Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Guided by Experience

Friday, August 25th, 2017

Visiting Washington, D.C., is a new experience for many Youth Tour students.
Thankfully, they are led by someone who has been there before: Jim Donahue, director of communications and member services for Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association.

Visiting Washington, D.C., is a new experience for many Youth Tour students.

Thankfully, they are led by someone who has been there before: Jim Donahue, director of communications and member services for Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association.

An Army brat with family ties to the Washington, D.C., area, Jim took his first tour of the nation’s capital in 1964 and has traveled there for business and vacations. His mother, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Since 2000, Jim has been tour coordinator for the Arizona group. He runs Youth Tour with military precision and discipline—all in an effort to ensure a safe, smooth trip.

“I was brought up that if you are not ‘there’ 15 minutes early, you are late,” says Jim. “But it is more than that. We’re there for a short time and there is a lot to see. For some of the students, this will be their only trip to D.C., so I try to pack as many things into the trip as possible. The only way to do that is to be on time and follow the schedule and rules. Our itinerary is fast paced and includes many sites and events. We run long days. We are typically out by 8 a.m. and get back to the hotel sometime around 10 p.m. Some of the states have an evening or two where they close down early. Not us. There are things to see.”

Students understand he isn’t being mean.

“Yes, the dress code was strict,” says Alissa Kaabe of Anza Electric Cooperative. “Yes, we woke up early and were never late, but we all knew that it was because he wanted us to look respectful and represent our states well and because he wanted us to see everything we possibly could, and we sure did that!”

Jim identifies numerous career highlights: Thomas Miller, a Marine who served in Hawaii and went ashore at Iwo Jima, talking with students; a student telling a congressman he intended to be one of his appointments to the U.S. Air Force Academy and was; hearing of students reconnecting to be college roommates; and earning VIP seats for the Sunset Parade this year. He is Facebook friends with many former Youth Tour students.
Jim says his “most important metric” is that everyone comes back in one piece.

“My rules, the buddy system, fire escapes, rally points all are aimed to see that we succeed in making mommies and daddies happy,” he says. “For the students, they need to think this trip has been the best they have ever experienced. Every year, I learn something to improve the trip. This year’s survey resulted in a 4.94 on a five-point scale.”

It’s Not Just ‘The Kiss’

Friday, August 25th, 2017

Riccardo and his girlfriend, Federica, who have been together only a few months, prepare to kiss before a full moon on the romantic Michelangelo Plaza above Florence, Italy. They awkwardly worked up to a moonlight kiss.
Photos by David LaBelle

One of the things I have learned about wedding photography is you can miss many moments during the ceremony —the cutting of the cake, the tossing of the garter, even walking down the aisle—but you better not miss “the kiss.”

For me, “the kiss” picture is predictable. It is the apex of the ball being tossed in the air, and barring somebody jumping in front and blocking your view—which has happened to me more than once—it is usually difficult to capture.

It isn’t that “the kiss” picture is not important. It is a sort of public consummation of the marriage vows. But if one is so focused on one time or one act, they will likely miss many other wonderful, spontaneous, revealing, storytelling moments often occurring seconds before or after the awaited moment.

Sometimes the anticipation of the kiss or the awkward satisfaction following produces the most surprising and memorable pictures. And often rehearsals produce better pictures than the actual wedding because people are relaxed.

Going early, staying late and watching for these storytelling gems before or after “the kiss” allows you to record small, subtle, unplanned happenings missed by all of the other cameras at the wedding.

Before I leave the subject of wedding photography, indulge me this rant: Why, if people care so much about wedding pictures, are so many weddings held in the worst possible lighting conditions? How is it wedding planners are allowed to schedule ceremonies at high noon, under harsh, deep-shadowy sunlight?

Unless there is the forethought to assemble large white sheets or diffusion panels to soften sharp and intense sunlight and keep the wedding party from sweating and squinting, I think wedding planners should be required to take a basic photography course before getting a license or permit. At the least, they ought to consult with the photographer at the outset of planning the wedding.

Whether big or small, most events consist of numerous small, subtle moments that reveal the richness of the happening. By staying alert with a hunter’s mentality, you will see rich, funny, revealing moments most miss.

Too often I watch people put the camera down before or after an event, photographing only the predictable or staged moments.

Lately, my wife and I have been working with a student who shoots a plethora of “near misses.” We are challenging him to identify storytelling moments from events he covers instead of just making “record” pictures that do little more than say, “I was there”—to be thoughtful and deliberate before pressing the shutter.

He is a hard worker, up early, working late, always eager to cover any event. Looking over his work, I asked, “What was happening before you shot this picture? What happened afterwards? And how did the people in the pictures feel? How did the participants and spectators react?”

If you want to capture those wonderful moments others miss, challenge yourself to go early, stay late and look in the shadows of life—beyond the lighted stages for those story-telling treasures that say so much about us as humans.

David 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

Learning and Teaching Life Skills

Friday, August 25th, 2017

Lane Hegel, right, director of operations for the Graham County Rehabilitation Center in Safford, Arizona, always hoped his son, Matthew, would work at GCRC. Here he prepares to sort and tag clothing in the GCRC Thrift Store.

It seems beyond coincidental that Lane Hegel began working with Graham County Rehabilitation Center in Safford, Arizona, one month before his son, Matthew, was diagnosed with a cognitive disability while starting kindergarten.

GCRC is the only locally operated nonprofit in Graham County providing services to those with a developmental disability.

“I had never worked in the special education field before,” Lane says. “I move here and start working in July, and my son starts school in August. All of a sudden, he is in the special education program.”

The news came as a surprise and shock to Matthew’s parents.

“We never saw it,” Lane says. “I had no inclination he had any issues.”

Matthew also has epilepsy. When he was 13 or 14 years old, he suffered grand mal seizures. An electroencephalogram revealed he was having seizures every minute. With medication, the seizures were controlled.

The Hegels moved to Arizona from California in 2003 after Lane completed a master’s degree in Biblical studies at Golden Gate Seminary in Mill Valley. He began working part time in GCRC’s adult program in July.

Within four months, he was hired full time. Now, as director of operations, he oversees the business, including a staff of 40, adult and child programs, thrift store and donation/recycling center. He also serves as the GCRC trainer.

With a bachelor’s degree in business from Western New Mexico University and master’s in Biblical studies, Lane’s position as director of operations seems a natural fit for GCRC. But it wasn’t a path he originally considered.

“I thought at one time I was going to go down this path, and I made choices that kept me from going down that path,” Lane says.

Matthew’s condition motivated Lane.

“I fell in love with the work,” he says. “I wanted to help my son, to better understand. I was mastering at work the same things that help me support my son. A lot of the training and skills I picked up here helped a lot, and not just with my son—my daughter, too. We all kind of work the same way.

“It couldn’t have worked out better.”

Matthew is now 19. Daughter Katelyn is 14.

Lane says he always assumed his son would someday attend GCRC. Matthew now works with GCRC, and is an example of success and what his father desires for every program participant.

The younger Hegel graduated with a diploma from Mt. Graham High School in Safford, something Lane wasn’t sure he would ever be able to do.

Matthew has spent the past two years with GCRC learning skills that will help him become independent, while also working at Main Street Cafe. The cafe is operated by SAGE—a department of Easter Seals Blake Foundation in Tucson.

Café manager Cindy Gilliam is quick to sing Matthew’s praises.

“Matt has worked here since high school and has gone from just working after school, becoming our Saturday go-to guy to running the register,” Cindy says. “The job skills really, really increased. Matt’s a very smart young man. And very kind and very easy to get along with.”

Matthew blushes with the praise.

“The goal is to get me out of there, to get me out in the community,” Matthew says. “I have learned the box truck, lesson on safety, how to use tools properly, to inspect buildings and vehicles.”

He plans to attend college to study welding.

Even as Matthew continues marching toward independence and acquiring a variety of vocational and life skills, Lane works hard to help GCRC reach important growth goals.

“I want us to be financially stable,” Lane says. “We are really working toward that. I would like to see us expand services. There are other rural communities like Duncan and Wilcox that need services.”

Just as important may be his mission to change a culture and perception that has defined the 50-year-old agency.

“We are not a day care for people with some type of disability,” Lane explains. “We are a training facility—training not just for vocational skills, but life skills so that people are equipped to live the life they want. That is really our goal.

“I would like us to have that reputation as an agency where someone is going to come in here and after a short period of time basically change their life. They will learn to manage their own behavior, learn social skills and basic life skills that will help them function independently in an adult world.”

As a trainer of life skills, Lane is also a student, learning to navigate a complex, challenging job and ever-changing personal life.

“You need to take them from where they are to where they want to be,” he says of his program participants.

It’s sound advice for anybody in any stage of life.

Fourteen years after changing paths, Lane says, “It just worked out. Providence? And God, I don’t know? But I believe I am where I need to be, doing what I need to be doing.”

A Patriotic Pilgrimage

Friday, August 25th, 2017

Top, the Oregon delegation meets with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden during a visit to the United States Capitol. Photo by Jonathan Farmer

The nation’s history comes alive for high school students on Youth Tour

Marines in dress blue uniforms mingle effortlessly with awestruck teenagers in the sweltering heat of Washington, D.C., on a Tuesday evening in June.

It is a precursor to a patriotic display by the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon—young men and women not much older than the teens.

As the setting sun casts an orange glow on the Washington Monument, the musicians march in to the cadence tapped out by snare drums, with the 32-foot-high figures at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial providing a picturesque backdrop.

Soaking up the tribute to those whose “uncommon valor was a common virtue” are some of the record-setting 1,800 students from around the country visiting the nation’s capital as part of the weeklong Rural Electric Youth Tour.

“During the military parade, I felt a great sense of pride for my country,” says Jordan Johnson of Arizona’s Duncan Valley Electric Cooperative. “Watching our graceful flag fly high in the sky and hearing our national anthem played by the very same men and women who protect our nation made me extremely grateful and humbled to live in the greatest country in the world.”

A Week of Sightseeing
Started 53 years ago, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Youth Tour program exposes teenagers from rural areas to a world they often have only read about in textbooks, and challenges them to stretch outside their comfort zones.

Participating electric cooperatives select students who, typically, have just completed their junior year of high school for the all-expense-paid, awe-inspiring, life-changing trip of a lifetime.

Each state develops its own itinerary, but students come together for Youth Day and a Potomac River cruise, exchanging state pins and keepsakes with fellow delegates and making lifelong friends with people who were strangers the day before.

Students see the roots of American history in visits to Arlington National Cemetery, Fort McHenry, the U.S. Marine Corps Iwo Jima War Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial.

They visit the National Archives, Mount Vernon, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Washington National Cathedral, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian museums.

They tour the U.S. Capitol and meet with representatives and senators, witness the Sunset Parade, and learn about electric cooperatives and grassroots advocacy.

“You cannot truly appreciate American history without seeing it first hand,” says Hayley Thrapp of California’s Anza Electric Cooperative.

While students cover a lot of ground, the trip is about more than sightseeing and patriotism. It is about building relationships, gaining historical perspective and opening students up to a future many had never before considered.

“To walk where George Washington walked felt like I was walking on sacred ground,” says Laurie Wilson of Arizona’s Navopache Electric Cooperative. “He was able to help create a country, but he was also a regular human, just like you and I. We can also create amazing things.”

Setting the Tone
First stops were highlights for two different groups of students. The Northwest contingent started at Fort McHenry. The Arizona delegation started at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Fort McHenry reinforced my belief that as Americans, we are resilient,” says Ethan Greer of Oregon’s Umatilla Electric Cooperative. “Even after all that loss and struggle, those men still taunted the British and asked for more.”

Jessica Truman of Nevada’s Lincoln County Power District has sung the national anthem many times, but learning about the battle at Fort McHenry “made the lyrics way more meaningful,” she says.

“The anthem definitely means more to me because of the great sacrifice of all the American soldiers who fought to maintain Fort McHenry,” adds Emily Bonus of Washington’s Benton Rural Electric Association. “It heightened my sense of patriotism now that I’ve seen firsthand what great obstacles our country has overcome.”

The visit to Fort McHenry “put in perspective how much we owe our soldiers,” says Bonny Daggett of Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative. “The men who fought in that battle were so patriotic. My father and brother serve in the U.S. Army, so I know freedom isn’t free. Seeing all the people at the memorials showed me that other people know, too.”

Arlington National Cemetery was the highlight for Leisel Griffin of Arizona’s Graham County Electric Cooperative.

“It is a special place that symbolizes the sacrifice and the joy that comes from the work of our military,” says Leisel. “All my life, I’ve grown up hearing about the history of the United States, but it wasn’t until I walked through a place so enriched with history that I started to realize that these were real people.

“I looked at the seemingly endless headstones and I am truly proud to be an American. I am grateful to live in a country where men and women of all ethnicities are willing to give their lives not only defending our home, but other nations that need our help.”

Alyson Wakefield of Graham County says she “gained a greater appreciation for the people that fought and died for my freedom,” and Hailee Alexander of Duncan Valley says she has “a greater understanding of who this country is built on and how many people die for this country to be free.”

“I will always cherish the memory of my first glance at the beauty of Arlington and the magnitude of dedication, strength and undying patriotism needed to be laid to rest within Arlington’s gates,” adds Keeley Wagley of Duncan Valley.

Sabrina Contreras of Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative was moved by seeing “how many people laid down their own lives so we could have better ones in a free country. It made me realize how lucky I am to live in a free country, because freedom isn’t free.”

“It is a very humbling experience to see so many graves of men and women who have fought so hard to make our country what it is today,” says Laurie of Navopache. “It is a very cool feeling to be connected to all of those men and women—joined by a love for America and a desire to be the best citizen that we can be. It gives us courage to see so many souls who died fighting for what they believed in. It inspires me to want to do my part, too, and although it may not be dying for my country, I can do the best I can to serve my country.”

“My pride and patriotism is stronger,” says Taressia Garcia of Arizona’s Aha Macav Power Service, noting the visit “made me want to continue my path to serve our country.”

The Holocaust Horror
At the Holocaust Memorial Museum, personal stories had a profound effect on students.

“At school, they tell you numbers of casualties and dates, but they never discuss names,” says Madison Furnas of Sulphur Springs. “Seeing their faces and reading their stories made a lasting impression. It helped me understand the reality of a tragic historical event.”

Jordan of Duncan Valley was moved by the identification book she received upon entering the museum. Each book tells the story of a man, woman or child from that gruesome period of history.

As visitors move from one floor to the next, they learn more about the person whose identity they have assumed, and their fate.

Some live. Others die.

“I take with me the depressing feeling and thought that there were real people who suffered for nothing,” Jordan says.

In history class, the Holocaust is a tragedy, but at the museum it becomes real, says Ethan of Umatilla.

“You see pictures and videos of the atrocities,” he says.
In a darkened room is a display of shoes of all sizes that belonged to Jews who were exterminated.

“The shoes are what really got me,” says Hailee of Duncan Valley. “Real people walked in those. They all had lives and stories, and they died for a horrible and unfair reason.”

“I saw shoes for people of all ages,” adds Leisel of Graham County. “Innocent children and their parents were murdered without reason. This memory is one I will keep with me forever.”

Camryn Martin of Sulphur Springs says the shoe room “made my heart hurt.”

“Seeing the pictures that you don’t usually get to see in class was eerie, not to mention the fact that no one spoke,” Camryn says. “It seemed kind of sacred.”

Standing in a freight train car that would have been packed with Jews being shipped to camps gave Kensington Huber of Sulphur Springs an appreciation for the awful conditions.

“My visit leaves me wondering how the Nazi regime could morally justify their actions, as well as thanking God for giving me this life I live in the United States of America,” says Keeley of Duncan Valley.

“There is no justification for what was done to all those people,” adds Elizabeth Barton of Arizona’s Mohave Electric Cooperative.

Dillon Jones of Graham County says he gained a better understanding “of how ruthless the Nazis were and how terrible the camps were. It helped me realize just how small most of my tribulations are compared to what they went through.”

“It put pictures to the words, and that just because someone is good at public speaking doesn’t mean you should trust them,” adds Matthew Gervais of California’s Anza Electric Cooperative.

“After visiting the Holocaust Museum, I will forever be grateful for my life and the freedoms I have,” says Alyson of Graham County.

Taressia of Aha Macav observes how the Holocaust “affected everything and everyone,” and she pledges to “never forget.”

Memorials Inspire
Although no one in her family has served in the military since the Civil War, Elizabeth of Mohave says she was brought to tears at the war memorials.

“These memorials are not just for taking pictures or to admire how great they look,” she says. “They are for remembering and honoring all those who gave their lives for ours.”

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Matthew of Anza saw a letter someone had placed at the base.

“It said, ‘Verified deceased, return to sender,’” Matthew says. “That really got to me. They are some of the real heroes in this country.”

Seeing the names engraved on the wall helped Keeley of Duncan Valley finally understand the experiences of her grandfather—a Marine during Vietnam—who never speaks of his time in the war.

“I have a grandfather who fought in Vietnam,” adds Ethan of Umatilla. “Both my history class and the Vietnam Memorial showed me how terrible the war was, and how courageous he is. My grandfather never really speaks about it, and when he came home he wasn’t really welcomed with open arms. Recently, I’ve started to see him in a different light.”

Brittney Nelson of Oregon’s Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative says seeing the memorials made her feel more appreciative of her grandfather and other veterans.

At the Vietnam Memorial, she and students from the Oregon delegation thanked a veteran for his service. He told the group how he had come to pay respects to the only female in Vietnam killed under enemy fire—a woman he had never met.

“He had us in tears because of his story and the pain in his voice,” Brittney says.

Laurie of Navopache says she could feel the emotion as she walked along the wall.

“It was shocking to see all the names and to realize that could have been my grandpa,” she says. “The letters and flags at the bottom of the wall reminded me that there are people who never got their family back from the war. It’s hard to view some of the war memorials.”

The war memorials remind Hailee of Duncan Valley that “this country is built on the blood of these men and women.”

“We often take our veterans’ sacrifice lightly, but these men and women gave all they had to defend their homes, their families, and you and me,” says Leisel of Graham County.

“It was so moving to know how many people sacrificed their lives for my freedom,” says Gunnar Sherman of California’s Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative. “I will be forever grateful for those names on that wall.”

Searching the wall for the name of one of his grandfather’s friends who did not make it home from Vietnam left an impression on Dillon of Graham County.

“As I was looking over the wall and taking pictures, I finally realized how lucky I was that my grandfather was able to come home, and just how real war is,” says Dillon. “Each one of those names began to mean so much more. I began to respect all those men and women who died for my freedom much more than I had before. It’s amazing how a wall can be so influential.”

A Lasting Impression
Vicente Mather of Oregon’s Blachly-Lane Electric Cooperative says Youth Tour left him “more proud of my country than ever.”

While visiting the National Archives, someone asked a security guard if he was tired of standing in one spot all day.

“His response was, ‘No, I am honored to protect the Constitution,’” Vicente says.

Cooper Brooks of Oregon’s Consumers Power says the trip was an incredible privilege.

“My sense of patriotism has never been stronger,” he says. “I’m amazed by the beauty and respect commanded by each national building and memorial. My favorite place was the Lincoln Memorial because of its size and permanence. As soon as I saw it, I got a feeling of importance and timelessness emanating from it—like it had always been there and always would be.”

A takeaway for Heather Davenport of Oregon’s Central Electric Cooperative was a greater sense of patriotism.

“Seeing the memorials and museums helped me better understand how and why our country came to be, and put the magnitude of the sacrifices that so many Americans made for our country into perspective,” she says. “I was able to see firsthand so many of the things I had learned about in school. I left with greater knowledge, new friends and wonderful memories.”

For Melonie Dodson of Sulphur Springs, the Marine Corps Sunset Parade was her “Washington moment.”

“You could see for miles, the Washington Monument rising into the sky, behind it the Capitol lit ablaze by the setting sun,” says Melonie. “It was a perfect scene. Watching the Marines perform with incredible bearing and skill. When everyone stood for a moment of silence, all that could be heard was the lone song of a trumpeter standing on the Iwo Jima Memorial.

“I was standing at the place where America was created and where day by day it still grows. That was a moment I could never trade for anything else in the world. This truly was a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

“Seeing not only the places of history, but meeting the people who will be the next chapters of history was truly spectacular.”

Enjoy One of Nature’s Best Light Shows

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Eye protection is essential. Sunglasses are not made to look directly into the sun during an eclipse or at any other time. Only use glasses made specifically for eclipse watching or a welder lens with a shade rating of at least 18.
Photo by Leo Patrizi

Sky watching is a favorite pastime, even while participating in other outdoor activities. That’s especially true this time of year, when there is more than just stars to observe.

Mid-July to late August is the perfect time to marvel at one of the most spectacular astronomical events: the Perseid meteor shower.

The Perseid meteor shower displays more and brighter meteors than other showers. It typically features 60 to 80 meteors an hour, but it has been known to display more than twice that many in a prolific year, such as 2016.

This year’s optimal viewing time is the night of August 11
and early morning August 12.
However, it can be seen at non-peak times, too, which are the other nights between July 17 and August 24.

Here are four tips for enjoying this year’s Perseid meteor shower:

  • Watch between midnight and 4 a.m. Generally, those are the best viewing hours.
  • Avoid light pollution. Artificial light from houses, businesses and traffic can diminish sky-watching activities.
  • Watch from the shadows. The moon will reflect a lot of light August 11-12, obscuring many of the dimmer meteors. Find an observation spot where terrain or vegetation blocks the moon from view. That way, you will be able to see more of the meteor trails without the moon’s interference.
  • Enjoy the shower lying down. Sky watching is always more enjoyable on your back. Looking up for long periods of time while sitting or standing can be a pain in the neck—literally. Bring along a blanket. A cushion adds an extra level of comfort on rocky or uneven ground.


Sometimes It Pays to Buck Conventional Wisdom
Case in point: Most anglers fish deep when it’s hot because that’s where many of the fish have gone. Yet some of the biggest fish can still be found in the shallows. Plus, if you fish the shallows, there are no crowds to fight, and you have your pick of the best spots.

This is only one example of how it sometimes pays to think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to experiment with others.


Outdoor App of the Month: Sky Map
Sky Map is a popular app for identifying planets, stars, constellations, and other astronomical bodies and events. It rates high among users—50 million of them.

Sky Map is only available for Android devices, but iOS users have similar options. One of them is Night Sky 4.

Both apps are available in free versions.

What’s So Special About August?
August is Family Fun Month and National Catfish Month.
August 4: U.S. Coast Guard Day.
August 10: National S’mores Day.
August 31: National Trail Mix Day.


Show-and-Tell Time
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.

Unusual Lighter Sparks Man’s Hobby

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Jerry Keller of Redmond, Oregon, holds the typewriter cigarette lighter that started it all. It is one of more than 400 unusual lighters he owns. Many of them are displayed in the cabinet behind him. Interestingly, he says some of the more mundane lighters are worth a lot more than the ornate ones. His lighters range in value from just a few dollars to more than $200 each. Photo courtesy of Jerry Keller

Jerry Keller’s mother loved to frequent estate sales when he was growing up. Even vacations were planned so she could visit antique and secondhand stores along the way.

Jerry never had much interest in such things until his mother gave him a miniature typewriter that was actually a cigarette lighter. That’s when his fascination with unusual lighters began.

Jerry is 61 years old now., and his collection has grown to more than 400 lighters. They take the shape of almost anything you can imagine: hand grenades, beverage bottles, matches, spark plugs, paint brushes, fishing rods, insects. He even has a grand piano that lights when its keys are pressed.

“I enjoy the hobby, especially the great conversations I have when people come to my home,” Jerry says.

Heaven on Earth For Eclipse Chasers

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

The solar corona shimmers around the moon during totality. Photo by iStock/teekid

A swath of Oregon and Idaho offers some of the best spots to view this month’s total solar eclipse

A scene right out of a sci-fi thriller is set to unfold August 21. The sky will darken, the sun will disappear from view mid-morning and wildlife baffled by the sudden darkness will fall silent.

At 10:15 a.m. local time, the shadow created by the 2017 total solar eclipse will make landfall near Depoe Bay, Oregon, and race across the continent in 90 minutes, casting a miles-wide swath of darkness on its trajectory from Oregon to South Carolina.

For as long as 2 minutes 40 seconds in some areas, all that will be seen of the sun in that path of darkness is the sun’s corona—a halo of shimmering light—encircling the moon. People who have watched a total solar eclipse before say the experience will leave viewers awe-struck and bring some people to tears.

Astronomy buffs, area businesses, planners and entrepreneurs have awaited this event for years, though not necessarily for the same reasons.

Eclipse chasers seek the exhilaration of viewing the rare phenomenon. Some are chasing its economic promise, while others worry about the effects the crush of millions of people will have on local quality of life and resources.

All of them are holding their breath in anticipation of what’s to come.

What’s All the Fuss?
A total solar eclipse is a rare thing.
The last one to pass over the Pacific Northwest was in 1979. It won’t happen again for another 152 years.

Rarity is one explanation for the fascination and strong following. The experience itself is another reason—maybe the biggest reason.

“For me, the total solar eclipse will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, ” says Lowell Frauenholz.

The 80-year-old is a longtime astronomy enthusiast. He has seen several partial solar eclipses, but this month’s event will be his first total solar eclipse.

“It’s really exciting,” Lowell says. “It’s hard to explain, but even the most stoic people say it’s a deeply emotional experience to see the sky darken in the daytime. That’s why shadow chasers travel the world to watch a total solar eclipse.”

Tens of millions of people are expected to witness this year’s event. Many of them will travel long distances for the privilege to watch something that will last fewer than three minutes. A fortunate few will simply spread out a blanket or set up lawn chairs to watch it from their own backyards.

Lowell is one of the lucky ones. The path of totality passes squarely over Mackay, the small central Idaho town where he lives.

“I can’t wait,” he says.

It is no surprise Lowell is anxious about his first total solar eclipse, but what about someone who has already seen one? Does the experience diminish after the novelty of the first one wears off?

Jay Pasachoff says the experience never gets old. He should know. The Williams College professor of astronomy has viewed 65 solar eclipses so far.

“It gets better and better, because you know the odd and eerie feeling that you get in the minutes before totality as shadows get strange and the light changes,” he says. “And you want to experience it again.”

Jay will watch this month’s solar eclipse from Salem, Oregon. He hopes people in nearby Portland and Eugene will take advantage of the rare opportunity to see a total solar eclipse.

Residents of those two cities don’t have to go anywhere to see a 99 percent solar eclipse, but Jay says there is no compari-son between that and a total solar eclipse.

“If you go to the stadium to buy a ticket for the game and then go home, that’s like a 99 percent eclipse,” he says. “You haven’t gone inside to see the game.”

He says it is all about the unforgettable experience of totality.

“That’s why eclipse tourism is growing,” he says. “Those who go to one eclipse want to do it again.”

A Boon for Local Economies
Cities and towns within the path of total-ity are expecting an economic windfall as a tidal wave of visitors arrives to watch the eclipse. Revenue estimates for the event vary from hundreds of millions of dollars to more than a billion dollars nationwide.

But it is a double-edged sword: On one hand, the eclipse will provide a significant boost to local economies; on the other, it will put a strain on area residents, roads and resources.

Madras, Oregon, is touted as one of the best places in the country to view the eclipse. The town is almost astride the center line of the path of totality. That means people there will get a better—and longer—view of the eclipse.

“We’re looking forward to having people come and watch the eclipse with us,” says Madras eclipse coordinator Lysa Vattimo. Planning for the event has been under way for
years in Madras.

The 6,000-resident town expects to host a mind-boggling 100,000 eclipse chasers—maybe more.

“Businesses have been preparing for this and looking forward to it for a long time,” says Lysa, “and we’ve been working with ODOT for two years to work out a plan to ensure traffic flows as smoothly as possible.”

To avoid the worst of the expected traffic congestion, Lysa recommends arriving early and staying late.

“Holiday weekends are typically busy,” she says, noting the two-lane highway through the middle of town gets congested then. “With the eclipse, we expect four to six times that much traffic.”

Traffic likely will be a major problem everywhere. The Idaho and Oregon departments of transportation are doing everything they can to limit congestion, including postponing road projects during
the extended weekend of the eclipse.

But myriad other concerns keep planners up late at night, such as the possibility of wildfire. Fire danger is always high in August, especially in Central and Eastern Oregon, and Idaho.

Questions still worry planners. Will the weather hold? Is there enough food? Are there enough eclipse-watching glasses? Are there enough port-a-potties or, for that matter, enough toilet paper?

With the eclipse just weeks away, planners can’t do much more than check off last-minute details and hope for the best.

Entrepreneurs to the Rescue
Existing resources in most eclipse communities have not been able to match the crushing demand. There are only so many restaurants, only so many hotel rooms, campsites and other lodging options—and most sold out long ago.

Entrepreneurs have seized on the opportunity to make up the shortfall.

“We’re seeing a lot of pop-up campsites,” says Lysa.

They are the work of ranchers, farmers and other landowners who have staked out bare bones, dry camping spots to satisfy the demand—and make money to boot.

Mom-and-pop festivals are planned as well. Crops and livestock will make way for makeshift towns. They offer eclipse chasers package deals that often include parking, a place to stay, food vendors, entertainment and other activities.

The Moonshadow Festival features all of the above. It is being hosted by Mary Beyer and her family at their 2,100-acre Wine Down Ranch north of Prineville in Central Oregon.

Typically, their operation grows hay, raises beef and harvests timber. On the side, they rent a rustic cabin through, an online marketplace of alternative lodging options.

But 2017 has been far from typical. This year it has been all hands on deck—including Mary’s husband, daughters and son-in-law—as festival preparations have taken center stage for months now.

“I really love to share this space with others because it is so unique and beautiful, and we are very blessed to live here,” Mary says, explaining the motivation behind the festival. “Second, it is another way for us to diversify and bring in another income stream.”

Asked if she plans to drop everything to watch totality for a couple of minutes, she said she hopes to, since that is what this effort is all about.

“I have never been in a more amazing place to view a total solar eclipse than here,” she says. “Who knows? Maybe this will be the beginning of a whole new lifestyle for me.”

Pocatello, Idaho-based freelance writer Dianna Troyer contributed to this story.


Remnants of a Boyhood Adventure

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Lee Bouchard recently found the oars he and his friends used on a trip on the John Day River. On one oar is carved, “Remains of John Day Valley River Expedition.”

Lee Bouchard and Harold Hinds stretched out on their sleeping bags with their shirts rolled up for pillows. Camping in the sand on the edge of the John Day River in Eastern Oregon, they stared up at the Milky Way and more stars than they had ever seen.

It was 1958, and the two Life Scouts had a month-long adventure of a lifetime, floating the river on a rubber raft from Mt. Vernon, Oregon, to the Columbia River, well over 200 miles.

Harold, Lee and their friend Larry Saul had planned this journey for a year, searching for maps, gathering gear and convincing their parents to let them go.

Lee was 16. The other boys were 17.

“Our parents trusted us,” says Lee, who these days is a volunteer at the Paleo Center in Fossil, Oregon. “I’m sure my mother worried the whole time. Our parents probably knew if they said no we would be upset with them for life.”

The boys planned to bring back specimens to the then-new Portland Zoo and the Museum of Science. On the river, their cages were lost in the river when their craft capsized in rapids, but they managed to return with a live rattlesnake in a box.

The three mapped geological formations along the way and found a lower jaw of the ancient Oreodont, camel bones, turtle shells and fossilized horse teeth. They took notes, comparing the present wildlife with ancient fossils.

They were working toward their merit badges in botany, geology, paleontology, zoology and herpetology.

After losing their gear and supplies, they lived off the land, shooting ducks, geese, rabbits, a porcupine and a deer with their .22s. They fished for carp and salmon.

Although they started the trip in a canoe, they hit a series of rapids near Dayville, Oregon, and the bottom ripped out on a rock. Harold’s father brought them a military surplus raft so they could continue the trip.

Unfortunately, Larry was seriously injured on Sheep Rock when he lost his footing and tumbled down steep terrain while the boys were digging for fossils. He had to return home to Portland.

Since much of the river was unmapped, Lee and Harold got information about what lay ahead from ranchers they met along the way.

At one point, the two boys plunged over nine waterfalls between sheer rimrock walls that dropped the river 30 feet in a few miles.

“We were into it before we knew it,” Lee says. “It was terrifying, like being in a wind tunnel. We could hear this roar, and then the current got us and sucked us down like a whirlpool, then it dropped off a waterfall into a deep pool. We landed upright, amazingly enough, but everything was wet.”

They portaged around serious rapids to avoid more near-drowning incidents.

Today, the John Day is a different river than it was back then. Rafters can rely on a detailed map of the river these days.

The boys traveled two weeks without seeing a fence, a trail, a house or even a cow. They marveled at the Aurora Borealis, rarely seen this far south.

They saw a doe with triplets and found an eagle’s nest that was 6 feet across.

“We counted 54 deer in one day,” Lee says.

Since they carried no ice chests, they asked ranchers to buy supplies or would buy them at country stores. They drank water out of the river, and got so sunburned their skin was dark brown by the time they reached the Columbia River.

“We had hats but never even thought about sunscreen,” Lee says.

Occasionally, the boys would call home when a rancher let them use their party-line telephone.

When they passed through Kimberly, Oregon, the boys were befriended by the family who owned the Texaco Station there. Lee met the cowboys and the manager at that time, and returned to work at an area ranch for room and board the following summer.

While working on the ranch, Lee says he fell in love with the area’s climate, culture, geology and people.

After high school, Lee spent 33 years in the Army, working his way up to lieutenant colonel. He left Portland and returned to Fossil when he retired in 1993.

“Like a lot of people, I was tired of the rat race, the pollution, the traffic,” he says. “I didn’t need it anymore.”

Lee did not quit traveling after his big river adventure in 1958. He traveled in his career and for pleasure, and has been to all 50 states.

Although the boys went their separate ways after high school and have not kept in touch, Lee says he fondly remembers his adventure, thinking of it just about every time he looks at the river.

“We were just kids, but it was a learning experience,” Lee says. “I think it’s good to let your kids have an adventure. Take a year off after high school and see the world a little bit. Then maybe college makes more sense to you.

“There’s a whole world out there. You can read about it, that’s fine. You can hear others talk about it, but that’s not the same as experiencing it for yourself. See the world, go new places, get off the beaten path. Walk someplace where there is no trail.”

A Visual Love Letter

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

I watch for small, quiet moments that speak to the goodness of man and individual character rather than loud, decorated “religious” acts often performed to be seen. This tender scene of a young man walking two elderly women to their cars from a restaurant is such a moment. Photo by David LaBelle

For 50 years, I have dreamed about photographing God.

In the past, I even kidded that when I died, I wanted my family to place a Nikon F camera loaded with 100 ASA film in the casket with me.

I figure I won’t need a fast film with a high ISO because there will be plenty of light, and I’d sure like to be the first to photograph heaven.

Indirectly, from the first days I picked up a camera, I have tried to photograph God by photographing His creation—be it the natural wonders of the world or the wonders of human creations.

Just as we photograph stunning rock formations in Utah, Arizona, Colorado or South Dakota—whose majestic cliffs have been shaped by countless years of breathing winds—we photograph an invisible God by photographing the influence of His Spirit on His creation.

Each of us carries the genetics—the DNA of our father.

I realize I must walk softly and carefully with this subject, and do so with sensitivity, recognizing there are many who do not share my beliefs. Please accept that this column is not meant to be a sermon, but a personal observation and ambition.

I do not mind admitting that when I witness humbling acts of altruism and love, my throat tightens and my eyes fill. In these quiet acts of compassion, I see my God every bit as much as when I behold a beautiful sunrise or sunset.

I have always been drawn to these genuine, not performed, moments. In them I see the goodness of mankind and the loving influence of God. In these mini stories, I feel the greatest joy and hope for humanity.

While some are drawn to photographing action sports, portraits or nature, I am drawn to quiet relationship scenes of love and compassion—things I often lack in my own life, but continually aspire to own.

My wife and I try to make pictures that reinforce the beauty and love of God on His creation, and try to avoid promoting the opposite.

For me, life looks very different at 65 than it did at 25. I’m confident it is a natural thing as we age to grow more introspective and more deliberate with what time we have left. In my youth, life was a smorgasbord and, like most, I wanted to sample everything.

I have loved many types of photography—from sports to nature, breaking news, celebrities and even some fashion—but lately, more than ever, my heart seeks to capture and share positive pictures that reinforce love and goodness and encourage hope, while glorifying our Creator.

It isn’t that I have not always tried to do this from the time I picked up a camera, but now with the acute recognition of the limited time I have left on this earth, there is an urgency not present 25 years ago.

I am forever reminded and keep this passage from Psalm 90 on the sleeve of my heart: “Teach us to number our days, that we might apply our hearts to wisdom.”

I photograph God when I record the golden morning light raking across the red earth or prairie grass of Oklahoma, or when evening clouds turn from white to yellow to crimson. I photograph God when I see birds drink the dew of the leaves or eat the crumbs left by man.

Mostly, I photograph God when I see His Spirit working in the lives of His children.

I don’t always love as I should, but often what I see through my lens challenges me to love more purely.

I wish every photograph I make to be a visual love letter to my God.

David 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

Advice for Last-Minute Eclipse Chasers

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

Eye protection is essential. Sunglasses are not made to look directly into the sun during an eclipse or at any other time. Only use glasses made specifically for eclipse watching or a welder lens with a shade rating of at least 18.
Photo by Leo Patrizi

Nine tips and strategies for viewing this month’s total solar eclipse, even if you haven’t made any plans or reservations yet

It’s happening. That voice in the back of your head is telling you, “Go.”

Until now, you gave little thought to watching the solar eclipse. However, with all of the recent media coverage, you can’t help but wonder what you might be missing.

If you’re thinking about indulging that little voice, here are several tips and strategies that might make last-minute planning less stressful and the outcome more enjoyable:

• Don’t try to make it a day trip. There is no guarantee you can drive there and back the same day. Add extra time to both ends of the trip to minimize stress and ensure you see the the show.

• Leave early and stay late. Planners in Oregon and Idaho expect major traffic congestions the day of the event. Avoid most of it by arriving a few days early and staying a day or two after the eclipse.

• Call direct. At this late date—if you haven’t made reservations already—the key to finding a place to stay is to call lodging providers directly. That goes for area chambers of commerce. They may know of new lodging options available just for the eclipse.

• Go remote. Another strategy is to find a place off the beaten path where you can set up camp and await the eclipse. Oregon and Idaho have lots of public lands where camping is allowed. Check for closures and restrictions before going. Also, keep in mind it is fire season, and open fires are prohibited.

• Stay informed. Watch news and weather reports in the days leading up to the eclipse. That way you may be able to avoid cloudy skies, wildfires and even major traffic problems.

• Take plenty of everything. That includes food, water, sunscreen, medical supplies, toilet paper and other essentials. And don’t forget eye protection.

• Expect phone trouble. Phone and internet access may be spotty or nonexistent in remote areas. Even in areas with plenty of cell coverage, there could be problems due to the mass of people trying to access it at the same time.

• Prepare to be off-grid. If you rely on your phone for navigation, ensure it is satellite capable—that its GPS works off satellites instead of a cell signal—and download area maps to your phone. Download other critical information in advance as well.

• Keep things in perspective. Events of this magnitude always have epic traffic jams, crowds and drive times. Knowing that in advance will help you prepare—materially and psychologically—so you can have the right mindset to enjoy this rare and awesome event.