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I'm so glad to see this decade end

When the final page of 2009 is turned at midnight Thursday to close the last chapter on this decade, I won't be unhappy to see it fade into history.

If it were a book, the 10-year period beginning in 2000 wouldn't be a pleasant read. Just name the planetary plague and we had it: famine, hatred, religious intolerance, terrorism, war.

Yessirree Bob, pestilence we have in abundance on this orb wobbling around the sun.

A reader would expect a swarm of locusts to descend at any moment. It's just a suspicion, but I believe the winged vermin were en route, only to turn back, appalled by what they saw.

Apparently there are some conditions that even repulsive bugs will not tolerate.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not naturally pessimistic. Most people who know me would say I'm optimistic, perhaps naively so. I generally expect the best out of people. I look forward to waking early each morning, eager to see what the day holds in store.

Indeed, my life is good. We have great kids and terrific grandchildren. They remind me daily that good prevails. I look forward to the coming years of paddling our canoe across mountain lakes and down peaceful rivers, of reading a good book by the fire and of hearing Maureen's laughter fill our house.

Yet there were times in this decade when I wanted to flip a few pages ahead to escape the endless reports of death and destruction around the world. There had to be days that Mr. Reaper himself found too grim to go to work.

As a measurement of time, a decade doesn't make much of a dent in a millennium. But the end of one offers an ideal point for us to take stock.

Personally, this circa-1951 model humanoid is starting to show a little wear and tear. A glance in the mirror reveals a salt-and-pepper thatch. Too bad about my chin giving in to the pull of gravity. I seem to be developing a jowl that would embarrass a 4-H hog.

But my penchant for being stubbornly out of sync with the world shows no sign of weakening. Fed up with finding nothing that held my interest, I quit watching television programs early in the decade. Now many people find their reality on reality TV. You have to wonder what that portends for our society.

Professionally, it's been a fascinating decade to be a journalist. Highlights included a trip to the Sinai, interviewing the president of the United States — OK, it was only one question — and spending five days floating down the wild section of the Rogue River with four severely wounded Iraq War veterans.

Yet it's no secret that newspapers are facing tough times as journalism continues its exploration deeper into cyberspace. Just last week the weekly Tri-County News in Junction City published its final edition. Before I moved on to a daily, I was the paper's editor for its first two years when it was launched in 1977. I remember pounding out stories on something called a typewriter.

This decade began with much hand-wringing over the fear computers would lose their minds because they wouldn't be able to compute the numeral 2000. At precisely midnight, so the thinking went, jets would fall from the night sky because of failing computers, nuclear missiles would be mistakenly launched and, horror of horrors, the clocks on VCR/DVD players would have to be reset.

The end is nigh, cyberspace cadets shrieked. We in the media dutifully joined the ballyhooing.

And nothing happened.

Perhaps the decade was just lulling us into a sense of complacency.

The year 2001 exploded with the ghastly terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, forever equating 9/11 with death and destruction. We now are in two wars that continue into the coming decade.

Meanwhile, nearly 5,000 Americans in uniform, including several young men from our region, will see no more sunrises.

But the decade of mayhem was just warming up. The next years brought us a summer of wildfires, including the local Biscuit fire which burned some half-million acres in a mosaic pattern. We also had deadly earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis around the globe. Tens of thousands perished.

Then, just when things were looking real bleak, human greed, corruption and irresponsibility stepped in to create the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Every mortgage-foreclosure legal notice in the paper reflects the end of someone's dream.

But the saddest event locally was the death of nine people, including seven young wildland firefighters from Jackson and Josephine counties, in the helicopter crash in Northern California on Aug. 5, 2008.

Coincidentally, it also was on Aug. 5 that 13 firefighters died in the Mann Gulch fire near Helena, Mont., albeit the year was 1949. Those fatalities occurred in the same decade that brought us World War II.

So perhaps there have been worse decades. I'm just hoping the coming decade has more happy endings than this one.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.