This Outtake comes from one of my personal chapters in A Place of Her Own, a segment leading to a Tribute to My Father that I’ve already used for a post. The scene describes a day my daughter Carisa and I walked up my father’s mountain and found ourselves in bear country. Most of my scenes were cut to focus on Martha’s story, including this and the tribute, but maybe you’ll enjoy this, and if you haven’t seen the tribute, you can visit that here. Clip…..
Robin Loznak caught one of our bears with his trail-cam one night in October last year, a nice black bear posing for its portrait on the mountain. I prefer to see them this way.
The west hills, September 2010. The golden grass stood so high the dogs couldn’t see their way. One a yellow lab, the other a black lab mix, they weren’t small dogs, but the grass came well over their heads. Heavy rains last spring had produced rich forage for the cows this year, and they hadn’t been on this pasture lately, making our walk difficult, except for a few beaten trails. Deer probably. Maybe elk. Or bear.
The scent of rain filled the air now, and a soft sprinkle started again after scattered morning showers. My daughter Carisa and I tromped through the thick, damp growth behind the dogs. I wanted to check out the most recent timber planting to see how it was doing, and I wanted to check out this part of the farm, wondering if Martha had done the same in her first year here.
When I was a kid we called this pasture Horse Heaven Hills. I didn’t know why the name. Maybe because the grass grew so sweet here, the animals experienced the place as their own heaven? It always seemed a bit sublime to me. For a long time I planned to build my house over here, but when my dad cut the timber that would have circled behind the house, I began to look elsewhere.
Turning, I could see how the pasture meandered up the hill in steps and ridges, down to the bluff on one side, up to Wildcat Canyon above–a deep slice into the forested ridgetop. The land was more rugged on this side of the property than the softer ridge where my house sat. A middle ridge ran between this and my house, beyond our view now.
While I found hills and hollows in the parts of Missouri and Illinois where Martha lived and traveled, there was nothing you could call a mountain, nothing to prepare her for the terrible mountains of the West she had to cross, nothing to prepare her even for the hills of her own farm. This wasn’t anything like the rugged crests of the Rockies or Cascades. I doubted it was technically a mountain, though I hadn’t found a clear definition of the term. This rose about eight hundred fifty feet from the valley floor to the top. But to my dad this hill on our farm was always the mountain. His mountain. Maybe that was because Martha saw it as a mountain and the designation continued with the family. Hills to her would be like the gentle rises in Missouri and Illinois. The farm’s elevated land of sharp slopes and sweeping ridges was in her eyes a mountain. Before my dad, Martha’s mountain.
Dipping under a hot wire to reach our newest timber planting, Carisa and I found new firs growing well despite competition. We approached a mound of blackberry vines crouched on the land like a huge thorny web, and took advantage of its better part. Something had cleared the way into the bush. We had a little snack of the delicious berries. Then I saw a pile of scat full of berry seeds. Big scat. “What’s this?” I asked. We peered closer. Goose bumps rose on my skin. “It doesn’t look fresh.”
We stood taller and looked around. A bear had been here, a large one, but not recently. With all our noise and our two dogs, it probably wouldn’t come back now. We shrugged and happily continued our snack.
And of course there’s this all-time favorite Robin Loznak photo of other wildlife on the family farm, one of several photos included in A Place of Her Own. The Roosevelt elk herd ranges across the mountain, and on rare occasions even slips down to the river bottom.