janet fisher~writer

Following strong women through history

Preserving Martha’s Farm

kellogg-fire-robin-photoRobin Loznak Photo

A fierce hot August led to brittle dry hills where my great-great-grandmother Martha Maupin bought her own farm almost 150 years ago. On a neighboring hill an unknown spark lit the tinder yesterday, and flames soon swept across 60 acres less than a mile from the edge of the property–about a mile and a half from my house on this family farm.

My kids and I happened to be in Eugene, Oregon, where my grandson Alex Loznak is one of 21 plaintiffs who are suing the government to demand effective action to combat climate change. In his speech on the federal courthouse steps after the hearing Alex said, in part:

Today my great-great-great-great grandmother’s legacy is threatened by the changing climate, by droughts and fires and heatwaves that threaten to undo all of the work my family has put into our land. So I’m standing here to demand that our federal government act with the same courage and vision that my ancestor Martha employed, and preserve our planet just as my family has preserved our farm. [My bold]

alex-at-sept-hearing-robinRobin Loznak Photo

Later in the afternoon we were sitting outside a restaurant near the courthouse with other supporters of this case when my son-in-law Robin, who took these pictures, noticed a story on his cell that there was a fire on Highway 138 close to the family farm. He and my daughter Carisa had to take Alex to the airport to go back to New York where he’s a student at Columbia University, and I headed for home, not knowing what I would find.

On the long drive from Eugene I easily imagined many scenarios and contemplated what I would retrieve from my house if I was able to reach it. What was important? My computer which has all my work on it. My daughter’s films and puppets. Not much else. Our work.

As many of you know, Martha’s story was the subject of my book A Place of Her Own. This is the ancestor Alex is talking about, and it’s her farm, now mine, that stands so close to the reported wildfire. She purchased this in 1868 after her husband was killed and she needed a way to care for her family. It’s the Martha A. Maupin Century Farm, one of the few Century Farms in Oregon named for a woman. If I can hang on another year and a half it will be a Sesquicentennial Farm. But what if flames ravaged its resources?

kellogg-fire-robin-2Robin Loznak Photo

As I approached the roadblock at the Kellogg bridge, my breath nearly stopped. Lines of flame rose on the peaks straight ahead and far to my left. I learned firefighters had put out the fire on my side of the highway, and it had spread westerly. They let me head for home. I watched the scene from my kids’ house and then my own as the sky grew dark. A stunning view. Helicopters poured water from the Umpqua River and air tankers dumped fire retardant. Late that night the billowing flames had been reduced to twinkling embers, like golden stars dropped from the sky. I went to bed and slept.

Thanks to the fine work of the brave firefighters of the Douglas Forest Protective Association and other local responders the fire has been contained. I woke to quiet. Thin smoke drifted above a darker swath on the hillside.

My grandson’s words echoed. “Droughts and fires and heatwaves . . .”

Now, in the afternoon, a helicopter flies by on its way to the site. Smoke still rises. The throb of helicopters continues. I remain watchful.

COMMENT

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10 Comments

  1. Lori Pedersen

    I’m so thankful that the Maupin homestead was spared, but I’m sure if the fire had raged through your property, Martha would have looked down and told you to buck up and rebuild.

    • Lori, I let out an appreciative laugh when I read your comment. I’m sure that’s what she would say.

  2. Sheila

    Oh my! Janet, this caught my eye and I had to respond. I have your book on Martha. So relieved that her/your home is safe. Stay safe.

    • Thank you, Sheila.

  3. How frightening! So glad you and Martha’s farm are safe.

    And huzzah to Alex, who is doing such good work in the world!

    • Thanks, Jaina. We’re starting to breathe a bit easier now. So glad no one has been hurt and no structures in the neighborhood damaged. And yes, I’m very proud of Alex. He’s an amazing guy.

  4. I am so happy that all is well with you, your family and Martha’s home. We happened to be in Oakland at our place when we heard of the fire. We had plans to go to Winchester Bay to spend time with family the next day. Thanks to a higher power, all was saved and the fire was pretty much out, when we went through your area. I know the feeling of such a great loss and I am so happy that you didn’t have to know the same feeling. Take care and I am still looking forward to one day meeting you.
    Audrey

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Audrey, and I look forward to meeting you too.

  5. webfootdoug58

    Janet, another amazing story in the Maupin family history and so glad all ended well. You live in one of the most beautiful, and wild, places in Oregon.
    Doug

    • Thank you, Doug. That’s one I don’t want to repeat. Hope to keep it beautiful and green.

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