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The Scenic Route

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The Scenic Route

The longest thing I've ever done


Fifteen years ago last August, in the innocent pre-9/11 days of 1995, I had lunch at the Floating Restaurant in Hope with Dennis Nicholls. I didn’t know him very well at the time, only that he had started and then given up on publishing a little newspaper called The River Journal based, of all places, in Noxon, Montana.

His claim to sanity was that he had, after some months in a tiny market with virtually no advertisers, ceased publication. “Way to go, Mr. Nichols,” I thought, “showing good sense like that.”

Our conversation at the Floating Restaurant was about his desire to resurrect the dead Journal. I had just suffered through a bout of newspaperitis with the ill-fated Bonner News Digest, published out of the Bonner Mall in the space now occupied by the beauty school, which may be a higher and better use. So, my advice to him was to go get a job planting trees or cutting them down (Dennis was a forester, after all) and forget the blinkin’ newspaper business.

As I said, I didn’t know him very well.

What I would learn about Dennis is that if you wanted to give him advice, it was best to tell him the opposite of what you really thought he should do. In retrospect, I should have stood up on the table and yelled, “What a great idea! Yes! You should do that!” But, I didn’t. Instead I listed all the practical reasons that it was impractical to start a newspaper in the market where he was trying to start one with a computer running MS Publisher, a dot-matrix printer and a friend with a big copier—and absolutely no money.

Then, he said the magic words: “If you’ll help me—you know, give me advice and stuff like that—you can have your own column and write about whatever you want.”

“Whatever I want?” I asked.

“Whatever you want,” he assured me.

Dammit! He had me. With me giving him advice and stuff—like food, the occasional small loan and nearly free editorial—Dennis began The River Journal—again. Fifteen years ago this month, with Pam Van Kirks’ now-familiar banner firmly in place, we printed some totally ambitious and unrealistic number and sent them out into the world. And, we are still at it—admittedly without our friend, Dennis—but with someone who may be just as crazy at the helm. Publisher Trish Gannon, the Calm Center of Tranquility, may have gotten some of those advice-taking skills from Dennis.

And, I don’t take advice worth a damn, either, evidently. As a result, this is the 210th time I have written about “whatever I want” in “The Scenic Route,” though there have been more than a few times when I have written about stuff I didn’t want to write about. September 11, 2001 comes to mind. The death of my dog and deer on the highway. Racists in the neighborhood. Friends who die before they are supposed to and way before we want them to.

But, I’ve also gotten to write about stuff I really, really want to write about. Wilderness. Russia. New dogs. Friendships, courtships and even—somewhere back there—space ships. Holidays. Normal days. Weird days. Halcyon days. Courage and cowardice. The essay as an art form and the essay as a means of self-description and the essay as political method.

Whatever I want.

Sometimes, it has been hard to decide what I wanted to write about. Often, I have rehashed something I wrote before—which, in fact, I discovered I am doing right now. And, I’m way behind deadline; so far, in fact, that The Calm Center of Tranquility has offered to let me off the hook for this issue.

That was sort of an interesting moment. Part of me wanted to accept that offer, because I have done this 209 times already. But, part of me practically recoiled from the thought—because I have done this 209 times already. Every issue. Every time. How could I not be in The River Journal? I’ve given too much advice and other stuff to quit now, I guess. Even if nobody ever follows the advice.

It’s the longest I have continuously done anything. Besides eat, sleep, breathe and similar functions. And, there are probably a couple of bloggers out there who will take this opportunity to tell me it’s gone on too long. Some bloggers, with their funny secret little names and masks of anonymity, are more than willing to assert their views as long as they don’t have to put their real name out there. I guess they can write whatever they want, too.

Happy birthday, River Journal. It’s still a pleasure.

Sandy Compton is the publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com) and chief storyteller of The StoryTelling Company (visit their Facebook page).

Ed. Note: Sandy points out that it was 15 years ago this month that the River Journal was re-born. But that very first issue of the River Journal, with stories on protecting Bull Trout, snowmobile subsidies, the reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act, the 35th annual Coffey Cup basketball tournament in Montana, and high ratings for a new movie: Jurassic Park, was published on December 15, 1993. So this month also commemorates 17 years of the news worth wading through. If you’d like to take a gander at that first issue, you can see it here.


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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

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journalism, opinion, work, writing

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