The greater part of my childhood was spent growing up in rural, out of the way areas. At one point, my father moved us in with an Amish community. At another, we lived in a log cabin – no electricity, no running water except the stream right outside the entryway – for most of a year. After that we became apartment dwellers for a short period of time. Even so, the apartment complex abutted a large hill that was thick with tangled brush and small animals.
But then my parents purchased an old Victorian-era home (built in 1901) on 5 acres, standing at the crossing of Manning and Farm Roads. Wheatfields surrounded us. More than once I rode along in a tractor cab during planting season. Sloughs occupied the other three corners of the crossroads – and they were thick with cattails, Red-winged Blackbirds and Mallard ducks. Situated as we were – the near-middle of the valley – you could watch the stormclouds cross overhead and bounce off the Swan Mountains to the East.
Life wasn’t perfect. The farmers poisoned the coyotes and sprayed their crops with pesticides. The occasional Kestrel Hawk fell victim. We found one and tried to nurse it back to health once. On windy days the topsoil blew away as the farmers endlessly ploughed on. Over the four years we lived there, other homes were built. One by one. Popping up. Still surrounded by the endlessness.
The year I turned eight we moved to a new house, a smaller house next to the highway, but still three miles out of town. My father had opened a Native American/Mountain Man themed “trading post” and felt the highway would bring in more traffic and better exposure for his business.
The land was different, the drone of vehicles was something to get used to, but there was still – at that time – space. The new house was on almost seven acres of land. Only the two acres lining the highway were really used for buildings (and yard – I mowed that yard with a push mower for quite a few summers!). The rest was left to grow wild with grass and alfalfa and whatever else blew in. The woman before us kept goats and horses, but we kept nothing – and my sisters and I were free to roam the back area.
All this to say – I grew up with an intense focus on nature, on appreciating wildlife and space and growing things. To this day, I notice animals or plants on a walk that others do not. I desire – crave – desperately need – wild, open space.
Our house – my husband’s and my first purchased home – was chosen for its affordability and its yard. Another would probably love the house itself – I do not. Actually I dislike it very much, but that’s not the point of this writing.
I have learned to love this place for the giant maple tree that grows in the front yard and shades us in the summer. I have loved this place for its backyard, for the garden that we’ve put in and tended, for the apple tree that produces amazing, delicious apples that I turn into spicy apple butter in Fall. I grew to love it for the small irrigation ditch behind our backyard that provides water for our garden. I have loved this place for the main irrigation ditch across the street – the many trees that grow up around it – and the native wildflowers that we may or may not have guerrilla-planted on its banks.
I have loved – and breathlessly treasured – Ravens and Magpies and Cedar Waxwings and Downy Woodpeckers and Red Shafted Flickers and once a Pileated Woodpecker – gracing those trees lining the irrigation ditch. And I have loved the field that existed just beyond the ditch – and the horse that stayed there for a time, and the deer that grazed there (better there than my garden!) – and the frosty mornings when everything glowed in gilded white, and the spring mornings when the golden field and a blue sky promised summer, and languid summer evenings when the field brought a hush to the neighborhood – and the winters, oh, the winters – when unbroken snow reflected light back into my windows and into my heart and made being in this unloved house bearable.
We knew it was just a matter of time. Building space is at a premium in Missoula. Our building policies encourage high-density housing. This is a smart move economically speaking. I know people are looking for homes they can afford. I understand the desire to own your place. High-density housing keeps our city budget solvent and protects (to a point) the open spaces surrounding the city.
Last week they scraped the field to bare, raw ugliness. Today the big trees along the ditch are falling. Not tomorrow – but soon – 29 buildings and parking lots and stark, hot concrete will replace all the grass and trees. All in the name of progress.
My heart is breaking.