High Country News
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High Country News

Two key components of journalism today: love and strength

As the pandemic grinds on, we in the media must continue to bear witness.

Sunset Boulevard is eerily quiet since shelter-in-place orders were enacted in Los Angeles. One of the city’s most iconic thoroughfares, on any given day it’s normally teeming with cars and pedestrians. Now, businesses are closed, parking spots are empty, and the ubiquitous billboards and movie posters seem to be advertising to no one. Roger Kisby/High Country News.

In February 1944, Robert Desnos, a French poet, journalist and member of the French Resistance, was arrested by the Gestapo, to be tortured, interrogated and incarcerated. That July, from a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia and under pitiable conditions, he wrote a letter to his lover, Youki Foujita, imagining their reunion in Paris. “For my part, I’m taking a deep swig of youth, and I will return filled with love and strength,” he wrote. “Will this letter reach you in time for your birthday? I would have liked to give you a hundred thousand American cigarettes, a dozen couture dresses, an apartment on the rue de Seine, an automobile, a little house in the Compiègne forest, the one on Belle Isle and a little four-penny bouquet. In my absence, you can go ahead and buy the flowers. I will repay you for them. The rest I promise you for later.”

Desnos remained imprisoned until June of 1945, dying of typhus shortly after liberation. He was unable to keep his promise, but he left us all a gift, a body of work that bore witness to that terrible time.

I have returned to Desnos’ words often in the last few weeks, feeling the weight of this surreal moment, the fear and isolation this virus has thrown upon us. I have taken heart in the optimism of that letter, its ability to imagine beauty beyond horror.

I have taken similar inspiration from the courageous staff of this magazine, who have worked for weeks to bring you this issue. In it, we bear witness for the West, presenting a picture of the region as it currently stands: cities in lockdown, rural doctors girding for the worst, an economy in turmoil. But we are also working at keeping our spirits up, and so we offer you pro tips from the natural world on how to physically distance, along with advice on getting outdoors ethically. Beyond the pandemic, the world is moving faster than you’d think, so we have balanced our COVID-19 coverage with other stories from the region, as we plan to do in issues to come.

Read the rest of Brian Calvert’s editor’s note here.

Brian Calvert is the editor-in-chief of High Country News.

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The nation’s leading source of reporting on the Western U.S.

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High Country News

High Country News

Working to inform and inspire people — through in-depth journalism — to act on behalf of the West’s diverse natural and human communities.

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