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The personal journal of technology journalist and conference speaker Randall S. Newton.

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Monday, December 30, 2002

Watching Bighorn Sheep
My office is in the attic, the third floor of our house (fourth if you count the basement). My only window looks west across most of my farm and toward the village of Loomis. Today it is a scene out of a Currier and Ives painting. Recent snowfall has coated everything in white. Fog shrouds Gold Hill, the mountain that defines the western boundary of town. The occasional car glides across the white ribbon that has become Main Street. Five Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep saunter through town, oblivious to humans.

About 50 years ago a small herd of bighorn sheep were planted on Aeneas Mountain, just south of town, in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Refuge (known locally as "the game farm"). For many years the herd did not thrive, and numbers remained low. But in recent years the health of the herd has improved, and their numbers are now increasing to the point where the herd is separating and expanding into new territory. Loomis sits in a narrow valley between Aeneas Mountain and Palmer Mountain. The bunchgrass and sagebrush are abundant on Palmer, so the herd rountinely marches through town to move from one mountain to the other.

Quite often the sheep walk along my western fence line and climb the bluff just to the west. They sit on the rocks to take in the winter sun, and, perhaps, to amuse themselves watching the humans below. If they do take note of the people below, it is an exception to their normal behavior. When passing through town, they act as if there is no human presence at all. They will enter yards and eat rose bushes, walk up and down main street, or use Bob Garrett's used car sales lot as a passage way to Palmer Mountain. I have seen as many as 11 move through town at one time; today only five are active.

We are very familiar with mule deer here; Loomis is considered one of Washington State's best hunting destinations. Mule deer calculate their every move based on reacting to humans, which makes watching the sheep so interesting by comparision. Deer would never walk up main street at midday, let along in the middle of the night. Too many lights, too many dogs, too many chances to be observed. To the bighorn, these are non-issues.

Friday, December 27, 2002

A Poem for My Late Father

My father died Dec. 14; his funeral was one week ago today. I wrote a poem for the occasion, and have been asked several times for it since. So I thought I would publish it here. I wish I had started Loomis Boy before now, so that this wouldn't have to be one of the first posts, but I can't do anything about the timing. I also delivered the eulogy; perhaps in the future I will share portions here. The farm alluded to in the poem is about 1.5 miles from my current home.

Another Task At Hand

My Daddy strides across the farm,
His steps are long and fast today.
“Another task at hand” he says.
I won’t get in the way.

I watch him lay a small calf down,
His hands are large and strong.
She gets a dose of medicine.
I’ll bet he’s never wrong.

We tighten fence wire, straighten posts;
I think his arms are made of steel.
“That pig won’t bust through here again,”
He laughs, and gives a funny squeal.

Daddy walks across the room to me,
His handshake warm and slow.
“Another task at hand?” he asks.
He’s come to see me go.

We talk of plans and ventures grand
The life I hope to start.
He speaks of dreams we share today
I feel the measure of his heart.

We slowly walk until we part.
His eyes a quiet pool.
“We know you’ll do your best,” he says
“It’s why you went to school.”

Dad looks up from his easy chair
He tries to rise to greet me.
“Rest yourself,” I tell him now.
“It’s you I’ve come to see.”

I hold his hand now as I talk.
It seems so small, so frail.
His words must travel through a fog
That seldom lifts above the trail.

Our times are mostly quiet now,
Shared presence needs no sound.
There’s another task at hand for him,
To stride across to holy ground.

- - - - -

A Day in the Life of LoomisBoy

I hear footsteps coming up to my attic office. "Dad," Michaela whines, "Joshua and Meghan and Keegan won't stop throwning snowballs at me. I ask them to stop it and they won't. I don't want them to throw snowball at me but they won't listen." She tries to continue with a full report of the abuse she's suffering, but I cut her off. "You can tell them 'Daddy Says.' Now go back outside and play." Her sad countenance changes to a smile, and she spins on her toes and heads back down the steps. "Thank you, Daddy!" she almost sings as she hurries down the stairs.

"Daddy says" is like a get out of jail free card in our home. It is the shortcut, the way out, the trump card. From the time they can talk, I drill into their heads that NO ONE EVER LIES when they say "Daddy says." With a growing family that started on day one with two kids ages 7 and 4, and now includes nine kids from 5 to 25, I quickly realized that if I answered every whine, every cry for help from the underdog or tried to referee every kid dispute, I would go crazy. So I send "Daddy Says" in my place. Sometimes I have to send it twice, but never three times. The third time somebody cries for deliverance from their torment, it requires personal intervention. If I have to go in person, I make sure nobody wins. Usually they figure out how to settle disputes or otherwise behave themselves before resorting to a third plea.

We got our first "real" snow of the season overnight, about three inches. My first concern when I woke up was if I would have to climb on the roof and sweep off the satellite dish. I use Starband satellite Internet service, and the dish is located on a part of my roof that is hard to reach. So far, the signal is fine.

Loomis is a village in the North Cascade Mountains in Okanogan County, Washington, USA. This is the desert side of Washington; we get less than 12 inches of annual rainfall. Most of it comes in the winter, as it did this morning, as snow. Loomis is closer to a wilderness area (the Pasayten) than to a movie theater (in either Omak, Washington or Oliver, British Columbia). I own a large farmhouse (7 bedrooms) on 14 acres. My place is the first farm going east from Loomis. There's one store, a quick mart with gas pumps. We also have a post office, a church, a used car dealer/mechanic, and about thirty homes. There are a few resorts on some of the nearby lakes, and oodles of campgrounds along the lakes and in the surrounding mountains. Regional guide books list Loomis as a ghost town, famed for its gold rush, boom-and-bust origins and pioneer cattle ranches. When Loomis area residents talk about going to town, they aren't talking about Loomis, but Tonasket, 17 miles away, population 1000. Our schools are there, as are all other essential serivces. More kids attend Tonasket schools than live in the town; the school district is larger than Rhode Island in size.

In LoomisBoy, the blog, I'm writing the first draft of my life story. By day I cover technology for architecture, engineering and construction (AEC). But what I do for a living does not define me as a person. By writing in LoomisBoy, I hope to put into print a more comprehensive view of my life, one that I hope others find of interest.

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