According to the calendar, winter has officially been with us for about a month, and with it comes the concomitant tasks of shoveling snow, breaking ice in the water trough and installing the half-of-a-pizza box in front of the radiator on the old 1959 International Harvester pickup in an attempt to coax just a little more warmth out of the heater in the cab.

Other necessary winter chores related to personal comfort include stuffing fresh straw into the dog’s house (who says I’m not an animal welfare advocate) and changing the air filter and fuel filter on our “vintage” house furnace. Though our furnace was installed by the previous owner of the place about 1988, it still performs admirably well — a fact for which I’m thankful, especially after watching Ralphie’s “old man” — beautifully portrayed by actor Darren McGavin in one of my favorite movies “A Christmas Story” — in his furnace fighting escapades.

Regular maintenance is a key component in keeping almost anything mechanical running smoothly and filters are a seemingly simple, yet frequently overlooked, part of any maintenance program. This past summer, son Willie bought an extremely low-mileage, 40-year-old wheat truck from its original owner. Being in a shed most of its life maintained its excellent condition but, unfortunately it had not been driven much in the past decade. Once the old fuel was drained and a new carburetor installed, the rig ran like a champ — for a few days. One day after several trips to haul grain to the elevator, the engine ran progressively worse and lost power terribly. We contemplated replacing the fuel pump, adding an auxiliary electric “booster” pump and several other possible remedies. But first, I suggested changing the fuel filter, based upon past similar experience and also the fact that I am, let’s just say, frugal, by nature.

Alas, it worked! Even though the filter and carburetor were new only days before, residual sediment in the tank and/or line had broken loose and clogged the new filter in short order. Upon changing the filter, it was as if we had added a supercharger to the recently anemic machine.

This episode made me ponder a couple of things. First of all, many problems, though admittedly not all problems, can be solved quickly and efficiently (cheaply!) if we use a little common sense and deductive reasoning. (My wife would respond to this assertion that I should take my own advice more often.)

Secondly, filters are important — both literally and metaphorically.

For many years, George Carlin was my favorite comedian. Though some of his material was nothing short of “lewd and lascivious” (his own description) and downright vulgar, many of his observations on the human condition and the world around us I found to be nothing short of genius. Though somewhat libertarian by nature, I can’t help but think, however, that, to a degree, censorship has its place in regard to a guy like George Carlin. HBO specials are one thing, but I would not have wanted to watch him while sitting in the living room with my grandmother watching “regular” TV.

Similarly, I believe good parenting involves a certain amount of filtering. I certainly was far more likely to watch Fred Rogers than George Carlin with my kids when they were little. I also see nothing wrong with filtering the content on a kids’ smartphone when they are underage, especially if Mom and Dad are still paying the monthly bill for phone and internet service. Besides, if they are on the phone all the time, how are they gonna get the lawn mowed?

At the risk of becoming uncharacteristically controversial, I believe we need a few filters on a national macrocosmic level, too. While I can embrace multiculturalism and I’ve yet to put in a bid for building part of that wall, we can’t just have a free-for-all along our borders, either. Sensible and reasonable vetting can be beneficial to public health and safety and long-term economic prosperity.

There may have been a time in my earlier (more naïve) existence when I was an advocate for national elections being decided simply by counting ballots and declaring that she or he who has the most votes is the winner. Now that I am firmly ensconced in middle age, however, I can buy into the logical and pragmatic filtering provided by the Electoral College method.

I won’t give any opinion or advice on exactly for whom you should vote — enough other folks do that already. But I can and will unequivocally recommend that if your jalopy’s performance leaves something to be desired, change the fuel and air filters before you pull the engine and overhaul it.


Matt Wood, a community columnist for the East Oregonian, lives and farms near Helix.

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