So — winter. Snow and ice, roads drifted over, schools struggling to open. And now a mind-boggling spike in COVID-19 cases as the latest variant of a mutating virus arrives. With illness closing one of our local schools, I feel a special sympathy for teachers, who must feel as if they’re doing gymnastics on a tightrope.

At times like these we need more than a blazing fire and the January seed catalogs’ promises of spring. We need each other.

Luckily, even when we can’t safely gather, if we have an internet connection we can connect through virtual platforms. As Cameron Scott, next Thursday’s First Draft featured writer, puts it, “Life is a story, and I see a lot of people trying to make the most of their story that they can,”.

Scott is a Wallowa County writer, whose own stories — told in four books of poetry and numerous essays — center on fish, environment, family and the West. “I live for fishing, teaching, and writing,” he says. “It’s a three-legged structure. Take away one of those legs and things get a bit wobbly.”

The teaching — currently, grades 7 through 12 at Wallowa High School and youth workshops at Summer Fishtrap — and the writing are going strong. The wobbly leg is fishing, and Scott’s insights help us realize this is a loss that impacts us all.

“On the river, things make sense,” he writes. We don’t have to be holding a fly rod to understand what he means. “In the end, the river is everything, and everything is the river.”

But as a long-time fly fishing guide, he began to notice the impacts of increased fishing on the rivers and on the fish that had been caught and held out of the water for photos before they were released.

“And then one summer a severe drought hit the rivers where I guided in Colorado,” Scott states. “The entire ecosystem of the area was stressed out. I stepped on a rabid bat, fires consumed the area, something in me broke. I couldn’t go back to guiding in a system that was so heavily impacting the thing that I loved.”

So he took a year off and then began guiding on his home waters in Oregon.

“However, this past summer, short of being bitten by a rabid bat, I saw drought and heat hammer the Grande Ronde watershed in a repeat of what I’d seen and experienced in Colorado,” according to Scott. “At this point there is nowhere to run, and so I’m digging in my heels and making a stand for our anadromous and local fish populations and the ecosystems I love.”

His poem “Oregon Country, Hunger” is part of that stand, reminding us that “The ocean refuses no river but there are/rivers that never make it to the sea … Swaths of forest. Entire mountains / eaten away. Seven billion hungers./Thirsts.”

Cam is one of the teachers balancing on the pandemic’s quivering tightrope — a good teacher, much-loved in Wallowa County since he implemented the Fishtrap Story Lab at Joseph Charter School. Earlier, he co-taught a creative writing workshop, Voices 110 Degrees, for at-risk youth in Tucson.

“I show up, listen, and respond to each student’s landscape of words and ideas,” he told High Country News about his teaching stint in Chiloquin. “And I try to open my world to them in ways that I hope will help them see their world more clearly.”

He’s teaching me, too, sending me to my search engine for insights about “deep ecology” and “dark ecology,” which turned out to mean different things than I had assumed.

The snow is finally melting, but there’s a lot of winter left, so I hope we’ll see each other on Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. Just sign up for the Zoom link on the First Draft Writers’ Series web page to hear his voice, see his face (he’ll be smiling) and meet a community of grateful listeners — some from distant places who would not otherwise be able to attend. You can just listen, or share your own story at the open mic.

Until then, stay warm. And keep that seed catalog handy.

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Bette Husted is a writer and a student of tai chi and the natural world. She lives in Pendleton.

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