HCN interns: city kids meet gritty rural life

  • Shea Andersen next to statue honoring coal miners in Paonia Town Park

    Cindy Wehling
 

As word filters in from former HCN interns, I'm beginning to understand my place in a long and distinguished line of grunt laborers. I see now that I'm riding a wave's crest, benefiting from past intern suffering. Compared to bygone days, my time is a cakewalk.

One change is that the town of 1,400 is ready to receive us. Earlier staffers talk about an out-of-the-way place without much entertainment. Nowadays I go to first-run movies at the Paradise Theater and get all the espresso I can drink at the Moonrise Cafe. Paonia is changing; residents look around warily for fear that Outside Magazine will send a reporter through, looking for another Dream Town candidate. A lot of us sneak around, smirking behind our collars, hoping we'll be the last one in.

After years of youthful influx, Paonia recognizes interns for what we are: city kids eager for a taste of gritty rural life. So when we walk into any store, or meet locals familiar with HCN, we get a knowing look. We can tell they're sizing us up, shuffling through their to-do lists for things we might take care of for them. I've gotten offers for housesitting, dogsitting, even chicken-feeding. Someone wants me to do her irrigating next week. I'll check my schedule.

We're relied on for anything. Recently, at an office party for a staffer's birthday, there was too much ice cream left over to fit in the tiny refrigerator. "Can't we just feed it to the interns?" someone asked.

What hasn't changed about the internship? As Kate Gunness Williams (fall '89) pointed out, we interns still find ourselves "engaged in a lively, real and powerful debate" just by being part of this paper. Suddenly I am in the thick of things, helping put out the paper, where before I had only been an avid reader.

Then there's editing: I re-wrote my intern bio four times. Bob Wilson (summer "94) joked with me about the sort of mixed pride he felt about seeing his byline in the paper. "Oh, there were some good pieces in there, I just wish I could say they were mine!" Sometimes I go home at night and write rambling, run-on letters with bad grammar to friends, just for the fun of it.

Interns are still part of the paper's backbone. I pick up and deliver the daily mail, but thanks to Gingy Anderson (spring '89) and later interns, I don't have to do the day-long mailing of the newspaper every two weeks. We still hole up in a cabin at Intern Acres above Paonia, for which we don't pay rent now, thanks to Anders Halverson and Ross Freeman, (winter '94), and still screw up morning public radio shows. We do a lot of house-sitting to get a flavor of life in the valley.

Summer internships go fast. I've got three more weeks to figure out how to write a Hotline without getting edited. My writer's ego is battered, but it will heal after I go, and hopefully I'll never forget "active verbs, check your facts ..." and I'll never forget Paonia or The Little Paper That Could. The little paper that changes lives, occasionally for the better.

Shea Andersen is a current HCN intern.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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