narrative journalist reporting on nature and culture in the American West


A Nez Perce elder spreads love for lamprey
High Country News, February 7, 2011

Elmer Crow waits patiently while a crowd of fifth-graders settles on the lawn outside the Morrison Knudson Nature Center in Boise, Idaho. One by one, the students stop squirming as they realize that the Nez Perce elder is watching them, hands folded behind his back. Crow’s face is solemn but his eyes are playful. The students stare up at him expectantly.
“Am I supposed to do something?” he says finally, pokerfaced. The kids sit frozen. Crow puts his hands on his waist and grins, wiggling his hips in a little dance. “How about that?” he says, pausing for effect. The students erupt in giggles. Crow laughs, too, his leathery wrinkles deepening.

Then he reaches into a canvas bag and dramatically produces the star of the show: a three-foot-long brown rubber lamprey. The students respond to the snake-like fish with squeals of disgust.

Read more

We are family
Some people are meant to be parents
Etude, Spring 2010

Julia and her family were supposed to go to Southern Utah for spring break. Instead, they’re here at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. Eleven-year-old Julia loves this place. Today she’s wearing pink and purple: a purple hat with sparkly plastic jewels, a pink hooded sweatshirt, purple flip-flops. She’s chatty and thrilled with everything. She runs up to volunteers to ask the sea otter’s names; she stares wide-eyed at the dark red octopus; she pets sea stars and urchins for twenty-five minutes in the touch tank.

Julia’s adoptive parents, Diane and Jack, hang back and watch her explore. They even allow Julia a few rare moments out of sight— until they see her trying to push to the front of the crowd at the sea lion window.

They call out to her sternly. Julia whirls around, her eyebrows furrowed, her lips in a pout.
Read more

Let the punishment fit the policy
Idaho’s school disciplinarians struggle to find the line between reprimanding and understanding
Boise Weekly, 2006

Throw a tantrum in your fourth-grade class and you might A) get punished by your teacher; B) pay a visit to the school principal; or C) get arrested, locked up and forced to spend four days in an oversized uniform isolated at the detention center.

Seven-year-old Fabian Alvarez experienced all of the above. Few parents would argue that students who act out in class shouldn’t be reprimanded, but many may be unaware that Idaho law allows for their kids to be handcuffed, arrested and locked up for multiple days when they break the rules. Renee Alvarez certainly wasn’t aware of the policy before she got a call from her children’s school in November. Alvarez, formerly of American Falls, was notified that the school resource officer was in the process of transporting her son Fabian to the Bannock County Juvenile Detention center in Pocatello.

Read more