News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Hanging out with the cool kids

It often comes as a surprise to readers when they first learn that all writers for The Nugget, with the exception of our editor, are freelancers, not staff. We are paid in the customary industry way - by the story. As you might imagine, working for a weekly community newspaper isn't going to change anybody's lifestyle.

I don't know all of my colleagues personally but I'd bet they have a similar attitude as mine: We'd do this work for free. It's that satisfying. And interesting. And often, downright fun. In my case it frequently takes form by shadowing workers less than half my age. Take the story on owls (page 1).

One of the great perks of the work is doing a "ride along" as witness to young professionals doing their job, making their mark on Sisters. And what a ride I've had. With one of Sisters deputy sheriffs, ODOT crews plowing roads in a snowstorm or blowing open 242 after a snow-packed winter, tracking wolves with an ODFW biologist, doing safety checks on snowmobiles with Forest Service specialists, flying with the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team. Or looking for poachers with OSP Fish & Wildlife.

Most recently I tagged along with Lauren DuRocher, Laura McMahon, and Liz Day, three blossoming Forest Service professionals assigned to the Sisters Ranger District.

We head out 242 and then deep into the woods. Our location is to remain a secret so as not to encourage human traffic and thereby potentially disturb the study. Geared up we begin our search guided by hand-held technology which more than once they over ride with instinct. The forest is second home to them and they are easily comfortable with their remote surroundings.

The enthusiasm they have for their vocation is at once obvious. McMahon stops suddenly in her tracks. I'm feverishly hoping she has seen the spotted owl we are investigating. "Look," she says. " A pygmy short-horned lizard," as she tries to scoop it up. No, says the lizard, as it darts into the brush.

The thing is, what? Maybe two inches. I never saw it, that's for sure. A few steps later Day stops and cocks her ear as she identifies birds by sound. Excitedly she tells me about a phone app from Cornell University called Merlin. It's free and identifies most birds instantly.

And so it goes. Casual talk about nature. Wildlife. Trees. After all, they do work for the Forest Service. We get into a chat about old growth. Fire resistance. Predators. They could talk in boring technical terms, but don't. Not for my benefit. They may be biologists but they are first human, in the forest, in creation full of wonder and mystery.

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Checking out wildlife monitoring technology with Sisters Ranger District biologists - a freelancer's perk.

There are dozens, maybe a hundred or more, of these "kids" (my term of endearment) positioned around Sisters Country doing important and often invisible work. Trying to make a better world without getting in your face about it.

I try to be in their world whenever I can. Yes, it's informative, especially for the inveterate curious. More though, it's inspiring. Hopeful. At a time of campus unrest, intolerable loneliness and suicide, and addiction among our young, faith is renewed. In a flash. At least in Sisters.

Who wouldn't want to write about that?

That leads me to this. In any given issue of The Nugget 8...10...12 Sisters writers have helped fill the pages. If you enjoy their work, are appreciative of the diversity of voices and range of subjects, then you might consider a supporting subscription to help offset the burdensome increase in costs for paper, ink, printing, and postage which is growing far faster than the number of new advertisers who make The Nugget possible. (


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