It was another match of the word geeks as 13 teams took on the challenge of Snowdown Spellebration on Wednesday at the Henry Strater Theatre.
It was all in good fun, but tensions ran high as contestants, there to support the Durango Education Center, fought sweaty palms as they sussed out their answers.
It turns out there’s a whole level above being the person everyone asks for spelling help, because who knows how to spell words like furfuraceous (made of or covered with scaly particles, such as dandruff) and simoom (a strong, dry dust-laden wind that blows in the Asian and African deserts)?
This was not the best year for the Jumble-Jammin’ Journalists in the Jungle, also known as The Durango Herald’s team. Danial Ciluffo, Katie Chicklinski Cahill and yours truly were cut in the fifth round on graupel (a kind of precipitation consisting of brittle white ice particles having a snowlike structure, which we describe more succinctly as mixed snow and hail), embarrassing because I frequently write weather stories, and Cahill, as a copy editor, often edits them.
At least we were far from the first team eliminated, and they fell like dominos after we stepped off the stage.
It did seem the words were more difficult than ever this year – in previous years, we had actually heard of most of the words (spelling them might be a different matter) – except for the scientific terms, where all bets are off.
When all was said and done, The Madagascar Baobabs, or the team from Animas High School – Matt Dooley, Lori Fisher and Susy Raleigh – stood tall as the only team to get a word right in the sixth round. They didn’t even have to go into the final round, where teams have to get two words in a row correct to claim the traveling trophy.
I was feeling a tad sad to have lost to high school students, then I learned they were all teachers. It’s heartening to know that some of our students are being taught by instructors who value the art of spelling.
John Dunn and Beth Lamberson Warren, also known as Tarzan and Jane, served as the emcees extraordinaires. Kelly Quach takes top billing as the event coordinator, a job she has cheerfully taken on for several years now.
Andrée Stetson and Tom West had Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary on standby as the word judges; Jan Murphy kept track of the teams who bought back in (allowed once) and passed a word to a competitor (also allowed once); Libby Baumchen monitored whose turn it was; Stephanie Moran watched the clock ticktock; center Executive Director Teresa Malone had fun handing out the prizes donated by a plethora of generous local businesses; Olivia Dombach, a graphic artist here at the Herald, designed the program; and Nan Uhl, Rachel Bridgeman and Baumchen set up and cleaned up.
In past years, attendees have been asked to ante up a $1 entry fee to help support the cause, but this year, StoneAge Waterblast Tools made a donation to cover the entries for the standing-room-only crowd. BP sponsored the reception.
All the fun led to a donation of $4,800 for the coffers of the Durango Education Center (formerly the Durango Adult Education Center), which offers everything from after-school tutoring to a final chance for folks who want to improve their lives by earning their GED diplomas and lifelong learning opportunities for adults of all ages.
Enjoying their birthdays wearing pith helmets and tiger stripes are Randy Puskas, Amy Brunvand, Holly Englund, Ray Baranowski, Tristan Miller, Dave Trautmann, Gordon Clouser, Bev Graham, Sally Bradley, Scott McCool, Mike Sarti, Jacquie Caldwell, Kate Errett, Grace Jensen, Mary Kay Lambert and Robert Whitson.
The Reading Club of Durango continued its search for excellence with two, well, excellent programs in January.
At the home of Diane Skinner, Linda MacCannell talked about Justice Thomas Rodney Berger, recipient of the Order of Canada. MacCannell has spent the last several years with a team documenting, with her camera, the historic Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, which Berger oversaw, four decades later.
Not only was the program a lesson about this influential man, it was also a mini-lesson in Canadian geography.
Canada, while similar in geographical size to the United States has only about one-tenth the population, and most of that is clustered along the southern border and the coasts, leaving vast swathes of the country sparsely populated, often by aboriginal people living subsistence lifestyles. That leaves them with little voice when it comes to decision making.
The pipeline, which was proposed by a consortium of major oil companies, would have traversed the Yukon and Mackenzie River Valley in the Northwest Territories – I can wait a second if you want to look at a map. Berger spent three years interviewing 1,000 people about the social, environmental and economic impact of the pipeline, creating a 40,000-page, 283-volume report.
Berger wrote a book about the process called Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland, where he recognized the different ways people regard the sparsely populated areas. For the folks in the south, the pipeline would have had the impact of “a thread across a football field”; for the people who lived in the area, it would have been “a slash across the Mona Lisa.”
The final recommendation? No pipeline ever in the fragile Yukon, and a 10-year moratorium on the Mackenzie River section, where, 40 years later, there is still not a pipeline.
Then, at the end of the month, at the home of Sharon Abshagen, Maile Kane explored the Newbery Medal, which honors the best of young people’s literature. (The Caldecott recognizes picture books for younger children.) The medal is named in honor of John Newbery, who lived in the 1700s and is regarded as the founder of children’s literature.
There are a number of teachers or former teachers in the club, and one of them, Lynn May, owns and has read all of the winners since the Newbery began in 1922. All the members read at least one of the honorees, and I have, in recent years, been reading more young-adult literature with great enjoyment.
If you’re looking for some recommendations for yourself or a young person in your life, May’s favorites are 1929’s winner The Trumpeter of Krakow; 1936’s Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, who happened to be a friend of May’s mother; 1943’s Adam of the Road; 1968’s From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg, who also wrote another favorite, A View from Saturday; 1972’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh; 1984’s Dear Mr. Henshaw; Holes; The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread; 2010’s When You Reach Me; and 2012’s Dead End in Norvelt.
But her favorite of all time is 1991’s Maniac Magee by Lois Lowry.
The 2014 winner was announced this week, and it’s Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, who also won for Desperaux. She’s one of Kane’s and May’s favorites, and the line to check it out from the Durango Public Library starts behind me.
Nothing says happy anniversary like a win for the Denver Broncos in the Superbowl (blue and orange aren’t normally romantic colors but ...) for Doug and Connie Bishop and Eric and Debbe Speck.