Your Home's Natural History


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What: This work is in progress for me. For you it could be a model for your own Home's Natural History. When a person hikes to a mountain top one can just get there and return to say I made it there, or one can become some at one with the environment on that mountain top by learning names of the birds, plants, etc. We say it is good to know one's self. We study our body, mind, and soul with exercise, meditation, and prayer. To know ourselves we travel to broaden ourselves, but to know ourselves would it not be a grand idea to study and develop and evolve the place where we live? This is the idea of doing a Natural History of the house that you live in. Animals, fish, birds, bees, butterflies, plants, trails, etc. To see something non-trivial in your living environment. To become one with it.

 Where:  Your home. Do a research at Northwest room of the main library in downtown Spokane to find the history of your home. All previous owners if possible. Invite all living previous owners to your house to question them about  history of your home. Inventory trees, plants of all sizes that might attract wildlife. Inventory wildlife that currently exists. Consider boundary conditions, like trails next to property, other neighboring effects that have a big effect on your environment. Consider changes that you want to make to your environment to return your environment to a previous historic state for example. Maybe your goal is to return conditions to a place where certain wildlife that used to exist here, so that that wildlife will actually return. Create a goal that is interesting to you.
 Cautions:  This can become so involving that it may lead you to spend most of your time at your home, but outdoors. This can lead to the spending of a lot of money, but in the long run a great savings of money since you will not want to leave the site of your paradise for some condo in Hawaii or an expensive boat.

Example Natural History: For years we had been looking for a nice home where we could feel relaxed in the sense that we could picture ourselves living there for the rest of our lives. When a person travels a lot, you have a lot of examples to choose from: islands, beach property, deep secluded forest, mountaintop, etc. If you love kayaking, then you would want water feature. If you love mountain biking, then a trail system is the highest priority. If you love disc golfing you may want to live near a large course.  If you love history you may want to be near an area of study. What do you do if your interests are constantly roaming around all these? You try to center yourself amongst all these and it is here that finally after 25 years of searching we succeeded.

The Home: On the highest spot on the hill somewhat central above the street called Petit Drive or more notoriously called Doomsday Hill as it is part of the Bloomsday race there is an old large brick house just south of the T.J. Meenach bridge, east of the river 200 feet below. On the 3600 square foot property, there is 1800 square feet of buildings between house, garage, tool-shed, and glass patio. When we moved in we didn't know what we had bought. We just liked the brick house, the view and the backyard with a pond. Next we found the house had a ghost. This ghost slammed doors, banged around the place, caused smells that we could never find the source of, visible impressions of a short, strong man, nothing very sinister, but troubling enough we felt something had to be done. First we went to city hall and looked up permits for our address, and with this went to the Northwest room of the downtown library and asked Nancy Compau to help us find the owners. Peter Hughes the first owner and builder (his retirement home) was a (click here for biography) Pioneer Contractor of Spokane and built some fraction of downtown before the big fire, and then rebuilt after the fire as he owned the only large brickyard, for public sales, at that time according to Nancy Campau although Gonzaga had a brickyard for its own use. Next Stewart was a stock broker during the depression. The other owners where not only still alive, but easily located. Second, at one of our annual parties we invited all the previous owners of the house except of course the first two which were deceased. They told us stories, and some of them went into great detail about the ghost that had bothered them also. We don't know if the ones that said there was no ghost for them didn't want to mention it or if they were types that were not sensitive to such. Basically we found that the ghost was Peter Hughes a pioneer contractor of Spokane.  He was an expert in hardwood floors, and brickwork. He built a large house with barn and windmill on the outskirts of town in 1886 on a street called Latah, later changed to Nettleton St to unify with the rest of the town street names. Later he built a house next to that for his son, Tom who helped him with the business that built the second building of the Flour Mill, the first Medical Lake Hospital, etc. He was in his building peak in Spokane before Kirkland Cutter had ever built a house. Then in 1907 he built a house for his 2nd retirement at the south end of the street for the best view. He was able to move into this house with the over-design. The basalt foundations with six foot bottoms, and four foot thick tops. The house's walls are nearly 3 foot thick of brick. He worked himself literally to death. He had a heart attack and died. He was somehow though, nearly unknown. We went to a home restoration fair in downtown Spokane (which I highly recommend) and found an author who was in the process of writing a book on the Pioneer Contractors of Spokane. She had never heard of  him. I showed her the full page ads of his bragging that he had built the Medical Lake Hospital in purple and she was amazed. Later we learned that we had lived nearly 20 years across the alley from Peter's son's home where Peter died of a heart attack. Then from that 20 year site we move directly into his retirement home. What are the chances of that? The ghost has let up on us more and more as we have gotten his story out. He just wanted some well deserved attention. The research we did to find the history of the house and its owners came back with many interesting things that affected our future directions for the property. First we found that the pond was 100 years old and so we decided not to change its shape or depth.  One day my wife was weeding the roses and she kept getting nagged to go find the Peter Hughes gravesite as I had nagged her many times before, but this time it wasn't me since I was busy working. Something kept saying to her, "Do it now".  She finally got up and called the cemetery, but not knowing which one to call. The old ones are all owned in Spokane by the family that owns the Fairmont Cemetery, and so they have all the names registered in one listing. They gave us the location of the Peter Hughes grave, but they were surprised that we were calling today. Sara asked why. They said, "This is the day Peter Hughes died and we were just wondering how you knew that?" This scared Sara and that day we put Lilacs from Peter's house on his grave, and since then he has been very nice to us. He seems to like the way we tell others about him. So don't be afraid to ask questions about him, and don't worry about being scared the ghost as he is very shy around strangers. No one has seen him that hasn't lived here as far as I know. We have a BBQ party for him every last Saturday evening in June when the roses are peaking their blooms. At one of these, we had a state champion young woman, Caitlin McSherry play the oldtime fiddle. Peter loved her playing as everyone did that day. Since then Peter has been very well behaved around us except for hiding some things once in a while. All the houses on our block were built by Peter. We have pictures of the house a few years after the house was built surrounded with trees and bushes. A sprinkler system is the only way I could keep up with the watering of such diverse plant system.

Owners: Peter Hughes 1907-1925, Frank Steward 1925-1949, William Stone 1950-1990, Edelia Rosman 1990-1992, Hemmo Latvala 1992-1998, Terry Voss 1998-present

Annual BBQ: You may want to hold an annual party at your house so that you can see people's reaction to your natural history. You can discuss your goals with them and get ideas from their unique perspectives. One visitor solved the raccoon eating of fish problem by mentioning that raccoons will not go under water to catch fish, but only swipe with their paws from the edge of the pond. Now a cave protects the fish in winter and I haven't lost a fish since. By the way, you are invited to the BBQ this year. By reading this you have found your invitation: Click here. The ghost likes the BBQ as he didn't get to have partys like he had planned because he was so busy helping others get a home or business built. He built the Medical Lake Hospital.

Trees: Sam, is what everyone calls the (100 year old) ponderosa pine tree that rules over our house and all the other trees. Next the (100 year old) black locust trees tower strong, but with their fine fingers out at the ends that rival any delicacy of the orient. Four other old pine trees shelter us from the wind that blows from the southwest. There is one hackberry tree that shoots branches out in all directions every year making it necessary to radically prune it to retain sunset views from the hot tub. Five large Maple trees stand sentinel at the house front on guard like a fence. There is one Blue Weeping Juniper between the deck and the pon. There are two baby Gingko trees above the pond. There is one Red Maple tree above the pond. 2006 added two dwarf trees: White Pine Dwarf, Hemlock Dwarf.

Roses: (See document) 100 rose bushes with nary a duplication in type is my main contribution to the place. I saw when I moved in that the few roses that were here were so beautiful against the old brick of the house that I began adding them and can't now stop. My current favorite are English Roses developed by David Austen. Slowly I am replacing my roses with these types.

Other Shrubs: Junipers, blue weeping juniper, low junipers, English ivy climbing on front of house, Elijah Blue Fescue, and 20 Hasta plants above pond.

Hedges: Spirea, juniper create boundary so that neighbors don't see us on porch, and so when someone walks back into the backyard, you can't see view until you are back where you can see it all at once.

Grasses: Japanese Sedge, Helictotrichon Sempervirens, Blue-eyed grass, Red Baron.

Ground cover: Lawn, virginia creeper, ivy, vinca, honey-suckle, creeping junipers, Golden Wood Millet, Jacob's Ladder, Blue Start Creeper, Woolly Thyme, Evergreen Candytuft.

Flowers: 100 types of roses, honeysuckle, primrose, crocus, lupine, hyacinth, California poppy, tulips, calendulas, peonies, leopard bane, rhododendron, azalea, Siberian Iris, Dianthus Firewitch, Iris Pallida.

Fruits: Grapes, hackberries, Oregon grape, blackberries, juniper berries.

Deck: this interruption in the flora and the fauna was necessary to allow a small family to keep up with it all. It allows a more controlled observation point for viewing the many features from.

Hot tub: this is where I relax 365 days a year. Sometimes I go into it 2 times or more a day. I have candles that can burn for hours in it. And incense burners.

Pond: this pond is 100 years old. It has not been changed in size or shape. Elderly people come by and exclaim how they as children threw stones to break the ice in winter.  It is about 1,000 gallons of filtered water with a waterfall that goes all year round with fish going into hibernation when water temperature drops below 50 degrees. The fish eat protein pellets when temperature rises above 50 degrees. They mix their pellet food with eating string algae.

Lawn: Small patches in front and in back, watered nightly in summer with automatic sprinkler system,  all rest is planted with roses, and other.

History: The Greatest recorded floods in the history of the world came through Spokane about 13,000-15,000 years ago. There were 30-60 of them.  The water would have run about 500 feet above our house which is about 200 feet above the current river level. The floods scraped through earlier layers of basalt lava flow creating a beautiful valley that the Spokane River now runs through. South of our house about 2 miles a cavalry brigade with cannon were on the search for some runaway braves that had killed some miners. This was a protected land for the Indians and they were angered that the whites were coming through here showing their power. They chased Colonel Steptoe and his men south towards Steptoe Butte. The battle ended there with a victory for the locals. Months later a Calvary with superior rifles came about four miles west of our house to meet combined forces of the Palouse, Spokane, Coeurdalene, and others led by Kamiakin. The local Indians were chased towards Fort George Wright which is directly across the river from our house. Colonel George Wright and Spokane Garry yelled across the river at each other somewhere near there. If you walk north of the Fort which is now a Japanese girls school, you may run into an old broken down stone wall built by the fort soldiers for protection against the indians. In one spot the soldiers saved time by using a natural wall of basalt rock as part of their wall.  If you go to the outside of  this tall horseshoe shaped part of their wall you will find a series of salmon smoking pits all round.  The salmon was brought up from the river and smoked here. Maybe the families partook of the salmon inside the horseshoe shape to keep the smoke out of their eyes. Around this area there are teepee pits near the river. Eagles fly overhead along the river and a little further down the there are rock formations called the Bowl & Pitcher. Before you get to Nine Mile Falls a creek with fossils called Deep Creek comes into the river. There were three major tribes, the upper, the middle, and the lower Spokanes. The upper still have pictographs at Post Falls. The middle have pictographs near Indian Trail Road and Francis Avenue, and then again at the State Park out further on Indian Trail. The Lower have Pictographs today at a number of sites near the current reservation. The trail from upper to lower and back had Drumheller's spring to cool the way. Salmon needed to go from all these sites to the trading post between the lower and the middle where the Little Spokane meets with the big. One must learn to paddle in both the little and the big. One must learn to ride the 2 round wheels on all the trails between upper and lower. One can see the old Spokane mountain from here and it beckons you to its trails also.

Mammals: moose, fox, deer, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, marmots, dogs, cats, squirrels

Birds: Bald Eagles (once a year), red-tailed hawk, magpies, crow, herons, ravens, canadian geese whose proper name is Canada Geese, ducks, flickers, woodpeckers, starlings, sparrows, quail, pheasants, swallows. At about 4:30pm each day, swallows fill the sky with bug catching in the spring, summer and fall. April 2007 saw a Wild Turkey walk down street in front of house.

Fountains: We have one wild area behind garage where there is a fountain that gathers water from winter moisture, and the sprinkler system. Pond is major water feature for birds, bees, lizards and snakes.

Fish: 4 Koi from Japan.

Reptiles: Garter snake, salamanders.

Insects: Butterflies, yellow jackets, bees, moths.

Neighbors: One religious family, one organic family, one neighborhood history knowledgeable blind woman, one neighborhood caretaker type person. Very valuable people to live near.

Trail: Everyone in the neighborhood uses the trail to go on hikes which go directly past the fish pond. We like it when children stop to look at the fish that have come all the way from Japan. We are up higher than the trail and somewhat invisible to the hikers since heavy vines wall the boundary. We can see them, but they only usually see us if we call out to them. People on bicycles go flying down and slowly sweating up. Nice hikers take the time to pick up any trash. Dogs bark at every passer by because it is their most fun thing to do, but there is no harm to this.

River: The river is about 200 feet below and is beautiful, changing from muddy brown during rain or snow melts, going then a few days after to green and then sometimes blue in summer.

Parks: Riverside State Park is across the river, and the hill down to the river is a city park. We had to get permissions here to be able to cut down some trees that had grown from wind spread seed from our trees over the hill. They had grown into a tunnel over the trail, where a firework could start a fire. Now the trail has a better view.

Boundaries: Fence that keeps out people from damaging fish or roses, etc. Kids would love to roam wild through here, but I give selected tours instead.

Views: In the backyard there is good privacy and three views. To the south is Summit blvd, to the west is the river and the state park with the basalt cliffs at the top. To the north the river winds its way toward the Nine Mile Falls area under the TJ Meenach bridge.

Sound: I have outdoor speakers in the glass patio that can be heard on the deck if the doors are propped open. The bird singing is something that could be focused on fulltime if one took the inclination, but it would be hard to learn even the names to associate with all the variety of songs.

Light: I play with light sources all the time in the backyard. I have torches, solar lanterns, electric lanterns, candle lanterns, electric floods all round the house. I have a floodlight over the pond that turns on automatically at night so I can watch the fish during feedings at night.

Smell: Incense burners, and scented candels.

Security: It is important to have a good multi-level security system to protect a venture like this. I use only devices that are not very costly.

Services: To help keep up with this variety, we use a yard service that does lawn mowing, spraying fertilizer and some weed control. We do the rest. It is a constant labor of love. You can do a lot or a little depending on how you feel.

Composting: We have one east end barrel that can be spun to shift contents, with a plastic wheel barrow next to it that collects water during winter for moistening the contents. Two other spots allow dumping of organic material at center and west.

Ideas: A very basic idea is to keep a one page to a book size journal of important cycles. For example, when outside water can be safely turned on each spring. When each major plant blooms. Best time to have your annual party. When to start feeding your fish. When the raccoons start to try to eat your fish. Etc. You could create a whole website describing your Home's natural history, and have web logs, forums, chat rooms where people could discuss evolving their own natural histories.

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