January 20, 2022

7. Colin Penno, Photographer/Editor


“What’s 30 years among friends?” That is not so much a question as a musing—a thought cast upon the mysterious winds and effects of time.

It is a musing requested by my old editor Flavia Potenza, and gently nudged along by the Iron Lady, Mary Colvig, in her best “Look, just do it, OK?” form of support.

I’m not suggesting, by the way, that Flavia Potenza is old—not any more or less old than we all are, with the years that lie within us, around us, among us and beyond.

John Lennon (J.L.) was right, you know, when he wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy doing other things.”

How could we all have known, that merry Messenger band 30 years ago, what lay down the roads ahead? Hell, when you’re that age, a week is an eternity.

Or so it seems. It’s hard to rediscover now, real hard to recall exactly the feelings, the coursing blood, the passion and the essence of long ago.

7.	Colin Penno, Photographer/Editor

Former editor, Colin Penno, at 9,496 feet on Mt. McLouglin, a volcano in Oregonís Cascade Range between Crater Lake and Mt. Shasta, in 2005.

I do know one thing though. Everyone involved seemed to be doing it just because, to borrow copy from the oatmeal ad, it was the right thing to do, to start up a local newspaper that might serve as the voice of a community that hadn’t had one since the mid-’60s.

It was natural for those who had come before us and yet had not seen the need for it to bristle: “Who do these people think they are?”

From an initially large group, the regularity and sheer physical and mental grind and intellectual and moral demands of fielding a newspaper on deadline began to take its toll. And the fiduciary wisdom of accepting deliveries of bean sprouts (this may not be true, I’m older now) in exchange for advertising space ran soon enough into reality.

The paper began to evolve when Ian Brodie, a journalist with experience to spare, grabbed it by the scruff of the neck in the nick of time, and hauled it from shaky ground into the modern world.

Although the comfort and equipment levels at the Messenger have never been, shall we say, mink-lined, there would not still be a paper these decades later, I’m thinking, without the timely intervention of that sometimes irritating son-of-a-British newspaper kind of discipline.

I also find it remarkable for how long so many good people worked away at the newspaper without pay being a primary or even a secondary goal or requirement. I just wonder if that could happen all over again today in the relentless work and money and “more stuff” China-machine we seem to have shaped for ourselves? Yes, we all worship now, in the cathedrals of consumption.

It’s hard to add much in the way of intelligent comment on what Topanga has become since I left for points north like so many before me, because I’m not there now. Duh! Sure, the Messenger does a good job as always in painting a picture of life “down there,” but you gotta be there, gotta be on the street to get a feel for it.

And, uh, well, after the “Big Fight” was over (the longest development and planning application in Los Angeles County history) which we won!—the juice went out of the job, you know? It’s like covering the school and the roads and other events just didn’t have the David-versus-Goliath element that made the previous 20 years so doggone impossible to resist.

Never did like kids, anyway.

And I have to be honest: I don’t read the paper like I should. I remember long ago, some time after Bill Hess, one of our first photographers, had pulled up stakes and, yes, moved north in order to tear around the precipitous dirt trails of the White Mountains at breakneck speed in his old Land Cruiser and such other manly pursuits, when I got a call from him. “Hey man,” he says. “You may as well cancel my subscription. I just don’t have the time to read it anymore.”

I was irritated, hurt. All this work, I thought, and he can’t even read it. How could it be, that you would cease to love that place in your heart, that place called home?

Well Lennon (J.L.) understood it then, and I do now. It’s what happens while you’re busy doing other things.

Hope you all are happy down there still. You will always be in my heart, you very best of people, and I love you all.

There’s that maudlin part, dang it, but there, I said it.

Ah, Topanga!

Colin Penno lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, Carol, three cats, two trucks and one really bitchin’ workshop. Joy comes from country explorations, wilderness backpacking and snowshoeing. And yes, Virginia, he puts lights up on his house at Christmas.