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Enjoying life as simply as Huell Howser does
The odds are that if you travel the state long enough, you'll eventually cross paths with Huell Howser.

You know, the guy on Channel 6 in Sacramento whose thick syrupy Tennessee drawl and homespun persona meet no strangers whatsoever as he travels the highways and bi-ways of California with his trusty cameraman in search of "California Gold" for TV audiences. Howser also hosts other PBS TV series including California's Gold, California's Green, Road Trip, California's Golden Parks, California's Missions, California's Golden Coast, and Visiting.

Huell's website reads: "I want our stories to reveal the wonders of the human spirit and the richness of life in California, including its history, people, culture and natural wonders."

Boy, does it.

For 19 years Howser has done more for California tourism within - his "California Gold" aired on Thursday evenings - and is seen on PBS stations statewide. Audiences and fans know him as the guy who gushes wonders at everything he runs across. I can't count the times I've heard him proclaim that the spot he's currently at is the most amazing-g-g-g-g ever. Howser runs on high-octane curiosity and abounding enthusiasm in finding tourist spots, out of the way oddities and unusual roadside attractions. Just turn him loose with a microphone, TV camera and his trademark black sunglasses and he'll find something entertaining about a lawn sprinkler. Sod manufactured in the Cochella Valley? No problem, he makes it interesting. He approaches anyone in his path with his disarming grin and folksy aura and sticks the microphone in their face and gives then a minute of fame.

There are times, for sure, that I roll my eyes at the places he visits. But because of his show, I know how hops are processed and how fast an amphicar can chug across Lake Castaic. I never knew that Bing Crosby developed his own mobilehome park in Palm Springs until Huell showed me and a couple of million others last month. Another show on Sonora encouraged my wife and I to take a trip there. Because of another recent show, she wants me to take her to the Petrified Forest in Calistoga.

I've seen him muse at the swarms of gnats repelling from his footsteps like a polarizing magnet on the shore of Mono Lake. Watched him sample foods at festivals, digs for clams in Pismo, look at the poison oak entries at the Poison Oak Contest at the Douglas Saloon in Columbia and watched him interview one of my favorite booksellers in Jamestown.

Howser has cut numerous paths through Stanislaus County. In 2003 he visited Ceres to show George Cabral's draft horses harvesting the land. Last year he visited La Grange and showed the IOOF Hall and the old gold dredge.

I had a tip for Huell. I emailed him and suggested that he cover Knights Ferry, which boasts the only covered bridge in the area. Which, I might add, was designed in part by Ulysses S. Grant whose brothers-in-law Dent lived in the burg east of Oakdale. I got back an automated response saying Huell was gone for the week. (Of course he was, probably watching geese hatch up north at Goose Lake saying "Oh my gosh-h-h-h-h!)

Much to my amazement the very next day I flip on Huell and he's walking around Knights Ferry. His visit to the town and bridge was included in his "Old Wood" episode.

On Monday my cell phone jingles with a long-distance call from Huell Howser himself, explaining he had already done a show on Knights Ferry. I explained that I saw it and then he said, "Did you think we got on your request that fast?" I chuckled, explaining that since the segment showed footage of people jumping in the water it looked like it had been shot in summer.

Howser explained to me that he is just swamped with requests for shows and that "we literally get hundreds of requests every week" but can't get to them all since he only produces about 50 shows a year. "The response is tremendous because we are on statewide."

It slipped my mind, but I wished I had told Huell that aside from the educational aspect of his show, he has inspired me to just stand in a spot, no matter where I am, and appreciate the view and notice the little things. It's easy to stand in awe of Half Dome or the coast line, but what about the flowers and trees in a parking lot of a store we visit each day? It's time to start listening more to the songs of birds that my mind tends to block out with daily thoughts. He's also taught me that it's okay to walk up to people who cross my path and strike up a conversation and enjoy that, too. If anything, Huell has made it okay to become giddy, at times, over simple experiences.

Life is short. We can all take a clue from Huell Howser.

How do you feel? Let Jeff by e-mailing him at