There’s gold in them there hills

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer January 03, 2014 09:05 am

Growing up in the west part of Oregon, I looked on the bright side, if anything in Western Oregon is bright.

The sun may have been a UFO. But the grass was greener on my side of the fence, or state. Always was. Always would be.

I was also intrigued by gold. No, not the kind found in a mine. The kind found on a golden hillside of grass suffering from sunburn.

On the west, or wet side, we humans didn’t burn. We rusted. And the grass turned a moldy green.

Needless to say, I was intrigued with sunnier places. I wanted to know more about the kind of places that make working for the chamber of commerce almost as easy as being a San Diego weather reporter — “68 and sunny. Back to you, Betsy.”

When the chance came to go east, to join the Blue Mountain Community College track team — and oh, by the way, get an education — I leaped. Well, I jumped about 2 inches off the ground. I was a javelin thrower, after all, not a long jumper. That disappointed my coach in Pendleton, who in a delusional moment had the idea to turn me into a decathlete. You know decathletes. Those are the guys who do 10 events in two days — and advertise Wheaties on television if their name is Bruce Jenner and they have approximately the smile of an above-average horse. 

I did smile a lot when I saw the sun of Pendleton. And over the next two years, I also improved my raw jumping ability to approximately that of a Studebaker.

The point is, and I do have one, that Pendleton is not that sunny. We in the Grande Ronde Valley and Wallowa County are lucky, especially in winter, to get so much more sun than the other side of the Blue Mountains, or the other side of Oregon.

Of course, as you read this, you are probably getting cabin feverish. You are probably in the midst of a three-day blizzard, with almost enough visibility to see your watch, if you still wear one — you know, the clock that people in the old days wore on their wrists.

There are, however, reasons to feel blessed to be living in the Grande Ronde Valley. One is to go to Union, on a day when the Baker Valley is foggy, and check out Craig Mountain west of town. If you’re lucky, you’ll see what looks like ocean waves lapping over the top of the mountain. These waves of fog are trying to gain entry into Grandeland and being blown away by our famous winds that have been known to blow over train cars.

Or, go to TripCheck, the Oregon Department of Transportation website. Check out the road cameras. They reveal much about the nature of our winter weather.

Lots of times you’ll see ground fog turning Pendleton and the rest of the Columbia Basin into a grim frost hell. Meanwhile, the Meacham and Ladd Canyon cameras will show glorious sunshine — and maybe a semi-truck driver with a well-timed wave.

Yes, being free of the Western Oregon UFO is pale consolation when you go to pay the electric heating bill after a month of Mother Nature dispensing shivers. But it’s something. Living in the Grande Ronde Valley is something else. The gray visits but usually fails to outstay its welcome.

There’s gold here in abundance. Not in money for most of us but in quality of life.

Sure, you can’t eat the scenery unless you’re Euell Gibbons, that outdoorsman and authority on wild edible plants including tree bark, but you can get a tan here. Or is that a wind burn?

Contact Jeff Petersen at 541-963-3161 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Jeff on Twitter @lagrandenewsGo.