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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: One Dark and Snowy Night

By Lois Barton

Posted on Dec 5, 2003

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"Barn in Snow, " watercolor by artist Michael Ireland, courtesy of his Tales of the West series


Our barn was built by Harry to shelter his beasts,
and house their winter's hay.
rough one-by-tens, nailed green, to the pole framework
enclose a space that's familiar to many
creatures beside the farm animals.

Small sprightly sparrows and juncos feed happily on grass seeds
they find scattered about the floor on a crisp winter morning,
and slip quietly between the now dry and shrunken side boards
when I come too close with my pitchfork.

Field mice spend the long rainy season in their snug nests
between the bales,
securely hidden from feline hunters,
with an inexhaustable pantry all about them.

A stray cat sleeps curled on the loose hay
till the bustle of morning feeding rousts him out.

Overhead scratching, then a whir of wings, draw my eyes
toward the roof, and I watch three pigeons take flight
out in the morning sunshine.

The clank of the milk pail and thump of the feed barrel lid
bring the mallard ducks waddling and quacking
to garner their breakfast from the manger.
Amicably they dodge the cows' busy tongues,
pecking vigorously for their share before the grain
is all licked up.

Then they settle beside the barn cats to await
a handout of milk.

A huge barn owl, roused by the activity below,
peers confusedly about him, then floats away through the hay door
to a more secluded roost,
his yard-wide wings rustling faintly
as he disappears.

Fat, slimy banana slugs cling to the sides of the cat pan,
licking clean the last vestiges of the previous meal.
their tough resiliency can withstand the impact
of a sharp cow hoof pressing them into the mud
and manure at the barn door.

I ponder with interest the friendly adaptability of these
wild creatures who associate themselves with the farmer
and his barn, acknowledging by their behavior
their appreciation of shelter and food available through nature's
bleaker seasons.

The Hunch That Saved a Life

This is the story of a true adventure that happened more than fifty years ago. Names of people and places have been changed to protect their identity. – L.B.

"Can't you wait till morning? I'll get up to fix your breakfast and get you on the road by 5:00," I promised.

"It's not that I want to leave now." Ed dropped his duffle bag on the bed and picked up his eight month old daughter before she could close her chubby fingers around the strap.

"Then why are you going tonight?" I asked. Ed slid his free arm gently around my waist.

"I have a strong hunch that I need to get back to camp tonight." He gave me a reassuring squeeze as he transferred the baby to my arms. Our two year old son, still groggy from his nap, leaned against the foot of the bed, rubbing his eyes and fingering Daddy's rifle. Ed leaned to kiss him good-bye as he lifted the rifle and hung it over his shoulder.

"Be a good boy and take care of Mommy till I get back," he said.
"Ann, will you open the door for Daddy, please?" Ed tucked the Sunday paper under his arm and lifted the duffle bag. Three year old Ann ran to hold the door.

"Bye, Daddy," she said.

"Bye, Honey." He rumpled her hair and then was gone.

Ed's destination was a mining camp sixty miles away in the Oregon mountains where he was winding up the season, since winter snows would soon stop all traffic in and out until late spring. The mining camp was a hazardous place for small children, so I spent long, lonely weeks with them in a rented farmhouse in the valley while Ed worked at the mine. It seemed particularly
hard to have him go off that December afternoon, leaving me to face another week of Oregon rain with just the children for company.

Ed was a man who lived close to his inner wisdom. During the five years of our marriage I had observed his frequent response to "hunches" which seemed to call him to serve his fellowman, and I trusted his judgment. As we watched his car disappear down the road I tried to imagine what circumstances could require his presence in camp that evening. But no clue came to mind, and I turned to clear away the empty pie plate and coffee cups left from our snack.

His letter which came in the mail a few days later reaffirmed my trust in his hunches, as well as my faith that his inner wisdom serves a pure purpose as he attends to its leading.

At the mine

Sunday, 10:20 p.m.

December, 1949

Dear Wife,

I found it really hard to leave you and the kids so early this evening, but my "strong hunch" that I should get back to camp had real justification.

Going up, I stopped at the other mine to put chains on my car. All that rain was coming down as snow up here. That last five miles over the saddle in the dark was a slippery, icy ordeal. I parked the car at the top of the mine road, wondering whether it would be snowed in by morning. Pushing the groceries I bought in town into the duffle on top of my clothes, I started down through the snow to camp, duffle hanging from my shoulder, and carrying the rifles. The 30-30 wasn't loaded and my 22 was hard to get at with both
guns in my hand.

The thought of bear not yet holed up for the winter crossed my mind, and I wondered as I trudged along if I shouldn't have my guns a bit more ready. I soon spotted unexpected tracks in the snow, a narrow car track that puzzled me, and what seemed to be a small woman's track where someone had evidently gotten out and walked. I shifted the heavy duffle from shoulder to shoulder as I went along, and felt relieved when I made what I thought would
be the last shift before camp.

As I eased the strap into place on my shoulder I noticed a dark object in the center of the road ahead. A skunk, perhaps? I moved toward the outside edge of the road to give it plenty of room, but as I got nearer I could see it was long and brownish in color. Could it be a rock slide that had fallen from the bank? No, I sensed that it was something animate, and could see that it was big enough to be quite a threat if it was alive and unfriendly. Walking slowly along the edge of the road, I got within a few feet and suddenly realized it was the body of a man! He must be dead - here only a
few hundred feet from camp. My scalp prickled as I began to appreciate the possibility of unseen dangers about me in the dark.

Taking a chance, I spoke loudly. "What's the matter here?" There was a feeble movement, an effort to turn the head and an almost whispered "What?"

"What are you doing there in the snow?"

A mumbled, drowsy "Sh-leeping."

"Don't you know that's not a good place to sleep?"

As he raised his head his long black beard brushed the snow. Anxious bloodshot eyes questioned me as he drawled, "Ah kin shleep where ah want-ta, cain't ah?" Then he staggered to his feet.

My heart jerked. Who was he? A criminal? A deranged person?

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Waitin' for m' pardner," he replied belligerently. Then softening a little he added, "Ah been waitin' a long time, and ah got shleepy. If he don't come soon..." He wavered, stumbling drunkenly. then peering at me through the snow-lit darkness he asked, "You're a sh-tranger in camp, ain't ye?"

"I work here," I told him. "you better come on down to the bunkhouse and wait by the fire. It'll be a lot more comfortable."

He hesitated, shivering but suspicious. Finally he concluded, "Tha-sh a good idea. I b'lieve I will. Our car'sh over the grade."

"Here, carry this gun, will you?" I handed him the 30-30. "I'm a bit top heavy." We walked on into camp still uncertain of one another.

Our steps on the porch prompted an anxious call from inside.

"That you, Dave?" A male voice queried. A man and two children were in the bunkhouse finishing their supper.

"Are we bothering you here?" the man asked. "The kids were hungry and we had to fix them something to eat." He'd obviously been drinking too.

They had come up one of the old roads in their Jeep a Sunday afternoon ride to the mines. One child was Dave's daughter. The other was a neighbor boy whose mother expected him back "in about an hour" when they started out.

They'd accidentally driven the Jeep off the road at the Number Four level of the mine. It was stuck with the front bumper resting on the switchback road below, all four wheels barely resting on the ground.

After spinning their wheels till the motor stopped because the gas would no longer feed into the gas line at that angle, they decided to look for help down at the camp. Finding none, they planned to go to the other mine over the ridge, five miles away, but didn't know which road to take. After a lot of arguing, Dave started out alone to find some help, and that's where I came in.

When I'd heard their story, I offered to take Dave over to the other mine where he could phone the boy's parents, and possibly get some help.

Dave and I started toward my parked car a mile up the mountain while the others prepared to spend the night in the bunkhouse. On the way we stopped at Number Four to have a look. Their Jeep was balanced precariously on its front bumper with the four wheels making only light contact with the bank over which it had been driven. The front wheels were turned up hill and the back threatened to tilt over and let the car roll into the lower road, or
possibly even across the road entirely and on down to the dump below.

I got a 20-foot mine rail from behind the tunnel house to use as a pry bar, dug out under the front bumper, and in fifteen minutes had the Jeep rolling forward onto the lower road.

Back at the bunkhouse I suggested the whole bunch stay for the night, because I had some doubt whether either of the men was in condition to drive the icy roads and get the group out alive. But they thought they ought to get to the other mine at least and make that phone call. so by 9:30 they were gone.

After they left I finally had a chance to heat some noodle soup for a late supper. That big piece of your huckleberry pie wasn't a bit too big by that time. As the soup warmed, I sat there thinking how I would have felt in the morning if I had come down the road and found the body of a dead man under the snow.

Your loving husband,


They told Ed in town when he came home later in the week that the visitors had reached home safely on Sunday evening. He couldn't help but wonder if they will ever realize how close they came to tragedy that night.

Copyright ©2003 by Lois Barton

Now Available on Compact Disk:

Stories from The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte

Three and a half years of years Lois Barton's stories–so you can read them without going online!

Lois Barton's Selected Works

Volume I, Chanticleer's Tales

Send $10, plus postage of $1.50



84889 Harry Taylor Rd.

Eugene, OR 97405

Writer and historian
Lois Barton
Lois Barton is an 85 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Visit the Sunnyside of Spencer Butte Section in our new format for more of Lois' stories. See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife - The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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