Tad soon learned there was no keeping Harriet the goat out of the farmhouse, so she left the front door open to at least keep her from jumping through the window and walking across the table. Harriet clattered in through the front door, baa’d with a happier wag of her tail, now that her belly was full, then stomped over to the sofa, where she jumped up, turned a circle, and made herself comfortable, as if it were her usual routine. The goat happy, Tad decided to explore the house further, small as it was.
The pantry, she found well-stocked with flour and canned fruits and beans and other staples, including spices in labeled glass jars. The fridge, a white, bubble-shaped Art Deco piece that recalled the 1930s, was functional, to Tad’s surprise, but also empty except for a stick of butter and small box of baking soda. Tad figured Dina had something to do with that, generously insuring the prior contents of the fridge wouldn’t repulse the first person to open the door.
Tad next found a cramped bathroom off the kitchen with a wobbly toilet, a claw-foot tub, and a pedestal sink. The tiny room jutted out from the rest of the farmhouse, clearly a later addition. She shook her head at Roxanne Wexworth, the estate lawyer, who had somehow thought the place a dump. It was the Ritz—it had indoor plumbing!
Tad saved the best part of her tour for last: The bookshelf next to the cast iron stove. While backpacking, she liked to pack light, but she always left space for one book to keep her company or teach her something new. At trail’s end, she’d leave her book for some other adventurer to find, then wander into the nearest town in search of a new one.
Some of the volumes here on the dusty shelves were old and brittle and bound in leather, including a Bible with birthdates inside the cover going all the way back to 1844. She didn’t recognize the names, but noted the one at the bottom: Eloise May Morgan. Perhaps the Bible was original to the house and the farmwife who lived here.
The rest of the books on the shelves represented every decade, right up to the present, including Etiquette by Emily Post and The Joy of Cooking. The newer volumes, by the likes of Nora Roberts, Danielle Steele, and Debbie Macomber, Tad assumed her aunt had added.
One of the items on the shelf wasn’t a book but all, but a leather-bound journal. On the first page was written in flowing script, Propt. of Eloise May Morgan, 1910.
Intrigued, Tad settled onto the sofa, next to the goat, and switched on the green-globed light on the end table. The book was filled less with words than with sketches, and those were mostly of plants. The first was an illustration of a sapling cherry tree. Under it was written my first tree.
Tad browsed on, page after page. Eloise documented every kind of plant she encountered on and around her new homestead, from the Ponderosa and Lodgepole pines, to the crocuses that pushed their way up through the snow in the spring, and the Arrowleaf Balsamroot that blossomed like bushy sunflowers on the sides of the mountains.
She illustrated other things, too, including her farmhouse, her view of the lake, and even a portrait of a Native American woman, a basket under one arm and long braids trailing over her shoulders. My new neighbors are friendly, if shy, Eloise had written. The government says they didn’t want this land, but I’m not so sure…
Several pages later, Tad realized what was missing: Any reference to Eloise’s husband. Tad began to suspect that the author may have been a female pioneer. More fascinated than ever, she kept reading.
Not long after the portrait of the woman, Eloise began to add the uses of the various plants she saw, leaving Tad to wonder if she’d managed to befriend her new neighbors and pick up on their trove of local knowledge.
Bitterroot – edible and highly valued
Yarrow – can stop bleeding
Huckleberry – delicious
One entry in particular caught Tad’s eye, due largely to its sensational name.
Death Camas – poultice for bruises and sprains. Do not eat – causes apoplexy and paroxysms of the chest
Tad studied the accompanying illustration of a clump of tiny white flowers on long stalks with lily-like leaves. She wasn’t sure about Eloise’s dated medical terminology, but thought they could refer to stroke and heart attack. The thought carried her back to her conversation that morning with Dina. Aunt Maribeth had died of a heart attack—and Dina had thought that unusual.
Tad closed the journal, briefly turning the thought over in her mind. Then she rose from the sofa and glanced out the windows, across the highway and toward the rising mountains. There had to be trails out there…
She turned to Harriet, whose eyes were half-closed and ears drooping sleepily.
“Do you hike?” Tad asked.
Harriet lifted one ear in curiosity.
To be continued…
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