An intimate group of story-loving locals gathered Tuesday night in the Echo ballroom, where author Pamela Steele led a program discussing people’s sense of place.

That sense of surroundings — in both physical and mental space — is embodied in the event’s name, “querencia.”

According to organizers, Barry Lopez, an Oregon author, used the Spanish term to refer to the place from which people can draw their strength. It’s a bull fighting term for the place in the ring where a wounded bull recharges.

Centering oneself was the topic of much talk Tuesday, and it is a popular theme in Steele’s work.

An instructor at Blue Mountain Community College and an Echo resident, Steele has become the town’s resident literary enthusiast as the sole member of the Echo Library Board.

She will soon publish her first novel, tentatively titled “The Big Empty,” and she talked of Umatilla County’s open spaces during the querencia event, admitting to a deep love of the desert’s sagebrush and morphing skies.

Steele was born a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, though she left her folk-song surroundings on a train after only six months.

Six years later, Steel found herself back East, and she grew up near Nashville.

In 1991, she returned to the expanse of Eastern Oregon, where she has lived ever since.

Tales of loving that seemingly endless area filled the room in Echo’s city hall Tuesday, as more than one resident shared stories of appreciating the community and its people.

Elaine Ramos, Echo resident and native of Australia, said living on a ranch crossed by the Oregon Trail is a big change from her childhood.

Ramos said her home country — the “home of her heart” — seemed to be less steeped in history than what she’s encountered in the U.S, and when she visits the massive continent in the Southern Hemisphere, she misses the hills, streams and trees of Echo.

“I always want to know when it’s time to come home here,” she said.

Diane Berry shared stories of Echo’s history, including a lawyer who lived in Echo Meadows that expressed a great appreciation for the area’s diverse population of wildlife.

Other residents told of their own past in Echo, with many expressing a comfort in living there — even if there are rumors of a ghost living in the saloon’s upper level.

Steele said she hopes to organize more literary events in the area and welcomed input from other community members.

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