We compose ourselves in no small part from the landscape we choose as home. For me it was the Douglas fir and lodge pole pines in a meadow of wildflower in Idaho’s Targhee National Forest. My grandparents had had a sawmill here when I was a girl. I came back when I was thirty-one and discovered my huckleberry patch was for sale. That first night I pitched a tent where their cabin had stood and began drawing floor plans under a sky full of a hundred thousand lights.
Over the next ten summers I did build the place I call home in the mountains, one board at a time. I was a young and vigorous woman when I pounded stakes into the forest floor, trying not to kill even a blade of grass. I used only what was at hand and imported friends when I needed more brawn that I could bring to bear. I’d hike through the forest every day, usually bring back something I could deploy. I had to go get my old Scout for one find—the top of a Monarch wood-burning stove that became my first kitchen cabinet—the oven warmer, with its little doors that opened to allow for a pot, a pan.
My endeavor defined my place in this community of locals and tourists. People who heard there was a woman on a hill building her own cabin showed up with whatever might help. One fellow who owned a ranch nearby came with a box of ring nails. “They’ll baffle the wind,” it told me. ”You’ll never have your roof down in the ravine.”
I would be someone else, completely if I hadn’t had this tie to this place in the Centennials, almost on the Continental Divide. As I learn my place in it, I discover my own variety and independence and resourcefulness and toughness. And what Robert Frost was talking about when he said, “The land was ours before we were the land’s.”