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XIV
AT THE EDGE OF CANADA

THE village where I stopped was smack up against the Canadian line. It had been recommended to me as “quite a busy little burg,” but I could not see that it was very different from other small sawmill towns I had observed as I looked out of the car window going north. There was the same cluster of wooden stores, saloons, churches, lodging houses and hotels, and a dribble of residences for a mile round about. The house that reached a full magnificence of two stories was a rarity. Most people were content with one story, and the house was small at that. Newness and rawness were very apparent, and there was a good deal of the makeshift about the dwellings. All the home premises were snuggly fenced, and the cows and horses were turned loose to browse in the public ways and along the railroad tracks and out into the surrounding wilds to suit themselves.

A large sawmill had burned the year before and had not been replaced. Many workers had therefore moved away, and certain saloons and lodging houses had closed their doors as a consequence. These buildings now were little short of ruinous, with shattered windows and other marks of neglect and misuse that gave the place a touch of melancholy and decay. On my first day, as I sat in the hotel office, I made inquiry about conditions, and one man turned to another and said, “Well, Bill, the town’s havin’ a little bit of a boom now, ain’t it?”

“Yes,” replied Bill, “it booms nights. I’ve heard it, but I don’t see much difference daytimes.”

“Why is it that your vacant buildings look so shaky?” I asked. “They can’t be old.”

“I suppose,” responded Bill, “it’s because it ain’t the habit of the country to build substantial. Even a nice appearin’ building is apt to be cheap and thin walled. The paint is about all there is to it.”

By the office stove sat a couple of Germans. They just then started discussing a village runaway, and the older man said, “Dere vas two horses and a heavy wagon. Von bridle camed off and der driver he got down to fix it, and an engine tooted. Dot made der horses run down der street, and der wagon pole hit a telegraph post and broke. Two old peoples vas standing on der sidewalk dere.”

“Vas dey hurted?” asked the listener.

“Yes,” replied the other, “dey vas old peoples and easy-going and dey couldn’t get out of der vay from nothings. Der voman vas hit in der head. Der horse kind o’ pawed like and hit her mit his front foot.”

“Vas she knocked down?” inquired the younger German.

“Oh, sure,” was the reply, “she vas knocked down all right.”

“Dat vas ven der horse put his foot on her, don’t it?” said the younger of the two.

“No,” his companion answered, “if he put his foot on her den it fix her for goot. She ish all better now.”

The surrounding region was a wide plain varying little in level for miles, but it had a fine setting of rugged hills and lofty wooded ridges in the distance, and when the weather was clear I saw peaks that were white with snow. The lowlands were pretty thoroughly cleared of valuable timber, yet I was assured that a little farther back there was no end of heavy woodland, and that the forest had as yet hardly been touched. The forest that was in view would have been much finer had it not been for the yearly ravaging of the fires.

“We had one big fire this last March,” a man explained to me. “That’s an unusual time for a fire. We commonly get ‘em in summer, but this winter was very dry. A feller was burning up some brush and the fire got away. There was a gale blowing, and it carried the flames through the tree tops. The wind would catch burning moss and pieces of old dead bark from the tall trees and take them a long distance and keep the fire spreading. I and two other fellers and a horse got cut off by the fire from the logging camp where we was workin’ and we had to go roundabout in a hurry or get burned. The horse was no help and we concluded to leave it, but the horse follered us. It pushed along through the brush close behind and when we climbed over a log it would rear up and jump and we all reached camp safe.

Getting ready to plant potatoes

“Down at the next village they wet gunny sacks and put ‘em on the roofs to prevent the houses from bein’ set on fire by the flyin’ sparks. One man lost his house and barn and all his cows and was pretty near burned himself. Oh, gosh, yes, it was raging! At night, looking from here toward the mountains, you could see the big blaze away up in the air. Yet it done a whole lot of good in places, clearing the land, and there was plenty of people who was glad to see the fire running over the woods because it would make fine pasture.”

During my stay I rambled about the region pretty thoroughly, though the walking was far from ideal. However, in the opinion of the natives they are blessed with excellent roads. I thought them wretched. Deep ruts and sudden hollows and mud holes abounded, and there were spots where broken stone had been dumped on. This stone prevented teams from sinking down out of sight, yet shook you up till your teeth rattled if you were in a vehicle. Then, too, there was a good deal of corduroy so that the traveller on wheels got bumps and jarrings of every variety.

On one of my walks I overtook two school children, a boy and a girl, and we kept on in company for a mile or more. The girl’s name was “Addie,” the boy’s name, “Fred,” and they were near neighbors. Each carried a dinner pail, for they lived too far from the village to allow them to go home at noon. The boy was barefoot and his legs were well daubed with clay mud as the result of wading in roadside pools.

“We’ve got two tame pigeons in our barn,” remarked the boy. “Mr. Frye give ‘em to us. Oh, Addie, did you see that peach tree of ourn this morning?”

“Eh-uh,” she replied, by which she meant, “No.”

“Well, you ought to stop and look at that tree. She’ll have peaches on this year. She’s just full of blossoms.”

“We’ve got a big red cow,” said Addie, turning to me; “and that cow’ll let you pet her. When she’s lying down you can get on her back and have a ride. I like my old red cow, and her milk is nearly all butter. We have another cow named Maud, and her milk don’t have any cream at all. Maud won’t let you pet her either, and if you do she will run and beller.”

“I picked a whole bunch of shootin’ stars, yesterday,” said Fred, “and I brung ‘em home and put ‘em in water. They looked pretty and I’d have tooken ‘em to school only I forgot. When I was little I picked a lot of skunk cabbage blossoms, but they smelt awful. They stinked and I threw them away. I don’t never pick them any more.”

“Once I fell in the crick near our house,” Addie affirmed, “and my brother pulled me out. I didn’t get whipped. My mother only scolded me.”

While the children were telling me the story of their lives after this fashion a family of small pigs came scampering along the road toward us with a dog barking at their heels. My companions hastened to share in the excitement, and they seemed not to care much whether they chased the pigs or the dog. But They soon rejoined me, and the boy said, “We had some little pigs in a pen last year, and I got in there and was running ‘em and one bit my finger.”

“I don’t see but that there is as much going on here as where I live,” I observed.

“Where do you live?” they asked.

“In Massachusetts,” I replied. “Do you know where that is?”

“Eh-uh,” Addie responded, “but I know where Seattle is and where Portland is.”

“And I know where Massachusetts is,” declared the boy. “It’s across the ocean.”

“What ocean?” I inquired, but I had reached the limit of his information.

The children’s homes were out among the blackened stumps and the ragged woodland as yet uncleared of brush. The dwellings were small, paintless, and rude in their surroundings and all their appointments. Yet the everyday work and play, the farm animals, and the changing seasons held plenty of charm for the children and they were content. Their elders possibly saw a darker and duller side. However, they were spurred on by their hopes for the future. They were constantly winning in their fight with the wilderness, clearing up and improving the land, setting out fruit trees, increasing the number of their domestic animals so that the time seemed coming when they would be assured of a good and valuable farm and a comfortable income. As for present discomforts, I doubt if these occasioned any special chafing, for these were part and parcel of the prevailing way of living in the region.

It was interesting to watch a man ploughing new ground and see how irregularly he had to dodge about to avoid stumps and snags, and how constantly the horses were jerked to a standstill by some obstruction the plough had encountered. “Yes,” said a resident, a former dweller in Tennessee, whom I accosted at this task, “thar’s a right smart of green roots in hyar, and a heap of fern roots, too.”

Visiting at the gate

His small boy was busy pulling out such roots as the plough loosened and piling them up to burn, and in a few days they would have a crop of oats started.

In a neighboring field a man with the help of his wife was gathering up fragments of stumps on a wooden sledge and making great bonfires of them. “This is spare time work,” said he. “I’ve got some good cows and a cream separator, and we’re makin’ butter enough to supply us with the mony to pay our living expenses. So when there’s no hurry about the other things we clear up the land and we are makin’ what will one of these days be a ranch we can sell for a high price. In the rough you can buy this land cheap, and by clearing it gradually at odd times your labor don’t mean any real outlay.”

I was about to resume my walk, but the man said his wife was just starting to the house to get dinner ready and invited me to stay and eat with them. He was insistent, and I accepted the friendly hospitality. When we left the field he drove his horse to the barn — a good-sized spreading structure, yet without a sawed stick in it. The entire material had been split out of cedar — the beams and studding, the rafters and shingles and the boards. Some of these boards were eight or ten feet long, and their even thickness and the neatness of the whole job were surprising. The barn was nearly empty except for a little wild hay from the marshes and a few bags of apples. The fruit had lain there on the floor all winter, and it was still sound and eatable, though a trifle withered.

“When I was new here,” said the man, “I thought a building like this was the dog-gonest thing I’d ever seen in my life. It was quite a cur’osity, by George! But such buildings are common all around, and there’s a good many split-out houses, too. Say, it’s astonishing, ain’t it, the lumber and boards that can be made without a saw ever touching ‘em? The road from here to town, four miles, used to be pretty near all of corduroy split out of cedar. They’ve turnpiked the road lately and covered most of the cedar out of sight, but there’s still left a corduroy bridge one hundred feet long over a low wet place.

“Cedar is useful in a good many ways. It makes the best fence rails in the world — you bet your life it does. It just naturally won’t rot out, and the rails are so light you can throw them all around. Give me cedar rather than firwood fencing every time. A firwood rail that’s let lie on the ground — he’ll go — won’t last over night hardly. Do you-all use any of our Washington cedar shingles in the East? If you get our number ones you won’t do any kicking.”

A corduroy bridge

The farmer’s dwelling was a little brown house in a large yard that was nearly filled with apple trees just coming into bloom. At the back door was a pump, but we washed for dinner in a corner of the kitchen where there was an oilcloth covered stand with an earthen jar of water on it and a tin cup to serve for a dipper. The children came from school, the baby woke up and we all sat down to eat. The repast was plentiful and good, with pork and potatoes as the mainstays. After we finished, the man and I sat talking while the wife cleared the table. Their oldest son was a school teacher. “He’s been in four different places,” said the man, “and every time he’s had a regular tough school to handle. Children go to school all the way from seven to twenty-one years of age, and there’s often some pretty wild kids among ‘em. Sometimes they whip the teacher, and sometimes they lock him outside. Yes, they’ll plague a teacher to death, and the school gets played out. At my son’s school, though, there’s very little trouble. He has a knack at managing. This winter I believe one big boy undertook to whip him, but my son, in spite of being small, is active, and he just collared the lad and flopped him on the floor flat on his back. Since then things have been all right.

“Last year we had trouble in this little school in our own deestrict. The children got to having a big time and had like to have tore the schoolhouse to pieces.

They done just as they pleased, and the teacher, she’d sit down and cry. She was a nice girl, but she was just that tender-hearted she couldn’t use any force to compel a kid to behave himself. She was easy in a good many ways. The ringing of the first bell she was supposed to do at half past eight, but she’d ring it according to the time she happened to get through breakfast at the place where she boarded — maybe one morning at eight and perhaps next day at nine. We have three school directors in each deestrict, but one of ‘em was away, and the other two couldn’t agree what to do. You see one of these two was an old bach’, and I think he had a notion to try to marry the girl. So he wouldn’t hear of her bein’ turned off. But finally she resigned.

“Of course the boys were a good deal to blame. They done a little too much, but they wa’n’t really bad, because this new teacher who’s come in has no trouble at all. We have a nine months’ school beginning about the first of September, and it keeps continuous except for a week at Christmas and another week at Easter. We pay fifty dollars a month. Usually the teacher takes care of the schoolhouse, but once in a while we get hold of one who won’t build the fires. Then we hire a janitor, but that’s a thing we don’t do unless we have to.”

“Do the people in this neighborhood go to church in the town?” I inquired.

“They ain’t great hands to go to church anywhere,” he replied; “but once in a while we have meetings in the schoolhouse. There’s an Advent Church in the town, and whenever the preacher gets short of mony he comes out here and holds services for a few Sunday afternoons. On the Saturday before he starts in he’ll drive around from house to house to announce that there’ll be a meetin’. He’s about two-thirds or three-fourths crazy in my opinion. He ain’t married, and you can take any man, I don’t care who he is, and let him live for years all by himself out in this wilderness, and he will get a little off. Under them circumstances a man is sure to have very peculiar streaks and imagine things ought to go a certain way. Yes, and a man bachin’ here in the woods is pretty likely not to be able to get along a minute with his neighbors. Well, speak-in’ about our meetin’s, at the end of ‘em there’s a canvas made of the homes and we fix the preacher up with both mony and food supplies.

“That reminds me the pigs are squealing for their dinner, and I must go and feed them.”

The rancher went off toward the pigpen and I betook myself to the highway. Along either side of the road was an unending series of shallow, slimy pools alive with wriggling tadpoles, and these pools or the warm neighboring banks were a resort of numerous “streaked” snakes, as they are called in Oregon, but which we in the East speak of as “striped.” The snakes slipped away at my approach into the weeds and brush, darting out their forked tongues warningly.

As I walked on I observed occasional log houses, survivals of the rude days of the first settlers. They were low and small and looked like poor quarters, but there was one that seemed to me quite delightful. The roof made a wide projection at one end over the gable and door below, and relieved the architectural bareness. Vines had been trained to grow up to the eaves, and a patch of berry bushes close by made the cabin nestle in its surroundings very prettily. A path led away to a smokehouse a stone’s throw from the dwelling, and this smokehouse was made of a large hollow log set on end with a roof put on the top and a door at the side. A steep wooded cliff rose a few rods distant and made the scene both wild and picturesque.

The woman of the house said the family had come from Chicago. “We didn’t think to live in a place like this,” she explained, “and when the children would look from the car windows as we were coming and see little log cabins of this sort they would cry out, “What’s that — a chicken coop?”

A log house

While we were talking, a little girl appeared from around the corner of the house. She had been after some strayed calves and now had got them together in an adjoining lane. “I saw a Chinee rooster in the woods,” said she.

By that I understood she had seen a male Chinese pheasant. These birds have been introduced comparatively recently, but are becoming numerous and are a valuable addition to the wild game. I often heard their sharp double squawk in my rambles. The little girl affirmed that they were, “awful nice eatin’.”

I was late in returning to the town. The sun had set and the frogs were croaking in lively chorus in the village puddles. Some of the young men were out in the grass of the broad main street pitching horseshoe quoits. I could hear the call of children at play on the byways; there was a soft tinkle of cow bells and the clack of footsteps on the wooden walks. Low in the west hung the slender golden scimiter of the new moon, and in the east, above the dark nearer ranges, rose a lonely mountain peak, pure and white and beautiful against the dusky sky.

NOTE. — Any hamlet like this, recently carved out of the wilderness, has a peculiar fascination, and such are numerous in the far Northwest. The traveller with a liking for what is simple and rustic cannot do better than to pick out one at random and stay at least a day or two. Life there is more comprehensible than in a big town; individuality is more marked in its dwellers, and you come in contact with real life in a way that entertains and instructs.



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