"It's springtime in the Rockies. The song birds, raptors, and squirrels are busy collecting the first cutting from my Keeshond's winter coat that I spread over forest and field last month. I hope they left enough for the wee hummers that are always late on my mountain. They look so funny flying away with a beak full of Corky underwear, making mighty cozy nests to raise their young. Since people build nests as well, here's how we two birds did it many years ago, a place featured in print before the fad hit with gusto, and where I still rest my weary self. My God, but it was fun. Kath"|
By Kathe Campbell
Made of logs hewn in the rough,
Here I stand stately and tall.
My downer side's for junque 'n stuff,
My upper's for the mother-in-law.
And that's how it reads after burning my nonsense into a hunk of wood that decorates the outer wall at the bunkhouse stairway. It has proudly hung there near 30 years outside the tack room, sheltered by the upper deck. My dear mother saw nothing whimsical about it, or anything else for that matter in her final stages of Alzheimer's. But it reminded us daily of a good feeling of worth as we looked forward to all our Montana tomorrows.
My husband, Ken, and I were a very togetherness pair; both artisans, his stout hands creating and fixing, my tiny fingers lending to the fine arts. He was big on guy stuff - engines, boy toys, playing hard, and declaring loudly that house chores were strictly woman's work. But, much to his aversions and shame, he usually gave in to my feminine wiles sparking him into a few unrefined drudges. We were just regular folks - church goers, ran our business, raised a fine family, did our civic duty, and cared for my mother. Though nuts for each other, we flashed a few "seeing red" moments, not giving our marriage a snowball's chance in hell without words.
We didn't drive a mule team jouncing over endless prairies or crossing a thousand hills and mountains in a covered wagon, but close. After plunking shekels down on resplendent acres, pioneering rivaled our treks to 7,000 feet on a dusty, narrow logging road. Fair skies saw Blackfoot Creek plummeting at near flood stage, and late spring snows dared us to round corners too fast, lest submerged in it's icy fury. Back and forth beneath a cloak of fir and aspen until all the innards for our log buildings were deposited safely at Broken Tree Ranch.
We middle-aged wonders would have made fine trailblazers, doing our squatter thing with dignity and love of the land. It suited our yen for pungent sage, the big green mountain, Douglas fir, grassy meadows, and a fair creek and ponds to the east. We wrestled with my scaled log cabin plans in the seasonal rains, surviving half the summer with no running water or electricity. Somebody always forayed up to the Lime Kiln spring with jugs, and by July, power and phone lines were laid under our one-track road. Intriguing herds of curious deer, our grinding, revving, and tamping saw the septic tank, drain field, and basement walls in place. The neediest, dirtiest and most disruptive jobs finished, we were ready.
"For cryin' out loud you two, have you gone and lost your heads moving up here in God's country?" as friends and old neighbors gawked and offered sentiments. Yes, we were content losing our heads, for we were seasoned house builders, and a log cabin didn't scare us a bit. Besides, Ken had unearthed small gold nuggets from an old stream bed in the back forty and was convinced we were sitting on the mother lode.
Picking brilliant Paint Brush for our mobile home and snapping a thousand pictures became a habit for the woodsy addicts trucking up our road. A mere 20 minutes from town, they turned their kids loose, touched nature, and drew in mountain scents and cool breezes off the still snowy summit.
After my plans were inspected and approved, the ten and twelve inch milled lodge poles arrived mid-summer. Kids cut
and fit Styrofoam rope and thick insulation strips as the logs were set atop one another. Crazy for the balm and coziness of pine, the outer and inner walls became one, nary a westward breeze nor the wrath of winter to sift through our rise.
"Yep, God's country is just what you're standing on," we'd wisecrack, while the Huck Finns fished and scooped up tadpoles at the creek. Some planted their campers and hung around to spike logs or help me hang chunks of mossy rock on the double-sided fireplace. Others served up pot luck beneath the massive 100-year-old firs. And the guys brewed up mountain man drinks in keeping with the air of the day, napping their gluts away upon the warm afternoon earth.
All bets were on and work stopped as the well drillers punched through a piece of land witched by Ken, a talent inherited from a long lost relative. 'Twas like feeding our fortune into the slots at Vegas as twenty foot pipes were added, one onto another, boring through that god-awful hard rock. 350 feet-365 feet, first gushing mud, then great surges of cool, crystal pure water from an ancient lake bed, enough for us and our acres.
While Ken and a hired man stacked logs, I was relegated to the basement running the Bobcat, bucking along, smoothing the decomposed granite. Should a log get away, I heard it thundering upon the upstairs sub-floor over the roar of my engine. So I emerged from my subterrain to soak and uproot sage over a few acres, then ran a respectable line with the Ditch Witch for our vast irrigation. Better late than never, I finally gave into work gloves.
'Twas on Halloween when our undersheriff son left the local ruffians and rustlers to his deputies. He dumped a shift to help his dad lift the final log atop the loft and spike her in place, an event worthy of flags and a brass band. What was supposed to be a log cabin turned into a lodge for any and all who cared to stay and saddle a bronc. We had forged a homestead in God's wilderness that has kept our family returning and loving every minute of their parent's grit.
"Do not step back to admire your work," was repeatedly the call of the day. The weather forecast called for sunny and fair the day we tongue and grooved the ceiling/roof. Tap, tap, tap went the hammers, snugging each long, narrow, rustic board into its groove. And just behind, snap, snap, snap went the air guns spitting out spiraled nails, securing the ceiling into the beams. Lastly, the tackers and their rolls of insulation, exterior plywood, and the heavy black plastic brigade. Rolls of flashing were set topside for chimneys and bubble windows; bringing to mind another kind of flashing. For this tool belt diva barely had time to contemplate midlife while "hot flashing" my way through the entire summer. Oh joy!
Before the enormous triple panes were set in place, the entire structure was sprayed with oily sealant by our goggle-faced humanoids. We were enclosed, missing our deadline by less than a week, loving the fellowship and hilarity that kept us sane for three months. We even broke down and sold off five acres across the road to the family who had fallen in love with Mother Nature over the summer. We could now take our time with the cedar shakes, lest an early snow, plus finishing the electrical and sweating pipes over the winter months.
In keeping with good forestry, taking down standing dead lodge pole off our land and erecting a garage and barn seemed like child's play after the lodge. The following year we took draw knives in hand and peeled our stack, a job we both deemed pure grunt work. I lifted finished logs with the Bobcat and Ken chainsawed and peavied them into place. Topmost logs were left long for the hanging and aging of wild meat, though we had hung up our bows and rifles after meeting the wildlife neighbors.
Both buildings sported attic space and wide overhangs for a hay room and a bunkhouse for grandkids, as well as a few genuine cowboys over the years. There's nothing eerier than little girl screams bouncing off a mountain in the wee hours when bad tempered squirrels noisily scamper up log walls. And yet they always returned to the bunk beds with their giggles, board games, flashlights, pillows and sleeping bags.
A hefty off-white berber weave down, and a black bear sprawling upon it before the fireplace, in we moved. Vivid Native American hues graced the rooms, and Ken's Civil War McClelland saddle and hides were slung over the loft. My oils, native rugs, furs, leather, bronzes, candles, antlers, and wagon wheels said it all, plus vivid bold designs splashed on a little sheetrock. In these near 30 years we remained amongst our logs and our treasures, living Montana to its fullest.
Daughter, KT, was on hand weekends, always with camera in hand to shoot the deer and moose nurturing their young. She had done a pictorial on the building of a log home, and a term paper about her Gran's wretched illness. But Granny was only interested in watching daily for the streetcar to pass by and sadly succumbed the day before we settled into our logs. After five years she had looked upon us and her grandchildren as strangers, cursing her lovely new room, bath, and all her favorite things. We hugged her dear little body with tears of relief, thanking the Lord for her worthy peace at long last, then sent her home to her beloved.
Over the following woeful days, we often sat before the fireplace, rocking and bragging how we had sweat it out. Now we were hitting the feathers after long, hot showers with our backs and knees out. Today, our acres still stage summer's cool greens, autumn's brilliant oranges, and winter's virginal whites as far as one can see. We are on a second roof, another well, extended deck with a hot tub, and crippled arthritic hands. The old logging road is widened and paved, but the Lime Kiln remains wild, just the way we and our neighbors like it.
Reminding us of ourselves, we had left the namesake standing; the pitiful, gnarled and broken greeter that seemed to cry out for mercy. Despite loving care, Broken Tree's limbs grew horizontally north and south, finally turning skyward over the years, standing strong as a welcoming sentinel. Each side sports lush fir boughs and cones to welcome birds and squirrels year around as she towers, her bare elbows brandishing a few skulls and antlers.
Were we artisans of any sort, the satisfaction and joy would be the same, smiling at one another and admiring our craft and drudge through our together years. For the more golden the place becomes, Broken Tree Ranch is touted as the prettiest place on the hill. And us? Well - we're not so pretty, but we're sure in hell golden.
Dedicated to my talented guy --- Ken Campbell - 1/29/26 - 5/18/05
1. Yellowstone's Madison River lodge poles arriving at last.
2. Ken inspecting my plans, wondering which logs go where.
3. Tongue and groove laid out, loft logs next. 2250 sq. ft.-32' tall.
4. LR see-thru fireplace by Kath. DR side half stone, half knotty pine.
5. First season in our lodge. Outer rock work and trim unfinished.
For a 2-page story/pictorial inside and out, email me.