This story begins in the mountains.
When I was young, I lived in the mountains of Idaho. Our old miner’s cabin was in the middle of the Sawtooth National Forest. To get there, we would drive out Warm Springs Road and continue to where it turned into a dirt road, just past the base of the ski mountain. Our home was about seven miles outside of Ketchum. Exactly 7 miles from the stoplight. 7 miles.
In the wintertime, they didn’t plow all of road, so my parents had to cross-country ski the last mile home. I was little, so I would ride in a backpack on their backs. Some times, they’d have groceries and other things from town and have to carry them too. Or it would be dark and we would make the trek home under the stars.
We lived in the Sawtooth National Forest, seven miles out Warm Springs, the Upper Board Ranch, the Piney Wood Hills as Buffy Saint Marie sang it. The place had many names and many stories before me. The cabin, we called home, was on leased land that belonged to the Board family. The Boards had homesteaded the land above our house in the late 1800s to the early 1900s according to Teddie Daley. They had a sawmill and been some of the first people to enter the area on horses and wagons. I am sure Indians were out there way before the Boards began to cut down trees and mill them. The Board Ranch stretched all along that valley later to be called the Lower Board Ranch and the Upper Board Ranch. We were on the Upper Board Ranch and my parents were lucky enough to be able to lease the land the cabin sat on for more than 30 years. Our official lease was for 50 years. The cost was $75 per year and that price would never change.
You couldn't own the land, but you could own the cabin. My parents had a good friend name John Daley, whose brother Frank had a house on the Board’s Ranch. Frank and his family had been using their cabin as a summer retreat, but they decided to restore the house and live there full time. The Flints, who owned the house next door, came for a summer visit and they told Teddie, Frank and Robbie that they were too old to restore their house and their children weren’t interested in it. They were going to sell it, but they did not want to sell it to just anyone, so she asked Teddie if she knew anyone who might be interested.
My parents had visited Frank and Teddie, and spent the night out there the summer before that and Teddie knew they were interested.
When Frank and Teddie went into town, a few days later, they told Ed Heap. Ed told John Daley who went to see my mom and tell her the news. The house was for sale. My mom went out to look at it that day, while my dad was at work. She remembers it was between $5,000-10,000 and she said “I’ll take it.” She told my dad when he got home from work that she found them a home in the piney wood hills. The next morning, he went out to look at it. They sold my Grandfather’s Stamp collection -a gift they'd been given- and bought the house. On August 9, 1974, my parents and I moved into our home.
The Flints left all the furniture and other things in the house, which served us well that first year in the mountains. There were several attics, and the ticking and boxes of clothes they found there might have belonged to the Flints or the people who worked at the Board’s mill who lived there before all of us. They might have also belonged to the miners who spent the summers there working in the mines. My mom kept what she thought we needed and the rest she sent to Eastern Idaho where they had had a huge flood and people needed help.
Although it wasn’t officially our land on paper, it was ours.
I knew more about that section of the ranch than any Board ever will. I climbed the hillsides, walked in the rivers and ponds, caught frogs when it was summer and made snow forts when it was winter. I walked the field almost everyday and watched as the water drained out of the pond into our slough. Where the water flowed, the grass was taller and more course. Snakes lived in that grass so I would always walk with caution or avoid that part. I knew about the old cart across the river and the mines up the hill. I knew where the fence with barbed wire was falling down and needed repair.
I spent hours and hours, days and days wandering up mountains, along the river, crawling under bushes to find forts, up high in trees looking down below. When, I was older my knowledge of the area expanded because I could walk farther or ride my bike way up the road. I’d go up old roads into mines before they barred them up and into caves where bears spent the winter. I found new beaver dams, walked along old cabins that only people visited a few times in the summer along Sandy Lane.
My shoes were usually wet because I would have to cross a river to get where I was going or I might slide off a wet log while crossing a pond. I lived in water, mountains and grasses with wild flowers, plants and animals. And, snow, plenty of snow. I knew where to find white, spiral shells on the side of the mountain. How to turn a rock over in the river to find a nymph in its rocky shell. I watched the mayflies float on top of the pond to be swallowed up by a fish. I ate tiny wild strawberries and currents and stayed away from the stinging nettle. I knew where the sun was in the winter and the shade in the summer. I had islands, ponds, rivers, secret places and places I shared. I grew up, outside, in the mountains.
When I was little, my mom told me that if I ever fell into the water, I would drown unless I stood up right away. I was very small when we moved to our home by the river and slough. Thinking I would drown, kept me alive and I still think of that when I swim and my feet can’t touch the bottom. It still scares me. It still keeps me safe. One time I did fall into the slough and my mom said I stood right up and yelled “I drowned.”
The House at Pooh Corner
Teddie, Frank and Robbie lived next door. Their son Robbie was six when I moved in and happy to have a neighbor, although I was much smaller than he. He had been there many years before me. And, he knew our house better than we did when we first moved in.
Robbie was just like the boy in the Winnie the Pooh books and had had to make belief a lot until we arrived. Teddie had named their house, The House at Pooh Corner. Inside their home was a cuckoo clock, an old fashion telephone and a lot of Winnie the Pooh books, art work, and stuffed animals. I loved going there to visit. Teddie had a room by the slough that had lots of windows and her watercolor paintings of Winnie the Pooh were below the windows on a long desk. I always liked to get a glimpse of what she was working on. She did beautiful watercolors, invitations written in calligraphy and many other creative things.
Out by the road Teddie had hung up a sign that said “The House at Pooh Corner.” I lived next door to the House at Pooh Corner with Christopher Robin and everything!
Robbie or Christopher Robin had a bunny and a horse that I liked to go and visit. When I was older, Teddie would always give me a popsicle when she saw me outside. Often I would be walking through her yard to get to the field. It was the short cut right through her yard. She never seemed to mind. There was an out building that was called the Chalet and at certain times throughout my life they would clean it out and set it up as a guesthouse or a workshop for Frank. I think he made the Melissa sign for my playhouse in there. I hardly ever got to go in there so when I did it was very magical.
One time Robbie set up a whole fair for me of games to play. Throw the tennis ball in the bucket, toss the rings over the sticks, and other games. I could win prizes if I could just do it. He charged me money for the games so I remember running home to get more quarters, dimes and nickels out of my moms purse, which she had left in the car. I think I spent a lot of coins trying to win. I don't remember what the prizes were.
Teddie, Frank and Robbie rode snow mobiles to their cars instead of skiing in and out in the winter. Robbie was in school when we moved in, so they had to go into Ketchum every day to get him to school. I called Teddie while I was writing these stories down and I had a very nice conversation with her. She told me about the Flints, who had lived there before and sent me a letter with pictures of them. I sent her some photos that I had as well, telling her that every first photograph I have of our house has Robbie in it. He must have been so happy to have some neighbors. When I took a photograph of the first photo in the book on page one, I put it on my computer and lightened it a bit. When I did, I noticed there was a person by the back door, that would have led into our living room. I hadn’t noticed that there was a person there before. When it came into focus, I had this amazing realization that Robbie was just like Christopher Robin. A six-year-old boy, as clever as clever, who lived next door to me and grew up in the same wonderful place as I did. We were lucky.
The house was cold in the winter.
Before the snow had fallen, my mom and David Vhay had poured concrete into what was the garage and my dad had covered the two doors that had once swung open for a car to create a room. The wood stove heated that room where my dad would spend hours tying flies, listening to music. The warmth seeped out into the kitchen and lifted itself up into the loft above it where my parents slept. It did not seem to make it all the way to my room. For that, there was another wood stove and a hole in the wall, but that stove wasn't always lit. It was a miner’s cabin and then a summer home for the family from Twin Falls, so it did not have insulation. The insulation was the snow that covered it all winter long.
There was a well and a pump to get water, an outdoor shower house, an outhouse and a chamber pot. My dad ran an extension cord to the our one neighbor’s house, where Frank and Teddie let him plug it in, so that he could power for his record player and his saw. Candles and kerosene lanterns were our only light the first winter.
The next summer, my parents would put the big log table outside and rip out the floor in the kitchen. My dad would put in pipes for a sink and a bath tub. Then, they would add electrical wiring, insulation and wooden walls. A few plugs and lights. My mom likes to remind people that she wired the house. My dad covered the walls with wood and covered the pipes with a wooden floor. He would build cabinets for our dishes, a pantry for our food and closets for our coats and boots. He would make a dormer roof upstairs for their bedroom and put a skylight over their bed so they could see the stars.
A warm bath.
In the winter I would take a warm bath in a water trough on the kitchen table.
That was the warmest place in the winter to get clean, until a few years later when my dad put in a bath tub. The shower house had a stove outside of it that you could use to heat the water for the shower. They would use this for several years, but mostly in the summer and shower at friends houses in town in the winter. My mom was very happy when my dad put a bathtub inside. She loved to take baths and I did too. It felt so good in the winter time to warm up in a hot bath. There was a spider that lived in the corner by the bathtub. Usually, we would put them outside, but it was winter and it was too cold for them outside in the snow, so my mom told me it was ok to leave that one there. She was my friend. It was a nice sunny place, for the spider and I to stay warm together that winter.
There was a shelf by the bath tub for storage. It had jars with dried beans and brown rice and it had books, mostly paper back to read in the bathtub. One of them was an A.A. Milne’s book Now I am Six with a poem in it.
When I was one I had just begun
When I was two I was nearly new
When I was three I was hardly me
When I was four I was not much more
When I was five I was just alive
But now I am six, I am as clever as clever.
I think I’ll stay six now for ever and ever.
Before I turned six, my mom and I learned that poem. We learned it line by line and repeated it everyday until we could not forget it. It worked because I still can recite that poem today and when I am lucky enough to hear that some I know is turning six, I can recite it to them.
There was always lots of wood for the fire.
My dad would go and cut it in the fall. He would have to calculate how much we would need to keep us warm all winter. We always seemed to have plenty of wood.
My mom would chop it early in the morning in her night gown and sorrels some times, when we were out of pieces that fit in the fire. This would be on her way back from the outhouse that was way beyond the firewood. When the snow melted most of the wood would be gone.
At night I could fly.
I would sleep-walk a lot from my room up to the warm loft to sleep with my parents in their double bed mattress that lay on the floor. There room had a ladder going up to it. I’d lay on the floor next to my mom with a blanket and hold her hand to stay warm and safe. I often had dreams that I was flying, flying around the kitchen with its tall ceiling. I would do circles around it and then land up in the loft. In the morning, I would wake up there. In the summer, in my dreams, I could fly out the big window in the loft -over the slough and out to the field. It was the best feeling ever being able to fly.
I had a lot of fun playing in the snow. It would be so high on either side of the path, you could barely see me. Our house would be covered and only a narrow path to get out to our ski trail and later to our cars. I would ski and sled and play for hours in the white crystal world. The snow usually started at the end of October and melted by mid-May. It was a long, long white winter.
A dog sled.
In 1975, a dog sled brought my friends to my birthday party.
It was in December and our friends would park their cars where the plowing of the road stopped and a dog sled would be there to meet them and bring them to our warm cabin. My mom told me that for my third birthday she asked Cam Dagget, the Chief of Police of SunValley, if he could bring his dog sled out and transport our friends to our house. He met everyone at Basset Gulch. Franny and Spencer Yort, with their kids Sarah and Jamie, Fred and Randy, were there and John Daley and his daughter Amy.
Once everyone got there, Cam took people on more rides out towards Andy Mayo’s house, where the Boards homestead had been, and my mom and I got to go for a ride too. Then, everyone came back to our house for a warm dinner and the cake that I had helped to make. Later, they were returned to their cars by dogsled. It was December so it was cold and dark when they left. But they got to see about a million stars in the sky from the dog sled.
Stars and moons painted on her skis.
One of my favorite stories my mom likes to tell is about a time we were on our way home. We arrived to the spot where we leave our car and cross country ski home. It was dark and my mom and I had gotten groceries at the Golden Rule. She put her skis and poles outside, got out the groceries and loaded me into a backpack to go on her back. She put on her skis, grabbed her poles, lifted the groceries and took a big long deep breath to gather the energy to ski home. She began to ski and I must have been looking up at the stars and the mountain side. There were probably millions of stars in the sky on that cold winters night. My cold face was right my her hat covered ear and my mom said I whispered to her,
“Mom, can we ski up that mountain so we can touch the stars?”
My mom, with a tear in her eye, looked up at the stars and said “Not tonight, Melissa, not tonight.”
My mom’s cross country skis are painted. She painted them herself and guess what they have on them? The moon and the stars.
A Propane Refrigerator.
We had no electricity, no running water, just a dream to live in the piney wood hills.
We had a propane refrigerator and stove.
My parents quickly learned to go to bed early before the fire went out, when it was cold and dark and to wake up early to start the fire again. They made a path through the snow to the water pump outside. The Kerosene lamps with paper beads lit the last few hours of the day and the gas Colman stove heated the water for coffee.
A few years later, when there was power, we could listen to the radio in the old living room by the stone fire place. That room was special, because it was only open for a few months of the year and each time I went in it I felt like I was seeing something new or exploring and remembering what was there, that I hadn’t seen in so long.
The news on the radio scared me, but the stories and the mystery theaters were so much fun to listen to. They kept me entertained in the afternoons and evenings and still feel like a special treat when I think of them. I would listen and walk around the room, looking at the shelves that were built into the wall. I look down into the magazine holder below it or stare at the strange, black and white photos of the horses and the other one of the dog. The long maned horses seemed to be running and escaping something. They looked fancy and fake, with their manes flying in the wind, on a cold night in a cold place. The painting were there when my parents moved in and there they stayed for many years. Nothing in that room ever seem to change. It was held still when we closed the door in the winter and everything in there froze until we opened it back up the following summer.
There were metal marshmallow sticks by the unlit fire. I’d smile, and hold their coldness in my hand and dream about cooking marshmallows in the fire some day. We never did.
There was a beautiful urn on the fire place, intricately painted with brown and yellows. I didn’t know some one’s ashes were in there. There was a barometer, that although frozen all winter long in there, seemed to still work. There was a sculpture in drift wood of a man’s face and a huge, black velvet couch that I was too young to remember. The radio was in the corner by the two thin windows that came together there and looked out on to the Aspen Trees, my mom’s garden and the dirt road beyond.
I could travel by boat on the slough.
We would fill the raft up with air in June as soon as the slough finally melted and had lowered after being very full from all the melting snow. My dad would divert the water from the field to fill it and let it out at the end by the road to control the level. I would spend hours in my boat alone, with dolls and stuffed animals and often with pets. We would go all the way up to the area by Teddie’s or I’d lift the boat over the bridge and go towards the big cotton wood trees and the logs across the water and the unknown.