I’ve added a portfolio page/tab to my blog. I guess I’ve been pining for journalism of late (I really, really miss interviewing all sorts of fascinating folks and the opportunity to have amazing experiences), and this way at least I can show off my past endeavors.

Here’s a sample of what you can find in my portfolio:

WEB Single mom fireThe photo of Phylicia and her son Jace won me a first place award in the news photo category of the 2011 Montana Better Newspaper contest. Still, I wish her house hadn’t burned down. That poor gal had had a very rough run of it when the house fire occurred. Makes me wonder where she and that little boy are now.

All the current samples are pages from the Hungry Horse News, where I was managing editor. I wrote the stories, edited the stories, shot the photos, and designed the page layout. All in a day’s work at a weekly newspaper with a small staff. Work to be proud of.


Gonna be some changes, changes made

Well, I’ve got big news to announce! I’ve resigned from my position as the editor of the Hungry Horse News. I’m planning to go back to school this fall at Montana State University in Bozeman, enrolled in their sustainable food systems program. I’m just so excited! But it’s bittersweet, too, because I’m really going to miss the people and places that I’ve gotten to know in the past year. I think my newspaper column for the week sums it up:

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly news travels in a small town.

Got a phone call last night from a friend who said she heard from someone while picking up her mail at the post office that I’ve turned in my resignation.

Received a few e-mails this morning to that effect, too, even though I’ve told few people of my decision.

So it’s true and I’ll come out with it to the public: My last day as editor of the Hungry Horse News is April 19. So including this newspaper that you hold in your hands, just four more newspapers.

For the past year, I’ve measured my life in newspaper deadlines, interviews and hikes in Glacier National Park. It’s been a wonderful, crazy, chaotic, stressful, fabulous year.

When I started this job, a number of people commented to me that this newspaper goes through editors like people change their underwear (well, I certainly hope you change your underwear more often than once a year!). Call it the nature of the business, this nutty thing called journalism. Journalists are, by their nature, always hungering after the next scoop, the next story, the next adventure.

But it’s not to another journalism job that I go. After some months of soul searching, I’ve decided to return to school in an entirely different field. It’s been a personal evolution that I’m proud to say was not lightly nor easily reached.

During my college years, I became increasingly interested in organic food and eating and living a sustainable, earth-friendly life. Call me a hippie, but it’s a personal conviction not unlike what Montanans feel for their countryside. Shouldn’t we preserve this place for the generations to follow? Shouldn’t we grow food and feed our bodies in healthy ways that ensure our children and our grandchildren can enjoy this beautiful area?

After battling a month-long illness two years ago, I made the switch to an almost completely organic way of eating. And though the prescription drugs hadn’t worked, nor had the 12 hours of sleep every night, changing the way I ate did.

Living in Flathead Valley for nearly two years, I’ve had the opportunity to write stories about and volunteer on local farms and CSAs like Terrapin Farm in Whitefish and Raven Ridge Farm in Kalispell. And you know that feeling of being so utterly, unapologetically alive that you get when standing on the summit of Huckleberry Mountain or while listening to the fresh powder swish beneath your skis on Big Mountain? That’s how I feel getting dirt under my fingernails while depositing garlic into the earth for its long winter sleep or when I’m bottle-feeding a calf at my husband’s parents’ ranch in Nebraska.

So I’m going to stop reading about the organic, back-to-the-earth life and start really living it. I’ve enrolled in the Sustainable Food Systems program at Montana State University in Bozeman, which has the major fringe benefit of being three hours closer to my husband (who lives and studies in Butte) than I am now (what a concept to actually live with or near one’s husband!). I’m headed to Butte for the summer, excited to cultivate the garden in the backyard of our apartment there.

Let me say, however, that this was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. This town has embraced me in a way that I will never forget. I’ve never felt like an outsider here; I’ve been included from day one. I’ve made friendships that I know will last, even separated by distance and destiny. I’ve learned so much about this area, about Glacier National Park and about myself in the past year. I feel like a completely different person from when I started this job on March 15, 2010.

I’ve made mistakes at this job, but I’ve also written stories and taken photographs that I’m very proud of. I’ve poured myself into this job for the past year and (I hope) added a good chapter to the life of the Hungry Horse News as its first female editor.

But this isn’t the last time you’ll see me. I’ll be just five hours away in Bozeman and I plan to stop back in Columbia Falls and the Canyon often. There’s a lot more exploring I have left to do in Glacier Park, too. I hope you’ll want to keep in touch.

Thanks for the ride, for the memories and the friendships. They’ll be cherished ‘til the end.

Moonshine, grit and guts

So there’s a new distillery opening near where I live and I’m SO EXCITED. So much, here’s the story I wrote for the Hungry Horse News, with photos.

Nic Lee takes a whiff of the first batch.

Moonshine, grit and guts

By K.J. Hascall/Hungry Horse News

Last week, Nicolas Lee and Danny McIntosh huddled around the spouts at the end of the distilling process, watching a clear, sweet-smelling liquid cascade into a mason jar.

Lee stuck the end of a finger in the spout, the first batch off the still, made from distilled Great Northern beer. He tasted it, smacking his lips. McIntosh did the same.

After a few moments pensive silence, watching the spirit steadily fill the jar, the two men started laughing and clapped each other on the back. At the end of a long process from dream to reality, Glacier Distilling is up and running.

Danny McIntosh and Nic Lee celebrate two long years come to a successful conclusion.

Glacier Distilling began as an idea about two years ago. Today it’s housed in the Whiskey Barn, a bright red building on U.S. Highway 2 in Coram. The shiny new Kothe brand combination pot and column still stands copper in the window. There’s a tasting room in the works. Lee and McIntosh hope to be open by mid-to-late February.

“I feel like I’d always wanted to do it,” Lee said. “We were sitting around with some friends a couple of winters ago talking about microbreweries, talking about old timers and what people had to do to survive.”

Lee told the story of Josephine Doody, a homesteader near Harrison Creek in Glacier National Park. The memory of Josephine’s renowned whiskey lives on.

“She used to moonshine out of there,” he said. “When the Great Northern trains would go by they’d flash their lights to signal how many jugs they wanted. She was somewhat of a hermit, but apparently made really good moonshine.”

Glacier Distilling’s first brew is a light whiskey called Glacier Dew in honor of Josephine Doody and hardworking pioneers.

“They survived on moonshine and lots of grit and gut,” Lee said. “We wanted to create something to remind you of that time.”

A light whiskey is an un-aged spirit. All spirits come off the still clear; the color of a whiskey comes from the barrel it ages in. Glacier Distilling is using charred and toasted oak barrels to color and flavor the whiskeys they make. Glacier Dew will only sit in the barrels a brief time before bottling.

Unlike Scotch, which is aged in used barrels, American law dictates that whiskey must be aged in new barrels, which gives bourbon a distinct flavor. Glacier Distilling plans to find a home for their used barrels, perhaps at a brewery that ages beer in whiskey barrels.

In addition to Glacier Dew, Lee plans to release Badrock Rye, a rye whiskey, and North Fork White Whiskey. The piece de resistance, however, will be Belton Point Bourbon.

“The bourbon is my favorite whiskey drink,” Lee said. “I like that heavy, aged, oaked taste.”

The corn, rye and barley, once the alcohol is distilled out of them, make a great fertilizer. Lee hopes local farmers will use the grains. And in keeping it local, Lee said the distillery is trying to use all Montana grains in their whiskeys. The grains in the first batches off the still over the next few weeks come from Great Falls.

The distillation process is simple, and yet at the same time it’s a complex game of refinement. First the grains are combined with water and yeast in the mash tank, where the starches in the grain are converted to sugar. The yeast ferments the sugar, which turns it into alcohol.

The fermenting mixture is transferred to large blue tubs, where it sits for 72 hours, to days, to weeks, depending on the mixture.

The mixture, now called a wash, is placed into the still, where it’s heated to boiling. The steam that the wash gives off is what becomes the spirit.

“Steam is what you bottle,” Lee, a chemistry major in college, said. “The art is teasing, getting the temperature controlled, getting what you want out of there.

“With a small still like this, I’d like to play around. Everything is going to be small batches. We’ll have fun with it. The process is so simple you can do so much with it if you finesse it just right.”

The steam condenses into the spirit, which is placed in the oaken barrels, where the alcohol content drops off from around 160 proof to 80 to 100 proof. Glacier Distilling will bottle the spirit in small batches, which will be for sale out of the tasting room.

“We are trying to be a micro, local distillery,” Lee said. “Each product has a story of something that happened here. We’ve embraced this canyon area pretty hard. With the history that went on here it seemed like a good location at the doorstep of Glacier.”