Monday, October 17, 2022

Jim Anderson: My Original Mentor

Last week I learned that my first true mentor, Jim Anderson, passed away on September 22, 2022 at the age of 94. It was my intention to honor him while he was still among the living, but I did not make that enough of a priority. That oversight in no way reflects what a powerful and positive influence he was on my life, and the lives of so many others.

Jim Anderson at 82 years young

I am reasonably certain that my mother was the one who took the initiative in connecting me to Jim. She was a veteran in the television and radio industry, and at the time I first met Jim he was doing a local show on nature for Oregon Public Broadcasting. I seem to recall that our initial meeting was in his studio, in fact.

Concurrently, Jim was employed as an educator with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). From there, he became director of the Children’s Zoo and conservation and education programs at what was then the Portland Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo in Washington Park).

Jim introduced me to other biologists and naturalists, too, including Mike Houck, who went on to become the Urban Naturalist for the Audubon Society of Portland. Jim and Mike did programs at OMSI field stations and camps, which I had the privilege of visiting periodically on weekends.

The Nature Conservancy hired Jim to manage its Ramsey Canyon Preserve in the Huachuca Mountains of southeast Arizona for three years, but Jim and his wife Sue returned to his beloved Oregon to run the nature center at Sunriver resort south of Bend in the early 1970s. It was there that I caught up with him again. Had my late mother not been so overprotective, I might have spent time with him exploring lava tube caves, or maybe even assisting in banding raptors.

Myself and Jim at Sunriver in August, 1971

Eagles, hawks, and owls were always the center of Jim’s wild universe. He even flew with them, in a manner of speaking. He got a commercial pilot license, and was an accomplished pilot of glider planes. He even instructed student glider pilots.

Among Jim’s enduring menagerie of animals was “Owl,” a Great Horned Owl that had lost an eye. Remarkably, the bird regenerated the eye and, after several years of behavioral rehabilitation, Jim released “Owl” with great fanfare at Sunriver. Owl was immediately harassed by an American Kestrel, such is the drama of nature.

Jim surveyed and banded birds of prey in central Oregon for over fifty years, the last decade or so with the company of his wife, Sue. She wisely insisted that climbing cliffs and trees was too dangerous for someone in his eighties, and Jim begrudgingly retired.

One of the milestones I am most proud of is when I was first published in Ranger Rick magazine, because I had grown up reading Jim’s articles in that publication. He wrote consistently, for many periodicals, and had a column in The Nugget Newspaper of Sisters, Oregon. He also appeared regularly in The Source Weekly of nearby Bend, Oregon. Jim was an outstanding photographer, too, and most of his articles included his images. He compiled his most memorable and hilarious stories in Tales from a Northwest Naturalist, published in 1992.

Everything came full circle for me when Jim agreed to be best man at my wedding to Heidi, on April 29, 2012. A few years later we saw Jim for the last time at his home in Sisters. I had the privilege of introducing another young man, and his then girlfriend (now marital partner), at that time. The couple lived in Bend, and I hope they were able to visit with Jim and Sue again before Jim and Sue moved to Eugene, Oregon to be closer to their children.

Jim, myself, and my mother at my wedding

Being an only child, I had a difficult time socializing with my peers. It was with adults that I felt most comfortable, but Jim nudged me to expand the boundaries of my comfort zone. He was always patient and encouraging, but also insistent, especially when it came to my education. I am glad I still have a few years left, hopefully, to become an even better human being, and a less hesitant one when opportunities present themselves.

Jim's photo of Heidi and I

From what I hear from Sue, I am one of many disciples of Jim. His enthusiasm was contagious, his breadth of knowledge and interests seemingly boundless (did I mention he sang in church choirs?), and his self-reliance admirable. There was no machine he could not repair with bailing wire. He had an old-fashioned wit and sense of humor, and a genuine love and appreciation for all of those he invested his time and counsel in. They do not make men like him very often nowadays. Rest in peace, Jim, you deserve eternal joy and love.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Children Are the Corn

It is the month of Halloween, and a perfect time to confront horrors both real and imagined. The most insidious of threats, however, are those we are blissfully unaware of, or don't perceive as dangerous. Such is the case for the marketplace. We do not spend nearly enough conscious attention to the corporate landscape we navigate daily, and it is at our peril.

In 1984, the horror film Children of the Corn was released, loosely based on a short story by Stephen King. The plot of the film revolved around the children of a ficticious rural U.S. town where the children formed a cult that demanded the ritual saccrifice of adults to ensure a successful corn harvest. The film spawned several sequels and has a cult following of its own. Cut to the reality of today, and I would argue that children are the corn of the global marketplace. Allow me to explain.

Parents who attempt to control the exposure of their children to television, the internet, and other forms of commercial entertainment are fighting an uphill battle against the influence of corporations. Kids will still be vulnerable to persuasion by their peers, social media influencers, billboards, and all manner of other corporate vehicles. Children are the next "crop" of consumers in the corporate economy, fed on the "fertilzer" of advertising and marketing campaigns. This is the real fear of corporations over falling birthrates: not the labor shortage they purport to have anxiety about, but a potential consumer shortage. If a labor shortage were a genuine concern, companies would not be outsourcing jobs overseas. They would be paying a living wage and offering a healthy benefits package to entice more workers into applying for jobs.

Children and adults alike are relentlessly conditioned to frame the solutions to everyday irritations as either "product" or "service." Spilled food and beverages require special chemical cleaners. Insects and spiders in and around the home require "exterminators," or the more politically correct "pest control operators," regardless of whether the creatures in question pose any danger at all. What are we supposed to never do? Change our mindset. Frame things differently. Ask ourselves if it really is a problem demanding action, or simply a periodic nuisance we can live with. Address our irrational fears, give them less power over us.

The expectation of the marketplace to be answer to all our ills makes us dependent on corporations, and lazy in our intellectual appraisal of circumstances and situations that annoy us or appear as intractable problems. While no one can be a jack-of-all-trades, we could stand to be more self-sufficient. Personally, I know I could use basic instruction in everything from home repairs to cooking to auto repair. This human condition is a major facet of the urban-rural divide. Those in rural regions and small towns are undeniably more self-sufficient than city-dwellers. Urbanites have partitioned expertise and resources to such a degree that there are specialists in niche markets. Farmers and ranchers are livestock EMTs, landscapers, butchers, and equipment repair technicians to name only a handful of their skills. They are too often still at the mercy of corporations that dictate which seeds they plant, where their produce can be sold, and for how much, but there is no denying their skill set.

Given our reliance on the corporate gods for our daily salvation, is it any wonder we cannot solve major societal problems that exceed the capabilities of business entities? It can be argued that colonialism, patriarchy, and White privilege and supremacy are supported, at least tacitly, by corporations. Turning to other human institutions, such as religion, gets us no further. Government has failed us repeatedly due to corruption, and extremists in political parties. As long as powerful people and entities prosper under the status quo, we are unlikely to see the systemic changes necessary for true equality in rights and freedoms, and equity in wealth distribution.

Environmental, consumer, and labor protections are viewed as barriers to corporate prosperity, but climate change, ecosystem destruction, an overstressed workforce, and an increasingly distrustful, powerless consumer constituency threaten to wreak economic havoc anyway. We need to remove the scales from our eyes and see the global marketplace for what it is: a means of preserving elitist power and wealth by dividing the vastly larger population that are employees and consumers.

We need not always be hostile in creating a revolution. Indeed, the Covid pandemic has highlighted the ingenuity of the individual, and the desire of many for simplicity, self-sufficiency, and a local economy that reduces energy consumption, rejects labor exploitation, and instead empowers each citizen to identify their personal passions and goals. People are quietly executing revolutionary changes that are positive and affirming, and vastly more inclusive of human diversity.

I am not generally a fan of horror films, but I can recommend one exceptional, and relatively tame, cinematic production that cleverly addresses the concepts mentioned above. They Live was released in 1988. Directed by John Carpenter, it is based on the short story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning," by Ray Nelson. It was ahead of its time, and might have been part of the inspiration for The Matrix. We do need to "free our minds" of the shackles of corporate expectations, and see our own personal potential to be the change needed today. That doesn't mean you have to saccrifice everything. Continue to indulge in your comforts, but perhaps not as frequently? I'm going to go brew a couple of cups of coffee now....