My favorite article I wrote was about a group of American Indians called Karuk who live in North California. I liked this piece so much because it was like interviewing hero after hero. Not flashy heroes, just really good, dependable, wonderful heroes. Everyone had done so much reaching across aisles, and doing what was needed so people could trust each other.
I first found an article about the Karuk and their forests on a government website (actually, not just the Karuk, but also the Yurok and Hupa people, all of whom historically lived as neighboring people in the forests and along the rivers). It mentioned someone named Bill Tripp, and I don’t remember quite how, but I eventually found an email of his. Then I found a Karuk newsletter, and articles about fire control in it mentioned Vikki Preston. I searched and found her email, too. They both got back to me pretty quickly, and were so nice to talk to. Bill Tripp I spoke to three or four times and two of those times it was for over an hour. When I first talked to him, I couldn’t tell how enthused he was, because he talks very slowly, and also in a kind of reserved voice. But he was very patient with me, and answered all my questions over and over.
Both Bill and Vikki mentioned other people that I could talk to, so I did that. The trickiest part was when I had to try to get in touch with the Forestry Service. That’s a federal agency, so you have to first find the district office you’re looking for; and then try to find the press contacts on that website. You email them, but they can’t get back to you right away, they first have to get approval for the interview with their Washington DC headquarters.
I thought, oh, great, but it didn’t end up taking too long, after all. I think they got the approval the next day (a Thursday or Friday), and we scheduled the interview for Monday. So that was how I came to talk to Nolan Colegrove. I didn’t end up using quotes from him, but I just had to make sure that all the different stories from the different parties were aligning.
Well, while talking to Bill Tripp, Will Harling, and some other people, they kept mentioning the name of Randy Moore, who is like the head supervisor at the Forestry office in Northern California. He’s the one who, soon after he joined the office around 2009, at a time when everyone was mad at each other, hired two Hupa members to the Forestry Service office. That single act helped to bring down a lot of the mistrust that the American Indians had of the Forestry Service. Now, you know that most people in his position wouldn’t have bothered to try to to do that, wouldn’t have cared – would likely even have thought it was his role to keep the Forest Service lording it over everyone else. Randy Moore seemed special, and I wanted to talk to him.
But I couldn’t find his email online, at all; and he is not part of the office where my interview request was going through, he’s in the office over that one. So I feared I might have to get additional approval. But I decided to try anyways. I noticed that all the forestry people’s emails go something like this: email@example.com, or something like that (I don’t remember the exact configuration). I put Randy Moore’s names into the correct spots, sent him an email, and he emailed back just a few hours later, I think! And he didn’t mention anything about needing an approval process. We set up the interview either for the same day or the next day, and I spoke to him before I ever spoke to Nolan Colegrove. It was a great interview. Randy Moore seemed like such a high-quality, high-class person, and it really is an honor to get to have spoken to him. And that was how I got the backstory of how he came to hire two American Indians to his team.
Everyone in the story that I talked to was like that – big-hearted, hard-working, patient, and kind. And after I wrote it, there were hardly any edits!! And I loved the descriptions of the beautiful forest. It was just a nice story in every way, and I kind of can’t believe that I got to write it!