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A legacy of jodhpurs

It's a hard thing to be reminded in your mid-50s that your father wore jodhpurs.

In plain daylight, no less. And in the rugged Siskiyou National Forest, for criminy's sake.

Trust me on this: Folks in Kerby when I was a kid did not wear jodhpurs, those funny-looking riding breeches that blouse out above the knees and are tight from the knees to the ankles.

Yet there it is, in black and white, in the old photograph. I dug it out of a family album in honor of today's 100th anniversary of the birth of the Siskiyou forest. I hadn't seen the ancient snapshot in years.

Dad worked on what is now the Wild Rivers Ranger District in the wild mountains ringing the Illinois Valley. That was during the late 1920s and early '30s, well before he had children.

Forest watchers know the Siskiyou was combined with the Rogue River forest in 2004 to become the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

But the old Siskiyou forest will always be part of our rich heritage.

Dad was half a year older than the forest, having been born June 17, 1906, in Ashland. They grew up together, the forest and my father.

He died in 1961 when I was 9, just when he was becoming interesting to me. It is one of my life's regrets I never got to know him well.

The photograph is faded and torn, the result of having been soaked in the 1964 flood and packed and unpacked countless times over the years. But I remember the now missing bottom portion showed that he was wearing knee-high leather boots.

Capping his attire is a campaign-style hat that is slightly tilted, giving him a somewhat rakish appearance. He wears a close-fitting jacket and light-colored shirt with a dark tie. And there are those jaunty jodhpurs.

He looks a bit like Dudley Do-Right about to give Snidely Whiplash a severe thrashing. We're talking dapper and dashing here.

Unfortunately, like many old family photos, there is no date written on the back.

His uniform is the type worn in the 1920s, observed Jeff LaLande, the forest's archaeologist and historian. The style changed in 1930, he explained, noting forest employees were known as forest rangers back then.

"But I'm not sure why he would be wearing jodhpurs," LaLande added with a bemused smile.

I had to check with Mr. Webster on that one. The father of Mr. Google reports the name comes for the city in northwest India where the breeches first became popular.

I do recall Dad talking about periodically riding a horse along forest trails as part of his job, making the jodhpurs handy. But you have to wonder about the bears and other beasts snickering in his wake. My memories are of a quiet man with a deep laugh who loved the outdoors. Friends who knew him told me he was a man of his word.

I was thinking about that while watching an emotionally moving slide show during last week's gathering of mostly forest retirees in Grants Pass to commemorate the forest's birthday. Set to music, it was skillfully put together by Jes Webb with the assistance of his father, Lee Webb, a retired forest biologist.

It brought back memories of forest employees I had encountered while working for the Grants Pass Daily Courier newspaper in the 1980s, particularly then forest supervisor Ron McCormick.

After the paper ran an article based on an interview I had with McCormick, a group of community leaders stormed into his office, angry over his comments calling for a reduced timber harvest. A lesser man would have taken the easy way out by blaming a journalist for misconstruing his message.

McCormick didn't give an inch. He was a man of his word.

Like my dad, who went so far as to write his word in stone, albeit something that is frowned upon today.

When he was 23 he worked on the original fire lookout atop Pearsoll Peak a dozen miles west of Selma. He and other workers apparently had a little extra time on their hands one day.

He chiseled his name - the same as mine since I'm a junior - deeply into a rock about the size of a refrigerator. That was around 1930.

As a result, I periodically get a call from a Pearsoll Peak visitor asking why my name is on a remote peak.

I explain it's part of my father's legacy, a proud legacy of watching over our national treasures, even if it sometimes required wearing funny pants.