Population: 1,000 Elevation: 4,200 feet
Average Annual Rainfall: 13 inches
Claim to Fame: Tallest Flagpole West of the Mississippi
Best Place to Be in Dorris: Hospitality Inn & Dinner House
Jeff Burcher, owner of Hospitality Inn & Dinner House calls his place “a diamond in the rough.” An apt description. Dorris is a tiny town, with modest homes, curbless streets and unpaved driveways, their potholes filled with water from recent rain. I see more stray cats than I have in years. Today, a dull gray covers the sky, making sunshine seem like just an idea. This is a flat, usually arid land, with vast alfalfa fields all around. The hay’s in the barns now, but groups of serious looking men gather around farm machinery at the edge of the fields, preparing for planting, I assume.
The Inn was once a hospital. During my tour, Jeff points out what was had been the delivery room, a ten-bed ward, the waiting room. There are light fixtures made from the wooden wheels of old wheelchairs. Porcelain bedpans have been transformed into planters. I’m enthralled with the renovation, the cozy, old-fashioned décor, the photos of Jeff’s family, the comfort of this lovely home. But I can also imagine how it housed sick people; my mind recreates the ward, nurses in starched white uniforms and those awful hats, patients wheeled by on gurneys, babies born as fathers pace the waiting room.
The Dinner House, a block from the Inn, is a boisterous place. Conversation and laughter escape from the back dining room. Half a dozen guests sit at the bar. The bar opens into the kitchen and Jeff is cooking with one of his sons. I’m greeted warmly, and am reminded of how easy it is to leave the solitude of home and find company. I take a seat in the front room, enjoy a glass of Chilean wine, and tell myself that I did have a purpose for making this trip, other than a reprieve from my much too empty house.
Jeff, Mr. Hospitality himself, joins me. We talk about his grandchildren, his work for the Forest Service, but I steer the conversation to Oregon 7. He tells me a friend took a photo of a paw print she believed was Journey’s, when Journey first made the trek to California late December. When I ask what the prevailing attitude about wolves is here in Dorris, he explains that there are a lot of cougar and coyote around and they kill a hefty number of livestock as well as game–mule deer, antelope. If wolves were to repopulate these parts, he says, the cougar or coyote would have to go, people would never tolerate that many predators.
Jeff introduces me to Bull, whose impressive size no doubt earned him his nickname. Jeff jumps up to go cook and Bull sits down. Soft spoken, he tells me he’s the only Indian in town, at least the only one who gets out much. I’m glad to hear that Bull has no problem with Journey coming to California. He glances at the bar, and says that most people don’t feel this way. And if there were more wolves, it would be a bigger problem, he adds. People are “educated” to have problems with wolves, and he doesn’t foresee this changing.
The backroom is getting rowdy. Two-dozen men and a couple of women from the Mendoza Winery are in town, Jeff explained earlier, on their yearly “squeak” hunting venture. I should know to never be surprised by what humans will do for fun, but I am. Seems the “squeaks” are ground squirrels that eat the growing alfalfa and draw badgers who dig holes that are treacherous for farm equipment. Since Mendoza owns some of these fields, their people travel to Dorris and take it upon themselves to rid the world of as many ground squirrels as possible in one weekend. Raptors flock to the scene, I’m told, and feast on the dead rodents. I try to find this particular field, mostly to see the raptors, yet I’m also curious about the hunters, but I get lost and have to turn around. That’s all right, my imagination is probably the best way to view this sight anyway.
Eternally, it seems, we’re at odds with nature, wanting to subdue and control it, make it convenient for human purposes. I toy with the idea that perhaps I’m just naive. This is how it is. Hunting, trapping, the clearing of land, destruction of habitat, is the reality. How can we fight it, any of it? But if I’m naive because I believe we must stand against this destruction, I’m in excellent company, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, those who fight for wolves in Oregon, Idaho and elsewhere. And what if we don’t fight, what of the authentic, natural world would remain? Maybe the squeaks, there are plenty of them, but most likely, not the wolves.