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By Jim Cornelius
News Editor 

Candles in the dark


Last updated 10/12/2022 at Noon

For anyone paying attention, these are unsettling times. Downright scary, in fact. For the first time in decades, the specter of a nuclear strike looms as a real possibility as Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine falters and is rolled back. Even as I write this, Russian missile strikes are targeting Ukrainian cities — deliberately killing civilians — in retaliation for an apparent Ukrainian operation that damaged the Kerch Strait Bridge in Crimea.

The knock on effects of this war are wreaking havoc on energy markets, with a major winter crisis looming in Europe; scarcity of energy and fertilizer is driving up food prices and creating shortages that threaten the livelihoods and the very lives of vulnerable populations.

Meanwhile, our social fabric continues to unravel as political radicals of various stripes pick out the threads that weave us together and gleefully yank on them from left and right.

As a friend noted, despair may be a sin, but it’s not necessarily an irrational response.

And yet…

There are countless candles being lit in the darkness by people who are not willing to simply sit down and quit because our problems are so large, so complex, and so far out of our individual control. They just keep chipping away. They may not be solving the big problems of the day, but they are certainly mitigating them — and that shines a light in the face of darkness.

I found myself thrilled by the work being done at Black Butte Swamp, recounted in Cody Rheault’s front-page story this week. By building beaver dam analogues, Forest Service personnel and Heart of Oregon Corps are restoring and recreating wetland habitat that is vital to forest health. It’s another Sisters project that will doubtless be a model for possibilities.

Cody was struck by how extraordinarily quickly the water rose as the work was done. In mere minutes the landscape was changing. As a friend said, that’s hopeful in a bunch of ways — not least in helping us recognize that the ecosystem seeks to revert to balance and health.

Is this sort of thing scalable in a manner that can reverse decades and centuries of environmental degradation? Don’t know. But I do know that in a corner of Sisters Country, a few days’ work by enthusiastic and dedicated people wrought beneficial change. Better to light a candle than curse the dark.

Central Oregon is confronted with significant challenges when it comes to housing. Lack of affordable housing combines with other economic and social pressures, including a flailing health care system that doesn’t do well with mental health services, to create a crisis of homelessness (or “houselessness” as many advocates prefer).

It’s a big and complex problem, and it’s understandable that people might throw up their hands after struggling to untangle the knot. Or grow frustrated that “they” have not figured out how to simply cut through it. The desire to exercise compassion toward folks in difficult straits clashes sometimes with legitimate concerns about safety, security, and quality of life in Sisters Country. The tensions are not readily resolved.

A lot of work has been happening quietly in the forest — work that won’t “solve” the problems around houselessness, but has a real impact on the forest and on people’s lives. Small things like extending public shower hours have a big positive impact on the lives of folks who are trying to make a go of it while living in our forest. Work parties cleaning up trashed areas help mitigate the impact of problem campers. A network of government agencies and local providers has grown up to try to connect those in need with services that can actually help them.

Small wins are worth celebrating.

Citizens4Community, with support from The Nugget, is hosting a Town Hall on Thursday, October 20, at the Sisters-Camp-Sherman Fire District Community Hall. It’s titled “Houseless in Sisters.” Hopefully, many voices will be heard on this challenging topic and positive steps lined out that we can take as individuals, and as a community.

We aren’t going to solve the big problems — but we can light a candle or two together.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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