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Know the West

Looking for the road ahead

With so many unknowns, the West provides inspiration as guidance.


When this issue reaches you, we probably still won’t know who won the presidential election — or too many of the other races, either. It’s hard to predict what the aftermath of Election Day will be. Our cover photo shows a driver trying to make her way through the smoke of the Riverside Fire in Oregon. But it could be any of us, really, looking through the haze to figure out the road ahead.

Smoke from the Riverside Fire fills the air outside of Beavercreek in rural Clackamas County, Oregon, in September. Wildfire modeling of the past is failing in the face of the unprecedented conflagrations of today.
So many unknowns — yet there are still constants to be found. For inspiration, I look to the work of Beth Robinette, a rancher behind an innovative food hub for small ranchers and farmers outside Spokane, Washington. She and co-op co-founder Joel Williamson are the focus of this month’s feature story. It takes a lot of grit to fight Big Food and set up an alternative distribution system for fresh local produce, meat and grains. When COVID-19 hit, and they wondered if their collective would go under, the community provided a clear answer: No. We need you.

Robinette isn’t naive; she knows the agricultural system is broken. But she’s doing what she can, where she is. As Assistant Editor Carl Segerstrom writes: “When people and land aren’t seen as separate, but instead as essential and intertwined, then a more resilient food system can begin to take root in the Inland Northwest.”

People and land that are “essential and intertwined” lie at the heart of every issue of High Country News. In this month’s photo essay, that locus of land and people is heartbreaking on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, where families search for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Yet wonder endures; we also feature an essay by a hunter who has a coming-of-age insight while flattened in the Montana sagebrush, hunting for antelope.

Katherine Lanpher, interim editor-in-chief
Elsewhere, we take two very different looks at California. Thirty years ago, thousands of protesters gathered in the North Coast’s forests to fight industrial logging. Today, we can see Redwood Summer for the turning point it was, the beginning of a new kind of environmental activism. Recent progressive history has also revealed the West’s long legacy of racism. Historian Lynn Hudson’s new book explores the civil rights struggles of Black California activists in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As one NAACP leader said, “I didn’t see any difference in Pasadena and Mississippi except they were spelled differently.”

It was my privilege to start my short tenure here as interim editor-in-chief with this issue. (Please see our farewell to Editor-in-Chief Brian Calvert.) I’ll be around until HCN discovers its next great leader. There’s a story for almost every iteration of the West in this issue. Read. Enjoy. And know that we’re right there with you, step by step, figuring out the path ahead.

Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.