Just Write it as it Happens


I've been trying all day to recall a bit of wisdom Chuck Oxley once shared with me. It was my first year covering the Idaho Legislature. He was still the AP statehouse reporter, working like a dog to cover everything for every damn paper in the state, because the papers were getting too lazy or cheap to cover it themselves.

I was an eager reporter for the Idaho Press-Tribune. And I kept trying to out-think Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and figure out how the session was going to end. I recall one day I asked Chuck what he thought about my latest scenario—I don't recall the scenario, but I'm sure it involved brow beating and some nefarious plot point.

Chuck, who was juggling three or four stories at the time and had his characteristic sweaty brow, sports coat pockets overflowing with papers and pens, stopped a minute in the hallway and said something to the effect of: "Just write it as it happens, Hoffman."

I remember thinking, "Oh. Damn. I'm doing this all wrong." Then I tried to write my news analysis story anyway, call it news, and probably had to redo it a few days later.

Chuck Oxley, 46, died Saturday in a car wreck 21 miles west of Blackfoot, after swerving and rolling his Ford F-150 pickup. I didn't even know he was working out there, as an editor at the Blackfoot Morning News. He was partially ejected from the cab, though State Police say he was wearing a seat belt. His 10-year-old daughter was in the car, but was not seriously injured.

A memorial for Chuck will be held on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Municipal Park in the picnic shelter.

Chuck's J-school buddy Anthony Duignan-Cabrera has written a well-done tribute on his blog:

We’d both become a lot thicker around the middle, his copper-red hair had all but gone completely gray, but the same quick smile was there, the same romantic notions. While picking up the car to drive over to Brooklyn for dinner, a homeless guy took one look at both of us and said, “Good evening, officers.”

And following a link from the growing list of tributes on Chuck's Facebook page, I found this essay he wrote last year for the Sun Valley Guide. Chuck, staring down a big, amped up doe, writes this.

Until this moment, I could not have predicted the outcome. I think it was that snorting—that defiant blast of air coming hot out of her lungs combined with her harsh, almost obstinate expression—that set our course. It’s a vision that still plays in my mind. I realized that this was our moment, hers and mine, and that both of us had a job to do. It was my job to take her and her job to die, or to live, as nature and luck would have it.

And he concludes:

I reached down and closed her eyelids. As I did, I felt a release, like a part of some deep grief letting go. I lingered for a few moments, long enough to relive the previous evening, the minutes of silence between first awareness and the kill. Before leaving, I wanted to say something, something profound, but everything I thought of sounded corny. All I had was a sense of thanks to this animal and to the earth that gave her to me.