About a mile south of the house are the remains of an old homestead built more than a hundred years ago. Dr. G and the Professor, with help from their dogs, horses and kids, have worn a serviceable trail out to the homestead over the twenty years they've been here. Even with their kids grown and gone, the G's and their dogs still make regular trips to the homestead. Their Newfoundland has treed more than one bear on that trail.
Mr. T and I have hiked out there several times as well. This weekend was balmy and sunny, and in accordance with the arrival of spring, we set out for the homestead with boots instead of snowshoes. We even put a dog pack on Alaska, to introduce her to the accessories required for her new life as a trail dog. The weather was glorious and warm, and The Kid abandoned his shirt after about twenty minutes.
Almost nothing of the original homestead remains except some grizzled old apple trees that still dutifully bear fruit every year. The trunks of these trees have been scored every which way by bear claws, but still they stand. At first I wondered whether the trees were contemporaneous with the homestead, because this would have made them quite old indeed. But then I read that apple trees can live to quite advanced ages.
The homestead is situated near the rear edge of a natural meadow ringed with aspens, larches and other evergreens, and with a clear view of the Cabinet Mountain range. The property was acquired by a lumber company long ago, and the surrounding area was logged two years ago. The lumber operation left piles and piles of discarded tree trunks, and the logging trucks carved deep tracks that still linger in the grasses. But the homestead is still and silent again, except for the twittering of the birds.
The meadow must have looked different in the heyday of the homestead -- the trees were no doubt older and taller, for one thing -- but the fundamentals are probably the same. Elk bed down here now, and the bears, of course, have broadcast their presence on the trees. Coyotes, driven off an adjoining mountain by a newly established wolf pack, traipse back and forth across the meadow and the trail, discarding bones and other pieces-parts along the path.
Looking out at the mountain range, I had a sense of what a felicitous place this would have been to locate a home in the late nineteenth century. Game would have been abundant. The home site was two miles away from the brand new railroad and the town growing up around it. The seasonal stream at the edge of the meadow offered water, and the river in the valley would have been thick with trout and, during part of the year, chinook salmon. Huckleberries grew on the mountain. And then there were the apple trees. The winters would have been harsh, and along with the abundant game would be grizzly bears and mountain lions. But if they could deal with the cold and the predators, this was as good a spot as any to make a go of it.
I wonder what happened to the people who lived here, and their house.
A day may come, very soon, when another home -- and another, and another -- is built in this idyllic meadow. The whispers in town are that the logging done on the surrounding forest was a "real estate cut." Plans have apparently been drawn for big houses on large lots. I worry, as always, about the animals, but particularly the bears. They need the space. The Professor and Dr. G have 130 acres that surround our paltry six, and they care about the wildlife -- The Professor thinned some forest last year but made sure to leave enough thick passages for the bears. But further fragmentation of habitat can only drive them further into the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, away from people. Always away. And then my own habitat becomes more sterile as the chances of seeing bears on the road I now share with them diminish ever further.
The dire real estate market has likely given the wildlife of the homestead a reprieve. This town has never really bustled, even during the most prosperous of times. As The Professor says, the best thing about this town is that it has so little to offer. And with the amount of housing stock languishing on the market, it seems unlikely that anyone would invest in this little corner of the world. But time and "progress" march inexorably on.
And I worry about the bears.