Women of the River: Part Two

Women of the River: Part 2

Although we seldom see each other, river sisters share a generous spirit of helping each other. Because of our isolation and common roles, we depend on one another. Several who live in the canyon all year have green houses to jump-start their gardens. When Doug and I come in April, we bring seeds and must wait until warmer weather to get them started. Each year a passing jet boat or the mail plane delivers extra seedlings from Barbara at 5-Mile Bar, Lynn at Shepp Ranch or Sue, up river at Yellow Pine Bar, all sharing their bounty with neighbors. Unexpected treats and gifts often arrive by plane or jet boat. Questions, answers, and advice flow back and forth, although it is usually me asking the questions and being the beneficiary of their wisdom. If there is any kind of emergency, an email to the river sisters always finds someone who is listening and can get help.

Most recently some friends were getting ready to float the river. On the day of their departure, the wife received word that her father was ill. They gave her family our email address so that they could stop at our place to get an update on his condition while on their trip. The day our friends were due to arrive at Campbell’s Ferry to check in with us, we received an email that her father was in serious condition and failing. When our friends arrived we relayed the message and it was determined that she should immediately fly out from the Ferry to Boise to get a plane home. I emailed the air taxi service in Cascade but when 30 minutes passed without a response I knew that Carol, who handles their email, must be doing something away from her desk. At Campbell’s Ferry email is our only quick and reliable communication with the outside world. We have a satellite phone but one can wait for a long time for a signal. Most places on the river are connected by backcountry radio but, for some reason, we cannot get reliable radio reception. After waiting for a response I sent an email out to the river sisters explaining the situation and asking for assistance…”Would someone please get on the radio to alert Arnold Aviation that they need to look at their email and get back to me.” Almost immediately I had a response from Barbara. She had contacted Arnold Aviation and let me know that a plane would be on its way within minutes. Our friend was able to get out in time to be with her father before he died.

Sometimes it is not an emergency but just the knowledge that someone else is facing the same challenges and concerns, struggling with the same issues or sharing the same joys is comforting.  My friends in the “outside world” often find it hard to relate to life in the wilderness…”What do you DO out there?” A recent email from my friend, Sue, perfectly captures a day in the river sisters’ lives. I felt Sue had entered my brain, captured my thoughts and expressed them far better than I ever could, so I gained her permission to share it.

First, a few cues to the short hand and river language in Sue’s email:

The inverter…. converts direct current electricity from solar or hydro-power stored in a battery bank into household 110 current. We all have systems to generate electricity. When they act up you can’t call the power company. YOU deal with it.

 

Ypb…short for Yellow Pine Bar where Sue lives.

 

Float groups…white water rafters coming down the Salmon River, either self-guided or outfitted groups. They regularly stop at our places on the river and come up to talk or look at the natives.

 

Fire Suppression Reservoir…AKA, the swimming pool at YPB.

 

Sun oven…basically a black metal box with a glass lid that lifts and aluminum panels that fold out like the Mars rover to direct sunlight through the glass into the black box where you put the food to be cooked. Depending on the weather, temperatures can get up to nearly 400 degrees but typically range from 250 to 300 degrees. Since the sun oven sits outside, it doesn’t heat up the cabin like a stove and it is not eating up your electricity. You have to remember to keep repositioning it to keep the best angle from the sun for a consistent temperature but, should you forget, at least nothing will burn because the temperature will drop as the sun angle changes.

 

Shepp…Shepp Ranch, a place down river where river sister Lynn lives.

 

Sue is a brilliant writer. See for yourself:

Salmon River Sirens!

Every day, this is what happens.

I say to my sweaty self…..”TODAY I will email my girls……………

…….once the power at ypb is stabilized enough to dare USE any sacred electricity.” Major Inverter/Battery drama is ongoing with daunting messages on the display panel and excessive zingy, colorful flashing lights all I can think of is “alien abduction!”

…….or….”I’ll email river sisters after this float group leaves.”……then another one or two follow and I’m talked-out (yes, that can actually happen to me! :)………

……”I’ll email canyon broads when I’m finished cool-morning weeding … harvesting …. choring …. laundering ….. mowing”…… but either there’s zero power left to compute after fridge and freezer have their way with it, OR a group arrives, OR I’m grumpy from the heat and all digits on hands and feet are puffy like Vienna sausages even if I worship shade and guzzle lots of water……….

So at this moment, I’m not checking the power panel to see if there’s enough juice to compute. I’ll just wait for the smoke billow or an alarm to go off 🙂

If floaters show up, they can wander around since they do anyway. And so what if there’s a big basket of peas to shell, strawberries to top, and beets that need their skins’ slipped in hot water……(oh god….is it just me or is it hotter than Satan’s basement and who even wants to THINK about stirring hot jam in a steamy pot unless it’s dark-dark….or JAM-uary?)

Just had to check in and say HELLO! MISS YOU! HOPING ALL IS WELL DOWN RIVER!

Thought of you all last night as I made my way to the Fire Suppression Reservoir. Haven’t dipped into that holding tank of chlorinated water yet this year, so why not a midnight submersion?

Tossy-turny sleeping these days, right?

Even if I’m fairly certain I’m on the other side of the plenty-long adventure of hormonal heat waves, beads pool up even when a body is still and supine.

To the pool she goes to ooh and aah over the moon and splendor of water, knowing the odds of strangers showing up are minimal, and that “hooray! it’s dark enough to not spend even a second screening the 1/4″ layer of dead whatnot’s from the surface.”

The only thing that would have brought it over the top would have been if you guys had been present with chilled Prossecco, and maybe some of those Alabama dark chocolate bites of dreaminess Lynn shared with us this spring at Shepp!

We would have given the crickets a run for their chirping money for sure with giggling in free-style water ballet, or just plain splashed and jawed!

Pretty sure this nocturnal reprieve out yonder will become a habit. Slept like a Disney character afterwards.

Garden-wise, I’m sure you all have the same things going on – weary looking plants by early afternoon, some things WAY ahead of the normal or abnormal (garlic is out and cleaned up by June 30th?).

Everywhere you look, something needs to be tied, picked up, harvested, freed a bit from the biggest-leafed purslane I can recall, or otherwise hydrated (if you have H2o) so the layin’ down plants can make it to sun down.

I’ve already pulled some fried flowers & pea vines that succumbed to the determined triple digit marathon.

The dream I had of 2015 being the year of ‘not’ weeding the ever-so-long flower beds flanking the garden by way of weed fabric and heavily mulched perennials with random barrels and pots of annuals hither and yon. (always wanted to say that:) isn’t quite what I originally envisioned.

Now it’s crystal clear that, in my attempt to fill the fuel barrel “pots” Greg cut in sections for me, I shouldn’t have been so skimpy with the dirt involved in filling them.

That’s what you get for cheating. I thought it was genius, saving on potting soil and/or dirt mix by loading up the bottom 2/3rds of the barrel sections with feed sacks filled with non-toxic trash – aluminum and tin cans, balls of discarded chicken wire, bunched up newspaper or old weed-guard fabric, flakes of straw……anything with bulk to take up some space to ration what I thought was an ample amount of amassed dirt from all kinds of sources.

But now, the top foot or so of skimpy-dirt piled atop “trash” has wiggled and settled down into the crannies of bulk below.

It’s like looking down a man-hole in order to see the annuals down there in the dark, sunk to bottom.

Feel like I should throw them a rope:)

But there’s still plenty of unexpected beauty and bounty – all so jungle-like at this stage with the squash vines traveling like you know they will but can’t “see” that at planting time……..and how, as much as you convince yourself that you’ll stay ahead of the trellising, deadheading or harvesting game, and that you’ll pick ALL the cucumbers that are the best sized baby dills so there’s not that jalopy that magically appears a day later…………..

Whoosh!

It’s just “plants gone wild” cause you’re too preoccupied with playing tag with water, chit-chatting with visitors, troubleshooting inverter woes, sweating in motion or while idling, nursing an injured tourist, putting something in, or taking something out of the Sun Oven, trying to be efficient (as in “not lazy”) in all things domestic (okay….who has vacuumed or washed windows everywhere else but their own domicile?)

And how can you not stare out into space to think about Winter or pass up on a hot minute of laying in the sun-burned lawn to look for animals shapes (or Jared Leto) in the clouds?

All I know is, wouldn’t it be so humbling, entertaining, and most likely mildly (or wildly) embarrassing, to be able to play back the audio version of thoughts, revelations, and conversations we have with ourselves in just one day?

That’s why I’m a HUGE fan of the fresh slate of morning – to have another stab at making it the best day it can be, promises made to take things less seriously in some respects and more seriously in others.

There’s just so much promise and optimism in the AM – in all the seasons, but especially summer when most days feel like a fire-drill even if we “live for a living” for the most part.

Don’t you love the welcomed humidity in the garden after the plants have sucked in their 10 minute drink?

I swear song birds sing the happiest they’ll sing all day. The air is clean and filled with butterflies, giving no indication of fires that burn in the canyon or mayhem that ensues out there in the big world.

To me, the simple act of re-filling the hummer feeders feels like the most satisfactory thing a person can do while holding a coffee cup.

And so, I just had to send you girls a cyber hug to let you know that, through the hundreds of things that go on in a day and how it isn’t always possible to connect as often as I’d love to, you are the people I’d most like to share my hundreds with – telepathically or typingly:)

May all be “morning” in your worlds down river.  I’ll meet you at the pool at midnight!

oxoxo sue

Women of the River: Part 1

Women of the River: Part One

In 1955 Frances Zaunmiller wrote of seeing a rare creature at Campbell’s Ferry. Frances, who lived at the Ferry from 1940 until her death in 1986, chronicled life in Idaho’s River of No Return Wilderness through a weekly column for the Grangeville, Idaho newspaper.

The sight of this exotic creature brought a high degree of excitement. What was this unusual creature? It was a woman.

There were other women in the backcountry but the chance of seeing one outside her natural habitat, the place she lived, was unusual, especially in winter. There are countless reports of men moving through the canyon on a regular basis at all times of the year. Frances’ husband Joe Zaunmiller regularly rode his horse to Dixie (the closest tiny town) even in the dead of winter, often making the 26-mile round trip in a day. But someone had to be at home to care for children, animals, and the property while the men were out and about. It was the women.

My husband Doug describes the situation as, ‘a woman was the anchor on the place.’ They were the ‘mooring’ that attached each family to their homestead.

Things are not so different today. While I rarely see the other women who live in the canyon, the men make regular appearances. They appear via jet boats, airplanes, rafts, hiking and horseback. Often there are men staying here with us, helping with various projects. Since April 22, we have had nearly 30 “guy nights” with multiple men here at the Ferry.

I was discussing the lack of female companionship with Heinz, the jet boat maestro of the canyon and our neighbor from 5-Mile Bar (10 miles down river). Heinz and his jet boat haul the heavy construction supplies and machinery for our renovation projects from the road end, four miles upriver, to the Ferry. We’ve seen him a great deal this summer. Three days after our talk Heinz’s partner, Barbara sent email invitations up and down river for a girl’s night garden party and sleep over at their home at 5-Mile Bar. Every river woman was to bring a bottle of champagne, a dish for a potluck supper, clothes that she no longer wore (for a clothing exchange) and a pair of high heels to wear to aerate the lawn.

The evening was great fun with a dozen ladies in attendance. They ranged from owners of backcountry properties to full-time caretakers to part-time helpers. We ranged in age from 74 to 19. After glasses of champagne, the clothing exchange, and supper, Heinz built us a huge bonfire in a fire pit on the beach next to the river. As the darkness crept in around us we talked about the ladies who came to this river before us: their strength, idiosyncrasies, origins, and life stories.

Frances and her “frenemy” Rheo Wolfe, probably the best-known and most colorful women in the canyon during their era, were prime topics. Rheo’s daughter Linda was at the party. Rheo’s oldest child drowned in the river in 1945 and is buried at Campbell’s Ferry, an event that forever strained their relationship. There are earlier residents of the canyon whose stories are every bit as compelling, including two other tragic deaths connected to Campbell’s Ferry: Rose Cook & her baby died during childbirth in 1905 and Emma Zaunmiller in a horse accident in 1938.

The generation after Frances and Rheo offers the story of the three wildly beautiful Wilson sisters who grew up on horseback at Wilson Bar, stomping rattlesnakes and riding bareback along the Salmon River. Legend has it that Alice Wilson was Marilyn Monroe’s double, swimming her horse across the river, in a scene from The River of No Return film with Robert Mitchum.

The girl party beach scene went on well after midnight but I slipped off to bed just before. In bed with the muffled sounds of the campfire filtering through, I thought how, without really knowing our predecessors, we had chosen to live their lives. We are a sisterhood of women on the river that reaches back more than a century. The canyon has changed little in that time. The things that delighted their eyes are now in mine. My day-to-day struggles were also in their bodies and spirits. The women at the party had been called to live a life so different from their contemporaries…just as my life is so different from most of mine.

A jet boat engine woke me at 6:30 AM. It was Heinz taking my river sisters down canyon. The few remaining “up river girls” staggered into Barbara’s kitchen for breakfast and morning talk over coffee. When Heinz returned with a Forest Service trail crew on board headed for a job up river, we rode along to our homes.

It was delightful to be back where I belonged and next to the man I love at Campbell’s Ferry. I felt full, like a sponge that had soaked up “girlness” and was expanded by it. It would have to last me a long time.

Serenity and Relaxation, Campbell’s Ferry Style

In 2014 we embarked on a project to renovate the interior of the back room of the historic cabin here at Campbell’s Ferry. Although we had done our best to clean it up at various times through our years of ownership, those attempts were largely ineffective. What was needed was nothing short of a full renovation. When Doug and his partners got the place in 1990 it had been empty for several years, except for the army of mice, pack rats, marmots and other critters who had claimed the place. The ceiling of the backroom FrancesBedroomWallwas sagging under the weight of dirt, leakage from the roof and rodent scat. The ceiling was removed and in 2013 we replaced the roof but no changes had been made to the interior. It was impossible to keep the room clean due to gaps in the walls and floors, allowing egress to insects, spiders, and rodents galore.

When we arrived for the 2014 season Doug and friend Greg Metz began to cut down some of the bug-killed pine trees on the property to mill into lumber for the project. By “milling” I mean using what is called an Alaska chainsaw mill – basically a small metal rack that holds the saw horizontally so the log can be cut lengthwise, with the grain, to make boards. It is a painfully slow, but effective way to make lumber.

Bedroom3MummyEarly that June Doug and a visiting friend moved everything out of the back room and started removing the old stained, chewed and buckled wallboard. We knew that the room was not original to the 1905 cabin but had no way of knowing when it was added…until we looked behind those walls. There were decades of old wasp, mud dabber and bumble bee nests, more rodent feces, and a desiccated mummified rat next to a photograph of Clark Cable! Don’t you wish you had been there for the unveiling? But along with these charming finds there were old tattered and chewed issues of Life Magazines and Saturday Evening Posts dated 1937-1940 so now we knew the room was tacked on in 1940. That was the year Frances Coyle arrived. We could picture her saying, “If I’m staying here, I need more room.” So Joe Zaunmiller, the owner at the time, scabbed together the addition. He grabbed piles of old magazines and glued them to the walls, a common form of insulation at the time. He must have been in a hurry. We discovered there were no real supports holding up the roof, in fact the entire construction was scary. We had our work cut out for us.

The next week we flew out and went to Boise to collect construction supplies and a very generous family group who had volunteered to help us with the renovation. We borrowed a friend’s trailer and loaded it with a queen-sized bed, 2 night stands, coolers of food for the work crew and construction supplies from Home Depot: insulation, flooring, vapor barrier, table saw and more. We spent the night of June 12 in McCall, Idaho where we had scheduled a book signing and a book presentation.

I keep a daily journal at the Ferry. Whenever people remark about peaceful and relaxing our life is in the wilderness. I think about Friday, June 13, 2014. Below I have an edited version of my journal entry for that day. Apologies to the few friends who have already suffered through this story.

June 13, Friday

Today was a day to remember…as if I could forget! We launched into the day planned by General Patton (aka Doug Tims). We met a log home restoration guy for breakfast at the Pancake House in McCall for a consultation on a planned 2015 project before driving north to stop in New Meadows to meet with a historic window restorer (also 2015 project), drove on to Grangeville to rendezvous with the Head family (our volunteer helpers) and a truckload of lumber coming from Lewiston. TrailerWe had to unload the trailer so we could load it with the lumber and then reload all the things we had just unloaded. When we were finished the entire entourage was beginning to look like a disreputable traveling circus. Suddenly it started to rain. The wood and bed and other furniture we had on the trailer were covered, fortunately. We started the drive from Grangeville to White Water Ranch (about 90 miles) followed by the Head family in their vehicle. We were on a narrow mountain road that is very steep with hairpin turns, challenging for pulling a large trailer. The last 20 miles were on a narrow one-lane dirt road with constant switch-backs. Raining harder. By the time we got a few miles onto the dirt road the mud got serious. We met a large fuel truck coming from the opposite direction…fortunately not in a place that would push us off a sixty foot cliff…and managed to navigate around it. The fuel truck had stirred up the mud even more. We started down the very steep grade for the last six miles with the heavy trailer trying to push us like a luge runner. Doug managed to keep it in control but it was hair-raising through the ruts and slick mud. I read my Dave Barry humor book so that I could keep my eyes off the road and not be clawing at the air and grinding my teeth. We finally made it to the bottom an hour and a half behind schedule. Heinz (our jet boat driver) had waited for us (Thank God!) but now the fun was just beginning. Jetboat Doug backed the trailer down to the beach and we started unloading the trailer and loading the boat. We hauled stuff between the truck and boat through wet sand and rain for about an hour (wood is now uncovered). The jet boat ride was cold but quick and we arrived at the Ferry around 6:30 PM, soaked and sandy. Now the real fun began! Because of the water level Heinz could not drop us off at the bottom of the steep trail that goes up to the dirt road that the tractor can navigate, so we must get off at a place at bit upstream. Unfortunately, there was no way to get to the trail through the brush along the river so we had to forge a new trail and ‘mountain goat it’ up to the road. So there we were, carrying all this heavy stuff across a field of river boulders, then wet sand, then up a steep muddy brushy mountainside, crawling over downed trees in a rain storm. We had our personal gear, coolers, rolls of insulation and about an eighth of the lumber up when it got too dark to continue, so the remaining wood, the bed and the rest were tarped and left on the beach for the night. Fortunately I was able to bail out of the hauling earlier than the rest so I could come up to the cabin and prepare dinner for the eight of us. We finally sat down to dinner about 9:30 PM. Don’t you wish you had been here to share this lovely relaxing interlude in Ferry history? By the way…still raining.

The next day was spent hauling the rest of the supplies up the still muddy slope to the tractor and on to the cabin. Fortunately, the Head crew included a young man who was a finish carpenter. He took one look at the room and remarked, “Hmmm, looks like we’ll have to get ghetto on this.” But it turns out that over the next four days the crew worked from dawn to dark (we never ate dinner before 9:30 PM) and did a remarkable transformation job. It was an adventure.

BackRoom1Backroom2

We have more and larger renovation projects scheduled for this year. Stayed tuned for more serenity and relaxation at Campbell’s Ferry.

Sweeping Feathers

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.

DitchAll 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.

PartnersIn 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.

Sign1This 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.

Eyesore1The 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.  Eyesore2Today 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.

 

Caught In The Act…Houdini Bear Takes Inadvertent Selfie

My beautiful pictureThe barn workroom was in shambles.  We had flown in to Campbell’s Ferry only hours earlier.  When Doug unlocked the barn door he was greeted with devastation.  His neatly organized shelves and tool racks were a disaster.  The jars holding nails and screws organized by size and type were broken and their contents strewn across the floor.  The area for garden storage was ripped apart.  Sacks of fertilizer and garden soil were torn open and partially devoured.  The spray containers, empty planting pots, and garden tools were torn off the shelves, scattered and showed teeth marks.  Only a very few things throughout the barn were in their assigned spaces.  Walking gingerly through the wreckage, Doug found his way to the back of the workroom.  The huge, stout locked storage bin, which we had always thought to be invincible, had a gaping rip through its heavy boards.  An empty torn 31 pound bag of dog food lay on the floor next to a large ravaged bag of dry cat food and a 15 pound bag of chicken scratch.  The evidence was clear…BEAR. Searching the space, Doug could not figure out how the bear managed to get inside.  The outside door was locked, all the walls and floors were intact.  Although there is an opening at the top of a ten foot high wall, there were no claw or scratch marks to show that the bear had scrambled over the side.  It appeared we had a Houdini-like bear who could suddenly materialize inside the barn and then disappear without a trace.  In the midst of trying to get our water supply going, Doug had to stop to repair the damaged feed bin to safeguard the remaining pet food inside.  He quickly repaired the hole with the existing boards and went off to deal with the water system.

The next morning Houdini had struck again.  The repaired bin was torn apart and more bags of food were torn open, eaten and scattered on the floor.  Although he still had the water system to work on, Doug took the time to put up thick new boards and secured the lid of the storage bin with 3 inch screws.  There was no time to clean anything up so the thick layer of dog/cat/chicken food remained on the floor.  Now Doug was really getting annoyed.  He went on-line to buy a bear tag.  We knew that the bear was returning to the scene of the crime around nightfall so, after dinner, Doug set up a stake out at the barn and waited…and waited.  About 8:45 PM he returned to the cabin without seeing the bear.  No more than 20 minutes later I was standing at the sink doing dishes when I could just make out a bear-shape coming out of the woods.  Doug took his gun and quietly moved toward the barn.  He saw the bear slipping behind the barn wall and followed.  Just then the bear stuck his head around the corner, spotted Doug and took off for the woods.  Doug fired after the bear but it is hard to hit a black bear running through the woods at twilight.  In any case, we figured the bear would be scared enough to think twice about returning.

My beautiful pictureWe figured wrong.  If he thought twice he must have thought it was worth another try.  The next morning…deja vu all over again…the new repair job was in splinters. We were now moving past the “annoyed” stage.  Doug repaired the bin again, set some old traps that had been hanging on the barn wall since the 1940s and buried the the traps in the food mess the bear had left on the floor.  They weren’t really large enough to capture a bear but they might make an impression if they clamped shut on a bear nose or paw. A game camera was positioned in the barn.  Motion-activated, it would capture a mug shot of the perpetrator.  That night Doug set up an unsuccessful watch in the barn for several hours. We went to bed hopeful that we might be awakened by a surprised howling if Houdini stumbled onto a trap.  Unfortunately, our sleep was uninterrupted.

But, in the morning it was just like “Groundhog Day”, the bin was torn open but Houdini had managed to avoid the traps while setting them off.  No spare bear parts were in evidence and not a drop of blood.  Doug brought the game camera back to the cabin and there were the photos…a profile of Houdini inspecting Doug’s repair work with what must have been, by now, an air of contempt and a full frontal inadvertent selfie.  We had evidence!  That bear could never get away with proclaiming innocence.  That night Doug set up another stake out.  It was close to dark when I heard a single shot ring out through the stillness.  Doug returned to report that Houdini was last seen fleeing over a ridge headed to the next county with the not so pleasant sting of #6 birdshot from a 20 gauge shotgun to remind him that the Ferry was not the best of lunch stops.

For now at least Houdini has done a disappearing act.  The storage bin has been intact and undisturbed for over a week.

We never have figured out how he was getting in and out of the barn.

Welcome to the Wilderness

CoverOur 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.

Flight8Turning 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.

IMG_1696We 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.

The Days and Daze of Lists

These days are endless list-making.  Things to do before disappearing into the wilderness for six months.  Before leaving Tucson there was the list of things to buy that might only be available there (1), the list of things to pack (2).  There was the most painful list of all…what clothes to bring along (3).  A group of nominees were selected and moved to the guest bedroom where they were matched with the required accessories, then the heart wrenching process of breaking up with outfits that simply could not be accommodated within the suitcase and had to be returned to the closet to sulk in darkness for half a year.  Those with travel visas went on the list “To Pack” in the suitcase.  Actually there were three “suitcases”: a small one for things needed on the two day drive north, another for in-town clothes for whatever trips might take us back to Boise, and a third bag for clothes that would go directly into the ranch.  So many decisions.  Before departure there is also the list of tasks for folding up the house and handing it over to its guardian (4).

The day-one drive ended at in St. George, UT where we met friends for a lovely dinner.  I had packed clothes for cooler weather because of the northward trek and checked the weather before we left.  Somehow it was 89 degrees in St. George on our arrival.  My cashmere sweaters looked very unappealing and I felt fairly foolish.  The next morning it was 27 degrees.  As the thermometer fell I felt my IQ rising.  Before we reached Provo, UT we were driving through a snow storm and now I was downright brilliant.

It was early evening when we arrived in Boise.  The snow had stayed behind in Utah but it was still chilly as we settled into our friends’ home and began to make more lists:  a list for meetings with the Forest Service (5), a list for meeting with the Idaho Department of Water Resources management (6), a list for people to see before we fly off (7), a shopping list for 6 months worth of food, cleaning and living supplies…YIKES! (8), a list for garden supplies (9), a list for chicken accouterment (10), a list for cat and dog needs (11), a list for six months worth of prescriptions (12), a list of needs for the farm equipment and systems (13).  In additions there are the lists associated with the projects we will be doing this year:  a list of supplies for planting new fruit trees (14), a list of re-chinking supplies and window replacement needs for the historic cabin (15), a HUGE list of building supplies for the major renovation of the 16′ X 24′ former hunting cabin where we reside (16).  Lastly the master calendar list that dictates the deadlines for completing all these lists (17).  Is it surprising that we are feeling a bit dazed?

When we finally arrive at Campbell’s Ferry there will be a new set of lists of tasks to be accomplished immediately: clean out a half mile of ditches to get the water flowing toward the cabin, clean the rodent scat out of the shelves and crevices  in the cabins, wash EVERYTHING (dishes/shelves/floors/windows), get the internet up and running, etc..  Then the real work of the ranch will begin.

All this preparation makes me think about those pioneers who had to pack their wagons for the trek west, deciding what to take and what to leave behind…likely forever.  What plans they had to make for their survival!  The sheer physical exertion of the journey is daunting enough.  I guess we have it easy…although it doesn’t feel like it at this moment.