The Polebridge Mercantile some winters ago

“Get ready for a wet, wild winter in 2012!” says the Farmer’s AlmanacIt’ll be “clime and punishment … a season of unusually cold and stormy weather.” With that in mind, and knowing that the yearly snowfall here is normally about 100 inches, we put a pretty good dent in splitting, storing, and tarping several cords of firewood today. We also, by way of our car roof, brought up twenty gallons of fuel for the generator.

Right now, it’s hard to imagine the Almanac’s predictions. With clear skies and highs hitting forty, the sun has offered far more comfort than our fledgling Country stove.

To make the most of this unexpected balmy weather, we made short work of our chores and enjoyed a walk into nearby Polebridge. At the most remote entryway to Glacier National Park, this little outpost (with an overwintering population of four, including us if you count the ‘burbs) is less than a mile away from our yurt, as the magpie flies.

To get there, we generally cut across the piece of property that shares our lane. As far as National Geographic views of the Rockies go, it’s centerfold material. And it’s the piece Chris has long had his eye on.

During my second trip to Montana (just a few weeks after the first one), he brought me around to the different parcels he was thinking about buying. I could tell he really liked this one when he drove right through a gated fence so we could explore the property.

“Better to beg for forgiveness later than to ask for permission first,” he said, mowing down prairie grass as tall as the Expedition and hitting rocks and ruts that rearranged my internal organs. “Or to look for a freakin’ cleared path,” I thought to myself as I gripped the door and stared out my window in disbelief.

It being late summer, thousands of grasshoppers were popping around the meadow like kernels of corn. Sticking to the hood, hugging the windows, balancing on the tips of grass blades, those Armageddon insects (the favorite food of native westslope cutthroat, Chris says) were everywhere.

But the land, the land was gorgeous. Intoxicating. Unlike anything I’d ever seen in person. Yet I couldn’t help but feel a strange, sinking sensation.

“This isn’t it,” I said. “It doesn’t feel right.”

“But look at the views! Are you kidding me? Why doesn’t it feel right?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just have a bad feeling about it.”

“But why?” 

I shrugged my shoulders.

Well, it turned out that that particular parcel wasn’t the one for sale. It was the eighty acres on the other side of the fence.

“So, there you go,” I said. “I guess that’s why it wasn’t right.” Even though it didn’t explain the foreboding feeling I had, it seemed like as good a reason as any for my inexplicable reservations about the place.

On the way to Polebridge. The abandoned cabin is on the right. (Click to enlarge.)

Today we walked through that land on the way to the Mercantile, and I could sense Chris’s wistfulness about it. “Look at that view. It’s priceless. It’s unbelievable,” he said.

It’s pretty much the same thing he says every time we come here. I haven’t been with him once while driving down the lane that he hasn’t stopped to take it all in or even jumped out to snap just one more picture, trying to capture with technology what he feels with his heart.

Having worked up a sweat, I stopped to take off my coat and leave it on a tree branch to pick up later. As I struggled with the beast that is easy to get on, hard to get off, Chris stood staring at the old trapper’s cabin on his dreamland, not fifty feet away.

“Can you help me with this?” I asked. While he grabbed the end of my coat sleeve and I pulled with all my might, I could see a mischievous look in his eye. It’s a look I’ve seen before, and it’s the one that reveals his inner fifteen-year-old. I could tell his wheels were turning.

“What?” I asked cautiously, one sleeve on, one sleeve off.

“Wanna go exploring?” he asked, tilting his head toward the cabin.

“There? What if someone lives there?”

“Nobody lives there! That place has been empty for a looong time.”

I looked for signs that anyone might be homesteading in the one-room structure with a kitchen addition. Near the back door a little red pickup sported a noggin-sized spider-web crack on the driver’s side, and its seats had long been the dinner, den, and dump station for plenty of critters. At the front door sat a pea-green Impala up on blocks, its front left tire missing, its wheel wells rusting. The North Fork isn’t exactly the kind of place you can walk out of, I reasoned. Certainly not in the winter. So it seemed plausible that, with no working vehicles to be found, whoever was living there had cut out decades ago.

Chris pulled apart the barbed wires of the fence and waited. A smile on his face.

“I hope we don’t get shot for this,” I said as my pants caught a barb.

We walked around the cabin and peeked into the windows, then Chris budged the back door. It was easy to get in, but what we found inside was hard to get out of our minds …

For the full story, read all three parts: A Mystery Unfolds; The Plot Thickens; and Evangelizing, Vandalizing, Bigamizing.

8 thoughts on “Part I: A Mystery Unfolds

  1. Ah, now you are a mystery writer, not a nature writer…I have four guesses:
    1. the mummified owner of that green Impala.
    2. a moonshine still
    3. the new home for your local Grizzly bear
    4. plans for a Yurt

    You best finish this story, girl, or we will all come see for ourselves!!

    Like

  2. Nice way to leave your readers hangin’. Have a great trip, and hurry home so you can tell everyone about the %&^* you found in the cabin. Soooo creepy….

    Like

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