Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Before the coming of white man, much of Oregon’s mid-coast was home to a group of Native Americans known as the Siletz people, who flourished on a diet rich in salmon, berries and the fruits of a lush forest environment. Little remains of the footprint of this early cultural group whose very language is extinct, but one of their number – Depoe Charley - is often given credit for naming a community which lies at the center of a stretch of seacoast known as “the twenty miracle miles”. Depoe Bay lays claim to having the smallest, land-locked navigable harbor in the world and some of the most spectacular surf action in America’s northwest. Besides that, its relatively-warm river-fed waters are home to an abundance of phyto plankton and benthic crustaceans attractive to migrating baleen whales. And therein lies a unique feature of Depoe Bay.
Each year, Gray Whales follow an ancient 12,000 mile migration route between their winter range off the Baja coast, and their summer feeding grounds in Alaska’s Bering Sea. Not only do they feed hungrily along the Oregon coast while en route, but at least one “pod” of Grays has taken up a ten-month-long residency at Depoe Bay, where a program called “Whale-Watching Spoken Here” is highlighted by a State-operated whale natural history center drawing visitors from around the world.
Most days, visitors with binoculars line the western edge of U.S. Coastal Route 101 hoping to catch a glimpse of the ocean giants, or just to admire the geysers of sea water sending “horns” of spray into the air where a breaking surf crashes into basalt tubes carved in the town’s seafront by eons of tidal action. The more hardy can board one of several whale-watching boats which regularly thread their way through the tiny harbor entrance, (an act known as “shooting the hole”), to cruise the whale feeding zones offshore.
Almost hunted to extinction elsewhere in the world, the magnificent Grays have staged a come-back in America’s Pacific waters where more than 8000 have been noted in a recent census. Some worry though that Japan’s decision to renew the taking of whales could once again pose a threat to this revival.
An adult Gray will reach 45 to 50 feet in length – the females are larger – and weigh in at 40 to 50 tons (one ton for each foot of length). To complete their semi-annual migration, they feed voraciously, sucking up several tons of tiny mysid shrimp each day by straining the sea mud through their filter-like baleen, while plowing on one side through the sea bottom. They tend to have young every two or three years with the gestation period taking twelve months. A baby Gray weighs 2000 pounds at birth, and emerges tail-first. It has 15 seconds to reach the surface to take its first, life-giving breath and will learn to swim in just 30 minutes.
There are many reasons why a visit to Depoe Bay and Oregon’s “twenty miracle miles” is a worthwhile adventure, but the chance to consort with some of Neptune’s Giants has to be right up there at the head of the list.

Passengers aboard “SAMSON” have just observed a surfacing Gray Whale off their starboard bow. Boats are not permitted to “pursue” whales, but rather try to position themselves where one is apt to come into view.

Unlike other species, the Gray whale exhales from two blow holes, giving it a distinctive V-shaped plume. When feeding near shore, they will surface every two to three minutes.

Exhibiting its tail flukes dramatically, a Gray launches into a deepwater “sounding” which will last about five minutes. This species gets its name not only from its base color, but because of the patches of barnacles which give a mottling effect. With only humans and Orcas as predators, the Gray Whale can live for 50 years.
(Photos by Cindy Cooper Bagley)

THE DOCTOR’S DAFFODILS Saving Furnace Brook Farm

Margaret Waddington stands in the midst of the three thousand daffodil blooms whose springtime blast of color gave her something to look forward to during a long Vermont winter of despair. (Courtesy of Katherine Sivret)

It is difficult enough to tell an important story in a thousand words or less, but it is even more of a challenge to combine two stories. This particular reflection is about a person and a place; the two so inseparably intertwined that they are really one. The person is my friend, Dr. Margaret M. Waddington, one of the “giants” in my life, and the place, is Furnace Brook Farm in Chittenden, Vermont.
Margaret Waddington was born in Austria in 1930, and was a young school girl when Hitler’s Nazi Germany “annexed” that sovereign country in 1938 – a “bloodless” coup which history calls “the Anschluss”- and which was the first chapter in the takeover which ushered in World War II in Europe. She drew the attention of school authorities when she refused to participate in the required Nazi salute at the beginning of classes. When disciplined, she instigated a one-person rally, publicly mimicking the “Heil Hitler” genuflect in front of the school principal’s residence. Barred from school, and plagued with a learning disability we know today as dyslexia to begin with, the girl’s future in Austria posed problems for herself and the family. Margaret and her mother were able to escape to the U.S. while her father was left behind for a time to insure some financial support.
It says a lot about the character of this new American whose education had already been interrupted by war and learning challenges that she set her sights on becoming a medical doctor and – eventually - a neurosurgeon of wide prominence in her adopted country, (and in a field not yet known for welcoming female practitioners). All of this my friend managed to accomplish, while publishing cutting edge illustrated text books on the human brain for the first time.
In 1990, with her professional days behind her, Doctor Waddington acquired a Vermont property made famous by generations of champion Morgan horses bred and trained there known as “Furnace Brook Farm”. After the death of the previous owner, the buildings were falling into decline while the pastures and woodlands were growing neglected and unkempt. With a determination akin to that of the fictional “Miss Rumphius” (HOME COUNTRY 9/29/2010), Margaret said to herself, “I may not be able to change the world, but here is something I can do to make the world more beautiful”. She set about to give the farm a new life, restoring the 18th century residence and unique “bank barn”, bringing the pastures into ordered beauty, and creating a woodland environment which would both welcome native wildlife and delight visitors. With the help of friends, she cleared an accumulation of deadwood and undergrowth, creating animal shelters from the debris while filling carefully-crafted field sheds for the split firewood which would fuel the home’s two fireplaces.
Over time, the Austrian-born matriarch of “Furnace Brook Farm” would inventory and record the wonders of her forested trail system with camera and catalogue, from the trilliums and lady slippers which brought the first color of Spring, to the birds and four-footed friends which shared her living natural history museum. She would then illustrate and publish a series of sixteen beautiful books depicting the beauties of the four seasons at Furnace Brook Farm to be shared with others in her world of friends. Her days and weeks were filled with the adventure of mastering the piano works of Beethoven and Bach, studying new subjects from the “Great Learning” courses from “The Teaching Company” and generally cultivating the skills of living thoughtfully. All of this by itself is a story; but there is more.
In 1996, at the age of 66, Margaret Waddington was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia; a deadly form of cancer. The most optimistic prognosis forecast five to seven years of painful decline with aggressive chemo and radiation therapy. Dr. Waddington chose instead to take an alternative approach to treatment, following a regimen which has been shared with some of the world’s most respected medical researchers, including the famous Huntsman Cancer Clinic. Now at the age of 80, Margaret Waddington continues to manage her health challenge as she has for sixteen years, drawing daily inspiration from Furnace Brook Farm and the world of nature it embraces. Her book “The Byway – A Lonely Path” details that journey.
When I think of my friend Margaret Waddington, I picture her smiling happily in the midst of thousands of daffodil blooms, planted by her and her friends to greet the first springtime of hope after the first long winter of her trials.

The red-painted “bank” barn is an eye-catcher at the center of “Furnace Brook Farm”, its every detail a matter of restoration care. The golden bull atop the weather vane is the work of a world-famous sculptor. (Al Cooper)

Seated on her John Deere mower, Dr. Margaret Waddington prepares for a day of field work at Furnace Brook Farm. Her devoted octogenarian friend and co-worker, Katherine Sivret (Al Cooper’s sister-in-law) is at her side. (Al Cooper)

With original wide-board floors and twin fireplaces, the historic farmhouse beside the waters of Furnace Brook continues to be a place of grace and beauty crowded with two hundred years of history. (Al Cooper)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

THE RUMPHIUS PRINCIPLE Making the World a Little Bit Better

It has been my good fortune to meet and know in person a number of those writers who have most touched my own life, and whose written legacy continues to inform, inspire and uplift me. Several shelves of my most treasured books stand apart because their bound content is always at eye level, and easily accessed as mood and spirit require. I am reminded at moments such as this however, that I failed to take the opportunity to personally get acquainted with one of the most cherished of that pantheon of creative mentors, especially since such a meeting would have been so easily accomplished given the fact that our pathways in both time and place crossed regularly.
Barbara Cooney may not be exactly a household name, but to generations of young readers, librarians and elementary school teachers, the mere reference should bring smiles and a vigorous shaking of heads. Born in New York City in 1917 to a household crowded with paints, brushes and artists’ tools, and a mother who exposed her twins to a world peopled by colors and textures, Ms. Cooney was destined to find a place among the most-celebrated illustrators of her time. Not only would she illustrate hundreds of books in her six decades of productivity, but she would discover a rare talent for writing as well.
Of the tens of thousands who manage to get their words in print - whether in the kingdom of adult fiction or the broad province of grown-up non-fiction – only a mere handful become successful writing for young readers. Even fewer prove to have the rare combination of vision and words to both write and illustrate. The thin but wisdom-filled volumes turned out by Barbara Cooney over the years, now translated into ten languages, are a gift to the world of children’s literature.
I share this brief background only to help introduce a theme which will undergird this column and others which will follow, and I choose the most well-known of her titles to establish the starting point.
“Miss Rumphius” is a story told through the eyes of a small girl, whose New England heritage ties her to sailing ships, and a Great-aunt named Alice Rumphius – a personage whose presence is a huge influence in the life of “young Alice”. Miss Rumphius tells her little grand-niece that she set out to live a life which would expose her to great books, world travel, and the chance to meet the people of other lands, all of which she has managed to do. It had also been her goal to eventually retire to her home by the sea, which she has also done. With that accomplished, the aging lady recalls a challenge given to her by a grandfather who told her that personal fulfillment would not be complete until “you have done something to make the world more beautiful”.
Temporarily bed-ridden in declining health, Miss Rumphius finds herself invigorated by the sights of wild flowers outside her window, and determines to see what she can do to bring even more beauty to the lands around her. The next spring, she acquires flower seeds – lupines – and begins to sow them far and wide, up and down the coast of Maine. The following year, as health returns, she expands her travels, spreading acres of beauty along roads and walkways, and becomes known as “The Lupine Lady”. All of this is not lost on “Little Alice” who, even though very young, is already pondering how she too might find a way to make the world more beautiful. She ends her story with the words: “But I do not know yet what that can be.”
As with all great allegories, “Miss Rumphius” is a simple tale, simply told, but with a quiet message which continues to resonate long after the first reading. Ms. Cooney’s gorgeous acrylic illustrations are filled with careful details which bespeak her intimacy with the land she loved.
Barbara Cooney passed away March 10th, 2000 in the home her son built for her in Damariscotta, Maine, at the age of 82, six months after the publication of her last book, “Basket Moon”.
P.S. On a June visit to mid-coast Maine I spent much time photographing the stands of wild lupines in many unexpected places. Mere coincidence ?

First published by Penguin in 1982, “Miss Rumphius” won the American Book Award, and is still in print today. Another Barbara Cooney masterpiece is “Island Boy” published in 1988.

My personal copy of Barbara Cooney’s best-loved work was presented to me by a third grade class in the Murray, Utah School District in 1994. Most of those “kids” who signed it are today married, some with kids of their own.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Against a field of Kelly green, the golden Fenian harp and circle of embroidered shamrocks are set off by the ancient motto of the Fighting 69th “Riamh nar dhruid O Shairn lan” (Never retreat from the clash of lances). This banner is part of Al Cooper’s collection of hand-crafted national and regimental flags, each of which enjoys its day of honor aloft.

As President Abraham Lincoln took office, and the already-divided states slipped inexorably toward armed conflict, The United States (“Union” or “Federal”) military numbered around 16,000 men across the land, with only 18 armed garrisons east of the Mississippi. In gearing up for a war that would last for four years and eventually involve more than two-and-a-half million Union fighting men, the challenge was staggering. In July, 1861 the U.S. Congress authorized an army of 500,000 men, with leadership initially falling to the relative handful of professional officers and noncoms who had fought in the 1848 war with Mexico. Most of the states however, had organized “militias”, traditionally raised from locally-recruited companies and regiments. It would be around a cadre of these “citizen soldiers” that Lincoln’s army would take shape, and from which the bitterest of internecine struggles would emerge.
Prior to First Bull Run (1st Manassas), northerners commonly thought this enterprise would end quickly and relatively bloodlessly, a mindset which lent legitimacy to the “three-month” enlistments first offered to these local soldiers “called up” for Federal duty. Many of these early “volunteers” lost their enthusiasm for battle once the reality of Civil War took hold, and their replacements would come from a different “marketplace”, prominent among which would be newly-arrived “Americans”. In fact by 1865, 500,000 Union soldiers would be “foreign-born” – roughly 25% of all who served the Northern cause. 175,000 would be of German birth, and 150,000 would emerge from ships arriving from Ireland.
One of the most remarkable of these fighting units would be a collection of regiments known as “The Irish Brigade”. A brigade usually comprised four or five regiments totaling 4000 - 5000, an ideal number from the standpoint of administration and command. In the course of the Civil War, several of these composites would attain historic fame, usually as a result of their unusual unit cohesion, regional roots, fighting style, distinctive uniform, or other identifiable characteristics. Among these would be the Confederacy’s “Stonewall Brigade”, the “Orphan Brigade” of estranged Kentuckians and John Bell Hood’s “Texans” to name a few. The North fielded such units as “The Twentieth Maine”, “The Vermont Brigade” and the “Minnesota Sharpshooters”.
At the core of the “Irish Brigade” was the 69th New York Volunteers, a proud regiment whose name and colors would fight in almost every American war since then. In September, 1861 the organization of a new Brigade built around the 69th was authorized by the U.S. Secretary of War, together with the 63rd and 88th New York, and the 28th Massachusetts Infantry regiments, altogether numbering roughly 5,000 men. Command was given initially to the colorful and controversial Colonel Michael Corcoran, (saved from a pending court marshal only by the outbreak of war). Although other non-Irish regiments would serve temporarily with the brigade in months to come, the basic core would continue to be made up of men recruited from Irish immigrant populations, many of whom could only be led by others conversant with the old-country language. Many of these enthusiastic recruits were veterans of arms in European conflicts, and brought with them a fighting spirit which infected those around them. At the time, England – their traditional “enemy”- appeared to be backing the Confederacy adding to the fighting zeal which marked their service.
After Colonel Corcoran became a POW at Bull Run, the much-loved and equally colorful Thomas Francis Meagher assumed command of the brigade, leading them into battle after battle, from Antietam’s “Bloody Lane” to Gettysburg’s “Wheatfield” and the deadly slopes of “Marye’s Heights” at Fredericksburg. In every engagement, the “Irish Brigade” were usually out front, vocalizing their battle cry “fag en bealach”- (“Clear the Way”!) consistently taking the highest casualty rate of any Union force, losing more than 44% in some instances. By the end of the war, they had lost 4000 men, a number larger than the highest “on duty” list at any time of active service ! An uncommon number of Medals of Honor underscored the valor displayed on the field of battle by the men of “The Irish Brigade”.

Friday, September 3, 2010


There is a reason why emergency responders subject themselves to frequent drills, exercises and practice scenarios; testing the effectiveness of any plan is as important as making the plan in the first place. As we each examine the viability of our individual and family preparedness plans, it is a good idea to do some real-life measuring from time to time. Try living off your emergency food supplies for a couple of days; experience a night or two without the convenience of electric lights and other electrical conveniences; carry out a home evacuation on short notice while giving the contents of that 72-hour kit a “live” trial. Keep careful notes about what is learned from each of these experiences and spend some time talking about corrections that need to be made and details that need some rethinking. You may even discover that preparedness can actually be fun.


If there was one supreme miracle that emerged from America’s defeat at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, it was Japan’s failure to find and destroy the four U.S. aircraft carriers which should have been docked there. For all practical purposes, those carriers and the air power they projected constituted our nation’s principal remaining military footprint in the vast Pacific frontier in which the war with the Empire of Japan would be fought.
One of those carriers – USS Lexington – was assigned a dangerous mission in February, 1942, just sixty days into the conflict, when ordered to interdict enemy shipping at Rabaul, the Japanese stronghold in the New Britain Island chain. Unfortunately, a Japanese long distance patrol aircraft spotted the flattop while still hundreds of miles away from the target, and flights of twin-engine “Betty” bombers were dispatched. Just as it appeared the attack had been fought off by U.S. Navy fighters and the ship’s own firepower, a second formation of nine “Bettys” lined up for a bombing run. Six F4F Wildcats managed to take off from Lexington’s deck in time to carry out an interception, but within minutes, fuel, distance and ammunition limitations left Lt. Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare and his wingman the last line of defense. When his wingman had to peel away with his guns jammed, O’Hare was left alone to save the Lexington. His expert marksmanship and superb flying skills came to bear as he repeatedly flew directly into the teeth of the bomber formations, quickly knocking five aircraft from the sky. One observer noted that three burning Bettys could be seen falling at one time, and when the Grumman’s guns were examined after the fight, it was calculated that he had only had to expend an average of sixty rounds from his .50 caliber machine guns for each shoot-down. He ran out of ammo just as several more Wildcats arrived on the scene.
For this action, O’Hare was promoted to Lt. Commander and became the first naval aviator in WW II to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, presented by President Franklin Roosevelt himself, at a time when the U.S. was badly in need of some positive war news. The citation read, in part “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in aerial combat, at grave risk of his own life and beyond the call of duty. . . he undoubtedly saved his ship from serious damage.” Before returning to combat, the airman went on war bond tours, taught aerial combat tactics to new trainees, and got to spend time with his wife Rita, and baby daughter Kathleen whom he hadn’t previously gotten to meet.
Edward H. O’Hare was born March 13, 1914 in St. Louis, the son of a well-to-do lawyer and businessman also named Edward. The pudgy son would quickly be distinguished by the neighborhood nickname of “Butch” and would fall in love with aviation from an early age. His family sent him to Western Military Academy at age 13 where he became well known for his marksmanship on the rifle range, and set his sights on the U.S. Naval Academy. He graduated from Annapolis in 1937 and was assigned to sea-going duty (required at the time), until finally able to take Navy pilot training in 1939. (It is instructive to note that the majority of his Academy and early training classmates gave their lives in World War II.)
Part of the O’Hare story involves Edward “Senior”, a longtime personal attorney and business associate of the Chicago mobster, Al Capone. It was “Easy Eddie” who became a secret informer for the FBI, and whose testimony eventually sent the gangster to prison. The elder O’Hare was gunned down by Capone’s “hit men” in November, 1939. Whether relevant or not, the relationship between the father’s need for “redemption” and the son’s intense sense of honor has become a matter of mythical dimension for some writers.
When Lt. Commander O’Hare returned to the Pacific in November, 1943, the Gilbert campaign was underway, and the Japanese had adopted a new strategy which favored nighttime attacks on the U.S. fleet. Radar was in its infancy, and O’Hare – now Air Group Commander (CAG) on the carrier Enterprise – was experimenting with a new interception technique employing radar-directed “night-fighters”. On the night of November 20th, O’Hare, now flying the newer and faster Grumman F6F “Hell Cat” fighter led his “Black Panthers” against a flight of Mitsubishi G5M “Betty” bombers, in a dangerous maneuver in which the heavier U.S. TBF “Avenger” aircraft carrying radar equipment, guided the F6Fs into attack position. In the course of this darkness-shrouded melee, O’Hare’s fighter disappeared from radar and went missing.
For sixty years, the incident would be described as a “friendly-fire” loss, by a succession of chroniclers who all bought into a scenario penned by a writer who wasn’t there, and never interviewed any of the survivors. (And who may not have been familiar with the deadly 20mm canon carried in the “Betty’s” tail.) Current and more persuasive research convinces me that O’Hare was indeed shot down by the enemy.
Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare would receive two Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Navy Cross, the Purple Heart, and the Congressional Medal of Honor. And most memorable of all, a time-honored Chicago airport originally known as “Orchard Field” (ORD) would be renamed in 1949 “O’Hare International Airport”, the third busiest airport in the world.
I think his Dad – “Easy Eddie” would be proud.

Butch O’Hare poses beside a Navy F4F-3 Grumman Wildcat fighter in 1942. The most highly- regarded book on this subject is “Fateful Rendezvous. . .” by Ewing & Lundstrom

The Grumman Aircraft F4F Wildcat fighter was the best carrier plane available to go up against the Japanese in 1942. It would be succeeded by the F6F Hellcat which stood a better chance against the famous and agile Mitsubishi “Zero”.