Ellen’s Story: Coming Home – Cedar Springs Ranch

July 17, 2017

On an early summer day in 1971, friends of mine first took me out to see the old homestead they’d discovered. Once we’d arrived, as I opened the car door and first set my foot on the ground, I knew I’d come home in a deeper sense than I’d ever felt before. This feeling had begun to grow as we bumped up the winding dirt track of the driveway. I heard a creek running behind the alders lining one side of the driveway, and on the other side, there was a tall grass pasture that swept up to a dense stand of tall cedar, white pine, and fir. The feeling increased as we rounded a bend, crossed the creek, and then rolled into a view of an abandoned ranch house, set behind an enormous lone Douglas fir reigning over a lushly vegetated clearing bordered by a line of Norway maples. All of this was at the end of a small dead-end road that no one else lived on. In fact, we hadn’t seen another building for miles. Hard to believe that we’d only driven 15 minutes from the state highway, and 20 minutes from the small town of Harrison.

The quiet was profound, yet this quiet was a presence as well as an absence. The absence of traffic noise, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, loud voices—in short, anything humans created. The presence consisted of a pulse underpinning a whole panoply of bird songs spun into wind. The tonalities of the wind itself were revealed when played by the cedar and fir boughs, pine needles, and deciduous tree leaves.

Immediately, I knew I wanted to insure that this discrete little valley—the streams and springs, large tracts of old growth characteristic forest rimming the smaller meadows and pastures—would remain protected. During the 45 years since I first saw my “home,” the reasons and need to protect it became increasingly evident. When I arrived, only one relatively recent 40 acre clear-cut existed, situated above the property line on a steep slope. But even then, as we picked our way between Russian thistle, yellowing stunted fir seedlings, the stones and fissures of the sunbaked acid clay subsoil, I learned the lesson of exposure and erosion. The loss was not only of the trees and their humidifying shade, but of the soil-retaining understory of shrubs and forbs. To my surprise, I missed most acutely the tannic pungency of forest loam, the whispered resiliency of humus cushioned steps.

During the next several decades, more of the surrounding lands suffered assaults through clearcutting. Typically, once the denuded ground struggled to regenerate only impenetrable brush fields managed to grow. Very recently, the government completely clear cut the steep hillside at my northwest boundary. I then stood on this boundary line and turned my face towards the clear-cut. Sun beat down on the now sterile land, our human voices the only sound. Then I turned my face toward the shaded, mature cedar and hemlock forest of Cedar Springs, alive with the songs of multiple Swainson’s Thrushes, Northern Flickers, Pileated and Hairy woodpeckers, Sapsuckers, and Warblers. Many of the tree trunks bore the claw marks of bears and cougars, or the shreds of antler-rubbed strips. The tracks of these bear, cougar, elk, deer, and moose, as well as smaller mammals, marked the forest loam.

Goshawk by Ellen Cantor

Small victories have helped me see my way. There is a forty-acre National Forest parcel on my land’s north boundary, a piece with enormous old growth white pine. It was saved from an announced plan to sell or trade by my encounter with a Goshawk. She warned me that I was way too close to her nest, high up one of those white pines that I had been admiring. The regional biologist told me that Goshawks were a “protected species” and that my discovery of a nest “had thrown a big monkey wrench” into the Forest Service plans. I learned that my actions could have profound consequences.

Acts and consequences, the connections forged through long association. Land that had first greeted me as my refuge enabled me to see a continuum of life beyond my personal sphere, and instilled in me a deep gratitude for the vision and dedicated work of Land Trusts to provide a means by which refuge can be made an “in perpetuity” protected reality.