Peter Shelton

New Kids on the Block, Part 2

Posted in How the West was Lost, Personal History, Watch columns by pshelton on March 1, 2013

The town won its case against Don Nordlander and his mining equipment across the street from us on South Cora. We didn’t have to testify. I doubt Nordlander did, either. We were simply informed in that spring of 1981 that he would have to remove the mucking machine, the bulldozer, the generator, etc., from his lots in a residential zone.

Come summer they were gone. Whether Nordlander hauled them away because the town told him to or because he was ready to put them back to work at his mine only he knew. Our babies’ naps were thereafter not disturbed by the shrieking generator or the belching diesels.

But in their place we got the glare. For the next dozen years, whenever Don Nordlander drove by our house or caught one of us outside, he fixed his stare on us with all the malice he could muster – a beam of pure hatred meant to bore holes in the hippies who had thwarted him.

To our dismay, he moved from Ouray with his wife and youngest child, Dawn, into his Ridgway house. The glare was there more or less constantly. One day Ellen picked up the phone and heard: “Why don’t you go back to wherever it is you come from?” Click.

It was disconcerting at best. We weren’t exactly prisoners in our own home, but any trip outside might result in glare burn. We tried to make light of it, especially with the kids. We took to calling him Nerdlander, a silly name, to take away some of the sting, to make it seem more like a game. There were no more threats of bashed skulls, but animas hung over the block like a pall.

At one point a few years into the feud I picked up a book by the CBS radio newsman Lowell Thomas. Thomas had been a fanatical convert to skiing since the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, so much so that he’d do his nightly broadcasts remote from Sun Valley, say, or Stowe. He loved adventure skiing, and one of the stories in this book was about a trip he took, in the 1960s I think, to Ouray, where he met up with the manager of the Camp Bird Mine.

This man led Thomas, skis and all, through the drifts and shafts, by train and elevator, thousands of feet up to the highest level inside the mountain, where they crawled on hands and knees, pushing skis ahead, and out finally through a portal into the suddenly blazing white world of Chicago Basin.

There to meet Thomas, and to guide him back down to Ouray, was a stoic Norwegian (or Swedish?) miner, and skier, named Egon Nordlander. He had got up before the sun, skinned up several miles, alone, around numerous avalanches in the fresh spring powder, and was there when Thomas emerged above timberline.

Surely Egon and Don Nordlander were related. This might even have been the old man who appeared now and then across the street to buck and stack firewood for Don Nordlander, moving slowly, deliberately, cutting each round to length, just so, with a bow saw.

But this story, or this possibility, wasn’t enough to soften the wordless war between us. Ellen forbade me from going over and suing for peace. “He said he’ll smash your face in!”

Finally, though, it got to be too much; the years of bile needed to end. I walked around and up the alley where I’d seen Nordlander earlier in his back yard. There was a hedge of wild roses between us. Seeing me close up, he stiffened. The glare formed on his brow but waffled, unsure.

What would it take, I asked, to end this thing? Would it make you feel better to hit me?

His nostrils flared, and his eyes didn’t know what to do. His hands made fists then unclenched, then balled up again.

I walked back home. A kind of détente had been reached. The glare, habitual for so long, softened. He may even have nodded once or twice to my finger raised just slightly off the steering wheel as we passed on South Cora Street.

Nordlander moved to Montrose a few years after that. Our girls went off to college. Ellen and I sold the Cora house and built a new one downriver in Colona. We saw Nordlander only rarely and from a distance.

He blamed us, rightly, I guess, for putting an end to one of his assumed freedoms. But he was railing at least as much against the tide of change. And change won. The tourism economy, the new people, the planners and zoners, the skiers, won. While his world, much of what he knew, declined to almost nothing in the towns built by hard men working the hard rock.

Now that he’s gone and, ironically, mining is making at least a tentative comeback in the high country above Ouray, I tell myself I should ask around. Find out something about the Nordlander clan, if any of them are still in the area, if Egon, the skier, was in fact Don’s father.

Take a step or two toward forgiving the awful stare.

One Response

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  1. Stille Assistant said, on March 6, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Peter – I’d like to know if the Film/TV rights to CLIMB TO CONQUER are available, or if you have an agent I can contact about the rights. Please send me an email at at your earliest convenience.

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