Without question, COVID and the ensuing migration to Bend have accelerated growth in rapid fashion all while our community struggles to keep its citizens healthy and small businesses open.
It’s conveniently easy to blame our fears and stress on these new faces in town, especially those tone deaf to the community that is doing its best to serve and welcome them.
As an aside, I took time recently with my son for an inaugural surfing experience in the Bend Whitewater Park that was built upon the remnants of the dangerous sawmill dam. As I waited hours and years to touch a wave that was birthed by community support sparked by the old ‘picking and paddling’ music series that slung beers and banners for donations, I watched the collective tension of those waiting for hours for a mere 25 feet of wave. Eyes darted around with tense smiles and slight grumblings about the cue of bodies, mostly from unfamiliar faces. It was a tense situation that could easily veer into snarky and divisive comments about crowds and growth that alienate the newcomers and harden the predecessors.
Yet the most dominate vibe emerged from an open and inviting circle of chuckles, sparkling eyes, and gray-haired elders gesticulating of imagined turns and carves with all including school kids half their height and much, much less their age.
During our turn our tenuous actions were quickly noticed by the crew and tips, a hand, a loaned surfboard, and precious time were freely given to get us going on the beautiful wave.
Perhaps the most noticeable stoke for getting us engaged came from the Godfather of soul surfing Gerry Lopez. He connected with direct eye contact, positive energy, advice, and wave diagrams in the sand.
If this sage man who has been surfing for many decades and who has presumably witnessed his secret surf spots and towns overrun with newcomers can so graciously engage newcomers, I suggest we take pause and be open for a lesson.
While sharing a surf wave may seem a pithy metaphor for a town grappling with rapid growth and in-migration during a pandemic that is threatening our families and businesses, I believe its truth holds.
Even I, who make a living in an industry that benefits from the new citizens moving into Bend, have serious misgivings about growth and my stomach knots when I see the trampled trails, increased cost of housing, and overflowing classrooms.
Yet, for the majority of us, Bend made room for us, whether that be one or 10 years ago.
Challenging times lay ahead, but I believe we have no choice.
Bend was not built on the backs of pessimists. Choosing to grapple with the current stressors of growth through animosity, snarky bumper stickers, unkind comments-whether mumbled or spoken loudly, leave our newcomers hurt and the rest of us bitter.
In a short discussion with one of those gray-haired surfers as we stood dripping after the brief but amazing surf session, he slowly said, “You sometimes have to destroy a community before you really appreciate it enough to rebuild it.”
I believe we still have something very special here in Bend, and I’m challenging myself to grow during this changing time so we do not carelessly destroy our precious welcoming culture and pristine environs. I yearn for the maturity to return the given favor this morning to openly share what is precious to me in the hope that those on the receiving end will learn to appreciate and help care for the resources and people of our amazing community.
Drawing a line in the sand is an activity that is best left for wave drawings, not for delineating us vs them on who is welcome.