Charlotte Fire five years later

Beau Marley, Khristi Cummings and Steve Leaman

Beau Marley, Khristi Cummings and Steve Leaman

Treon Maroudas with two statues

Treon Maroudas with two wood carved statues

Susan Jensen and Glennie Weidert

Susan Jensen and Glennie Weidert

jackie Blanchard in front ofa coverd bridge

Jackie Blanchard in front of a covered bridge for use in walking to the other side of the creek

Khristi Cummings and Betty Anderson carrying food out to the buffet table

Khristi Cummings and Betty Anderson carrying some of the food out to the buffet table

Ty & Betty Anderson

Ty & Betty Anderson

Jim Riggs and Tonya Nix

Jim Riggs and Tonya Nix

Karen & Russ Cconnor

Karen & Russ Connor

Archie & Vickie Winslow

Archie & Vickie Winslow

Sue & Roy Miller, Khristi Cummings

Sue & Roy Miller, Khristi Cummings

Two Sheep Camps

Two Sheep Camps

 

 

Another sheep camp

Another sheep camp

Five Years After the Charlotte Fire

As we all know, the Charlotte fire decimated many parts of the Mink Creek and Gibson Jack Creek areas. Beyond that brief statement lie several stories, one of which is briefly described here.

During one beautiful evening this last week, a group of about twenty five people gathered at the home of Steve Leaman to recall the Charlotte fire and enjoy valued friendship. It is difficult to put into words a summary of that fire as it burned its way into so many individual memories.But, let us focus only on this area and the memorial party  that took place there.

Almost twenty acres of land confined between the Gibson Jack Road and south to the ridge on the north side of Mink Creek comprises the Leaman property. Five years ago it contained three houses, a cabin, four covered bridges and a barn. In addition there were two Sheep Camps (the small covered wagons serving as home to sheep herders), a wind mill, some antique cars and farming equipment.

It is difficult, if at all possible, to put into words the years and years of care, carpentry and gardening plus all of those activities that add up to a well kempt and thoroughly enjoyed property.  So, let us focus on the beauty of the area where the party took place. A pool of cascading water surrounded by large river-worn rocks is met by a spacious lawn beyond which grow young juniper, cedar, pine and alder trees These trees are still young enough for deer to nibble on their branches. But, they also provide shade and shelter for them Most of all, the peace and tranquility permeating this property provided the atmosphere which was noted by each of the guests.

Conversations with these  interesting, friendly and  informative people continued throughout the entire evening. Topics moved from one subject to another as guests were introduced and old friends chatted. Everyone had interesting tidbits to share with others as the array of tasty foods was placed on the buffet table. I saw people I had worked with over forty years ago; met new people who described all sorts of interesting information including a really unique stone house on Garfield, long walks with friends and their dogs, the skill required when playing percussion instruments in the symphony orchestra plus a myriad of other interesting facts and perceptions. One couple talked about their house which was almost surrounded by the fire and yet did not sustain damage.

There were more introductions and conversations along with lots of laughter. All of it set an example for a definition of being a truly great party. In addition to the beautiful array of food and the serene surrounds, this gathering was so pleasant, cheerful, friendly and gracious that it will be long remembered by all in attendance. Beyond some talk about the fire and several stories about individuals and families who suffered, the gaity of the party continued. The rest of this article, however, is devoted to one survivor and that is Steve Leaman, party host and owner of the 20 acres.

Almost sixty years ago, Steve, then a two year old little boy, became a resident of Gibson Jack.  It was too early for kids in those days to sit and play digital games, but it would be easy to surmise in no uncertain terms that this little guy would have been outdoors anyway investigating and wandering as he took in all of the natural pleasures to be found in that area which was, for the most part, previously untouched.

As Leaman grew, he became more and more interested in the trees and other plants which grew on his parent’s property. His interests included, with the help of his father, digging holes and then planting tiny sprouts not yet qualifying as saplings. He watched them as they gained height and substance. During the following fifty years, he continued his citizen science interest in the plant life on the Leaman property: watching the growth, investigating the animals that made use of the protection provided by trees and also keeping track of the grasses and wild flowers that thrived there.

His interests continued, branching into a study of the plants most favored by the deer that came in all seasons to feed, rest and give birth to fawns. Steve’s interest in preserving areas for wild animals encouraged his decision to keep grasses, bushes and weeds available without using chemicals or plowing because his concern was for the creatures that, over time, began to see the area as their habitat. As an aside, it should be noted that mule deer tend to depend on using the same migration and habitat routes and areas with great consistency. In the last several years, because Gibson Jack and Johnny Creek have an increased population of humans, the deer have found houses and fences where they used to find food and rest. Some people complain about deer presence, but most remind themselves that the deer were here first and that there are things to plant that won’t be eaten. Besides, it is nice to look out your window and see several deer resting under an apple tree (while they wait for the fruit to fall). If you doubt this, check it out.

For over thirty of  these years, Steve Leaman  entertained people at Christmas time by dressing as Santa Claus and standing on the side of Gibson Jack Road with twinkling colored Christmas lights and a ho,ho.ho for everyone who passed by. This was known by so many who still remember it as a  yearly event. It stopped only when a new Gibson Jack resident complained to the city that it could be dangerous (even though no report of danger had occurred before).

During the rest of each year, this guy built the four covered bridges, a cabin close to the top of the ridge above his house, put up a wind mill, and worked. In addition, he took loving care of his mother, the late Donna Leaman.

As an aside, the bridges and the cabin were built using lumber from barns and houses built in earlier times. Why? Well, old lumber has a rustic appearance perfect for the things he built.

Another of Leaman’s efforts has been to post signs along Bannock Highway so that deer crossings are made obvious to drivers. We could go on, describing the efforts he has made to save or rescue dogs found running in streets or describing his actions in rescuing dogs that had been cruelly treated.  The stories one could tell about some of those rescues are touching and sometimes very funny. Still, some drivers continue to be of the opinion that animals, whether dog, deer or whatever are extraneous and so protection or consideration is not necessary.

“Wait a minute”, you say: “I thought this was about the effects of a fire?” Well, it is, but that day in July 2012, when smoke could be seen rising from the Mink Creek area had a long lasting effect upon Leaman. This, in no way is meant to diminish the anguish of the many others who had homes and gardens destroyed with such speed and intensity that within a few hours damage to buildings, trees  and human psyches was complete.

Despite the fire consequences, Leaman did not let it interfere with his helpfulness to other people whether it was to offer a ride into town, help in doing all sorts of building tasks and/or just being kind. He, in turn, was helped in many ways; money to purchase equipment and materials for building, you name it. All of these efforts were made in return for the help he had provided for people in years past. Although it took several months, his insurance was finally settled and he went back to work taking care of his mother, building a new house, new covered bridges and planting dozens of trees. His personal anguish did not affect his ability to help others. After living in a camp trailer for several months he was able to move into the new house. But, these are merely the physical things that took place. Along with them was still the emptiness that accompanied losing what had taken so many years to complete.

As with the death of a loved one, losing your life long efforts to create a sanctuary for animals, a quiet place where you can feel invigorated but away from  everyday issues and problems that rise up when least expected can all be too much. And yet, this fellow manages to put aside his personal anguish in order to continue caring for other people and the animals that are so important to him. Lots of history was burned away with that fire but the human brain has a capacity for dealing with injury, whether physical or mental. For Steve Leaman, much of what has sustained him is the kindness, help and good feelings of all those he had sustained during the first fifty five years of his life.

One could call on upon a saying such as “What goes around comes around”, but if we rely on “Time heals all wounds” we eventually learn that it is what we have offered to others that will come back to us. As an example, Steve Leaman is outstanding. So, let’s return to the party and the lush green grass, bushes and trees along with the gentle sound of a water fall engaged everyone in the sense of quiet and warm togetherness surrounding this group.  n addition to some of those who had worked so hard to defeat the fire were still others who were friends but all were woven into the atmosphere provided by this fellow with his ability to create an environmental haven for humans, plants and animals.

If you say to yourself, after reading this; “Wow, she must be smitten by this guy.” Just remember that people who are kind, helpful, hard working and also truly understand the importance of our Idaho environment are to be treasured. They can also be honored for helping others to realize that the word ‘wealth’ is far deeper and has far more implications than a stack of dollars.

 

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