The holidays are coming.
It is storming and the roads are nasty with packed snow.
The holidays are here.
Bob’s grandmother dies, as we expected.
It is storming, the roads are worse.
We stay put, working and warm by the fire.
For quite some time we’ve come up with a number of excuses for not going to the ranch but today we ran out of legitimate reasons for procrastinating so we headed south for a few days. It isn’t that I don’t like visiting Aspen Ridge Ranch, in fact I love it. It is the emotional tug of war once I’m there, that makes me hesitate. We can’t get as much business work done from the ranch in the winter as we can in town. The solar power can be insufficient to run our computers/Internet, or heavy storms might interrupt phone and/or internet service. We need the money, we need to work. Also, it takes a lot more time just to do the daily tasks while living an off-the-grid lifestyle, so less time for work. And did I mention the temptations of being surrounded by oodles of outdoor activities. I find it hard not to play more than work. However, the biggest reason I put off visiting the ranch is because I fall in love with it all over again each time I’m there–the land, the cabin, the quiet, the simple lifestyle–and I don’t want to leave. But leave I must.
If I stay away from the ranch then I’m not tempted to drift back to it and away from society, from work, from the real world that I’ve gotten used to being a part of again. For 17 years I lived full time at the ranch. I was probably a hermit; certainly an eccentric loaner. I have a loving partner now. I have friends in town. I have work and financial responsibilities that need my time and commitment. Out of site out of mind works for me in this situation. Also, I must confess I feel a bit guilty when I’m back at the ranch. The Yamsi Valley and Aspen Ridge Ranch have been the one, constant passion in my life for nearly two decades. The land, Mother Nature, my tiny log cabin have sustained me emotionally, spiritually, and physically for years, never letting me down. Now, I sometimes feel I’ve abandoned it all. Granted I still live at the ranch for the better part of the ‘fair’ season, which is April through October. I’m in love with Bob who prefers living in Bend and Seaside. And frankly, it is hard work wintering in a remote valley at 5,000 feet with no running water or reliable power in a 16 x 16 log cabin that is six miles down a lumpy logging road and your nearest neighbor is almost ten miles away. I think I got tired of being exhausted so much of the time. Now, we winter in town and I prefer not to be reminded of my magical valley dressed in sparkling white, teeming with wildlife and solitude and nothing else. So I stay away.
About once a month, however, we must drive the 120 miles south from Bend and check on things. I can’t shirk my responsibilities completely. Since there has been so much snowfall in Bend and the surrounding Cascade Mountains of late we assumed there would be a lot of snow in north Klamath County as well so we prepared to ski in. We left the dogs and cat in town with friends and family. We fit everything we might need into backpacks. Then when we got to the Klamath Marsh, only 15 miles from home, we were surprised to discover very little snow. A blanket of cobalt blue sky set off the white and icy meadows and mountain peaks to perfection. The deep waterways along the marsh were frozen solid. Rough-legged hawks perched on many of the snow-mark posts and in willow trees.
When we got to the turn-off from the pavement onto the cinder rock of the Blue Jay Springs Road we were surprised to discover the route had been plowed. In the 18-years that I’ve been using this road it has only ever been plowed when I arranged it. So who plowed it this time, and why? As chance would have it there was a large, new pickup truck parked at the turn-off so while Bob put chains on the 4-Runner I walked over to investigate. Turns out a family from Eugene now own a bit of land at the north end of the Yamsi Valley and they come to visit most weekends, keeping the road plowed themselves. While I appreciate part of the rugged route to the ranch being plowed, I can’t say I’m happy to have neighbors.
Our fork of the road veers east and south about a mile in from the paved road; the snow-free fork goes north. It was shocking to learn that others live nearby, even if they aren’t full time residents. The plowed road saved us a mile of hard driving but I have to say I was glad to jam off the graded drive into a foot of deep, untracked snow to make our way another five miles to our part of the valley. I suppose having someone else around makes things safer and easier, but for me it diminishes the wildness of the place. I hope they keep to the north and let me keep the 25-mile section of the central valley all to myself.
We made it to the cabin by late afternoon and, as usual, the view was breathtaking. The cozy cabin was undisturbed and inviting though there had been a few intruders. Bunny and coyote tracks littered the yard and the rabbit family living under the big woodpile appears to march across the snow-covered lawn to get under the cabin, with some regularity. Bob quickly built a fire while I walked out to the hay barn to see if I could entice Brumby with a bucket of grain. Though not a mustang, Brumby goes quite feral when we leave him alone for stretches of time. He seldom leaves the good feed that lingers under the snow in the dense aspen grove where he hangs out with a herd of elk. I believe he considers himself one of them, instead of a horse. The nice weather must have encouraged Brumby to graze into the meadow and he actually came to the barn for some scratching and brushing and grain. As usual I sang to him, getting him used to human voices again. I don’t think he cares much for my singing–few others do either–but when else would I have the opportunity to sing old cowboy songs.
Since we only brought enough stuff with us to carry in our packs, figuring we would be skiing to the cabin, it didn’t take long to settle in. Light was fading fast and we hadn’t gotten the two to three hours of exercise a six mile ski to get to the cabin would have provided. So, we snow shoed up past the Indian Camps to see if anyone else was driving around these parts. The snow was a bit too deep and clunky to encourage much joy-riding or firewood cutting but I still like to know what’s going on around us. We didn’t come upon any human tracks but we did come across the prints of a bobcat, several coyotes, an elk super highway, along with the usual bunnies, squirrels and mice.
Back at the cabin with dusk settling in we decided not to work and to celebrate the coming New Year instead. I didn’t want to spoil the mellow mood that had settled in after our long trudge through the snow in the sweetly quiet valley so we opted to use candlelight, instead of solar powered fluorescents. We did have some added illumination from the new DC (direct current) colored holiday lights that now garland the window, along with one oil lantern. With the bits of breeze that make their way into a hand-built log cabin in need of more caulking, the dozens of candles burn more brightly than in a still room. This is not necessarily a good thing since candles also burn faster this way. However, I don’t mind because there is an astonishing side-effect of having a lot of air blow across a burning candle. The wind on wax creates wondrous sculptures; at once marvelous and mysterious for the ethereal artist that created them.
We ate a simple meal then made Aspen Ridge Snowballs to toast the fine year of 2007. Bob beat me at Scrabble, again, then we took a late night walk in the snow. It was very cold, nearing single digits, and the stars were sharp and magnificent against a jet black canvass. The Northern Lights were brighter than usual with shimmering towers of white and hazy strips of incandescent green. There weren’t any streaks of red as often found in the Aurora Borealis of summer. Ah, summer. Hard to imagine it when surrounded by ice fairies flickering with color as your headlamp plays off frosted pine bows, and your boot clad feet swirl through drifts of white powder, and the screeching and scratching of birthing icebergs begin stacking up in the river.
The echo of a Great Horned Owl hoots and hoots it way up and down the valley. Happy New Year, Happy New Year, it seems to say.