Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring. Yeah. Right.

This is a crocus that popped up in my backyard on Monday and got crushed by Wednesday. Sort of emblematic of the annual hopes of Bend residents for "spring."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Grappling With Graupel

This stuff is graupel.

For the past couple of weeks in Bend, we've been treated (using the word in a general sense) to occasional showers of graupel. Graupel is snow that takes the form of pellets. It is created when layers of rime accumulate around snow crystals.

In appearance, graupel resembles those small white plastic pellets that you'll find inside a beanbag chair, should you be unfashionable enough to still own a beanbag chair and foolish enough to cut it open. Graupel looks like hail and is easy to mistake for hail on first glance, but it's soft. You can tell graupel from hail when it's falling because graupel doesn't bounce.

I had never seen graupel before moving to Bend, and my reaction the first time I saw it was along the lines of: "What the fuck is THIS shit?!?" But after two and a half decades in Bend, I have lost the ability to be surprised by anything that falls from the sky. If flaming toads started falling from the sky in Bend it wouldn't surprise me.

Graupel almost never accumulates enough to cause any problems, so we take it in stride. It's just part of the ever-changing, never-ending pageant of suckiness that is Bend weather.

Postscript:  Just drove home from taking Mrs. M's car to Les Schwab to get the studded tires taken off (another absurd aspect of life in Bend that I'll blog about someday) and rode through a pretty intense graupel storm. What's the verb to describe graupel coming down? Is it "graupeling," as in, "It's graupeling really hard now"? Does anybody know?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Almost Live Blogging With Elliott

3:10 pm: Sitting at the bar in the 10 Barrel pub drinking a Tullamore Dew next to comrade-in-bloggery Jack Elliott, who talked me into joining his annual St. Patrick's Day pub crawl. Jack is having some kind of "Irish" red ale. Doesn't think much of it.

One respect in which Bend doesn't suck too hard is it's a good drinking town. There isn't a hell of a lot else to do, so people kill time in the many brew pubs. As Holly Hamilton sings in her wonderful parody, "Stuck in the Middle of Bend": "There's one job for every 10 people here, so we sit around and drink micro-beer."

Gotta bug out of this pub crawl before too long or I'm gonna have a macro-hangover.

4:05 pm: Made it to O'Kane's without any casualties. First Tullamore Dew has settled well -- now working on the second one. Elliott was kind enough to let me scarf up some salami and provolone from his antipasto at 10 Barrel. Gotta keep the stomach well-coated. Steady as she goes.

4:17 pm: Even on St Patrick's Day, O'Kane's refuses to play anything but the goddam Grateful Dead. "This is a Grateful Dead cigar bar," I was told once when I requested a change in the music. WTF is a Grateful Dead cigar bar? A Grateful Dead marijuana bar ... now, THAT would make some sense. Fortunately there is a bagpiper outside who is more or less drowning out The Dead.

5:20 pm: Leaving O'Kane's. Eliott is headed off for Velvet, another pub, to continue the crawl. I'm crawling home. Two drinks is enough for me, considering I don't want to arrive home completely shitfaced for Mrs. Miller's special St. Patrick's Day dinner. An enjoyable mini-crawl it was, nonetheless.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Outdoor, Yes. Healthy? Maybe Not So Much.

It’s almost impossible to spend more than 15 minutes in Bend without hearing about its “healthy outdoor lifestyle.” Bend’s “healthy outdoor lifestyle” is touted ad nauseam by the locals, as well as the professional booster groups and the local daily newspaper, which seems to run stories about it at least five times a week.

How true is the “healthy outdoor lifestyle” claim? Like most other Bend boasts, this one appears to consist of a small kernel of truth wrapped inside many layers of puffery.

True, Bend is home to an unusual number of world-class athletes, especially endurance athletes – marathoners, triathletes, bicycle racers. They get a lot of attention from the media, and the implication is that their lifestyle and level of physical fitness are representative of the town in general.

But of course elite athletes are a tiny minority anywhere, even in Bend. How outdoorsy is the ordinary Bendite? Is he outdoorsier than most other people? And if he is, does that make him healthier?

Reliable numbers are hard to come by, but The New York Times has posted a cool interactive map that may furnish some clues.

The Gallup polling organization has been calling up 1,000 randomly selected Americans all across the country each day for the past three years and asking them questions about 20 different “well-being indicators,” including everything from how happy they are with their jobs to whether they eat fruit and vegetables. The numbers are broken down in the Times map by congressional districts.

Turns out that people in the 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses all of Eastern Oregon including Bend, actually are pretty outdoorsy – or anyway they get a fair amount of exercise, which isn’t quite the same thing, but close enough. Well over half of them – 56% – said they got at least 30 minutes of exercise on at least three of the previous seven days.

But this is only about average for the western third of the United States, where (according to Gallup) people exercise considerably more than folks on the East Coast or in the Midwest. The four other congressional districts of Oregon have almost exactly the same percentage of exercisers.

Ah, but are people in Eastern Oregon healthier because of all their huffing and puffing and grunting and sweating? Gallup’s numbers suggest they are not.

Asked if they “have health problems that prevent [them] from doing any of the things people [their] age normally do,” 26% of those polled in CD2 answered “yes.” That’s worse than any of the four other districts except CD4 (southwestern Oregon), which had 31%. And it’s worse than Southern California, where the percentages tend to run in the teens and low 20s.

27% of Eastern Oregonians reported they had been told by a physician or nurse that they had high cholesterol – again, more than in any other congressional district except the fourth, and more than in most areas of California. For diabetes and obesity the pattern was similar.

What to make of all this? One obvious point is that being outdoors will not, in itself, make you healthy. Sitting in a fishing boat drinking beer all day or riding around in a golf cart doesn’t do much for your health.

The other thing that jumped out at me while looking at the Times map is that if there’s one thing good health clearly seems to correlate with, it isn’t exercise – it’s money. The more affluent areas of the country (mainly those on the coasts and around large cities) generally scored better on the health questions than the less affluent areas, meaning primarily the inland, rural ones. 

Lack of a good job and economic opportunity – and the likely concomitant, lack of access to necessary health care – may well be more hazardous to your health than couch potato status. So if health is what you're after, instead of moving to Bend for the “healthy outdoor lifestyle” you might be better off moving to LA or San Francisco for a healthy paycheck.

Update: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has just published new rankings that show Deschutes County as the seventh-healthiest of Oregon's 36 counties. We're below the national benchmarks for adult obesity and smoking, but way above the benchmark for "excessive drinking" (18% vs. 8%) and spectacularly above the benchmark for sexually transmitted infections (273 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 population vs. a benchmark of 83 cases).  The data suggest that even more than climbing rocks and riding mountain bikes, folks in Bend like to get drunk and screw.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Official City Anthem of Bend

This song, which the lovely, talented and saucy Mrs. Jack Elliott e-mailed to me today, says just about everything.

My one bitch: They didn't need to change the lyrics of the chorus. "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right" works perfectly for Bend.

Addendum: I should note that while the song was sent to me by Mrs. Elliott, it was written and performed by a talented local singer named Holly Hamilton.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Prineville: Perhaps Somewhat Less Sucky Than Bend

Today I took a long drive out to Prineville, a pretty little town about 40 minutes northeast of Bend, and up the scenic Crooked River toward Bowman Dam for no particular reason other than to blow the stench of Bend off myself and get the sight of strip malls and clogged highways out of my eyes.

I was glad I did. I was reminded of what we originally moved to Bend for, and what Bend doesn't have anymore: small-town charm, friendly and down-to-earth people, a slower pace of life, affordable homes, wide-open spaces, unobstructed views, no traffic congestion. (Two cars passing each other on Main Street at the same time is almost a traffic jam; see photo above.)

Bend offered all that and more 25 years ago, but thanks to decades of hell-bent-for-leather development it's been uglified and crappified and suckified beyond all recognition -- especially on the Eastside, where I have the misfortune to live.

A quick examination of the climate charts on indicates that Prineville also has at least a somewhat milder climate than Bend. For example, the average daily high in Prineville in mid-April is 60 degrees; in Bend it's 55. The average daily high in Prineville in mid-May is around 68; in Bend it's 65. I can't be certain, but the graphs for sunshine and cloud cover seem to show that Prineville gets a little bit more sun too.

This tends to bear out the fact, well-known to locals, that Prineville is the Banana Belt of Central Oregon. Gardeners can grow plants there that wouldn't survive in Bend outside of a greenhouse.

I'm not saying Prineville is paradise. It's even more isolated than Bend, for one thing, and has even fewer entertainment options and cultural amenities. And the political climate is so conservative it makes Bend look like Berkeley.

So I don't think we'll be pulling up stakes for Prineville in the foreseeable future. But it's good to pay the place a visit once in a while just to remember what Bend once had, and stupidly threw away.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Premature Spring Ejaculations

There is a couple who owns a little shop on the Eastside of Bend selling things for gardening and raising chickens and what-not. On the last day of February they put this message up on the sign in front of their shop: “ONLY 20 DAYS UNTIL SPRING.”

I have never met them, but I have heard they are nice people. I bear them no ill will. I wish them success in their business and happiness in their lives.

But if they really believe that spring comes to Bend on March 20, they are idiots.

March 20, of course, is marked as the first day of spring on all the calendars. But all that means is that on March 20 the sun is directly over the equator at noon and days and nights are of equal length. (Thus the name “vernal equinox.”) On June 21, the summer solstice or first day of summer, the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Cancer at noon, giving the northern hemisphere its longest day.

In reality, however, the date of March 20 means absolutely nothing in Bend. It still looks and feels like winter here, and will look and feel like winter until sometime around the middle of June.

Yesterday our local daily newspaper ran its monthly story about the latest measurements of the depth of the snowpack in the Cascades. The snowpack was looking skimpy in mid-February, but a couple of storms blew through in the latter part of the month and now it’s is pretty much back to normal.

The most interesting thing about the story, though, was a little graph that showed snowpack levels through the year, with trend lines for this year, last year, and the historical average from 1971 to 2000.

The historical average line shows that the snowpack reaches its maximum on April 1 and then starts to decline, as fewer and less fierce storms blow in from the Pacific. By July it’s almost all gone.

Based on this, it would make some sense to observe April 1 as the first day of spring in Bend, or at least as the turning point at which winter begins slowly and grudgingly loosening its icy grip on us. But it would make more sense to celebrate June 15 as the real first day of spring, when winter finally relents and warm, sunny weather arrives at last.

On second thought, maybe June 21, which is observed as the first day of summer in parts of the Northern Hemisphere that have a normal climate, should be celebrated as the first day of spring in Bend.

As for when we'd mark the first day of summer ... well, August 1 seems to be the likely candidate.