Emmett Watson, whose article on the grizzly bears of Glacier National Park begins on page 62 of this issue, is a soft-spoken individual with a manner at once reflective and attentive who suggests an absent-minded college professor more than a daily newspaper columnist. He was in his office on the second floor of the Post-Intelligencer building in Seattle one day last summer when word came that two college girls had been killed by grizzlies in the park. After a decade as the Northwest's most widely read columnist, Watson has learned how many-sided and complex the wilderness world of mountains and rivers really is, and how far removed it is from the ordinary coverage often accomplished by telephones and publicity handouts. "It wasn't too difficult to handle the story when I got to Glacier," he said. "The big problem was just getting there."
Watson got his land- and sea-pilot licenses last year, but the only plane available was a special short takeoff and landing Wren equipped with spoilers on the wings for use on small fields. Watson was checked out in a 20-minute flight with a veteran fire bomber, one of those pilots who fly over forest fires and douse them with chemicals. Then he took off for Kalispell, Mont., some 3½ hours away across two mountain ranges. Arriving safely, he tried to rent a car in Kalispell only to discover to his astonishment that his Washington driver's license had long since expired. A friendly Ford dealer eventually managed to get him a temporary Montana permit, and he drove into the mountains to begin the hours of patient questioning that went into his meticulous reconstruction of the events that led up to a night of terror in one of the wildest and most beautiful of our national parks.
Watson's literary qualifications are impressive. He had been signed as a catcher with the Seattle Rainiers in the Pacific Coast League when he switched professions and went to the Seattle Star as a sportswriter. His detachment and his high standards of craftsmanship immediately impressed his newspaper colleagues—"a deadly serious workman," one of them wrote of him. "I always had a peripheral interest in writing," says Watson. When he moved to the Times, he added a daily column—Quick, Watson, the Needle—to his sportswriting chores. His ability to turn from one subject to another with professional mastery became a recognized trademark.
Watson's interest in sports has continued to be personal as well as professional. In addition to flying, he is an enthusiastic skier and fisherman. His first major story in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED was published 10 years ago this fall. It was a study of the late Fred Hutchinson, then the embattled manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, a detached, balanced portrait. All that Watson omitted from the story was his own relationship to the manager. When Hutchinson was the pitching star of the championship teams of Seattle's Franklin High—one game was lost in two years and nine starting players were eventually signed to pro contracts—Watson was his catcher.