That 4th Street summer block party Ellen and I were invited to? We had no idea the surprise we were in for.
We don’t even live on 4th Street, but Ryan and Heather, young teachers from across the alley who were handing out printed invitations (“bring a chair and something to grill”) said we were welcome.
Drifting on the street, beverage in hand but knowing no one, I was rescued by a round, smiling woman who introduced herself. She was just starting to show with her second child. She said her name was Wintress. I had to ask for clarification, and she said yes, Wintress. “My parents love winter.”
She’d grown up in the Bay Area. She and her husband were buying the house on the corner, the one with the overflowing vegetable garden. (Later, she would lead a tour of her tomatoes and leeks, berries and squashes. “I’ve had to relearn how to grow everything,” she said, “with the short growing season here.”) She was open and earthy.
Then she started down the road to astonishing coincidence. “Peter Shelton. There used to be a Peter Shelton living across the street. I liked to tease him about being married, a long time ago, to my favorite auntie.”
I told her I’d heard from someone else – I couldn’t remember who – about a second Peter Shelton in Bend. Only natural, I ventured, in a town this big for two people to share a name. I guess.
Wintress enjoyed pestering this other Peter Shelton about their nonexistent connection. “He had been married, but not to my auntie.”
Off to the side, Wintress’ husband kept an eye on their toddler, who careened repeatedly over the curb perilously close to the condiments and buns.
“My auntie was just here in Bend this spring helping us buy this house. She’s a realtor, in California. Actually, it wasn’t that long ago she told me the story of her marriage to Peter Shelton. It was in the 60s.” Long before Wintress was born.
Ellen, my wife of 40 years, mingled nearby, chatting with yet more friendly neighbors – another teacher couple as it happened.
“I was married, briefly, in the 60s,” I volunteered, a sense of inevitability, like gravity, drawing me on. “In southern California. I was really young, a month shy of 20 when we married. It only lasted about a year, two by the time the divorce was final. She kept pet chuckwallas.”
“Maureen.” I don’t remember which of us said it. Didn’t matter, the link was forged, a wave of associations flooding in. What were the chances? Wintress’ “favorite auntie,” Maureen Carpenter, had married in the distant past this guy, Peter Shelton, the stranger standing before her, who just moved to a house three doors away across the alley and happened to be invited to the annual 4th Street block party.
It’s hard to say for whom the shock was greater. I had the 45-year-old memories, some sharp and sweet, some understandably (or subconsciously) vague. I hadn’t seen or heard from Maureen since the afternoon we said goodbye on the steps of the Alameda County courthouse. In our hand-written settlement, I got the VW bus and half the record albums. She got most of the wedding presents and the record player. And the other half of our record collection. And the chuckwallas. For her part, Wintress had an ongoing, apparently close relationship with her auntie and had somewhat recently been told the story of her youthful falling into and out of love. Who knows what Maureen shared with her?
Dear Ellen, for all her elegance and sophistication has remained jealous of Maureen since I first told her the history. “She whose name must not be uttered,” she jokes, not joking. I understand. She’s seen the dewy wedding photos, heard the stories. Ellen is close to my mom, who did not approve of my first marriage, though she didn’t put up any real barriers at the time. She did tell me it was a bad idea. You’re in thrall to the sex, she said. It’s your first. A mother knows these things. She’s shared her witchy wisdom, conspiratorially, with Ellen, in the decades since.
At the block party, when I introduced them and told Ellen Wintress’ astonishing news, the two of them linked arms immediately, like sisters with important things to talk about.
I have been curious about Maureen. Of course, I have. It was the first. And it was the last time I flopped down on my back and sobbed uncontrollably. Did she ever remarry? Wintress told me she hadn’t. Kids? Nope. I stared at Wintress looking for a resemblance. At the time of our breakup, I wanted to cut ties completely. I was the one who had been hurt, my trust betrayed. At least that was my side. Some months or years later Maureen came to my mom and asked if they could be friends; she was still fond of the family. My mother told her no.
After we split up, I finished college and moved to New York City. Then to the mountains of Colorado, where Ellen and I met and began our long and happy union. She’d been married once before, too. Early on we went together to a jewelry store that bought gold and sold our old wedding rings.
Still, time doesn’t erase your first love. I flew out to southern California for my 40th high school reunion a few years back half-hoping that Maureen would be there. She wasn’t.
When we left the block party after dark to walk home, I bagged up two folding camp chairs, thinking they were the ones we had brought. One of them was ours. The other one sat in our yard for a while before we noticed the faint black lettering on the back. LOVERING. Wintress’ last name. She had our chair on her front porch.
I’m new to Bend. By definition that means I’m a kook on the single track, a neophyte on the most obvious of tourist hiking trails.
It’s not easy being new, especially in a place as tuned into its athletic tantra as Bend is. You’re bound to appear gauche in your enthusiasm for Mt. Bachelor’s stately hemlock forests, guaranteed to sound naïve gushing about the single-track flow in Phil’s Canyon.
But that’s how you learn. That’s how you get, eventually, to make a landscape your own.
I started out with the tree in the back yard. It’s a statuesque, full-figured juniper. I assume it’s a juniper. It has the vertical, scaly red bark and blue “berries” typical of the junipers we knew back in Colorado. But this one is much bigger (50 feet tall at least) – a Rocky Mountain juniper on steroids. It’s probably a different subspecies. Or maybe it’s the Northwest water.
The branches are perfectly spaced for climbing, the interior of the tree a rustling aroma-therapy (spiced cedar tea?) world of its own. Near the top I swayed in the wind as the tree swayed, “bending and swirling,” John Muir wrote, of a climb up a sugar pine in his beloved Sierra, “so noble an exhilaration of motion.”
I had hoped to get a glimpse of the four nearby volcanoes from up there, but other big trees in the neighborhood blocked my view of the Bachelor and the Three Sisters. (I’ve wondered: who is pursuing whom? Is it the eager bachelor forever unable to close the distance to the haughty sisters? Or is it the sisters who are, Jane Austin-like, frozen in their desire for the timber-camp bachelor?)
My first hike was up the well-traveled North Fork trail past Tumalo Falls. Yes, it was obvious, and busy, but not so busy as I feared. In fact, the farther up I went, the closer to my turnaround at Happy Valley, the quieter it all became. Except for the rush of water pouring like silver Slinkys down a giant flight of stairs. Cold, clear water from the basement springs of Broken Top (a fifth volcano worn to remnant shards by successive ice ages). To a parched Coloradoan, this was an unprecedented lushness.
It took me almost four hours to do the eight miles up and back (though I may have dozed a bit in the soft duff beside the creek following a snack stop). When I returned, my son-in-law, Adam, challenged me to guess what the mountain bike record is for the North Fork climb. The correct answer was 21 minutes, held by his buddy Chris Shepard. Staggeringly fast. Then Adam went out and bettered Shepard’s time to 20 minutes and change.
Adam and our daughter, Cloe, are both serious bikists. They met on bikes in New Hampshire, while Cloe was in med school and Adam worked carpentry for Close Enough Construction and raced the NORBA pro circuit. They moved to Bend two years ago with our first two grandchildren. They’re blissed out.
I’m a rider of a different sort. We came here to be with the kids, but also for the sweet single track and the swoopy lines on Bachelor Butte. On skis, I try to be the proverbial silent Indian slinking through the woods without snapping a twig. My mountain biking is mostly about exploration, also known as getting lost. One ride early in our residency here: Deschutes River Trail to the Meadows picnic area to COD (I walked the technical parts) to Marvin’s Gardens, the ultimate beginner’s trail. Along the way I stared for minutes at bone-white monster logs in the river that had wedged together and become earth-building islands of green growing things. Rolling down Marvin’s Gardens I yielded to the carve-y turns in the Ponderosa shade. The flow plucked my mind out and left only the giddy, banking movement. I hadn’t planned any of it, except for the start above the river. The rest just materialized, one unexpected puzzle piece after the other.
None of it would be considered adventurous by my kids or by many Bend locals. Old hat that. But it was all new to me, staking a claim.
What were the chances we’d run into Kelby on the Deschutes River Trail?
Bend is a big town. Eighty thousand plus. Big anyway compared to where we come from on the western slope of Colorado. There, the biggest town by far (we call it a city) is Grand Junction, currently an oil-and-gas boomtown on the Colorado River, bisected by Interstate 70, population 60,000.
I only know a handful of people in Bend. And yet here we were, my brother Tom and I, on this mountain bike trail running into Kelby, my grandkids’ baby sitter. She lit up in recognition and delivered hugs all around. Well into our conversation, the river burbling at our backs, Tom asked, half kidding but also genuinely curious: “Where is the dark side to Bend?”
It’s a question I ask myself all the time. Bend seems to a newcomer like a bright and happy place. A place comfortable in its own skin. A place with a built-in openness, a friendliness not exactly universal in other places we’ve lived.
At first I was reminded of “The Truman Show,” the scary-perfect Florida town that turned out to be an elaborate set in the 1998 Jim Carey vehicle. And Bend is indeed beautiful, flush with water, lush for the high desert, manicured, proud. But beauty and pride of place do not guarantee a good attitude.
We lived for the last 38 years within the physical and intellectual sphere of Telluride, a place as gorgeous as any on the continent. But something about that mountain valley encourages a cloistered vibe, a kind of protective defensiveness. Not surly exactly, but not exactly welcoming either.
I wonder about history. Both places were founded on extractive industries. Telluride’s miners started digging a full quarter century before Bend’s lumbermen unsheathed their saws. Bend is a very young community, incorporated in 1905. The timber heyday lasted only a few decades before the big trees became scarce and economics and environmental consciousness changed. But unlike a lot of other Oregon timber towns, Bend made a successful, a very successful, transition to recreation tourism, helped along by the launch in 1958 of the ski area at Mount Bachelor, and more recently by the proliferation of craft breweries.
Telluride faced the same prospects when the last mine closed in 1978. But its isolation (six hours from Denver; an hour and a half from the nearest airport) and the limits of its steep, awkwardly laid out ski mountain slowed its growth.
More significantly perhaps, Telluride’s box canyon denizens weren’t at all sure they wanted the scene a destination ski area would bring. The chant in the ‘70s was “Not another Aspen!” These new Telluriders were bi-coastal sophisticates, utopians, trust funders, mountain athletes, PhD snow shovelers and short-order cooks, and they did their best – continue to do their best – to slow anything that smells of a headlong, or insufficiently examined, advance.
I gather that was not the case in Bend. The city has grown exponentially since I first skied here in the mid-1980s, when the population hovered around 17,000. Some of the new developments have been higher-quality than others. Sprawl is, and traffic has grown proportionately. But city planners seem to have stayed a step ahead of the growth. Dozens of roundabouts (rather than stop lights) move cars, and bicycles, with remarkable efficiency. They (the city, county and ODOT) built an elevated “parkway,” a pseudo freeway with a 45-mph speed limit, to move traffic across town. There are bike lanes on almost every street, with cyclists of every stripe using them. And the network of public-lands trails is rumored to be somewhere north of 500 miles long, and counting.
Topography plays a part. Telluride’s tiny canyon is guaranteed to dial up the claustrophobia, and the home prices. Not to say the insular smugness. Bend sits at the low-angle intersection of the forested eastern Cascades and the sage of the Great Basin. The self-congratulatory air here is largely a “Lucky us!” reflex. There is room, generous room, in every direction. Room for a rather large, economically diverse population to build, to spread out on the trails, float the river, disappear from one another in the ponderosas, and . . . be nice.
I’ll never forget the phone call we got from our son-in-law Adam hours after he arrived in Bend two years ago. He had driven out alone from Boston ahead of the rest of his little family, with a pickup load, to their rental house. Adam is a born and bred New Englander. Not taciturn in the clichéd (“Can’t get there from here.”) way, but private in the sense that holding something in reserve is often the best policy. Adam told us on the phone that he couldn’t get over how happy people in Bend seemed to be.
“Everybody’s smiling,” he said in amazement.
Joan Didion opens her famous essay on her New York years with this: “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” She arrived in the city at age 20, from Sacramento, intending to stay six months and left eight years later. We came to western Colorado in our twenties expecting what? We didn’t know, beyond a new ski area and jobs with a new ski school. Now, 38 years later, I agree with Didion that seeing beginnings is easier than puzzling through endings, their tangles of reasons and meaning. (more…)
I resolve to age gracefully. Ha! Show me a 64-year-old man who feels, inside, like a 64-year-old man and I’ll show you a corpse. “Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.”
Speaking of 64, since when did Paul McCartney’s sweet, it’ll-never-happen-to-me vision of old age come true? “Will you still need me, will you still feed me . . . ?” (more…)
The last couple of times Cecily has called from Bishop it has been in the afternoon, during Boden’s afternoon nap. He’s a high-energy little guy, and will sometimes take morning and afternoon naps, to recharge his batteries. But now Cecily is trying to encourage only the afternoon naps.
She has found a day-care pre-school situation that will give her some time a couple mornings a week. It’s called Smokey’s. (The name comes from the fact that children of Forest Service employees – Boden’s dad Mike is a wildland firefighter – are reserved spaces at the school.) At Smokey’s there is no morning naptime.
We accept the need for naps at either end of Shakespeare’s seven ages of man – while little bodies and brains are growing fast, and again when things are slowing down, before we are “sans everything.”
My dad, who turns 89 in a few weeks, has earned his afternoon naps. He went hard for all those decades in the 20th century; he’s still busy, but now his schedule is his own. He’s got one of those very comfortable loungers that tilts back and pops a footrest up under your calves just so, supporting every inch of your length in soft leather.
He watches TV in that chair, and he falls asleep in it. He’s probably watching the U.S. Open tennis right now. But unless it’s a particularly exciting match, he may be catching a few zzz’s between points.
I was reading on the couch on Sunday. Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids. The early chapters zero in on her poor-starving-artist years in New York City with Robert Mapplethorpe, before he became a famous photographer and she became a famous punk-rock poet. This was in the late 1960s. They are almost exactly my age. (Smith is my age; Mapplethorpe died, of AIDS, in 1989.) They lived on day-old bread and lettuce soup. Smith would come home from her job at Scribner’s bookstore to their ratty apartment in Brooklyn, and the two would stay up all night working side by side on their art. From the sound of it, they rarely slept.
My eyes were swimming across the page a little bit. I had to reread the same paragraph twice. Then a third time. Ellen has a phrase: “Just resting my eyes.” Not sleeping, just resting my eyes. I placed the book face down on my belly and set my reading glasses on the table. I would rest my eyes for just a few minutes.
We frown on naps in the productive years. Unless you are sick. Or recovering from a hellacious night. As Americans we are expected to be doing, creating, generating wealth or at least producing satisfaction from our work, or our play. Doing nothing is a kind of Puritan sin. Napping in the middle of a perfectly good day is somehow unacceptable.
Look at Spain. They siesta after lunch and then they can’t manage supper until 11 p.m. Not productive. Not acceptable.
My mother took a nap one afternoon while hiking on Catalina Island. The rest of the family was roaring around on the beach, and she needed to get away by herself. She lay down in the dry grass in the shade of a small tree and fell blissfully asleep. She was awakened by an odd sound and found herself in a staring match with a rattlesnake just a couple of feet away. Though terrified, my mother managed to back away as carefully as Marcel Marceau.
I once fell asleep at the base of the White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly. It was the middle of the day. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I’d scrambled down the opposite canyon wall at an unauthorized spot near some Navajo sheep corrals. For the longest time after I awoke I believed I had just scaled the impossible, featureless sandstone to the upper ruin in its cave. At the very least, I was sure I had been shown something inexplicable, something marvelous that haunted the rest of my drive to Colorado.
When I woke on Sunday, the sun had shifted position in the sky. For a second, I didn’t know where I was, or who I was. I felt sheepish for having “missed” the last 60 minutes. Then I wasn’t. And I was able to stay up until 11 p.m. finishing a couple of stories for this week’s newspaper.
Boden still needs his naps. Cecily is not about to deprive him of that sweet time, morning or afternoon. He needs his sleep. So does his grandpa.
Don’t you know it’s gonna be – all right. Shoo-bee-doo-wah. – “Revolution 1” by The Beatles
It’s not always easy these days to believe the John Lennon of 1968. Is it going to be all right? I’m not sure he believed the lyric himself. Despite what the Maharishi was telling him. (more…)
Cecily showed me a picture of their Christmas tree, a scrawny little thing with branches on just one side. It’s so crooked it won’t stand up on its own, so they attached it with monofilament line to a hook in the ceiling. “It kind of rotates a little bit now and then on its own,” Cecily said. “But it’s good; Boden can’t pull it down.” (more…)