Meet the Board: Mike Emmons

Jan 21, 2011
We begin a new series of interviews with members of the Board of the Deschutes Land Trust.

We begin a new series of interviews with members of the Board of the Deschutes Land Trust.  And we begin this beginning with a revealing portrait of Michael Emmons, the new President of the Board. 

Mike Emmons lives at Black Butte Ranch; he lists his 48-year-old marriage to Gail and his children before any of his professional and business accomplishments; he’s logged 1300 hours of flying time, but you are about to meet a Mike who is a little boy in bare feet, a little boy who lived, he believed, in the wilderness.  I first met grown-up Mike on a tour of what is now the Whychus Canyon Preserve led by Amanda Egertson, our Stewardship Director.  Mike had brought a couple dozen of his friends to experience the magic of the place.  I was curious about what makes a Deschutes Land Trust Board Member and Officer tick.  I asked him how he thought his childhood had prepared him to care about land enough to do something about it.  He told me about going barefoot all summer and I knew I wanted to know more.

Months later, we met for lunch at a local restaurant.  Mike told me more.

TTL:  It’s clear to me that your childhood prepared you to be the guy who is working to protect Central Oregon wild lands.  You are thought of as a man with his feet on the ground.  Can you say something about that little boy with bare feet?
Mike: We lived next to Takena Park in Albany, Or., and the lasting sensation was the grass of the park on your feet.  I think my feet were permanently green until the fall. I took my shoes off as soon as school ended at the beginning of summer and didn’t put them back on till the dread day school started in the Fall. The big test was when your feet were tough enough to run on gravel. That usually took several weeks.  From then, it was pure freedom.
TTL:  I know that sensory memory is important in the development of devotion to place.  Will you tell our readers one of your childhood sensory memories?
Mike: Easy, smelling burning Rye Grass:  From about age 15 through my second summer at University I worked on combines and at Fry Station Seed Mill about 5 miles east of Albany off a gravel road in the "country". I have always associated Fall with the burning of the fields in and around Albany,  Smelled like hay or something they tried to legalize in Liberal CA.  The moon was always bright orange. I played high school football and the games were always Friday nights with the smell of burning fields and that orange moon overhead.
TTL:  You told me that this picture of you, your sister Karen and your brother Pat is the Wilderness Picture because of the trees in the background.  Tell me about the “wilderness”, the “country” of your childhood.
Mike:  Father was an attorney in Salem until we moved to Albany in 1949 or 1950 to start his practice there.  In Salem, we lived in the Southwest area on a hill that had a house, barn and garage.  I spent my first 8 years in what I thought was the country.  Mainly oak and maple trees,  A cemetery was next door.  We had the Lassie, garden, cow, horse, etc.,  To me, it was as large as Kings Ranch.

TTL:  You told me that you are grateful to have grown up partly in a small town.  Tell us a little about that.

Mike:   Albany was about 8,000 people, maybe smaller.  We had the security of riding our bikes or walking to all the schools I attended, and everywhere in the town.  There was no violent crime that I can remember.  Familiarity, sports, family (5 children) and one very close brother, Pat.  No TV until my older brother, the nerd-Professor at Stanford until he retired, bought one of the first TVs and we watched Charlie Chan.  
TTL:  Often when I teach Writing from Place circles, I ask people if they had wild places in their childhoods.  How about you?
Mike:    We had The Fort:  At the end of my paper route in southwest (I like that direction) Albany was the forest with the Calapooia River running through it. It was probably max 100 acres and logged many years ago. The Fort came into being when I was between the ages of 11 to 15.  We relieved the builders in the area of two-by-fours and other building material. It was a tree house about 10+ feet off the ground. The most fun was building it.  Now, my work with the Land Trust sometimes seems like an extension of that childhood enthusiasm and appreciation for the wild.

We dove into our desserts - creme brulee for me; peanut butter ice cream sundae for Mike.  As he ate, it was easy to see that little boy, the kid who'd run barefoot over the Oregon earth, and learned that there is magic in wild places.