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Oyler: Positive moments stand out against world's dark moments

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By John Oyler
Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A typical response to my “Happy New Year” greeting this year has been “let's hope it is better than last year.” My instinctive reaction has been one of agreement, implying that I think 2012 was a bad year. Perhaps this opinion deserves some reconsideration.

There certainly were many negative things about 2012 — wars and revolutions in all parts of the world, the economic disaster of our government going into debt by more than a trillion dollars by spending beyond our means, bomb threats closing down the University of Pittsburgh and the collapse of our local sports teams. But I can recall many positive things — at least on a personal level.

I remember octogenarian birthdays for both my wife and me, and the fact that we still are healthy enough to enjoy most of the things we want to do. I remember having the whole family together for a week-long vacation on Donner Lake in the Sierra Nevadas last summer and the pleasure of watching our four grandchildren playing together.

I remember Thanksgiving dinner at Sara's home in Colorado, and an encore there at Christmas where we relived the joy of Christmas morning through the eyes of three small children. I remember Skype visits with granddaughter Rachael in Kobe, Japan, where her mother is running a study-abroad program for a consortium of universities.

Many happy memories are related to the time spent with our son, who is busy with a biotechnical firm in Beijing, China, but managed to get home for the aforementioned vacations, as well as for one Steeler game and a couple of Penguin games.

I remember a delightful week when Elizabeth's family spent a week with us last summer while Rachael went to “Suzuki camp” (an intensive series of violin lessons), and our pride watching her perform in their recitals.

Other positive memories last year include the monthly meetings of our octogenarian club at Bob Evans restaurant. It is rewarding for me to get together with this group of guys I've known all my life, and kick around stories about the days when we were young.

I remember lovely winter days when the woods are covered with new fallen snow and the bright sunshine is casting serpentine shadows on the hillside. I remember that one special day in spring when suddenly every leaf decides to pop open and celebrate the arrival of a new season. I remember the thrill of seeing the first trillium bloom in our woods, early in May.

I remember watching the full moon rise over the trees on a gorgeous August evening. I remember the magic of the maple leaves bursting into color in early October.

Mother Nature doesn't seem to worry about the problems of the world.

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society provided a number of positive experiences in 2012. Its monthly programs continue to be interesting, covering a variety of topics. The society's conversion of the old railroad station into a local history center is a work in progress, with nearly unlimited potential.

I also am pleased with the “Bridgeville Remembered” series of presentations on local history that we are doing at the Bridgeville Public Library. We have had fun digging up information on the early days of this region and a lot of satisfaction meeting fellow history buffs who have attended the talks.

Writing this column each week has been another rewarding experience, particularly when we get feedback from readers.

And then, of course, there is my “day job.”

Last semester I completed my 20th year teaching in the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Pittsburgh. I was privileged to watch another 80 young men and women complete their undergraduate education and begin the transition into the “real world.” It is easy for us old folks to be critical of the younger generations; equally easy for me to believe that our future is in good hands if the kids our department produces are typical of today's youth. They are technically competent, socially responsible and driven by an old-fashioned work ethic.

Today the sun is shining brightly. The blue sky is dotted with cottonball clouds, and Brandy is barking to let me know it is time for our afternoon walk.

It's very difficult for me to be pessimistic — regardless of what I read on the front page of the morning paper.

John Oyler, a columnist for Trib Total Media, can be reached at 412-343-1652 or

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