Out of your comfort zone, magic happens…

jonesReport from scholarship winner

By Katherine Jones

Photos by Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman

Editor’s Note: Katherine Jones, a photographer for the Idaho Statesman, was this year’s winner of the Don Watkins Mid-Career Scholarship. Through this article, she shares her experience with Press Club members. The deadline to apply for the next scholarship is Feb. 15; details are at www.idahopressclub.org.

Earlier this spring, I wrote a story about a woman who did weeks- and months-long bike trips. She sent me a little cartoon that helped explain how and why she did what she did. Picture a little circle in the corner of a box labeled “Your comfort zone.” And another huge circle, way on the other corner, labeled “Where the magic happens.”

I was way out of the little circle in the corner of the box — and pretty skeptical about this magic thing — when I applied for the Don Watkins Mid-Career Scholarship. It just felt pretty darn scary.

I applied for financial assistance to travel to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique with Zoo Boise for a story and photos. Idaho philanthropist Greg Carr has a 20-year contract with the government of Mozambique to restore the park; Zoo Boise, which has raised $1.2 million in conservation fees over the last seven years, has committed $2 million over the next 10 years to Gorongosa.

I learned about the trip while writing a different story about a woman who wrote a book, but what the story was really about was her following her heart. She said: Do you know about this trip? You should go. I thought: Yeah, right.

Then Greg Carr came to Boise to be inducted into the Idaho Technology Council Hall of Fame, and I photographed him while he was talking to Zoo Boise staff about the Restoration Project; I learned about the new exhibit at Zoo Boise that would be about Gorongosa. I was really impressed by Carr’s vision, as well as Zoo Boise’s. This would be Zoo Boise’s first trip to Gorongosa, and Director Steve Burns was leading it.

“First” is newsworthy; so there was a sense of urgency for me. That little “you should go” seed started nudging me; “Yeah, right,” evolved to include a question: “Could I?” It was all still pretty unnerving.

Burns thought a photographer/reporter going on the trip would be fine; Carr and his director of communication Vasco Galante were accessible, helpful and enthusiastic, as was Statesman Editor Vicki Gowler, who agreed the story was worthy. She put in a word with the McClatchy international desk, who agreed to pay half my expenses.

The deadline for the Don Watkins Scholarship came before I had really decided I was going. I wrote the application, making it sound like it was all written in stone — but I have to say that getting the scholarship was the nudge that pushed the whole project into reality. I remember sitting at the awards dinner thinking: Oh dear. Now I really have to do it.

Pretty much the only string attached to the scholarship is that the winner pass along lessons learned. The biggest one I can pass along is this: Get out of the comfort zone.


I wrote a blog — my first ever — while I was in Africa. The stories and videos that I produced for the paper emerged after I returned; I think the stories can speak to many people in many different ways. But I find that because of their immediacy, it is the blog posts and their accompanying photos that are the most descriptive of the experience itself: Me. In the midst of the magic.

Now go find yours.


FROM THE BLOG, DAY 3: I’ve always wanted to see a big cat in the wild. Mountain lion, bobcat — doesn’t matter. Even a track would make me ecstatic; they are the creatures of my heart. And today?

We saw a lioness.

She was simply sitting, giving us just enough time to get photos before she slowly walked off, leaving us with the sight of her tail curled and bobbing in the tops of the grasses. We saw her a second time, this time with her lion, just after the sun sank big and beautiful over the horizon. Oh yes. I can die happy.

(We learn later: The other half of our group saw her with her three cubs. On second thought: I will hold out for cubs.)

But for all that — let me tell you about the elephants.

We had seen two bulls and spent a lot of time watching a herd of 20 — and were so impressed. Massive, slow-moving, graceful — although not always so. Gorongosa elephants remember being hunted during the war and are inclined to be wary of people. They are learning, but elephants are smart and they remember. We keep our distance and travel with a park ranger carrying a rifle, whose purpose is to keep people — and elephants — safe.

Around another corner, though, we saw another part of the herd. We stopped in the center of a beautiful pastoral meadow dotted with yellow fever trees and watched the elephants slowly make their way across the far edge — like a little parade — to join another group. Mothers and babies paused to nibble branches with their trucks, gently fanning their ears, doing elephant things.

We scanned the meadow. To our amazement, we saw another group of elephants emerge from the forest, clearly headed to join the group. And then we saw another group. And yet another. We started counting: 68 elephants, give or take, and likely more.

I’m struggling for words. These elephants made Africa real to me today. One elephant, two or even three — I’ve seen them in zoos; this doesn’t seem very farfetched. Nearly seventy? All wild and free, doing what elephants do? And us, in the Range Rover, watching? Us — mesmerized. Speechless.

This I will remember for the rest of my life. I have seen elephants.

I wish I could end this post here. But know this, too: Steve Burns, director of Zoo Boise, says that 400,000 elephants live wild in Africa. Every year, 35,000 are poached. That’s 96 every day and four per hour. He did some math.

Those 67-ish magnificent elephants that left us breathless with wonder? Sixteen hours and 45 minutes of poaching.

More links to Katherine’s blog, stories and column:
Blog: http://www.idahostatesman.com/gorongosa/?rh=1
Idahoans play an outsized role: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/09/19/3384307/idahoans-play-an-outsized-role.html
When a zoo is more than a zoo: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/09/22/3388072/when-a-zoo-is-more-than-a-zoo.html
Heart of the Treasure Valley:  http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/09/21/3386636/when-life-reminds-you-theres-more.html


Photos by Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman