Larry Rea Finds Record-sized Sumac Tree

Ralph Anderson photographing Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra)

“Ralph, I found the Sumac tree again… let’s go measure it.”

I found the tree several years ago and then lost it… Ralph and I looked for it in vain. I didn’t want to repeat the failure this time. I noted several landmarks and included an odometer measurement. I was confident I could bring Ralph directly to the tree.

Ralph Anderson… the big tree guy… and I, headed upriver from Sherar’s Falls, below Maupin, where I had found what I thought might be the largest specimen of Smooth Sumac in Oregon. Normally referred to as a shrub, Smooth Sumac is large enough to qualify as a small tree. Ralph was confident that my find would be a record for Oregon since no one else had submitted a nomination. He would make the necessary measurements to verify my discovery. With luck I might have a national champion.

Visions of fame danced briefly in my mind… “Larry Rea finds Record-sized Sumac Tree” wasn’t likely to be a headline anywhere except in my nature blog. Maybe the announcement might encourage another big tree hunter to find and nominate a bigger tree but more than likely only Ralph and I would care. I would email a few select friends and boast about finding a  champion tree… they might smile and think I’m up to crazy stuff… but chances are finding folks that would care is limited.

Ralph prepared me for reality… “It won’t be a national champion… the tree is more common on the east coast and bigger ones have been found there. Sumac grows along the Deschutes river, the Umatilla river and the Snake River so it is relatively rare in Oregon.

We drove right past it going up river… didn’t see it. Then we turned around and headed down river and I finally spotted the tree. Eureka… I breathed a sigh of relief.

Ralph gathered his equipment and measured the diameter at breast height (DBH)… it passed the minimum requirement. Then the height of the tree… it was tall enough… and the coverage of the canopy… points are awarded in those three categories… the grand total determines the prize winner.

 We took plenty of pictures of Oregon’s new champion of the species… Rhus glabra.

photo and story byLarry

For more about Oregon’s Champions:

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Is it Male or Female?

Starling male 98% sure

“Can you tell whether a Starling is male or female? They look very much alike to me.

Erica and I were sitting in our favorite birdwatching perch, the upstairs bay window, currently watching the antics of Starlings.

“Why do you want to know the difference?

“The best strategy for getting rid of Starlings is to concentrate on catching the females. They produce the eggs and the chicks. Catching a male is hardly worth the effort.

“That’s true. If you are keeping score, catching a female is worth eleven points compared to one point for the male.

“Eleven points?

“The average number of chicks is five and two hatches a season would be ten… plus the female equals eleven. A male is given a score of one… himself.

“Back to my question… can you tell the difference?

“They are difficult to tell apart… except during the breeding season… when there are subtle differences barely apparent to humans…

“Starlings don’t seem to have a problem…  or maybe that’s why the male initiates nest building and waits for the female to come to the nest… the male doesn’t waste any energy chasing after another male. I want to know if that bird is a female. I don’t want to waste any time on a male.

“That one is a male.

“Are you sure?

“98% sure…

“Why not 100%?

“Some of those subtle differences cross over to the other sex… so 100% is not possible without testing DNA or conducting surgery to examine the sexual organs.

 “What are some of those subtle differences?

“The females wear red lipstick… maybe I should say beak-stick because birds don’t have lips… this one has the blue-beak mark of a male.

“Red beak-stick… blue beak-stick… you must be joking… what else?

“The male’s bill is dull yellow, the female’s a bright lemon yellow… this one is dull yellow.


“The female has a twinkle in her eye… the iris of the male’s eye is not as visible as the female… we need to be less than a foot away to see the iris… that’s close.

“Red beak-stick… twinkle in the eye… Can you give me something easier to see… something more obvious?

“The male has a beard that is longer than the female’s…

“You made that one up…

“No… it’s true. The hackle on the male…  the feathers on the neck… the beard… is nearly half an inch longer on the male than on the female… so, if you see him raise his hackle you can tell…  visual determination of sex depends on the Gestalt of the bird.


“An ornithologist once told me to look at the sum of the parts… the Gestalt… and not at the individual pieces of evidence… one of the parts could lead you astray… but even in knowing all the visual clues mistakes can still be made. Or, you could use the other tactic.

“What’s the other tactic?

“Kill them all. The only good Starling is a dead Starling. Sort them by sex after they are dead.”

Photo and story byLarry

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Suspicious Activity on Your VISA Debit Card


 “We see suspicious activity on your VISA debit card.”

Those are words you don’t want to hear from VISA. If you carry a debit card so you don’t have to carry a wad of cash, you have cause to worry. Perhaps security protocols failed to identify fraudulent use of your card. Someone could have removed all the cash from your checking account and your check won’t be any good either. In the ultimate case, a merchant might be the one who advises you your card has been refused for lack of funds. Imagine how embarrassing a public announcement of insufficient funds could be.

Was it VISA or a Scam?

In my case I received a telephone message from someone who claimed to be a VISA agent. Because the return number did not match the phone number on my card I suspected a scam. The agent who answered my return call immediately asked for my 16-digit card number for identification purposes. After my refusal to divulge my debit card number his advice was to contact my bank. I did… immediately… in person… not by telephone.

Talking to OnPoint

My Visa debit card was issued by an OnPoint Community Credit Union. Their representative quickly determined that the telephone call was legitimate. I had half a dozen charges on my card from California, Arizona, and Kansas… places that I have not been… paying for items I did not purchase… paying utilities I do not use…  VISA flagged my debit card for suspicious use… I got the phone call.

How VISA Works in a Perfect World

Google gave me a quick lesson in how the VISA card system works. A merchant who wants to accept purchases made with a VISA card arranges for a commercial account with his banker. In the case of a debit card the merchant receives immediate reimbursement from his banker. The merchant’s banker is immediately reimbursed by my bank who issued me a debit card. My banker immediately  withdraws the money from my account. In a perfect world… where buyer and seller are face to face… where everyone is connected… online transactions and card verifications can occur at the speed of light.

The Real World

In the real world… buyer and seller may not be face to face… connections can be tenuous to non-existent… bad guys find ways to defeat security protocols.

My card wasn’t lost or stolen. It remained in my possession. Someone had copied the 16-digit account number and used the card number off-line, avoiding security protocols for verification. Purchases were made without the physical presence of my card. What now?

Card Not Present Purchases

In cases like mine where the card was not present at the time of purchase, the merchant’s bank is responsible for determining if the buyer is legitimate. My bank is responsible for initiating an investigation at my request.

VISA was kind enough to warn me… I was able to prevent additional withdrawals from my checking account… but I am still on the hook to pay for those fraudulent charges already made.

Three Trips to OnPoint

In all I made three trips to OnPoint to resolve the issue.

One: The first OnPoint representative recommended cancelling my card and offered me a new card. I was told my account would be reimbursed if the charges were determined to be fraudulent in an investigation by Visa. I expected to be vindicated and reimbursed. I accepted the new debit card.

Two: After two months without reimbursement, I made a second trip to OnPoint. According to a OnPoint representative I had not filed a fraud report and now it was too late for reimbursement by OnPoint.

I was stunned… I had immediately contacted OnPoint in person, had my card cancelled and destroyed. I had declared the suspicious charges as fraudulent. What else could I do?

According to the OnPoint representative my only option is to personally call each point of sale merchant and petition/beg them for reimbursement. Visa and OnPoint claim no culpability and accept no blame for wrong-doing. I thought Visa and OnPoint should have demanded verification and denied those charges. Instead they chose to pass those charges on to me… protecting the merchant. 

So, dear reader, I began to think I had very little protection against fraudulent use of my debit card. I believe all agencies involved were too eager to accept fraudulent claims as legitimate. I no longer trusted the system to protect me. I decided to cancel my new debit card.

Three: On my third trip to OnPoint I canceled my new debit card and their representative filed a fraud report. She told me the investigation would take ten days to complete.

Stay tuned. We will see if my interests are protected.


The third trip was the charm. I received full reimbursement from OnPoint for all charges I declared fraudulent. That’s what zero liability is all about.

Story ByLarry

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The Klickitat Stump

“Ralph would like to see this stump” I thought to myself.

Ralph Anderson and petrified stump

I was looking at Google Earth and spotted a photo of a petrified stump near Klickitat, Washington. Someone who used the pseudonym “Curious Gorge” had posted the photo… I knew Ralph would like to see this stump.

I posted a note on my computer monitor to remind myself the next time Ralph stopped by to visit I would tell him about the petrified stump and we would make plans for a field trip.

Ralph Anderson, the big tree guy, a friend from high school, a carpenter most of his working life, now spends his retirement in search of big trees… champion trees. He measures those trees and submits the information to nominate the tree for championship status. He has traveled the world to look at trees.

Just as I thought, Ralph wanted to see the stump, so one pleasant day early this spring we made a field trip to Klickitat to see if we could find the tree stump. If the photo was posted at the exact location of the stump we had a pretty good idea where to find it. We would travel to those coordinates and start our search.

We drove about a mile up river from Klickitat and found a small roadside park, a good spot to stop and reconnoiter.  It was the location of an artesian mineral spring that was used as a source of carbon-dioxide gas to make dry ice.

While we were discussing our next move, Ralph decided to talk to our neighbor in the park and see if he knew anything about the stump. I could see an animated discussion going on… hand waving and finger pointing… so I decided to join the conversation.

The neighbor turned out to be “Curious Gorge” author Scott Cook.

Talk about serendipity… luck of the Irish… divine intervention… Ralph found the guy that took the photograph that launched our field trip… the guy who could give us exact directions to the stump… the guy who just happened to have a few copies of his book, “Curious Gorge”. We each bought an autographed copy.

Camera in hand we headed for the big stump… Eureka!

Photo and story by Larry Rea

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Oregon is an Island

Marvin Kellar where the Oregon border comes ashore  near Umatilla

“Dry land at last,” said Marvin, “I was beginning to think Oregon is an island.”

We were trying to circumnavigate Oregon as an adventure. We started the furthest south, where California and Oregon join with the Pacific Ocean and headed north toward the Columbia River. Oregon’s boundary is a nautical league offshore… that’s about three miles of water for those unfamiliar with nautical terms.

Oregon’s boundary then follows the Columbia River 309 river miles upstream, zig-zagging with the flow of the river, until just about 17 miles east of the McNary dam near Umatilla where the 46th parallel comes ashore heading easterly, forming the rest of the boundary with Washington.

“That’s about 660 miles by water so far,” I replied. “We have about 100 miles of dry land before we reach the Snake River where Oregon, Washington, and Idaho form a tri-corner about a mile below the confluence with Cache Creek.”

“Can we drive any of that?”

“Just a few miles along the state line near Walla Walla, the rest is wilderness.”

“So, what now?”

“We can follow the footsteps of Lewis and Clark and use water grade… the Snake River is tributary to the Columbia… we will have to do some of that by boat.”

“Do you know what Walla Walla means in Wiradjuri?”

“Probably not the same thing it means to the Walla Walla Nation.”

“It’s ‘the place of many rocks’ in Wiradjuri.”

“OK… so far we have been the farthest south, west and north on land in Oregon but the legal boundary has been covered with water… now we are headed for the farthest east in Oregon… guess what?… it’s in the water… in the Snake River.”

“Just as I suspected… Oregon is an island… it has water all around… that’s the exact definition of an island.”

Photos and story byLarry

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