Monday, August 29, 2011

the coops of port oneida, part seven (eckhert coops)

Oh, how the days of August have flown away from me... As I sit down to write this, I note that it has been sixteen days since my last post. The truth is that with my own chicken-dom on hold, with things proceeding slowly and unremarkably at the city council and with my inordinate busy-ness over the past weeks, posting here has been a low priority. But tonight the coops of Port Oneida call out again and we pay a visit--the last of the summer--to another charmed spot on that peninsula.

Henry and Catherine Eckhert were among the early settlers of Port Oneida, arriving in Michigan from Bohemia in 1857 and settling on their farm in 1862. The farm sits at the corner of Basch and Kelderhouse Roads, in a slightly elevated position with views to the south of Peter and Jenny Burfiend's farm and the Lawrs' farm. Although nearby and to the east, Ole and Magdalena Olsen's farm is obscured by the same trees that keep it feeling lonely and secluded.

The position of the Eckherts' farm, on a corner, gives it a unique feeling of openness and accessibility consistent with its reputation as the party house of Port Oneida. Reported to be the scene of many dances, I suspect it was also the spot where at least a few matches budded among the scions of Port Oneida families. The broad farmyard, ringed by outbuildings, welcomes visitors into a kind of giant outdoor room. It's easy to imagine the boys and girls of Port Oneida, milling about the yard in the twilight--laughing, dancing, stealing a kiss or two. And perhaps shooting a few hoops.

Barnside hoop!
I actually paid two visits to the Eckherts this summer. The first time around, a work crew, although not on site, was clearly in the midst of restoring several of the buildings, including the coop and brooder house. Their big flatbed truck and blue tarps made photographing difficult, but I snapped a few, peered through some windows and figured I'd had enough.

The second time, I hadn't even intended to stop. I was on my way to pay a goodbye visit to one of my favorite spots, the Schmidt farm (sadly coop-less). I was headed north on Basch Road and nearly past the Eckherts when I spotted not a boy or girl lingering in the yard but a sizable wild turkey! I pulled the car over, parking it on the road, grabbing my camera and attempting to sneak up on the turkey. Of course, you can imagine how that went. Me: tiptoeing around the corner of the barn, camera at the ready. Turkey: long gone into the fields behind the farm, gobbling all the way.

But once in the yard, I realized that both flatbed truck and blue tarps were gone, making photographs much easier. The coop and brooder sit side by side at the corner of the yard farthest from the house:
L to R: barn, coop, brooder, glimpse of house (red), small barn
The south-facing coop is jaunty in green and sports wooden vent stacks at either end of its gable roof. The shed-roofed brooder nestles close by.

I inspected the coop and found it closed with what I'm sure is yet another example of the handiwork of Martin Basch:

And, much to my delight, that was all that secured it! I unhooked the door and stepped inside. There are the nesting boxes, outfitted with straw as if a hen could return at any moment to deposit an egg.

Although the door threatened to shut me in, I moved to the other room, where the roosts and dropping boards are similarly at the ready. I adore this roost made of straight, bark-stripped saplings laid into V-notched boards. Simple, functional, retaining the natural character of the tree...and I bet the hens loved it.
I left the coop and re-latched the door. The brooder was similarly unsecured and I took a look inside. It is less immediately legible than the coop, although there is a bundle of branches that are clearly former roosts. But the hardware on the repurposed brooder door is far more elaborate than the coop's simple Basch hook:
And so, dear readers, we've come to the end of the Port Oneida coops for this summer. As I had on the day we first drove into Port Oneida at the beginning of the summer, I shed a tear as I drove away on M-22 for the last time. On that first day, I was overjoyed to be back in what I knew to be an extraordinary place, but one about which I still knew so little. On the last day, having immersed myself in their histories and their environs, I felt as though I was bidding farewell to all those intrepid settlers whose stories I had come to know. But it is a temporary goodbye. Next summer I'll be back, to dig a little deeper into their stories, to wander longer among the ruins of their homes, farms and imagine a life built on the (admittedly poor!) soil of Port Oneida. 

And, although I looked in every cemetery I spotted, I never did find Orpha's grave. Next summer, I'll find it and lay a bouquet there, wherever she lies.

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