Jay was kind to us. He evidently liked the idea of selling his 10-acre parcel of undeveloped stump land to us, and made the terms very accessible. Our commitment to purchase required paying even less on our current housing so we moved from The Little House With Blue Trim to an even smaller home, a former milk shed on a former dairy farm. The new residence, its white paint and tidy appearance in sync with the 2 gigantic no-longer-used-for-hay barns, and a third, inbetween-sized building, looked out across Cherry Creek and all of Cherry Valley, providing communion with Kingfishers and Great Blue Herons. The footprint was about 12 x 24 feet and we accessed the upper level, where we slept, by pull-down ladder stairs. It was our headquarters, our place of triage where we drew maps, made plans, discussed dreams.
Soil quality was an early concern. Soil must ‘perk’ to determine what kind of design is necessary for septic systems. The better the soil, the simpler and less expensive the drainfield design would be. Water availability was another basic concern. If water was not available, if a potable well could not be produced, the land would be deemed uninhabitable. Another aspect of our early research was the availability of, or access to, electricity. Spouse made calls and connections about soil and septic. Meetings were set up and fulfilled. We walked the property again and again, looking for geographical markers which might indicate the presence of underground water, the ideal location of a house site with gravity flow in mind, how access to such a house site would be designed and engineered. We made more connections with D8 operators, the public utility, our soon-to-be neighbors.
On one of our property walks, we ventured further east to the far corner of the piece. Spouse was a few steps ahead of me, pushing his way through vine maple, feet snared by blackberry and salal. As he looked ahead toward another large stump, a stump hosting a vibrant huckleberry bush, he noticed a large black furry animal enjoying the huckleberry and perhaps some of the insects residing in the decaying hulk. His first thought was ‘Who would have a big dog out here?’ His next thought came out loud to me, ‘Honey, it’s a bear.’ Taking only seconds for the words to penetrate my already hyper vigilant imagination, I turned and retraced my steps at a faster pace. What had spouse dragged me into? What on earth were we doing here? We were going to live here? With bears? I took comfort in that Spouse’s vocalization had the same effect on the bear as it had on me-the bear took off, away from us.
As with many frightening experiences, when I knew I was safe, I could laugh at our experience. I also had the profound feeling of being more alive. We had experienced a bear. We were going to live in a place where nature was still a little bit wild, and while we were making plans to subdue parts of this acreage, most of it would remain untouched by us. I was admittedly conflicted about living with wild animals. I was not Jane Goodall nor Joan Embery, but the peace and challenge of this place had taken root. Spouse and I were taking on a task that few we knew had attempted. I believe this task, while not epic in the way of prairie farmers or other early pioneers, was formative glue, drawing us together as a unit, giving an added dimension of meaning to our relationship. This was the real beginning of our lives together.