June 2013

Years ago a Sacramento Bee editor went looking for a correspondent and found me, an erstwhile east-coast academic living at the end of a paved road in rural Plumas County.  It was not my pedigree that interested him but my geographic place.  I was someone in the sticks who could string together enough sentences to pass on the occasional local news story to metropolitan readers.

That began my relationship with the California capital’s regional daily.  Over the years my stories have run the gamut from grazing sheep as an alternative to herbicides to a sheriff who abused his own daughters.  I have worked with a host of Bee editors, all of them excellent save one so geographically challenged he thought the headwaters of the Feather River are at the base of Oroville Dam, and that a blizzard in northwestern Nevada would somehow not affect the highways between my home deep in the Sierra Nevada and the even more remote community of Vya.

It is that very urban ignorance that has always intrigued me about working for the Bee.  I relish the opportunity to break the stereotype of the backwoods bumpkin by filing stories about the local retiree who invented a wood-fired automobile; the attorney who represented Mao Zedong against Chiang Kai-shek; the home-schooled Native American who got into Harvard.  I have happily called this job “the booney beat.”

Tommy Merino, Veterans Day Parade

And now it’s official: In February I was offered a column called Northern Exposure.  It runs on the first Sunday of the month in the Bee‘s Forum section.  I have free reign to dredge up any news whatsoever from far northern California.

Indian Valley

Long before Northern Exposure, the Bee served as my bridge from writing for a local weekly newspaper to national magazines.  Magazine stories, my mainstay for years, have taken me to remote bristlecone pine forests, Mexican islands where endangered seabirds breed, an unheralded national park in Tanzania, and to Chernobyl.  I cherish the opportunity to see the world through a journalist’s lens.  Yet I return to delight in the uncompromising integrity and unending ingenuity of my true-blue neighbors, to the wild wailing of coyotes in the forest surrounding my house.

Writing about otherwise unnoticed people and places for Northern Exposure is every bit the adventure of international travel.  It is just as weird, just as challenging.  And it’s home.

Warner Mountains