I am sharing the story of Jack English whose lifestyle in the mountains of California is very similar to the life we live at Campbell’s Ferry.
In April each year I am transported one hundred years back in time. Well, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration since my vehicle is a Cessna 206 that lands on a grassy hillside that serves as the airstrip to a property called Campbell’s Ferry, a historic homestead surrounded by 2.4 million acres of wilderness. Once there my husband and I live a life-style much like the earliest settlers. Our water still comes from a mountain stream a quarter mile away, flowing in open ditches dug by the first residents. Our fruit and vegetables are grown on site. We have outhouses and an outdoor shower in place of indoor plumbing. Our nearest neighbors are 4 miles away, accessible by a narrow trail following the Salmon River that flows past the property. Our residence is a one room cabin 16’X 24′.
In a week we will leave Tucson, where we live six months in a real house with modern conveniences. Traveling back in time takes survival preparation: planning, logistics, shopping, packing, transporting. It takes time, effort and a little mind bending to prepare for a very different life. Life in the past is not easy, as your early ancestors would tell you if you asked. Nevertheless, I anticipate my arrival there with something like the excitement one might feel for a rendezvous with a sweetheart after a six month separation. Why? This place that is spectacularly beautiful can be difficult, demanding hard physical labor. It also surrenders an uncanny serenity, even spirituality, to every day living. Part of this spirituality comes from the simple joy of living in nature’s wild heart. Another aspect comes at the end of the day when you can actually see hard evidence of your day’s work: the garden is weeded, the ditches are cleaned and free flowing, repairs have been made on the historic buildings, the fields have been mowed. It is a more tangible kind of satisfaction than the abstract knowledge that a report has been written or meetings scheduled for the next day. At least it is more “real” to me when, at the end of the day, I can sit with the sunset reflecting through my glass of wine as I look out and see the improvements that are the result of my mangled manicure and sore muscles. I can say, “I accomplished that and made things better.”
I keep a daily journal of our lives while at Campbell’s Ferry. I wish that my ancestor’s had kept journals or diaries but, if they did, none survive to my knowledge. I have tangible treasures that help keep them alive in my mind: my great-grandmother’s silk Chinese rug, my grandmother’s lamp, my father’s carved Indonesian chest brought back from his year working on a tramp steamer, some pieces of my mother’s antique furniture. But I have little, apart from a few saved letters, that speak of their day to day lives. These handed down treasures live in Tucson and I feel sad saying goodbye to them for the months we will be away. Through this “time-travel”, however, I feel like I connect back through the ages to the people who would otherwise just be names on my genealogy tree. All of us, if we go back far enough, are descendants of those who lived lives in wilderness, so even though I leave my grandmothers’ things behind I feel a deeper connection to my ancestors by living a similar life. In a way I enter their lives and experience them at a profound level.
In this blog I will be writing about life at Campbell’s Ferry past and present but I also would like to offer space on the blog to those who are living a similar existence or to those who have family stories, diaries, or journals of wilderness life they would like to share. Submissions should be sent for review. Submission does not guarantee they will be posted on the blog but I would hope that most are publishable. The person making the submissions bears the responsibility of ownership of the material and through submission agrees that they may be published. Together, I hope, we will be saving a history that would otherwise be forgotten.