Thursday, October 27, 2011

Little Cottage in the Big Woods

Our little cottage sits on top of a little mountain in the foothills of the Cascades. We are surrounded by 75 to 100 year old (and older trees). The back is facing South East so we get warm sunshine from that side. (When the sun is shining)

We are at approximately 1200' elevation. There is a steep little river valley directly below us. We can't see the river, but we can hear it on still nights and in the Spring when it is full to overflowing. It is actually called a Creek, but it can be a torrential river when it wants to be, taking out roads and bridges further along it's journey. It cuts into the surrounding foothills forming steep canyons and originates from one of the many glaciers coming off Mt. Rainier. The water is very cold and pure. Salmon spawn there. It is protected. The road ends there.

There used to be bridge going across it many years ago, as late as the 1930's. There was also a town, an old coal mining town. Once when I was waiting for the bus to bring my children home from school at the bottom of our steep hill, an old, old man and woman drove up to me and asked me if the bridge was still there. I said, 'No', and they drove away. I wish I had stopped them and asked them about it.

The town was quite booming, and had a hotel, saloon, and little mining cottages. When we first moved here, we would go down to an old foundation that was still standing from one of those cottages and dig for old bottles. There were old rose bushes still blooming, and an ancient plum tree. I have some of the old bottles, still. The town is long gone now. The mines are closed down. But some of the air shafts were still open when we first came. But 'The Bureau' of some agency, maybe 'Mining and Land Reclaimation', came and filled them all with concrete. There were quite a few. There are still some open, deep along the steep sides of the hill that they never got to. (None on our property) My Dad put huge metal grates over one of them on his land. It is scary to think that you could be walking along and fall into one of them. You would never get out.

This large cedar tree sits about 15 feet from my front door in a little grove of similar trees that we saved when we were clearing the site. The ground here is sloped, and all the water runs this way. We are situated slightly lower than the top of the hill. So we kept the little grove of trees to absorb and deflect all of the run off. Besides, the little grove is so beautiful. Very little will grow beneath them, though.

This time of year, they all drop their golden needles and it covers the ground with a golden carpet.

View looking out to the right from front step.

This keeps me busy sweeping.

There are several varieties of large trees here, including many Western Red Cedar, Hemlock, Douglas Fir, Engelman's Spruce (with it's lovely blue needles and golden cones), and the massive Silver Fir (we have one in our back corner that must be at least 300 years old). Some of the deciduous trees include the Big Leaf Maple, Alder, Cottonwood, Vine Maple, several varieties of Cherry, and Cascara which the Indians, (and up until the 30's, drug companies) used the bark for medicinal purposes.
The smaller trees include Indian Plum which is edible, Red Elderberry (not edible), Hazel nut, Wild Plum, Holly, Rowan, Dogwood (regrettably the one tree I don't have on the property that I know of), and Ocean Spray (beautiful feathery white flowers that give it the name)

Then there are the shrubs and berries, too numerous to name, but a few are Blackberry, Huckleberry, Raspberry, Salal, Oregon grape, Thimble Berry, and Salmon Berry.

Among everything grows the large, leathery Ostrich fern, the tall deciduous Lady Fern, Maiden Hair Fern, Deer Fern, Bear grass and all the many, many wildflowers.

We cleared very little, not wanting to disturb nature. But it is enough to keep Hubby in shape mowing the grass.

View looking out to the left, standing on front step. Octagonal window looks out from loft above bedroom. Door goes to laundry room.

Our little cottage was built to take advantage of the lay of the land. Situated to take advantage of the Southern exposure and tucked into the hillside to protect it from run off.

It is a passive solar design, with sliding glass doors facing south, and a steeply sloped roof towards the tall North side with skylights to further take in the sun. On sunny days I don't need heat.

The style might be called 'Modern Salt Box'. The Northern side, which is also the 'front', is tall with two stories. The Southern side, is only one story, but mostly glass. On dreary winter days, I am very grateful to have so much light.

We started with only 1600 sq. ft.; the main house, with two bedrooms and a bath upstairs for the children and Hubby and I slept on a pull out bed in the living room for many years.

Ten years later we added our bedroom and the deck. I think we enjoy that space more than any other. It allows us to go outside any time, day or night without fear of what we might encounter. It sits high and safe above the ground. It is like our own little tree house. I frequently go out there in the wee hours of the night, just to look at the stars. The low end gives us access to the little side yard. This end includes the fenced in dog pen. It makes it inaccessible to wild life for the most part. (Of course anything with claws can climb. But it would have to face Whitey first!)

This is important when you live in Cougar and Bear country.

There are a few families with homes along the main road going to the river. (A gravel two lane winding road). After that, wilderness to Mt. Rainier and beyond, although we only live two miles from our little town going in the opposite direction. The first part of the wilderness is owned by big Timber Companies. Consequently there is always logging. The foothills are patch-worked with clear cuts. But they always replant and it is surprising how fast it grows back. This opens up tracks of land for deer and elk. And blackberries for bears.

It is only a quick river crossing to us.

We have a steep little back corner of our property that we have never explored. It is deep and dark.  It is our mystery corner. You just know not to go there. It is like a big sign that says, 'Keep Out'.

The land slopes and the forest is thick, so we let it be.

We are only temporary residents. This forest belongs to the natives.

We can all share and live together.

But stay off my deck. And I'll stay out of your back corner.


  1. Thanks for this fabulous tour of your homestead! I love your listing of all the trees and bushes. And your house seems so well-designed for its environment.

    The long-gone mining town is interesting. Last year I published my great-grandmother's diaries, which she kept in the 1920s in Northern California. She worked so hard, and lived in the woods as you do. Her husband was a miner. She loved Nature, and it really was like her friend - although she had a healthy respect for it, as you do too.

  2. For everyone reading this, Christine publishes a wonderful blog, called 'Writing from Scotland'. She is a very talented and interesting published writer, who writes from the heart and also gives you a glimpse into her beautiful country. You can link to her blog from my blog list and I think you will enjoy it very much! xx

  3. Blush, blush! Thanks Karen x


Thank you for stopping by! Your comments are important to me and are very much appreciated. xx Karen

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