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Malheur, A Volunteer’s Reflection

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By Eileen Loerch

I have been coming to Malheur NWR since the late 1970’s. It drew me and my husband. We came every year, then, with our infant daughter. Our 1972 VW Bus was our camper. We put her in the back, over the engine, and puttered along the refuge roads.

Not so wild horses approached our van along the Double OO road and scratched against the van. My daughter, Jessi, loved it. I wish I could remember the horse’s name. The rancher visited with us, and told us the beautiful stallion stole wild horse and brought them into his herd. The scars were visible along his shoulders and flanks from defending his herd.

So, every year, we came for a couple of weeks. We were newbies. Ranchers and Northern Paiutes lived her long before our visits. Yet, we hoped we could connect, understand.

Yes, we came for the birds. In the 1980’s, the basin was full. Early morning, the cacophony from Malheur Lake and marshes was a message of so much life. Western grebes swam amongst flooded sagebrush. I marveled at the life and my good fortune.

Yet, in the 1980’s, the lake continued to rise. You could stand at edge of the lake, and see the lake’s elevation rise, as you would see the tide rise along the coast. Then, a hard, cold winter arrived. The lake froze. As the lake thawed, the ice took out homes and trees. We were nearly trapped at Malheur, as the water rose. Carp cut across the narrows road, and we left toward Crane, returning to our home in Boise.

So, change happens. I am now retired, my dear love Steve has passed from this existence. Marshall Pond is nearly dry. I think science has shown this is not just climate variation. Extremes appear to be the norm now as our planet warms.

My daughter will visit this month. She will remember. She will ponder and see change.

Change is inevitable.

I will continue to come to this place as long as I can. It is a place of wonder, yet I fear for what we have forced this place to become, I hope we see the wisdom in making changes to lessen our impact on Malheur, and our planet.

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