The first marriage Elaine Taffe performed was 100 feet off the ground on the warm face of Smith Rock in Central Oregon.
Some friends had wanted to get married while rock climbing, but couldn't find a pastor to officiate.
So Taffe applied over the Internet to become an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church and married the couple last summer as they dangled from their harnesses.
Now the Rev. Taffe, she has turned her love of the outdoors and happy occasions into a business offering adventure weddings, traditional ceremonies, and marriage and commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
Patti and Steve Devine stand near Silcox Hut, which is at the 7,000-foot level on Mt. Hood, following their wedding ceremony."My goal is to help people get married the way they want to get married," said Taffe, who was herself married in a courthouse above Kealakakua Bay in Hawaii.
Running the Clatskanie-based Make It Special is a 180-degree career change for the 57-year-old outdoor enthusiast.
Taffe spent the last 30 years as a claims adjuster for an insurance agency. She worked daily with people whose car was towed, whose house burned down, or who were seriously injured - people who were in crisis and who weren't happy.
But while figuring out liability and claims coverage was a changing, challenging job, she had few chances to use her Portland State University physical education and speech-communications degrees. And kayaking on company time wasn't really on option.
So she moved on.
"I don't think there are many people available doing these kinds of weddings," she said.
Taffe knew that she didn't need 20 years of experience as a minister to create a memorable day for a couple.
Last summer, she was at a friend's wedding where the minister showed up 45 minutes late, forgot the groom's name three times, and suggested to guests that the late stepfather come up and light a candle in his own memory.
"I was looking at this man and thinking 'I could do this a lot better than this guy,'" Taffe said.
Since becoming ordained, Taffe has performed 26 ceremonies, including the marriage of Bob and Dianna Denny on a plateau halfway down the Grand Canyon.
"It's so big and so magnificent," Dianna Denny said. "There wasn't any wind blowing. I think I could hear the wings of the hawks flying around."
While Taffe has also grown to enjoy officiating at traditional ceremonies, her heart is in the wild outdoors. She hopes to preside over more adventure weddings once the summer weather comes.
"It's very spiritual to me," said Taffe, who keeps in-shape and flexible by practicing yoga. "That's where the activities are that I like doing. I love to snorkel. I'll climb any chance I can. I love horses. I grew up with them."
She also sea kayaks and goes white water rafting, hiking, scuba-diving and sailing. Sky diving has yet to enter her repertoire, but only for lack of training.
"She is the most innovative, alternative, free spirit that you could know," said friend Patti Devine. No idea would be too outrageous for this woman. She's gone into a great field."
MORE INFO.Make It Special
(www.ceremoniesanywhere.com) Taffe married Patti and Steve Devine in Silcox Hut on Mount Hood in January.
In addition to presiding over adventure-based weddings, Taffe has experience officiating same-sex marriages. She was among the ministers who volunteered her time in Multnomah County during the licensing rush in early March.
"It was very emotional seeing somebody being given a gift they would never imagine they would get," Taffe said. "I can't describe the depth of emotion I saw and felt."
Taffe charges anywhere from $150 to $300 for a basic ceremony, depending on whether she is needed at the rehearsal. The cost of adventure ceremonies varies depending on the equipment required, the destination, how long it will take, and if meals or hotel rooms are necessary.
"It really feels like a perfect fit for me, doing the things I like to do around people who are happy," Taffe said.