stop was at Stark’s Vacuums at 107 NE Grand Ave. for a foray into the Vacuum Cleaner Museum. I was really looking forward to this trip, having read all about the special features and attachments and the Goddess of Leisure. But I must admit that the museum did not sweep me off my feet.

Perhaps it was my general distaste for the act of vacuuming that made it ho-hum. (Truth be told, I’d rather be ironing. I wonder if I could buy that saying on a bumper sticker. Or if there’s an iron museum around here.) Or maybe it was the general lack of personality there.
The museum is tucked in the back left corner of the store, free to anyone who wants to take a peek at the vintage models that have been donated or traded in throughout the years. The 300 or so vacuum cleaners line the walls, some with tags that give a little history of the model, which sometimes includes who donated the item. There’s no guide to point out the really interesting tidbits, which could be how I missed a lot of them.
I was intrigued, however, by one vacuum from the 1890s. But if you’ve seen one upright, canister, handheld vac, floor polisher, Hoover, Eureka, Electrolux, you’ve pretty much seen them all.
My visit to Voodoo Doughnuts on NW Third Avenue was much more interesting. I was a little overwhelmed by the choices of doughnuts. All the available treats are displayed in a revolving dessert case, and it took a little bit of work to match them up with the names on the big board overhead. I’m still not quite sure what’s in the Marshall Mathers. 
I settled on a Portland Cream -- much like a Boston Cream with the yummy filling and chocolate frosting, but with a small hint of a coffee flavor. Of course! Incidentally, I learned in my “Oregon Curiosities” book that there was a 50-50 chance that the city would be named Boston. But Portland obviously won out.
I also tried one of the cereal-covered doughnuts. Froot Loops was probably the healthy choice, but I went with the Cocoa Puffs because I’m a little cuckoo. The chocolate doughnut was covered in chocolate frosting and topped with Cocoa Puffs to round out the chocolate trifecta. I somehow managed to avoid sugar shock when eating that one.
I chose one more doughnut and was on my way. The Arnold Palmer caught my eye, as he was also from Pennsylvania. His doughnut was covered in a concoction of iced tea and lemonade mix. I’m still not exactly sure how that equals golfing or why he would be memorialized in a Portland shop, but I did enjoy the doughnut. Any suggestions?
I’m looking forward to going back because there are still lots of tasty treats to discover. Like the vegan doughnuts, the giant glazed doughnut that equals four regular ones, the voodoo doll-shaped doughnut. And that Marshall Mathers doughnut continues to intrigue me.
As I was making my way to Voodoo Doughnuts from a lot across the street, I came across another curiosity -- the Benson Bubbler -- at the corner of NW Third and Burnside. The elegant, four-bowl bronze fountains flow with free water for parched Portlanders.

In 1912, lumberman Simon Benson donated $10,000 for the creation of 20 of the fountains, hoping to encourage his workers to drink water and not booze at the salooons. Today, there are more than 50 downtown, dispensing drinking water from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
From there, I headed over to Naito Parkway to check out the world’s smallest park -- Mill Ends Park -- near the intersection of SW Taylor Street. The 2-foot-by-2-foot park is occupied by one small tree and a few flowers in the median of the road. Some say leprechauns live here, but the only gold I saw was in the colors of the flowers.
There’s a sign on the sidewalk that gives the history of Mill Ends, and I’m pretty sure the sign is bigger than the park itself. It’s said that Oregon Journal columnist Dick Fagan had an office that gave him a view of the street below and a hole where a lightpole was to be placed. The pole never arrived, and he decided to plant flowers there.

In his column, he would spin tales of the goings-on at the park and described a group of leprechauns who had taken up residence there. It officially became a city park on St. Patrick’s Day in 1976.
I ended my adventure at Pioneer Square downtown at the milepost that gives the distances to far-away lands like Timbuktu, Walden Pond and Mecca and not-so-far-away lands like the Oregon Zoo, Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. Perhaps my favorite marking is the one that points out that Tipperary is “a long way.”

The square also has thousands of bricks etched with the names of local residents and businesses. I was told some famous names are seen on the bricks, but when I inquired at the information center nearby, I was told that was not the case. However, the square’s Web site lists bricks bearing the names of Elvis, Dan Rather, Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Bill and others. The Web site is still selling bricks for $100 each, so your name can be laser-etched in history.

There’s still lots to see in Portland, but I’m hoping to take a detour through Hood River next for the oldest piece of wedding cake and the singing bridge. I can’t wait!
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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Art about Agriculture show appeals to all types

Capital Press Executive Editor Elaine Shein talks with artist Roy 'Brizz' Meddings at Oregon State University's Memorial Union.
CORVALLIS, Ore. — As the last couple of people drifted away from last night’s opening reception for the Art about Agriculture exhibit at Oregon State University’s Memorial Union building on campus, the cleaning woman leaned against her cart.

“Were you here for the reception?” she asked.

“Were you one of the artists?” she added, smiling, motioning towards the recently installed exhibit or paintings, pictures and sculpture behind glass along the hallway.

For a few hours earlier, the Memorial Union Concourse Gallery and Memorial Union Lounge had been filled with conversation and laughter, familiar greetings, soft murmurs as well as hearty congratulations.

After two rounds of judging, 50 artists and their 60 works of art had emerged to become part of this year’s Art about Agriculture tour themed By Land and By Sea. A dozen of the pieces received various awards and honors, some to become part of the university’s impressive permanent collection of art.

For some people, like Roy “Brizz” Meddings, who received a Capital Press award for his digital photograph entitled “Red Barn,” this was the first time he has entered the competition. The self-described carpenter from Noti, Ore. who enjoys taking photos during his spare time and weekends, especially of landscapes, shared how he came across this barn in Eastern Oregon, near John Day. He set up his tripod and took seven shots. One of them became a prize winner.

He had another picture — “Canola Wedge” — also chosen for the tour, and was already planning what pictures he would like to enter into next year’s competition. More of his work — as well as the two images chosen for the tour — can be seen at

For other artists, such as Tallmadge Doyle, the competition is a familiar one and she is well-known to the university.

Originally from New York City, she lives now in Eugene. As it was announced that Doyle’s etching entitled “Giant Pacific Octopus II” had won several prestigious awards, including the OSU President’s and 2007 Juror’s Purchase awards and become part of the university’s permanent collection, it was noted she already has three other pieces that have been purchased for the same collection.

Her accomplishments go beyond the Art about Agriculture competition. As her website ( states, “Her work is included in numerous public and private collections including the Portland Art Museum’s Gilkey Print Collection, the Oregon State University Art About Agriculture Collection, the City of Seattle Portable Works Collection, and the Cleveland Art Association Collection.”

Her work has also been in galleries and national juried exhibitions across the country, for the Northwest to Washington, D.C., and New York City.

The opening reception drew a mix of people, from art lovers to university officials, artists to sponsors. Many of the artists brought their spouses or friends to celebrate their accomplishment.

Sitting during the award ceremony in a mix of overly comfortable sofas and chairs in the lounge with dark brown, ornately carved, high-beamed ceilings, the audience listened as Jan Auyong, Assistant Director of the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station, and Master of Ceremonies Michael Burke, Associate Dean Emeritus of OSU College of Agricultural Sciences, made introductions, explaining the history of the competition and OSU’s involvement in Art about Agriculture for the last 25 years.

Burke made interesting observations about the ties of art to agriculture going back to the earliest examples of art: from cavemen to other ancient civilizations that later emerged and wanted to capture in wall paintings, stone carvings or pottery etchings images of agriculture.

His comments made people think more about the links between agriculture and art and their influence on each other.

The artwork may have helped teach others how to work with domesticated animals, or how to grow crops, but they also helped preserve a record for archeologists to understand more about the production practices, and challenges, that people faced in agriculture.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that it’s a university that for the last quarter century that has worked to preserve art about agriculture in the modern world in so many examples of media.

In this year’s competition, artists who will participate in the tour used digital photography, oil or acrylic on canvas, watercolor, platinum/palladium print, mixed media, charcoal, etching, gelatin silver photography, oil on linen, ultrachrome print, forget steel, ink, plate lithograph, selenium toned gelatin silver photograph, lino-cut reduction print, acrylic and sand on canvas, pastel, cyanotype photograph, handcolored photograph, charcoal, monotype and dry pastel.

These artists were from all over Oregon, as well as from Idaho and Washington state. There were entries from other states in earlier rounds of the competition.

As people later walked through the hallway and gazed at the artwork, people stressed what they liked best in subject matter, boldness, color, originality or even the memory the art evoked from visits perhaps to the coast.

There were images of those who fished on ocean waves, sought crabs on beaches, or played with families on a sunny shore. Harbor scenes of boats and bridges and sun-dappled beaches balanced the artwork that showed more of the land part of the theme: barns, irrigations, elevators, hayfields and cattle.

There was something for everyone.

“Want to know which one I like best?” asked the cleaning woman, eyes twinkling. “I’ll show you,” she said, leading the way. “If you don’t mind,” she apologized, but eagerly nodded approval when she saw she had a captive audience following her.

Along the way, she said how blessed she felt to be able to work each day in this building, in this area especially when the Art about Agriculture exhibit was on display. She loved the paintings, and being able to gaze at them as she went about her duties.

Much better than some of the other more dreary areas of campus, she laughed.

Down the hall she walked, turned to the right, then stopped in front of a large pastel named “Home Is Where The Hay Is” by Judy Phipps of Rickreall, Ore.

Admitting she had dabbled with pastels herself in the past, the woman brushed some of her hair away from her face, leaned forward, and pointed out the fine detail on the swaths of hay. Such a masterpiece, so hard to believe it was done in pastel, she explained.

The artists, the sponsors, the university faculty and deans were gone for the night.

The students started to again walk quietly through the hallway and settle into the soft sofas to study or sleep for the night.

The cleaning woman smiled, thanked her guests, and as they descended the stairs to leave the building, she happily returned to her nightly chores, as she still soaked in the creative, colorful exhibits around her capturing land and sea beyond campus walls.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Long lost brother

The face of the man walking into the Capital Press lobby was familiar. I stopped for a second, not sure if my eyes were playing tricks on me or not. But sure enough, the man walking in the front door was indeed familiar.

The last time I saw him was in the lobby of another newspaper office in another Oregon city. That time, more than a dozen years ago, was in Coos Bay.

Ed Fournier and I went to college together at Oregon State. We were fraternity brothers. In fact I was his Big Brother in our house, Pi Kappa Phi.

I haven't been such a good Big Brother in the years since and Ed and I have lost touch, much as I have lost touch with my Big Brother, another Ed — Ed Redmond.

Ed was here on business to talk to our general manager, Mike O'Brien, and he had a business associate with him, so we didn't get a great deal of time to talk. But we had enough time to swap business cards and get caught up a little on the years that have passed in between our last meeting.

The one thing I have always loved about working in newspapers, is you never can predict what each day will bring. The news of the day can change your plans and your routine. I will definitely chalk today up as a "good news day" due to an unplanned meeting of an old friend in the front lobby.

Thanks for stopping by, Ed ,and taking some time out of your busy day to say hello.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Dow Chemical takeover?

The stock price for Dow Chemical, which makes agriculture chemicals among other things, shot up today amid speculation the company may be the focus of a hostile takeover bid.

Read the AP story here.

The big money behind the bid will supposedly come out of the Middle East.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Today Show forks up tasty food safety coverage

Did anyone catch the Today Show story today with the headline "How safe is your produce?" I'd be curious to know what growers and shippers in the produce industry thought of the story.

The story followed the process of how fresh spinach travels from "farm to fork." When I saw the teaser for the piece before the story aired this morning, my first reaction was, "Oh crap, more mainstream media scare tactics." But after watching the piece, I thought they Today Show and Matt Lauer did a pretty good job of describing the steps taken to protect produce from contaminants in the field and remove possible problem-causing crud in route to the grocer's shelf. They also reminded people at home that they play a key role in food safety.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Newspaper board visits Cal Poly

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Tonight several Capital Press board members are in San Luis Obispo, Calif., in preparation to meet with representatives from California Polytechnic State University … or better known as Cal Poly.

The university has more than 18,000 students, and one of the things that drew us here is its focus on agriculture and agricultural communications.

For the last few years, once a year, the CP board had visited different places to meet people from the state who are either organizational leaders, or faculty in universities, who can give us more insight into their state. We learn valuable lessons, such as how important agriculture is to Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California; what can we do to help provide information they need; and what stories are out there for us to cover in the future.

Flying from Portland, Ore. to San Francisco and then on to San Luis Obispo today showed the variances in terrain that farmers and ranchers deal with here. There are rich valleys, so green this time of year from the winter rains. There are mountains, some are thick with forests, others have only a few trees here and there and grass barely covering the slopes. There are large ranches reaching to the edges of the Pacific Ocean, with scattered herds of grazing cattle. And there are rocky, rugged, or sandy areas that challenge anyone to farm them.

Whenever one comes to this part of California, John Steinbeck’s novels come to mind and how his writing captured those who labored here during his time. Now, there are other images that Steinbeck would not yet have witnessed: roads winding up mountains and hillsides to huge houses, or expensive mansions seem to be taking over where perhaps farm houses once stood.

Tomorrow is our main day on campus, meeting faculty, staff and even students. It should be a great learning experience, and hopefully we can have a good discussion on how better share their stories and changing agriculture in this part of California to the rest of the world.

We had similar discussions in the past with UC Davis at Davis, Calif., with Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., and Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore.

We appreciate the time these universities take to meet with us, explaining their past, their present goals as well as their challenges and opportunities of the future.

Stay tuned to this blog to hear more about what we learn here.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Velvet paintings not just about Elvis anymore

The oddities tour continued Sunday with a stop at the Velveteria in Northeast Portland, a museum devoted to velvet paintings.

I was prepared to embrace the tack of the velvet paintings, but I didn’t know I’d have so much fun doing it. After regaling friends and family with stories of the world’s largest hairball and Bobbie the Wonder Dog, I had no problem finding someone to join me on my museum tour.

We walked in and paid our $3 admission charge before we were allowed to enter the gallery. I didn’t know where to look first, but my eyes landed on a painting of a familiar face. But I was sure I had to be wrong.

“Is that Jack Kevorkian?” I asked Carl, the founder.

“Yes, that is Dr. Jack Kevorkian,” he confirmed. “And that’s the leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult over there.”

Sure enough, there was another of Marshall Applewhite looking wide-eyed and crazed. Carl explained that the two were sold as a set in Tijuana, Mexico. I’m not sure what the artist was thinking when he created those, and I wonder what others he had planned in that series.

Moving on to the next wall, I found the “Unicorn Combover,” which was one of my favorites, perhaps as much for its name as for the artwork itself. It featured a unicorn with a long flowing mane that covered the head of a person next to it. There were apparently plans by the Velveteria folks to make that one into a T-shirt, but it was cost-prohibitive. I hope that changes soon because I’d line up for one of those.

The main exhibit going on at the moment is of Polynesian beauties. The founders purchased several paintings from a Hawaiian artist who had been told they were too tacky. However, they were some of the more artistic paintings on the walls. We even were given leis when we walked in to set just the right mood.

The exhibits change regularly and have been featured on The Travel Channel and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Many visitors to Portland or recent transplants like myself are often the ones who clamor to the museum to take in the velvety goodness.

Of course, the Velveteria also had the obligatory Elvis and dogs playing poker paintings, but there were so many other interesting subjects to see. Another personal favorite was of Hulk Hogan, wearing his wrestling belt and a bandanna on his head. But what made this artwork particularly unique was the green hue to Hogan’s skin, making him look more like the Incredible Hulk. I have fond childhood memories of the Incredible Hulk, so that one was special.

Just around the corner from the Hulk are two paintings depicting Jesus. In one, he is sporting a gravity-defying beard that’s pretty spectacular, and in the other, he is wearing the crown of thorns. But as Carl pointed out, the likeness bears an amazing resemblance to Sammy Davis Jr. He even put a small picture of Davis next to the painting to show the similarity. Indeed, the painting was dubbed “Sammy Davis Jesus.”

And there’s a small room in the back that’s filled with paintings of nude and topless women, and another section for paintings that glow under blacklight. The museum has paintings of E.T., Mr. T., Michael Jackson, Mel Gibson and over 100 others. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, so as not to ruin the fun for everyone else. You’ll just have to check it out on your own.

At the end of my gallery tour, I was overjoyed to see that the Velveteria had souvenirs. At so many of the quirky places, that isn’t the case, and I leave with only my memories and maybe some photographs. But not this time. The museum offered T-shirts, post cards, bumper stickers and bracelets, among other items.

I purchased a shirt and a few post cards, but I couldn’t resist the hot dog earrings, which I’m sporting now as I write this. Especially at $1 a pair. At first, they seemed so incongruous with the theme of the place. But in an odd way, I realized, they fit perfectly.

The museum is open noon to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday at 518 NE 28th Ave. between Sandy Boulevard and Glisan Street. Portlanders apparently aren’t so quick to stop in, but they are definitely missing out.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

No kidding ... where do you get a goat?

Sometimes the biggest challenge can be for farmers to find their customers, and for customers to find them.

On Saturday, a group of customers visited the Italian deli shop in Corvallis, Ore. that's named Natalia and Cristoforo's. It was obvious the young men who were buying some cuts of meat that day were regulars, as they chatted about jobs, people they knew and the food in the shop.

This deli shop is tucked away on a side street in downtown Corvallis. Inside, there are all kinds of Italian specialty meats, cheeses and wines, as well as imported pastas, oils and sweets. The place has a faithful following of people who enjoy the specialty sandwiches on the menu. The place isn't fancy; its seating area is downstairs among the wine bottles, with several old tables and few mismatched plastic or other chairs, but the food is of top quality.

As one of the guys talked to the owner about an upcoming social event, he suddenly quizzed, "Do you know where I can get a goat?" Apparently, these young guys were interested in buying a whole goat to cook for a bunch of guests.

The owner shook his head, answered he didn't, but also mentioned this is the second time he's been asked that question.

Who knew there was such a market in Corvallis?

However, it raises the question: where does one find specialty meats, especially as people of various cultures blend into the American society mix and desire food of different origins and preparations?

Another question: are farmers actively approaching butchers, deli shop owners, or other markets to see if they want their specialty meats? Or suggesting that if these small shop owners can't handle such orders, if they can please pass on the business to the farmers directly?

The guys made their purchases and left, leaving behind an untapped market for some goat producer.

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