AT HOME IN THE IMNAHA CANYON
How many women would want to live 42 miles away from a hospital, where the closest gas station is 34 miles away; on a road of mostly open range, where cattle have the right of way and the nearest J.C. Penney, Wal-Mart and related shopping is more than 100 miles away?
What kind of woman would want to live where electricity arrived just ahead of her, where she had to use a party line crank-phone and depended on a wringer washing machine until five years ago?
What women would adopt a community in a canyon of steep-walled rimrocks and rattlers, and choose to spend their adult life there?
Who would enjoy walking to the feed lot to feed the cows?
Who'd stay, after virtually having to start over when the Imnaha River flooded her home?
Barbara Warnock is such a woman.
Her birthplace as Barbara Hockett is a house still standing at Flora, 74 miles by road north of Imnaha. Her grandmother owned the Flora hotel. Barbara's family moved to Wallowa, then Hermiston, where she graduated from high school.
In 1960 she came to Imnaha for the first time, to visit her cousin Don Norton, 10 miles upriver from the town of Imnaha that now has six full-time residents.
"I loved this country the first time I ever saw it, and haven't changed my mind a bit," she said. "There's beauty here all times of the year, even when it's dry. You just feel protected when you come into the hills."
In 1960 she helped at a 4-H meeting, and some would say she's been doing so ever since.
There she met Grant Warnock. They were married in 1961. Grant's ancestors were early settlers of the area, and honored by landmark names such as Hat Point.
Barbara, when asked about the 50 rattlesnakes chalked up at the store that will likely total some 500 by year's end, admits that she runs across one or two a year in her yard.
"Snakes are never a problem. Everybody is aware of them. They're just part of getting to live down here. It's a pretty special life," she said.
Barbara's neighbors think she's pretty special, too. On May 21 they gathered at the Imnaha Grange, 10 miles upriver from town, to award her its Community Citizen Award.
Barbara protests that there are plenty of others to whom the award could go. She mentions the 1997 New Year's Day Flood when the Warnocks had 18 inches of water in their house, her beautiful landscaping washed away and her big garden was replaced by a rock pile.
"The neighbors showed up with rakes, shovels and kids," she said. "People just help people down here."
"Barbara is the person everybody goes to for help, although she's the busiest person in town," said Postmaster Bonnie Marks.
Indeed, when she's not helping others she enjoys gardening, feeding the cattle, quilting, canning and bread making. She also collects bird houses, and enjoys the sound of birdsongs and the rippling river 30 feet out her back door.
"It's Barbara who helps with 4-H and FFA, and takes food to and visits the sick, and mows their lawns," says neighbor Â— two miles upriver Â— Vadna Martin.
"Barbara takes Vadna to church. She's a real worker. She helps everybody," Marks said. "She checks in on my father-in-law Wayne Marks when we're away; she helps him clean house.
"She's chief cook of the rodeo club. She's one of those that instigates getting the cemetery cleaned up in the spring," Marks said
Warnock said "the school kids start in January asking, Â‘When are we going to start cleaning the cemetery?' "
"She's a good neighbor and really a good community-minded person," Marks said.
Barbara began driving the Imnaha school bus in 1973, when her youngest was in the second grade. For 28 years, she drove kids to and from the two-room school. Four of its seven students are her grandchildren.
"The kids have a long day," she said. "The first one gets on at 6:25 a.m., and the last one leaves school at 2:30 p.m."
"Where other than here would the bus stop for after-school snacks at the nearby Imnaha Store & Tavern?" said proprietor Sally Tanzey.
And where else would students on the bus see bighorn sheep in the road, other than this special community where kids' education includes wild turkeys at school, where neighbors help one another and families get to be together.
MY THREE SONS
Barbara and Grant live in the house where Grant was born in 1930.
There they raised sons Charlie, 43, Joe, 41, and Dan, 39, who ranch along the river.
"We are fortunate to have all our family here," Barbara said.
The Warnock house is decorated with beautifully framed and arranged photos of their family.
"She's really proud of her grand-kids. When they were born, no matter what time it was, she'd call to say, Â‘It's a boy', or Â‘It's a girl'," Tanzey said.
Barbara tracks all their accomplishments. One of the latest was of her only granddaughter, BoDean, 14, who along with Grandma was tops in the open class at the county fair. "She likes to do what Grandma does," Warnock said.
Joe Warnock said, "It doesn't surprise me that my mother is the recipient of this kind of award. There is no one more deserving."
"She has always been a very giving person, and there are a lot of people around who would testify to that.
"She always told me that she would trade her own life for her children or grand-kids. You can't get more giving than that."
"I'm lucky to have her as a mom. The world is a better place because she's in it."