Moving from Jerome AZ to Hines/Burns, Oregon

A lot of people ask me about what it is like to live in Burns/Hines, Oregon, especially after living in Jerome, AZ for thirty years. Although a piece of my heart will always be there, life here is sweet as well. Just different.

In 2008, my husband and I have moved to a community in which we know no one and had little knowledge of the ranching and logging life that dominates its history and politics.

Burns/Hines is an urban island of some 5000 people. The communities are contiguous, separated by a small cemetery. You can drive through both in 10 minutes or less, depending on how long three stoplights hang you up. Burns grew up as the ranch center; Hines was the logging community, until the mill closed in the nineties.

The city is surrounded by ten thousand square miles of wild high desert in Southeast Oregon and about 110,000 cows. The nearest big city is Bend, Oregon, 132 miles to the West; and the nearest freeway is 130 miles east, at the Idaho border.  The distance between ranches in the county is so vast and so far from Hines/Burns that there are still nine one-room schools. Our friends who have visited us always remark on the scarcity of traffic on the roads to just about anywhere.

It's big sky country here and the sunsets are lovely. Lots of empty space to roam. Photo by Hines Lights.

It’s big sky country here and the sunsets are lovely. Lots of room to roam. Photo by Hines Lights.

We live in a cottage in the middle of the city on about half an acre, with eight large pinons, a small grove of Aspens, two crab apple trees, and a lot of deer-proof flowering shrubs and perennials. We have seen as many as a dozen deer in our yard.

A bouquet of iris from my yard. They bloom in June. Photo by Diane Rapapoart

A bouquet of iris from my yard. They bloom in June. One of the ‘doubles’ was given me by one of my first tai chi students. Photo by Diane Rapaport

Just a few miles north is Radar Hill, where I used to take my dog Amanda for walks and practice tai chi. For about three months, I saw no one in these juniper and sage-strewn hills.

But one day, while matching the rhythm of tai chi’s movements with the slow shuffling of juniper branches, I sensed that someone was behind and turned to see an old cowboy on a horse. He’s in his sixties, near my age, with wrinkles woven and set into his face.

“Ya seen my cows?” he rasps through amber, chipped teeth.

My puzzlement and astonishment must have registered on my face, so he asks again, “Ya seen my cows?”

Both of tried to filter what we were looking at through lenses of what is familiar and coming up pretty empty. He was probably pondering the strange behavior of a grey-haired lady dressed in skimpy shorts waving her arms in a slow, dreamy dance. I can only imagine how he was going to describe this encounter with his buddies.

And I’m sure I didn’t know much about the life he led.

“Sorry, haven’t seen your cows,” I say, politely. He touches the brim of his hat and drifts off into the junipers.

The wake of his leave-taking was followed by the thought that since moving here, I had forged no bonds beyond pleasantries. Most of my contacts with people had, like this one, left me standing puzzled and alone.

It took me until about two years ago to begin to feel a comfortable sense of place.

I learned to understand the common vocabulary: guns, llamas, cows, calving, goats, alfalfa, pivots, cheat grass. Hunting is a major recreational activity. In the Fall, it’s common to hear, “Did you get your elk?” My neighbor is a woman who bow-hunts for cougars. My accountant wears starched shirts with rolled collars, pressed jeans with a crease that could cut and snakeskin boots. Mounted on his walls are heads of rare bighorn sheep. At one gathering, in a discussion about rattlesnakes, I announced I was opposed to shooting them. One of the men jumped on that remark. “You wouldn’t think so if you were fifty miles out of nowhere and a snakebite lamed your horse.” I said, “I’d have to agree with you about that.” In acknowledging his point of view, I had just crossed one of the divides to finding common ground.

Teaching tai chi was another. Everyone could agree about the importance of living healthier and more relaxed; my students appreciated being taught how to take care of themselves. They include a woman who raises bulls, another who raises llamas, a farmer in his fifties with creaky joints, veterans with PTSD, nurses, a potter, a woman in her eighties who arrives with a walker and another with an oxygen pack. The woman who raises bulls eases the arthritis of an elderly one with the energy work she has learned from me.

Lisa Wolf, one of my tai chi students, trains  llamas and invited me for a walk. They are lovely animals to take a walk with.

Lisa Wolf, one of my tai chi students, trains llamas and invited me for a walk. They are lovely animals to take a walk with.

Soon after I started teaching, I began attending meetings of the Writer’s Guild.  Members listened to some of my early Jerome stories and encouraged me.  I could always tell from their questions what it was they weren’t getting or when they began getting bored. One day, Myrla Dean, a former teacher here, turned to me and asked, “Who are you writing for?” I was stumped. “It’s perfectly okay to just write for yourself,” said Myrla. That broke some dam inside me and I started writing the stories that became this blog, some excerpts of which are included in my new book Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City (due out in late April, early May). Novelist Marjorie Thelan, one of the members of the guild, took me in hand when I was floundering and came over to my house and set up the official book files on my computer. We loaded in all my notes and stories. Then she said, “You start at page one and don’t’ stop until you are finished. Don’t go back and rewrite. And I did. It took me about a year before I had something resembling a manuscript.

I love living in a paradise of birds.

Ross' geese, as far as you can see. Photo by Kelly Hazen.

Ross’ geese, as far as you can see. Photo by Kelly Hazen.

It’s very early Spring and our abundant wetlands draw hundreds of thousands of Ross’s geese, formations passing in large spiraling waves. Thousands of swans and ducks crowd waterways. Bald and golden eagles, falcons and harriers are abundant. Sandhill cranes roam the alfalfa fields. In early April, birders will gather by the thousands for the annual migratory bird festival:

A snowy white owl visited, a rare occurrence, and my friend Kelly Hazen spent about a 150 hours observing it. A wonderful video she took can be seen:

Snowy White Owl. Photo by Kelly Hazen

Snowy White Owl. Photo by Kelly Hazen

Hundreds of quail scurry across the road I live on, scattering like fall leaves when cars approach. One morning, I woke up to see a huge Goshawk devouring a quail in my yard as a few deer watched from the neighbors. Burns/Hines is the quail capitol of Oregon. My biggest treat last Spring was being taken to a lek where male sage grouse were strutting.

When not in strut, the male sage grouse looks quite ordinary and a little like a small prairie chicken.

When not in strut, the male sage grouse looks quite ordinary and a little like a small prairie chicken.

The air is exceptionally pristine, the water out of the tap tastes delicious, and noise and chem trails from jet planes are rare.

By day, birdsongs fill the air. At night, the city is so still that when the Milky Way blooms, you can hear its pulse.

I’m at rare peace with myself in ways that continue to surprise.


Honoring the Women in Jerome AZ: International Women’s Day

Anyone who has lived in Jerome for any period of time knows this to be true:  the women are strong, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, accomplished at what they set out to do and passionately engaged. Many are artists that have served the town politically and are business people. A triple header combo that is hard to beat. And they’re smart. Very very smart.

Here’s an honor role of a dozen, in alphabetical order, who live or have lived in Jerome and some of their contributions.  Most moved to Jerome in the seventies and early eighties and many were, and still are, irreverent hippies!

Anne Bassett, for documenting the town through her intricately detailed illustrations and her service on the Jerome Town Council. 

Patty Bell, for singing Joni Mitchell’s song, “Pave paradise, put up a parking lot,’ in a particularly rancorous Jerome Town Council meeting

Barbara Blackburn, the wild woman who became CEO of Jerome Instrument Corporation and served on many of the town boards. She helped put together the Jerome Defense Fund to help members of our community that were arrested in 1985.

Mimi Currier, for running for US Senate in the eighties as a liberal Democrat with special interests in the arts, for her long-time service on many boards in Jerome, and for her incredible Netsuke carvings.

Nancy Driver, a wonderful fiber and leather artist, who served on many boards, and helped start the first artists’ cooperative store in Jerome.

Katie Lee, who wears her advocacy for freeing the Colorado River on her license plate (Dam Dam), and speaks eloquently and emotionally about them in her books and in her music. And for bringing a smile to everyone’s face when she streaked Jerome on her bike when she was in her eighties.

ML Lincoln, photographer and producer of the film, Wrenched, honoring the legacy of Edward Abbey and the decades of wilderness activists he helped inspire.‎

Jane Moore, for her long-time service on the town council (12 years, not all consecutively) and on many boards, with special advocacy for water rights, and her incredibly lovely ceramics and paintings.

My cousin Deni Rapp, the woodworker, for her lovely cribbage boards and wooden furniture, her courage in dealing with many physical ailments so graciously and positively, and for her service on many boards.

Ivy Stearman, one of the first women midwives in the Verde Valley (against the ire of many doctors) and founder of Nurses Network.

Sue Tillman for having the gut to start the first AIDs organization in the Verde Valley at a time when even the funeral homes wouldn’t dress someone who died of AIDS.

Sharon Watson, cofounder of Aurum Jewelry, a wonderful designer and jeweler, and long time member of the Fireman’s Auxiliary and board member of the Jerome Historical Society.

Kathleen Williamson  for her lifetime advocacy of human rights, including LGBT people, her astute legal head and her musicianship.

Okay, there are a lot more women, who have started their own business and shops, but I have to go teach tai chi right now. Post your favorites.  Make a list for your hometown. Today’s the day.

Jerome AZ: Secret Indy 500—The Drag Race Between the Camaro and the Mustang

Son Max (now 36) just told me this story. Irresistible to not post.

One of the handsomest teenage daredevils in Jerome was Zack Druen. He was notorious for rides on his skateboard on the steep streets through town and on to Clarkdale. Later he bought himself a hot blue/grey Chevy Camaro. He and our son Max were good friends and he’d often pick up Max to take him to Mingus High. Max said the Camaro was so souped up, he could hear Zack starting up his car from four blocks away.

Generic Chevy Camaro.

Generic Chevy Camaro.

For a few years during the 1990’s, Ray Cleveland was Chief of Police. His cop car was a super-powered Ford Mustang. He was not beloved. He loved the motorcycle gangs and liked to strut around as though he was one of them. And he liked to give the teenagers a hard time, and, truth be told, they needed to be given a hard time. Sadly, some were already addicted to meth and other hard drugs, although none of the kids, or the dealers, names of whom were known to Ray, were ever arrested.

About the mid-nineties, when half of the incredible unmortared stone highway below the Eagle’s Nest collapsed and had to be rebuilt, the road between Jerome and Prescott was closed for quite a few months.

Rebuilding the collapsed highway wall—a technocrat's dream.  Far from the wall to the immediate left which was hand-stacked. Photo by Bob Swanson:

Rebuilding the collapsed highway wall in Jerome—a technocrat’s dream. The wall to the immediate left  was hand-stacked and still stands, a marvelous engineering feat. Photo by Bob Swanson:

One day Ray approached Zack, “Feel like racing me over Mingus Mountain and back” Zack was in disbelief.  ‘You’ll probably arrest me if I say yes,” Zack said. He was in his late teens. “No, no,” said Ray. “Your car is the only possible contender. There won’t be any arrests.”

The drag race was on. It was Jerome’s private Indy 500 race just outside of our home town, only with no audience.

In Zack’s car jumps Max.  Anyone who has driven the 18 miles of that road knows there are many many perilous switchback curves, some with unprotected dropoffs, up to Mingus, and down to Prescott Valley and back.  During popular weekends, there is bound to be at least one accident.

The upside was that there would be no traffic, both lanes open for passing. Max said it was a neck and neck race, with some absolutely hair-raising passes by both Zack and Ray. “Were you scared, I asked Max.  “Oh yeah.”

Finish was a dead heat. No winners.

Thirty-two minutes for a total of thirty-six round trip miles. Incredible. It scares me to figure out the math.

When Ray finally moved on, rumor was that a lot of guns mysteriously disappeared from the property room and were sold by him.

As an aside: Walt said something to Alice Butcher last year about Zack ‘s daredevil ways and she rolled up her sleeve and showed him a scar from a car accident out to Sycamore Canyon.  She said, “There’s a club here of kids with Zack scars.”

OMG. I’m so glad I did not know the half of what these Jerome kids got into as teenagers.

(If anyone knows any more details about this story, please tell me.  I’ll add them in and credit you. For instance, what make/model was Zack’s Camaro. . Max couldn’t remember.)