The road beckons: Off to Big Sky Country

June 26, 2013 10:41 am
I’ve loved to travel since before my memory began recording my personal history. My mother says when I was a toddler all she had to do was jingle her car keys and I’d come running like a Pavlovian-trained dog. 

One of my grandmothers lived about four hours away and we visited often. The other lived across the country and we would fly to see her every other summer. I was well used to packing the essential stuffed animals and toys for whatever the journey.

When I packed for college, I pushed the limit of the cargo manifest on the jet out of Klamath Falls’ Kingsley Field — light packing was something I was to learn in the Forest Service the following summer.

Today, a trip to Enterprise may require as many as five bags, but on a trip to the East Coast I take maybe a duffel bag and a backpack. I am no longer as much a slave to fashion as I am to the reality of lugging bags from car to airport to airplane to airplane to waiting car ... etc.

When asked if I’m “excited” to go on a trip, invariably I say, “No.” Not until I’m strapped in the car or airplane or whatever means of conveyance the trip dictates can I relax and look ahead and whatever details I’ve forgotten are left behind.

It’s true, I am pretty excitable — and exuberant when given bountiful opportunities. Four years ago, I was paying bills for St. Peter’s Church in La Grande when I got a call from the Observer’s editor, Ted Kramer, offering me a job as his Wallowa County reporter. The priest came into the office as I was doing my “I just got my dream job” dance, which prompted the dogs to chime in. It was wonderful to share my excitement not only with the dogs, but with another human.

A couple years ago, as I was settling into my role as a rural reporter, I looked around for professional development opportunities. I joined the Society for Environmental Journalists and got plugged into a second organization that provides short fellowships for natural resource reporters, The Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources, based in Missoula, Mont.

Through these two contacts, I was alerted to a weeklong hitch in Montana’s Glacier National Park — a competitive process where 18 journalists from around the country were selected to learn about oil drilling, conservation restoration, climate change and wildlife issues. I spent the better part of a Sunday working on my cover letter last spring, which a colleague suggested was a very important part of the application.

The news arrived via email that I was accepted while my parents were visiting for Mother’s Day. For the second time in four years I did the jumping up and down dance, prompting much joyous barking.

Dancing and singing

Once the dancing and singing were over, I fired off an email to my current editor, Andrew Cutler, about the fellowship. Mentally, I began preparing how to align all of my early summer stories and event promotions. Being gone for a week at the end of June is not ideal in my position, but with some great support from our staff and a lot of planning, I’m about to head northeast to Missoula.

With the help of the Internet I know the drive will be about seven hours and there are two areas with possible road construction delays. There are a couple of hot springs worth visiting along Highway 12, and I was directed to a “really terrific record store” in Missoula. (For any of you young readers, a record is round, made of vinyl and when played on a “record player,” music comes out of the speakers.)

And so I’m off to drop off the dogs at the sitter’s, fill up the gas tank and a couple of bottles of water and hit the open highway. I’ll see you at the Wallowa Parade on the Fourth, Wallowa Lake for the Tony Furtado show and the fireworks that night, the Lostine Tavern for tacos on the fifth, and the Lostine River Run on the sixth. On the seventh day of July I think I will rest.