Not far from the tree

The melancholy of living in the town where you were born and raised

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

When I was younger and someone asked where I was from, I’d tell them I was born and raised right here in Sandpoint. They might ask the usual questions: “Who did you have for English at SHS?” or, “Where do your dad and mom work?” There was no surprise, because chances are they were from Sandpoint, too.

Nowadays, I tell someone I was born right here at Bonner General and their mouths open in astonishment, as if I told them I was hatched from a giant egg.

“Really?” they ask. “I bet this place has changed since you were a kid, huh?”

Yes, it sure has — some for the better, but mostly for the worst.

You couldn’t pay me enough to stay in Sandpoint after high-school graduation. Like many teenagers, I wanted out. I wanted adventure, peril, fun. I wanted to prove myself in the world. 

I grew up hiking and skiing in the mountains, adventuring up rivers and valleys in an attempt to explore places that have captured my attention for decades.

But I also spent hours parked at the City Beach, killing time with friends while we debated what to do with our lives. We shared dreams of travel, of exciting new lives in big cities, surrounded by the culture we were all hungry for after growing up here in the Shire.

I did get out. I went to college in Colorado, then spent time living in various cities around the West. I found a new career in Los Angeles and quickly left it because the city was changing me. I roamed quiet highways with my thumb out, eager to catch a ride from a stranger and hear their stories about life. I filled notebooks with writings that documented my search, my plight, my desire to wring as much out of life as I could before I grew old and gray.

Along the way, a funny thing kept happening. I kept returning to Sandpoint. I’d come back to visit my family, but when they all moved away from here, I began returning just to feel that connection to the only root I had ever grown. Driving home across the Long Bridge always seemed to center me when my wayward travels spun me a little too fast.

As I lived in more distant places, I kept finding they all paled in comparison to this somewhat unknown corner of heaven in the mountains of North Idaho.

Then I met someone, fell in love and suddenly found myself living in Sandpoint again as a 30-year-old who was a bit weary from a decade of chaotic travel and life. I settled down, paid rent somewhere for the first time in six years and ultimately brought back this little newspaper that my friends started almost 18 years ago this month.

I’ve spent three-quarters of my life living in Sandpoint. I’ve watched this town evolve from a funky little secret in the mountains to what it is now, which I can’t even put into words without my blood pressure rising.

I encounter fewer faces that I recognize. I have fewer interactions with family friends on the sidewalk or former teachers at the grocery store. When I head to the bar for a drink after work, sometimes I don’t recognize a single person other than the bartender. I see strangers living in this once-familiar town and I want to ask them, “Where did you all come from?”

I’m proud to be from Sandpoint, but I’m also cursed because of it. Sometimes I long to live in a town where I don’t care if they tear down the historic buildings to erect condos for rich people. I long to live somewhere that doesn’t remind me daily that I am getting old, that the place that was once so familiar now feels like an estranged relative. I yearn to be in a place that has already fallen to the forces of greed, instead of watching the slow decline.

Many changes this town undergoes come at the behest of Johnny-come-latelys who seem to be more interested in padding their resumes and moving on to further their careers than they are acting stewards to this beautiful community.

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The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.