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.


3 thoughts on “Moving from Jerome AZ to Hines/Burns, Oregon

  1. Loved that story, Diane!! Now i understand why you live there!! I think i could fit right in to the peace and quiet (and cowboys)! Something we had here back in the early 70’s when i moved to Jerome, that is rare today.


  2. Thanks for that story. As a writer, no matter what the subject, I find myself writing in the now or writing poorly. Like you, Jerome will always be a part of me no matter where I go. It will always be ‘Home’. All of my mother and father’s younger generation bloodline lives up in your part of the country now, near Missoula MN. I, too, am drawn to the high lonesome places.

    I once wished to live in one of the grand homes on Company Hill and today live in a structure that would fit right in there. It also sits a few hundred feet and a few hundred yards above this, much smaller, downtown, in a village of just less than 1,000. About a third of the permanent population and more than half of the seasonal population is from Michoacan, the result of more than a century of migrants who tend the orchards and packaging plants. There are few jobs for natives. Kids are raised here and then move on. Tourists visit here; there are two tourist shops, a museum, four collectables shops, a gallery, two bars,and the usual local service businesses. A small concert venue opened this year. We have a truly fine gourmet restaurant that features quiet music on the weekends, an authentic taqueria, an ice cream parlour and pizza delivery from one bar and the convenience store. Within ten miles there are seven vineyards and thirteen cabin/B&B’s; lots of music and poetry opportunities. We sit in a forty-mile hub of three universities and two casinos.

    Half the brick and concrete turn-of-the-century commercial buildings are vacant. Some of the fine old houses lie in disarray. Even a few wooden structures are in imminent collapse, not unlike the Jerome of the ’70’s. However, I am surrounded by forests, broken only by highways, plowed bottoms of farmland, and rolling hillsides of fruit trees and vineyards. It is not the desert. One drives for miles to see long vistas, and then only of treetops. Deep rich nutrient rich mud replaces sand; gray skies replace the sunshine, mighty rivers replace the often dry desert river beds. The collapsing old farmhouses and barns now sit beside manufactured homes and some elegant country mansions, off narrow asphalt tree-lined lanes. The ever present gray skies and moisture can be depressing to me. I have a faithful, caring and loving wife and a comfortable life here, but I miss Jerome every day.


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