Flat Niki witnesses our world — for better or worse

For a little tyke, Flat Niki sure has a lot of spunk.

The second-grader wasn't at all intimidated by the super-smart University of Oregon scientist who studied the charcoal in 2,000 years of sediment at the bottom of a local mountain lake to determine wildfire frequency. The study he co-authored was published last week by the National Academy of Sciences.

Nor was she overwhelmed by the equally bright archaeologists from Southern Oregon University digging into Jacksonville's rich past. From them she learned a new word, "sesquicentennial," a fancy name for the town's 150th birthday.

Even the discussion with a crispy new Navy rear admiral failed to faze her. And Flat Niki relished visiting the creative Sargent family who authored an impressive cook/history book on the historic Buckhorn Springs retreat.

But she was very worried about the Phoenix man brutally assaulted in Nepal while on a humanitarian mission to help those suffering from leprosy. The story should be rated GPG, as in grandparental guidance.

The stories — all with ties to Southern Oregon or Northern California — no doubt left the second-grader puzzling over just what it is her paternal grandfather does for a paycheck. It's a legitimate question, one that periodically leaves my boss scratching his head.

Flat Niki is a paper replica of our granddaughter Niki Jacob, who resides in Harper, Kansas. She arrived earlier this month in a large manila envelope from Harper Elementary School.

As you would expect, she was a bit scrunched upon arrival, having traveled some 2,000 miles and change.

In fact, grandmother Maureen didn't recognize her at first, what with the crayon-colored purple dress, purple shoes and aqua-blue legs.

But we instantly knew the face when it popped out of the envelope. There was the same dazzling smile framed by yellow hair over robin's-egg blue eyes that brightened our lives during a visit from Kansas in June.

A handwritten letter in pencil confirmed her identity.

"I am Flat Niki," it announced. "I live in Harper, KS. I have two dogs. They are Basenjis. I play with them a lot. Please take me on a career adventure with you."

Wow. Our two-dimensional granddaughter knows how to spell "Basenjis." Back in the day, I didn't know what one was, let alone how to spell the name.

Flat Niki is the daughter of Sara Fattig Jacobs and her husband, Chad. She has two siblings in older sister Flat Taylor and younger brother Flat Charlie.

As you rightfully guessed, her visit is part of a class exercise based on the popular Flat Stanley series of children's books by the late Jeff Brown. First published in 1964, the clever books center around a normal boy named Stanley Lambchop who finds himself flattened by a bulletin board. In the series, he travels the world via the mail, increasing his knowledge and understanding of our very interesting sphere.

Like many other terrific teachers across North America, Harper's second-grade teachers Heather Brannon and Joy Johnson use the book to fire up the imagination and curiosity of their young charges. The teachers get an "A" in my book.

Throughout her week at the Mail Tribune, Flat Niki quietly watched and listened as she sat on my desk or in the car. She didn't switch on the lights in the photo lab, something that makes the light-challenged photographers cranky. And she didn't make a snide comment about Flat Damian, a journalistic jokester who inhabits an adjacent cubicle.

But you knew she wondered about the world of print journalism. She definitely knew she wasn't in Kansas anymore.

No, neither one of their dogs is named "Toto." Geez.

Her wonderment over our work is shared by anyone who has had the good fortune to spend a career writing the first draft of history as our world wobbles through eternity. It is both daunting and fun.

After working on more than a dozen papers from Anchorage to San Francisco, I still marvel that I have been lucky enough to have spent my adult life talking to fascinating folks about their lives and times.

Indeed, it has been a hoot, traveling to places like the Arctic and Vietnam.

Yet newspapers are slowly melding into the flat screens of cyberspace. When Flat Niki follows her grandfather's footsteps to the University of Oregon, the paper version will be largely history. Incidentally, her father is somehow under the impression she and her siblings are going to Kansas State, poor fellow.

Yes, Flat Niki, it has been an interesting week, one filled with scientists, archaeologists, rear admirals, a mineral springs and a humanitarian working in Nepal.

But the best part of it was sharing it with you.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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