When we tell people that we live in the wilderness for six plus months of the year the three most common responses are:
“Oh, how peaceful and relaxing that must be,” spoken with a dreamy sort of envy.
“What do you DO with all that time you have out there?” asked with concern and disbelief.
“Why?” said with a sense of horror and pity.
When I hear the first response I try to imagine what the speakers are envisioning. Do they see Doug sitting quietly on the river bank watching the water flow past? In their minds am I in a meadow lying in clover in the company of gently swaying trees? Are we perched on a hillside with a glass of wine watching the sunset? If so, the answer is Yes, we do all of these things…occasionally. Well, OK!, in all honesty the wine and sunset happens almost every evening but what about the rest of the time?
In answer to the second response…have you ever tried to sweep feathers? Not the bigger, stiffer kind but the tiny, soft neck and breast feathers of a small bird? When we first entered the historic cabin this spring there was a pile of just this type of feathers under the table in the main room. No other parts of a bird were there, no beak nor bones nor feet nor tail feathers, just a downy pile of pale grey feathers. There was evidence that the bird had been alive inside for a while. There were bird droppings on the floor, the furniture and on nearly every window sill. It is unclear how it and its unknown assailant managed to get inside but the cabin is 105 years old, hastily built and despite our best efforts, it is porous. It was depressing to think of the small bird trapped inside and struggling to escape only to be devoured in the end by “something,” so I set about getting rid of the evidence. Taking a broom from the next room, I brushed it into the feathers under the table. Immediately I was in the midst of a feather tornado. Feathers flew around me, out into room, scattering everywhere. “Hmm,” I thought, “This would be a good job for a vacuum. I didn’t have a vacuum, just a broom. I tried sweeping the broom more gently. The feathers swirled around my ankles and darted into darkened corners like tiny frightened animals. I experimented with various sweeping styles, none of which were very effective, but about twenty minutes later I felt comfortable that I had most of them corralled and out the door. During those twenty minutes I started to think about this feather experience as a metaphor for the work we do here.
What DO we do with our time? The glib answer is “Anything thing we want!” But the truth is we have to do almost everything for ourselves. In the first place we have to do everything that anyone does at home: cleaning, cooking, washing, gardening, etc. The difference is that it must all be done with fewer conveniences so it is a lengthier and more physical process with no options to hire any assistance…. and we are dealing with an eighty-five acre property. If anything breaks down, which it does, one cannot call out to schedule a repairman to drop by. One (meaning Doug) must read the manuals, learn how to take the dang thing apart, find whatever part is broken, try to repair it or somehow create a new one out of something, put it all back together again to see if it works and, if not, repeat the process. This includes things as diverse as the tractor, the propane refrigerator or the cherry pitter. As you know from an earlier post there is also the water issue…the ongoing water issue.
All our water comes in ditches from Trout Creek. We control the flow of water by moving stones. When we first return each year the ditches must be cleared of debris, including large trees that have fallen into them, and repairs made for any breaks that may have (always) occurred. Then rocks that have closed off the ditches for the winter must be moved to allow water to be diverted. Once the water is flowing we find where the real problems are. If (when) there are problems the water is shut down and we begin again. After all the ditch issues are solved the water must run for at least 12 hours to let the sediment settle. It is only after the water problem is solved that we can begin to clean…the cabins and ourselves. Did I say solved? Bad choice of words, dealing with water is ongoing. If it rains too long or too hard Doug is back up on the ditch diverting water before it overflows. When it is dry and hot we are back to moving more rocks.
There are fields and pastures to be mowed; trees to be pruned and doctored; gardens to be planted, weeded, fertilized, and harvested; chickens to be cared for; noxious weeds throughout the property to be eliminated; fallen trees to be hauled away and milled for use in repairing the old buildings; firewood to be chopped; brush to be cut back. These are just some of the regular, ongoing chores.
In addition between June 15th and August 30th we regularly have two to three groups of visitors a day. Of course there are some that come before and after but those months are the busiest. There may be days when no one shows up but we have had as many as eight groups in one day. Typically a group size is 10-20 people. They come up from floating the river to see the historic cabin and learn about the history. Doug or I will stop what we are doing to greet them. If they want to have a tour and history talk we are happy to do that because we care about the history and legacy of this place and love to pass it on to anyone interested. It is the same reason we wrote our book, “Merciless Eden.” Talking to a group typically takes at least an hour. Actually it is a pleasant diversion from some fairly grubby chores to be able to sit in the shade of the walnut tree and talk with interesting folks.
Lastly there are the projects. Last year we renovated the back room of the historic cabin. I will dedicate an entire blog to that process one of these days.
This year our first project was to install three interpretive signs (like you might see at national parks) so that visitors can read those if they don’t have time for a tour. We (mainlyDoug) worked on the signs last winter and had them designed/manufactured. Doug used the backhoe to dig the holes and built 10″ diameter cylinders from old fencing to form a hole for concrete around each of the six posts. I helped back fill around the cylinders with rock, mix cement and install the stands.
The second project was to repair the old chicken coop. Our neighbor Greg (7 miles upstream) came to help Doug build a smaller, more secure enclosure inside the old coop. At the end of this month Greg and Sue will bring us six hens from their flock.
The third project was to clean up an old dump behind the blacksmith shop on the property that had been there for decades before we bought the place. The area was a mess of old trash, what seemed like a mile of old rusty fencing and posts, rusty old cans, broken bottles and window panes, broken tools, hundreds of old nails and screws, and many pieces of unidentifiable junk. There was no other way for people to deal with their trash out here. No garbage trucks or recycling organizations were coming around to pick up refuse so people burned what they could and threw the rest into a pile or over the hill. There are about five of these old dumpsites on the property. This one was just the most visible eyesore. Today we still separate our trash into burnables and the non-burnables are taken by plane or jet boat for appropriate disposal whenever we go out.
The fourth project, which starts next week and should take about a week, will be to re-chink and treat the logs of the historic cabin. We have a grant from the Idaho Heritage Trust to cover half the cost of materials and an expert on historical chinking will be coming in to help along with two of our friends. This will help to preserve the cabin and make it less porous.
The fifth project, also partly funded by a grant from the Idaho Heritage Trust, is to replace the old broken windows in the historic cabin with new windows that are historically accurate. The windows have been made by a woman who does this type of historical work but we will be installing them ourselves with help from friends. Probably another week’s worth of work following the cabin chinking.
The sixth project, scheduled to begin mid-June, will be huge…the remodeling of the little one room cabin where Doug and I live. During this project which should take about a month we will be having a construction crew living here on the property with us. Doug and I will be moving into the historic cabin during this time. That project will probably end up as several blogs.
So, that is an example of what we DO with our time in the wilderness. It does seem like sweeping feathers…every stroke accomplished creates a whole new set of tasks. There are always more feathers hiding in the dark corners.
In answer to that third response I referenced in the beginning, “Why?” That will be another blog.