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Thank you, Huell Howser, for many lessons you taught
I had a whole other column ready to go this week when I learned of the sad news of the Sunday passing of Huell Howser earlier this week.

That piece can wait until next week.

I feel the need to talk about Huell, the guy on Channel 6 in Sacramento whose thick syrupy Tennessee drawl and homespun persona met no stranger whatsoever as he traveled the highways and byways of California with his trusty cameraman in search of "California Gold" for TV audiences. Howser also hosted other PBS-TV serials 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 read: "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, did it.

For over 20 years Howser had done more for California tourism - his "California Gold" aired on Thursday evenings - than anyone I know. Audiences and fans know him as the guy who gushed wonders at everything he ran across. I can't count the times I've heard him proclaim that the spot he's currently at was the most amazing-g-g-g-g ever. Howser ran 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 found something entertaining about a lawn sprinkler. Sod manufactured in the Cochella Valley? No problem, he made it interesting. He approached anyone in his path with his disarming grin and folksy aura and stuck the microphone in their face and gave then a minute of fame.

There are times, for sure, that I rolled my eyes at the places he visited. 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 in 2011. Another show on Sonora encouraged us to take a trip there. Because of another recent show, my wife wanted to visit 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 shores of Mono Lake. I 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. I was able to learn about Coit Tower and the TransAmerican Pyramid in San Francisco and know what the inside of Frank Sinatra's mansion looked like.

Howser had cut numerous paths through Stanislaus County. In 2003 he visited Lockwood Road outside of Ceres to show George Cabral's draft horses harvesting the land. In 2010 he visited La Grange and showed the IOOF Hall and the old gold dredge.

I had a tip for Huell in the spring of 2011 and emailed him with the suggestion that he feature 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 flipped on the TV and Huell as walking around Knights Ferry, find the wonders on the covered bridge. His visit to the town and bridge was included in his "Old Wood" episode.

On the following Monday my cell phone began vibrating with a Southern California number. I had no idea who it was. It was Huell Howser himself. I was tickled. He explained that he got my tip and that he had just aired a show on Knights Ferry. I explained that I saw it and before I could finish he said, "Did you think we got on your request that fast?" I chuckled, explaining that I could tell it had been shot in the summer since the segment showed footage of people jumping in the water.

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

But that's not the real reason he called me. He informed me that he ordinarily did not call back his tipsters. He said he was touched by the fact that I mentioned that his show was something my mother and grandmother and I enjoyed watching together on my Thursday night visits with them.

It slipped my mind, but I wished I had told Huell that aside from the educational aspect of his show, he 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?

Sadly, California has lost one of its most amazing citizens. There will probably never be another one like him.

I think Huell would be happy if we all just took time to start listening more to the songs of birds that our minds tends to block out with daily thoughts. He'd want us to take a walk through a redwood forest and stick our hands in the ground and bring a handful of humus up to our nose and breathe in the aroma. And while we're on the way - like Huell taught us - it's good to stop and share sentiments with a stranger along for the same wonder and enjoyment. If anything, Huell has made it okay to become giddy, at times, over simple things like stopping on a path and holding a flower and sees the quiet wonder in it.

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

I remember before hanging up on the phone hearing Huell say if he ever passed through Ceres and had the time that he'd try to stop. I knew, of course, that that day would probably never happen. It didn't. Now it never well. I regret having never having met Huell Howser but strangely I feel like he was one of my best friends. And I have a feeling that there are millions of other Californians who feel the same way.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at