From romance to music

Every once in a while, I figure it’s good to stretch my wings a little bit. Even if that stretching is in the more lighthearted direction than the serious one. So instead of only writing about the environment and politics, I take on music or ummmm dating. I’ve even written stories on weddings. I’ve covered getting married in the great outdoors and taking romance for a hike, but given that apparently I’m better at NOT getting married than I am at getting married, my favorite piece on weddings was the one I wrote on how to not get married.

It starts out:

A man wearing a dog collar and skintight black latex was dripping hot candle wax on my wrist. I was in a dark, smoky fetish club somewhere in South Florida, surrounded by people who were wearing leather and chains and very little else. Thanks to the whiskeys the sympathetic bartender was pouring into me, I don’t remember much all that clearly from that night. I might have made out with a stranger. Come to think of it, I might have made out with my maid of honor too.

Weddings are stressful. Not getting married, however, takes stress to a whole new level, especially when you back out of the wedding two weeks before the party, as I did. But believe it or not, you can say, “I don’t” instead of “I do” fairly gracefully.

I wasn’t familiar with the saying, “Better a broken engagement today than a broken home tomorrow,” until after my fiancé and I called off our wedding. Afterwards, though, I heard a million different variations on this theme: “Just think if you’d had kids!” “Divorce is so expensive!” “You’ll be happier without him.”

And then there was my personal favorite: “Someday this will be a funny story.”

Right. Just when does breaking up with your fiancé, canceling your wedding, disappointing your family and feeling humiliated and embarrassed for being the runaway bride become a funny story? (I guess in my case it happens right around the time your maid of honor decides to cheer you up by taking you to Club Kink on your no-longer wedding night).

You know what they say about channeling traumatic events in your life into your writing … well at least I think they say that. Which brings me to a more recent dating advice piece I did that sprung partly out of some (loosely based on truth) dating events and an unfortunate incident involving an enraged professor of recreation throwing a drink at me.

The awesome photographers at the Weekly used that as inspiration for a photo to accompany the dating advice story I had to write. Thanks to them, I felt so much better about the world after repeatedly throwing a drink at someone else (in this case a willing volunteer).

Photo by Trask Bedortha

My advice included pithy bits like this:

Ah, pickup lines. It’s not what you say; it’s all in the delivery and the follow up.

I was sipping a drink at Jameson’s one night, watching the hipsters shoot pool, and one fellow turned to me, handed me his cue, bowed gallantly and offered to let me take his shot. Great pick up; I was intrigued. Unfortunately, after I sank a couple balls, he said in surprise, “Oh! I didn’t think you could actually play.”


If you can’t come up with a brilliant line (“Fuck me if I’m wrong, but I think I’d like to kiss you” — funny, but not brilliant) then go with a classic. The nice man at the KLCC Brew Fest made major points when he saw me sitting alone, and asked, “Is this seat taken?”

And it also gave me a chance to trot out my own favorite pick up line at the end of the article, which was helpfully headlined: Happy Hunting: Dating advice, or how not to get a drink thrown in your face.

The KLCC Brew Fest guy recognized my description of our interaction and asked me out again, which I thought was brave given I had kind of mocked him in the paper. I didn’t go, but I did give him points for trying.

What actually made me think of this was not a traumatic event at all, but actually that a local music promoter mentioned to a friend that he had noticed some of the stuff I had written on alt country/Americana music and liked it. (And I liked the part where apparently he’d never noticed all the other stuff I’d written on things like drones and dams. This is a man with focus).

Hayes Carll

He had read the blurb I did on Hayes Carll. Instead of channeling trauma, in this case I shamelessly channeled the Ford-truck driving whiskey drinking aspects of my personality.

Hayes Carll’s honky tonk-alt country sound is just as comfortable coming out of the speakers of my crunchy granola Subaru as it is blaring from the cracked dash of my Ford 4×4 truck.

And now, thinking happy thoughts about dating and dancing, I am going to return to my current battle with the county over public records requests.


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I’m a little bit everywhere

A little bit everywhere is how I feel a lot — I’m often teaching courses at the university and local community college on top of full time writing and freelancing. Sometimes I feel like I’m running nonstop and I’m everywhere and nowhere, all at once. But this month, not only have I been traveling enough to make the duct tape holding my Subaru together more frayed than ever, my writing has been traveling too. It makes me want to write even more. And travel. Iceland sounds good, but that’s the influence of the totally obscure film I’m showing in the Nordic Cinema course I am teaching — Cold Fever.

In addition to features appearing in the Weekly (and editing this week’s Pets issue, just call me versatile) my Carbon Nation story appeared as the cover feature for the Boise Weekly.

And when I was in Montana two weeks ago for the Earth First! story, I came across a copy of Bear Deluxe with my story about genetically engineered alfalfa. That story led to an update on the issue in This Week in Earth (which also updated the megaloads, another story I follow).

And finally, the Missoula Independent blogged the Earth First! story.

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Action on the Elliott

Other journalists embed with the military. Me, I embed with Earth First! and other activists.

Just two week’s after the Earth First! Round River Rendezvous the Cascadia Forest Defenders held their action camp in the Elliott State Forest. I headed down there to check out the camp (and the subsequent action.) We had tight space in the paper this week, so while I got a story in I really didn’t get the whole story in.

The Elliott State Forest is both sad and beautiful — acres of clearcuts and acres of native never-logged forest.

We camped along the Millicoma River in the Elkhorn Ranch ORV (off road vehicle) park, and conveniently not far from the Elkhorn Ranch timber sale, which wound up being the focus of the CFD action. I’ve been blogging the action as it happens on the Eugene Weekly’s blog.

Thanks to CFD and their efforts, not only do I know there is such thing as a mountain beaver, I know it’s not actually a beaver but a “primitive rodent.”

I recognized a lot of people from the Rondy at the CFD action camp. There are activists who travel around the country for these trainings, and some of them were heading next to the Transgender and Womyn’s Action Camp this weekend.

This time I went to trainings for strategic campaigning and for renegade blockades. There’s a lot of planning that goes into these actions in the forest, and urban as well. I learned that it’s better to wear a fanny pack in the forest than a backpack, as a fanny pack is less prone to get caught on branches.

I learned how to play “Bombs and Shields”, as well as “LEOs vs. Elves (Earth Liberation Front vs. law enforcement officers)” also known as “Freddies vs. Earth First!.” (Couldn’t find a link for the latter game, but it helps activists learn to move with stealth and speed on steep slopes. Not my forte).

I didn’t learn how to climb a tree, but others did and it is very much on my list.

The tree sitters say that one of their platforms was knocked down when an unidentified man with a bulldozer plowed through one of the blockages the tree sit was anchored to. They had erected blockades and tree sits on either end of a logging road that led to several timber sales.

One tree sit still remains.

Last I heard, law enforcement was heading in to take down the CFD tree sit.

Photo courtesy Cascadia Forest Defenders

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Some Things …

I was talking to another reporter recently about how one of the hardest stories to do is to write about someone who has recently died.

A college friend of mine died last week. A good guy. A wonderful teacher. And he leaves behind two daughters and the wife, another college friend, he only recently married.

I keep waiting for the press in his town to do a story on him and what wonderful person he was.

It hasn’t happened and that’s true of most ordinary good people — they don’t make headlines. But it made me remember how important those stories can be, even if hard to write.

When I first started at the Weekly one of the first stories I wrote was about Bill Hecker, a soldier who died in Iraq. It was awful to call up people who knew him and ask them to talk about him but I realized later perhaps a lovely thing to do for him.

I had known Bill, vaguely, in grad school and it was a lesson for me to call him journalistically, and as a mark of respect, “Hecker” and not just Bill.

Later, some of the Cascadia Forest Defenders contacted me after a former CFD member was killed in Mexico. All the news stories dealt with her rape and murder but not with her as a person, they said.

So I interviewed the people that knew her and did a story.

After the story came out, her mother called.

She was grateful for the story and the chance to reconnect with Sally’s (Marcella Eilers) friends, whom she’d had no contact information for.

The story, hard as it was, did not make me a “sly ambulance chaser, slimey with hypocrisy” as I had feared (and to make an obscure Laura Bohannon/ Elenore Smith Bowen reference) it helped her mother and her friends.

I hope someone writes healing words for those who loved Charles. It fixes nothing but helps a little.


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Protest Rules!

Earth First! just held its annual Round River Rendezvous in Montana, near the border of Idaho, just off the route the megaloads are taking to the tar sands. I had planned a trip to Idaho to visit my lovely public radio friend Jessica Robinson, and some other Montana-types as well, so when Earth First! and Rising Tide invited me to camp at the Rondy, there was no way I was going to say no.

The Rendezvous manages to both be a wild time (I had some corn liquor that about knocked me over, but it was my own idea to ask for a second shot); a beautiful time (camping in the forest under a nearly full moon while owls hooted and EF!ers waxed poetic); and a learning time (the weeklong Rondy is packed with workshops and training sessions). As a journalist, it was pretty great to be asked to come. I was “outed” as a reporter at the morning circle, which sounds kind of awful, but wasn’t. It just let everyone know a journalist was in their midst. Also the Cascadians knew me and my work at the Weekly and gave a supportive shout-out.

The Rondy’s traditionally end with some sort of action, and this one was no different. I did a piece on the Rondy and the action for this week’s EW.

Round River Rendezvous

The last night of the Earth First! 2011 Round River Rendezvous was one of the quietest nights of the almost weeklong gathering. EF!ers, members of Rising Tide and other environmental activists slept at their campsites in the Lolo National Forest, awaiting a 5 am wake-up call for an action against Big Oil that would use chants, signs and “sleeping dragons.”

Where, when and what that action would be was known to only some of the action’s organizers that morning. In the end, Johannes Pedersen of Eugene was one of the six protesters to lock himself in front of the Montana governor’s office in Helena, and he was one of five arrested during the protest.

Johannes Pedersen

The Rendezvous, aka the Rondy, took place in Montana but drew about 250 people from Oregon and across the U.S., and from as far away as Spain and Australia. The 20 or so Cascadians — activists from the Pacific Northwest bioregion — were a strong presence at the gathering. Pedersen said the 2009 EF! Rondy in Oregon’s Elliot State Forest was “a clarion call for forest defenders to start being more active in the Northwest again.”

Climate change and destructive fossil fuel extraction, along with logging, don’t affect just one state. “The tar sands are a county, state, regional, countrywide and international issue,” said Emma Bea of Rising Ride North America.

“The Silvertip Pipeline spill is a precursor of what is to come,” said Northern Rockies Rising Tide’s Max Granger of the dangers of new oil pipelines and massive loads of oil extraction equipment coming to Montana.

After days of workshops and training sessions, participants knew the action would target the tar sands route and Big Oil. They knew about fossil fuel extraction from fracking to coal. They knew their legal rights and how to practice civil disobedience and direct action as safely and ethically as possible.

Photo by Murphy Woodhouse

And in case you would like the multimedia version, Rising Tide North America has posted this video. I show up twice. I’m in the brown dress with pink polk dots. I thought it would make me look “reporterly” but this image of myself was briefly shattered when one of the EF!ers asked me if I was one of the radical cheerleaders. Given the radical cheerleaders were fun to watch and athletic, I’m pretty ok with that.


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Politics is local

John F. Kennedy is said to have said “Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be president, but they don’t want them to become politicians in the process.”
(I always wonder about these apt, pithy quotes, Winston Churchill and Mark Twain sure have not said most of what is attributed to them!)

The process in local politics in Lane County has been looking funny lately and it just seemed like there was more going on than what was showing up in the local daily paper. I wind up covering the county because so much of Lane County is federal timberlands. Timberlands = environmental issues = Camilla I guess.

But I find covering local politics really difficult. To do it well, you have to be stenographer that reports what’s going on in dull meetings, but you also have to think beyond that and report on what goes on behind the closed doors.

Shifty Politics Lane County’s awkward new lean to the right

Politics, it would seem, is inseparable from process. It’s not what politicians get done; it’s how they do it.
Or is it? The Board of Lane County Commissioners, in particular the more liberal, anti-sprawl, pro-environment commissioners, has come under fire. Hits to the board have ranged from a timber-funded lawsuit that targeted the more left politicians on the county board and has set a peculiar precedent for what is a public meeting — or a public meeting process — to criticism over how the county will make cuts to its ever-shrinking budget. County efforts to build a more green and sustainable local economy and local energy have also been “sabotaged,” apparently without public process.…

As the more right-wing board struggles its way through another round of budget woes, it looks like the process of how money is spent, as well as just who is making the decisions about taxpayer money, may once again need to be scrutinized. Almost $50,000 is being spent on a biased social media PR series calling for unions to take cuts. The county spent $5,000 on controversial software the board had not approved, and an opportunity for Lane County to receive $10 million in grants, improve energy efficiency and help low-income residents has been left sitting on the table.

The commissioners have begun to draft a mission statement and work on long-term goal setting. So will the county begin a process that will get it back on track?

I was talking to a jaded former-journalist friend about this story as I struggled to write it and in an effort to be helpful the jaded journo sort of sneered at my focus on process, assuring me “local politics is always process.” But in this case there was a timber-funded lawsuit that alleged bad process and won with a dubious ruling and a new majority that seems to spinning the process behind the scenes and in the media. Process might be obvious, but unless someone points out the flaws in it, the bad process just continues.

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Field Burning

I am shamelessly procrastinating on a boring story (aka an important story). I procrastinate in two main ways: First, I dig endlessly for documents and evidence for the story. This method of procrastination works well for me. Second, I do other things I have procrastinated on. This includes posting stories to this blog. I’ve decided that going back and looking at old stories is good inspiration for finishing the one I am currently procrastinating.

I’m having allergies today, thanks to all the Willamette Valley grass seed, and it reminded me of what I have written on the grass seed industry and field burning. Oregon recently put an end to field burning of grass seed fields. Well, mostly, there is still some burning in a couple areas. But historically, grass seed farmers used to burn wide swathes of land, filling the air with choking smoke in the summer.

Cover design by Kevin Dougherty. I miss him.

Back in 1988, a young family died as a result of field burning. It took almost 20 years to get the practice stopped. Author Albert du Aime (better known as William Wharton, author of Birdie and A Midnight Clear) was the father of one of the accident victims. He wrote a book about what happened: “I intend that the entire English speaking world should be aware of how easily they can be victimized by the forces of greed, power and ineptitude.” The book, Ever After, tore at me and led to this story we called Killing Fields. Du Aime died without seeing field burning stopped in Oregon, but I tracked down his wife, son and other family members of the accident victims to look at the historical repercussions of the practice, as well as the current health concerns — the smoke was still killing people.

Kate du Aime Rodewald and her husband, Bill Rodewald, were driving north on I-5 from Eugene in a borrowed Volkswagen van with their baby girls Dayiel, age 2, and 8-month old Mia, when smoke drifted across the highway. The family had recently moved to Oregon to be near Bill Rodewald’s mother in Falls City, a small town west of Salem. They had just made an offer on a house and planned to move to Eugene and attend the UO that fall.

Their plans ended forever when the smoke of a field burn blew across the highway on the afternoon of Aug. 3, 1988. Blinded by the smoke and in the smoky darkness the Rodewald’s van was hit from behind by an 18-wheeler and shoved beneath the vehicle in front of them. The family was burned alive in the fire that swept over the accident. In all, seven people were killed and 38 were injured in the 23-vehicle disaster that made headlines across the country. The only member of the du Aime-Rodewald family to survive that day was Kate’s son Wills, who had stayed home with his grandmother.

The fight over field burning began in the 1960s, but that young family’s tragic death in 1988 is probably the grimmest reminder of the dangers of field burning smoke. This summer marks the release in paperback of William Wharton’s novel Ever After: A Father’s True Story that chronicles the life and death of his daughter, Kate du Aime Rodewald, and her family in that field burning accident, and it also marks yet another attempt in the Oregon Legislature to put an end to the controversial practice. A bill to phase-down the practice introduced by Gov. Ted Kulongoski died in committee, but Senate Bill 528, written as a ban on burning, is struggling its way from committees to the Senate this week, and its advocates have long hoped it would mark a complete end to the fires in the grass seed fields of Oregon.

On a more amusing note, an earlier story I had done on the issue, Blowing Smoke, is cited as a source on Wikipedia. Not sure if that’s a good thing …


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