Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Full STEAM Ahead at Oregon Middle School

Thursday, August 25th, 2016
From left, Tanner, Zoe and Hunter secure their rescue litter with their injured “person” to a helicopter for its final test in a backcountry rescue project. Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Paris

From left, Tanner, Zoe and Hunter secure their rescue litter with their injured “person” to a helicopter for its final test in a backcountry rescue project. Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Paris

Jocelyn Paris is a self-described mad scientist in training, technology guru wanna-be, engi-nerd and math believer—and she is changing things up at The Dalles Middle School in The Dalles, Oregon.

Given the excitement of her students and the waiting list for her STEAM classes, her efforts appear to be working.

“The old way to teach was to talk at them, and we know that doesn’t work,” says Jocelyn. “How do we acquire knowledge? It is through hands-on doing. For every two minutes of me talking, there are seven to 10 minutes of doing.”

When developing her curriculum, Jocelyn meets with social studies, math, science and language arts teachers to learn what they are covering.

“I try to hit every grade level and content, and then pick STEAM projects that fit those,” she says.

Students work in teams on four major projects that build in complexity and require less teacher involvement as the semester progresses.

Jocelyn’s STEAM students have developed early-warning systems for natural disasters, created prosthetic devices for animals and built Roman aqueducts to move water from place to place.

During a backcountry rescue project, teams used math, science, language arts and design concepts to create a device to evacuate a person who suffered a spinal injury.

They began by creating models of the spine, studied the effect of spinal injuries on the body and researched evacuation devices called litters.

Next, they created blueprints of their prototype on the computer, incorporating specific design criteria and constraints (supplies).

Each team built a three-dimensional rescue litter that could immobilize an “injured” potato person and be carried by the team to a helipad across the classroom, where it was clipped to a toy helicopter and sustained 10 seconds of turbulence (shaking) during liftoff.

Supplies were simple: a few straws, duct tape, a sheet of paper and two Popsicle sticks.

Each group also created a map to locate the injured hiker using math equations and the square classroom floor tiles as graph paper.

After testing their litter, students used critical-thinking and writing skills to answer questions, suggest adaptations and reflect on the project.

During the testing phase of each project, community partners—including local Google employees—act as judges.

“It’s good for the kids to present to outside people and show what they know,” Jocelyn says.

It also builds community support as the adults experience STEAM learning.

“A lot of people look at STEAM and see technology,” says Jocelyn. “What we are teaching are 21st-century workplace skills: How are we working together, how can we adapt, how can we look at a project and break it into smaller, manageable parts.”

All in the Family

Thursday, August 25th, 2016
At their home in White Salmon, Washington, the Hoyt family shows essential tools of the trade. From left, Krista with a McLeod, Daryl with a pick mattock and Pulaski, and Avery with a sledgehammer.

At their home in White Salmon, Washington, the Hoyt family shows essential tools of the trade. From left, Krista with a McLeod, Daryl with a pick mattock and Pulaski, and Avery with a sledgehammer.

Avery Hoyt doesn’t remember a single moment of his first venture into the woods: not the 10-mile trek into old-growth forest, not the cold journey over a 6,000-foot pass and not the two weeks huddled in a tent.

Avery doesn’t recall any of his time in North Cascades National Park, because he was just 16 days old.

Avery’s mother, Krista Thie, had just given birth when work called. She and her husband, Daryl Hoyt, swaddled the baby and hiked into the woods.

For the family of professional trail builders who live in White Salmon, Washington, this was just another day at the “office.”

Three decades later, they still work in remote places with difficult access. Founded in 1979, Twin Oaks Construction is one of the oldest trail-building companies in the Northwest. The family has built and improved more than 50 wilderness trails, with most of them in Oregon and Washington.

“They have done work on trails, trail bridges and other trail structures that is unequaled in the world,” says Michael Passo, executive director of the Professional TrailBuilders Association. “Quality trail construction requires a specialized set of skills that other types of construction companies simply do not have. The only way to get these skills is through extensive experience and collaboration with other quality trail builders.”

Their work typically includes building new trails, bridges and stairs, as well as maintaining existing paths and structures.

Daryl, Krista and Avery are the core of this niche business, but they often bring in friends and family to help.

“I never imagined this would turn into a business,” says Krista, a botanist, who grew up hiking with her family in and around Whidbey Island.

“We favor difficult and challenging projects,” says Avery, 32. “We’re interested in making the natural world accessible for everyone.”

The trio often hikes 10 to 20 miles just to get to the work. Sometimes the site is inaccessible by foot, and they must ferry crew and equipment across water. Such was the case with the Lake Chelan, Washington, project, an effort that consumed two seasons and experienced 16 inches of snow in mid-September.

“That was a rude awakening,” says Daryl, who comes from tough stock. His father was a logger and his grandfather ran a lumber mill.

Adding to the remote access is the challenge of working in difficult terrain. Every project is compact and requires small equipment. Because hauling heavy gear long distances is impossible, every tool is chosen—or custom-made—for size and efficiency.

“The power wheelbarrow is the backbone of the trail business,” Avery says.
Narrow and hydraulic, with a 1,000-pound capacity, the wheelbarrow is essential to haul rock, compressors and tools.

In wilderness areas where chainsaws are prohibited, “old-fashioned” hand tools are essential: a crosscut saw, pick mattock, McLeod and Pulaski.

Armed with these essentials, the crew adds its own strength, endurance and experience to drill rock, haul gravel, cut roots and remove fallen logs.

To keep the project moving, the family stays as close to the work site as possible, usually camping in tents and trailers. They typically stick with a project until completion. That means sleeping under the stars and beneath the rain—for weeks and sometimes months—on end.

There is one thing Daryl does not want to hear: “You build trails? That must be fun!”

For this work, he says, you must be physically fit, willing to work in the woods for three and four months at a stretch—without internet, phone, friends or conveniences—and endure bug bites, heavy rains and early snow.

“When you’re out working weeks and weeks, it has a special quality to it,” Daryl says. “The woods become your home. But when the snow is crushing your tent, and the rain is measured in inches, you have to take the outdoors as it comes.”

The test, Daryl says, is, “Can you keep a chainsaw running in the rain?”

“It’s construction work,” says Avery. “But it’s family from the start.”

Avery was just a child when he joined the team. Krista’s father was 97 when he joined them on a project

“As a society, we don’t have a lot of opportunity to do something physical together,” Daryl says. “It’s really special to have a sense of doing something together.”

Now, after 36 years, Daryl and Krista are ready to share the business they have honed. They are handing shovels and saws to Avery.

“It’s really special,” Avery says. “And it’s a lot of responsibility.”

As trails have improved and use has expanded to include cyclists and other recreationalists, the Twin Oaks team is happy to see more people than ever have opportunities to enjoy nature.

“I had tears at Lake Serene,” Krista says, referring to a project an hour outside of Seattle, in Washington’s Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. “To see so many people go up those 600 steps we built, there’s something so satisfying.”

Solving Real-World Problems

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Heidi Vosbein, right, the science teacher at Mt. Graham High School in Safford, Arizona, works with students, from left, David, McKenzie and Josh, testing materials for the enzyme catalase, which speeds the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide in the cells. Students conducted multiple tests using different variables—including gauging the effect of temperature and pH on the reaction rate—recorded the results and used the data to draw conclusions. Photo by Mike Teegarden

Blended curriculum aims to engage students through relevant hands-on learning designed to equip them with critical-thinking skills

Teachers have heard it. So have parents. Many children in classrooms across the nation ask the same question as they face down a math worksheet, chemistry lab or physics equation: “Why do I need to learn this? I will never use it in real life.”

For an increasing number of students from kindergarten through high school, the answer can be found in STEM—a blended curriculum of science, technology, engineering and math—that engages kids in solving real-world problems.

Some STEM programs also incorporate the arts (STEAM), encouraging students to think and communicate creatively and to consider the aesthetic design of their project—not just its function.
“Educators have known for a long time that what we are doing is not the best way for kids,” says Cindy Moss, senior director of global STEM at Discovery Education.

Discovery Education partners with school districts around the world to transform teaching and learning and improve student achievement. It serves 3 million educators and more than 30 million students around the world.

“We have to make school more relevant to kids so they are engaged,” Cindy says. “It is about creating a culture to help kids solve problems that matter to them.”

Creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication are the foundation of STEAM. Whether considering how to rescue an injured person from the wilderness or how to provide clean drinking water to an increasing population, students work together to break the problem into smaller steps, research efforts already underway and deepen their learning through hands-on projects.

“It gives them a reason to dive into the science and weave the math together, to collect the data and be able to record it, to use the arts and drama to communicate what they learned,” Cindy says. “That’s what has been missing in schools for the last 25 years.”

Educators across the nation are finding that when kids engage in learning and solving problems that matter to them, test scores go up and absenteeism—for both teachers and students—drops.
“STEAM puts the fun back in fundamentals,” says Cindy. “It makes school a place kids want to be.”

The initiatives are not just effective in engaging students’ interest, they are essential for developing a future generation of U.S. workers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in STEM-related fields are expected to grow to more than 9 million by 2022. That is an increase of 1 million jobs from 2012 employment levels.

Employers need workers who can solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information.

“There are 3 million open STEM jobs that employers can’t fill because they don’t have people who have STEM skills,” says Cindy.

Several federal initiatives support expanding access to rigorous STEM courses, improving teaching, supporting active learning and expanding opportunities for all students.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program supports schools in providing students with more personalized learning—in which the pace of and approach to instruction are uniquely tailored to meet students’ individual needs and interests—often supported by innovative technologies.

Teachers across the country are receiving resources, support, development and training through federal programs such as President Barack Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign, which has raised more than $1 billion to improve STEM education.

Increasingly, educators are seeing STEM instruction as a way to help students from low-income areas find good jobs after graduation and escape poverty.

“We need to show kids what cool careers are available and explain that engineers can start in jobs earning $75,000 to $80,000 per year,” says Cindy.

To fill jobs related to STEM, the U.S. needs to develop teaching strategies and role models that encourage and support all students—including women and minority students, who are currently poorly represented in STEM fields, Cindy says.

Learning by Experiencing
Heidi Vosbein is not your typical high school teacher. She holds a doctorate in physics, a master’s in mathematics and has studied the interstellar medium, solid rocket fuels, sound-seafloor interactions and sound propagation in the ocean.

For the past four years, Heidi has taught math and science at Mt. Graham—an alternative high school in Safford, Arizona. Her students are kids who have not been successful in a traditional high school setting due to poor grades, behavior or life circumstances.

When Heidi first began teaching at Mt. Graham, there were no science textbooks or lab equipment. She has rewritten curriculum and secured grants to buy such basics as lab tables, glassware and safety equipment. She also solicits donations through, a website where individuals can donate directly to public school classroom projects.

Students work at their own pace in Heidi’s classroom. Despite teaching six to eight science classes and the same number of math classes all at once, she fits in up to three labs a week. She only has enough safety equipment for nine students at a time, although the average class size is 26.

“Kids don’t learn science by reading,” Heidi says. “They learn it by doing and experiencing.”
Her students have made mummies from carrots and apples, and analyzed water samples and bread mold.

After learning how to use the telescope at the local observatory, Heidi created a solar astronomy class and taught her students how to use the solar filter and radio telescope.

“Labs are a lot of work,” Heidi admits, “but you don’t learn it until you experience it. We can tell students what the wind is, but until they go out and experience it, they will never know.”

Heidi assigns online videos of experiments that cannot be done in the classroom to deepen her students’ learning.

“My approach is different because I came to teaching from a different approach,” she says.

Rather than just teach content, Heidi focuses on problem-solving principles her students can use the rest of their lives.

“If they say, ‘I have never seen this, but I know I can figure it out,’ if they come out with that attitude, they can do it,” she says.

Reaching the Youngest Students
Many learning programs begin in middle school and continue through college, but Learning Point Alaska Inc. partners with Alaska Native organizations to deliver technology-based STEM education camps to elementary-school students in villages throughout Alaska.

The organization was recognized during the 2016 White House Symposium on Early STEM.

Molly Hull, director of education for the nonprofit, brings her own equipment and often sleeps at the school when traveling to Hooper Bay—a remote coastal village 530 miles from Anchorage and accessible only by plane.

She offers robotics, coding and engineering camps for elementary school students, and trains members of the Alaska Native Yup’ik community to teach them.

“We have had students who attended the advanced robotics camp—including a second-grader—become youth leaders for the beginning robotics camp,” Molly says. “If kids can be introduced to STEM (in elementary school), they might choose a STEM course at school later on.”

Parents and grandparents play an important role in encouraging and supporting a child’s curiosity and learning.

“Adults don’t have to know the answers to a child’s questions to participate,” says Molly. “You can use the approach, ‘How can we learn this together?’”

Resources are Plentiful
Teachers, parents and community groups can access the resources they need online to promote and provide more personalized learning that fits the needs and interests of their students. Teachers can find lessons at different reading levels and in different languages. Parents can watch videos with their children about interesting STEM-related occupations and projects to do at home. helps support more than 500 U.S. K-12 schools expand their access to computer science. Students and teachers anywhere in the world can join in The Hour of Code—a free event each December designed to teach the basics of computer coding.

There are also STEM and STEAM summer camps and afterschool programs in Spanish, and those just for girls.

Almost 6 million youngsters in the U.S. participate in hands-on learning projects through 4-H.

School districts are looking to their communities for assistance. Professionals from local businesses, industries and colleges can help develop the type of workers they will need in the future by talking with students about careers in STEM-related fields and providing internships for current students, jobs for graduates and resources for the schools.

“School districts need to develop a plan and provide professional development for principals, teachers and curriculum people to help them engage students, parents and businesses to grow the capacity of everyone to teach this new and transformational way,” says Cindy. “We need to help kids understand that no matter where they live and no matter what they look like, they can learn problem-solving skills and can make the world a better place.”

Entire Troop Earns Highest Rank

Thursday, August 25th, 2016
Tillamook, Oregon, Troop 582 Eagle Scouts, from left, Noah Hoefler, Sam Johnston, Garryn Crist, Deacon Fladstol, Travis Princehouse and Colin Farrier. Photo by Mark Farrier

Tillamook, Oregon, Troop 582 Eagle Scouts, from left, Noah Hoefler, Sam Johnston, Garryn Crist, Deacon Fladstol, Travis Princehouse and Colin Farrier.
Photo by Mark Farrier

In one of the rarest events in Oregon Boy Scout history, six teenagers in Tillamook—the entirety of Troop 582—earned their Eagle Scout rank, the highest rank a Boy Scout can attain.

Five members of the troop received their Eagle Scout rank in a special ceremony last April. They were Sam Johnston, Garryn Crist, Noah Hoefler, Deacon Fladstol and Travis Princehouse. The sixth member, Colin Farrier, was awarded his Eagle Scout rank in 2015.

“In all my scouting experience, I have not personally known of a whole Scout troop receiving their Eagle Scout awards,” says Russ Dewey, who has been involved in scouting for 40 years and is the Tillamook District commissioner with the Cascade Pacific Boy Scout Council.

In 2014, the most recent data available, only 6 percent of the nearly 860,000 Boy Scouts in the U.S. earned this honor, according to On average, since 1912—when scouting was established—only 2 percent of Scouts have earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

Russ says he has never heard of five Boy Scouts receiving their Eagle Scout rank at a single Court of Honor—a special ceremony to honor both the Eagle Scout and his parents.

Troop 582’s ceremony drew a packed house. It was marked by speeches by each Scout chronicling his path to Eagle and thanking those who helped get him there.

At the ceremony, Troop 582 Scoutmaster Mark Farrier was honored with a District Award of Merit “in recognition of his dedication and performance,” says Russ.

“To have all six of my boys make Eagle has been a great honor,” says Mark. “It is a milestone event that both the boys and I will cherish forever.”

How You Dress Matters

Thursday, August 25th, 2016
Hanging with college students in a park setting allows for casual dress, but sometimes the venue calls for a coat and tie.

Hanging with college students in a park setting allows for casual dress, but sometimes the venue calls for a coat and tie.

It is important to dress for success. Most of us have heard this since our early years.

Without delving into the psychology of “the clothes make the person,” how you dress might be the difference between making a memorable picture and being denied access to record emotion-filled moments. Getting in position to make a storytelling photograph is more than half the equation for success.

Bill Allard, a celebrated National Geographic photographer, tells of an internship assignment that took him to photograph the Amish. After his first attempt was unsuccessful, Allard left, bought a pair of overalls, boots and a hat—dressed for the occasion—and returned. The rest is history. It was the beginning of a friendship with a family Allard has followed for 40 years.

Another photographer, Dan Dry, was sent to photograph a rock concert. When he showed up dressed casually, like a concert-goer, he was denied access. Dry went home, changed into a suit and returned. He told the people at the gate something like, “Look at me. Do I look like I want to be here?” They let him in.

Sometimes it serves you best to blend in, and not call attention to yourself. Other times, being seen as different and noticed is important.

Either way, your dress can be an important ingredient in the recipe of your success.

A biblical quote, attributed to the apostle Paul, says, “I became all things to all men that I might save some.” He is speaking about modesty, dress and respect for custom and culture.

The principle of modesty—respecting another’s custom and culture, with the hope of assimilating and not offending rather than imposing one’s liberty to act or dress any way we feel—is a good lesson for photographers.

Immodesty comes in different packages. Too much gear, inappropriate dress such as revealing clothing, the way you move—aggressively or intentionally calling attention to yourself—can ruin any chance for authentic, intimate or even sacred moments.

Sometimes, less gear—a cellphone camera instead of intimidating-looking DSLR cameras—is in order.

Overshooting is another way we can become immodest and draw unwanted attention. It can be like fingernails on a chalkboard in sensitive situations, and might lead to being shown the nearest exit.

The goal is not to frighten or impress people with your gear, but to blend in and not offend.

Sensitivity and modesty also require observation and respect for the environment in which you are working.

While photographing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, I removed my baseball cap, in what I thought was a gesture of respect. Immediately, I was approached and asked to cover my head.

Growing up, good manners suggested removal of a hat upon entering a house or a restaurant. Though I am familiar with some Jewish customs and teachings, my upbringing temporarily dulled my good judgment.

Dressing for a rodeo is different than dressing for the Oscars or to meet a president or dignitary.
Obvious occasions call for respectful dress.

Covering a funeral takes the utmost in respect and sensitivity, both in choice of clothing and behavior.

Sadly, there are many who couldn’t care less if they offend others. It is always about them, and being a photographer is merely food for the ego.

To be successful in creating meaningful, intimate photographs, we must, in the words of Dorothea Lange, lose ourselves. We have to allow our subjects to take center stage while we blend into the background, much like the technical crew at a performance.

Often, this begins with how we dress.

daveL_mug_2011David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit


Shadows and Shade

Monday, July 25th, 2016

By stepping into the shadow with your subjects—and exposing for shadow—you eliminate harsh shadows and take advantage of soft, even light as in this photo of Toddy and Kate. © David LaBelle

I love shadows because it means the sun is shining somewhere. Those long, deep shadows can be such wonderful helpers for revealing dimension and texture in your photos. They also can be useful elements to add life, scale, movement and mystery to your photos—great gifts in architectural photography.

As my artistic wife observes, “Shadows are free and fluid. A tree is limited, but the shadow of a tree is not; it is liberated and often better than reality.”

Like sharp relatives, shadows can be challenging and difficult to manage. Avoiding lens flare, loss of contrast and figuring exposure requires observation and thought.

There are three common mistakes I see when photographing shadows.

The first is the backlight flare that often occurs when you stand in sunlight while trying to make a picture of someone or something in shadow or open shade. If you are squinting while trying to make the picture, your camera is likely struggling, too.

The second potential disaster is the splotchy-skin look. Magical sunlight sprinkles through dancing tree leaves, creating hundreds of sharp light shards. Though pretty to the naked eye, the exposure difference between the spots of bright light and deep shadow can be a photographic nightmare. It pains me to think of how many “splotchy” and “speckled” midday wedding pictures I have seen made where bride and groom appear to be suffering from a terrible skin disorder.

The third is the accidental silhouette. Standing in the shade with your subject, your light meter reads the bright highlight and makes the exposure accordingly.

Here is my advice when it comes to photographing shadows or open shade:

  • Embrace shadows. Go on a shadow hunt on a bright sunny day—a fun exercise that just might yield some surprising photos. When photographing shadows, expose for the highlights around them and not for the shadows themselves.
  • Get in the shadow. When photographing subjects in shadow, stepping into the shadows with your subjects on bright, sunny days with deep or harsh shadows may be the most important tip I can offer.
  • Use a lens shade. I see a lot of folks with shades turned backwards, rendering them useless. Lens shades are made to block peripheral light, which minimizes glare and helps the contrast in your image. This may not seem like a big deal, but I assure you, it is. Warning: Be careful when using super-wide-angle lenses that you don’t capture the rim of the shade in your frame. Without getting too technical here, wide f-stops can help avoid this.
  • Make your exposure for subjects in shadow and not the highlight behind them, unless you want silhouettes.
  • Use flash. Shadows are great because they usually offer even light with less contrast and exposure variance. A little flash goes a long way to awaken those shadows with more lively color or even out light shards dancing through leaves. Not only will the artificial light open up those shadows, it will awaken colors that may be muted in the shadowy light. Once again, it is critical to step into the shadow when photographing. If you feel comfortable with your camera settings, try making your exposure for the highlight behind your shadowed subject and add light with a strobe/flash.
  • Use a reflector to redirect the bright sunlight and open up shadows. The key is to point your reflector at the sun, catch the light and redirect it onto your subject. The shinier the reflector—silver, bronze or white—determines the intensity of the light reflected. If your subjects are squinting, you might want to use white instead of a shiny surface.
  • Wear a hat. I wear one not only because I am follically challenged on top, but so I have an instant sun shade to block light that causes lens flare or dulls image contrast.

daveDavid LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

Providing Comfort and Companionship

Monday, July 25th, 2016
Therapy dog Simon relaxes while his handler, George Sallee, delights a young listener with a story. Simon and George love reading to children. Photo by Greg Silsby/PhotoPoetica

Therapy dog Simon relaxes while his handler, George Sallee, delights a young listener with a story. Simon and George love reading to children.
Photo by Greg Silsby/PhotoPoetica

Therapy animals come in all shapes, sizes and types of service: miniature horses that provide love to patients in nursing homes and hospitals; dogs that listen patiently as children read to them; cats that purr and stretch when petted; and full-sized horses that help people build confidence and communication skills.

Some provide companionship or a sense of calm for people with psychological or social challenges. Others are trained to assist health professionals with occupational or physical therapy patients.

Washington-based Pet Partners has more than 14,000 teams of volunteers nationwide. After the therapy animals—mostly dogs—receive basic obedience training, they visit hospitals, schools, nursing homes and community groups.

George Sallee, 80, and his golden retriever, Simon, have made more than 330 therapy visits in the past two years.

“Kids who would never read out loud quickly volunteer to read to Simon when we’re at schools or libraries,” says the Washington man. “And he brings great joy to people in retirement homes who just like to pet him or scratch behind his ears.”

The two recently befriended a 9-year-old whose mother died six months earlier.

“I got Simon to take Jadon on as his handler, and you wouldn’t believe what a difference it’s made to this youngster,” says George. “He lights up every time he and Simon are together.”

Pet Partners offers training for people who want to become part of an animal therapy team with numerous species, including rabbits, birds, miniature pigs and horses, llamas and domesticated rats.

“Service animals have a lot of responsibility, and you certainly don’t pet a service dog because he’s working,” George says. “Therapy dogs can be a lot more laid back because they cheer people up. You’d better be ready to pet a therapy dog. They just love the attention and affection.”

Therapy with horses is used with autistic children to build their confidence, calm them and improve their physical condition. It also is used with Alzheimer’s patients, people with physiological impairments and those wheelchair bound.

“Equine therapy has been incredibly successful in a variety of situations,” says Nicole Budden, executive director of Oregon’s Happy Trails Riding Center. “A horse’s gait simulates walking for the rider and can be very empowering. When they get on a horse, all their disabilities seem to go away.”

Emmy Harrop, 18, has been riding there since she was a first-grader.

“She had a passion for horses from an early age, so we started with therapeutic riding,” says her mother, Linda. “She’s on the autism spectrum with social and behavioral needs. When she’s riding, she’s confident and very relaxed. It’s a place for her to fit in and to fulfill her dream of being around horses. When she’s riding, she’s totally happy.”

Therapy animals can be invaluable to help manage challenges from crippling psychological disabilities, says author and researcher Melissa Fay Greene.

“I’ve heard of people whose lives have been dramatically changed by their bond with dogs,” Melissa says. “Whether they’re affected by a physical disability, an intellectual or psychological challenge, people’s bonds with therapy animals and the effects these relationships have are very real.”

Carving Out A Life of Art

Monday, July 25th, 2016
Mel Blackburn of La Pine, Oregon, shows some of the items he has made and carved during a life of craftsmanship, including creations on display behind him.

Mel Blackburn of La Pine, Oregon, shows some of the items he has made and carved during a life of craftsmanship, including creations on display behind him.

The home of Mel and Nancy Blackburn is more like an art and craft shop than a residence.

Inside the front door, engraved leather holsters hang from the wall, engraved steel knives are laid out on the kitchen table and carved wooden airplanes hang from the ceiling.

Turn the corner into the living room, and only the couch and Mel’s chair are void of Mel’s handiwork.
On the floor are miniature cannons Mel built from scratch and engraved.

There are rifles with carved stocks and engraved metal on the walls. There is a wooden horse glider with real horsehair mane and tail, and a saddle and bridle the craftsman made. There are old clocks he has been given that he restores and touches up with his artwork.

Leather, metal, wood, ivory—Mel’s craftsmanship incorporates all those materials. He cuts, carves, engraves, scrimshaws, sands, paints and polishes.

“I call it my museum,” Nancy says of the many pieces of artwork that adorn the house.

She says she is not terribly bothered by her husband’s craftsmanship spreading throughout the house. That is especially the case in the winter, when Mel brings his tools and materials inside to the kitchen table because it is too cold to work in his shop.

“I don’t think there is a word to describe his talent,” Nancy says. “He’s a creative magnet.”

In addition to the artwork in the house, Mel has restored antique cars and enhanced them with his artistry.

“If it is fun for me, I’ll do it,” he says. “I’ve always had some artwork going on. Next to my wife, art is the love of my life.”

Mel, 75, has been an artist and craftsman since he was young. He was born and raised in Portland. At age 12, he painted a Christmas scene on a store’s front window. The artwork drew compliments. During the next five Christmas seasons, he contracted to do numerous windows.

Mel took high school classes in carpentry and cabinet making.

After graduation, he entered the military and was stationed on Kodiak Island in Alaska. There was little to do there in his spare time, so when somebody gave him an old hunting knife, he sharpened it and turned a piece of leather into a sheath for the knife.

“I don’t remember it, but everybody thought it was pretty neat,” he recalls.

Mel was encouraged to make more sheaths. Then he expanded to holsters. He took one of his first holsters to a store. After it quickly sold, he began to supply the store with more.

The success of his custom-made holsters led him to make leather purses.

In 1957, Mel was approached by a fisherman who wanted a pair of holsters. He had a walrus in his boat at the time. After some bartering, Mel agreed to make the holsters for the walrus tusks. He still has the tusks, which are on display in his home.

Mel says he doesn’t work much with ivory anymore because it is a complicated process that requires completing a lot of paperwork.

For his military buddies, Mel painted cartoons, names and scenes on the tops of their wooden footlockers.

“I never had an art class in my life,” Mel says. “It’s just comes natural for me.”

After his military stint, Mel was a contractor and then a cabinet and furniture maker in Portland.

During those years, he visited La Pine numerous times, calling it his weekend getaway. He built a cabin in the area and moved permanently to La Pine 40 years ago. He opened a shop called Custom Art by Mel.

“I would do anything you wanted if it was fun for me,” he says. “I did a lot of leather work, wood carving, engraving on ivory, metal, glass and customizing car windows.

“I try not to make anything twice. That way, everything is one-of-a-kind for whoever has it. Some things might be similar, but they won’t be exactly alike.”

John Henson owns some holsters made by Mel.

“He’s very talented—multimedia talented,” John says. “His artwork is just unbelievable.”
One of Mel’s upcoming projects is to help John build a cannon.

First, Mel needs to regain his strength after a series of treatments for prostate cancer.

As the warm weather continues in Central Oregon, Mel expects to spend a lot of time with his tools working on his art projects. His wife is sure he will.

“He’ll get back to 8- to 10-hour days in the shop, I’m sure,” Nancy says. “He’s not one to sit around and whine about what is going on.”

While Mel has retired from taking his artwork to different shows in the West—something he did through the 1980s and ’90s—he still likes being a craftsman.

“I’m always building something, working on something, because it is fun,” he says.

Born for a Life of Service

Monday, July 25th, 2016
Service dogs receive as much as two years of training, learning to do hundreds of tasks for their handlers, including retrieving keys, above, and opening doors, below.

Service dogs receive as much as two years of training, learning to do hundreds of tasks for their handlers, including retrieving keys. The most popular breeds are golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and crosses of the two breeds.

Man’s best friend serves as the eyes, ears, arms and legs of its handler

When she was in her 30s, Nancy Sawhney began having serious difficulty walking. Enduring seemingly endless medical tests and uncertain diagnoses for nearly a decade, the California woman struggled to use crutches, a cane and, at one point, a wheelchair.

Doctors declared she suffered from “unspecified neuron disease”—a condition that would gradually deteriorate. The diagnosis changed her life forever.

So did an information booth about assistance animals at the California State Fair in the early 1990s—and Josephine, a lab/retriever mix she called Jodi, which gave Nancy the chance for regained independence.

“That was the first time that I realized I could get a service dog to help me, and it just opened up my world,” Nancy says. “Until then, I never considered it a possibility. Now I don’t know what I would do without my canine partner.”

In the past 22 years, Nancy has had three more service dogs, including her latest, Battier, who has been with her since early this year.

“In just this short a time, Battier’s been more than I could ever have wished for,” Nancy says. “She anticipates my every need. She’s simply amazing.”

Nancy is one of many people whose lives are richer because they rely on their service dogs to be their eyes, ears, arms and legs. Organizations such as Guide Dogs of America and Canine Companions for Independence specialize in training service dogs.

By law, a service animal is a canine—or, in some cases, a miniature horse—that has been trained to assist people with seeing, hearing, or other physiological or mental challenges. Service dogs undergo extensive training to assist their human partners.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits a person with a service dog from being denied access to a public place.

“There are big differences in service dogs and therapy dogs,” says Martha Johnson with Canine Companions for Independence, which is headquartered in northern California and serves eight western states. “Service dogs are working animals that are trained to perform specific tasks for their human partners that the handlers cannot do on their own.”

Dogs and humans have a long, intertwined history.

“Dogs have always lived among humans to the benefit of both species, and they co-evolved together over thousands of years,” says Melissa Faye Greene, author of the just-released “The Underdogs: Children, Dogs and the Power of Unconditional Love,” which explores the relationships of humans and canines. “There’s an ancient biological link, and science is proving that happy hormones are released by dogs like they are in humans.”

Twenty-first century studies have shown that when a dog and a person sit next to each other, their hearts begin to beat in sync, Melissa says.

“The whole miracle of cross-species friendship is amazing,” she says.

Canine Companions has a breeding program with golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers, producing full-blooded dogs and crossed breeds.

“These animals, because of their size and their personalities, are the most receptive to training and very adaptable,” says Nancy, who serves on the national board of directors for Canine Companions. “You can just see in their eyes how eager they are to please people. And even with their size, they are very loving and affectionate.”

From the time they are born, service animals are groomed for a life of service. They spend the first 14 to 16 months in the homes of trained volunteers to become socialized, learn basic commands and how to be calm in a wide range of situations.

Eric Peterson has been a puppy raiser for Canine Companions for nearly 14 years.

“The puppies come to us at about 8 weeks old, and it’s always so incredible to see how eager they are to learn, with their little tails wagging,” Eric says. “From the very day he arrives, he’s right there with me all the time, going to work, the grocery store, the airport, to the mall and movies, to family events and other activities.”

The pup wears a bright-colored vest identifying him as a service dog in training.

“This is one of the most fun parts because people come up to us, pet him and love on him,” Eric says. “It’s a perfect introduction to educate people about the amazing partnership between these dogs and their future handlers, plus it helps the dog become accustomed to being out in public.”

Eric’s latest charge is Artemis, a retriever/lab mix.

At nearly 1 year old, the dog has mastered nearly 30 commands, accompanied the family to restaurants, shopping and on vacations. He has learned to have his teeth brushed regularly and his toenails trimmed without wiggling, and to stay focused on the task at hand.

“From the very beginning, we’ve worked with Artemis by cradling him in our arms, turning him over on his back, rubbing his stomach and playing with his paws so that he’s comfortable, submissive and non-aggressive,” Eric says. “You’ll never see a service dog engage with another animal, even if it’s a larger dog that comes up to sniff it. He’s trained to lie down and to stay focused on his handler’s needs. Alpha dogs are not suitable as service dogs.”

Artemis has become a member of the Peterson family, at first wiggling, licking and nuzzling his way into their hearts, much like any family pet. But Eric knows the day is coming for the pup to move on to his next phase at a training facility.

“It’s one of the hardest things to deliver him to the training campus after all the time he’s spent with us,” Eric says. “It’s like a child leaving home for college, but by the time he is around 18 months old, he’s ready.

“We won’t see him again until his ‘doggie college’ is complete and he’s been matched with a handler, but he will remember us. I’ve seen it happen with every puppy we raised. At graduation, even though he hasn’t seen us in six months, his ears will perk up when he hears my voice, but he’ll mind his handler until she releases him. Then he’s all over us.”

At Canine Companion’s regional training facility, Artemis and dogs like him receive as much as six months of specialized training with a professional. He learns to respond to specific commands, such as “drink,” which signals him to fetch a bottle of water for his handler, and “light,” which prompts him to turn on a light switch.

Depending on the dog’s temperament and strengths, he may become a hearing dog or a service animal to assist a wheelchair-bound person.

Professionals constantly evaluate the dog’s abilities to make sure he will be able to perform his duties consistently for the six to eight years of his working life.

“Realistically, some wash out during puppy training, or ‘doggie college,’ as I call their time at the training campus,” Eric says. “If a dog doesn’t make the grade as a service animal, he is either trained as a therapy dog or adopted out to one of the many able-bodied people who are screened to be pet owners. As well-behaved and loveable as these dogs are, it’s very easy to match them with a suitable family.”

Handler candidates patiently wait for a call.

“Sometimes, the wait can be as long as two to three years to find the right dog for the right person,” says Nancy. “Once the dog is ready, candidates are brought in to meet their potential teammates and spend two weeks on one-on-one training with a professional to solidify their relationship and suitability.”
Graduation day is emotional as puppy raisers and their families return to see the dogs and their new handlers before they go to their new homes.

For Eric, it is bittersweet.

“I’m so proud of the puppies we’ve raised that go on to make a difference in someone’s life,” he says. “I always tear up as I see them leave for their new lives, but I know that’s what they’re trained for, and I’m just proud for the small part I played in it.”

Many organizations provide service dogs at no charge, although the financial and time investment can be several thousand dollars and months of volunteer time to raise the puppies. Once matched, handlers agree to pay for all food and medical care for the canine partner while in their care.

When the dog retires—usually at age 9 or 10—the handler has the option to keep the dog as a pet. If the handler turns the dog back to Canine Companions, the puppy raiser is offered the chance to adopt him. Otherwise, the dog becomes a pet for one of the approved people on the organization’s waiting list.
Nancy and her husband, Ramesh, opted to keep her second dog, Union, once he retired from service.

“He lived with us, even after I received my next dog, Becky,” she says, noting the two dogs became fast friends. “Union was a true blessing to our family, and we were happy to have him for the rest of his days. He was such a part of our family and our lives.”

Nancy credits Jodi with literally saving her life, even though she was with Nancy just a year.

“She was a great dog, but maybe a little too smart for the program, so she was returned to her puppy raisers to live a pampered life,” Nancy says of Jodi. “But if it had not been for Jodi and the wonderful dogs that came after her, I’m not sure what my life would be today.”

Outdoors 101: The ABCs of PFDs

Monday, July 25th, 2016
Most states have laws that require children younger than a certain age to wear life jackets when on a boat. In states without a children’s life jacket law, the U.S. Coast Guard requires those under the age of 13 to wear a certified life jacket. Inner tubes and other floaty toys are not considered certified flotation devices. Photo by Britta Kasholm-Tengve

Most states have laws that require children younger than a certain age to wear life jackets when on a boat. In states without a children’s life jacket law, the U.S. Coast Guard requires those under the age of 13 to wear a certified life jacket. Inner tubes and other floaty toys are not considered certified flotation devices. Photo by Britta Kasholm-Tengve

Personal flotation devices can be bulky, hot, uncomfortable and—for the vain at heart—uncool. But they are also lifesavers. A case in point: According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 84 percent of 2014 boating drowning victims were not wearing life jackets.

Life jackets not only provide additional flotation in the event of capsizing or an unexpected swim, but they also add a layer of warmth in cold water.

Here are the five types of personal flotation devices:

  • Type I, offshore life jacket. It is designed for extended survival in rough, open water.
  • Type II, near-shore buoyant vest. This is the “classic” life jacket. It is less bulky and less expensive than a
  • Type I PFD, and is designed for calm, inland water.
  • Type III, flotation aid. This PFD is similar to Type II vest, but it tends to be more comfortable and are available in assorted styles and sizes. However, they are not designed to keep an unconscious person face-up in the water such as Type I and II PFDs are designed to do.
  • Type IV, throwable device. This includes boat cushions and ring buoys.
  • Type V, special-use device. Special-use devices
  • includes hybrid vests, work flotation vests and deck suits.

Sizing is important to ensure the proper fit. For adults, it’s based on chest size, For children, it’s based on weight.

Some companies also make PFDs for pets. They are not USGS certified, but they have saved pet lives. They are available at many pet stores and outdoor stores.

The bottom line: Don’t just have a PFD onboard; be sure to wear it, especially if you are not a swimmer or are uncomfortable in the water.

National Park Service Celebrates 100 Years
August 25 marks the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service. That’s 100 years of protecting America’s natural, historical and cultural treasures.

There are more than 400 beautiful, historic sites covering more than 80 million acres consisting of approximately 18,000 miles of rails and more than 75,000 archaeological sites.
Source: National Park Service

Not Getting Enough Fishing Time?
Don’t leave home without your fishing rod. You never know when the mood will hit you or an opportunity to wet your hook will present itself.

What’s Special this Month?
August: National Catfish Month and National Picnic Month
August 25: National Dog Day
August 31: National Trail Mix Day

Reader Submission: Another Tip for Keeping Your Cooler Cool
Thermal mass makes your cooler stay colder. To maximize this principle, reader Charles Hayden suggests buying a case of water bottles and freezing them. Use them in place of ice to fill your cooler. When the ice inside the water bottles melts, it doesn’t make things soggy and the water doesn’t go to waste. They melt slower than crushed ice and are less bulky than block ice.

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

24authMany of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.