Mendocino County Today: November 4, 2013
by AVA News Service, November 3, 2013
ON OCTOBER 12, 2013, KZYX GENERAL MANGER JOHN COATE wrote on his KZYX.org blog that when (if?) the Open Lines program comes back, “maybe we should rename the show ‘How Do You Know?’ so that all the assertions that get made might be backed up with some evidence.”
WHICH isn't a bad idea, Johnny babe, and certainly doable. You could open up the phones every day for an hour or so with exactly that challenge — How Do You Know? Yeah, buster, how the hell do you know? How do we know you're not trying to sell us some bad dope here?
ON OCTOBER 8, COATE WROTE: “We have eleven hours of local public affairs programming every week.” Oh really? How Do You Know, Coate?
THE KZYX roster of “public affairs” programs includes exactly zilch about purely local public affairs. Sakowicz is almost always about big picture financial stuff with guests from outside Mendocino County. Women’s Voices is a very subtle, highly sophisticated comedy show, but men aren't allowed to laugh. Jeff Blankfort’s and Joy LeClaire’s hours feature guests and topics about the great world outside Mendocino County. Wildloak Living is a trilling promo about the lady host's soporific friends. Corporations & Democracy is strictly big think. Mind, Body Health isn’t about public affairs, the peculiar Ukiah healer just talks about random medical neuroses few people relate to. Mr. Kisslinger, husband of Anne Molgaard of the First Five scamarama, is kinda local but he's a natch-born nuzzlebum who simply lobs softballs at random local bureaucrats. He'll have his wife on any time now. “The Ecology Hour” is mostly tinfoil hat updates. Point & Click has nothing to do with public affairs. We haven’t heard Ms. Werdinger’s “Maps & Legends” show. We think she's a peach, though. Pride Radio is a canned show about far away gay issues, and Open Lines, the only opportunity for any old person to call in and talk about any old thing, local or not, is gone.
THERE'S NO REGULAR discussion of local news or issues. Nothing about the Board of Supervisors. Poor old Paul Lambert doesn't even have time to read the Sheriff’s press releases. He gets to tell us what the weather is like in Lakeport and Laytonville but that's about as topical as he's allowed to get.
ON NOVEMBER 2, 2013, at 5:08am the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office received a report of several gunshots and a woman yelling in the 30000 block of Simpson Lane in Fort Bragg. As Deputies were responding to the scene a caller reported to the Sheriff's Office dispatch center that a vehicle was seen leaving the immediate area. Prior to the arrival of Deputies the Fort Bragg Police Department was dispatched to the Mendocino Coast District Hospital because a person with a gunshot wound(s) had arrived at the hospital. Deputies responded to the hospital and learned the person, a 42-year-old male, was associated with the reported shooting on Simpson Lane. Sheriff's Detectives were summoned to the hospital to conduct further investigations into the incident. Upon arrival Sheriff's Detectives contacted an adult female who had witnessed the shooting.
The adult female stated she had been physically assaulted by her boyfriend, Joel David Humecky, during the earlier morning hours. After the assault the adult female reported the incident to the 42-year-old male, as the pair was friends. The 42-year-old male drove to a piece of property in the 30000 block of Simpson Lane where the adult female and Humecky were residing inside of a vehicle. When the 42-year-old male arrived he contacted the adult female who was alone inside of the vehicle. A short time later Humecky, who had left the area on foot after the earlier domestic violence incident, appeared near the vehicle. Shortly thereafter, Humecky shot the 42-year-old male several times with a handgun before fleeing the area on foot. The adult female transported the 42-year-old male to the hospital where he was later transported via air ambulance to a Santa Rosa area hospital with life-threatening injuries. Later that day at approximately 11:29am Sheriff's Detectives located Humecky at an apartment complex on Walnut Street in the city of Fort Bragg. Humecky was arrested for attempted murder and for domestic violence battery. Humecky was booked into the Mendocino County Jail where he was to be held in lieu of $250,000 bail. The identity of the adult female is being withheld as a victim of domestic violence. The case is still being actively investigated by Sheriff's Detectives and anyone with information pertaining to the investigation is urged to call the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office Tip-Line at 707-234-2100. (Sheriff’s Department Press Release)
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND: A visualization of drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004
WILLIAM BERT SCHLOSSER, 59, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at his Ukiah home on Saturday, October 26, 2013. Bert was born in Oregon on December 26, 1953 and grew up in Simi Valley, California. He attended Moorpark Junior College and was a member of the team that won first place in the National Debate Tournament of 1978. Bert had a gift for the spoken word and the courtroom was his favorite stage. He was so proud of his son William for pursuing his passion for drama and following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Bert's dad, who was Dean of Theater Arts at Cal State Northridge. As a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, Bert was extremely proud of his daughter Eve's decision to also be a "Banana Slug". Eve shares her father's love for mathematics even though Bert knew he didn't have anywhere near her talent for numbers. Bert attended law school in Santa Barbara, California where he officially began his legal career in 1984. Initially, he set up private practice as a criminal defense attorney in Santa Barbara where trials were few and far between. When an opportunity came up in the Public Defender Office for Santa Barbara County, Bert's talents were realized and he was now in the right venue. His legacy as a trial attorney had begun. For the past 25 years, Bert has served as Deputy Public Defender and Alternate Defender for Mendocino County where his trial record is daunting. Above all, Bert Schlosser was a tireless and passionate advocate for the legal rights of the legal rights of accused. Bert is survived by his wife Deborah (aka Wally), and his children, William, 22 and Eve, 20, who brought him more joy than he ever expected. He is also survived by his mother Dorothy Jean Schlosser of Simi Valley, California, brother Wade, sister-in-law Debra and niece Alyssa Schlosser of Westlake Village, California, and sister Perri Schlosser. He was preceded in death by his father William Edwin Schlosser. His beloved dog Pepper misses him deeply. Bert had many, many friends both old and new. Each and every one of Bert's friends were very important to him. He truly loved them all. Services will be held Saturday, November 9, 2013 at Eversole Mortuary at 10:30 a.m. with a reception immediately following at the Elk's Lodge, Hastings Road, Ukiah.
THE CLOVERDALE ARTS ALLIANCE INVITES YOU TO ATTEND THE DISCOVERING ART, art appreciation class this Tuesday (Nov 5, 2013) from 7 PM to 8:30 PM at the Cloverdale Arts Alliance (204 N Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale, CA). This evening's lecture topics in the program "American Art Masterpieces" are: Federal American Portraiture This lecture ends the study of early American portraits by looking at portraits of the Founding Fathers, like Gilbert Stuart's iconic George Washington portraits, and other works by G.W. Peale of Thomas Jefferson, Dolly Madison, etc. Early Landscapes and Historical Paintings We will examine history paintings by Benjamin West, John Vanderlyn, Rembrandt Peale, as well as romantic landscapes and thunderstorms, and depictions of classical myths (a la Poussin). American painters studied in Europe at this time, and were fascinated by French and Italian art movements. They returned to America, influenced by the art movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, and created their American interpretation of these influences.
WHIMSEY IN CLOVERDALE? Who would have thought… “The Listener,” a nine-foot green sculpture celebrating the ample version of the female form, now sits on Cloverdale Boulevard in the middle of town. Will the Jolly Green Giant soon join her?
DAY OF THE DEAD remembers all the family and friends who have gone before, complete with the visuals reminding us that even the most joyous occasions — weddings, the births of children, youthful vigor — are fleeting. To remind us exactly how fleeting, Mexican artists present these occasions in skeletal tableaus. “You're living it up now, big boy, but sure as hell you're headed for the boneyard.” I've got a skeleton figurine in an A's baseball uniform with a bat in his hands, which, every time my eyes fall upon it, takes me back to when I was young and invincible. Having just come off Halloween with its packs of sugar driven children, and more than a few adults, jogging through the streets to amass shopping bags stuffed with Tootsie Rolls (didn't they used to be bigger?), has no meaning at all beyond the usual one of costumed consumption. Gringos might want to put on Bocelli's Con de Partiro and think back on who is gone.
THE PLANET may be dying, but it's been a good year for salmon, with the winter run on the Sacramento estimated double last year's numbers, which weren't all that great but better than they have been. Pretty good catches out of Fort Bragg, too.
LADY BERTRAM did not like at all to have her husband leave her; but she was not disturbed by any alarm for his safety, or solicitude for his comfort, being one of those persons who think nothing can be dangerous or difficult, or fatiguing to anyone but themselves.
— Lady Bertram, Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
WHAT ARE THE ODDS, PARANOIDS?
If you are not exhausted by or indifferent to the endless revelations about the NSA — another week, another code name, another program to vacuum up and analyze the world's communications — then you've probably long since drawn a single general conclusion: we're all being watched, all the time. You may also think this is something we sort of knew anyway. Perhaps you see ubiquitous spying as a function of the post-9/11 authoritarian state, which gathers knowledge by any means possible in order to consolidate its control, and which sees us all as potential suspects. Or perhaps you think that if the state is going to have a chance of keeping us safe from bad guys it obviously has to have the latitude to look for them: it isn't interested in your research into 13th-century frescoes or cheap tights, but it needs to monitor all internet activity so that it can detect that rare occasion when someone searches for the materials to make hexamethylene triperoxide diamine bombs. The trouble with both these responses is that they're answers to a selfish question: are the spies doing what they're doing because they're interested in us? Civil libertarians say yes, and that the monitoring must stop; security advocates say no, not if we aren't doing anything bad. The paranoid reaction — that if I use the word “bomb” in an email to my aunt from the vicinity of a Bali nightclub then I may find black-suited agents descending on my hotel room — is just an extreme version of the narcissistic fallacy that someone is trying to see into my brain. There are seven billion people on the planet, and nearly seven billion mobile phones; six billion emails are sent every hour; 1.2 petabytes of data travel across the internet every minute, the equivalent of two thousand years' worth of music playing continuously, the contents of 2.2 billion books. Even if they don't get everything — the NSA claims, with loving wording, to “touch” just 1.6% of global internet traffic, or about 35 million books' worth of data a minute — the spooks have an awful lot more to be getting on with than worrying about you. And that's just the internet. That the NSA — along with the rest of the Five Eyes, the signals intelligence agencies of the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — has for the past 60 or so years sought to monitor as many of the world's communications as it has been technically possible for it to access is widely accepted. In response to Edward Snowden's leaks, the NSA put out a statement in August to expand on the public description of its mission, defining signals intelligence (SIGINT) — its primary job — as “the production of foreign intelligence through the collection, processing and analysis of communications or other data, passed or accessible by radio, wire or other electromagnetic means.” “'Communications or other data” that is “passed” by “electromagnetic means”; that's anything emitted or received by a phone, computer, fax, radio, guidance system or satellite, or data that travels along any kind of cable, whether dedicated to voice signals or internet payloads or banking transactions or supposedly secure diplomatic, government and military communications. It's anything with a pulse. Asked last month by a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee whether there was a limit to the records NSA could collect, Keith Alexander, the agency's director, said: “There is no upper limit.” He was talking about the phone records of Americans, but since those explicitly fall outside the NSA's foreign intelligence remit, and since many had thought that systematically collecting them was illegal, it went without saying that there was no limit to its ambition or ability to monitor anything else either. So the question has to be not so much “Is Big Brother watching.” but “How in hell can it cope?”
— Daniel Soar
STATEMENT OF THE DAY: I don't even go to the doctor anymore. From now on, if I get hurt I'm going to the vet. The vet is better than the doctor on so many levels. First of all, a vet never refers you to another vet. Doctors specialize. They have a limited scope of expertise. “I do internal medicine,” or, “I fix bones,” or “I only do ear, nose, and throat.” The vets don't care what SPECIES you are! Anything that comes in the door. He doesn't care if it's a pit bull, a kitten, or a goldfish! He is just, “Lay that stuff on the table. I don't care. I don't care! You got a sick parakeet? I'm ready to go. I do birds. I don't care.” And a vet always gives you options. When you go to a vet, they will be very clear: “Look, this surgery will be very expensive, it's very complicated, there's plenty of risk, I'm not sure it will work. If you want, I could just kill you.” With a vet, that's always on the table. “We have the van out back. I can put your ass to sleep and cart you off to wherever you want to go. It only costs $50. It does not cause your family any grief or anything. We can take care of this right now.” I'm not saying it's the best option, I'm just saying I like knowing that option is on the table. — Alonzo Bodden
FAVORABLE RESULTS IN EARLY CRAB TESTS
by Daniel Mintz
The state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) reports that Dungeness crab in two out of three tested ports in the northern region have met the shell-to-meat ratio needed to open the commercial crabbing season on Dec. 1.
The DFW’s first round of crab tests were in the Fort Bragg, Eureka and Crescent City port areas and only Eureka fell below the 25% meat yield standard.
Trinidad has yet to be tested and Eureka was “a little low” and will be re-tested on Nov. 12, said Pete Kalvass, of the DFW’s Eureka office. Trinidad will also be tested then, and if both meet the standard, the commercial season will open on schedule.
The recreational crabbing season started just after midnight on Saturday. The DFW only tracks commercial crab landings, which account for over 90% of the total take.
The last two commercial seasons have been robust, with almost 17 million pounds landed in the region last year and 16 million pounds the year before.
The ten-year average for the region is about 10 million pounds, indicating a recent crab population spike cycle. Kalvass said another strong season is expected this year, based on the above-average landing totals for the least two years.
But as longtime crabbers know, boom times are cyclical. “You do have highs and lows that last a couple of years each,” Kalvass said. Based on the pre-season tests, however, a third year of strong commercial crabbing is forecasted.
How sport crabbers will fare is hard to say, Kalvass continued, as the testing spots are offshore, in deep water areas where only commercial crabbers drop their pots.
The last Dungeness crab season started late in the northern region, on Jan. 15, due to the Trinidad area’s slower maturation rate. The season was extended a month, to August 15, because of the delayed start.
All four of the region’s port areas need to reach the meat yield standard before the commercial season’s opening can be approved. The first round of pre-season tests shows promise, as Crescent City doesn’t often meet the standard this early.
And there’s plenty of time for the crabs to get bigger.
“There’s a whole month for the crab to continue to put on weight before the commercial season opens, and they can put on as much as a half a% per week under really good conditions,” said Kalvass. “So the indications are that the crab this year are well ahead of last year’s and the previous year in terms of filling in the meat yield and those crab that are out there, that both commercial and sport and fishermen catch, should be in pretty good shape compared to previous years.”
The recreational size minimum for Dungeness crabs is five and three-quarters inches, measured across the shell. Both males and females can be taken.
DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME: “I quit changing clocks a few years back. Too much effort for what is nothing but somewhat subtle authoritarianism by the government (look, we can even make those idiots change their clocks for no really good reason). I don’t believe the “energy saving” stats, either. As reported, they’re just too precise to be anything more than part of a bad joke, or an exercise in just how to control people. It’s easier just to add an hour during that period of supposed daylight saving. People are such sheep. I’ve been against daylight saving since Nixon imposed it full time during the first “energy crisis.” There was a cartoon then, by Oliphant if I recall correctly. The cartoon showed a guy in bed with a blanket that was too short, so he pulled it up, only to expose his feet. Can’t remember the caption, but the cartoon, depicting the stupidity, made me howl with laughter.” — Harvey Reading
THE CROOKS BROS
by Chili Bill Eichinger
The dissimilarity between the Crooks brothers was, how you say, inversely proportional to the similarity of the Baldwin brothers. I’m tempted to used the Jekyll/Hyde allusion, but methinks I did that in some other bit of rambling. Perhaps an even better reference is The Thing With Two Heads, a classic piece of trash featuring Ray Milland and Rosy Grier as the star(s); hell, I’ll toss in The Manster too, a wonderful low budget B&W Japanese/American collaboration that features a guy who… well, you should just rent it, trust me.
I met John Crooks in the heyday of the dance club circuit, when we went to places like The Loft, The Sky-Hop, The Sock-Hop and Uncle Tom’s. These were temples of teen stupidity, where the basic premise was to scope out girls, maybe even dance with them, and then eventually get drunk and scrape your knuckles across some poor bastard’s teeth. You only had to be 18 to drink 3.2 beer in Kansas, but most of us had fake IDs that said we were 21, so we’d get into the joints in KCMO too, where they had hard liquor and one could get righteously twisted before swinging a hunk of rebar at a fellow twistee out in the parking lot. But I digress.
John was kind of a loner, even though he seemed to be on good terms with all of the Italians, which was an important factor in preventing serious altercations. He was a tall, very Italian-looking fellow himself and always stood ramrod straight, his classic black pompadour held in place with Alberto VO-5, the choice of juvenile delinquents everywhere. Like the rest of the hip and cool, he usually wore Italian knit pullovers and Sansabelt pants, finished with the latest stylish pointy-toed shoes and black socks, preferably silk ribbed “thick-and-thins” as we called them. And he had a cool ’51 Chevy two-door fastback, stock but cherryed out.
John never had any problem getting the ladies to dance, as he had a disarming smile and a smooth line of patter, as opposed to a lot of the Neanderthals who lurked around the edges. No doubt the girls also admired his rather healthy package, enhanced by money well spent on alterations. But the bizarre aspect of his physique was a rather protruding set of buttocks. We’re talking almost steatopygian here — get out your dictionary for that one. Before you get the wrong idea, you have to believe me when I say everybody looked at this guy’s ass. I’d hear sweet young things standing next to me talk about it in dulcet, somewhat lascivious tones. I’m sure the cops probably looked at him with suspicions of their own. And of course there were the detractors, who just called him “Bubble Butt.”
Now you stand John Crooks up next to his brother, George, and you would say, no way that’s his brother. George Crooks was the victim of a horrible fucking by Fate. Whatever the physical cause was I never knew, because I didn’t think John wanted to talk about it, and I was too damned scared to even think about asking George. His spine was permanently bent in a kind of sideways curve, and he was unable to swivel his head, which was cocked slightly to one side like a puzzled dog. To top it off, part of one jaw was missing. When you looked at him it was like being in the Funhouse Hall of Mirrors, but it wasn’t one bit funny.
George didn’t have too many friends, and those he did have were just as unhappy with their lot in life. They were all in and out of jail frequently, drunk most of the time and looking for a way to end up back in jail. High school dropouts to a man, they supported themselves by working on cars and stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down. They didn’t give a shit about anything or anybody, and would fight at the drop of a hat. I never heard anybody bragging about duking it out with that bunch, even the crazy Irish bastards that I hung with on occasion.
George had himself a beautiful ’56 Buick Roadmaster, painted white over fire engine red. This was the crew’s primary cruising vehicle. It was widely rumored that George kept a sawed-off 12 gauge in it. On a beautiful, warm, Easter Sunday in the early 60s, George and his playmates were allegedly gadding about, enjoying the scenery in a part of town they would never be able to live in, Mission Hills. There were a number of lawn parties in progress, the family members having attended church and Sunday dinner somewhere, and now settled in for the egg hunts and ice cream and cake. As our boys passed one house, George noticed that some lucky child had received a big fat white bunny which was cavorting about the well-tended lawn, much to the delight of all. The Buick rolled along about a half block, came to an abrupt halt and then roared back in reverse. When it stopped, George came up with the sawed-off and scattered that rabbit all over the place, then laid rubber for about two blocks, laughing maniacally.
Or so they say.
THE DEVIL IN THE LANDSCAPE
by Bruce Patterson
It is better to be a part of a great whole than to be the whole of a small part. — Fredrick Douglass, 1886
In his book Names on the Land, a historical account of place-naming in the United States (1947), G.R. Stewart notes the absence of places named after God or Jesus, the Virgin, Prophets or Angels. Back in pioneering days, you see, folks were God-Fearing and they didn’t want to blaspheme. Yet that didn’t keep them from naming plenty of places after shrewd old glinty-eyed Mr. Scratch: Devil’s Den, Devil’s Tower and Devil’s Golf Course just three of a very long list. The old-timers also went crazy naming places after “hell,” “Hell’s Hole” being my favorite.
Then there was “Colter’s Hell,” the area known today as Yellowstone. Pvt. John Colter was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In 1806, during their return trip down the Missouri River, they met a pair of American early bird fur trappers paddling a canoe upstream. The two parties camped together and exchanged stories over a campfire. The next morning Private Colter asked Lewis and Clark (they shared command) if he could be honorably discharged from the army so he could join the trappers, return to the mountains and try his luck. Since Colter had been exemplary in the performance of his duties, Lewis and Clark gladly granted him his wish. They even allowed him to keep his weapons and gear and to take whatever equipment, powder and supplies he might need in exchange for a signed IOU promising to repay the government if and when he returned to Saint Louis and civilization.
Four years later John Colter did reappear (alone) and he was full of tall tales. The most famous being that he’d made a roughly 500 mile solo winter trek through the mountains west of Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin (true), and that along the way he’d discovered a place of fire and brimstone; of roaring towers of scalding water and boiling pots of mud, of steaming blood-red caldrons and sulfurous fogs. Since there were those who believed the upper chambers of Satan’s Kingdom reached to the ground underfoot, and because virtually no one believed this raggedy, wild-eyed and furry fellah who claimed to have discovered such a place (since he’d “gone Indian,” it’s highly unlikely that Colter himself saw it that way), for decades the blank spot on the map was known derisively as Colter’s Hell.
The decision to name the Snake River Canyon “Hell’s Canyon” has always struck me as especially ludicrous. Given the canyon’s grand scale and undeniable beauty, the tag seems downright deranged. Turns out, at least according to legend, the canyon was named by Northern Pacific Railroad surveyors who, in the 1860s, after what must have been Herculean efforts, had to report to their superiors back east that building a railroad along the river was not just infeasible but hand-on-the-Bible impossible. So you can imagine the surveyor’s shame. It must have been hell.
As always when questing strangers settle in a strange land, their place-naming reveals their cultural biases. Here is this immense, inaccessible gash in the earth, this roadblock to progress—let’s call it Hell’s Canyon. The name resonates with people and it sticks. It not only sticks but causes nearby landmarks to get named in the same Halloween spirit. Hence the roof of Hell’s Canyon comes to us as Seven Devils Mountains. Up there stands a He and She Devil, a Devil’s Throne and Tooth. There’s the Goblin (evil spirit), the Twin Imps (Devil’s children) and the Ogre (a cruel and hideous giant). There’s also a Tower of Babel (apt, I’d submit), a Mount Baal (a shortening of the Hebrew Baal-zebub: “Lord of Flies”) and Mt. Belial (New Testament for Satan).
Here’s a kicker: just a whisker north of the Seven Devils is the grassy crown of a hogback called Heaven’s Gate. It’s called Heaven’s Gate because, situated high above the Snake and Salmon River defiles, the panorama to be had from up there is heavenly. Here’s another kicker: as if to refute the elaborate display of human preposterousness across the way, on the Oregon side runs a watercourse called Crazyman Creek.
Murderer’s Draw, Massacre Ridge, Skeleton Canyon, Starvation Gulch, Skull Butte, Death Valley, Tombstone, River of No Return, Stinkwater, Badwater and Deadman’s Creek. Out West so many places are expressions of old-timey pee-your-pants tricker-treater superstition that — at least outside of modern ski resorts, sardine can trailer parks, shiny-new corporate subdivisions and monumental shopping malls — you’ll rarely find inspiring place names. Inspiring place names are so rare that when they do strike your ears they tend to grate on your nerves. For example, very early in the 19th Century some visionary American missionaries anointed three of Oregon’s volcanoes sisters named Faith, Hope and Chastity. The tags so aggravated the folks living down below that they re-named the peaks Three Sisters (North, South and Middle). And, since the area now had peaks officially called Sisters, why not give them a neighbor named Little Brother? Why not add a Wife, Husband, Brother-in-law and Bachelor? If, at the start of the Automobile Era, you’re a sand-lapper living down in the nearby desert and you wish to grow your roadside livery stable and pit stop into a proper town having a school, a church and a post office, you name it Brothers and hope it’ll work its mojo. At least to a degree, people name places the way lottery junkies pick numbers.
About 25 miles south of here is a wilderness area called The Badlands. Now at one time or another I’ve hiked through plenty of badlands, including the namesake ones up there in South Dakota (figures “the whites,” in exchange for the fabulously rich Black Hills, would “give” the Indians the badlands and then take them back). Anyway, having hiked some in these here badlands down the road, I can testify they’re nothing like any badlands I’ve ever seen. It’s mostly an old and rather handsome juniper forest, for Christ’s sake. Most of the 30,000 acres were rich in native bunch grasses until over-grazing during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries allowed the junipers, sage and rabbitbush to take over. Today it’s a wilderness only in the sense that it’s protected from cars and motorcycles, cattle, stock horses, chainsaws, weed-whackers and leaf blowers, and I’m all for that. It’s an interesting place, too, what with its lava formations, ancient twisted “scrub cedars” (the pioneers mistook junipers for cedars) and rim-rocked dry gulches. It’s also very quiet, “private” and full of birds, lizards and cute little chipmunk-looking ground squirrels (I’ve taken a shine to the magpies, too, the goofy fuckers). The sandy soils, flattish and relatively open ground also make the area an ideal place for tender-footed and high strung horses and their riders, and they come from near and far. But badlands it ain’t. It occurs to me that we’ve sunk pretty low when those individuals or committees naming wilderness areas think like real estate boosters.
Speaking of telling tall tales, the earliest of the West’s real estate boosters were those selling stocks in mining claims. Since the investors were in the cities back east, and the mines were in the sticks out west, these guys got to give their imaginations free rein. A partial list of their more creative offerings as assembled by Mr. Stewart: Sheba, Branch Mint, Golconda, Bonanza, Golden Reward, King of the West, Sultan, Empire and King Solomon.
One thing interesting about Oregon’s collection of place names is how there’s virtually nothing even hinting at the West’s rich Hispanic heritage, especially as in California and New Mexico. But in the Pacific Northwest (folks hereabouts brag about living halfway between the Equator and the North Pole), arroyos, bajadas, playas, chaparral and the like ain’t anywhere to be found. I doubt you’ll find even a handful of “Hacienda Motels” in the entire three-state region.
What has surprised me the most during our travels is how many textbook mesas there are dotting the landscape. Sometimes I think I’m motoring through a John Ford Western movie and Monument Valley’s just around the bend. But they’re called “rimrocks” around here and I don’t believe you’ll find the word “mesa” written anywhere on an Oregon state map. This even though it was California and Nevada Buckaroos who came and created eastern Oregon’s cowboy culture, themselves carrying on the traditions of the Californio vaqueros who’d learned their husbandry and horsemanship—and rode horses—that came to Spain from Arabia by way of the Moors (an Arab/Berber mix) beginning about 1,300 years ago. In a region where the rotting outlines of backcountry boom, bust and gone towns are seen as historical icons, it’s strange to overlook the far deeper and more interesting stuff. Then again, maybe the lack of hindsight is simply an expression of regionalism and ethnocentricity—a sort of communal Freudian slip.
Looking west from our kitchen window I see the southeast corner of the almost perfectly round mesa that overlooks the town. Ochoco State Scenic Viewpoint, the juniper-covered tabletop is called. Up there’s a large paved parking lot, a small picnic area, a nice network of very short foot trails and, of course, a hand made, government built lava rock and mortar wall lining the rim to keep the little ones, the clumsy and the flighty from falling off the cliff and tumbling down the talus slope. Around town the spot is known simply as the bluff. The mesa can properly be called a bluff, too, even though the uppermost western bluff (the east one has mostly washed away through this stretch) is at least 60 miles long and much higher, which makes the bluff/mesa into just a pimple. Still, over the course of I can’t say how many scores of millions of years, today’s Crooked River, its tributaries and ancestors made the bluff into what it is.
Imagine a vast area of ocean bottom uplifted, dried-out and buckled. Imagine it getting buried under layers and layers of lava in places three miles deep. Since water plus time is more powerful than rock, imagine most of the lava ground into soil, washed away or left standing as hard-headed remnants. That’s what geologists see when they stand atop the bluff.
Trish and I go up there sometimes to catch a sundown or to watch a parade of lightning-throwing thunderheads drifting northward on the eastern horizon. The Ochoco Mountains begin a tad west of due north at Grizzly Mountain (5,635ft.) and curl around to the southeast. Due east stretches the valley, canyon and headwaters of Ochoco Creek and, topping the skyline about 30 miles away, stands a flat-topped mountain that appears as finely cut and water-level as the deck of an aircraft carrier. While its perfect mesa shape caught my eye last winter when I first noticed it peeking through the clouds, I didn’t think much more about it till spring.
Sprawled in the tabletop mountain’s eastern shadow is a place called Big Summit Prairie. After the snow was gone Trish, Jeff and myself drove up there to see the 150-year-old ranches, the wildflowers and butterflies. On the highway up just shy of the prairie on the divide between the headwaters of Ochoco Creek and the Crooked River, we saw a sign for the trailhead to the top of a “Lookout Mt.” (6,936). I stopped to read the sign and realized the trail led to the flattop I’d seen from the bluff. Since the sign said the loop trail to the summit and back is only seven miles and a 1,200-foot ascent, I added the hike to my list of things to do.
Roughly a mile high and ringed with mountains, Big Summit Prairie is like a lost world. It’s like an oasis of pastoral peace and serenity hidden in the woods. One of the oldest continuously settled areas in all of eastern Oregon, it’s a place onto itself conveniently located on the way to nowhere (although the picnic table full of folks living out in Izee and Supley might rightly object to that characterization). The backroads around here are so empty that folks driving pickups and cars often wave as they pass each other. But up there in Big Summit Prairie the ranchers stretch their necks at you as if wondering how you’d found them and how long you intend to stay.
Now all across America where ever there are mountains are there are ones called “lookout.” In the USA, Lookout Mountains are about as common as fleas on a sheep dog in spring, or about as hackneyed as hackneyed gets. Seeing how during the 20th Century the Forest Service erected and then mothballed hundreds of Fire Lookouts across the land, and taking into account the influence of Forest Service personnel within the USGS when it came to producing the nation’s topographical maps, it makes sense that mountains would get named after tiny, temporary human dwellings instead of the other way around. Anyway, when we did get atop of the flat-topped mountain called Lookout, and having enough of the pagan in me to want to show some respect, in my mind I renamed it Big Summit Mesa.
About four miles stem-to-stern and two miles wide, the tabletop is shaped like an elaborate puzzle piece resting flat on a wrinkled blanket. Surely, I think when we’ve reached the summit at the sight of the long-gone fire lookout, I’m standing on the surface of that ancient lake of solidified lava; surely this is an island left behind by that vanished sea; surely this is ancient and sacred ground. Beginning in the late 19th Century, herders came up from Bridge Creek drainage and grazed their sheep up here during late summer, as did the cattleman who’d come before. But all signs of their wanderings have been erased by the wind. One of the West’s bloodiest “range wars” was fought around here and the skirmishes went on for decades. I wondered if up here there’d been bloodshed and, since such wars were fought more for pride than for profit, I supposed it was possible.
From up there on those sky-scrapping flatlands anything approaching a panoramic view is impossible, of course, and so as a “lookout” the summit was very second rate. Still I did get an eyeful of the spacious view from the mesa’s southwestern lip and, even though I tried, I couldn’t see anything I could mistake for the Devil, his Kin, Slaves or Works anywhere. Nothing inspired fear. ¥¥