Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Wrap Your Arms Around the Season

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

Fall is peak hunting season, so be aware of your surroundings and stay alert. Consider limiting your nonhunting outings to areas where hunting is not allowed. When that’s not possible, stay on established trails, keep pets on a leash and wear bright clothing to increase your visibility.
© iStock/richardoreitmeyer

Americans love autumn. It’s their favorite time of year, according to a survey by research firm YouGov.

One reason for the love affair is the next two months offer some of the best opportunities of the year to enjoy the outdoors.

Of course, it’s hunting season, but nonhunters also can find plenty of reasons to relish the season.

  • Active pursuits. Some of the best hiking, biking and paddling occurs this time of year. Cooler temperatures make activities more comfortable and enjoyable.
  • Photography. Fall is an outdoor photographer’s dream. It offers gorgeous light, stunning color, and some of the best sunrises and sunsets of the year.
  • Camping. Fewer crowds, more wildlife and cooler nights are just three things that make autumn a favorite with campers.
  • Bird-watching. This is one of two seasons when birds are in motion, migrating to southern climes. Other wildlife is more active in fall as well.

Something to keep in mind when planning fall outings is weather. Temperatures tend to be cooler—especially overnight—and conditions can change rapidly. The days are shorter, too.

Get Ahead of the Crowds
Take advantage of advance reservations at state and national parks. You can make reservations six months in advance at most national parks and monuments, while state parks allow booking camp spots six to 12 months ahead of time, depending on the state. Making advance reservations for other types of lodging and guide services is also a good idea if you want to beat the crowds.

Outdoor 101: Gore-Tex’s Kryptonite
Waterproof, breathable super fabrics have a weakness: excessive body heat.

During high levels of exertion, even the best of these fabrics cannot keep up with the heat and moisture produced by a person’s body, so moisture builds up on the inside of the garment.

To give the fabrics a fighting chance, use the pit zips and other venting methods to reduce heat and moisture to manageable levels.

Monitor your activity levels and body heat proactively. Start venting as soon as you begin to get too warm.

Special Days in September
September 14, International Crab Fest Day.
September 16, Collect Rocks Day.
September 28, National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird- watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Weather the Storm

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

Floods are the most common natural disaster, caused by a variety of weather conditions. In the Northwest, rising water typically is a result of heavy rainfall or melting snow. In the Southwest, flash floods are common. In the Southeast, hurricanes and tornadoes are accompanied by a rapid accumulation of rainfall.

Prepare now to better cope with hazardous conditions

Severe weather can happen any time in any part of the country, leaving behind damage and danger—including electrical safety hazards. Downed power lines are visible, but electrically charged water is not. Both carry the risk of electrocution.

September is National Preparedness Month. Understand, plan and practice for weather-related risks in your area.

Hazardous conditions include thunderstorms with damaging winds, tornadoes, hurricanes, hail, flooding and flash flooding, and winter storms with freezing rain, sleet, snow and strong winds.

The Emergency Alert System and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio provide emergency alerts. Some communities also have a warning system.

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States. Floods result from rain, snow, hurricanes, tornadoes, storm surges, and overflows of dams and other water systems. They can develop slowly or quickly. Flash floods can come with no warning.

Failing to evacuate flooded areas, entering floodwaters or remaining after a flood can result in injury or death.

Know the flood risk in your area. Visit FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center for information. If flash flooding is a risk in your area, monitor potential signs, such as heavy rain.

Gather supplies in case you have to leave immediately or if services are cut off. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication, and pets.

Keep important documents in a waterproof container. Create password-protected digital copies. Move valuables to higher levels. Declutter drains and gutters. Install check valves. Consider a sump pump with a battery.

Learn and practice evacuation routes, shelter plans and flash flood response.

If you are under a flood warning, find safe shelter right away. Evacuate if told to do so. Do not walk, swim or drive through floodwaters. Never drive around barricades. Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down, and 1 foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away. Stay off bridges over fast-moving water. Fast-moving water can wash bridges away without warning.

Avoid driving, except in an emergency. If your vehicle is trapped in rapidly moving water, stay inside. If water is rising inside the vehicle, seek refuge on the roof.

If trapped in a building, go to its highest level. Do not climb into a closed attic. You may become trapped by rising floodwater. Go on the roof only if necessary. Once there, signal for help.

If evacuated, listen to authorities for information and instructions. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.

Avoid wading in floodwater, which can contain dangerous debris and be contaminated. Snakes and other animals may be in your house. Wear heavy gloves and boots during clean up.

Be aware of the risk of electrocution. Underground or downed power lines can electrically charge the water. Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water.

If it is safe to do so, turn off the electricity to prevent electric shock.

Thunderstorms and Lightning
Thunderstorms often include lightning and powerful winds, sometimes exceeding 50 mph, with the possibility of hail, flash flooding and tornadoes.

Lightning is a leading cause of injury and death from weather-related hazards. Although most victims survive, people struck by lightning often report a variety of long-term debilitating symptoms.

Know your area’s risk. In most places, thunderstorms can occur year-round.

Cut or trim trees that may be in danger of falling on your home. Consider buying surge protectors, lightning rods or a lightning protection system to protect your home, appliances and electronic devices.

Pay attention to alerts and warnings. If under a thunderstorm warning or you hear the roar of thunder, go indoors. A sturdy building is the safest place to be. If boating or swimming, take shelter indoors or stay in a car with a metal top and sides. Do not touch anything metal.

Once indoors, avoid running water or using landline phones. Electricity can travel through plumbing and phone lines.

Unplug appliances and other electric devices. Secure outside furniture.

Avoid flooded roadways, and watch for fallen power lines and trees.

Tornadoes and Hurricanes
Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground. They can destroy buildings, flip cars and create deadly flying debris with winds exceeding 200 mph.

The Southeast and Midwest have the greatest risk for tornadoes, although they can happen anytime and anywhere.

Know the signs of an impending tornado, including a funnel-shaped cloud, an approaching cloud of debris or a loud roar similar to a freight train.

If your community has sirens, become familiar with the warning tone. Pay attention to weather reports.

If you are under a tornado warning, take shelter right away in a sturdy building. Go to the basement or storm cellar. If in a building with no basement, get to a small interior room on the lowest level. Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls.

If outside, avoid overpasses or bridges. You are safer in a low, flat location. Do not try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle.

Watch for flying debris. Shield your head and neck with your arms and put materials such as furniture and blankets around you. Cover your mouth with a cloth or mask to avoid breathing dust.

After a storm, reserve phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.

Be careful during cleanup. Wear thick-soled shoes, long pants and work gloves. Stay clear of fallen or broken utility lines.

Do not enter damaged buildings until you are told they are safe. As with floods, be aware of electrocution risks.

Be Prepared for Outages
Severe weather often results in interruption to electrical service. To stay safe and more comfortable during a power outage:

  • Before an outage, take inventory of the items you need that rely on electricity. If you plan to use a generator, make sure it is properly sized for what you plug into it and that it is not directly connected to household wiring unless a transfer switch has been installed by a licensed electrician. Use generators outdoors, away from windows.
  • Put together an emergency kit. Include flashlights with extra batteries, a radio, nonperishable food, water and first-aid supplies.
  • Talk to your medical provider about a plan for devices powered by electricity and critical medicines that require refrigeration.
  • Keep mobile phones and other electric equipment charged, and gas tanks full ahead of a storm.
  • Monitor weather reports.
  • During an outage, disconnect appliances and electronics. Power may return with momentary surges or spikes that can cause damage.
  • Keep freezers and refrigerators closed. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours.
  • Do not use a gas stove to heat your home. Go to a community location with power if necessary.
  • Check on your neighbors. Older adults and young children are especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures.
  • After an outage, throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40 degrees or higher for two hours or more, or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. If power is out for more than a day, discard medication that should be refrigerated, unless advised otherwise by a medical professional.

It Takes a Village

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

Kristin Ballot is distracted by her mother’s ID badge during the exam. Karen is also a CHAP at the clinic. Treating friends and family is common.

With the nearest hospital a plane ride away from their remote village just south of the Arctic Circle, the Iñupiaq people of Buckland, Alaska, rely on a unique health care model to meet the needs of their community.


Snow machines and four-wheelers are the main yard art in Buckland, Alaska, mixed with animal skins and antlers. Racks of drying smelt are common in the spring. Throughout a long summer day, children freely roam unpaved streets on foot and on bike.

There are no yards.

The only businesses in Buckland, population 550, are the community store and the self-serve gas station.

Villagers are friendly and curious of strangers, even those toting cameras and notepads. Part of the Iñupiaq tribe, many still adhere to the old ways of a subsistence lifestyle. They hunt seal and caribou, fish and gather wild greens in the spring, living off the land. Relying on each other is a way of life and is critical for survival.

From that same ethos has evolved a health care system where members of the community are trained to provide medical care at Buckland Clinic through the Community Health Aide Program. Those trained are called CHAPs and are on the frontline of health care, handling everything from cuts and colds to life-and-death situations for their friends, neighbors and families. The nearest doctors are at the Maniilaq Health Center in Kotzebue, separated by 90 miles of tundra and ocean, the only way to get there is by plane, when the weather allows.

Buckland isn’t alone. Approximately 550 CHAPs serve 170 communities throughout rural Alaska. The Buckland clinic is part of the Maniilaq Association system based in Kotzebue, which serves 12 federally recognized tribes in the Northwest Arctic Borough and Point Hope, serving about 8,000 people.

The Community Health Aide Program was started in the 1960s by the state of Alaska to help stop the spread of tuberculosis. It has evolved to CHAPs serving as the primary caregivers in many native villages.

“We are the eyes, ears and the voice for the patients we see,” says Charles Kirk, who has been a CHAP in Buckland for 17 years. “We’re all related to each other one way or another. We know everybody.”

Charles says being a CHAP in a small community is challenging. He often responds to emergencies where those involved are close friends or relatives. CHAPs must put aside their emotions to treat their patients. The Buckland Clinic has four CHAPs and two relief trainees.

“Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s scary just ‘cuz we know the patient and we’re close to them,” Charles says.

When a patient comes into the clinic with a problem, a CHAP follows a prescribed set of diagnostic questions on a computer, working remotely with a doctor to lead to a diagnosis.

“We describe what we see, what we hear, what we feel and let the doctor know,” Charles says.

CHAPs use telemedicine tools that let them perform procedures under the guidance of a doctor in Kotzebue. They can render aid to a patient having a heart attack, if required. A doctor in Kotzebue reviews the notes and signs off on all prescriptions. Patients who need further evaluation or testing are flown to Kotzebue, an Arctic hub on the coast.

Charles became a CHAP after his wife started the process but couldn’t finish. Jobs in villages are hard to come by, and this is steady work.

Charles attended four training sessions, each three to four weeks long, in Sitka. They learned how to administer IVs and give injections.

“We had to practice on each other as live patients,” Charles says.

Students also go through emergency trauma technician training or emergency medical technician training.

“We’re skilled in emergency response, so I can give IVs and medication injections. We are taught CPR and basic life support,” he says.

Charles understands the critical role he and his fellow CHAPs play in the health of his community.

“We have no roads out,” he says. “Only way in and out is with an airplane. We are the providers for the village to help our sick people.”

Working alongside CHAPs is the Public Health Nurse Program. Traveling public health nurses such as Indigo Jicha work their way around to each village by plane for a week at a time performing well-baby checks and teaching classes on healthy relationships, risk reduction, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and other topics. Dentists also visit the villages to provide dental care.

When the children can’t be enticed to come to the clinic, Indigo heads out to the community, walking through neighborhoods offering free toothbrushes.

“A lot of the things we do are outreach,” Indigo says. “We go to villages and provide immunization clinics. We also do a lot of outreach in the schools and some education. We do disease investigations and a little bit of everything. We kind of have a lot of hats that we wear.

“The best part of my job is probably getting to be with families and learning from each other. We get to see a lot of families as they are growing either with more kids or as the children age, and we get to work with all the parents or caregivers that are involved.”

Indigo has great respect for the CHAPs.

“The CHAP program is pretty amazing,” Indigo says. “The work that they do, I don’t know if I could handle it. They are so in tune with the community. They are a part of the community and usually family members with each other. Often, they are going from the best calls where maybe a baby is born in the clinic to the worst calls where someone they know has passed away.

“Just the way it functions is really amazing. It adds a new level to the care when you have someone that is really invested in what is going on in the community. It’s such a unique way of doing health care. I think it’s a cool model—especially when you live in places where it’s so remote and it’s hard to get to main medical centers.”

About the series: This Ruralite-produced initiative spotlights health challenges in rural communities, efforts to address them and the unsung heroes behind the work. The series receives support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, which funds projects and programs in Alaska and the Northwest. The sponsorship helps fund journalism that makes a difference. Send story ideas to gro.etilarurnull@swenhtlaeh.

Magnify What Matters

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

I chose to stay behind the color guard beneath the shade of trees on a hot, sticky afternoon. This is what I saw with a 70mm lens.
Photos by David LaBelle

My first professional photo award came the month after I bought a 300mm lens. Although it was a slow manual lens (f/4.5), I felt like my camera suddenly grew wings and could record emotions I was unable to capture before.

During most of my newspaper career, I carried only three lenses: 24mm, 180mm and 300mm. If I had a shoot that required something like an 85mm, I borrowed a lens.

Whether fixed/prime or zoom, telephoto lenses magnify reality, allowing you to focus on subtle emotions easily missed with a 50mm lens.

Long lenses compress and condense information, bringing faraway backgrounds closer. They allow me to see more deeply into the faces and eyes of people, and eliminate unwanted backgrounds.

A long lens also allows you to quietly incorporate subtle color accents in front of or behind your primary subject without stealing the show.

Here are tips to consider regarding telephoto lenses:

Pay the price.
Avoid cheap 50-300mm f/5.6 or f/8 lenses. They are not practical unless you photograph only in broad daylight. If shooting in low light, the difference between f/2.8 and f/4 can be the difference between success and failure.

Well-made lenses are expensive, equal to or greater than the cost of a camera body. A Nikkor 300mm f/4 lens sells for $600 to $1,000. A 300 f/2.8 (one more aperture opening) is $3,500 to $5,000.

Go to a camera store and handle the item to see if it is what you really want. Things often look great online, but feel different in your hands.

Brace yourself.
Tripods can be awkward. A lot of photographers—especially those who shoot action sports—use monopods to help stabilize heavy lenses.

If hand-holding a long lens, brace yourself, as if using a rifle. That helps minimize camera/lens movement. A telephoto lens magnifies small movements.

If you don’t use a sturdy base, remember the “rule” of using a shutter speed equal to—and preferably twice that—of the focal length of your lens. For instance, if using a 300mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/500th of a second to minimize camera shake.

I am still a medium to long lens guy. A 180mm lens is my favorite portrait lens. I like the compression, the lack of competing backgrounds, the feel a telephoto lens produces.

At 68, with a tender back, a bad right shoulder and a neck worn from five decades of carrying cameras, it’s tougher for me to use long lenses. That said, I am stubborn enough to endure the pain to capture those faces and moments I want to share.

2020 Ruralite Calendar Photos

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

The 2020 Ruralite calendar photo contest was a doozy! With so many wonderful photos submitted, we had to make some hard choices. Enjoy the diversity of landscape, wildlife and color presented in this year’s calendar.

Cover Photo

A lone mule deer pops up in the middle of a mustard field in Idaho.
Photo by Nancy Chirichillo, Bonners Ferry, Idaho–Northern Lights Inc.


A young porcupine on a spring afternoon in northwest Alaska.
Photo by Jim Dau, Kotzebue, Alaska–Kotzebue Electric Association


Warm colors paint the eastern Nevada desert during sunrise.
Photo by Gary Stokes, McGill, Nevada—Mt. Wheeler Power Association


Low tide at Cannon Beach, Oregon, exposes a tidal wave of colors.
Photo by Mike Bowen, West Richland–Benton REA


Spring bluebirds at the bluebird capital of the world, Bickleton, Washington.
Photo by William Meeuwsen, West Richland, Washington—Benton REA


Spring poppies brighten the day in Graham County, Arizona.
Photo by Amy Pooler, Thatcher, Arizona–Graham County Electric Cooperative


A rainbow highlights a stand of trees.
Photo by Gerald Tsupros, Alsea, Oregon–Consumers Power Inc.


A professional windsurfer performs aerobatics during the Pistol River International Wave Bash windsurfing competition near Gold Beach, Oregon.
Photo by Lauren Klein, Brookings, Oregon–Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative


A dog-eared lynx swats pesky gnats with a flick of its ear near Kantishna in the heart of Denali National Park, Alaska.
Photo by Jimmy Tohill, Healy, Alaska–Golden Valley Electric Association


Paddleboarding at Morgan Lake, in the hills west of La Grande, Oregon.
Photo by Eric Valentine, Union County, Oregon—Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative


Surrounding foliage is reflected in Sparks Lake looking toward South Sister, Oregon.
Photo by Brad Waler, Redmond, Oregon–Central Oregon Electric Cooperative


A buck takes a break in the forest.
. Photo by Randy Robbins, Susanville, California–Plumas Sierra Rural Electric


Sunrise from a hillside overlooking Fern Ridge Reservoir after a snowstorm.
Photo by Jinger Rush, Junction City, Oregon—Blachly-Lane Electric Cooperative

The Buzz About Drones

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Tucker LaBelle flies his drone in this photo taken by his father, David.

Life looks different from the air than from the ground—and often looking down is the only way to see what’s really up.

As a newspaper photographer, there were numerous times I ached to get high above a scene to capture a better, more complete picture.

Unless I could hitch a ride on a helicopter—which I occasionally did—few options were available for elevating my camera high enough to grasp the scope of what was happening on the ground.

A few resourceful photographers mounted cameras on small aircraft or used balloons to elevate cameras, but in most news situations this was neither timely nor practical.

Thanks to consumer drone technology, anyone can make pictures from above.

Like most technology, drones came in with a buzz and a bang—so fast the Federal Aviation Admini-stration didn’t know how to regulate them.

Drones buzzed sports venues, beaches, news scenes, even celebrity parties.

My son Tucker has always been a bit of a propeller head. He created YouTube and Instagram followings, where he built a lucrative lacrosse business before he was 14.

Then he wanted a drone.

Uncharacteristically, I stayed up late on Black Friday and stood in line with Tucker, hoping to buy his early Christmas present at nearly half the price. Success.

The next day, a Saturday, the Washington, D.C., area was still pretty quiet and empty, so we looked for a park or schoolyard—a place to practice flying his gift.

Tucker was dumbfounded when, after doing everything he was supposed to do, the drone would not fly. Then came an intimidating warning on his cellphone. Before we could leave the schoolyard, a policeman arrived with lights flashing. We were in trouble.

Recognizing we were no threat to national security, the officer explained we were violating federal law by flying in federal airspace, and let us go.

On the way home to Ohio, we pulled over at another park and watched in amazement as the bird climbed almost out of sight.

I wish I had had one of these when I was 14.

Three years later, Tucker is still flying that drone—a tool the soon-to-be 20-year-old college student and social media guy for Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, uses to shoot stills and video.

“Consider the price and the camera image quality,” Tucker says. “What do you want to do with it? Do your research.”

Just as different lenses are made for capturing different situations, drones are designed for various purposes. Some commercial drones are made for imagery and some for hobby, such as racing.

David Stephenson—a former student of mine who teaches drone photography at the University of Kentucky—says everyone should follow certain protocols:

Safety. Do not endanger your subjects, yourself, nature or property. Do not fly at night, over people or traffic, around stadiums or events while filled with people, in restricted airspace or within 5 miles of an airport unless you have a waiver or permission. Don’t chase wildlife. It is illegal and unethical.

Ethics. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Consider a drone a camera that flies. If you wouldn’t shoot it from the ground, perhaps you shouldn’t shoot it from the air either. Respect privacy. Do no harm.

The law. When drones are in the air, they are regulated by the FAA, not local municipalities. However, local ordinances can dictate where you launch your drone. Respect ordinances and signage at parks, beaches, etc.

“You don’t want to be a headline on the nightly news after your drone shuts down a major airport,” David says.

Shooting photos from the air offers a unique perspective.

“Follow the same fundamentals of photography you would use when shooting with a standard camera,” David says. “Shoot in early and late light with long shadows. They look great from the air. And practice, practice, practice! The more you fly, the better pilot you will be.”

Photographer, teacher, author and lecturer David LaBelle has worked for newspapers and magazines across the U.S. Visit

A Rural Fashion Statement

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

The Leavitts—from left, Phoebe, Lucy, Tyson, Annie, Rodney and Abigail—love their rural life in Nevada, despite the challenge of being so far removed from shopping. They depend on online options.
Photo by Reyanna Jarrel/Rey of Light Photography

Distance-challenged consumers go online for forward-thinking yet functional styles

Rural American fashion has come a long way from the anticipated arrival of Wells Fargo wagons or well-thumbed mail-order catalogs. With small-town niche boutiques and almost limitless online options, far-flung fashion fans can get just about anything they want.

“I feel like the rural customer—they know a lot more about what they want,” says Jessi Roberts, founder of Cheekys, a boutique company geared toward rural women. “They are looking for good quality, something that puts a smile on their face. I don’t have to meet the superficial demands I feel someone who is designing for an urban customer would have to.”

In a rural fashion industry long dominated by big businesses such as Wrangler, Levi and Boot Barn, innovative smaller companies such as Cheekys and Rural Cloth—a company capitalizing on the theme “America, We Grow Beer”—are winning fans.

In her life story, “Backroads Boss Lady: Happiness Ain’t a Side Hustle—Straight Talk on Creating the Life You Deserve,” Jessi talks about New York’s misplaced judgment of small-town America.

“Thanks to some book called ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ there’s a perception in cities like New York that people in small towns should be pitied because we’re too stupid and lazy to know our lives would be better in the city,” Jessi says. “Well, I don’t believe that at all. I’ve lived in Texas. I’ve lived in Boise. I live in New Plymouth, Idaho, population 1,538, because I want to live here. I want to raise my kids here. And I run a company for all the women in all the little towns like New Plymouth who feel the same way.”

Jessi started her company in New Plymouth—which is just east of the Oregon border—as a tiny tanning salon, with a few purses and fashion items sold mostly to provide some decoration. She soon realized women weren’t interested in tanning, but were aching for fun fashion.

She sold the tanning beds and used the money to bring in more merchandise. She started to manufacture her own line of clothing and accessories and sell it to 35,000 small boutiques like hers.

Admittedly, not all rural residents have the luxury to shop locally for fashion. Distance to retail outlets can be a challenge for people who live in remote areas, and a desire to dress fashionably is tempered by the need to dress for function.

About a year ago, Marci and Jim Pettingill moved from North Las Vegas to a rural Nevada community about halfway between Vegas and St. George, Utah.

Marci’s tastes have always been fashion forward, but moving to the country resulted in inevitable changes.

“Our property is actually rural,” Marci says. “It’s not in a neighborhood. We have dirt and gravel and chickens and uneven surfaces. Just tonight I ran out to feed the chickens, and I just threw on my Birkenstock sandals. I was thinking, ‘Why did I do that?’”

Marci has learned closed-toe shoes are best to keep crud out of your toes. She has a few fashionable pairs of mules for going out, but her go-to chicken mucking shoes are Crocs.

While Marci and the women around her aren’t eager to look like they hopped off a tractor, Marci says fashion frequently answers to function.

“This is a farm town,” she explains, “and it doesn’t make sense to get super cute if you have to go out and feed pigs or take care of the cows and goats or whatever, and that’s what everybody has all around.”

That said, Marci says she makes an effort to make herself and her kids look put-together for church on Sunday or big community events such as football games.

She has noticed others go all-out, with little girls in fancy hair bows that make her feel like she needs to “up her game” and make sure her daughter, Laura, “has her hair at least brushed.”

The Leavitt family—parents Tyson and Annie, and kids Rodney, Phoebe, Abby and Lucy—who live a few minutes from the Pettingills, are at least an hour away from a well-rounded retail establishment.

There is a Walmart about 40 minutes away in Mesquite and a Bealls. A few minutes away there’s a Family Dollar, which Annie admits has come in handy when she needed last-second socks or underwear for the kids.

But if she wants to do serious shopping, she turns to her computer.

“I’m pretty antisocial,” she says, “so shopping online is my favorite pick. The kids are older and don’t enjoy hand-me-downs. We get most of their clothes before school starts online from Old Navy and Target.”

She orders shoes from Zappos, which offers free shipping and free returns.

When the kids were younger, Annie says she got by without investing in fancy clothes, but influences are changing that.

“Fashion isn’t huge out here, which is a nice relief,” she says, “but because of social media/online influences, my kids know what the Kardashians are wearing, and that determines what they like/don’t like. I’m trying to teach them that quality and style matter, and that really style is timeless. But arguing with hormones is a lose-lose game for all involved.”

If shopping for celebrity-wowed kids seems hard, try shopping for husbands.

“Tyson hates clothes,” Annie says. “We order his work pants online. He still has the same casual clothes from several years ago that I force him to wear on dates or for family photos. For his job as a commercial electrician, he wears pants and a work shirt, and changes into a T-shirt and shorts after work. We order his work boots online. I like to go to Nordstrom Rack for his church and casual shoes because there’s a large selection in his size of quality shoes.”

If anyone understands Tyson’s perspective, it’s Andrew Webecke.

Andrew and his wife, Kristina, live in Snowville, Utah—a town of just more than 150 residents. It is about 30 minutes from the closest grocery store, 50 minutes from the nearest Walmart and roughly an hour and 20 minutes from any other retail store.

Andrew’s favorite shopping venue is While he frequently buys online, he says it is best when he can visit the retail store in Logan, Utah.

As at home, you flip through a computer catalog and pick out what you want. A salesperson goes to the warehouse and fetches your potential purchases. Dressing rooms are available, so you can try on items and buy only what fits.

By necessity, Andrew says, his family does a lot of shopping online. Getting things in the mail is easy, but he says it is a hassle to ship an item back if it’s the wrong size or different than pictured.

“UPS or FedEx is at least an hour drive, and it’s not super convenient to try to get them to come pick stuff up from you,” he says. “A lot of places have a good return policy, but that’s assuming you’re going to get back into town.”

Andrew says he’s not super fashion-focused, but his kids are exposed to more trendy styles through school.

Andrew’s 19-year-old daughter, Hannah, says comfort is key, along with clothes to fit the seasons, which include deep snow in winter and severe heat and wind in summer.

“You run into things you don’t in town,” Andrew says. “In town, you’re not worried about the foxtail grass that gets stuck in your clothes.”

He says people he knows do not try to dress like stereotypical cowboys, but when working on a farm, the style makes sense.

“It comes down to function,” he says. “Think about bicycles. If you dressed the way bicyclists do for fashion, you’d probably get your butt kicked. But if you get on a bicycle and you realize, ‘OK, I’m wearing this clothing because it doesn’t catch the wind, and it breathes better and it’s not getting caught in the chain,’ you start realizing that everything having to do with cycling is function and has nothing to do with fashion.

“It’s kind of the same thing in country living. As soon as you hop on a horse and you start riding, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s why they wear pants like they do.’ I’ve got normal-sized feet, but when I try to wear something that’s not a Western-style riding boot, I can’t get my feet quick in and out of the stirup. It starts catching. You move away from the canvas and lightweight nylon because it gets torn up so fast.”

For some rural consumers, more than just distance deters shopping local. In Southport, Florida, retail accessibility has been complicated by a natural disaster.

“The mall closest to me was destroyed in Hurricane Michael,” says Kristin Evans, vice president of marketing and communications for Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative. “The only clothing store that reopened was Dillard’s, although J.C. Penney says they plan to re-open.”

That will be helpful, since Kristin likes the Ralph Lauren clothing brand for her 5-year-old son, Jameson, for church, school pictures and special programs.

Kristin relies on Target and Walmart for children’s play clothes and sometimes even school clothes for Jameson and 2-year-old Courtney, “since many days my kids come home wearing part of their lunch and/or art project.”

T.J Maxx recently reopened, and Marshalls is 30 to 45 minutes away at the Pier Park shopping complex in Panama City Beach. Destin is about an hour and a half away, and Tallahassee is about two hours, but the busy working mom says she rarely makes the drive.

Much of her shopping is done via social media.

“I already have my daughter’s first day of school outfit in hand, and I have ordered her outfits to wear to the National Peanut Festival in Dothan, Alabama, in November, to the pumpkin patch in October and for pictures in a cotton field in the fall,” Kristin says.

Growing up in the tiny town of Marianna, Florida, Kristin frequented a few locally owned children’s shops—her mom emphasized shopping sales—but most of the time they would travel 30 minutes north to the mall in Dothan.

“I still love to shop in Dothan, but it is not the same as it used to be,” Kristin says. “So many stores have closed due to online shopping, and I know that I contribute to that. In today’s fast-paced society, it is easier for people to shop via their computer, phone or laptop and have items shipped straight to their door, especially since so many online retailers offer free shipping and returns, making it no risk to try something.”

Online Shoppers Count On Instagram Bloggers for Help

Kristin Evans and Marci Pettingill turn to these fashion bloggers on Instagram for online shopping insights and tips.

“They’ll get on their stories and do try-on sessions,” Marci says. “They’ll give you their measurements and describe how things fit so you know to size up in this pair of pants or size down. I have shopped a ton through Instagram story bloggers because I can see how things fit, and I can have it shipped to my house.”

Piper & Scoot
136K followers, based in Draper, Utah
They offer twirl-worthy dresses and flutter sleeve shirts.

When Kylee and Nate Middleton—aka Piper & Scoot—met, married and combined their household, it was apparent Kylee’s extensive closet needed to slim down. She started selling clothes to family and friends on Instagram. That was so much fun, she decided to chase her dream of owning a clothing boutique. She vows to only carry items she’s tempted to add to her own closet. “You should be head over heels for every piece of clothing you own,” Kylee writes. “Wearing an outfit that I feel confident in helps me to be my best self and I hope it can be the same for you.”

J’s Everyday Fashion
56.6K followers, based in Florida
No models, Photoshop or fancy backdrops. Real women talk real fashion.
Jeanette Johnson provides a study of one woman’s closet, sharing failed attempts, experiments, successes, what she wears to events in her own life, and what she might wear if she worked in an office or was a busy mom. She is about empowering women—inspiring them to embrace “the audacity to enjoy yourself” through practical fashion without the frills.

Matilda Jane
156K followers, based in Fort Wayne, Indiana

It features clothing for babies, girls, tweens and adults, with a whimsical approach to texture, pattern and color, along with a few boys’ and men’s items, accessories, home decor and toys.

Founded by Denise DeMarchis, the line is designed to preserve little girls’ desire to twirl. Products are available online or through independent trunk keepers.

“I have a friend who is a Matilda Jane trunk keeper—and she is trying her best to get me to be one, too!” Kristin says. “The clothing is all very well made out of soft fabrics with a lot of detail.”

Lee Anne Benjamin
241K followers, based in Austin, Texas

She features the best of big retailers like Nordstrom, American Eagle, Loft, Amazon, Abercrombie, and even Walmart and Target, through her website and her husband’s website,

Lee uses her lifestyle blog to share her experiences with like-minded women. Fans get a peek at more than just her fashion hauls. They learn more about her mom experiences and her “coffee-obsessed and crazy busy life.”

The Spoiled Home
279K followers, based in Oklahoma

It features home decor and furnishings, cute clothing, makeup, shoes, unique accessories and sales, sales, sales.

Sandi and Shalia—the two friends behind the blog—met more than a decade ago when Sandi became Shalia’s hairstylist. Sandi is Native American (Seminole, Creek and Choctaw). Shalia is a high school English teacher who has run in three marathons, one with Sandi.

Jen Reed
478K followers, based in Dallas, Texas

She features affordable everyday clothing from Abercrombie, American Eagle, Ann Taylor, Amazon, Express, Banana Republic, Nordstrom and Target.

The mom of two says she lives on coffee, wine and a lot of humor. Expect more than fashion tips. Jen offers travel advice, beauty tips and even weighs in on the challenges of parenting. She’s just as likely to demonstrate a new face wash or razor as she is to do a try-on session.

Outfitting Rural Americans in Quality

For years, Brandon Bates worked the Professional Bull Riders circuit as an announcer before founding Rural Cloth—a hat and clothing outfitter that caters to a rural crowd.

“We design, source and ship everything ourselves,” proclaims the company’s website. “There are no department store middlemen or unnecessary layers. Every thread and stitch is placed with American craftsmanship in mind because the heartland deserves a brand that’s tailored to the rural lifestyle.”

Brandon and his wife live in Utah, but he draws his rural connection from the Oklahoma farm his maternal grandfather started when his mother was a kid.

“We still have this multi-generational family farm and ranch,” Brandon says. “My parents still live there. My aunts and uncles still live there, and I visit there quite a bit.”

Brandon says he had a comfortable life as a PBR announcer, but he wanted more.

“We were born with the single largest winning lottery ticket in the history of humankind, and we all have it if we have citizenship in America,” Brandon says. “What we choose to do with that lottery ticket is totally up to us.”

His focus has been on developing high-end retro ’80s-style jackets and vests. His biggest hits have been in the T-shirt and hat market.

“We created this fun little concept called ‘America, We Grow Beer.’ We thought it was fun,” Brandon says. “It was more of a celebratory thing for the American farmer. It has taken off like a rocket.”

Horse Therapy Helps Patients Heal

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Physical therapist Laurie Schick, right, encourages 3-year-old Ella Gruber during a hippotherapy session with therapy horse Kitty at Healing Reins while therapeutic riding instructor Karli Henderson, left, and volunteer Kit Kelly assist.

Life had never been exceptionally easy for Maddie Engles.

Born with a mild case of cerebral palsy, she quickly learned to adapt to the physical challenges her condition presented.

But in the summer before Maddie’s senior year of high school, one of her best friends died by suicide. In the nine months that followed, three more traumatic experiences left Maddie reeling. Her horse, Cassie, which Maddie’s family had owned since she was 8, died. Then Maddie lost a beloved uncle to cancer, and her dog, Lucy, died.

“I went to a dark place after that,” says Maddie, now 22.

She shut down. The only emotions she showed were fits of anger over the smallest things. She wouldn’t talk to her parents for a week at a time.

She built a wall around herself, and let no one in.

After a few sessions with a traditional therapist where Maddie would say almost nothing, her mother took her to a place Maddie had known for much of her life: Healing Reins Therapeutic Riding Center, several miles outside of Bend, Oregon.

Maddie started seeing a mental health therapist at Healing Reins who used horses in her therapy. Under the therapist’s guidance, Maddie used chalk to write words describing her feelings on the side of a horse named Keeper. She practiced grooming Keeper and walking her through a simple obstacle course.

Maddie says Keeper often seemed to reflect her feelings back to her, and over time, her sessions with the animal helped Maddie find a sense of peace.

“I just talked to her,” Maddie says. “I knew the horse wasn’t going to judge me, and slowly, piece by piece, I let my wall fall down.”

People have used horses to assist in physical, mental health and other therapy for decades, says Laurie Hoyle, Healing Reins’ development director. But in recent years, equine-assisted therapy—the use of horseback riding as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment—has flourished.

Equine-assisted therapy involves horses for the treatment of myriad physical and mental health conditions, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, stroke recovery, autism, depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress.

Occupational and physical therapists who use horses to treat people with physical or neurological challenges use a form of equine-assisted therapy known as hippotherapy. The term is derived from the Greek word for horse: hippos.

“All sorts of magical things happen when you’re on a horse,” says Healing Reins co-founder Penny Campbell. In 2001, she and her husband bought the 20 acres of land southeast of Bend where the nonprofit now operates.

Laurie Schick, a physical therapist and a specialist in hippotherapy who works with patients at Healing Reins, says a horse’s natural gait and movement spark neurological changes and adjustments in a rider’s brain that can’t be accomplished through regular physical therapy.

Three-year-old Ella Gruber started hippotherapy sessions with Schick in March.

Ella, who suffers with hypotonia—unusually low muscle tone—was scared to death of horses when she first started the therapy, says Ella’s mom, Jenna. But after three months of weekly sessions during which Ella rode a horse with her therapist and two assistants walking beside her, Ella’s fear has diminished.

The therapy has changed everything about how Ella operates in the world, Jenna says. Ella now walks better and can jump, stand on one foot and kick a soccer ball, which she couldn’t do before.

“She’s blossomed as a person,” Schick says. “It’s been neat to see.”

“She’s made so much improvement,” Jenna says, walking beside her and Kitty, the horse Ella rode at Healing Reins, on a bright and sunny morning in June. “We so appreciate this place. It’s been a huge blessing for our family.”

Studies suggest equine-assisted psychotherapy can be helpful for myriad mental health issues, especially for adolescents.

“It’s almost like we connect with horses in a more basic or more fundamental way,” says Laurie Hoyle. “It brings us back to the part of ourselves that are very basic and very foundational and that can be easily lost when we operate only in the world of humans.”

Those who work in equine-assisted therapy say that connection happens because of a horse’s nature. It’s a prey animal that intuitively understands the need to calm a member of the herd who might be agitated, to keep the entire herd calm for its safety, Hoyle says. That makes a horse unusually sensitive to another being’s unexpressed feelings.

“They are an instant biofeedback machine,” says Casey Loper, a Bend mental health therapist who uses horses in her therapy.

That sensitivity and unspoken feedback from an animal somehow helps people open up to talking about and understanding their issues in a way they can’t do in a therapist’s office, Casey says.

In the midst of her anger four years ago, Maddie went through a special therapy exercise with Keeper at Healing Reins. With Keeper running around free in a large ring, Maddie stood in the center.

As Maddie’s anxiety and anger dissipated and she became calm, Keeper’s emotions seemed to mirror hers. The horse turned gently toward her and slowly closed the space between them, bringing a powerful sense of peace that brought down Maddie’s wall of anger.

“I was in tears,” Maddie says. “It was pretty amazing to be able to know I had worked through the wall.”

Today, Maddie is still at Healing Reins, but no longer as a patient. She volunteers her time to help with the horses and is training to become a therapeutic horseback riding instructor. Maddie says she wants her future to be about helping others find the same sense of peace she achieved at Healing Reins.

About the series: This Ruralite-produced initiative spotlights health challenges in rural communities, efforts to address them and the unsung heroes behind the work. The series receives support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, which funds projects and programs in Alaska and the Northwest. The sponsorship helps fund journalism that makes a difference. Send story ideas to gro.etilarurnull@swenhtlaeh.

Savings You Can Count On

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Trained energy advisers help target efficiency issues

Better energy efficiency at home starts with savings, not purchases. An energy audit conducted by a trained energy adviser can help you get there.

“Members are our community and we are the experts in the electric energy arena,” says Manuela Heyn, an energy services representative for Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative, based in Southport, Florida. “We have the tools, knowledge and commitment to assist our people. Saving energy can also help shave peak loads.”

Manuela conducted her first energy audits with basic tools: a flashlight, laser temperature gun and a candy thermometer—the last one to check the output temperature of the water heater. She now has access to more sophisticated equipment, including thermal imaging.

Members become frantic when they see a major increase in their power bill, and they want immediate answers as to why. With experience and access to meter data reports, identifying major power consumption problems has been simplified and, in many instances, resolved in the office.

During on-site audits, Manuela uses all of her senses and experience to find abnormalities such as hot water line leaks, running well pumps, damaged power cords and construction issues. In one case, she found spongy drywall, disconnected ducts and lack of insulation.

Manuela also checks household systems that many homeowners seldom see or consider unless they spend time with their HVAC technician.

“One home I visited had an overflowing air handler water pan and extreme fungal growth,” Manuela says. “Some members, particularly renters, don’t realize their HVAC systems have an air filter. When they are dirty, they can freeze up the system and cause an increase in power consumption.”

Many utilities provide energy audits and support professional development for energy advisers that includes exposure to building science concepts.

Professional development training focused on both new construction techniques designed to improve energy efficiency and retrofitting options for upgraded older housing are common, as is specialized training for multi-family units and manufactured housing.

“By providing a picture of how energy is used in the home, people can concentrate on what can save them the most energy,” says Eileen Wysocki, an energy auditor with Holy Cross Energy, headquartered in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Eileen starts with a baseload estimate of energy use based on meter data. Talking with the consumer, she learns about household size and behavior patterns, then considers seasonal factors. In her area, that includes using heat tape to prevent water lines from freezing in the winter.

“We have many second homes in our service territory,” Eileen says, noting that even when empty, energy use continues. “Fan coil blower motors, whole-house humidifiers, boiler pumps, ventilation systems, driveway snowmelt pumps, pool pumps, hot tubs, garage heaters, heated toilet seats and towel bars are using energy, regardless of occupancy.”

The co-op—which serves popular ski areas around Aspen and Vail—is designing a new audit form that will stress benefits for members through efficiency upgrades, including comfort, says Mary Wiener, energy-efficiency program administrator for Holy Cross Energy.

Some utilities provide free audits, especially when requested in response to high-bill concerns. Others may charge a small fee, offering rebates to consumers who implement some of the recommendations.

Utilities that offer audits use the service to reinforce their role as a trusted energy adviser that helps consumers save energy and control electricity costs.

Time spent with an energy auditor can help a consumer avoid ineffective upgrades or buying improperly sized equipment that might not improve comfort or produce savings.

An energy adviser’s home visit usually involves far more detailed information than the brief discussions about energy efficiency members may hear at a utility meeting, fair or other community event.

On average, a member can reduce their energy use by about 5 percent if they follow the low-cost or no-cost advice given during the audit. Additional savings of up to 20 percent can be achieved by addressing issues with big-ticket items, such as HVAC replacement, attic insulation or major duct repair.

Improved energy efficiency not only helps the utility control peak demand and wholesale power costs, it offers opportunities to discuss available programs and services, such as rebates, weatherization measures and payment assistance.

To learn more about energy audits available to you, contact your electric utility.

Dirty Dozen Energy-Efficiency Tips for the Home

The average U.S. household will spend about $2,100 on home energy this year, according to calculations by the Alliance to Save Energy, based on information from the Department of Energy. But you can spend less with these 12 simple tips:

  • Seal air leaks and properly insulate. Plug energy leaks with weatherstripping and caulking. Be sure your house is properly insulated to save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling bills, while increasing home comfort.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to save up to 10 percent on cooling and heating costs.
  • Change to new and improved lightbulbs. Reduce energy use from about a third to as much as 80 percent with today’s increasing number of energy-efficient halogen incandescents, CFLs and LEDs.
  • Look for the Energy Star label—the government’s symbol of energy efficiency—on a wide range of consumer products to save up to 30 percent on related electricity bills.
  • Wash clothes in cold water. Heating the water in a washer uses 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes. According to Energy Star, the average household can save $30 to $40 a year by switching to cold water.
  • Turn off all lights, appliances and electronics when not in use. Use a power strip and turn off devices to cut standby power. This will save the average household $100 a year on their energy bill.
  • Even if you don’t own your home, you can keep your electric bill down by making energy-efficient choices in the areas of your home you control.
  • Clean or change filters regularly. A dirty furnace or air conditioning filter slows air flow and makes the system work harder to keep you warm or cool.
  • Hire a professional to service and maintain your heating and air-conditioning system.
  • Reduce the water heater temperature to 120 F to save energy and money on heating water. Wrap the water storage tank in a specially-designed blanket to retain the heat. If your water heater is in need of replacement, consider installing an energy-efficient tankless water heater.
  • Use low-flow faucets and showerheads to save on water bills.
  • Use your window shades. Close blinds on the sunny side in summer to keep out the hot sun, and open them in winter to bring in warm rays.

Preparation and Practice Equal Results

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Consider target practicing with the arrows and broadheads you plan to hunt with, rather than the usual field points. It’s more of a pain to remove broadheads from targets and painful to the wallet when you lose or damage one, but it will help you make more-precise adjustments that could mean the difference between a hit or a miss when it counts.© iStock/Stefan Malloch

What you do before the hunt can be just as important—if not more important—than what you do the day of the hunt. That’s because preparation and practice are keys for success.

With hunting seasons already open in some areas or fast approaching in others, here are six things you can do to improve your odds whether hunting with a bow, rifle or black powder.

  • Scout areas beforehand. Look for forage and bedding areas, and identify natural lanes of travel. Don’t forget to formulate an exit strategy for how to remove game if you are successful.
  • Get in hunting shape. It could be something as simple as a series of hikes or bow pulls-holds. Match strength and conditioning efforts to the terrain and mode of hunting you plan to employ. For archers, that means strengthening arm and shoulder muscles.
  • Get serious about target practice. The current term is mindfulness. Focus on each step of every shot. Use the same bow or firearm you intend to hunt with, as well as the same ammo or projectiles.
  • Do dress rehearsals. When target shooting, wear the same clothes, footwear and outerwear you plan to use when hunting.
  • Shoot all the angles. Shoot uphill and down, short and long. This will prepare you to shoot from a tree stand and in different types of terrain. Practice in different types of weather and low-light conditions, too.
  • Get a head start. If you plan to be stationary, set up your tree stand or blind at least 24 hours beforehand, if possible.

Why-Didn’t-I-Think-of-That Camping Cuisine
This summer I ran into a family of six enjoying what they called tacos in a bag, which can be fixed cold or hot. For hot, heat meat or beans. Prepare other ingredients, such as veggies, olives and cheese, and combine everything in snack-size bags with your favorite taco chips. Bon appetit!

Outdoors 101: Know Before You Go
Got a new piece of gear? Give it a test drive before using it in the field. That way you understand how it works and goes together, and whether there are missing or damaged pieces. That goes for gear that has been in long-term storage, too.

August is National Picnic and Catfish Month, and …
August 1, National Mountain Climbing Day
August 3, Campfire Day
August 10, National S’mores Day
August 31, National
Trail Mix Day

Notable Quotables
“The perils of duck hunting are great—especially for the ducks.”
—Walter Cronkite

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.