The first call came from friends, standing at the murky water’s edge. Our cabin-house on the Copper was about to fall into the river. First: “the cabin is 20’ from the river”; next, 5 hours later and with a bit more excitement, “10 more feet of bank has sloughed off”, and the next day with alarming urgency, “it’s a goner if you don’t act fast.”
The Copper house is prone to be whisked off its foundation and
catapulted into sludge brown waters, heaving itself into the delta that merges
with other streams and rivers, and finally, bouncing off into the sunset,
riding the ocean current with all our cherished memories and labors etched deep
inside its walls. Luckily we found a mover nearby who was happy to take our
business. Friends salvaged the metal fish table, wood benches that ringed the
fire pit, and a giant birdhouse I gave to my husband the first Christmas we
spent in the house after completion.
The Copper is ferocious, with a silt load second only to the Yukon and rising velocity from glacier run-off. This year, frozen ground, a late spring snowfall and a piercing sun that melted the ground much faster than usual, caused ice jams upriver and severe flooding; the most extensive flooding in the local elder’s memory.
We found a mover, got to work, and are now heading into our second week of building forms, pouring concrete, and erecting foundation walls.Saved by the skin of our pants and non-stop laboring.
We built this house out-of-pocket and board-by-board over a five-year period. During those times when you’re 20 feet up on a ladder nailing tongue and groove on the ceiling, or negotiating icy scaffolding during an early winter, you wonder.
You wonder, why at this age (in our sixties), are we doing this? You wonder, how many more years before we shouldn’t be climbing ladders, hauling bags of concrete, and nail-gunning 12’ boards into place?
Though I didn’t make my occupation by way of physical labor, I always liked working outdoors, sweating while getting a job done, and feeling sore muscles the next morning, proof of a good day’s work. I’d done Forest Service work in the Dakotas, hiking through ponderosa pine forests and marking trees to be cut; and experienced invigorating round-up work in sunny Wyoming, roping cattle in preparation for branding and castration.
Dust devils. The smell of horses. A never-ending vista of cloudless blue sky. And the camraderie with real cowboys.
Retired now, my occupation as a speech therapist trumped that of an imagined rancher’s wife, because admittedly, my idea of physical labor is a highly romanticized version.
I’ll work outdoors though, until I’m no longer able. And the answers to all my why questions are simple: Catching red salmon in a fish wheel on the Copper, filling the freezer to last all winter long, and gifting food to friends is a yearly ritual that
has engraved a current, deep as the river, in my bones. A connection to the
land is honored and appreciated, like a gardener’s immersion in cultivating her
home-grown food and flora.
When the work is done, we’ll again sit for hours, sipping a beer and doing nothing but watching the river roll by, but in the meantime, a lot of work can be done in the 19 hours and 46 minutes of daylight we are blessed with today.
This is the year of records. The flood of 2013…the most extensive in the local’s living memory.
And another long day, done.