2016: What a year

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Dawn on Orcas Island brings a magnificent view of Mount Baker.

Three weeks from today, the nation will inaugurate a new president — not the one I wanted, not the one everyone expected, but the bloviating mess known as Donald J. Trump.

I shudder to think what the next four years will be like under this man who continues to defy every social and political convention while trampling on the bounds of common decency. Especially so after the model of dignity, grace and intelligence that we’ve seen exhibited by Barack Obama and his equally impressive wife, Michelle, a power in her own right.

It’s still beyond belief that a man so ignorant (and proud of it), so misogynistic (and proud of it), so narcissistic (and proud of it) has been elected to the nation’s highest office. Yet there’s no disputing that Trump’s election was the story of the year in 2016.

But I’m not going to dwell on him. I’ve got my own agenda today — and that’s taking a look back at the year that was. For all the sadness we felt seeing so many entertainers and other public figures pass from the scene — David Bowie, Prince, Maurice White, Elie Wiesel, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, et al — there was a lot of other stuff going on in the Rede household.

After all, this is the year I traveled a new path, away from the newsroom where I had worked for the past 30 years. This was the year I caught a glimpse of what retirement might be like, only to settle into a new work routine in the fall.

Here’s a quick take:

***

First grandchild: We welcomed a charming little girl into our lives in late July. Little Emalyn May Rede, the daughter of our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife, Jamie, has been nothing but a source of pride and joy.

Lori and I were privileged to be the first ones to see and hold Emalyn, other than her parents, when she was just hours old. In the months since, she’s already transformed from helpless infant to smiling, healthy baby, seemingly delighted to be part of the action.

A new job (actually, two): Just as my severance from The Oregonian/OregonLive was running out in mid-September, along came two opportunities to return to the workforce.

Portland State University hired me to teach in the Department of Communications. I got started with a Media Ethics class that set me on a course I’ve always wanted to explore — that of a classroom teacher.

At the same time, I landed a part-time job as communications coordinator with the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance, an organization that partners with local employers and schools to expand career and technical education opportunities for metro-area high school students.

In January, I will add a third leg to this stool as an adjunct instructor at Washington State University Vancouver. I loved being a journalist, but I also feel fortunate to have these new employment opportunities.

The big noventa: My dad turned 90 years old in March, so all three of us kids and our extended families gathered in a San Diego suburb to celebrate nine decades of good living.

My dad and stepmom drove in from New Mexico. Lori and I flew in from Portland. My younger sister Cathy flew down from Alaska. My older sister Rosemary, with help from her daughter and son-in-law, hosted the party near Oceanside.

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Thanks to a selfie stick, four generations of Redes gather around Dad (in black hat) in honor of his 90th birthday.

Catarino Allala Rede is the only sibling left from a family of seven brothers and two sisters. It was great to see my dad basking in the love and admiration of his children, grandchildren and great-children. For a man who did manual labor all his life and whose formal education stopped at the eighth grade before he went back later in life to get a G.E.D., he’s done pretty damn well.

A baseball road trip: In May, I made a whirlwind trip that allowed me to see four Major League Baseball games in three cities in five days. I flew into Pittsburgh, then drove to Cleveland and on to Cincinnati.

In all, I covered about 400 miles from western Pennsylvania to Ohio, traveling the length of the Buckeye State through gently rolling landscapes. With Lori’s blessing, I stayed in three airbnb rentals and took the opportunity to see new sights, experience unfamiliar places, and visit with new and old friends in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Cool concerts: There were only three this year involving pop artists, but each was satisfying in its own right.

Got to see Jackson Browne at Edgefield in August and he was outstanding. A month earlier, I saw the Dixie Chicks at a Clark County amphitheater just north of Portland and they were exceptional. Their July concert came at a time when I was feeling down, given a spasm of fatal shootings of both civilians and cops in three states.

In November, I saw Liz Longley, a favorite singer-songwriter, for the second time in 18 months, this time in the intimate space of the Alberta Rose Theater.

Excellent books: All that free time I had in the first few months of the year enabled me to dive into the world of literature. Although I slowed down considerably after going back to work, I still managed to plow through 15 books.

They ran the gamut — everything from a young reader books about a transgender youth (“George” by Alex Gino) and a deaf baseball player (“The William Hoy Story” by Nancy Churnin) to a gritty collection of stories about the Motor City (“Detroit” by Charlie LeDuff) to a rape survivor’s memoir (“Lucky” by Alice Sebold) to a sweeping novel about race, culture and class in Nigeria and the United States (“Americanah” by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.

There was lots more by the likes of John Updike, Steig Larsson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lauren Groff, Celeste Ng, Anne Hillerman and Robert Goodlick. You’ll find a synopsis of each one here: Books & Literature.

PIFF: Early in the year, I joined the ranks of volunteers at the 39th annual Portland International Film Festival. In exchange for helping to greet patrons, take tickets, etc., I got to see six movies for free at three theaters during the month of February.

It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do it again, but not this year. Too much going on with my three part-time jobs to even consider it.

Urban hikes: Another luxury during the first half of the year was exploring my own city with the help of a great guidebook, “Portland Hill Walks” by Laura O. Foster.

I made a routine of selecting a route that took me into mostly unfamiliar neighborhoods, where I learned a lot about the city’s history, geography and demographics. Hard to say which were my favorites, but I do recall the pleasant surprise of discovering Marshall Park in Southwest Portland and getting thoroughly soaked when I hiked through the jewel that is Washington Park.

Island getaways: We made it up to our cabin on Orcas Island three times. Each time is like opening a valve and releasing the stress that comes with living in a city of 632,000 people and an urban area of 2.4 million. Compare that to maybe 2,000 folks total on Orcas.

We’re blessed to have a place where we can hike and kayak, read, play board games, feed the birds and watch old movies — all in a beautiful place that offers Solitude with a capital S.

This year, we enjoyed a parade and community potluck on the Fourth of July weekend and hosted our longtime friends, Bob and Deborah Ehlers. We did our best to make their three-night stay a memorable one, with excursions to Doe Bay, Eagle Lake and Mount Constitution.

Pets: We lost our beloved Otto in July, shortly after our final trip to the island and just a week before Emalyn was born. He was a Jack Russell Terrier, 11 years old, blessed with a sweet disposition, and loved by all who knew him. Otto was especially close to Lori and had earned the status of “The Fourth Child.” Fittingly, he died of an an enlarged heart.

Before Otto died, he schooled little Charlotte, our Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua mix, in the ways of the world. She misses him, for sure, but she has blossomed as the sole focus of our canine attention. Charlotte and I survived a run-in with two pit bulls at a dog park, but she’s healed completely and is becoming more social with other dogs and humans.

Mabel, now the senior pet, continues to rule the roost in her own bedroom, a sweet brown tabby who refuses to come downstairs and interact with Charlotte.

Voices of August: No recap would be complete without mention of my annual guest blog project and post-publication meetup. For six years now, I’ve opened up the blog to a different writer each day during the month of August. It’s a wonderful thing to see — a diverse group of friends, relatives and co-workers from all over the country (and even abroad) each taking a turn writing about an issue or an experience that never fails to entertain, inform or resonate with an online audience.

This year’s VOA gathering was held at a Northeast Portland brewpub not far from our home and drew folks from three states, including my compadre, Al Rodriguez, and his lovely wife (and first-time VOA contributor), Elizabeth Lee.

***

hillary-buttonLike the other 65 million-plus Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, I wish we were inaugurating the nation’s first female president. Instead, I’m left to hope that in 2017 we can endure the worst of what a Trump presidency can bring and begin building a coalition that returns the White House to someone we can put our trust in.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Becca becomes a bride

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The newlyweds: Jeff and Rebecca Olson.

Two weekends ago, Lori and I settled into plastic folding chairs, draped with purple fabric, in a pasture flanked by a 19th century Victorian farmhouse and a row of tall trees shielding us from the late-afternoon sun.

There on the grounds of the Clackamas River Farm, we were gathered with dozens of other guests for the wedding of Rebecca Wilcox and Jeff Olson.

Rebecca is the youngest daughter of our longtime friends, Eric and Sue Wilcox, and known to one and all as Becca. She was born just days after our youngest son, Jordan, and they’ve been friends virtually their entire lives.

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Childhood friends Becca and Jordan.

We’ve seen her grow up along with our own kids, transforming from a chatty, curly-haired little girl to a chatty, beautiful adult. (And I say “chatty” with affection.)

On this particular Saturday, she was beaming. As she should be, surrounded by friends and extended family at a sprawling 45-acre venue about 30 miles southeast of downtown Portland.

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An 1890 farmhouse anchors the scene at Clackamas River Farm near Eagle Creek.

Becca walked in on the arm of her dad, who no doubt felt mixed emotions — a sense of fatherly pride combined with loss of a daughter and the addition of a son-in-law to the Wilcox clan. Her mother, I imagine, probably saw a lot of herself in her daughter, who has followed her into the teaching profession. Both are outgoing and dedicated to family above all.

Scott, the older of two brothers, officiated the ceremony with efficiency and humor. Steve, the younger one, delighted the crowd with a reading from Robert Fulghum’s, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

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Eric and Sue at the May 2013 wedding of their eldest son.

Lori and I were happy to be there, doubly so when we reminded ourselves that we’ve seen each of the Wilcox children get married. Likewise, Eric and Sue have seen two of our three kids get married. (Who knows if the third will someday go down that path?)

If that isn’t a sign of a great friendship that’s spanned almost 30 years, I don’t know what is.

The wedding and reception went quickly. As night fell and the stars came out, the focus of attention shifted from cake and pies to the dance floor, where guests moved to a playlist curated by our DJ son, Nathan.

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The Rede brothers, Nathan and Jordan.

Weddings, like births, are an occasion for celebrating a new phase of life. They give us a chance to express our fondest wishes for happiness, good health and all that comes with being a couple legally committed to each other.

We felt privileged to be there and delighted for Becca and Jeff and their immediate and extended families.

Books and beer

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A Dream Team of trivia quiz masters. From right: team captain Casey Jones, Simone Rede,  George Rede, Lori Rauh Rede, Kyndall Mason, Sarah Feldman (Casey’s wife), Sarah Jones (Casey’s sister).

Take a favorite activity (reading), combine it with a favorite beverage (a local microbrew), top it with a good cause (a literacy program for children) and you’ve got an irresistible combination.

Now throw in a trivia quiz, a raffle, and the company of good people and you’ve got the recipe for some serious fun.

All of that is what drew Lori and me out to a Northeast Portland brewpub last night.

On a pleasant summer evening, we joined a crowd of people attending a fundraiser for First Book Portland, a nonprofit that provides new books to low-income children.

We were invited to the Breweries for Books event by Casey Jones and his wife Sarah, a young couple we met a couple years ago at a summer party hosted by longtime friends. Casey is a member of the advisory board that raises money to provide book grants to existing community programs (such as Head Start) serving children from low-income families.

First Book is a national organization and the Portland chapter was founded in 1998.

Casey knows of my fondness for books. In fact, he paid me a visit when I held my own used book sale last month to raise money for a similar cause. I didn’t hesitate to return the favor when he invited me to the First Book event at Migration Brewing Co.

Also joining us last night: Casey’s sister, Sarah (yes, another Sarah), our daughter Simone and daughter-in-law Kyndall.

Together we named ourselves the Dream Team and took on four other teams in a literacy-and-beer themed trivia quiz. Above the din of conversation, we fielded questions about  literature, sports, science, beer, pop culture and other topics. I thought we’d be shouting out answers but the format was different — and better. After each question, team members had the opportunity to talk among themselves before committing to a single, written answer.

After four rounds, scores were tallied and, guess what, the Dream Team took first place. We promptly donated our prize — 50 percent of the trivia contest entry fees — back to the organization. The winner of the raffle did the same. Migration Brewing donated 10 percent of the evening’s profits. And Kate Berube, a local children’s author and illustrator, did the same from her book sales

I guess you’d call that a win-win-win-win situation. All for the benefit of young readers.

Want to know more about First Book and help out, too?

Read more: firstbookportland.org

Save the date: October 26 for the fifth annual Wine-ing for Literacy event, a wine tasting and silent auction at Olympic Mills Commerce Center, 107 S.E. Washington St.

 

Celebrating on Orcas

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Early morning clouds over Cypress Island.

Was it only a week ago that we were relaxing yet again on our piece of paradise in the San Juans?

Yes, indeed.

Lori and I arrived at our Orcas Island cabin on a Friday, prelude to the Fourth of July weekend, and wound up celebrating not just the holiday but a dear friend’s milestone birthday.

It was the first time we’d been up for the Fourth, but it may not be the last. Island life was on full display with a downtown parade and mayoral election, a community potluck, a farmers market and a fireworks show on the water. Totally charming.

Here’s how it all went down:

Saturday, July 2

Drove into Eastsound for the July 4th parade, a loosely organized event that’s more Starlight than Grand Floral for those of you familiar with Portland parades. Just about every activity or group on the island was represented — American Legion, Lions, Kiwanis, Garden Club, the library and, not least, a motley crew of men of all ages playing rainbow-colored percussion instruments and calling themselves the Odd Fellows.

There were antique cars and trucks, local politicians, and the five candidates for Honorary Mayor of Eastsound — four dogs and a newt (called Sir Isaac Newt’n). The winner was Lewis, a 12-year-old Corgi who campaigned for “dog park expansion and fresh water bowls (and treats) at all Eastsound businesses,” according to the local newspaper.

More than $15,000, a record amount, was raised for the Children’s House preschool program by islanders and visitors who voted for their favorite candidate. Very cool.

After the parade, we wandered over to the Saturday Market on the Village Green. populated by the usual array of organic farms, jewelers, painters, soap and candle makers, and other artists. With Lori’s encouragement, I made my way to the pie booth for a slice of blackberry pie a la mode. Had to do my part for the fundraising, you know.

4th of July Parade 2016

View a parade slideshow here, courtesy of the Islands’ Sounder: http://www.islandssounder.com/news/385321371.html

Look closely to the right of the truck (above) and you might notice two Portlanders, seated, viewing the parade.

Sunday, July 3

On a sun-splashed morning, we found ourselves at the Doe Bay Community Association’s  45th annual Independence Day celebration.

Talk about a Norman Rockwell scene. It was total Americana with an all-ages community band, led by a conductor in a baseball cap, playing patriotic music. There were speeches, silent and oral auctions, a raffle, singalongs to “Yankee Doodle” and “America, The Beautiful,” grilled hot dogs, and a potluck overflowing with salads, side dishes and desserts.

The event was held at the volunteer fire house, across the road from a field where several black steers munched on grass, and just a short walk from Doe Bay Resort & Retreat. All proceeds from the event — including a cutlery set that we won in the silent auction — go to fund the association’s annual operations, including the potluck. We were glad to contribute.

Monday, July 4

Our longtime friends, Bob and Deb Ehlers, arrived on the actual holiday for a three-night visit that began with Lori’s signature dinner — cioppino and Caesar salad — and ended with a soundless fireworks display.

The fireworks were set off in Bellingham, near the U.S.-Canadian border, less than 20 miles from our cabin on the northeast end of the island. We were far enough away that the red, white and blue patterns reflected off the Strait of Georgia without a sound. Quite the introduction for our guests from Salem, Oregon.

Tuesday, July 5

Hiked around Eagle Lake, the placid body of water at the heart of our island community, enjoying the solitude and multiple views of the lake. Postponed plans for an afternoon sea kayaking trip because of wind and rain, and went into Eastsound instead to browse the local shops.

Came back to the cabin for dinner and a brownie-and-ice cream celebration of Bob’s birthday.

Wednesday, July 6

The sightseeing continued with a drive up to the top of Mount Constitution, the highest point on the island at 2,400 feet. From there, you have a breathtaking view of Orcas and nearby islands, all laid out like so many chess pieces on a green and blue landscape of trees and water.

You can spot Canada’s Vancouver Island to the north, as well as the Washington coastline from Bellingham to Anacortes. On a clear day, you can see as far south as Mount Rainier, 65 miles southeast of Seattle. Spectacular.

We returned to Doe Bay in the afternoon for a three-hour kayaking trip in ideal conditions — clear, warm and no wind. What a difference 24 hours makes.

Bob and Deb got a kick out of the fact that our guide, Corey, was, like them, a native of Iowa. We’d been out with Corey a couple times before and were well acquainted with his friendly personality and deep knowledge of the islands. This time, we parked ourselves in a cove directly below a tree where a bald eagle was eating a fish he’d snatched minutes before. Magnificent bird. Memorable sight.

We freshened up and came back to Doe Bay Cafe for a delicious dinner, then ended the evening gathered around our outdoor fire pit, warmed by the flames and 36 years of friendship with Bob and Deb.

***

We bid them goodbye the following morning, kicked back with our canine companions Otto and Charlotte, and had a relaxing, do-nothing evening to cap off our stay.

We’ve been coming to our island getaway for more than a decade now, and it never gets old.

Each visit begins with a can-you-believe-this appreciation that we are fortunate to be here.

It’s a place where we can set aside the stresses of urban life and just turn things down a notch or two. It’s a place where we can enjoy simple things: feeding the songbirds that flock to our porch; sitting outdoors with a cool drink; walking alone or together on the dirt-and-gravel roads above our cabin. It’s a place where we can just pause and enjoy the silence, the blessed silence.

In view of all that, it’s a given that each visit ends with a pledge to return as soon as we can.

Three for ‘fore’

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Not Ready for Prime Time Golf: Ed, George and Tom.

Even if you’ve never played the game, you probably know golfers yell “fore” to warn other golfers of an errant shot. Luckily, there were no heads bonked and no close calls during a round of nine holes  with two friends.

Instead, there were the usual hits and misses you’d expect from guys who play less than five times a year. Long, straight drives and impressive putts mixed in with hooks and slices off the tee, divots, whiffs, and sand traps.

Such inconsistencies might frustrate an accomplished golfer. But when you roll with my crowd, it’s easy to keep things in perspective. The point is to have fun — enjoy the fresh air, revel in the occasional good stroke, celebrate the rare “par” — and go have lunch afterwards.

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Tom and Ed walk the fairway after massive drives off the tee.

That’s exactly what my buddies, Tom and Ed, and I did yesterday at Eastmoreland Golf Course in Southeast Portland. Bordered in part by the Rhododendron Gardens and Crystal Springs Lake, Eastmoreland is ranked by Golf Digest among the top public courses in the country to play.

The front nine is mostly flat and, though lined with trees on every fairway, we didn’t lose a single ball. Yesterday’s weather was perfect, too. Overcast skies and mild temperatures came on the heels of blistering hot weather earlier in the week and rain that fell later in the day.

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Eastmoreland Golf Course dates back to 1916.

Yesterday was my first time at Eastmoreland. I got the idea to play there during a recent urban hike in the Reed College area that took me past the perimeter of the course.

Based on this week’s experience, I wouldn’t mind playing here again. Maybe 18 holes next time?

Noteworthy: The scorecard showed that each of us roughly shot our age in strokes. I call that success.

Photograph: Eastmoreland Golf Course

Mediocre no more

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Raising a glass to a successful season (clockwise from bottom left): Brian, Mike, Joel and George.

When I last wrote about our bowling team in early February, I conceded that we were living up to our team name — the Mediaocracies.

Four weeks into the winter season, we had won 8 games and lost 8 games, a mediocre showing that put us right in the middle of 22 teams competing in the Average Joe’s League at AMF Pro 300.

Well, I’m happy to say we finished on a roll (sorry, cheesy pun). During the just-concluded season, we improved to 38 wins and 26 losses — good enough for a two-way tie for fourth place. We finished 10 games behind the first-place team (48 wins, 16 losses) and just one game behind the third-place team.

As a reward, we received enough prize money as a team to treat ourselves to dinner out Monday night at Portland’s Temple of Hamburgers, otherwise known as Tilt.

No, it’s not really the Temple of Hamburgers, but every one of my friends and family who’s eaten there agrees it tops the list of burger joints in Portland. After last night, add two more true believers — teammates Mike Slama and Joel Odom. (Both showed remarkable restraint, steering clear of the sinfully rich offerings in favor of healthier options.)

Mike (aka “Spud”) and Joel (aka “Joey”) joined Brian Wartell and me this season when our two previous teammates had to bow out. Everyone on the team contributed to our late-season surge.

Joel, who became known as Joey only because league officials mis-typed his name onto the team roster, led the way with a 171 average. On some nights, he was simply awesome, rolling four or five strikes at a time and often notching games of 200 or more.

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Prize winnings, tucked inside this envelope, amounted to about $30 each. Not quite enough to go pro.

Mike, Brian and I all finished with averages in the 140s, which makes us appear more consistent than we really were. From week to week — and often game to game — we never knew who’d be on or off their game. As a result, the others had to try to step up when one bowler wasn’t at his best.

Above all, we had fun. And that’s the point in a coed, non-sanctioned league like ours. There are some great bowlers, for sure, with a half-dozen men and women averaging 175 or better and one dude at 210. But there are also some who struggle to break 100 — and who  enjoy themselves just the same.

The dirty little secret? The worse a person bowls, the higher their handicap — which means their team starts off each game with an advantage in points. As a matter of fact, that was a frequent challenge for us — having to overcome the opposing team’s larger handicap.

The spring league starts June 6 and we’re all looking forward to it. Like any baseball team emerging from spring training, we’ll be starting the season with optimism and fresh hopes for a better season.

After all, we’re mediocre no more.

 

Working and vacationing in Southern Africa: Guest blogger

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Victoria Falls, seen from the Zimbabwean side, is often graced by rainbows.

Editor’s note: For as long as I have known him, I have been impressed by the scientific mind and musical talents of Greg Baker. Our youngest child and his first-born, both boys, were classmates from preschool through high school and our wives are great friends.

Greg is an accomplished fiddler and birder, but it was a work trip to southern Africa two summers ago that piqued my interest. I asked him to share his experiences in a guest blog and so he did, recalling elephants, forests, brushfires and charcoal.

By Greg Baker

In August 2014 I had the good fortune to work in Zambia, a land-locked, south-central African republic of some 14 million people. I was assigned to the position of job site safety manager for the construction of a hazardous waste landfill in the northern Copperbelt Province of Zambia, not far from Chingola.

Construction of a large, lined landfill can only occur during the winter season when conditions are dry – it must be completed before the predictable rainy season commences begins in late spring. Our construction schedule would be tight. My charge on this project was to prevent deaths, accidents, injuries, equipment losses and uncontrolled releases of hazardous substances. This would present a few challenges, as approximately half the crew consisted of local, young untrained laborers, and you never knew what to expect from local suppliers and subcontractors.

Though I’ve traveled a bit in Europe and visited several Central American countries, I’d never been on the African continent. I imagined it would be dominated by lush tropic vegetation and teeming with wildlife. But I quickly came to realize that location, elevation and season matter.

During a four-month stay, I would get a ground-level view of the country’s environmental and economic challenges and shoot hundreds of photos of spectacular scenery and wildlife. I would come home not just with the priceless experience of viewing exotic animals and birds in their native habitats but also with a new perspective on the traditional practice of cutting down live trees to produce charcoal.

So there I was, on my first trip to Africa – a serious birder, and I was stoked! More than 98% of the plants, birds and other animals encountered during this trip would be new to me. Undoubtedly I would find time for some collateral birding, and photograph species new to my life list of world birds (aka “lifers”).

Click on images to view captions.

In Zambia people drive on the left hand side of the road, which is a throwback to former British colonial rule. Our construction management team drove through Kitwe to Chingola on a paved, but potholed asphalt road, recently improved by Chinese convict crews – they work for next to nothing I was told. My driver – a young fellow from Ndola – complained that the Chinese get much of the public works projects, because local Zambians simply cannot complete with the very low Chinese wages. (Over the course of the next four months I would come to appreciate that the Chinese aren’t exactly winning the hearts and minds of the African populace. And they appear to be underperforming on infrastructure development, specifically new road projects.)

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Typical potholes on a major two-lane highway.

Drivers swerve around potholes, constantly resulting in frequent collisions. Over the course of my four-month assignment while I was there, several pedestrians and drivers would perish along the stretch of road adjacent to our construction site. Loud truck tire explosions occurred about twice a month – the Zambians appear to habitually use their tread-worn semi-truck tires until they blow up.

While cruising along at 110 kilometers per hour (roughly 70 mph) I could not help but notice the speed limit was posted at 60 kh. I was surprised but not shocked to see large stands of pine forest plantations, not dissimilar from what I have observed back in the states, in southern Georgia and northern Louisiana. They appeared to be plantations of pine, perhaps imported from elsewhere.

I soon learned that our project site was at 4,000 feet elevation and 12 degrees south of the equator. Would I get to experience any dense wilderness jungle during this trip? I could hardly wait to explore the countryside.

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A typical informal roadside market at a railroad crossing where traffic normally slows down.

There seemed to be plenty of low-lying forests off in the distance, but very few wetlands, streams, ponds and lakes.

I soon learned that brushfires are daily occurrences during the dry season. Fires go unattended and the locals seem quite casual and unconcerned about them. The same goes for garbage fires in and around Chingola. People burn garbage around the clock and don’t seem to mind the foul acrid odors that offend the senses of a fellow from Portland, Oregon. (On one Sunday morning I arose at 8 am for a jog, but quickly gave up — the air pollution was too intense. That day I did not venture outside of my hotel room until noon.)

On a day off I visited the Chimpfunshi Chimpanzee Sanctuary with a few staff from the project and the Mokorro Hotel and Grille. We came across an uncontrolled brushfire, essentially out in the middle of nowhere.

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An unattended fire near Chimpfunshi.

The fire must have been displacing insects because several species of birds were actively foraging in front of the fire line, including a distant hornbill, and a small flock of iridescent Greater Blue-eared Starling – both lifers.

Back in the vicinity of Chingola, I occasionally noticed women gathering dead wood in the adjacent forest around the perimeter of our job site. They collected large bundles and balanced their loads on the tops of their heads. The wood is used to produce charcoal, which is the primary fuel used for cooking in rural areas. (Zambia does not have any natural gas, coal or oil resources, and must import such fossil fuels, primarily for commercial and industrial purposes.)

Back in the states African families are frequently belittled for relying upon “cooking” charcoal, which produces carbon dioxide that presumably contributes to climate change. (“If only those Africans would stop making and using charcoal we would have much less deforestation and less severe global warming to worry about.”) Westerners generally believe that the practice of cutting live trees down for charcoal production has resulted in deforestation in arid regions of Africa. No doubt this is a huge problem with unintended consequences. And it is a problem that is only exacerbated by unsustainable population growth.

landlockedzambia-africa2But after residing in Africa for a few weeks I started to gain a different appreciation for this custom and the impact that it appears to be having in this part of Zambia. From the few wildfires I had observed, I concluded that such fires do not burn very hot, and the trees and shrubs in the forest understory appear well-adapted for surviving regular light fires. If the dead wood was left in place, the accumulated fuel would burn much hotter and likely destroy large tracts of forest. What type of landscape would result then, and how much carbon dioxide would be sequestered and/or released?  Either way, that dead wood eventually IS going to get burned. And live trees should be left unharmed – at least that is the law.

Humans have been an integral part of the ecology in Africa for millions of years and have shaped the present day landscapes.  The age-old African custom of regularly gathering fire wood has apparently resulted in the sustainable forests which we observe today in this part of Zambia. Despite the well-intentioned criticisms of Westerners, the forests and landscapes surrounding Chingola appeared to be doing very well, thank you very much.

I wish I could say the same about wildlife around Chingola and our jobsite. Mammals and birds were few and far between. Many children carry catapults (i.e., sling shots), so any unwary wild creature that moves could wind up in a pot or on a skillet before the day is done. Same for road kill – the only road kill I observed were flattened dogs which were ritually left in place to become two-dimensional, and recognizable even a few weeks after meeting their maker. Perhaps there weren’t many wild mammals and reptiles around to be struck?

***

SEPTEMBER 2014

Towards the end of the first week of September our team learned that a major shipment of construction materials had been delayed; consequently, we would have an uplanned shut-down at the project site – and a furlough – for up to two weeks. I decided to stay in country, though, as I might have had to return to the job site to conduct inspections, risk assessments, and issue specific work permits. So, I decided to fly over to Livingstone, Zambia to check out Victoria Falls and the famous national parks that were said to be teeming with wildlife.

GB.cottage

My $40 per night private cottage at Jolly Boys in Livingstone, Zambia.

Since I stayed over a week in a private cottage, I got the 8th night free. The place had two cots with mattresses and mosquito netting; concrete floors; and screen windows. The shared bathroom facilities were in separate buildings, as were places to dine. Not bad at all!

I signed up for a day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana with Kalahari Tours.  The morning was slated for a water trip to Sedudu Island.  Sedudu is a term for a group of hippos. Then following a brief lunch, the afternoon was scheduled for a game drive along a river bank and channel of the Chobe River, immediately across from Sedudu Island.
A bull elephant started crossing the Chobe River for Sedudu Island right in front of our boat.

This was my first encounter with a wild African Elephant. I was so pleased to observe this large bull as it swam across a river channel and ascended onto Sedudu Island.  Each elephant must consume several hundreds of pounds of vegetation daily, and during the dry season there are more than 100,000 of these giants in Chobe National Park.

I photographed hundreds of birds, reptiles and other mammals. (See www.bigdecadebirder.com to view the images.)

I took little comfort (from our boat) when a nearby buffalo assumed an assertive posture. (This species kills several people every year.) The Cape Buffalo is one of Africa’s dangerous Big Game Five, or simply “Big Five.”  The other four include the African Elephant, White Rhino, Lion and Leopard.  I was very fortunate to photograph all of the Big Five while visiting the Livingstone area for the week.

One day my destination was Victoria Falls, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.  Dr. Livingstone was the first European to observe it back in 1858, I believe.  How Dr. Livingstone ever made it here without dying of Yellow Fever, Malaria and a host of other life-threatening diseases is beyond me.  I took my prophylactic malaria medication religiously each morning.

It quickly occurred to me “You’re not back home in Oregon, Greg.” Victoria Falls is nothing like the Cascades of the Columbia Gorge. which is so familiar. For example, Multnomah Falls, while impressive, is essentially a single thread of cascading water. In contrast, the band of spilling water from the Zambia River is over a mile wide, dropping some 350 feet into a steep narrow gorge, shrouded in perpetual mist, punctuated by a persistent rainbow.

Mist from the falls maintains a small permanent rain forest, where I stood taking this photo. Across from this mist, I paused in a mini-rain forest and was rewarded by encountering a small mixed flock or “party” of small foraging birds, which I took time to identify and photograph.

LATE SEPTEMBER/EARLY OCTOBER 2014

Subsequent day trips took me back to Chobe National Park in Botswana and to the other side of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

Back at work on September 24th, we had a brush fire sweep through our construction site. Since I had wildfire fighting experience, I managed the fire response.

It wasn’t an intense fire, but we had to keep it away from a million dollars’ worth of heavy equipment and landfill liner materials!

I remained on site over night to conduct fire watch. I saw an adult African Eagle Owl flying around by an owl nest during the fire, and I was concerned about the owlets and their chances for survival.

The next morning both owlets were gone. They had vanished without a trace. I feared the worse. Perhaps they had dropped out of the nest because of the fire and were consumed by some predators?

By October 6th, nearly two weeks had passed without any sign of the owls. I happened to look up and spotted the owlets in the trees.

MID TO LATE NOVEMBER 2014

By mid-November we completed our landfill liner installation in the nick of time — just ahead of the first major wet season downpour. My job was done! I could now go meet my wife Rebecca in Livingstone. Later, we would fly down to Capetown and explore the South Africa coast.

DECEMBER 2014

After visiting the Livingstone area, Chobe National Park and the Wilderness area of South Africa I came to reconsider my previous impressions about charcoal production and the forests back at our construction site near Chingola. Perhaps the only reason there are ANY forests remaining around the Copperbelt and Chingola is related to the absence of elephants?

The folks around the Copperbelt exterminated the African Elephant long ago – this species is known for tearing down small to medium-sized trees and creating/sustaining savannah and grasslands habitats. If the African Elephant were reintroduced, protected, and allowed to roam freely (unlikely) throughout the Copperbelt, there would be very little shrubbery and understory left for the Zambians to collect for charcoal production – the landscape would likely be more savannah-like and there would be more grasslands.

After four months in Zambia I was not certain what to conclude about my Westernized preconceived notions concerning charcoal production, deforestation, climate change and elephants. I will simply have to return to Africa one day to ponder these matters again!

***

Greg Baker has chronicled the entire trip and hundreds of photographs on his website: http://www.bigdecadebirder.com.  He is currently employed as Director of Training at PBS Engineering and Environmental in Portland, Oregon. His wife, Rebecca Bauer, is a retired teacher from Portland Public Schools.

All photographs courtesy of Greg Baker

Map: zambiapretoria.net

Boys at the beach

winema guys

From left: Tom, George, Bob and Eric.

As if this retirement thing weren’t already going pretty smoothly, this weekend took it to another level.

Three friends and I converged on the beach home of a fourth friend and had ourselves a helluva relaxing time.

The crew: Our host, Tom, plus Bob, Eric and myself.

The location: A secluded spot somewhere in south Tillamook County.

The plan: Arrive Friday afternoon, spend all day Saturday, leave Sunday morning.

The agenda: Have a couple of dinners at home, play some poker, take a couple of hikes, spend some time in nearby Pacific City, play some more poker.

The menu: Grilled steaks, roasted vegetables and a green salad; bacon, eggs, potatoes and waffles; fish and chips; sausage and gravy over homemade biscuits, eggs and hash browns. Lots of coffee and, um, several adult beverages.

***

What can I say?

Though nothing tops time spent with my wife Lori, there’s an entirely different kind of pleasure that comes from hanging out with dudes — in this case, guys I’ve known for roughly 25, 35 and 40 years.

Tom and I go back to college days in San Jose. After graduation, each of us moved up to Oregon, got married (our wives were college roommates) and went on to raise three children.

Bob and I go back to when we lived in Salem. His son and our oldest boy were born two days apart and we became founding members of a babysitting coop.

Eric and I met when our families were living two blocks from each other in Portland’s Grant Park neighborhood. His daughter and our youngest son were born four days apart.

Each of these guys is a regular in the poker games I host at my place. And because they also attend the annual Voices of August meetup that follows each year’s month of guest blog posts, they already know each other to some extent.

After this weekend, it’s safe to say the bonds of friendship have grown stronger.

It wasn’t all calories and poker chips. There was plenty of conversation — about our spouses and kids; about politics, hobbies and travel; about our working and retired lives (Eric is the only one still on the job) — and plenty of exercise, too.

Friday evening we walked along the beach into a stiff, chilly wind. Saturday morning we tramped through unpaved neighborhood streets and took a longer hike in the sand to Nestucca Bay, where we glimpsed sea lions, seals, a bald eagle and a couple of blue herons.

We followed that up with a visit to Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge  (no “patriots” in sight plotting a takeover of government land), where the hilltop observation deck provided ocean views in one direction and green, rolling landscapes in the other.

nestucca refuge

Looking west toward the ocean from Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

After lunch and a couple games of billiards at the old-school Sportsman Pub and Grub, where country western alternated with Ted Nugent heavy metal on the jukebox, it was time for another hike.

Bathed in sunshine, we walked along a quiet trail in the Sand Lake Recreation Area, emerging onto a pristine beach.

After that, we headed to an art show at a private residence, an open studio featuring three local artists — two of whom knew Tom from their day/night jobs in Pacific City. We talked with all three, complimented their work, and noshed on snacks laid out on a billiards table. Pretty casual.

From there, it was one more pit stop at Twist, a wine and beer tasting bar where we chatted with Sean, a co-owner, and greeted the resident four-legged host, an aging Rhodesian Ridgeback-Lab mix named Sami.

After that, it was back to the beach home for more R&R (sort of like going from the slow lane to barely moving) topped off by a dinner of appetizers and a game of cards that lasted until 1 a.m.

Gotta say, it was a great weekend in all respects. Guy Time is all good when you’re hanging out with three friends who know you well and in a place where you can’t help but chill.

Already looking forward to the next time we can do this.

3 aces

george-maisha

A little more than 20 years ago, I recruited Maisha Maurant to come west for a summer internship at The Oregonian. She’s now about the same age I was then and paying it forward as a health care communications manager in Michigan.

The American Copy Editors Society held its annual convention in Portland last week and that gave me the chance to reconnect with three great friends and former colleagues.

I think of them as three aces — not just because doing so reflects the organization’s acronym but because each is a person who excels at what he or she does, including life itself.

The ACES convention drew about 700 people, I’m told, during its Wednesday-to-Saturday run at a downtown hotel. There was a time when I, as a recruiter representing The Oregonian, would have attended a gathering like this to meet prospects and glean useful tips from selected workshops and general sessions.

But that was another time. Instead, I met a former intern for happy hour Thursday and joined two longtime pros for coffee Friday. Connecting with all three was wonderful. Each embodies the best qualities of those who are attracted to journalism, and I was reminded of how lucky I am to count them among my friends.

ron-george-rich

The 20th annual American Copy Editors Society convention in Portland gave me a chance to reconnect with Ron Smith (left) and Rich Holden.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce:

Maisha Maurant (Ace of Hearts): I met Maisha at the Spirit of Diversity job fair in Detroit in the fall of 1994, soon after I became The Oregonian’s first-ever full-time newsroom recruiter.

She was a senior at Wayne State University and impressed me with her enthusiastic personality and potential for growth. She became a 1995 newsroom intern and the first recipient of the Gail P. Westry Internship, a memorial internship created to honor the legacy of a beloved colleague who had died of cancer at age 40.

Read a moving tribute to Gail in this piece by Seth Prince, another former intern at The Oregonian who left Portland recently to become student media adviser at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma.

Gail Westry: The essential mentor I never met

Maisha had never been anywhere near Oregon before that summer. In fact, she told me over drinks, she had only a fuzzy notion of where it was before that summer. But that didn’t dissuade her from embracing the opportunity to enhance her reporting skills and grow as a person in acclimating to a city and newsroom far different from what she had known.

After college, Maisha worked for a time as a newspaper reporter in Florida and a nonprofit in Virginia before returning to her native Michigan, where she transitioned to corporate communications in the health care industry.

maisha maurant

Maisha Maurant, a Wayne State University graduate who became a 1995 summer intern at The Oregonian.

She’s now manager of the Communication and Creative Services team and chief corporate editor at Health Alliance Plan of Michigan, and was one of four speakers on a Women in Management panel at ACES last week.

It’s so satisfying to see the growth in someone I met when she was just 21. She’s become a leader in her field, with a commitment to training and development of her staff, and still has the same radiant smile.

The day after our reunion, she wrote: “I sincerely appreciate you opening a pathway for me to experience something wonderful all those years ago.”

It was my honor and privilege to do so for Maisha and so many others. It’s great to see her paying it forward.

Rich Holden (Ace of Diamonds): As I attended more job fairs and journalism conventions, it was inevitable that I would cross paths with Rich.

A former copy editor and manager at The Wall Street Journal and Asian Wall Street Journal, Rich became executive director of the Dow Jones News Fund in 1992, leading a nonprofit organization founded by Journal editors to encourage college and high school students with an interest in journalism.

In that role, he and his staff gave a boost to thousands of young people through summer copy-editing internships at many of the country’s leading news organizations. He also came up with training programs for journalism faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and at colleges with significant Latino undergraduate enrollment — an initiative meant to help instructors who typically lack the resources and industry connections of those at more affluent institutions.

rich holden

Rich Holden is a master of the pun and a champion of diversity.

Rich retired in 2014 to his home in New Jersey but remains active in ACES and as a leading champion of diversity within the industry.

I owe him a special debt of gratitude for having extended to me an opportunity to serve as Journalist in Residence for a week at DePauw University in west-central Indiana. In his Dow Jones News Fund role, Rich was in a position to select a media professional each semester to work with DePauw students, tapping a fund honoring Barney Kilgore, a 1929 DePauw alum who went on to become a top news executive of the Wall Street Journal and president of Dow Jones & Co.

Rich is a class act as a human being and media professional. He’s known to all for his sonorous baritone — a voice that immediately caught the attention of the waitress who brought us coffee and prompted Ron Smith to joke, “He’s got a face made for radio.”

Ron Smith (Ace of Spades): Though I think of Ron as the highest card in a deck of playing cards, I also think of him as The Joker. Anyone who’s met Ron would agree.

It was only fitting that he would lead a discussion last week titled “Maintaining Standards (and Humor) in Chaos.”

A founding member of ACES, Ron worked at the Los Angeles Times and  Newsday in New York before coming to The Oregonian. He worked in Portland for several years, making friends and winning respect across the newsroom, as someone who could make everyone around him feel better while also making the newspaper better.

ron smith

People of all backgrounds gravitate to Ron Smith because he literally embraces them as well as life itself.

When he left us in 2003 to return to the Midwest, both to be near family and accept a senior management job, we all wished him the best. He’s now a deputy managing editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel overseeing daily news and production, a role that has him scrambling to keep the trains running on time in an era of diminished resources and a shrinking staff.

With a can-do attitude and a clear sense of priorities (readers first, newsroom egos second), I am sure Ron is just as much an asset in Milwaukee as he was in Portland. At the same time, his sense of humor and pride are very much intact as you can tell from three recent social media posts:

“My cousin is MUCH better than yours!”

A photo of a sweatshirt declaring, “I graduated from Marquette University. To save time, let’s assume I’m always right.”

A photo of a whiteboard urging colleagues to “Always give 100% at work.”

ron smith - whiteboard

Newsroom leadership a la Ron Smith.

Portland’s loss was Milwaukee’s gain. But during his time here, Ron made enduring friendships that added to his fan base across the United States.

Three fine people. Three aces in my book.

 

Friday flashback: ‘A better friend’

Has Facebook become your go-to tool for staying in touch with friends? Has clicking the “like” button taken the place of a phone call or an email?

You’re not alone.

Leroy

Leroy Metcalf

My friend, Leroy Metcalf, ‘fessed up to doing more Facebooking than actual communicating with people in a 2012 blog post for Voices of August.

And so he resolved to do something about it.

“I get so consumed with the things that are going on in my life that I don’t make the time to see or talk to my friends. I say I’m going to call them when I reach this milestone or accomplish that. I’ve taken that ridiculous approach to life…definitely not on purpose, though.

“So here is me trying to change that. This is my pledge to be a better friend.”

Read his piece: “A better friend”