Firefighters flee as the Twisp River fire advances unexpectedly near Twisp, Washington, August 20, 2015.  (Reuters/David Ryder)

Lost in the Methow Valley Fires

This piece originally appeared in High Country News, Aug. 21, 2015 I am haunted by a scene from about a week ago of young U.S. Forest Service firefighters taking a break at The Mazama Store, which I consider the best “hang” in the Methow Valley, just across the Cascades in central Washington state. They were such babies, so long and lean and fit, seemingly drowning in their impossibly large firefighting garb. In addition to soot and grime, they wore the look of thorough exhaustion that you see on the faces of new parents. And yet, with doors swung open on their white SUVs, they sat with crusty boots slung atop seats, chatting, eating, drinking and, yes, smiling. They were not broken. Just days later, last Wednesday afternoon, three of their ranks were killed when their vehicle crashed and was overcome by the fire now raging near Twisp, Washington. One of their colleagues, a 25-year-old man, is in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Can those young people possibly remain as unbroken as they appeared in Mazama? They’ll have to. Rep. Dave Reichert, … [Read More...]

Carla Körbes

Farewell Air Körbes

Carla Körbes (photo by Patrick Fraser) A sportswriter’s appreciation of a Jordan-like ballerina quietly retiring at the top of her game.   The first time I saw Carla Körbes dance reminded me of the first time I saw Michael Jordan play basketball. Jordan was a rookie for the Chicago Bulls and I’d watched him for about 30 seconds. He hadn’t taken a shot, and maybe hadn’t even dribbled the ball, but his looming stardom was abundantly clear. It was the way he moved, gliding over the Kingdome floor like a hovercraft. He had a presence, an “It Factor.” From then on, grace of movement and the It Factor were the two main criteria that I used, as a sportswriter and later an evaluator, to identify greatness in athletes. The day Sonic Coach Bernie Bickerstaff excitedly dragged me to view the teenager his team had just drafted, I watched Shawn Kemp for a few minutes and thought, “Yup.” When I was editor-in-chief at Scout.com, I saw Kevin Durant play in an AAU tournament, and immediately asked my basketball editor why we had him ranked second, behind Greg Oden, among prospects for … [Read More...]

New York Times Illustration by Dada Shin

Why are Our Parks So White?

This piece originally appeared in the New York Times July 10, 2015 SEATTLE — MOUNT RAINIER stands sentry over Seattle. On clear days, the mountain is the dominant backdrop, particularly in the city’s southeast, where its most racially diverse neighborhoods embrace their majestic setting with names like Rainier Valley and Rainier Beach. Michelle Perry lives in an adjoining neighborhood and travels to work on Rainier Avenue South. The looming mountain enchants and beguiles nearly the entire way. She knows she can keep driving south and visit Rainier and the national park that surrounds it. Ms. Perry, 58, an African-American, has an idea about what she’d find up there — mosquitoes, which she hates, and bears, cougars and wolves, which she fears. “The mountains are beautiful to watch,” she said, pausing for effect, “from a distance.” As it approaches its centennial on Aug. 25, 2016, the National Park Service says it wants to encourage people like Ms. Perry to visit. It has its work cut out for it. The national parks attracted a record 292.8 million visitors in 2014, … [Read More...]

Long-Eared Owls rarely range west of the Cascades.

Cuckoo Over Owls

It once roosted in a thicket the size of a two-car garage, amidst wetlands and diked agricultural fields near Stanwood. The brush was so thick, the Long-Eared Owl must have felt unassailable. Long-barreled photographic devices proliferated and trained at it like arms in a cold war. The birders and the avian paparazzi jostled and bickered and shoved like football fans queued for playoff tickets. With Mount Baker gleaming in the background, hunters boomed rifles, dogs sniffed and barked and, just across a flooded field, a battalion of construction workers jack-hammered and backed loudly beeping trucks. Yet, all the while, the object of everyone’s desire might crack open one of its impossibly large eyes but otherwise appear to not give … a hoot. The people did, for sure. The nocturnal birds of prey with the long, distinctive ear tufts prefer shrub-steppe habitat in Eastern Washington, making their presence on the other side of the mountains a “thing,” the way a new iPhone is a “thing.” The resultant mobbing of the Long-Eared Owls at one point regressed into panic that one … [Read More...]

Outdoors Buzz

New York Times Illustration by Dada Shin

Why are Our Parks So White?

This piece originally appeared in the New York Times July 10, 2015 SEATTLE — MOUNT RAINIER stands sentry over Seattle. On clear days, the mountain is the dominant backdrop, particularly in the city’s southeast, where its most racially diverse neighborhoods … [Read More...]

More Outdoors Buzz

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Little Hunter's Beach in Acadia National Park.

The Photographic Life is a Beach

As much as I’ve tried to drive home the importance of planning and preparation during the first three installments of this series, there are of course times to make the best of what you get. If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll have noticed that, in addition to discussing a different scene in a different part of the country, I’ve been … [Read More...]

A male Wood Duck at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

Duck on Branch (Be Prepared)

NISQUALLY, Wash. -- During winter, I usually am toting my long lens and often run into hunters. “Big lens,” many will comment. “Big gun,” I usually reply. Though a lot of birders and wildlife photographers bristle, I enjoy my encounters with hunters. After all, we’re both looking for the same thing, and we’re both going to shoot it, albeit … [Read More...]

Salmon Cascades in Sol Duc Valley, Olympic National Park

Sol Duc Splash

If you’ve ever been photographically challenged by the likes of the indifferent dog, recalcitrant relative or churlish child, try Mother Nature on for size. She can be as fickle as any subject, requiring planning, alternatives and flexibility. To wit, I recently visited my “home” national park, Olympic (Wash.), with the goal of shooting Sol Duc … [Read More...]

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