Some times people would come to visit, but not very often.
Everything was so close in Ketchum. People walked or drove very short distances to and from work, school, friend's houses. Driving to our house was just way too far for anyone to imagine. 7 miles away. When people came out to our house, therefore, it was a miracle. Rarely, did people just show up, it was well planned out because no one would want to drive that far and be disappointed that we weren't there. When someone was coming, we would clean and clean all day long and I’d look out the window to see if I saw a car coming. I’d be so excited. It was rare.
It would be my Grandma Bake or my Aunt Buffy. My Grandma and Grandpa Allen. They would come. They would come from far away. From Oregon to visit.
It was so quiet out there that the dogs could hear when my dad was coming home. My dad drove slow and enjoyed every minute of the drive. He saw things that many of us never saw because of his pace. I call it a walking pace, because now when I go for a walk I see so many things that I don't see when I drive, so I say my dad drove at a walking pace. The dogs could hear this and had plenty of time to run out to the end of the driveway to meet him. He’d turn into the driveway and they would bark and follow him down our long driveway. As welcoming as I would be when a visitor finally arrived to say hi.
When I brought my husband to Idaho for the first time in 1994, to the mountains, he heard the silence I had grown up with. He tossed and turned and could not sleep the first week he was there because it was so quiet. He’d seen forests and mountains in horror movies only and was unsure why we didn’t lock the door to our house at night. Actually, I tell people that to help them understand, but really he’d come from a country where he was told to lock the doors, lock the gates, to not be alone in the woods, ever! The boogieman that I had been teased about was real where he had grown up.
After a short time there, he discovered my bike and sat a top it for the first time. It was way too small for him, but it gave him the freedom to begin to explore and to gain confidence. Little by little his circle, the diameter he had created as his safety bubble expanded. He began to see the woods, the rivers, all the places to go.
That year more wildlife made itself visible than any other year prior to that. I’d never seen a moose when I was growing up there or a cougar. I did see a few bears, but never right at my house and that year, that summer, they all came. My husband and my dad made a trap for the bear. The bear had been getting into what we called the rabbit house, our shed. It had been pulling out big, mouse proof, rubbermaid storage containers only to stick his claw through them and open them. This unleashed my past all over the driveway. Stuffed animals, old prom dresses, everything lay out there exposed and unwanted by the bear.
My dad filled the biggest water container he had, and orange insulated one for camping. He lugged it up to the top of the rabbit house roof and then, as soon as it got dark, he sat up there, above the door with the container waiting for the bear. My husband, fearful, sat in my car. He had a camera with a new roll of film and the car turned to face the rabbit house. He reclined the seat so he could sleep, sure he would wake up as soon as the bear arrived. The bear never came when they were out there. It was probably watching them -laughing.
When my husband had to return to his home, I took a whole roll of pictures of the bear.
I couldn't stay out of the pond or the river, even in brand new shoes.
I loved catching frogs. My eyes were trained to see them in the grass along the edge of the pond. I knew the special spots where they lived. I would sneak up behind them and before they had time to duck under the water, I would grab them. If they were tiny, you could cup your hands and move over them slowly. When they realized that some thing wasn't right, they would jump right into my cupped hands. I was scared of snakes though and never wanted to pick them up. I remember having a family friend over one day and I took him out the the field to catch frogs. He was very afraid of the frogs, but when he saw a snake he picked it right up. I could not understand how he could be afraid of a frog, but not a snake.
One time my dad brought a bucket up to the pond and started fishing. He caught a few fish, put them into the bucket and then he carried the bucket down to the slough behind our house and poured them in. I couldn’t believe it. I had never thought of that. I could bring a bucket and catch some frogs and bring them to our slough. I ran and grabbed a bucket and ran back up to the pond. I caught frogs all afternoon and brought them back to our house. I let them go and listened for them that night. The next day, I went out to look for them in the slough and they were gone. I didn’t see any. When I went back up to the pond they were there. They did not like living in the slough, so I let them stay at the pond.
I learned a lot from the frogs. There were certain times of day to look for them, which part of the pond that would be on, where they laid their eggs, where the tad poles had found a safe place to grow. In early summer sometimes when I’d catch a tiny frog it would still have its tail on. I would see their whole life cycle right before my eyes.
I am a Naturalist.
My mom got me a book about being a Naturalist by Gerald Durrell.
I looked at all the photographs in the book many times and then I created a Naturalist desk in my room. My dad had build me a desk after my built in bed had come out. The desk had drawers and shelves and places to keep many things like the white snail shells I would find hiking up to my special spot on the mountain. I’d save rocks, dried seeds and leaves, bones, anything that I could find that was in that book. I’d make my own book of specimens.
One day, I brushed the teeth of a deer. I had found a deer jaw by the river. Some animal had eaten all the meat off of it and left it there. It was white and clean, but the teeth were black and needed brushing. I got out an old tooth brush and spent the afternoon brushing its teeth. I learned so much about teeth brushing and saw with my own eyes how it worked. The more you brushed the cleaner they got. It took time and you had to make sure you got all the spots especially between the teeth. I thought a lot about that when I brushed my teeth that night and it still crosses my mind on occasion today when I brush my teeth.
Dried out bugs, feathers. My dad tied flies for fly fishing, so he had all kinds of little boxes that the hooks came in. Once he had tied 300 flies of that size, and the box the hooks had come in, was empty and he’d give me the box. It would be perfect for one of my tiny specimens.
A box of books.
While, I was writing down these stories, I open a dark closet and reach into a box of books. Its been in there since we moved. I reach in. I feel around and grab what looks like a green book. I should be writing, but instead I am doing other things…I want to write, but I can’t seem to get started. I pull it out and it reveals itself to me, The Amateur Naturist by Gerald Durrell. I smile, laugh, think what a miracle, what a coincidence that out of all the books I could have pulled out of that box, I pull out this one. It is a book I had written about just a few days earlier. The book my mom had gotten me. Before I even open it, I am back in Ketchum, back at the Chapter One book store, where I got this book. I can see the building, I can see the window and the woman who works inside. I am walking around seeing books, cards to use as stationary and a familiar white Shel Silverstein book of poems. Then, I see the book on the shelf with a jacket. I open it to the middle and am immediately drawn in. I do that now, open it to the middle, and the book reveals animals, like a fox, a quail and a frog, all things I would have been very familiar with, but these are drawings. The pages I really liked are the ones with photographs of plants, mosses, insects, mushrooms. A room all set up for a scientist with an old wooden desk, a large wooded table covered with specimens found, a cabinet with lots of small drawers full of things all organized into categories for study. Insects, I had seen and would hope to see if I just looked hard enough.
My mom must have seen the gleam in my eye. “This is me.” I’d say with my heart.
I’d bring the book home and create an area in my own room, my desk area to look like the book. I gather the things I had already collected and then I would add more to it. I create a file cabinet with all the information I had in magazines like Ranger Rick and My Big Backyard to have as a reference if I ever needed it. I ripe the magazine apart by article, by animal and write their names on manilla files and place them in alphabetical order.
I’d have a microscope out, a magnifying glass, scalpels, scissors. Everything ready to be a scientist. I’d help in Mrs. Theody’s M.E.S.H. class and be as much of a scientist as I could. I would make claim in the Sixth Grade that I would one day be, if I weren’t already, A Scientist.
In the front of the book it says “To Melissa I Love You. Mom 1982” I was ten years old and I knew who I was.
I would try some others things out as well.
One summer, I pretended that I owned a nursery. I had my mom’s Sunset Western Garden Book, back when the book came as a spiral notebook. Between that and all the plants outside, I was in business. I’d walk all around outside with that book pretending to talk to clients and telling them about the plants. I’d look them up in the book sometimes, but mostly I knew all that I needed to know. I can still picture that book today, as though I am still holding it in my hand, still walking around my yard, to the left, clock wise.
Then, I’d pretend I owned a restaurant.
It was in a great location by the slough. I have an old table back there with skinny log legs that still had the bark on them and gray and white, flowery wallpaper covering a slab of thick wood. The old well was out there, a few chairs, and after raking the place up and watering it with the hose it really looked nice. When my friend Marina came over and worked there with me, we really got a lot of clients. When we got tired of the restaurant business, Marina and I would walk a long ways up the field to a spot by the river to build forts and work. We use old logs and willows and whatever the river brought us. We’d find all kinds of things that had been carried away from people in the early spring floods. We’d spend hours and hours there. Some times we go to an island in the middle of the river. If you went to the front of it where the river was running against it, you’d feel like you were on a big boat heading up river. That is what it was for me, a boat that could take me anywhere or stay right there in that beautiful river.
There were a few places that were so magical and special, like the pond by that island, that I wouldn’t go there very often. I think it is because the one time I went there was early spring when everything is a new green color and very beautiful. I painted a picture of it in my mind and I didn’t want to go back there for fear it would be different.
The pond across the road I visited more than once, but not very often. To get there you had to go through a lot of thick bushes and there was shale rock on the other side. There were logs going half way across it and it seemed like a pond that wanted to be left alone. I know this because as I sat by it one day on a log, quietly looking around, a blue and white king fisher dive bombed me as if to say I was disturbing his fishing. I was. I left it alone for the king fisher.
The Boards would bring cattle and horses up to the pastures in the beginning of summer and not return for them until the fall. The cows and horses became mine. I would walk out to the field and then cows would come up to me, slowly and curious. We’d look each other in the eyes. They were good at that. Good at staring deep into your soul. They had long eye lashes and tails that whipped the flies away.
The horses in the pasture across the street from the cows seemed pretty old. I was afraid of them, their size and their unpredictability, but every once in a while, when my dad would walk the field or the road with me, he lift me up onto one of the horses and let me ride it. It was usually the big black one, that was slow and bony. That horse became my horse that summer. I brought him a few carrots to thank him for the ride.
A few times in the summer the cows would escape and walk as a herd down the road to our house. It was usually right about when the raspberries were going to ripen. Our patch was by the dirt road and right where there was a path from the road to our yard. The perfect place for the cows to come in. We’d laugh and cry all at once that our raspberries, almost red, that we had waited all summer for, were now eaten to the ground -the entire plant gone down to its roots. The raspberries will come up again next year my mom would say.
We wouldn’t notice the cows were there until it was too late, but when we did we heard them back to their pasture. Cows were funny like that. You could clap your hands and talk loudly to them and they all stand in attention and then run back up the road. It was a feeling of great control to be able to walk behind 50 cattle and have them all going the same way, all listening to you. Without much effort they would turn back into the pasture where they gotten out. A fisherman had probably left the gate open and I’d feel so proud to have return them to their safety. I’d close the gate tightly and walk back to look at our poor raspberry plants.
The Boards were lucky to have me, now that I think back to this, but at the time I didn’t think much about it.
One day though, I was behind a ton of cows yelling, waving my hands, as usual leading them back to the field. Then, a truck came up behind me. There was a man in it. Cowboy hat, tan elbow out the window. He drove up slow by me and said “I’ll take them from here.” I was a little disappointed, but I let him take over. For, those were my cattle, my horses, my land, my place in the mountains.
I had many things in my room organized on shelves. I had encyclopedia from a garage sale, every letter from A to Z. I had a fancy tea set, a doll collection of dolls from around the world. They were all dolls that my Grandmother had gotten for me on her travels. I had stuffed animals. I had lots of books to read. I had a record player and some records that were stories. The Little Prince, the Hobbit, Sesame Street, Mother Goose, the Little Engine that Could. I had a record about Indians and moccasins that I still remember.
One day my friend Dove was over and our moms thought it would be a good idea for the two of us to share things since we were both only children. “Melissa, let Dove pick something out to borrow and then she will bring it back.” She looked at my shelves and my things as though it was a library and I watched, hands behind my back. Each time she pointed to something to check out, my mind would start to think how I really might need that later that day. I would shake my head no. She pointed to other things. I shook my head no. Finally, she picked out a book called the Sawtooth Monster, and I was sure I was not going to need that for at least a few days, so I nodded. I feel bad now for not sharing, but I really thought I might need everything I had and I did not want to be missing it if I did.
The Jehovah Witnesses used to come to our house some times. My mom was nice to them because they brought with them their son Harry who was a friend of mine from school. Whenever someone had a birthday party and cake, Harry couldn't have any and would have to go to the office at school and sit. When he came to my house we got to play. I’d make him birthday cakes in my restaurant. I tried to share with him all the things that he had missed out on at school. I remember even getting out my record player once so he could listen to some stories. He listened to things he hadn't heard before about Hobbits and Indians. This all happened while his mom told my mom things that my mom had never heard about or witnessed. For my dad only had to say it one time. “Our God is here, here in the mountains.”
At least once a summer, we would take a road trip in my dad’s pick up truck.
We didn't have air conditioning in the car, so we would stop every few hours to jump into a river or lake that my dad knew about. He knew where all the swimming holes were between Ketchum and Portland, for that was the way to visit his mom and where he had grown up. He’d pull off the road and drive right up to a dock in a big lake or a swim hole in a river. I should have paid more attention because I do not know where any of those spots are. We’d jump off a dock or dip into a river and then get right back in the car to keep going. I could ride in the front with him and no seat belt, or I could lay on my sleep bag in the back of the car under the truck bed shell and sleep.
One summer, my Grandma Lacey was moving and she offered some furniture to her son, my dad, so we hopped in the car and headed there. I sat in the front because the camper shell was off so we could fit all the furniture. We probably spent the night there, packing up the stuff the night before so we could drive back early the next morning. I don't remember, all I have is a photograph, which is now etched in my mind. Ruth was in the photo and my grandmother, my dad ready to get back to his piney wood hills. We filled the truck with old furniture. Furniture that had been so well taken care of that it had lasted for generations and now was being passed to us. Furniture that came from Ohio, Virginia or Alabama to Oregon possibly in wagons, old Model T cars, or by train, packed up, just like it was today to go to Idaho. The furniture was big and beautiful to me with its dark brown wood and all the drawers and claw feet that would make me ponder their origin. The furniture would fill our cabin, fit in, work, eventually look like it had been there forever.
The butler’s desk, at one time used for important papers and calling cards, was now a curiosity to me with all of its drawers and doors that hid more drawers and key holes. It would make a great place for us to put photographs and little things that we gathered over time that were special to us. A goose egg shell that a friend, Deloris, had decorated with tiny sea shells and ribbon that was made into a box with hinges went into one of the drawers. Old coins, a lonely earring. The horse pin my mom’s father had given her. Everything seem to have a story and on those long, cold winter days it was great fun to open up the drawers and remember what was inside. These things would help cement all my memories into my mind. Many of the things I remember, are because of the things that I would find when looking into those drawers back then and now, while I write these stories.
My dad and I would swim a few more times on our way home and then my dad would carefully untie the load and place the furniture inside. My mom would watch, wondering if this was really what she had wanted, then fill the drawers with her socks and sweaters, with her photographs and her things. What did we do before we had this furniture? Where had we kept everything? We had made it work then, just like we would make it work now.
In the fall, we’d fill my dad’s truck up with firewood.
Some times he would take me. We would be gone all day. We would drive and drive, real slow, out the dirt road. I would sit next to my dad in the old, red Ford. The radio didn’t work, and my dad didn’t talk, so I would just sit back and enjoy the bumpy ride, the warm air blowing in from the open window. We would drive across a river some times to get to the spot. Then, my dad would get out his chainsaw and his ax and lay them on the ground. He look up at the dead tree he’d found to see which way it should fall. He tell me which side to play on and then he would start cutting. The chainsaw was probably the loudest sound I ever heard in a mostly quiet life. It would make the whole woods tremble and birds and animals run. After the tree fell, my dad would cut all the branches off of it and then begin to cut it into sections that he could put into the truck. Then, he would load the truck. It took all day. We would have a ton of wood, and my dad would make it all fit. We drive back across the river and home with all that wood. He wouldn't unload it until the next day. He would eat and go to bed early, tired from all the hard work. I’d remember the smell of the freshly cut tree and I’d look as we drove for another the lonely red pine tree waiting to be cut. Later, I would realize that my dad kept the forest clean. He kept the fire danger out of the forest by cutting down the few dead trees in the forest each year.
I used to go fishing with my dad.
My dad loved to fly-fish and cross-country ski. When I came along that wasn't about to change because that is why my dad had moved to Ketchum, for both of those reasons. He’d been the Sun Valley weatherman, a writer for the newspaper and worked at a steak house in the evenings, all so he could fish and ski, fish and ski.
In the winter time I would ski inside and outside.
When I was big enough not to be carried in a backpack any more I would ski. I would ski all over the driveway, out the back of the house where a hill went down to the frozen slough and out on the field to the pond. When my dad saw that I could do it, he took me to Dollar Mountain to learn to ski downhill. The next day he took me to Baldy -lower Warm Springs for one run and then to the top. That’s how we used to learn how to ski.
I had my very own playhouse.
I am not sure how it got there or where it came from, but I swept it out and made it mine. My dad cut a hole in the door for a screen window and cut another hole in the side of the house and put in a stained glass window. He hung up a couple of old shelves in there and I brought out some children’s chairs, a table and some of my stuffed animals and dolls. My neighbor Frank made a sign for it that said Melissa. My mom helped me plant a little garden in front and I learned how fun it was to have my own home. I spent a lot of time in the playhouse and made many plans in there.
Before I had the playhouse, I used the metal chairs I had for my chicken school. We had a chicken coop. In the spring we’d go to Caldwell, Idaho to Dunlap Hatchery to get baby chicks. The only memory I have of this is one day when it was pouring down rain, I’m inside a car, the heat is on full blast to keep the baby chicks warm, the windows are all steamy, and I am trying to gather up a bunch of little baby chicks I have let loose in the back seat. There might be a few baby geese too as I try to put them back into a box. When, we bought our first house in Boise, on Shoshone Street, I had a flashback of this moment one day as I passed the Taco Time on the corner of Vista and Rosehill. I think it was right there where my dad pulled over in the rain storm and told me to put all the baby chicks back into the box.
The chicks grew into hens who were my friends. My Uncle Don taught me how to hypnotize them. I have tried this today and it does not work. Back in the 1970s, I could pick up a chicken, place it on a child’s chair and hypnotize it by moving a flat hand in circles near one of its eyes. By hypnotizing it, the chicken would not move until a loud sound would snap it out of its paralyzed position. I would have several chairs set up and place a chicken, hypnotized on each chair. Then, I would pretend like I was teacher and they were in school. Or I would scatter them throughout the yard, placing them on top of logs and fencing -making chicken statues. It was quiet out there where we lived, not a lot of loud noises, so the chicken would stay like that usually until I clapped and snapped them out of their trances. The story gets a little sad here because one time, I did not snap the chickens out of there trances and the neighbor’s dog came over and ate a few of my feathery friends.
The chickens weren't just there though to be my friends or for the neighbor’s dog to eat. They were actually there for us to eat and in the fall my parents would pick a day, when it was time to capture and kill all the chickens. My mom would boil a big pot of water to help in the plucking of them, my dad would figure out how to end their lives. I would wait until they were dead and plucked and no longer looked familiar friends and then curiosity would overtake grief. I would look at all of their inner workings. Their hearts, gizzards, lungs, I wanted to see it all, touch it all. For I was a scientist.
When I was young, I had to carry a stick around to fend off the giant goose Ernie. He always lurked just around the left side of the house ready to attack me.
Stick holding was just a normal habit of going outside. Even though that goose was as big as me and mean, I do not have a fear of geese. This could be because of my experience with my other goose Rina.
Rina was named after my friend -Marina. Rina too, was a good friend of mine. Rina could come in the house, sit on my lap wrapped in a towel and my mom would read both of us a story and maybe even swim around in the bath tub with me.
I also remember how good that goose tasted on a cold winter night when my mom cooked it in our wood-cooking stove and pulled it out for dinner, for Thanksgiving.