Malheur & Me: A Home Away From Home


Written by Glenda Sutherland/Photos by Don Sutherland

The full Harvest Moon rose bright orange over the southeastern Oregon desert just after the last pink glow of the setting sun disappeared. Don and I stood outside our little camper and watched the moon sail slowly higher into the black night sky, listening to the evening chorus of the coyotes float across the sagebrush. The pair of Great Horned Owls, who live in the trees surrounding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, called comfortably back and forth to each other like an old married couple discussing their day.

As the breeze turned chilly we followed their example, returning to our trailer for supper and sharing stories of the birds and people each of us had met during another day of volunteering with the Friends of Malheur. We have loved visiting Malheur NWR several times each year since we moved to Oregon fifteen years ago and Don has been a bird guide for the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. So we were looking forward to working as volunteers for a whole month in June 2020. Unfortunately, we were disappointed when the COVID19 pandemic put a halt to those plans.

When Janelle Wicks, Director of the Friends of Malheur, contacted us this year about spending the month of September helping in the Crane’s Nest Gift Shop we eagerly accepted the opportunity. I have to admit that I did wonder about how well my aging brain would do with learning the new skills needed. As a retired medical professional, I had never worked in a retail setting. But I know that learning new things can help keep one’s brain young and after all, if I did mess up it wouldn’t kill anybody! I needn’t have worried. Janelle is a patient teacher and quickly had both of us feeling comfortable with operating the store on our own.

One of the perks of this job was getting to camp in the lovely little private volunteer’s RV park at the headquarters and meeting our neighbors there, all of them eager to do what they could to make Malheur NWR the awesome place that it is. The younger folk work on the more physically demanding outdoor projects, while there are plenty of less strenuous jobs for us seniors to do. I especially enjoyed chatting with people from all over the country who visited the Nature Store. We even had one couple from the Netherlands!

Don is an avid bird watcher and photographer, so he had a great time scouting for less common and rare birds, then helping visitors to find them.The month flew by faster than we expected and now we are home, looking ahead to next year. Will we do this again? You bet!

Please enjoy this gallery of Don’s images taken during September 2021 while he
and wife Glenda lived and volunteered at Malheur NWR.

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