Dear Anonymous Wallowa County Community Member,

On July 25th you took the time and trouble to respond to the Chieftain’s editorial “Clearing the trail along the urban rural divide”. Thanks for writing. In your letter, you noted that what drew you to Wallowa County from a more urban life was the “special community essence that is instantly felt when visiting a place like Enterprise, Joseph, or Wallowa.” And yet you chose to write anonymously “out of fear of a metaphorical scarlet letter that could otherwise be attached to my name in this community as a formerly urban newcomer.” These two statements seem antithetical. I’d love to talk with you about your letter over coffee, but I can’t because you provided no contact information. And I can’t publish it because it’s anonymous and also far exceeds our 300-word limit. So in the hope that you’ll read this, I’m inviting you to call, email, or stop by The Chieftain so we can chat. This is what neighbors do.

You took umbrage at my question about whether a trail-runner who mistook a pruning saw for a fishing rod was also cognizant of the condition of the surrounding forest, and whether she was able to recognize the tree species in the woods. “The larger question,” I wrote, “is whether she was connected to the landscape.” This does not castigate urban-dwellers. It just asks whether a person, who could live in Enterprise or New York City, has taken the trouble to observe, learn and think about the landscape—the trees, forests, animals, and ecosystems—that support us. And when I say “support” I mean holistically—supply clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat, and open spaces for recreation, as well as economic sustenance.

“New people, some of them urban, some of them wearing Nikes, are today uprooting their lives and investing in Wallowa County….seeking a connection and building prosperity,” you wrote. “We have come because of the incredible community you have built; we respect your rural way of life and want to be a part of that, not as outsiders or “urban people” but as 1st generation Wallowa Countian’s rolling up their sleeves and in unity.” Yes, indeed. You should know that we welcome your contributions to our community. The energy and vision of newcomers provide a vitality that small communities need to prosper and grow.

Also, lots of Wallowa County residents of all generations –first through 6th-- wear “Nikes” – aka trail-running athletic shoes—use earbuds and recreate in the backcountry. This is in no way a distinction between urban and rural. But lots of us – and lots of recent arrivals such as yourself-- also observe, listen to, and think about the places we traverse.

The “unity” that you seek is a two-way street. And this is where the “urban-rural divide often lies. We will learn from you. And, as a new resident you are learning from us. If you want to “be part of our rural way of life,” it’s more than just admiring the majesty of the Wallowa Mountain skyline. It’s the capacity to understand your wild as well as your human neighbors. It’s a commitment to preserve open spaces, private and public, both for scenic value and their vital economic contribution to Wallowa County. Why? First, because this living landscape is an important part of our community. And second, because newcomers and 6th generation-ers alike will face ballot initiatives, elections, and land use planning decisions upon which the survival of the economy, ecosystems, and yes, scenic beauty that brought you here, depend. Will we all have the same opinions? Of course not. But we all, including ear-budded, Nike-shod trail-runners, need the forests and grasslands and rivers. And to have them, we need to observe them, learn about them and understand them, just like any other valued community member. The number at the Chieftain is 541-426–4567. I hope we can sit down over coffee and talk sometime soon.

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