This barn was built by A.O. Rayton in about 1902, along Black Creek, which flows into the South Fork of the Chehalis River. He was my great-grandfather. The field in front of the barn used to be old growth forest. After the trees were cut, he used a team of horses to pull the logs and stumps out. It became a hayfield. A.O. Rayton’s daughter is my maternal grandmother, and she has spent most of her long life living along Black Creek, near a settlement called Wildwood. It no longer exists, except as the name of the county road.
I went to see my grandma on a beautiful September weekend, and took my nieces (9 and 15). “I love Granny’s place,” sighed the younger one.
Me too. Always have. To have grandparents is a great gift, especially when they give you, your siblings and cousins the run of the place. So many adventures in the woods and the rain, with animals and tools. So much learned from adults who had patience, rock-solid values, and all the skills needed to thrive on a stump farm far from town.
When I go back to the Boistfort Valley now, I see it as it is, but the present lies on top of layers of memory. The years are stacked on top of each other like layers of sediment, yet they are all visible at once. Fields that used to be fallow are now being farmed again. Old houses have rotted back into the soil. The hills have everchanging shapes as they are logged and reforested. When I was a kid, they reminded me of the grade school principal’s flattop haircut, but now they look punk rockers. In one clearcut I remember seeing from the backseat of the car, the trees are now tall enough to allow light down through the canopy.
Things change, but some things change so slowly as to not be very noticeable. I wandered in the orchard. All the trees are old now, but two Gravenstein trees are original to the place. They are truly hoary and venerable. One has neat rows of sapsucker holes drilled into the trunk and every branch. This is a good year for them, and I picked up lots of windfalls and plucked some fruit from the trees. Thought about the taste of the applesauce and pies Granny used to make. Remembered planting one of the last trees that Grampa grafted. He couldn’t dig any more, so he watched me. He leaned on a cane he made for himself out of electrical conduit, a raggedy jacket hanging from his gaunt frame. His blue eyes were still sharp underneath a grease-stained faded red felt crusher hat. “Throw a handful of bonemeal in the hole, Bug,” he instructed. (You know you are loved when you still have the nickname you had as a toddler, and you don’t mind.) He told me to mix it in with the dirt, then gently spread the roots and backfill. The root collar had to be at just the right level.
That tree is still there. It’s a Gravenstein. It has fruit on it.
Open hearts and smiles all around as the girls and I hugged Granny goodbye. We left an apple for her on the kitchen counter.
I’m home again, and thinking that even though I’ve chosen to live east of the mountains, the Boistfort Valley will always be a place of deep roots. How could I not feel the pull of connection to family and a piece of land? How could I not still have some rainwater in my veins, and some Chehalis River silt in my memory?
Today is for making applesauce.