Reporter's Notebook

Worth a Thousand Words

The ability and desire to see the stories in life’s mundaneness is the reason I got into this work. I think it’s the reason that a lot of us did.

By Denali Sagner

Over coffee with a friend a few days ago, I found myself telling a story that required a photo.

More specifically, I was recounting the afternoon of July 29, 2022, when I hit a pothole on Highway 93 in Elmo and required roadside assistance from Beacon staff writer Mike Kordenbrock. If July 29 in Elmo sounds familiar to you, reader, it’s because that evening, as my inoperative car sat parked on the side of the road and I waited for a heroic rescue, one of the biggest wildfires of the summer erupted mere miles behind me. Needless to say, it’s a good story, made better by the photo of my duct-taped Toyota Prius parked in front of dystopian looking smoke clouds. But, that’s not the point of this column.

As I was scrolling through my phone to find the photo, my friend expressed some shock.

“How many photos do you have in your camera roll?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, looking down at my phone to check. “5,244 in the last year. Is that a lot?”

Apparently it is.

As a general rule of thumb, I take photos of everything – my lemon-blueberry scone from Ceres Bakery, an old sign at the Great Northern Bar for “Mom’s Hall of Fame,” Stevie the Yellow Lab.

I’m not sure why I’ve taken up this funny habit. 

I suppose, in one sense, it’s my journalistic tendency to document everything. I move through the world attempting to understand it – to connect the dots between the people I meet, the problems I write about, and this place, the Flathead Valley, where I’m so lucky to live. I photograph things that are interesting, concerning and funny – a group of people riding horses past the Starbucks in downtown Kalispell, a particularly clear view of Big Mountain, the slightly cheesy but entirely loveable sign on the side of Markus Community Market that says “Be brave. Take the hill.” The ability and desire to see the stories in life’s mundaneness is the reason I got into this work. I think it’s the reason that a lot of us did.

Alternatively, maybe it’s an attempt to preserve my life here in amber, to build a shelf of mental knickknacks that I can dust off on the days I need them most. When the winter gloom feels devastating, it’s a small blessing to remember a beer I drank sitting outside at the Wich Haus, a glimpse of Flathead Lake dotted with greenery, the huckleberry bear claw I ate that one time at the Polebridge Merc. One day, I’ll likely live somewhere else entirely, and these snippets will be all the more meaningful. Though impossible, I suppose I’m attempting to remember each and every patchwork moment in the life I’ve made for myself in the Flathead, to never forget how much I love this place that I never expected to end up in.

Or, maybe I’m just a product of the tech generation, letting my Gen-Z tendencies get the best of me as I curate life through my iPhone. I like to give myself a little bit more credit than that, but I’m open to the possibility.

Though some see it as an unnecessary habit – and though I have to pay $4 every month for extra iCloud storage – I’ve grown to love this idiosyncrasy, one that has turned into a meaningful way to file away the big and small moments. Maybe in 2023, I’ll even set a new record for photos. Though 5,244 might be hard to beat.