The First Remote Winter
The first miracle of the first of the first
winter in Trapper Creek, eighty miles from a grocery store and a hundred
and twenty from the airport, was the wood stove. A couple of friendly
neighbors had helped move the stove into the house the weekend after the
roof was installed on a very rainy day. The quality of the wood the first
winter varied but with good hardwood birch the fire glowed all night and
ignited quickly in the morning with some fresh wood.
miracle were the neighbors. Indeed, that's one of the reasons why small
communities are a value for raising a family. Many people simply walked
up to the door, or the blanket that covered the doorway, introduced themselves and welcomed us to the
neighborhood. Some neighbors were from among the original homesteaders of 1959,
just 18 years earlier, others came to farm, log, or experience the wilderness.
Gail and Denvy found a number of couples their same age with children
the same age. Most of these couples were college graduates and many had
advanced degrees. One night they gathered to just discuss Shakespeare.
By spring the house had windows and one
finished door. A plan was laid out for a toy store and shop next to the
house with a covered roof between the buildings. The foundation was concrete
plinths using sand and gravel scrounged from the highway ditches. The
floor frame was hand hewn logs and the frame was rough cut two by sixes
and finished with mismatched discarded wood paneling. The shop had a dirt
floor and many of the first tools were handmade. The army barracks tent
which had served as a shop and storage for the winter, and had collapsed
under the weight of the snow was retired for later use.
tools and dust moved out of the back room of the house, and the toys
were displayed on shelves in the store. Gone were the days when one might
come home in the evening to find the plastic window blown out and ducking
under blanket doors. A neighbor had an eloquent coal stove that was put
in the store but never used. Customers only came during the summer. The
business was very seasonal.
During that first winter, Denvy and Gail
attended a church service down the road which was literally in the minister's
unfinished rustic home. It was similar to their own. There they met new friends.
About midwinter they heard that there were some horses stranded up in
the hills with no feed. We offered to walk them out the 12 or so miles.
was a sunny cold day when he climbed on the back of some friends' snowmobiles
and headed up Petersville Road. The young teenage daughter of the owner
of the horses went with us. The troopers had gone in the day before and
made arrangements so that we would not be shot. Negotiations went well
and we started back through waist deep snow. Walking on the hardened snowmobile
trail we stayed on top but the horses broke through to their bellies.
We didn't understand "horse language" but we knew that they were
comparing the trek to the journey of the Israelites coming out of Egypt.
"Why are you taking us out here to die when we could have died back
there in the barn?"
Ultimately the party made in back, in part by riding one horse on the hard-packed
road. Of the three horses, a neighbor took one, we sold one and the last,
a beautiful pinto we kept. Denvy's uncle in North Dakota mailed some tack
and harnesses which were oversized having fit large draft horses on the
Denvy and Gail bought a load of hay for the horse,
which introduced dandelions into the yard, the pasture and ultimately
The bales were stacked in such a way that they formed a small barn. This
warm cuddly hole housed the first chickens and goats which they discovered
down the road and bought. Hutches were built and rabbits were purchased from a neighbor.
The animal side of the farm was started. What more could you want: chickens
for meat and eggs, goats for milk and meat, rabbits for meat and a horse
for working the fields. Life was good.
Spring Comes Late
Spring came and the yard got the next attention.
Rough sawn planks were purchased to contain the soil for a partially
submerged greenhouse. A neighbor whose only way of getting around was
on his tractor tilled a garden plot. The soil was red and of poor quality.
It would be years before the garden was rich and fertile but with the
help of the animals, fertility was on its way.
stage was set: a warm house, food from the land, a small business for
cash flow and good friends and neighbors. Life was good. The ninth anniversary
was spend in their new home, a home distinctly their own.