Great Big Sea’s rendition of “Its the End of the World As We Know it” was blaring through the car speakers as the downpour hit.
Lost in an endless maze of gravel roads north of Enterprise with gas gauge teetering on empty brought panic, then prayer, and a sudden understanding of why the acceptance of a “rural lifestyle” may have been questioned in a job interview weeks before set in. In May 2003, getting lost — especially there — wasn’t in the plans.
Just weeks out of journalism school, the task was to answer the call of a crumpled letter speaking of a rancher who’d had the honour of judging paint horses somewhere in the United States.
Eventually, my wheels turned into the ranch and my hand was greeted by a hearty grip. Inside a humble room adorned by saddlery and dusty trophies, bread was broken. After the conversation ran from family to folly, the reason for the summons became abundantly clear.
The host did something he felt was important and he wanted a storyteller to share it with his community. The newspaper was the chosen vessel, especially in those days before social media.
Carefully, I extracted the who, what, when,where, and why as taught when another lesson came. Asking the rancher’s age, he declined to offer it, stating he might lose his position. His eyes became uneasy and wide as a realization hit about the reach of storytelling and the trust one offers when allowing another to convey a treasured tale.
Somehow the roads wound out of Enterprise that night, but on that night and on many nights to come, I happily got lost all the same.
The generous, open folks met down roads around the Napanee area offered a chance to forget about being an outsider and to relish a being a contributor to this community with a task that offered meaning.
Whether it was joining a sportsman in the openness of nature on a pitch black night listening to his award-winning dog hunting raccoons or lending a voice to the people who successfully fought to see the Lennox and Addington County General Hospital expand — a proud moment — there was always a story to tell and sense of purpose in doing so. Of course, there were many benefits and detours along the way, too.
Spending Tuesday nights at the arena covering the Napanee Raiders led to a lifelong passion for Junior C hockey — that has offered many friendships and thrills, with a big one possibly to come.
Years sitting and chatting at the ballpark between bylines with the McGarvey family helped earn a special reference that led to marrying a special lady at St. Patrick’s in my adopted home.
The kindness and trust offered allowed the pursuit of a dream as the editor of Canada’s oldest weekly newspaper at the Picton Gazette for over a decade and a happy reunion coming back to the Beaver in 2017 to rediscover the town that became home and the people who opened their lives and hearts to a young kid years ago.
All of it set the stage for today. With a debt of gratitude to the kindness shown and lessons taught around this rural home, I’m setting down my reporter’s notebook. Next week, there will be a new unknown road as I embark on a second career working for the Ontario government. It really is familiar territory, though. Listening, learning, and building trust will allow me to use storytelling to make an impact in a different way.
It will be weird not pulling all-nighters each Tuesday to get to press or being approached at the grocery store, church or the arena with the latest news. Still, this will always be home and the discussions are always welcome, but rumour has it time off the clock isn’t such a terrible thing.
Others will roll down the road looking for your trust and openness to share stories. Hopefully, they receive the same chance given me.
Storytelling, after all, is essential to community. It offers context, maintains tradition, and challenges. Throughout history, that’s been a constant. One only has to look to this weekend and ask whether the great Easter story would be as effective if there weren’t scribes to share the detail of what they saw in the Gospels.
That’s certainly not meant to equate the work of small-town news reporters on that level, but one never knows which stories may have lasting impact and on whom. Again, every story at its heart comes down to people doing something that matters. The world will figure out how.
The diversity of voices in our media doesn’t seem as rich even as those days 16 years ago. It’s a concern for all and a decided burden for those who decide they can’t stay in the business. May Napanee and area always have those voices that link people together, just as the old rancher understood.
On that note, that rainy night as his fresh-faced friend prepared to speed away, the rancher offered that should he find the time and someone special to bring, he’d teach them how to ride. After years of meanderings and meetings the time might soon come to renew acquaintances. In the meantime, sincere thanks to everyone who followed in his footsteps and made time to talk. Happy trails, dear reader, until we meet again.
Editor’s note: While writers are often recognized in the community, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention someone who has long had a steadying, positive impact on the pages you read, often behind the scenes.
Michelle Bowes, our production manager, is also moving on to new challenges after 29 years at the Beaver. Her fingerprint is present on every edition. Her leadership has provided the glue that pulled everything together to create a valued product on deadline week after week. We all thank her and wish her well in her new career.