For better or worse, Annie Oliver is known in Astoria as a founding member of the Tree Musketeers, an activist organization with a catchy name .
"Some of the people who think of the Tree Musketeers think of the group in a negative way," Oliver, a wisp of a woman, says. "They've made me into this super environmentalist. Because I didn't want trees to be cut down in the city, some people believed I didn't want a single branch of anybody's tree to be cut anywhere."
LORI ASSA - Fifty Plus
Annie Oliver and Ivy walk along the RiverWalk on a sunny day.
The loosely knit Tree Musketeers formed in the late 1980s in response to a proposed 65-acre clearcut in the hills east of the Astoria Column. Citizens ranging from concerned seniors to young tree huggers were involved - more than 25 members in all, Oliver claims - and they wanted the 65 forested acres left uncut for various reasons, including aesthetics and the possible effects of erosion, such as landslides.
LORI ASSA - Fifty Plus
With a novel in her hand and Ivy by her side on a treadmill, Annie Oliver works out in her basement when weather doesn't permit a walk on the River Walk.Although the group is no longer in existence, the Tree Musketeers brought attention to Astoria's beauty, explains Oliver, and helped residents realize the recreational potential within the town's "urban forest" - the name used for the forested hillsides backing the city. "There aren't many places you can live that have trails like the ones we have behind the Astoria Column," she says.
The Tree Musketeers gathered 750 signatures from people opposed to the clearcut, and Astoria's City Council listened; the bulk of the trees are still standing. "Our efforts proved that you can fight city hall," Oliver says proudly. Annie OliverAge: 53
Born and raised: Oakland and Antioch, Calif.
Now lives: Astoria, since 1985
Family: Mother Betty, father Ernie, brother Ernie, stepdad Ray
Work: Volunteer at Clatsop County Animal Shelter, member of Astoria Planning Commission, columnist for "Bow-Wow!," a local dog news publication
Play: Gardening, reading ("I'm addicted to mysteries, especially with a female detective and a dog or a cat"), anything with my dog Ivy
Words to live by: "You have to have a sense of humor to survive in this world.""Certain issues can turn you into an activist, whether you want to be or not."
Oliver hasn't purposely chosen an activist role in Astoria, where she has lived for 19 years; still, she readily has embraced more than a handful of worthwhile civic issues. "Somebody has to do it," she says, "and sometimes you can't just sit around and complain."
Trees aren't Oliver's sole cause celebre'. "I have a photo of me sitting in a high chair with a border collie standing alongside. Sparky (the dog's name) was my baby sitter before I could walk," says Oliver, now 53. Pet dogs and cats were constant companions while growing up in Oakland and Antioch, Calif. All told, she has owned seven dogs and 10 cats, and presently she volunteers twice a week or more at the Clatsop County Animal Shelter in Warrenton.
The Vickki Kittles case - the early-1990s legal and ethical brouhaha surrounding the woman who lived with 115 dogs, four cats and a couple chickens inside a dilapidated school bus in rural Clatsop County - piqued Oliver's attention. The animals were not only emaciated, Oliver remembers; they were over-crowded and filthy.
"I told (animal control supervisor) Tommie Brunick I'd help until the case concluded, not realizing it would take three years," Oliver says. Eventually, about 70 percent of the animals got adopted. "We felt like we did a good job, but being involved was very stressful."
LORI ASSA - Fifty Plus
Ivy races after a ball. Annie Oliver has taught Ivy a number of commands including raising her paw for a high five and playing dead when she hears "bang!"
A decade later, Oliver is still at it, manning the animal shelter's front desk, counseling customers who desire to adopt pets and helping to train both four-legged inhabitants and fellow volunteers.
"Some days will be good adoption days when three animals go out. But three new ones come in. It's like we take three steps forward and four back," Oliver says. The shelter can accommodate 27 dogs and a like number of cats, and the facility usually is full.
"It's not easy working at the shelter and have just one dog and cat at home. But if I took home all the animals I fell in love with," Oliver continues, "I'd have hundreds."
Occasionally, animals are euthanized because of overcrowding. "It's not because they were bad," Oliver says. "I try really hard not to know when that happens."
What Oliver does know about dogs, she shares with others. "Dear Annie," her question-and-answer column on dog behavior, appears in "Bow-Wow!" a local doggie-news publication. Topics as diverse as understanding the "down" command and using prong collars ("I strongly recommend against them" she says) are covered.
LORI ASSA - Fifty Plus
Oliver keeps a smile on her face as she conducts the meeting at the Astoria Planning Commission.Other civic responsibilities include a stint at the Astoria Planning Commission, a citizen committee Oliver has served on since 1992. "I learned that I can like and respect people who don't think like me," she says. "I expected to like certain people and dislike others. But that hasn't happened. Everybody on the commission is bright, creative and enjoyable."
At home, Oliver spends lots of time with two adopted pets: Ivy, her five-year-old female border collie mix, and Holly, a three-year-old tabby. "She's a funny little thing," Oliver says about Holly. "But the two of them like each other. Holly spends a lot of time rubbing on Ivy, and they spend a good amount of time chasing from room to room."
Oliver and Ivy even work out together. The two maintain a rapid pace along Astoria's river walk, and they exercise side by side in the basement of Oliver's 100-year-old home in Uppertown, on the city's east side. "I lift weights or ride my exercise bike, and Ivy trots on the treadmill," Oliver says. "Dogs always think they're more clever than their owners, though, and Ivy tries to 'dog' her workout," she adds, laughing.
"I like to laugh, and I like to make people laugh," Oliver continues. "I want people to remember me as being funny. A sense of humor is about the most important thing to have. Otherwise, how do you get through life?"
As her friends will testify, Oliver's laugh is contagious. "I think it's important to laugh at yourself," she says. "And I have plenty of opportunities to do that."
Oliver claims she doesn't mind if others disagree with her. "I think people appreciate me because I'm honest, open and direct, and I think others dislike me for the very same reason."
Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen, who appointed Oliver to the planning commission, first met her when "we were on different sides of the urban forest issue." In a short time, he says, "I learned to appreciate Annie for her honesty, and because she doesn't hold a grudge."
"Most of the stuff I do is because I just get into it," Oliver says. "Then I keep at it because I think it's important."