Peter Shelton

Be Nice Two

Posted in Confessions of a Grandpa, Life in Central Oregon by pshelton on September 5, 2014

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.

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Be Nice

Posted in Life in Central Oregon, Personal History, Ski history by pshelton on September 4, 2014

We’d seen the bumper stickers around town: “Be Nice You’re In Bend.” But sometimes it takes someone else to point out the obvious.

Ellen and I had been here for only a couple of months, enjoying what did in fact seem to be a preternatural geniality on the part of many Bend, Oregon locals, when my brother came to visit. He and I were going somewhere in his rental car, backing out of the driveway. Tom stopped mid-turn, aware that another car was approaching from up the hill. “He’s stopping!” Tom exclaimed, incredulous, eyes on his mirror. “He’s waiting! I could live to be a hundred and never see such a thing in Southern California!”

Boggled, Tom drove on, and I recalled a number of instances in our short time here where niceness prevailed.

There were the gas station attendants. Oregon remains the only state I know of where you don’t pump your own gas. Instead, you pull in, roll down the window and tell the man, or the woman, to fill ‘er up. If they’re not too busy they like to talk, commenting on our Colorado plates (now switched over to the Oregon evergreen tree), happy to give directions or advice, and nearly always ending the conversation, “Welcome to Central Oregon.”

Another time I was up in the branches of our sickly, curbside ash tree trying to prune out the dead stuff when a man we know only slightly came by on his bike and offered to loan me his extendable limb saw. He dropped it off that afternoon. And, if that weren’t enough, he invited us up to his place for a barbecue the next night.

We got another invite, out of the blue, from a young couple across the alley. Once a summer the denizens of 4th Street close off the street and celebrate potluck with their immediate neighbors. Sweet chicken smoke. Coolers full of beers. Kids with water balloons – shrieks of laughter, but never so wild as to get the adults wet. We met and had meaningful chats with almost everyone on the block. One reveler even drew up a schematic for us newer arrivals, with names and abodes, to show who lived where.

More? The mother of two across the street, the one we’ve seen tending her sidewalk garden of aspens and wildflowers, knocked on our door with a bag of peaches from her back yard tree. “Welcome to Bend,” she said.

Our bank, Umpqua Bank, actually strives to be “the friendliest bank in the world.” They refer to Oregonians as “folks,” call their banks “stores.” The tellers are almost disconcertingly cheerful. When I drop off a mortgage payment they ply me with little bags of their signature roasted coffee beans. Lesser occasions warrant a chocolate mint.

At Phil’s Trailhead, where a spider web of mountain bike single track fans out west of town, there’s a sign for what can only be called niceness etiquette. It reads in part: “Look, Listen, Smile . . . Have fun, and keep your eyes and ears open. Smile and say hello! You are in one of the best mountain bike areas in the nation.” In one of the few incidences of trail rudeness, or near rudeness, we’ve heard about, a friend had to wait to pass a slower rider who stubbornly refused to pull over. When he was finally able to squeeze past, he warned the obdurate one as he went by: “Watch those elbows, Buttercup!”

The Education of a Ski Instructor, Part Two

Posted in Personal History, Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on October 4, 2012

She was the queen of the ski school. Already Stage 1 certified. Married to the supervisor. But more to the point to my apprentice-instructor’s eye, elegant.

Elegant the way she filled out her over-the-boot stretch pants. Elegant the way she arrived at lineup in the morning, rocking with that heel-and-toe motion of walking in ski boots. (more…)

The Education of a Ski Instructor

Posted in Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on September 20, 2012

Who here has been lucky enough to find a soul mate and a career on the same day?

I did it, through no planning or skill, but only luck, on October 28, 1972, at Keystone, which was then one of America’s newest ski areas. (more…)

The White Ribbon of Death

Posted in Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on December 1, 2011

I liked Brian Scranton from the moment I heard him say the words “white ribbon of death.”

This was a couple of years ago, very early in the ski season. He was talking about making the long drive across the divide to Loveland Basin for their opening day. It might have been the first day of lift-served skiing in Colorado that autumn, sometime around Halloween.

Scranton knew it was ridiculous to make the 275-mile one-way drive from Ridgway just to ski a lonely strip of man-made snow. But he couldn’t help himself; it was without question going to be worth it. Giving the ersatz ski experience a mock-terrifying sobriquet only made me like him more. (more…)

Bargain Basement On High Hills

Posted in Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on August 11, 2011

Before the start of last week’s auction that would deliver the Powderhorn ski area to the highest bidder, I asked one of the bid assistants why an auction? The whole idea seemed desperate to me – you know: “auctioned on the courthouse steps for some family shame” kind of thing. (more…)

Changing times in the birthing room

Posted in Confessions of a Grandpa, Watch columns by pshelton on October 22, 2010

Cecily called the afternoon of Oct. 8 from Elk Meadows, said things were happening, things were different in her body. What she had thought might be contractions were now definitely contractions, and could we meet them at the Sinclair station and take the dog? (more…)

Colorado Water: Waiting for the Call

Posted in How the West was Lost, Watch columns by pshelton on October 15, 2010

When it comes to water, there are three kinds of people.

The first kind turn on the faucet and think nothing of it. Hose down the driveway. Soak the lawn. Have too much fun in the shower. (more…)

Palestinians on Horsefly Peak

Posted in Road Trips West, Watch columns by pshelton on October 8, 2010

It was just an imagination exercise with our morning coffee. But what if?

What if we were the Israelis and we had the Palestinians bottled up in a tiny space of land more or less equivalent to what we see across the valley on Horsefly Peak? (more…)

Rowing Uphill

Posted in Gas Pains, Watch columns by pshelton on September 23, 2010

The red canoe out in the middle of West Passage was not making headway. It had an outboard motor – we could hear it buzzing away – but the little craft and its single occupant struggled mightily against the incoming tide. At times, it looked as if he was actually going backward. (more…)