What's Tony Thinking

From the Wallowas


It was a beautiful day in the Wallowa Mountains, in the northeastern corner of the great state of Oregon, my home state.

I had my first swim of the season in Wallowa Lake. For this time of the year, the water is high. This owes to double the normal amount of rainfall in May and June, which at higher elevations was snowfall. So the Lake is high, and it is cold. This baptism was bracing. But the water is beautiful. So clear that you can see the bottom at a depth of 30 ‘ and more. And the colors — the amazing array of blues and greens characteristic of a glacier lake.

There won’t be any “Chief Joseph Days” this year — for the first time in 75 years this event annually on “the last full weekend of July” has been cancelled. No rodeos, no parades, no “cowboy breakfast.” The CJD Board decided, reluctantly, to cancel the defining summer event for these parts.

But we shall see. Earlier the local Chamber had cancelled the traditional 4th of July fireworks on the Lake. But one of the drinking spots in the town of Joseph, “The Stubborn Mule,” threw down the gauntlet for “freedom.” The Mule raised the $12K necessary for a rump fireworks display. We’re watching the County’s COVID report to see if there’s a post-4th bump along about July 18th.

One of the delights of this spring and early summer has been watching developments in a twelve foot stump outside our cabin where a pair of Red Flickers (aka “Northern Flickers”) made their nest. In due time, three chicks arrived. Before long they popped curious heads out of the perfectly round hole in the stump. Both mom and dad participated in feeding the young ones who grew rapidly and jockeyed, as siblings do, for the prime spot at the entrance of the nest and first in line for regurgitated bugs, worms, maggots and other assorted delights.

The chicks were born about a month ago and grew steadily. I wondered when they would “fly the coop.” That day came last Friday. Alas, I was out and about that day and missed liftoff. Now, there is only a dark round hole where I once saw several eager heads thrusting forward. I had grown accustomed to saying, “Hello birds,” as I made my first foray out in the mornings. I liked their presence and, in a way, companionship. Then they were gone. Launched. Into the world. I felt a mix of sadness and joy reminiscent of leaving a child for their first year of college. Bon Voyage mes amis!

Today was a good day for trees on our property. A couple weeks ago a notice showed up from Pacific Power. They would need to remove trees and then apply herbicide to the area around a power pole in front of our cabin. A new program prompted by the California fires two year’s ago and the liability subsequently incurred by PG & E. We panicked. Would the lovely spruce and smaller Douglas Fir that had grown adjacent to the power pole and gave us a green shield be struck down?

I called the number on the card that had been left on our door handle. “Rylee J.,” the man in charge explained that their target was dead or dying trees and that ours were probably okay, so long as they were green and healthy and not actually in the wires (they are not). We could request an “exemption.” So, no clear-cut, no herbicide. Just maintain your trees. Exemption granted. Trees saved. There is a God. Later in the  day I planted a Tamarack (aka Larch) and a vine maple. My goal is to have our cabin disappear in the trees.

A classic example of two competing goods — minimizing wildfires and increasing tree canopy (not without a certain overlay of self-interest). Most of the tough ethical decisions in this life are not between a clear good and clear bad, but between competing goods. So, it was today, on a small scale, here. Long live the trees. (But, to be clear, we do take down dead and dying trees — hence the 12′ stump of a birdhouse.

One of the little critters that are part of life here is a species of ground squirrel that I’ve always known as “Red Diggers.” It turns out they have a more dignified name, “Columbian Ground Squirrel.” And they aren’t all that common. The Wallowas are one of the few areas in which they thrive, if you can call it thriving. They spend 255 days of the year underground, hibernating, or in the current biological argot, “in torpor.” For a scant 110 days they are up and out, feeding mostly on clover around the cabin and providing one of the native entertainments. I have grandsons who are fiercely committed to slaying a Red Digger with bow and arrow. Trust me, the squirrels are safe.

And I hope you are too — safe and well, and I pray that some of the blessings of summer have come your way, even in this year of rumbling anxiety and constant adjustments.


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