Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Stocking Stuffers for Anyone Who Camps

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

Stargazing and camping go together like campfires and s’mores. Gifts to enhance the experience include binoculars and other optics, books, star maps, pillows, blankets, cushions, smartphone apps and even chairs specially made and angled for stargazing. But perhaps the best gift of all is someone to enjoy the experience with.
© iStock/anitoliy_gleb

Stocking stuffers are often an afterthought. But they don’t have to be.

This year, break the cycle of sweets, books, knickknacks—and all the usual stocking stuffers—and get something outdoor enthusiasts on your list will enjoy more.

The key is to focus on what most of them do: camping. It is one of the top-five outdoor activities, in terms of participation. Even people involved in other activities often camp in conjunction with those activities.

Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing:

Glow-in-the-dark waterproof playing cards by Kikkerland, $10. Use them to play games anytime, anywhere and in any kind of weather.

Stormproof strikeable fire starter sticks by UCO Gear, $10. These are great for camping, the survival kit or even at home for lighting fires in the wood stove.

The MT908 11-function stainless steel credit card multitool by SE, $5. It’s a survival tool kit that fits in a wallet.

Collapsible clover-style solar-powered LED lantern by Suaoki, $19. Fold up its three solar panels, set it in the sun and power it up. To use the lantern, hang it in the tent or on a tree branch. Adjust the lighting level by folding the three panels up or down.

The Trucker’s Friend by Off Grid Tools, $50. It just as easily could be called the Camper’s Friend, since it’s so handy around the campsite. It’s great for splitting kindling, driving tent stakes, removing hot lids and pots, and a dozen other uses.

Three Online Sites to Get Excellent Outdoor Deals
Sierra Trading Post. This website has a huge selection of overstock, seconds and last year’s name brand gear at discount prices.

Steep and Cheap. This website offers hefty discounts, but you have to act fast because quantities are limited on many items.

Campmor. For the best deals, especially on seasonal closeouts, check out Campmor’s clearance section.

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. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Keeping Memories Alive

Sunday, November 25th, 2018

Me and my young mother in Costa Mesa, California, before we moved to Creek Road in Ojai. I was 1 year old.
Photo courtesy of David LaBelle

In seconds they are lost forever—our homes, our dreams, our irreplaceable heirlooms and precious photographs—memories devoured by roaring winds, racing flames or trespassing waves of water.

Fifty years ago, churning floodwaters swept away our family home, taking my mother’s life and everything my parents had labored so many years to build. All documents, records, letters, family pictures, negatives from my childhood through my teenage years were lost.

My father, brothers, sister and two friends escaped when rescued by a helicopter just minutes before we were swept downriver as well. The 1969 flood claimed many lives.

During any tragedy, escaping with life is most important. We are thankful, but there is real grief in losing one’s home, pets and precious personal items that connect us to the past and present and help us keep memories alive.

For me, the only physical items I have to connect me to my mother is a small nightstand my brother retrieved from piles of debris a mile down the creek from where our home was washed away and a few copies of family snapshots my relatives had, mostly made when I was a small child. My brother refinished the nightstand and gave it to me as a Christmas present a year after the flood. After a half century and dozens of moves, I still have it.

As a news photographer, I covered many natural disasters—fires, floods, tornadoes and earthquakes. My heart ached each time I witnessed the deep pain of people who had lost loved ones, homes and personal belongings. Of all the material things lost, irreplaceable photographs was what they grieved over most.

In light of the barrage of natural disasters, take steps to save your precious memories.

  • Burn DVDs or CDs of images you want to keep. Make at least two copies. Keep one in your home and another in a fireproof, climate-controlled safe or storage facility in another state. The lifespan of a a DVD or CD is debatable. Some say they are good 7 to 10 years.
  • Make archival prints of important images and store them in acid-free archival boxes in a fireproof, climate-controlled safe or facility.
  • Store images on a designated external hard drive, although I don’t trust these as my only source of backup. There are too many stories of lost information, especially after dropping the drive.
  • Store images in “the cloud”—a network of integrated computers that store your data online, as opposed to keeping them on your hard drive. Like physical storage units where we keep our valuables, the cost of digital online storage varies, depending on how much storage you need. As long as a natural disaster doesn’t destroy the mammoth city of computers holding your pictures, your images should be safe and retrievable. But there is always a risk.

It’s a dilemma. I opposed online storage because of horror stories of photographers losing all their images when a company collapsed. With the cloud, this is highly unlikely.

I also don’t like someone else having access to my information. However, anything you post is out there. I continually see my pictures on unfamiliar sites. Once I post something online, there is no such thing as private. Somebody can access it. Always. I have somewhat made peace with this, but it still feels like living in a glass house where every stranger can see my daily life.

There is no one perfect system. In the end, I suggest you back up your most precious pictures a variety of ways.

Last month, someone took my phone with all of my images and contacts. I tried to track it, but the thief had turned the device off. I didn’t have my data—my words, contacts and pictures—backed up on the cloud, though I had downloaded many pictures.

I think I learned my lesson. Though I despise the idea of someone else holding and having access to my images and information, I am in the process of backing up my work online and keeping DVDs, negatives and hard copies.

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

Teacher, Teach Thyself

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

There is a Bible verse—a rhetorical question—that asks, “You, then, who teaches others, do you not teach yourself?”

In a rare moment recently, I decided to leave my camera and cellphone in my hotel room and take a walk on the beach with a friend I see once every two years. I had just finished three days of photographing and teaching photography and decided a walk without a camera might help me be more fully present.

Though I preach to others to always carry a camera, there are times—though few for me—when a camera can become a distraction, a buffer or even an impediment to a meaningful conversation. Sometimes I intentionally hide behind the viewfinder.

It was just a walk on the beach. Bad move.

We immediately noticed a child pushing another child in a wheelchair across the wet sand near the surf while two other children joyfully frolicked in the water. It was one of those beautiful, joyful, innocent, life-affirming moments I live to record.

My friend, Craig Reed, smiled and stated the obvious. “There’s your story,” he assured in his slow, deep radio voice. He had participated in many workshops with me through the years and was keenly aware of the type of candid moments I sought to capture.

“I decided not to bring my camera,” I painfully admitted.

“Well, you got a cellphone.”

“No, I didn’t bring it either.”

I felt embarrassed. Naked. Like reaching a mountaintop, spotting a bull elk, then realizing I left my gun at home.

Another hundred yards later, while still beating myself up for the uncaptured moment I would never be able to share, dark morning clouds parted and golden sunshine washed over an assembly of gulls, their white chest feathers glistening against a gray-blue backdrop. In the not-so-far distance, stretched proudly across the horizon, the silhouetted skeleton of Newport’s Yaquina Bay Bridge completed the postcard scene—the same bridge assigned as a subject of a photographic scavenger hunt.

My heart dropped.

All week I taught about seeing light, anticipating light, feeling light. Here I stood watching, with nothing but my memory to capture this awesome beauty.

Of all the photographs I had seen made this week, both by myself and others, nothing compared to the beauty of this magical, fleeting landscape.

It was as if all the elements were laughing at me, teasing me for my poor judgment.

The clouds slid in front of the morning sun and the vibrant colors left.

The moment was gone.

I know there is a time for everything—even a time to put the camera down and experience the moment. I really believe this. This just wasn’t one of them.

The next morning, still feeling tender for pictures missed the day before, I grabbed a camera and one lens and took a train to downtown Portland. Soaked in a heavy rain, I roamed the streets looking for a picture—a moment that captured the cold, soggy day and that perhaps would help me forget my failures from the day before.

I made several pictures that wet afternoon, but none that cut my heart more than the one outside Starbucks.

The image doesn’t take away the sting of the pictures I missed the day before, but it does put life and making pictures in perspective.

Internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer David LaBelle has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He spent his magical boyhood years taking photos. For more information, visit

Half of Americans Get Outdoors

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Surprise! The No. 1 outdoor activity in the country in 2017 was running, according to the Outdoor Industry Association’s most recent survey. That includes road running, jogging and trail running.
© iStock/Brian A. Jackson

The United States is a nation of outdoor lovers. As proof, consider that more than 146 million Americans participated in outdoor activities in 2017, according to the Outdoor Industry Association’s annual survey report released in July.

That represents 49 percent of the total U.S. population, age 6 and older.

According to the report, the top five outdoor activities last year were:

  • Running
  • Fishing
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • Camping

The survey also notes that 20 percent of participants engaged in outdoor activities two or more times a week.

Overall, they went on 10.9 billion outings in 2017.

There are many other enlightening facts. To read the complete report, visit

One question you may ask after reading the report is, “What is the other half of the country doing?”

Four Tips for Long-Term Storage of Fishing Gear

  • Clean and lubricate your fishing reels. If they have seen extensive use, take them apart and inspect for worn or broken parts, and replace as needed. A thorough clean and lube is especially important for saltwater reels.
  • Inspect rods for cracks and missing hardware. Also check ferrules carefully for nicks, wear or loose windings, and repair or replace them when necessary.
  • Store rods vertically to prevent warping. Avoid storing them in extreme temperatures, which can damage or weaken the rod material.
  • Clean out tackle boxes. That includes repairing or discarding damaged lures, throwing away expired jar baits, sharpening or replacing used hooks, and making sure tackle boxes are dry inside and free of dirt and grime.

No Need to Stop at Three
Most outdoor enthusiasts have heard of the three-layer clothing system. Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the word that three doesn’t always mean three.

The three layers include a moisture-wicking base layer next to the skin, an insulation layer for warmth, and an outer shell to block wind and rain.

What people forget—or may not know—is the insulation layer can consist of multiple, thinner layers. In fact, in situations where temperatures or activity levels fluctuate, additional insulation layers are ideal. That way they can be stripped off or added as conditions change.


What’s Special About November?

  • November 6, Marooned Without a Compass Day
  • November 17, Take a Hike Day
  • November 22, Go for a Ride Day

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. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Healing Vets With Rod and Reel

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Katie Puterbaugh—pictured wrangling a large stingray—is a volunteer and participant with Project Healing Waters in Alaska.

Annual fishing event in the Florida Keys brings together disabled veterans and volunteers for three days of camaraderie and adventure

“Whoa, flying fish!”

“Man, this is going to be great!”

Noticeably absent from the cheerful calls heard over the whir of fishing boat engines are discussions of post-traumatic stress disorder, combat and wounds that still haunt some of these disabled veterans.

Twenty-five veterans from various branches of the U.S. military were selected to attend Fish With a Hero, a nonprofit organization that seeks to help veterans deal with PTSD and other wartime injuries. Attendees are selected from more than 200 chapters of Project Healing Waters, which works to help disabled active duty personnel and veterans recover through support, partnership and learning to fly fish with fellow veterans.

The event was in Islamorada, Florida, from September 25 to September 28. The all-expense-paid excursion was overseen by Fish With a Hero Florida Keys Director of Operations Mark Gibson, a decorated U.S. Navy veteran who served in Vietnam.

“I’ve been a fisherman all my life,” Mark says. “Gulf Coast fishing, backcountry—I’ve been doing this since I was knee-high to a grasshopper back in Texas.”

Decades after his combat experience—and while spending a day on a boat with other veterans during his fourth residential PTSD therapy—Mark realized fishing could be a way to heal.

“I remember thinking on the way back in, ‘I don’t remember the last time I felt this good,’” he says. “I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t have something going 90 mph in my head. I realized this was something I needed to pursue further. I figured I could make dealing with PTSD my excuse or my purpose. I chose to make it my purpose.”

Mark chartered fishing boats out of Tampa for eight years before moving to the Keys and starting Dauntless Fishing. While working part time at Bass Pro Shops, he was introduced to Fish With a Hero Executive Director Larry Kendzior. Mark took a group out on the water and decided it was a good fit.

A few years later, with financial support from Worldwide Sportsman and Bass Pro Shops, he brought the event to Islamorada.

The Healing Process
Recreational therapy is often used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in dealing with PTSD and other injuries. It offers veterans a chance to try something new, meet others with similar backgrounds and, sometimes, a way to keep their minds off trauma.

“One of the things in dealing with PTSD is getting outside yourself,” Mark says. “Relationships, work performance and so many things decline because you’re so wrapped up in your own head.”

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Lou Orrie retired after 30 years and now lives in Navarre. He was a door gunner for many years in combat zones, which left a lasting impression—physical and mental.

“A lot of the dust-offs in Afghanistan were pretty nasty,” Lou says, referring to emergency casualty evacuations. “A lot of landings we made were just controlled crashes.”

He has had 13 surgeries in the past
61/2 years, and still suffers night terrors, which he says are difficult for him and his wife.

Lou’s service dog, Becker—who gets anxious when Lou is not near—has been by his side for about 16 months. He says she anticipates his emotions and leaps into action. Becker knows when Lou is experiencing a night terror, too, and gently rests her head on his shoulder or leg to soothe him.

With Becker in tow, Lou says he enjoys the program.

“There’s no pressure,” he says. “My wife is happy that I’m doing this. She knows I’m creative, and I like to work with my hands. When tying flies you are able to create whatever you want. You can try to duplicate whatever you see in nature with a fly.”

Keeping busy and experimenting with new techniques are just some of the program’s benefits. Lou says many groups work with local schools to teach students fly-fishing basics. For many, it’s as simple as having a new purpose, a new mission.

Lou says he never would have learned to fly fish or attend an event like this if it were not for Healing Waters and Fish With a Hero. He believes they make a difference.

“There’s always that constant struggle to stop the 22 veteran suicides a day,” Lou says. “That’s why these programs help. They open doors. We often don’t want to ask for help. It took me forever to ask. It’s just one of those things that many think it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help.”

The trick, he says, is making sure veterans and their families know about the program. When battling severe depression and other trauma, Lou says people often don’t want to do things that used to bring them joy.

Mark understands that withdrawal. He has made it his mission to bring these veterans an outlet for fun, adventure and stress relief.

He says fishing and spending time on the water can do just that.

“They can get a window of what it feels like not to have these weights on their shoulders at all times,” Mark says. “I’ve seen the guys and women who I take out, and it seems like their worries just melt away—especially when they’re with other vets.”

Katie Puterbaugh—who retired from the Air Force after 25 years and stayed in Alaska after several years at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson—became part of that connection as volunteer.

“I approached Project Healing Waters looking to be a volunteer,” she says. I knew how to fish in Alaska, and I thought maybe I could somebody out.”

Because Katie also has a disability rating from the VA, she also qualified to be a participant, which provided more insight to share at regular meetings in Anchorage.

“The program is tremendous for individuals with TBI or PTSD because it gives them something else to think about,” Katie says.

Fish With a Hero
Executive Director Larry Kendzior agrees that fishing is a great way to bring wounded veterans peace. He initially contacted the Wounded Warrior Project and pitched them on creating a fishing event to help wounded veterans. They passed. After a couple years of trying, he heard about Project Healing Waters.

When Larry reached out to the organization and learned its annual event could not be funded, he wrote a check to make sure it happened.

“It was amazing to see the difference in these guys from when they left for two days to when they got back,” he says.

Larry says the entire group was quiet and close mouthed, but that all changed by the evening’s gathering. Larry wanted that to continue, but in the Keys.

After successful fishing excursions in Pigeon Key, Healing Waters leadership asked Larry if he would lead a national event. That resulted in Fish With a Hero.

Shortly after, he met Mark—a twice-wounded combat veteran—who volunteered to take on the Islamorada-based event with local support.

“In both Islamorada and Fort Myers—where the event began—there are numerous businesses that support our efforts,” Larry says. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They go way overboard. It brings out the best in people.”

Larry says participants often become the volunteers and support staff. In a sense, they become givers with a new
purpose—not the patients.

“I’m no expert in the field, but I think giving helps greatly in the healing process,” Larry says.

A new challenge goes a long way for many who feel lost.

“What it boils down to for all of us is when you’re in the military, you have a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging,” Lou says. “When you separate from the military, you kind of lose that sense of purpose. You try to find something to fill that void. I think the folks who can’t fill that void often are the ones who take their lives.”

The void is difficult for many. Others are haunted by wartime memories.

“When you do some of the things you do in wartime, there’s a price that must be paid,” Larry says.

As the war has gone on, Mark says the number of deployments for service members continues to rise. They spend month after month away from family and friends, and they may do so several times throughout the war. It takes a toll.

Katie says she was never in harm’s way, but she knows that is a different story for many veterans, especially for those who need an outlet or new direction.

“I honestly believe programs like Project Healing Waters and Fish With a Hero save lives,” she says.

Mark has seen breakthroughs on the water, but also has experienced heartbreak.

One veteran, who was twice-wounded and suffered from PTSD, spent two days fishing with him. The man’s wife heard about Mark and his work with vets, and she wanted to send her husband on a fishing trip.

“I did two full days with him, had a fantastic time and caught a lot of fish, “ Mark says. “Things were great!”

Two weeks later, the man’s wife called and said her husband was doing great—that he was practically a different person. The three stayed in touch for some time. But the stress was too much. Mark recently learned the man killed himself.

“I can’t even imagine what his wife and their two kids are going through,” Mark says. “That one was tough.”

He says that is why veterans who volunteer and join support programs such as Healing Waters and Fish With a Hero are so important. They show others that healing is possible.

“One of the common misconceptions about vets coming home is that they can just fit right back in,” Mark says. “When your head is on a swivel for six months or a year, you have a purpose and camaraderie. These are people you trust. You no longer have that purpose, and it takes time and it takes effort.”

Many participants and volunteers agree it is time to do more to combat PTSD and the high veteran suicide rate.

“What can we do to stop the 22 a day? Lou asks. “I think the answer is more programs like this.”

For more information about Fish With a Hero and Project Healing Waters, go to or

Keeping a Family Tradition

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Owners Sandy and Jeff Jamison, and official customer greeter Cole, are ready for their 11th year selling trees in Oregon’s Upper Nehalem River Valley.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas trees at a throwback farm in Oregon’s Nehalem River Valley

The Christmas season means different things to different people. Holiday traditions such as hanging a wreath on the front door or decorating the house with colorful lights is part of the holiday charm.

A cherished tradition for many families is picking out their Christmas tree.

Some families tromp off into the woods to cut down a tree. Others buy theirs from a lot, supporting a local community group. Another option is to visit a local Christmas tree farm where you can walk the property and pick just the right tree for your home.

While Christmas trees are big business in the Northwest, many tree farms are small, family-run businesses such as Mike’s Christmas Tree Farm, which is tucked in the northwest corner of Oregon’s scenic Upper Nehalem River Valley, in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range between the small rural communities of Vernonia and Mist.

Jeff and Sandy Jamison bought the property in April 2007 after moving from California, where they ran a tile installation business. The farm came with a fixer-upper 1936 home.

Previous owner Mike Cook converted what was once a working family farm—complete with pastures for dairy cows, chickens and fields of hay, potatoes and onions—into a tree farm in the 1980s.

“Mike passed away, ironically enough, on Christmas Day from terminal cancer,” says Jeff. “People knew it as Mike’s, so we’ve kept the name.”

The farm had been left unattended for a number of years before the Jamisons came along.

“It needed some love and some hard work, and that’s what we did,” says Jeff.

The Jamisons experienced a major setback right at the start when the Nehalem River bordering their farm flooded in December 2007, causing extensive damage right when they were kicking off their first season selling trees.

It took several years to get the farm fully operational, but Jeff and Sandy stuck with it and are now preparing for their 11th season selling trees.

The 5-acre farm has about 5,000 trees, including the standard noble firs, grand firs, Douglas firs and Nordman firs.

The Pacific Northwest is famous for its Christmas tree farms. Oregon leads the nation in sales of Christmas trees, with more than 7 million trees sold in recent years from more than 700 farms.

What makes Mike’s unique are the other types grown and sold. They nurture 10 different varieties, including balsam fir, Turkish fir, blue spruce, Serbian spruce and Norway spruce.

“Sandy and I like fooling around with different trees,” Jeff says. “We’ve even planted a few sequoias.”

Families walk the farm and choose their tree. Since the ground is pretty flat, family members of all ages are able to participate in the tree selection.

Once a family identifies its perfect tree, Jeff heads out with a quad and trailer, cuts down the tree and hauls it back to the shop area. There, it is shaken to remove loose needles, cleaned, measured, wrapped and loaded on the family’s vehicle.

“It’s kind of old school out here in the country,” says Jeff. “We like doing things the old-fashioned way.”

The Jamisons decorate their farm for the holiday season. Sandy sells handmade ornaments and wreathes she makes from fresh-cut boughs. An old 55-gallon wood stove in the shop warms them and visitors.

“During the busy part of our season, we’ll get a bunch of people out here,” says Sandy. “They all know each other because this is small town country. They all get to visiting with each other. It’s really nice.”

Jeff says sales have been steady and slowly growing the last five years. Last year, the farm surpassed the 300 mark in trees sold in a single year for the first time.

The Jamisons look forward to customers returning each year so they can watch children grow from toddlers to teens.

They continue to plant trees, which take six to eight years to mature to sale size. Trees are hand pruned and shaped throughout the year, although Jeff says they like to leave their trees a little bit more natural.

“We don’t really like them to look too perfect,” he says. “We don’t plant them in neat rows, and we have all the different varieties and sizes mixed together. Sandy and I like the way it looks, and we’re the ones that live here the rest of the year, so we keep it the way we like it.”

Mike’s Christmas Tree Farm opens the day after Thanksgiving. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Mondays, when they are closed.

A Lesson in Stewardship

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

A group of kids and their adult leader pick up trash along a shoreline. They are just a handful of the millions of Americans who volunteer each year to clean and protect the outdoors.
© iStock/JF

Pop was a cheapskate—at least that’s what I once thought.

A fishing rock star to me and my childhood friends, Pop wandered streams and lake shores picking up lures, hooks and other tackle snagged on submerged logs or rocks, or tangled in brush. He cleaned them up and reused them.

We would do that, too, but we were kids and didn’t have money for new gear. We had never seen an adult do it before.

But I was wrong about Pop.

I figured that out one day after we bought cold sodas after a hot day of fishing. Before we left, Pop slapped down a wad of money—$100 in all—and bought a money order. He wrote the name of his favorite fishing organization on it, then slipped it into his shirt pocket before we went outside to sit on the porch and enjoy our sodas.

One-hundred dollars back then is equal to nearly $700 today. That’s a lot of money—now or then—especially for an old guy who lived in a tiny cabin on a farm where he worked for room, board and modest wages.

For me, it was a valuable lesson about outdoor stewardship—and not just because of the $100 donation.

I finally realized Pop didn’t scavenge old fishing tackle because he was cheap. It was his way of being a good steward for the outdoors.

Here are some free, easy things you can do to follow Pop’s example:

  • Remove discarded tackle, garbage and fishing line you find along lakes and streams.
  • Pick up used targets, spent brass and other debris after target shooting.
  • Don’t attach targets to live trees (or power poles).
  • Don’t harass wildlife.
  • Only camp at designated sites.
  • Don’t use waterways or shorelines as a toilet.
  • Follow Leave No Trace guidelines, whether backpacking or tailgate camping.
  • Volunteer for cleanup projects.

If you feel the need to put your money where your heart is, go ahead and slap down $700 for your favorite outdoor organization. Pop did.

The Eyes Have It
Deer have an amazing 310-degree field of view. Compare that to humans, who have a 180-degree field of view. Deer also have excellent vision in low-light conditions, such as at dusk and dawn.

Brake for the Rain
Rim brakes on bicycles are susceptible to slipping and even failure in rainy conditions. That’s because water and grime accumulate on the rims and make them slick when wet brake pads come in contact with them. The solution is to feather your brakes, pumping them on and off continuously until they squeegee enough water off the rims for the brakes to start to grip.

How to Fix a Flinch
Dry-fire practice is the best way to cure a flinch. It allows you to go through the same firing process, but without the stress and recoil of using live ammunition. To check your progress, use the ball-and-dummy method by including a few dummy rounds when live firing at the range.

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. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Many 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 Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

In the Line of Fire

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Left, Journeyman Lineman Scott Davies has been with Anza Electric Cooperative for 14 years. He grew up in Anza. Right, Journeyman Lineman Sandy King has been with Anza Electric Cooperative for more than four years. He grew up in Hemet, not far from where the fire started.
Photos by Phillip Elgie

Inside the early days of the Cranston Fire and the race to restore power with Anza Electric linemen

It was around noon July 25 when Sandy King first saw smoke. High above the Southern California desert in the bucket of a hydraulic lift, the lineman from Anza Electric Cooperative was hooking up a new transformer when he looked north and saw a massive smoke plume billowing up from beyond the next ridge.

“Oh my God,” Sandy said, yelling down to fellow lineman Scott Davies. “Look at that.”

Scott looked in the direction Sandy was pointing, and his eyes widened behind his sunglasses. He couldn’t be sure, but it appeared the area burning in the distance was the same area through which a vast network of power poles carried power to Anza’s 5,000 customers. The stocky, thickly bearded Anza native suppressed the anxiety bubbling up around one thought: This could be really bad.

Around the same time, law enforcement officials started receiving calls from several eyewitnesses claiming to have seen a man in a white Honda starting fires in the Hemet area. A crime bulletin was issued, and around 1 p.m.—less than two hours after the fire started—members of the Hemet/San Jacinto Valley Gang Task Force pulled over a late-model, white Honda sedan and arrested Brandon N. McGlover on suspicion of setting multiple fires.

By about 2 p.m., Scott and his foreman, Ben Wallace, had reached the Mountain Center switch station—the point where Southern California Edison’s lines connect to and feed Anza’s. The linemen were now just 3 miles from the fire, which Scott thought he could see moving away from Anza’s service area.

He tried to maintain a positive mindset, hoping the situation would blow over.

He pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of the blaze. Within 24 hours, the spot where he was standing would be charred black and burnt to ash.

The linemen knew that even if they didn’t lose any power poles—and that was a big if—SCE would have to de-energize Anza’s line for safety reasons. By 6 p.m., Anza’s residents were without power.

To the high-desert community nestled just south of the San Jacinto National Forest, no electricity meant no way to pump water from the wells that give life to the area’s people and livestock, no refrigeration, no air conditioning, no lights. Estimates for how long the outage could last ranged from one or two days to several weeks.

At Anza’s headquarters, General Manager Kevin Short reached out to the Generation and Transmission Cooperatives of Arizona—the wholesale power supply cooperative that generates Anza’s power. He explained the gravity of the situation. The G&T mobilized to provide the support Anza needed to get the power back on.

“Kevin made the decision from the get-go that we were going to give our customers power no matter the cost,” Scott says. “That clear directive from the top really set the tone for everyone’s response, and I think that’s a testament to not just his leadership but the commitment we all have to our members.”

The next morning, July 26, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.

The first flatbed truck from the G&T kicked up dusty plumes as they lumbered to a halt outside Anza’s headquarters. Hydraulic brakes squealed and whooshed, and Anza had its lifeline: the first of six massive, 2,600-horsepower generators.

The sense of relief that came with the generator’s arrival was quickly eclipsed by the realization that no one on staff had any experience with the equipment.

The linemen knew electricity. They knew their system. But they never had to run Anza’s grid on 2-megawatt generators. They hunkered down and got to work, reading manuals and learning on the fly how to get the generators up and running.

Initially, the factory default settings prevented the generators from even operating. The vendor’s engineers had to step in and adjust the machines’ output to 1.6 or 1.7 megawatts.

“It took most of Thursday to figure out how to hook them up into our main feed and run some circuits so people could fill up wells or do what they needed to do,” Sandy says.

While Anza’s members waited for power, the co-op’s staff set up huge pallets of water in their lobby so members who needed water could get it there. They deployed several smaller generators into town, setting up a resource center and emergency shelter at the community hall.

Working with local Lions Club members, Anza’s staff set up another resource center at the local rodeo arena, where people could get water for their animals or have some of the food from a barbecue run by volunteers.

As everyone worked to provide essential services, Scott and Sandy thought ahead to the next phase. Firefighters still weren’t allowing anyone into the fire zone. The linemen feared what they might find once they were allowed to assess the damage to their lines.

“We have three guys on our crew, and it takes us about a half-day to a day just to repair one pole,” Sandy says. “In the past 13 years, the most we’ve ever lost in a fire was 15 poles, and all of those were on a roadway.”

Based on the fire’s size and location, the linemen were expecting more than that. To make things worse, all the poles they expected to lose were 60 to 80 feet tall and either up on a mountain, in a canyon or on a ridge.

The geography and logistics were a lineman’s nightmare. They were told to expect to work throughout August on repairing the damage.

The linemen had averaged 18 hours on Wednesday, and Thursday was looking no better.

By Friday, Anza had six of the RV-sized generators from Quinn Power Systems, but even with those hooked up and burning an average of 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel each day, they simply couldn’t generate enough power to keep the system running at 100 percent.

Anza’s team came up with a plan to rotate circuits. Not all customers would have power all the time. Every four hours, crews had to be at different points in the system at the same time to rotate power through circuits so all customers had power for at least part of the day.

The co-op was able to provide about 75 percent of the system’s regular load with 90 percent reliability, according to Kevin.

“Everyone in the company stepped out of their comfort zone to do things they don’t usually do,” Sandy says about the race to get power back on for members. “Fiber (optic cable) guys worked with the ground crews and rallied to help with anything we needed. The extra manpower really saved us.”

Just when everything seemed to be going smoothly with the generators, Murphy’s Law kicked in. Lights flickered, and staff could see smoke coming out of the substation.

A very unlucky rodent had entered the main switch gear, causing a fire that melted all the conductors and switch gear.

Anza’s staff quickly put out the fire and rushed to make repairs and get the generator back up. Luckily, the generator provider had left the parts needed to fix the damage, and Anza’s staff got all generation back up and running within an hour.

By Friday afternoon, when generator power was finally flowing to Pinyon Pines, Scott headed out to check breakers—a time-consuming job. Pinyon Pines was a ghost town. The streets were empty. Scott half-expected to see a tumbleweed roll through.

He was surprised when he saw an old man flagging him down with a shaky arm upraised.

Already running on fumes from the endless long hours and limited sleep, Scott braced himself to field the standard questions and complaints from another frustrated, anxious customer.

He stopped and rolled down the truck’s window.

“I just want to shake your hand,” the man said, extending his arm.

The gesture fueled Scott’s resolve even more.

Late that night, Scott drug himself home. He had about three hours before he had to be back at work, making sure the generators supplying the Anza community were running smoothly. Seeing his own house, still in the dark, made his feet trudge a little bit slower.

Three hours before I’m back at it, he thought.

Inside Scott’s house, the smell of rotting food hit him. His fridge had been out for almost two days. Instead of immediately shucking off his work clothes and getting a few precious minutes of sleep, Scott cleaned out his fridge.

His three-hour window of sleep turned into two.

On Saturday, fire crews finally let Anza’s staff into the burn zone to inspect the damage. The fire in some places was still smoldering.

Scott’s lone utility truck crept through the crowd of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles toward the highway. Some rails were still on fire.

Driving up the highway toward the switch station at Mountain Center, Scott saw occasional chunks of burnt trees rolling down hills. The tops of some hollowed-out trees still burned like giant torches. Everything was ash-covered and gray or burned black.

“It looked like the apocalypse,” he says.

Eventually, he came across the first burnt-out power pole, and his fear spiked.

If this pole is burned, how many others are there? he thought to himself.

What he found once he was able to survey the entire area was that Anza’s poles had mostly been spared. The fire had claimed 126 of SCE’s poles and just three of Anza’s.

The Cranston Fire ultimately destroyed 12 buildings and devoured more than 13,000 acres.

Southern California Edison led the repair and rebuilding phase. The effort took 40 line-construction crews, 40 civil crews, 38 vegetation crews, 13 traffic-control crews, 16 damage assessment crews and three helicopters to deliver replacement poles to all the remote locations and difficult terrain.

Scott and Sandy averaged from 16 to 20 hours a day as they raced to get the power back on and keep it on as Anza rebuilt its system.

“It was stressful,” Sandy says. “We never had enough time to get everything done. Most days we didn’t have time to eat. But I enjoyed learning a lot of new skills, and the days seemed to fly by.”

Scott says that while the days were exhausting and the work was never-ending, he can look back on it now with fondness.

“I managed to enjoy every bit of it,” he says. “Because, from our GM all the way to our front-office gals, everyone on our team stepped up and came together. It was pretty amazing, and I’m glad I was a part of it.”


Of Clouds and Dreams

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Cloud formations are endlessly fascinating and never the same, filled with animals and armies, chariots and spaceships.
Photo by David LaBelle

I spent many wonder-filled afternoons lying on my back in spring pastures or early summer hayfields watching cotton clouds lumber across blue skies. It was a magical, entertaining, curiosity-filled time, my dreams floating upward, attaching to slow-moving shapes before disappearing to faraway lands.

I often wondered where the clouds went after they left my view. Perhaps they dropped my dreams in the lap of another boy far away.

I imagined riding on a cloud and seeing where it took me. Years later, looking out of jet windows above mushrooming clouds, I still wished I could push past the plexiglass and ride a cloud.
Sometimes, I even imagined the sky was the ocean and clouds were whitecaps.

Straddling worlds of reality and fantasy, my siblings and I spent hours spotting animals and figures in the ever-changing sky.

“There’s a woodpecker; see his pointed head?” Another would holler, “I see a dog or a lion, or a scary monster face.”

Gazing into the heavens or across the plains, we feel a range of emotions—from delight to gratitude to fear—from the different formations: fluffy cumulus; layered stratus meandering across the horizon; thin, feathery cirrus, like streaking white fireflies; tall, billowing, intimidating several-mile-high cumulonimbus formations that climb into the heavens so powerfully.

How could we be bored as long as we have eyes to see or a camera to record a unique cloud-filled tapestry?

Whatever your emotions, never stop being amazed or grow indifferent seeing our creator’s handiwork.

As you try to record the beauty of cloud-filled heavens:

  • Use foreground to create scale and depth. As with photographing most large things, scale helps us understand size. Choosing a contrasting or complimentary foreground is often the difference between a so-so image and a compelling, even breathtaking, one.
  • Notice how time of day changes the direction of light, color and mood. Though I talk a lot about using early morning or late afternoon light and avoiding high noon light, using mid-day sunlight to photograph clouds is often best because the sun bleaches the tops, which creates lovely contrasts to azure blue skies. The bottoms of the clouds, hidden from direct sunlight, are darker and grayer, reflecting light from the earth or ocean.
    Watch how landscapes change as clouds pass before the sun. This creates shadows, which, in turn, create beautiful layers of tones and depth on the land or water.
  • Capitalize on sunrise and sunset. As children, most of us heard the weather forecast: Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. I watch the sky during the day. When I see opaque clouds beginning to gather in the early afternoon, I know a beautiful, colorful sunset is possible. I begin considering what foreground might work best and scout at least an hour before sunset. Sunrises require more planning to be in position before the clouds explode in color before actual sunrise. Sunsets develop gradually. Sunrises happen quickly. Color fades and changes in seconds.
  • Look above and below. The angle from which we view anything can change our perception and our feelings. Get a window seat and put your phone on airplane mode.

I never tire of documenting God’s handiwork. Full of beauty, tension and unending surprises, each cloud-filled sky is a unique, complex masterpiece never to be seen again.

Internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer David LaBelle has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He spent his magical boyhood years taking photos. For more information, visit

The Plastic Herd

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

Christine DiCurti cuddles with a young colt she has not yet fully rehabilitated. The restoration process starts with Christine stripping off the old paint and applying a white basecoat.
Photos by Mike Teegarden

Rescued horses find new life, thanks to artistic owner

Christine DiCurti keeps an unusual stable of livestock at her Ester, Alaska, home. Among them are a zebra, an appaloosa and a clown fish horse—named Nemo, of course. These are not your typical thoroughbreds, though.

Christine creates colorful yard art from old plastic rocking horses, transforming them into whimsical expressions of her mood using paint and a lot of creativity.

“I love horses,” she says. “That’s what it comes down to. I’ve always kept that love of horses, and ridden off and on over the years. This is just a continuation of that love.”

Christine and her husband, Erik Hansen, live a few miles outside of Fairbanks. Three years ago, she became enamored with an old plastic child’s rocking horse in a neighbor’s yard.

“In the neighborhood we walk, it’s about a 2-mile loop,” Christine says. “For quite a few years, there was a swingset with a horse on it, an old one. The person who lives there lives in Hawaii and only comes back once every two or three years. I’ve always said, ‘Oh, I’d like to save that horse, paint it, make a zebra out of it.’ I really didn’t have any hope that we would ever get the horse.

“But Eric knew the guy, and when I was gone he happened to be walking. The guy was there and redoing a lot of stuff, taking down stuff. Eric asked him if he would sell the horse, and the guy said, ‘You can just have it.’ That was sort of the start of things.”

Christine took that first horse and stripped the old paint, repainted it with a white basecoat and turned it into a zebra. Erik added a pole to mount it in the yard.

“And then it was like, ‘Hmm, I wonder if we could find anymore,’” Christine says.

That was the beginning of her quest for toy horses mounted on bases with springs or on swingsets. Christine hasn’t looked back. Her herd now includes eight horses, with three more in the works.

She and Erik found some of the horses on Craigslist. Others were discovered as they cruised around town on their bikes. Family and friends have also contributed. The farthest one—brought back by Erik’s son—came from Buffalo, New York.

The horse art is a summer project.

“All winter long I weave,” Christine says. “I weave rugs and scarves. I do tie-dying with my girlfriend in Oregon to sell at bazaars. By the time summer comes, I really am tired of it. It’s too nice. We’re outside biking. So this is something different I can do. I set up in my loom room with my paint table and just sit up there. I can have the door open and just sort of figure out what I want to do with each horse.”

Most of the horses have arrived in good condition, but Erik had to manufacture a new part for one abused steed.

“We got one recently that was a little more broken,” Christine says. “None of these have been broken in any form, but recently this summer we got one that the saddle had a little break in it. Erik made a new tail for that one.”

“Out of resin and fiberglass,” Erik adds.

Erik is supportive of Christine’s latest passion, but has his limits. She says he told her, “I refuse to make a carousel. You can mount them in the garden, but don’t ask for a carousel.”