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Ramblings - Animals Liven Up Slow News Week
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Must be a slow news week, they say, when you place a story about peacocks pacing shopping centers on the front page and rhapsodize inside about a local man dressing like a knight and mounting a white horse to propose marriage.

But, heck. It makes a change. It's all grist to the mill. We're still in the long dog days of summer. Our brains are addled by the heat. Everybody, with due apologies to those still here, of enterprise or intelligence or imagination is on vacation and out of town doing interesting things somewhere else. Nobody wants to make a move, start something positive, at this time of year.

We are waiting for the schools to go back, for the intelligentsia to return, for the movers and shakers of the community to come back with fresh ideas.

Let's have another workshop and think about it a bit longer. Maybe we won't have to take the plunge at all or at least not be the first.

Anyway, aren't you tired of seeing those long, complicated stories about the doings of city councils and planning commissions and school boards on the front page? Local politics can get infinitely tedious.

Let's mix it up on the local newspaper's front page. Stories about animals are always fine. Babies are better. Who decides what goes on the front page anyway? The reporter, the editor and the luck of the draw that week. And the latter is the overriding factor. If it doesn't happen, or we don't hear about it, it won't be in the newspaper.

In a long and checkered career as a news reporter and photographer, the stories I remember best did not originate in the city council chambers or chamber of commerce ribbon cuttings or school board meetings and one tends to remember the circumstances rather than the facts.

I worked for a long time on the weekly Mountain Democrat newspaper in Placerville in the Sierra foothills and that was interesting because we had the whole western slope of El Dorado County to ourselves. The Tahoe Tribune ruled east of the summit. But the only competition westwards was a lone reporter from the Sacramento Bee with whom I frequently worked the same story.

We seemed to have more time then and the days seemed longer. Some of our stories happened well outside the city in the surrounding area and took all day. Some of the most interesting involved animals.

Case in point. The cattle drive. Dick Stanfield and I discovered the local ranchers long ago had given up driving cattle up Placerville's Main Street in an annual move to the forest pastures for summer, but a few ranchers still did a once a year spring drive along forest trails and into the mountains.

More interesting still, at one point the trail came down to the Rubicon River in a canyon and crossed it on a suspension bridge of rope, wire and timber. Should make great photography, we decided.

Well it did, it was real Wild West stuff. Bellowing and kicking up dust, the cattle came down the mountainside trail herded by shouting men on horseback. Forced onto the bridge's creaking planks, the cattle were initially reluctant and backed up, then came flooding across the bridge toward us.

We'd spent all morning in Stanfield's jeep driving into the mountains, arrived in plenty of time and were sampling a few beers when the cattle finally got there.

What we'd not reckoned on was the narrowness of the bridge, which forced both of us to clamber up the sides to get clear of the cattle and the way it swung which made fancy camera work difficult. It was one hand for the camera and the other to hang onto the swinging bridge until the cattle, men and horses were past.

Another animal story I recall vividly was the bear hunt that turned out more high comedy than hard news.

The Chief of Police called the newspaper to say a wild bear had wandered into town, scared several children in gardens, and also sent a couple of officers scrambling and reportedly dropping their rifles when it charged them.

Strung along both sides of a canyon and hemmed in by pine forest, Placerville has lots of cover for a wild animal. It would have been easy for the bear to wander up from the American River canyon to the north and reach the edge of town unseen.

The Chief ordered hunting dogs and their handler be summoned from Georgetown. But that was 30 miles away. In the meantime, he personally led a safari through the blackberry bushes on the edge of town. Myself, I was more concerned about the number of rifles swinging around than about coming suddenly on the bear.

Nobody ever caught the bear, although there were reports the police had treed it and shot at it. The hunter arrived with his dogs, found some blood and trailed the animal back down into the canyon. The excitement died down by nightfall. The bear got away. I was glad about that.

Just a little news of a difference variety.

John Branch is editor of The Riverbank News and a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at or 847-3021.