July 02, 2007 11:00 pm

JOSEPH — The city of Joseph sits literally on the edge of the wilderness. We are the end of the road. We sit as gatekeepers to the majestic Wallowa Mountains and the Wallowa Lake Basin Watershed.

The sun rises over the distant Seven Devils, and we are ever reminded that we also are the jumping off point into the amazing Hells Canyon lands and the winding Snake River, and we hold responsibility of these lands to the greater nation that we are a part of.

To the north we can see the Buttes, reminding us of the rangelands, the grasses, the cultivated fields that have long sustained us through our energy on the land.

We look to the west to the sunset and more working landscapes, and are reminded that we are a small mountain valley community that must work with the diverse state of Oregon that we are also a part of.

We sit as a people, who since the age of the Nez Perce, 10,000 years ago, have nestled in this unique valley and formed connections and community by being isolated from the greater world and in many ways protected from its harshness. We have long braved the natural world, and feel much more comfortable at the edge of the wilderness with mountain lions, bear and rattlesnake than we feel in downtown Portland or San Francisco with busy streets, people we know nothing of and crazy traffic.

We are a culture that has evolved and has managed to survive, but we are continually being faced with more and more influence from the greater world, influences that can and will have the ability to enrich and / or dilute our native culture.

With the advent of the Internet and DSL we have become a utopia for those that can "hook-up" to their counterparts by computer and do their business from the comfort of the Wallowa Valley. We have become a Mecca for artists who feel the spirits of the ancients and the mystical powers of our lands and are inspired to create long-lasting beauty with their stones, metals, glasses, canvas and alloys. We have become enriched by those who have come to celebrate our culture.

Life has always been hard here in many ways, but if it were easy to make a living in Wallowa County, it would not be Wallowa County. It would be just another beautiful place, overrun with the passions of the many people who would love to live here.

We are now on the cusp of what we will become. The decision to upgrade our airport to instrument flight landings is just an example of the tough choices that we all must make — choices that will not only determine our future but will determine the future of so many generations beyond us.

As a leader of my community, I do not wish to make these decisions in isolation. As with any issue we face as a community, when I was approached with this concern by my fellow citizens, I decided to put it out to the citizens. This is a personal decision that we all must make individually, and I submit to you, in the privacy of our own hearts, our own thoughts, our beliefs and our own moral equilibrium.

My greatest plea to you, the citizens of Wallowa County, is to think long and hard on issues such as these that will bring such long term change to our cozy little corner of the world. Talk to each other, reason things out, let there be no righteous judgment, no criticism. Instead, let the democratic process grow within each of us, one day at a time.

Go to meetings, stand up, speak on your own behalf and know that you are making these decisions through careful thought and concentration, with a community of people and with an eye toward future generations.

For as with the decision with the airport landings, many of these decisions will have long-term and often-unintended consequences. For once it is done, it is done. There is no rule, no mechanism that states that these landings can only be used by emergency aircraft. There will be no way to put the moraines back together or refresh a watershed that is fouled with dense development.

We are the government. The government is us. Your job now is to stay alert, to stay involved, to speak up and become a part of the solution to the betterment of our future world. Your leaders need to hear from you.


Peggy Kite-Martin is mayor of Joseph.