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Walk through history leaves friction by the side of the road

As you read this, a rock half the size of a football field is streaking eight times faster than a speeding bullet toward Earth.

But you can relax. Scientists say the asteroid dubbed 2012 DA14 will miss our planet, albeit by a mere 17,100 miles, when it zips past Friday afternoon. That near miss will be the closest flyby for a space object that size ever recorded, they note.

The asteroid is only one of tens of thousands believed to be racing around out there. And the serious folks in long white coats estimate an asteroid only six miles wide ended the dinosaur reign some 66 million years ago.

The point is a flying rock with our number on it could one day knock our world on its keister.

That knowledge puts into perspective the insanity of bipeds bickering ad nauseam about everything from politics to religion across this fair land. No, it's not only politicians. We're all guilty.

But a meeting in a Jacksonville church Thursday evening reminded me that diverse factions can gather without turning into the butt-ugly Bickersons.

The event was the Sterling Mine Ditch History Night organized by Hope Robertson and Joy Rogalla of the Siskiyou Upland Trails Association.

It was a fun session that drew about 150 folks from all walks of life. There were young and old, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. No one challenged another's parentage. There were no shouting matches, no angry threats, no fist fights.

Cheerful chatter and laughter filled the room. Politics had been checked at the door.

For those who are unfamiliar with the 26-mile-long ditch, it was built in 1877 by roughly 400 workers, most of them Chinese laborers, to deliver water from the Little Applegate River for hydraulic mining in the mineral-rich Sterling Creek drainage. The north end of the ditch ended near the long-defunct mining town of Sterlingville.

Sterlingville popped up shortly after gold was discovered in what is now Southern Oregon in 1851. It was already a hopping little hamlet when Oregon became a state on Feb. 14, 1859.

Much of the old mine ditch trail has been reopened thanks to SUTA volunteers, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and some private property owners along the way. A stroll on the nonmotorized trail is a wondrous walk rich in history and natural beauty.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note I was roped in to moderate the panel discussion at the meeting.

My wife, Maureen, and I are newcomers to the Sterling Creek drainage, having bought our property in the picturesque valley a little over a decade ago.

However, my grandfather Jonas Fattig was the foreman on Tod Cameron's ranch near the mouth of the Little Applegate River. Since Cameron was a former owner of the Sterling Creek Mine, I figure we are grandfathered in, pun intended.

In addition, my father Paul Fattig Sr. acquired his entire formal education at Union Town School bordering the Little Applegate. An avid hunter, he no doubt roamed from the Fattig homestead along the upper Applegate River into the Sterling Creek area in his youth.

The rich cast of characters participating in the event included BLM archaeologist Lisa Rice, and Chant Thomas, John Ifft, Connie Fowler, Dennis Smith, and John and Cheryl Henderson, longtime owners of the property where the placer mine once stood.

All had interesting connections with the mine or ditch trail. Many had been collecting Sterlingville and Sterling Mine stories and historical information for decades.

Truth be told, my role as panel moderator was largely superfluous. The panel rolled along without the need to grease the wheels, although I threw out a few questions to look busy.

Stealing the show were the Hendersons, who could go on the road with their stories of Sterlingville history. We chortled all the way home over the tale of the old fellow who had to be turned sideways to fit into a grave in the old Sterlingville Cemetery.

It was a pleasant night that renewed my faith in humanoids.

True, a diverse group meeting to talk about local history in rural Southern Oregon isn't going to help deflect an asteroid. Nor will it change the sad fact half of political America hates the other half.

But it is a gentle reminder that we can find ways to get along, that we can work together to solve problems large and small.

And it surely makes life on Earth a lot more pleasant while we are here.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.