NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
Several readers have expressed interest in knowing more about the Original Settlers’ Cabins at our place. I know how you feel. From the time I first heard about them dreams of historic hundred and fifty year old dwellings danced in my head. Finding the cabins was one of my first priorities after we moved in. All I knew was that they were “down a ways behind the house” and the forest was so thick with midsummer growth that the only to even look for them was to blaze a trail.
For the first month we lived here, regardless of the weather, I suited up in my grungiest jeans and jacket and Wal-Mart high-topped boots, picked up my weed whacker and tree trimmer, stuck my machete into my belt, and went to work slicing my way downhill.
My starting point was the sparsest point where the woods met our clearing, and I went in and down in whatever direction seemed easiest. At the ten day point I looked out from the hundred yard long, three foot wide path I’d cleared so far and saw the roofs of a couple of buildings farther down, in the only copse of pines on this side of the property. It was like seeing land after six months at sea. I felt like Columbus – or at least Dan’l Boone.
It took another week to reach the cave-lined ridge bordering the overgrown clearing where the two cabins stood. I gave the caves wide berth. The most dangerous animals I’d found in the woods so far were ticks and chiggers, and, they were dangerous enough. Whoever named itching “low-grade pain” was a pretty funny old boy. Believe me, the suffering I felt from our tiny friends was Premium grade. Arms covering my face to protect it from whipping branches, I leapt off the ride and ran to the cabins. Rough-hewn wood siding, sagging porches, hand-carved doors, flat-rock terraces. They were beautiful. Works of art.
Then I noticed the garbage.
Tire carcasses and empty beer cans and whiskey bottles. Cracked plastic containers and bowls. Teflon cookware. I looked more closely at the roofs. Particle board? And the nails. Just like the ones I bought at Miller’s Hardware.
I peered through an empty window into the smaller cabin. The walls of its one room were lined with flattened cardboard boxes. I went up the rotted stairs of the larger cabin. Stepped inside. My foot went through the quarter-inch plywood floor. More beer and whiskey empties were piled in the corners. Along with a decaying foam mattress.
Over the next couple of weeks I blazed and cleared and cleared and blazed, going all the way down the mountainside, past the cabins to a little outhouse with a composite toilet seat and a pigsty with water bowls made of cut-down five-gallon feed cans. Wanting to hold onto the romance of Original Settlers from a hundred and fifty years ago having lived here I worked out my own theory of why the area looked the way it did. The way I saw it, local hunters had been using the empty cabins, rebuilding them as needed.
Then I met Donald Fields, a grizzled old refugee from the Northeast who lives about half a mile up the road. He came over one day just to say hello. I took him for a walk down to the cabins, and when he saw them he shook his head. “They sure don’t look like they did last time I saw them,” he said.
“You’ve been here?” I said.
“Sure. Your house was woods then. I was friends with the squatter couple that built these, about twelve years ago. Old hippies from New York.”
“Twelve years? That’s all?”
“Yeah. They wanted to live like pioneers. No electricity. No plumbing. Raising pigs. Man, did those two stink! They left after three or four years. Said they found the same kind of place in Missouri but with electricity. And cable TV.”
So that was it. Original settlers yep. Old settlers, nope. End of fantasy. End of romance. I still loved the property, but the death of the legend was a big let-down.
Until, that is, last week.
As I was walking to the pond at the entrance to the ranch I saw something glimmering in the sun, and picked up what sure looks like an old arrowhead.
Who needs the “Original Settlers?” This was Indian Land!