The 2-lane state highway, bordered by Big Leaf maples, Douglas fir, and Thuja plicata, the non-cedar western red cedar, tightly hugged the edge of the hill, resisting, perhaps, the urge to let go, to give into the pull of the fertile river valley running parallel. We had driven this road many times, the green bubble of our 1970 VW Beetle scooting purposefully along. Today Spouse had something to show me.
Just after passing through the small town neighboring our own, the Beetle veered right, overtaking another 2-lane road, and while not as important as a State Route, it would take on a personal significance. More maples, firs, cedars, and alders, a dairy farm, and numerous small holdings stood at attention while we zipped past. Another turn, this time a left, some winding switch backs, a tiny volunteer fire station, and several home sites in varying degrees of development later, we drove on gravel past Alice’s mobile, through Frank and Lee’s front yard, and passed the sign at the entrance to Oscar and Linea’s place, the words routered into wood:
So Stay The Hell Out
We had driven 15 minutes outside of Small Town No. 2, a gradual ascent from the valley floor to the top of the tree-covered hills that skirted the cow pastures and cornfields. Spouse was driving me into the woods, into the midst of white trash, anti social, rednecks? My anxiety meter was close to pegging.
The Beetle stopped at the end of the driveway, outside a postage stamp sized house. The rough-hewn lumber, carefully angled windows, the hips and valleys engineered into the tiny roof, all perched with a western view of the valley far below, spoke of care, artistry, and a very minimal footprint. Jay, a soft-spoken, gentle house building artisan, had 20 acres, subdivided into 2 parcels and was looking to sell one. Spouse had visited and was smitten, bitten, bewitched.
Jay had his driveway, his cabin, his fine crafted outhouse, and the outdoor tub which he built a fire under to heat before bathing. The remaining acreage, logged some time ago, lay undeveloped, completely raw. Spouse is a visionary. He is visual. He can draw pictures, scenarios, write music, hear completed scores all within his mind. I, on the other hand, need drawings, color photos, photoshopped if necessary, ability to fly over an area while studying a carefully drawn schematic of what I’m looking at. While easy for me to become a 2-legged female version of Eeyore, I tried my best to keep mouth shut and eyes open. Spouse had walked this property with Jay and he really, really wanted me to love it as much as he did.
Jay’s driveway cut right along the western border of his property. His small encampment situated on the northwest corner. There was access to the remaining acreage only via foot, access benefitted by a pair of sturdy boots. We began our trek on the remains of an old railroad grade, a mark left on the earth married to the enormous stumps which dotted the acreage. We hiked through tangled vine maples, skunk cabbage marshes, over downed rotting Alders, clothing tagged by unfettered blackberry brambles, to some mysterious point roughly 660 feet in where Jay knew the first plot ended and ‘ours’ began.
While completely overgrown, the railroad grade offered a level walking surface. Away from the grade, the topography would swell, depress, then rise again, the northern edge offering the highest point in elevation. Standing at this mild summit, we could command a sweeping view of Alders, scrawny pre-teen evergreens, blackberry riots, and the stumps, nurturing new growth, a memorial to the trees taken 100 years before. The view gave way to the sound of breeze moving branches, of birds, of squirrels looking for food. Even more than what we could see or hear, we could feel the place: deep, primal, ancient creation, ourselves springing from the Old Growth remnants. Lungs filled, imaginations ignited, hope kindling, the magic took hold.