The HCN miracle

  • New interns, from left, Jeff Chen, Terray Sylvester and Emily Underwood.

    Shaun C. Gibson

Well, you've done it again. Just when we were worried that the worsening economy would seriously cripple our financial condition, you stepped up in December with a blizzard of support. All told, our readers provided $150,000 in Research Fund gifts -- a record amount for a single month. The presses (and the electrons at will keep rolling in 2009. From the bottom of our hearts: Thank you!!! (And if you haven't had a chance to contribute yet, it's never too late.)

The latest crop of interns has arrived at HCN. For the next six months, they'll be our staff reporters, learning about the West and gaining journalism experience. (More details about the program are at

For Jeff Chen, this year started more safely than the last. Twelve months ago, HCN's new multimedia intern had just set off on a 300-mile adventure down the east coast of Taiwan. "We were almost run over by a train on the first day," recalls Jeff. Traveling by foot and by thumb, he gathered recordings -- pre-dawn Buddhist prayers, indigenous songs, the roar of that dangerous locomotive -- and later wove them into a documentary that delves into his Taiwanese roots.

Jeff picked up his multimedia skills while studying broadcast journalism and environmental science at the University of Maryland, near his hometown of Fulton. He's worked for National Geographic and NBC. At HCN, Jeff hopes to dig into the connections between Western culture and the landscape it relies upon.

New editorial intern Terray Sylvester arrived in Paonia this January sporting three pairs of skis, a broken wrist from a climbing accident, and his favorite frying pan. An adventure seeker in perpetual motion, Terray grew up in Truckee, Calif., and went "as far away as possible" to study literature at Middlebury College in Vermont.

After graduating in 2006, Terray aimed to walk back to California. However, he became "distracted" by tales of spectacular scenery near Lake Huron, and veered north toward Canada. He walked 350 miles before fracturing his foot. Unfazed, he took the bus to Washington state, then sailed with friends to Alaska. After a brief stint in a cannery, he returned to Truckee to write for the independent newspaper Moonshine Ink.

 A fascination with the intersections between people and the environment, and a lifelong love of the West, drew him to intern at HCN

Rivers are essential veins for culture, politics and spirituality, says Emily Underwood, our other editorial intern. The American River, which runs through her hometown, Coloma, Calif., has been the backbone of Emily's existence.

When she was 11, Emily got certified as a Swiftwater Rescue Technician. At 15, she lied about her age and started guiding whitewater rafters. And last summer, Emily rowed a 22-foot "toilet boat" for 12 days in the Grand Canyon. That's 150 whitewater rapids she navigated without flipping her, uh, load.

After getting a degree in science and society from Brown University in Providence, R. I., Emily is now settled in Paonia. At HCN, she hopes to combine her interest in writing and her passion for the American West. "The places I love are in serious peril," says Emily.

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