I’ve tried for a long time to put into words how I feel about Highland County. What is it like? What does it represent? What would the world, my world, be like without it?
I still haven’t found any.
I’m not from Highland County. I washed ashore here two and a half years ago, dog tired from a 10-month stint in the Far East followed by a period of sojourning in California and Oregon. I somehow landed a job as the sports editor at The Times-Gazette, even though I knew little to nothing about sports. But I did know how to learn, and I figured it out. A few months later, I switched over to regular reporting, one of my first loves.
Under the guidance of two of the best newspapermen to ever bleed ink – Gary Abernathy and Jeff Gilliland – I learned that the pen truly is mightier than the sword; that balanced journalism is an anchor for those tossed about on waves of rumor. I can’t say that my reporting has been perfect, and many will likely agree. But I can say with a clear conscience that I’ve always tried to do the best I can with what I have.
Landing the job here was somewhat of a dream come true. My sister, Katie, worked at The Times-Gazette years ago, and I tagged along with her a few times in my early teens. I remember watching wide-eyed as she interviewed officials, made important phone calls and typed stories in the blink of an eye on an outdated Mac computer. The smell of newsprint and old cigarettes in the loading bay at the back of the building made me dizzy with a new kind of excitement. I wanted to be a reporter.
But beneath the burning desire to chase fire trucks with camera in one hand and notebook in the other, I felt a deep and quiet love for Highland County; for its people, its rolling hills, its old buildings (maybe not the last one so much lately). It has stuck with me ever since.
As with any other place, Highland County is not perfect. Some of the people here are so full of vitriol they don’t want to understand the other, and that is a tragedy. In my two and a half years working for this paper, I have seen ignorance, hatred and dishonesty beyond what I thought possible. But I have also seen people pull together to support the most vulnerable with a humility and compassion that you just don’t see in other places.
That’s why this column is difficult to write.
Last Thursday, I gave my two weeks’ notice, and I’ll be embarking on a new adventure June 20. In the last few weeks and months, I’ve felt a strong pull to move on to other experiences and opportunities outside the comfort and safety I enjoy here. I’m acting on that now.
To those who supported me when I was down, believed in me when I doubted myself, helped me when I didn’t know I needed it, and forgave my many mistakes, thank you. You are so special to me, each one of you.
I’ve traveled a lot for someone in their early 20s, and in my time spent on the road, I’ve learned that home is not confined to one place. I have felt the warmth of home everywhere from Xi’an, China to Monterey, Calif., and many places in between.
Highland County is especially close to my heart, and I can’t give just one reason why. Maybe it’s the culture; the slow and steady pace of life; the quiet hills and dales stretching as far as the eye can see.
I still can’t seem to find enough words for it. But I know this:
When I see the red sun set over the cornfields and pastures, I am filled with a type of humble awe that makes me believe in God.
When I shake the calloused hand of a hardworking everyman, I am reminded that there will always be a reward for those who simply try.
When I look at the cattle grazing on the hills north of Hillsboro, I feel like I’m home.
Maybe that’s all I need to say. No matter how far I wander, no matter how many homes I have, Highland County will always be one of the best.
David Wright is, for the moment, the assistant editor at The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.