Ben Carleton and Erin Biencourt miss the trees of Grants Pass, yet the couple said Eastern Oregon has its own beauty.
They have been together for three-and-a-half years. Erin, 32, arrived in Pendleton in May to oversee child support enforcement for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Her first impression of the area, she said, was “that’s a lot of hills.”
Those hills were green at the time, and that reminded her of the novel “The Sea of Grass,” which she said she read and enjoyed in high school but now cannot recall the plot. And the Eastern Oregon sunsets, she said, “are really something.”
She was the juvenile and family support prosecutor for the Josephine County District Attorney’s Office. Josephine County voters turned down a public safety levy, so she looked for work elsewhere and the tribes offered her the job. She recalled asking Ben what he thought of moving to Pendleton.
His response: “Yeah!”
Ben, 31, said he has been driving through Pendleton for years on his way to archery hunting in Wallowa County’s Eagle Cap Wilderness. Cutting hours off that trip was worth the move, he said.
Ben arrived in late August just before archery season opened. He is Pendleton’s code enforcement officer, the same job he held in Grants Pass.
Communication is the first step, Ben said, such as breaking down legalese to everyday Pacific Northwest English to make sure people understand local law and its consequences.
“You have to learn to talk to people,” he said. “I don’t use force. I’m not allowed to.”
While he works for the city police department and holds the title of code enforcement officer, Ben is not a state-certified police officer and cannot carry a sidearm for the job. Words are his shield of defense. He said he even took a course on how to quickly built rapport with someone and de-escalate tense moments.
“You work with people in the worst situation to make the best outcome,” he said. “So you have to think outside the box.”
Encouragement and offering more rewards than sanctions can help someone comply with codes, Ben said, as can bringing in someone’s family or neighbors to lend a hand. Ben said he also had success asking church groups to help and plans to do the same here.
Aside from hunting, Ben also enjoys fishing and said he is looking this winter for place to ice fish. He also hunts for shed antlers.
Erin is an avid reader. This year alone, she read 75 books. Some of her favorite recent authors include Louise Erdrich and Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. She keeps a log of the books she reads and devours the words from tablet screens and bound volumes alike.
“I don’t believe in discriminating,” she said.
Erin is not quite the outdoors person Ben is, but she said she enjoys shed hunting with him. The antlers also bring out her crafty side — she likes to paint them.
The couple also is expecting their first child around the middle of May. They said their family in southern Oregon plans to hit the roads to Pendleton to help out.