The 1100 acres of Idaho forest that make up the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch have been carefully managed since my great grandfather moved to northern Idaho from Colorado in 1941. In 2008 and 2009, the 640 acres that make up our Section 31 were placed into a conservation easement program to protect it from development and division and to ensure the continued management of the timber and wildlife resources. Timber management is systematically harvesting mature trees, thinning overgrowth and eradicating diseased timber in order to maintain a healthy forest. After the timber is thinned and harvested, the clean up process must begin. The timber slash (debris left after a logging operation) must be piled, burned, re-piled and re-burned. The remaining ash piles need to be leveled and the potential grazing areas re-seeded for cattle and wildlife to graze. This process results in a healthy, beautiful forest and vibrant forest grassland on which domestic stock and wildlife can thrive. We believe that this process is critical to responsible forest land ownership.
On a foggy fall day, mom, Gabe, two dogs and I headed out in the Geo to inspect this very process on Section 31. A crew consisting mostly of family members had been busy at work burning, cleaning, and planting. We headed out to photo document their progress.
Our first stop was to visit my uncle Steve, the oldest of my mom's four brothers. We found Steve near the top of the Big Hill, tending to burn piles. We stopped to chat about the work he had been doing. He also showed us the seed he had spread just a couple of weeks before that was sprouting.
Our next stop was on top of the Big Hill at the view point where you can see Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort in the Selkirk Mountain Range. Here we found my dad, Roley, burning more slash piles and decking logs to be used as firewood. The view of Schweitzer was obstructed because of clouds and because every one else in the county was burning brush piles that day. More slash piling and burning still needed to be done before he finished in that location.
We bounced our way to the east side of the hill in search of Uncle Dan, my mom's second oldest brother. We followed Dan's trail of burning brush piles around the east side of the Big Hill until we finally found him back at Steve's location. These two seem to stand out to me in my childhood memories as my goofiest uncles. Although I should give my uncle Bri an honorable mention as he taught me how to spit. Steve was famous (or maybe its infamous) for teaching you to rope, which really meant he hog tied you and left you to struggle to escape on the living room floor. Gabe (my son) instinctively knows that "uncle" is just another word for "fun". The game began with Gabe enticing Dan and Steve into the game by honking the horn of the Geo at them. Before it was over, Steve had taught Gabe to roll up the window, lock the door, honk the horn at Dan and stick out his tongue. It all ended with Gabe on the ground getting licked by the dogs. All in a day's work for an uncle.
After a good laugh and a wave goodbye we went in search of the rest of the clean up crew. Back down the mountain we went and around the base to where our "cabin in the woods" sits nestled quietly into the trees at the base of the Big Hill. This is not a cabin that the guest ranch rents out, but just a nice gathering spot for our family, or a place to warm up during a cold horseback ride. Here we found Todd, my cousin's husband, leveling the burned down slash piles. It was smokey work so we didn't stick around here very long.
The hunt for my brother, Isaac, was still on and since we hadn't had any luck finding him the old fashioned way, I grabbed my cell phone a gave him a call. He was back on top of the Big Hill. We thought we would take a short cut rather than go back the way we came. Never take the short cut. The trail we thought would be an easy way onto the back side of the Big Hill was in fact still covered in considerable amounts of timber debris. Although the Geo Tracker is small and maneuverable, it could not carry us over the pile of debris we found in our path. As we turned around, we discovered our fuel supply was getting quite low. Now a decision had to be made. Did we play it safe, end our adventure and head straight back to the lodge? Or, did we go back around the long way and meet Isaac on top of the Big Hill? We continued on our adventure of course! Really it wasn't that difficult of a decision. If we did in fact run out of gas, there were multiple chivalrous men around who could bring us fuel or give us a ride home and although they would have given us some guff about it, we wouldn't be stranded in the woods. However, even if the brothers, uncles, cousins and husband who were near by did decide that it was our own darn fault for running out of gas and we should have known better, we were no more that 3 miles from the lodge and in the words of Cathrine O'Hara in the movie The Quiet Man, "that's just a good stretch of the legs!".
You know how they say that when you are lost in the woods you should just stay in one spot until someone comes to find you because moving around will just get you more lost or waste energy going in circles? This would have been good advise for us. Once again we found ourselves at Steve's original location and there was Isaac on the tractor piling brush and logs onto a burn pile. We chased him down and snapped a few pictures of the work he was doing. Isaac isn't a big fan of pictures so a few is all you get.
Time was slipping away and so was the fuel in our gas tank so we decided it was time to head back to the barn. Being a steward of Idaho forests is hard work, but well worth it. Our family is proud to have maintained and protected this piece of paradise in the foothills of North Idaho for 5 generations and over 75 years.