“she flies with her own wings”
It’s the state motto for Oregon, a place I’d given little thought to before packing up my things, getting on a plane with a one-way ticket and moving there. I was headed West on a whim, taking the first job I was offered out of college. From what I could gather, ‘Bend’, was a beautiful oasis; a small town, but one with great potential. While I appreciated being in nature, usually running or skiing or something, I didn’t have a burning urge to scale mountains, but I was excited by the idea of exploring such foreign terrain, and I was practically bursting with the anticipation of my ‘new’ life.
My first weekend living in Bend, I headed about 20 minutes out of town to a popular trail meandering up the bed of a roaring creek. I was alone, which, at the time, was an entirely new experience for me. It was May, but there was still a bite in the air. I could smell juniper and pine and mud, and it was filling me up with a sense of something bigger. I couldn’t help laughing to myself with joy – was this really my new home?
Once I found a couple friends, every weekend consisted of a drive to a new place (with a half tank of gas because we were poor), where we’d climb over boulders, our fingernails filling with dirt and noses getting rosy. We’d fill the open air with our laughter, our boots moving quickly, stirring up the High Desert dust that coated our shins.
Our bodies moved with intention and our minds were filled with wonder. I was a land mass away from my family, but it was hard to feel homesick when I felt so at home.
When I was not in a wide open space, I was in a confined, fluorescent-lit, former dentist’s office, where I, and other newly-minted adults, put on six hours of news every day. I was learning about leadership, self-motivation, empathy and patience. I was wild about what I was doing and so was everyone else. We were making it, doing what we’d always dreamed of. It didn’t take me long to realize, that while I’d physically leave the office each night, my thoughts would remain there, as I obsessed about stories we needed to be covering, better ways to produce my show and goals for the future. I knew that if I didn’t stop myself from constantly thinking about work, I’d come to resent it. I left my phone in the house and headed into the woods.
The natural world has an amazing ability to put you in your place, while teasing you to test your physical and mental might like never before.
As my relationship with the peaks and trees took root, the strength it inspired in me followed me elsewhere: I trained for and ran my first two half marathons, raced in the famous Pole Pedal Paddle event, twice, as a pair with a friend, learning how to road bike, cross country ski and paddle for speed, and climbed Oregon’s third tallest mountain, South Sister, or, Charity, as she’s known. From 10,358 feet up, the idea of ‘reaching for the stars’ took on new meaning. I wasn’t just realizing my dream of working in journalism; I was actually living.
The fragility of life, and the very real impact of our reach as a newsroom, lit up in front of my eyes, literally, when wildfire took over the treeline just west of Bend. In a moment’s notice, a few hundred homes, with families inside, were put on notice, and our beloved natural landscape was at threat. Thankfully, the fires, which were ruled as human-caused, were contained within a week, and no lives were taken. Most of the 7,000 acres that burned were private timber land. Even so, I’ll never forget the orange glow on the horizon as I drove home after reporting on the Two Bulls Fires that first day. I felt a deep sense of responsibility, to our audience, an unshakable feeling of powerlessness.
With each new season, Mother Earth unleashes her unpredictable elements, spurring death and growth; nature is never stagnant.
Flora and fauna sheds and re-blooms, while streams dry up and reawaken. Humans are no different, if you’re paying attention. Sitting on a chairlift on Mt. Bachelor feeling the resistance of my skis dangling by my boots, I could feel a much heavier weight – the pressure to succeed, to keep testing myself, to get a better job, to never stop pushing for more – but all I could see was a wide open vista, dotted with peaks, glistening in the sun with possibility. Now I can see, this is called ‘perspective’.
I moved away from Bend after two years – the length of my contract. I didn’t want to leave a place I’d grown to love, and to this day, it’s hard for me to look at photographs of the place without tearing up, but I needed a new professional challenge. At first, I thought my tears were prompted by the sheer beauty of the landscape, but I’ve come to understand their true meaning.
My best friend, the co-founder of this community, gave me a magnet while we were living in Bend. It reads, “one day can bend your life.” I realize that those 730 days in Bend collectively act as one. As a young adult, Oregon’s awe-inspiring beauty showed me that there’s more to life than pride and perfection. Success is not measured by paycheck or performance, but rather, how you navigate life’s turns. Nature has spurred some of humanity’s worst behavior, but it’s also inspired its most profound. Nature has given me the power to feel something deeper than I ever have before, and in turn, I have the courage to change, each and every day.