We arrived in the morning. We usually arrive the night before. We started the woodstove, and then put together beans and corn and olives and tomatoes and chili powder so they’d meld by dinnertime on the stove. My husband made us each a cup of coffee. It was still morning, after all, and there was no sense to rushing. At the woodstove, we watched flames curl.
The woodrat had been up to mischief in the four days since we’d left. It had pulled three folded maps and an entire Oregon Gazetteer to the floor. In the midden upstairs, which we dismantle weekly, was a folder of needles from the same bookshelf. On the outside of the folder, Sewing Susan sat sociably with her three friends. On the inside, assorted needles pierced colorful foil.
We set ourselves to our idle tasks. My husband would size up the woodrat-sized holes on an outside wall. I would go out for a look around.
The cabin had safeguarded me, but now I ventured out to the smells of wild, to the hushed creek and the silent mist that pit-patted my face. Tufts of cloud rose off the hillsides in twisted spires.
I walked up the road to check the game camera: a buck, twice, in the last four days. I called to Odin, still by the cabin, to join. I clapped twice, “clap-clap.” But Odin knows more than we do about something. He may have learned it years ago. That’s when he stopped gamboling up the road at our sides. The camera regularly shows we have big game and little. There are enough cougars, bears, elk, coyotes, bobcats, and raccoons to scare any thirty-two pound dog:
As I was about to round the bend from Odin’s view, I looked back. The road was blanketed in leaves, save where out tires had licked them up. Odin took my pause as a “now or never.” He barreled toward me, overshot, rolled over, and doubled back to my side, relief in his eyes.
We slipped off the road to the Polders. I used the hoe to clear dead grass and berry stems off the bases of a couple young trees. The landscape had been affected by me. My little secret. It was silly, but I felt I belonged.
I clawed up a this-year’s thistle, its rosette already bigger than a cushion for a chair. Robust: not what I’d say about the nettles, cute as cute could be, with pairs of delicate leaves still stacked in tight pyramids, not yet shot up along rigid stems to menace, in the months to come.
While Odin dug for rodents, I strolled along a path we keep through the berries. I counted seven maples I think I’ll tap. I test-walked off the trail to a maple’s trunk, and I think I can get to them. The berry canes yielded, they cracked. Even the leaf prickles left my jeans alone.
I glanced down valley and up a rim where a wisp of cloud behind a tree showed the tree’s sturdy rise. But the big creek had been drawing me, and I continued down to its edge.
The water was the delicious clear brown-yellow that I could almost taste, and through it, the gravels shone. An occasional leaf dawdled past where salmon might swim, but today there were no flopping fish. No one floundered up riffles, lingered in shadows, or wavered just enough to stay in place. Last week the salmon were spawning here, and they aren’t done, but their arrival time depends on rain showers that affect the water level at hundreds of logjams at hundreds of moments along their journey, which is eighteen crow-miles but maybe forty for a fish.
I checked on spirea and wild rose we’d planted along a vernal pool. A startled newt ran for its life over the grass. I pulled enormous maple leaves off some of the redcedar seedlings we’d put in. I contemplated the wood-decay mushrooms on a log that crossed the creek, and then on a three-foot diameter alder that, most surprisingly, had crashed to the ground since mid-week. Its center was rotten and buzzed with flies.
Beyond the Point, I climbed up behind the barn. On the steep descent I fell so fast I was up before I knew I was down. My boot had slid along a fallen branch that was slick as a greased rod. I checked on a red osier, then walked the little peninsula that will some day be an island. I saw three beaver slides.
And then I turned up meadow, away from the creek and onto the facing slope to check out a maple that had intrigued me the week before. From below, it looked like a tree with two trunks and a horizontal bridge between them. The second pedestal, though, was a dead trunk. The survivor had crashed onto it and now used it for support.
Three dabs of brown on an alder caught my eye. They were up about as high as I could reach. It was a bear tree. A bear had shown territory by marking it with its claws. I stepped back to look, but I listed in the sinking ground. I was standing in an Aplondontia colony. These rodents (also called mountain beavers and boomers) are about the size of one or two pounds of butter. They riddle the lower toe of both the north- and south-facing slopes in this valley. They’d been active. Their tunnels were smooth-edged, and swordferns had been cut and left to dry nearby, to later pull in for food and bedding.
It felt like time for lunch. I gave Odin permission–the stare of the eyes, the nod of the head, and he tore off for home. He went the short way, but I, of course, did not. I went over the culvert where the trib now chortled. The sun no longer ached behind the platinum sky, and spots of light blew around the forest floor. I ducked under the redcedar grove, and then rounded back to the cabin door. Wet fleece and wet kerchief off, I mopped my face with the back of my hand.
I kicked off my boots and then slid into the interior through the curtain door. It was warm inside. The fire crackled noisily. Odin was on the couch, digging at the blanket and towel there. Then he turned, turned, and finally sank down.
“Only 1.5 inches in the rain gauge,” my husband said. He likes to have rain, lots and lots of it. He likes to add up the inches, luxuriate in the sum. There were 109 inches last year. He was happy.
~ ~ ~
After lunch and an afternoon, and then after a warm chili dinner, we set the two live traps.
~ ~ ~
The next morning after coffee was scooped but before boiling water had been poured, my husband said, “Go look on the porch.”
I went out. The door squeaked. It has a rusty spring that pulls it shut. Inside trap number two was a gorgeous bushy-tailed woodrat. It had a frantic air. I felt I had no right to stare. We’d hurt its dignity enough by constraining it. I quickly left.
After pancakes, my husband drove it a mile away, and let it go.