Peter Shelton

Staking a Claim

Posted in Confessions of a Grandpa, Life in Central Oregon, More Sport by pshelton on October 15, 2014

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.

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New York Story

Posted in Life in Central Oregon, Personal History by pshelton on September 12, 2014

I’ve remarked on the majesty of the hemlocks here in central Oregon. Skiing through stands of them on Mount Bachelor is like gliding through a dimly lit cathedral with great, dark-barked columns holding up the roof.

Last week on the hike to Green Lakes I walked through yet another sturdy hemlock forest. They are not the tallest trees in the Pacific Northwest. Not the skyscraper giants, the cedars and firs and redwoods that once covered the west coast all the way to middle California. Still, these are magnificent trees, big enough and old enough to demand their own space and to create such deep shade that few seedlings of any species dare grow in their shadows. On a hot day, that shade feels fifteen degrees cooler than the world outside.

These big trees jogged memories of a woman I knew decades ago in New York. I was there on a yearlong lark, a post-graduate adventure to see what The Big Apple was all about. I bussed tables and eventually landed a gig in the biography library in the Time & Life building. The girl at the next desk could swivel around during slow times and chat. Mostly about the West. She wanted to know about the West.

She was newly married. She had black hair and alabaster skin. She had never been out of the boroughs of New York. She took the subway from her street corner in Brooklyn, walked from the train directly into the elevators in the basement of Rockefeller Center and up to our office on, I want to say, the 42nd floor. The only time she was outside under the sky was on the half-block between the subway stairs and her apartment building.

Much of the time we were not very busy. J. Edgar Hoover died the summer I worked there, creating a flurry of demand for the files on the former FBI director, commie hater, and closet homo. That was exciting. And then I got to move all his files down to the “morgue.” But a typical day in the office included lots of time to talk. A sweet, confiding girl, she told me her husband had likewise never been west of the Hudson. But he very much wanted to go.

What was it like? she asked, once she knew that I had grown up in California. She was particularly worried about the trees. Her husband had fixated on Oregon, and she had heard the trees were really big in Oregon. It was as if she were trying to picture, to work her way through, a fairytale forest, grim and overarching. As if she herself were Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel. But not those two precisely. They were blithe; they were clueless going in.

“How tall are they?” she asked. “What does it sound like?” Her husband had this powerful notion. He was determined to move to Oregon. And, of course, he wanted her to go with him. She was terrified.

“I don’t know,” she said, leaning in, opening a crack to the possibility that she might not be able to follow her man. “I don’t know if I can deal with the trees.”