Our flight from Cascade, Idaho dipped down between the canyon walls, deep enough so you had to lean close to the window to see the sky above the cliffs. The frothy brown Salmon River churned below. Looking past Walt’s (our pilot) right ear, I could see the small green clearing of our destination, Campbell’s Ferry. My safety precaution of munching on gummy bears to keep the plane aloft had worked again. Rita (our Vizsla) woke and uncurled herself from my feet, scenting home. Walt banked the single engine Cessna to circle the landing strip, our usual approach, and said something to Doug that I could not hear over the engine noise. But instead of continuing the approach he circled again, lower this time. And a third time, lower yet, till it seemed like we were skimming the tops of tall pines. I searched the landing strip, trying to understand, as the plane continued to circle. Finally I saw what Walt’s young, sharp pilot’s eyes had seen immediately, a herd of deer grazing on the new spring grass of the clearing. It took a dozen low passes before the deer were annoyed enough to amble into the woods, clearing our path. Walt executed his usual perfect landing: just high enough to miss the tree tops, just low enough to meet the ground at the markers, and just the right speed to slow the plane before it plowed into the forest at the top of the strip.
Turning the plane, he taxied down the 19-degree hillside to the loading area, turned off the engine and opened the door. As always, Rita was the first to deplane, jumping over my feet and diving out the door to run and roll on the hillside. Next I crawled out into the wan sunlight, followed by Walt and Doug. Behind my seat the little plane was stuffed to the ceiling with our gear and supplies, which Walt began to unload while Doug and I carried things to a safe distance on the hillside. Although the plane was filled to capacity it was only half of what we needed. The other half was still waiting at Arnold Aviation. If the weather held Walt would make a return flight with the rest of the gear. During our flight in we could see the forecasted weather front approaching from the northwest but the winds were still fairly light and Walt thought he had time for one more trip.
He revved the plane’s engine, taxied back up the hill, turned at the top and charged down the slope. The plane, much lighter now, lifted into the air easily, banked sharply left to avoid the mountain directly across the river, and disappeared down the canyon. Doug and I walked down the hill toward the cabin with Rita scampering around us. Sure enough, Walt was back within an hour and a half with the rest of the gear, plus 3 propane tanks.
In the meantime Doug managed to start the tractor to haul everything down to the cabin. We set the boxes outside to begin sorting what was needed (and would fit) in our one-room cabin and what would be taken down for storage in the larger historic cabin. No sooner had we started this process when it began to rain. Everything had to be carried into the one room cabin to sort. Basically it covered every surface. It took about an hour but finally things were at least inside the respective cabins if not yet put away.
We call the 16’ X 24’ one-room cabin where we live at the Ferry, the Crowe cabin. The Crowe family, who owned Campbell’s Ferry from 1960 until 1988, built it for occasional use as their hunting cabin. Calling it rustic would be to glorify it. The flooring is 60’s era speckled linoleum tile, cracked and chipped with age; its fissures guard decades of dirt that resist the broom. The low ceiling is white painted plywood boards that buckle between their cross supports, giving the draped appearance of a tent.
Our queen-sized bed takes up most of the room. The rest of the furniture is hand-me-downs and cast-offs: a small rustic (there’s that word again) dining table covered in oilcloth; 2 small wooden arm-chairs; 2 very dusty, worn maroon swivel upholstered chairs from my mother’s bedroom long ago; a rather wonderful simple old wooden slab chair, painted orange, made by Jim Moore who lived across the river from 1897 until he died in 1942; 2 rough-hewn wooden benches long enough to seat two people; a poorly made chest with 10 drawers; a once-nice medium-sized veneer drop lid chest that has seen better days, now stained and water marked; a small wooden three drawer cabinet holds tools, batteries and odds & ends. Over Rita’s crate Doug has built a simple wooden table (again covered in oil cloth) that serves as his desk. Sagging boards are anchored to the walls, making a hodge-podge of shelves. Old wooden stacked kerosene boxes hold the dishes, glasses, and food supplies.
The south end of the cabin is the “kitchen” with the following crammed side to side: a propane refrigerator; a small propane stove; and a circa 1940s metal unit holding a chipped sink, 4 drawers and 4 small cupboards, pitted and somewhat rusty. There is also a small eco-friendly washing machine purchased when we moved here in 2006.
At its best the cabin could never be called pristine but it was looking particularly gloomy on our arrival. Inclement weather prior to our departure last fall had prevented me from doing any laundry (laundry must be carried down the hill and pinned to the garden fence to dry). Rather than fly the dirty laundry out to be cleaned in Tucson and then carted back up to Idaho, I had a large pile folded in the laundry basket. Although I had tried to keep the floor clean, some outside mud had been tracked in during our last minute packing and departure chores. Nothing had been improved by a small group of our male partners who had stayed in the cabin, hunting for a few days, after we left.
As is always the case when the cabins are left empty, the mice invaded. A large bag of birdseed unwisely left inside was torn into, leaving seeds and seed casings scattered across the floor, up on shelves and even inside drawers. Nearly every surface was dotted with little black mouse feces. They shredded most of the cleaning rags under the sink and chewed a hole in a new pillowcase and pillow. Don’t ask how they get in. We don’t know…but they do.
Running water does flow to the sink but we must close down the water system before we leave in the fall, thus the last hours before departure and typically the first few days after our arrival in the spring are without running water.
Doug carts several 5 gallon buckets of water up from the lower ditch which is kept running through the winter. Naturally this is a great deal of hard work and water must be used sparingly from the buckets. All the water comes to Campbell’s Ferry through a network of open ditches from Trout Creek (a quarter mile away) dug by the early settlers for domestic use and irrigation. On our return the upper ditch, which supplies water to the Crowe cabin, must be cleaned of debris and repaired before we can open it at the diversion from the creek. Every few years the built-up silt must be dug out. This was one of those years. Even after the water enters the ditch we must wait 24 hours for it to clear before using. After 4 days of Doug’s manual labor he thought it was ready. He started the water toward the holding pond and tanks before dinner last night. After dinner, in a rainstorm, he went up to check. The ditch had sprung a massive leak where a rotten root had created an underground tunnel. The water was running down hill through the forest. His efforts slowed but failed to stop it. Since darkness was coming on so it was left overnight. He is working on it again today.
We have now been at the Ferry for five days without running water. Dishes must be washed sparingly. The bare minimum of cleaning can be done because it is too difficult to carry enough water. Neither of us has had more than a light sponging since we arrived.
Welcome to the Wilderness
More tales of our arrival to come but…enough for now.