News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Loving Jim A.

Two decades ago, I moved to Central Oregon with the calling in my heart to have a farm. Coming from farmers on my mom’s side, I didn’t want to be a crop-and-livestock-raising farmer — that is some of the hardest work I know. I wanted something manageable, where I could rescue one of the other loves of my life, Newfoundland dogs, and help them find a forever home. I wanted to live in harmony with the land and its animals, leaving a place better than I found it.

Jim Anderson helped me with that.

A few years in, with Bend experiencing a housing construction boom all around my small acreage, nicknamed “Farmony,” the harmony was disrupted. All of a sudden, there was a huge amount of holes from a growing population of sage rats. I wanted to rebalance the population naturally, and read an interesting article in The Bend Bulletin stating that if I built a barn owl nesting box, things might be restored. The author gave an address to write for plans. I emailed right away, “Dear Jim Witty” (the name of the other “Jim” writer at the newspaper).

Within a few hours, I was rewarded with a reply.

Never chastising me for accidentally addressing him as the wrong Jim, instead “Jim A.” offered to come out to my place to make sure barn owls were the right solution for me.

He had Googled me and found out I was an author.

He told me he had written a book “Tales from a Northwest Naturalist.” I love to read and learn, and offered to buy a book.

“Let’s trade!” he wrote, grandly.

I mentioned I’d be up at Sisters at Angeline’s for Friday night music – might he be there? We could meet and trade books.

Although he had lived in Sisters for years, he had never gone to Friday music.

By this time, we were talking on the phone, “What do you look like?” I queried.

Drawing out the words slowly, “I’m an ooolllddd man.” He made me laugh.

Somehow we missed each other during that evening, although he was there and I was there, looking for each other. He chalked it up to fate. Jim came over to the house the next day. In less than 15 minutes he surveyed the land.

“Barn owls would starve out here; your place is too small. What you need is a red-tailed hawk’s nest. I’ll make you one.”

We then spent the great majority of three hours talking about a wide range of topics. I didn’t realize it was the beginning of a platonic love affair. At 73 years of age, Jim knew so much about history, having moved here in the 1950s, and more about animals and plants than I have read in dozens of books. He talked about his spirituality. With tears in his eyes, he told of a healing experience from a health issue when some spiritual friends laid hands on him. He was smart, funny and mystical. Fast forward nearly two decades, I realize I never got three hours uninterrupted with Jim again (he is busy) — but we crossed paths again many times.

At 74, he installed the promised red-tail hawk’s nest when he climbed my 150-year-old “grandfather juniper” in the back pasture. I thought to myself, “I hope he doesn’t fall down — I really like his wife Sue and don’t want to tell her she lost him on my watch.” Returning safely to earth, “Now Karen, you climb up and put some hay or straw to attract those hawks…” “Wait a minute, Jim, I may be decades younger than you, but I cannot climb that tree. Why didn’t you tell me? I would have given you some hay before you went up!”

We laughed so hard. His experience was that hawks probably wouldn’t come the first year. I was lucky: his nest invited them. They came right away and I had sage rat balance in my ecosystem from then on.

Over the years, we’d get snatches of moments together. I moved to Sisters and I would see him around town. He told me stories. Once he saw some guy driving with a bunch of feathers hanging from his rear view mirror. Jim said his intuition let him know that something wasn’t quite right. He followed the guy and saw his house was decorated with lots of illegal feathers. Jim called the authorities. With a search warrant, inside the home, officials found dozens of dead, poached, protected birds — including the bald eagle.

Jim is brave — he stands up for people and animals. Jim is a community resource —for everyone. He mentioned he gets about three hours of emails a day (in addition to phone calls) from people who need help. Jim inspires me with his consistently positive attitude and love of learning and wonder.

One day I called him and said, “Jim my love seat is buzzing.” Before I could explain I thought I had bees in the porch furniture, he teasingly laughed and let me know that was an accidental double entendre. He came over clothed in bee regalia, head to toe. We slit open the back of the love seat, marveling at the wild bees that had made their home there.

As he took the queen out to relocate, he squealed with 8-year-old excitement in the body of an 81-year-old, “She’s laying an egg! I have never, ever, seen that before!”

I felt like I was in the middle of a National Geographic documentary as we moved the Bombus lapponicus (Jim knows Latin) to their new home. He later wrote about this adventure, complete with many idioms (there he goes, improving my vocabulary) in The Source newspaper August 26, 2009 “Buzzing in the Love Seat.”

Sue Anderson understands that many people, including me, love Jim A. When he turned 80, I got to go to his surprise party at The Tower Theatre and witness his excitement at being gifted a trip to The Galapagos. Jim gives so much more than he receives; this was a touching and meaningful gift. Then, he turned 90 and I got to hang at an intimate party for family, who he loves without holding back.

At 92, he moved to Eugene to be nearer to family.

Regrets? I never got to go to Fort Rock to band eagles with him, which I believe he was doing until his ninth decade. I was sad that I didn’t get to see him before he and Sue moved. Weeks went by, and I missed running into him. I got brave and called him up. Turns out, he loves reconnecting with his Central Oregon friends. About every week, I either email him the “worldwide wildlife photos of the week” from The Guardian newspaper or listen to him tell me how he likes his new nutritional program (Sue finally got him to eat more healthfully; I tried and failed at that one.)

Or, how he loves watching the birds at his bird feeder. He sounds like the Jim A. I know and love. He inspires me to try to live my life to be at least half as wonderful, loving, learning, and teaching, as he is at 92. He also is teaching me something new. Tears come to my eyes when I read his latest Nugget column of December 17, 2020 writing about the pine coffin friends have lovingly pre-built for him, going out to Fort Rock cemetery “when they put me under the soil with my old buckaroo pals…” as he ties it all together poetically with the story of the carrion beetle and reminds “death is the process of renewal.”

My love for Jim A. is renewed every time I think about him and all the gifts he has give to many people, including me.


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