This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, May 26, 1999

May 26, 1999 - Winding Granddad's Watch

Some 20 years ago, my mother gave me my granddad's Hamilton watch. Back then, it wasn't quite my style: a square, gold face, small gold letters, a gold twisty band. This watch didn't even have a quartz. It was one of those old wind-ups, which I don't believe are even made in America any more.

But my mother knew how close I'd been to granddad -- one of the few genuinely wise men I have ever known.

It languished in my dresser drawer for two decades. Then, one day, I had two realizations. First, the face of the watch had some rust spots. There were some scratches on the crystal. I hadn't taken very good care of it.

Second, I was suddenly warmed by the knowledge that in a culture filled with so many disposable items, I still had something once worn, something used every day, by a man I met almost half a century ago, a man I still miss and admire.

So to surprise me, my wife had the watch refurbished. She replaced the twisty band with a burgundy leather band. And to my delight, I think this watch is now very classy. (This was also a very classy 16th anniversary gift, but that's the sort of woman my wife is.)

The second day I wore the watch, it suddenly stopped, and I had a moment of deep sadness. Then I remembered that it was a wind-up.

Now, every morning I spend the perhaps five seconds it takes to wind the spring. Five seconds to remember granddad, my mother, my wife. It's a small meditation that has become very important to me. And the watch keeps excellent time.

Modern times do offer many conveniences, of course. I'm not anti- progress. But there is an abiding pleasure in such small rituals, and perhaps a lesson. Sometimes, convenience distances us from things. The same mile feels very different if you drive it, bike it, or walk it.

Lately, I've been doing some investigating of "e-books" -- electronic versions of books. But granddad's watch reminds me why I got into the business of librarianship in the first place.

I like the way books smell. I like the way they feel -- from the subtle texture of the buckram binding, to the elegant curve of spine. I like the way good typefaces look on paper with some heft to them.

I've always assumed that carpenters become carpenters because they liked working with wood. I became a librarian because I liked working with books -- a matter not just of intellectual content, but of profound sensual involvement.

So the next time you wander into the library, pick up a book just because you like the look of it. Lean back into one of our comfy chairs and let yourself admire the book as artifact, as something made to give pleasure. You might find it a comforting change of pace to the blitz, glitz and glamor of computer generated imagery and digital sound.

Every time you turn a page, it's like winding a watch.

Wednesday, May 19, 1999

May 19, 1999 - adopting a dog

As a librarian, I should know better: You do your research BEFORE you make a big decision, not after.

In this case, the decision was a dog. Since being an adult, I'd had only cats. When Watson died (she was almost 20) it was very hard for me to think about any other kind of pet.

But in the past two years Maddy got to be 11. Perry is 5. My family buzzes around town a lot, but we're mostly homebodies. We've got a big, fenced yard. We were looking for a playful critter to hang out with us. Dogs are more interactive than cats, especially for kids.

A friend of ours volunteers for the Denver Dumb Friends League -- a rescue operation for all kinds of abandoned pets. He'd recently adopted a sweet-tempered and intelligent canine named Marlowe -- a poodle/Afghan, which is far more elegant-looking than you might imagine. (But what do you call them? Poofghans? Afghoodles?)

So we wandered in to the DDFL one day, looked at some fifty dogs, and visited with two of them. The second one was described as a "chow mix," although she looked exactly like a golden retriever. She had a dark blue tongue, though.

Perry was put off by the other dog we looked at. Too bouncy. But the chow mix was very submissive. Now I understand that she was TOO submissive.

To make a long story short, we soon discovered that Mimi (for so we named her) had some problems. Whenever a man walked into the house, she cowered. And to our great consternation, she turned out to be a "fear-biter." Just as someone turned AWAY from her, she'd dive and try to bite just above the ankle, at the back of the leg. She wound up biting two people, one of them a child.

I read widely about dog training. I talked to animal behaviorists, to shelter volunteers, and even to a Chow rescue society. In short, I did all of the research I SHOULD have done to begin with. It was a sad lesson.

Finally, we made the decision to put Mimi down. It was awful, especially since I insisted that I be there to hold her. She'd been abandoned often enough.

For awhile, we weren't sure we wanted to go through anything like that again. But all of us found that we'd liked having a dog around. Mimi learned to be very loving to us. The daily walks, the long weekend rambles were great, giving us all a chance not only to stretch our legs, but to talk to each other.

Too, the unreserved affection of dogs is a great gift.

So we decided to try again. But this time, we would be more thoughtful, more knowledgeable.

And guess what? We found that the Douglas Public Library District has a pretty good collection on the subject.

The single most effective tool I ran across was something "Dogs! Dogs! Dogs!" -- a video that showcased all the breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. You can do a lot of reading about temperaments and trainability, but until you see how they look and move, it's all a little theoretical. This video helped us narrow down the options.

I can also recommend "Saved! -- a guide to success with your shelter dog," by Myrna Papurt. I liked Bob Christiansen's "Choosing and caring for a shelter dog."

I finally got focused on the prospect of adopting a greyhound. (See our "Adopting the racing greyhound," by Cynthia Branigan.) The fellow we wound up taking into our home, by the name of Jaaz Cagney, is a sort of 80 pound cat. He's sweet, soulful, and most gentile. He was located through the good graces of the Colorado Greyhound Adoption agency. If you're in the market for a greyhound, call them at 303.471.0554 or 303.617.9870.

I've since learned Cagney can hit about 40 miles an hour in just three steps. Until you see it, it's hard to believe. But he ran into our hearts even faster.

Here's the bottom line. Hundreds of thousands of dogs are put down every year. Most of these animals can make lovely companions. Why not open your hearts and homes to one of them?

But trust me, BEGIN your search at your local library.

Wednesday, May 12, 1999

May 12, 1999 - Community Theater

Like a lot of imaginative but inexperienced high school students, I was sure I'd make a great actor. So in my freshman year, I tried out for a play. It was "Wind in the Willows," and I read for the part of Toad -- the lead.

To my utter astonishment, I got it. Excited, I went to the first rehearsal, where I picked up my script and ran some of the lines.

At the second rehearsal, I destroyed my high school acting career.

In my own defense, I have to admit that I was a pretty emotionally repressed kid. So when I tried, up there on stage, to demonstrate some strong feelings, an internal barrier abruptly broke. Half way through that rehearsal, the director made a perfectly appropriate suggestion for how to do something. My response? I threw a tantrum. Then I tossed down my script, and stormed out of the theater. This was, for me, utterly "out of character."

It also had consequences. The next day, the director fired me. He also let me know that I wouldn't be getting any other acting chances in high school. Three years later, I did manage to slip into our high school a capella choir -- mostly because it was so desperate for boys. I played several very minor roles in the musicals we put on, I think with quiet distinction.

But that first experience stays with me. It's one of those hot, fresh memories that surfaces when I wake at 2 in the morning, along with a host of other occasions when I have provided to the world the clearest possible evidence that I am a jerk.

So this year, I decided that I was going to purge my past. I heard that the new community theater group, the Castle Rock Players, was auditioning for Fiddler on the Roof. I landed the role of Motel the Tailor, who was always one of my favorites. I'm pleased to report that I have yet to be fired.

Incidentally, Fiddler comes from "The Tevye Stories," written by Yiddish story-teller Sholom Aleichem, and are as poignant, funny, and moving now as when they were written. (Aleichem was a contemporary of Mark Twain.) The play was written by Joseph Stein. The music, of course, is by the incomparable song-writing team of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock.

I have to say that attending rehearsals is almost as much fun as working in the library. Maybe more fun, because I am not the director of the play. Katie Klossner, who is the director, is a delight to watch. She's highly organized, capable of communicating clearly and often hilariously with actors of all ages. She also has a fierce and authoritative insight about how things ought to look and feel. Sam Sortore is equally gifted as the musical director -- he coaxes the most surprising performances out of even amateurs like me.

But everybody is good, from our somewhat befuddled rabbi (the character, not the actor) to the youngest singer and dancer. And our Tevye is enthralling.

One of the surprises to me, though, was the economic side of community theater. The costs for the script alone are $1,600 -- and you have to give them back at the end. To rent the performance space, combined with rehearsal time, will run another $4,000 or more. That doesn't include the costs for set constructions, marketing, and all the other things it takes to put on a show. All told, it takes about $10K to put on a show.

Recognize that there is no solid source of funding for the group -- just ticket sales (which come, obviously, at the end), and donations. To be frank, the continuance of community theater in Castle Rock is by no means certain.

Local theater is like a library in that it preserves and presents our past. But in theater, instead of just reading great works, people also struggle to bring them alive, often with a fresh interpretation that adds new depth and meaning. People also learn something about hard work, professionalism, and giving their best.

Fiddler will be showing at the Douglas County High School on June 3, 4, 5, and 6. Please consider reaching into your pocket to support this altogether worthwhile endeavor. The 90 members of the cast are already contributing not only their time, but in many cases, their own props, costumes, and cash. Please make your contributions payable to the Castle Rock Players, PO Box 1224, Castle Rock CO 80104.

And oh yes, enjoy the show. I know I will..

Wednesday, May 5, 1999

May 5, 1999 - The Cherokee Trail

Among our most popular programs for adults are the ones put on by Johanna Harden, the library district's Local History Collection Archivist. Her "Second Sunday" series of historical programs has developed a strong following.

As well they should. Our speakers are always interesting, and the topics illuminating. In people, an interest in the past is one of the leading indicators of maturity. The same is true when a community looks to its history.

It happens that May 8 through May 16 is Colorado Archaeology and Historic Preservation Week. This year, three events have been planned.

On Sunday, May 16, Historian Lee Whiteley will present a program on "The Cherokee Trail: A Forgotten Byway." The location is the Parker Library -- which is appropriate, since the trail actually ran through the existing library site. After Whiteley's presentation, local professional storytellers John Stansfield and Priscilla Queen will bring to life some of the characters who traveled the Cherokee Trail.

A second event marks the Local History Collection's continuing involvement with Douglas County Television Channel 8. It was 125 years ago that the eastern boundary of Douglas County was pulled back from Kansas. The same year, Castle Rock became the county seat, wresting the title from what was then known as Frankstown.

The Channel 8 folks, with the able assistance of our Local History Department, are producing a special television program to examine Douglas County's status as one of Colorado's 17 original counties.

Mixed in with the tale of the county's trimming, viewers will also have a chance to set to rest the longstanding "myth of the moving courthouse." Locals Bill Duncan, son of long-time Douglas County Commissioner "Doc" Duncan, and William Kirby portray David Kellogg and friend in the TV reenactment of the naming of "Castle Rock."

And if you don't have cable (which is necessary to receive Channel 8)? Not to worry. You can catch the production at the Philip S. Miller Library at 4 p.m., Monday, May 10, or at the Parker Library on Friday, May 14, at 2 p.m.

An additional historical event on the day will be sponsored by the Castle Rock Historic Preservation Board, the Town of Castle Rock and the Castle Rock Historical Society. It's called the Walking Tour and Ice Cream Social. Beginning on Saturday, May 15, at 10 a.m. at the Cantril School Building in Castle Rock, the tour will focus on local efforts to preserve 14 historic structures in Castle Rock. It wraps up at the Castle Rock Museum on Elbert Street.

Add it all up, and you've got a week to remember.