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Opinion | Rufus Woods: David Notter found his own healing in playing Bluegrass, classical music

Rufus Woods

Publisher emeritus

Dr. David Notter has had a long and soulful connection with his violin and found that playing music complemented his practice as an oncologist and his growth as a human being. At times in his life, he has found inspiration, healing and solace both on his own and playing with others.

“Music permeates humanity and it just sort of diffuses down through to the deeper layers of human empathy,” Notter told me in an interview focusing on how music influenced and impacted his life. Notter is one of four individuals who will be sharing life wisdom at the Elder Speak 2020 event which will be livestreamed on Sept. 20.

Provided photo 

David Notter

After my recent interview with Notter, many people commented about his music and so he was kind enough to agree to a second interview to play a few of his favorite bluegrass tunes and talk about the music. You can listen to our conversation by checking out my second podcast interview with Notter by accessing artof

Following the death of his father, Notter, his mom and brother moved to Seattle and it was there that he somehow ended up playing the violin. How this happened is all very mysterious to him, but then he finds so many aspects of his life to be infused with mystery and wonder.

Someone suggested that Notter would benefit from having a higher quality instrument and some lessons. He took lessons from a friend of his aunt and participated in concerts and recitals through the end of high school.

After playing half-heartedly through his first year of college, Notter put the violin away. That didn’t last.

Provided photo 

Dr. Dave Notter and the Saddle Rockers

A difficult personal experience caused him to take up the instrument again and it changed his life. He was in the midst of a long-distance relationship with Patty, who became his wife (and later served as mayor of Wenatchee, to boot), when he had the sinking feeling that things weren’t go to work out.

He picked up his violin, began playing and found strength in playing music. “I needed solace,” he told me. “I was hurting. And you might say I needed to be healed — needed to be made whole,” he continued.

At the time, he didn’t know how to play by ear, having been trained to play notes from pages of sheet music. And that’s how he began to train himself to play tunes that he heard. “If you play a hundred times the same song on the record player and you kind of figure out what note goes where, a little bit after a while, you’re making harmony with it. And after a while you say this is so incredibly comforting, so soothing,” said Notter.

“It’s the magic of music, he said, “and I learned in that way not just the power of music, but I learned that I can play by ear.”

His classical violin training led him to playing with the Wenatchee Valley Symphony for more than two decades and his ability to play by ear pushed him in an entirely different direction — playing Bluegrass music with a gifted local group now called the Saddle Rockers.

“People don’t read music in Bluegrass because they usually don’t know how,” Notter explained. It is far more spontaneous, informal, collaborative and free flowing. Classical music (and medicine, too) appeals to the structured orientation of the right side of the brain while the creative fluidity of Bluegrass is a function of the left side of the brain, he explained.

Symphonic music is “gorgeous — it’s just really indescribable,” said Notter. “Bluegrass? That’s different — completely different but also nurturing.”

The emotional high of playing with the Saddle Rockers could be so profound that when he went back to work the next day as an oncologist, he struggled to shift his brain back to the more structured environment. There is something magic about playing with that group. “And I watch them singing and I watch them playing,” Notter said, adding “we watch eyes back and forth. And it is the most heartwarming, wonderful belonging imaginable.”

The Saddle Rockers include Jac Tiechner, Chris Rader, Steve Clem, Bruce McWhirter and Paul O’Donnell.

When Notter left Wenatchee briefly for a job in Kirkland in 1983, he came back six months later committed to being part of this valley and playing music.

The love of music and his ability to bring out the soulful sounds of timeless tunes like “Danny Boy” and “Ashokan Farewall,” the haunting theme music to Ken Burns’ series “The Civil War” inspired his patients and their families. He has played his violin for patients who were dying and he has played at some funerals, at the request of the families.

Notter’s medical practice was driven by a powerful empathy and desire to connect with his patients and their families. His music became an extension of that powerful healing presence that he brought to the work.

There is great mystery in life and great mystery in music. How truly fortunate our community has been to have Notter bring healing and solace to cancer patients and their families. Empathy and music, he says, have helped heal him and helped make him a whole human being. Isn’t that what we all are seeking?

Last nesting pair of spotted owls in Chelan County under stress

NCW — A planned logging operation is within the 10-square-mile range of the one remaining pair of nesting spotted owls in Chelan County.

The Weyerhaeuser Company submitted and was approved a Forest Practice Application on Sept. 18, 2019, to log near the owls on Blewett Pass, according to a state Department of Natural Resources document. The logging shouldn’t impact the owls too much, but it is within the 10-square-mile range of habitat the owls need, said Don Youkey, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest wildlife biologist.

“It depends to the extent (the logging occurs),” Youkey said. “So a little bit is probably not going to affect them; and if it’s away from their core use area, it’s going to affect them less than if it is near their nest site.”

Northern spotted owls live in a mix of big and old trees, including Douglas fir and sometimes hemlock, he said. The species can be found in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and into Northern California.

A nesting pair of owls is one that produce eggs. The nesting pair in Chelan County have been fairly productive, but they didn’t produce eggs this year or last and they’re getting older, Youkey said.

At this point, the spotted owl appears to be on the cusp of extinction in central and northern Washington, he said. It is also only a matter of time in southern Washington, Oregon and northern California, unless something is done.

The spotted owl in Chelan County has seen a marked decline since the 1990s, he said. In the 1990s there were a couple hundred spotted owls in Chelan County, now it is down to one breeding pair and two single owls.

While the owls need a 10-square mile range of habitat, they use only 40% for foraging, nesting and roosting, Youkey said. A little bit of logging outside of that 40% area shouldn’t impact the owls too much.

Eastern Washington’s ponderosa pine forests are not actually the best habitat for the owls, Youkey said. But the owls moved into Eastern Washington in the 20th century, due to a combination of factors including:

  • The removal of old growth forests in Western Washington through logging
  • The disappearance of fire on the landscape in Eastern Washington leading to more owl habitat

In 1994, the Forest Service planned to shelter spotted owls in Eastern Washington until some of the old growth forests in Western Washington regrew, Youkey said. But fire returned to the landscape in Eastern Washington and an invasive species, the barred owl, took up residence.

“So, wildfire has taken out a lot of habitat, and pretty much taken out most of the habitat from the Entiat, north into the Methow Valley,” he said.

Spotted owls cannot compete with barred owls, which are more generalists and will eat a lot of different types of prey, Youkey said. Spotted owls only eat flying squirrels and woodrats. Barred owls are also bigger and more aggressive than spotted owls and will push spotted owls out of their habitat.

“And that’s really the primary driver across the range of the (spotted) owl, they are out-competed by their cousin (the barred owl), essentially,” he said.

Biologists are trying some experiments to see if removing the barred owl from areas will help the spotted owls, Youkey said.

One experiment in Cle Elum involved killing barred owls using a 12-gauge shotgun, according to a U.S. Geological Survey article. New barred owls often recolonized the areas, but the number of barred owls decreased by 77% in a four-year time period in an area near Cle Elum.

Whether the species will survive into the long term, though, still remains to be seen, Youkey said. The species in Chelan County is definitely facing extinction, he said.

“It is not looking really good for the spotted owl up here and in northern and central Washington,” Youkey said.

State: Postal Service changes could impact voting

SPOKANE — Washington election officials are worried that attempts to cut costs at the U.S. Postal Service could impact the November election amid growing bipartisan concerns about the agency’s ability to handle a surge of mail-in ballots across the country.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman said that Washington is preparing for a “very concerning” impact on voting.

The cause for her concern can be found in a July 31 letter to Wyman from USPS General Counsel Thomas Marshall.

Marshall’s letter warns of a “mismatch” that “creates a risk that some ballots will not be returned by mail in time to be counted.”

“Under our reading of Washington’s election laws, the vast majority of your voters should have sufficient time to receive, complete, and return their ballots by the state’s deadlines,” Marshall wrote in the letter, obtained by The Spokesman-Review through a public records request. “However, certain deadlines concerning mail-in ballots, particularly with respect to voters who register to vote or update their registration information shortly before Election Day, may be incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.”

But U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who took over the Postal Service in June, claimed Friday that ballots won’t be delayed.

“Despite any assertions to the contrary, we are not slowing down election mail or any other mail,” he told the Postal Service Board of Governors on Friday.

Marshall’s letter to Wyman offers a reminder that most first-class mail is delivered within two to five days, while most “marketing mail” takes three to 10 days to reach its destination. A USPS spokesman confirmed that these delivery times are consistent with the agency’s standards, which have not changed since 2015.

But in an interview Friday, Wyman, a Republican, said the letter sent a clear message that is forcing elections officials to change plans with the election less than three months away, and could drive up costs for the already cash-strapped state.

In Washington, voters can register or update their address up until eight days before the election. Wyman said the Postal Service has traditionally treated ballots as first-class mail, despite counties paying the lower marketing mail rate, but she said Marshall’s letter makes it clear that the state will need to pay a premium — roughly six times the usual per-envelope cost — to ensure voters receive their ballots in time.

“If they actually start enforcing those delivery times, our ballots now could take up to 10 days to be delivered,” she said. “Now we are out of the window for someone that changes their address online eight days before Election Day to be able to mail them a ballot and be certain that it’s going to be received, so this is very concerning and it may force us to direct the counties to do all of those later mailings as first-class postage.”

Aspects of the organizational shakeup DeJoy announced in a memo Friday may cause delays in Washington, according to documents obtained by The Spokesman-Review.

In a July 6 letter, USPS Seattle district manager Kenn Messenger informed union leaders that due to low mail volumes, letters and “flats” — like magazines and large envelopes — originating in Yakima, Wenatchee and Tacoma will no longer be processed in those cities, instead being rerouted to either Spokane or Seattle. A separate document indicates that sorting machines will be removed from Wenatchee on Aug. 15 and from Yakima on Aug. 22.

USPS spokesman Ernie Swanson said Friday he was “unable to confirm any concrete internal machine moves in Washington,” but Don Sneesby, president of Local 316 of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, confirmed that he received Messenger’s letter and was aware of the planned moves, which could force workers he represents to relocate or change roles.

John Michael Wald, president of the American Postal Workers Union Tri-Cities Area Local, said there is reason to expect mailing delays when letter and flat processing stops in Wenatchee, Yakima and Tacoma. He saw a similar consolidation first hand when the USPS shut down its processing operations in Pasco — along with Everett and Olympia — in 2012.

Wald, whose union represents truck drivers as well as the clerks and technicians who run sorting machines, said that before the consolidation, local mail within the Tri-Cities area would be sorted by machines in Pasco and delivered the next day. When those machines were shut down, a letter sent from Richland to Kennewick had to be trucked to Spokane for sorting, adding at least a day to delivery.

“The impact on the quality of service, the time that it takes, is going to be even further compounded” by the Wenatchee and Yakima closures, he said, “because they’re farther from Spokane than we even are.”

Wyman said the changes at USPS don’t only impact Washingtonians, who have voted exclusively by mail since 2011. More than three-quarters of voters nationwide will be able to cast their ballots by mail in November’s general election, according to a Washington Post tracker.

President Donald Trump has tweeted, without evidence, that voting by mail will lead to “MASSIVE FRAUD” and “the most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation’s History,” even as GOP officials encourage mail-in voting around the country. He has also repeatedly criticized the Postal Service for its financial troubles, suggesting he may increase postage prices.

The president’s statements have raised concerns among lawmakers that DeJoy, a major Trump campaign donor, was installed to destabilize a critical government agency at a time when it is especially essential. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., met Wednesday with DeJoy about his recent changes and made their qualms public in a letter Thursday.

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