methow grist 2011-2014 archive


The Life and Times of Andy Davenport

Andy Davenport was not the painting being painted, but more the paint the painting was painted with.

To say Andy lived modestly would be to improve his lifestyle. I got to know Andy through my dad. We needed a new roof on our two-story farmhouse, and Dad had asked Andy to scout out a cedar tree good enough to make shakes out of. He and I went to Andy’s house to have him show us the tree he had found. Andy lived up the far end of Wolf Creek in a rustic shack. When we got there the door to his shack was open, goats were walking in an out of his home and chickens were wandering about just outside the door. Andy lived in a two-room shack, and as you entered off to the right was a makeshift bed that looked like it was built from what ever was handy at the time. Above his bed was a shelf made of old barn boards: on it were personal items and large cans of tobacco as Andy smoked continuously. He would pull out a white bag with yellow pull strings full of tobacco, some papers and roll a cigarette while holding a conversation in a slow, husky, stranded voice.

As Andy and Dad talked, kid goats were walking in and out of the door. You see, Andy had a herd of milking goats; sixty or so. Roy Thompson owned the land and let Andy stay there with his animals for free. On the property was his shack, an old barn that was most likely built in the 1800's, his chickens, goats, dog and not much else. I asked Andy about the way he lived once and he said he had everything he needed. He had a sky full of stars at night his dog and goats to keep him company and the freedom to live as he wished. “ I'm a rich man, son,” he said.

Andy had found a cedar tree that had good straight grain. However, you could not get a truck to its location. Turns out the tree was next to the river, so Dad and Andy cut the cedar tree into blocks and we rolled the blocks into the river and floated them down river to the mouth of the Wolf Creek Ditch. We pushed the blocks into the Wolf Creek Ditch and floated them down the ditch to the truck. We took the cedar blocks to our farmhouse next to the river below Ken White’s, just before the first Bear Creek Road turn off.

Andy spent the summer with a froe--a steel blade that has a handle on one end used for splitting shakes--and a hard pine knot cudgel, splitting shakes for our roof. He did this because he wanted to, not because he was getting paid. However, I think he wanted the company and he got a lot of my mother’s cooking.

When it came time to roof the house, my brother Dawane and I were put to the task of ripping off the old roof. Mind you, I was young, maybe barely eight, and this was a two-story house with a steep roof. Dawane and I came across a multitude of bees’ nests that made it interesting, but we got the old roof off and then the entire family got on the roof and set to laying down the shakes. At the time it was just another project, but looking back on it the whole process was really quite marvelous. Dawane and I talk about the things we did on the farm from time to time, it almost seems like another lifetime to us, or we are talking about some one else's life.

We needed a well, and as Andy was a water dowser or water-witcher he dowsed a new place to dig a water well for our house for us. I have messed with dowsing once, and in fact have some dowsing rods in my shop though I haven’t used them but to play around with; besides everywhere you point a stick in the part of Oregon I am in, there's water. So I don't think you could call it dowsing, I think you would call it pointing a stick. When I tried dowsing at the behest of a real dowser once, things happened that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. If I ever wanted to dig a well, I would not hesitate to use a dowser to find a good water source.

Andy got sick and had to live with his son in California for a time.  While he was gone, Dawane and I had to milk his goats until he returned.  

One cold winter Andy had his animals in the old barn to keep them warm. Stories vary on how the fire started; some thought it was barn dust that had accumulated in the electrical box and ignited. Some thought his dog got in the barn and kicked a lantern over. No matter how the fire started the old barn burned to the ground animals and all.

It wasn’t long after, old Andy went to live with his son in California.  The Methow had a lot of people living on the edge of survival while I was a young boy, yet living the way they wanted to, for they had a big sky full of stars at night and the freedom to enjoy life as they chose.

We received word some years later that Andy had died. If it were not for the memory of a young boy, and the ink in my printer, he might have slipped off the edge of Methow history with out so much as a whisper. I started this story saying Andy was not the painting but more the paint the painting was painted with. Turns out that’s not altogether so. You see, it's true Andy was the paint and through the memory of a young boy he was the paint that painted his painting of himself for you.

I lift my glass high to Andy; may your journey to the great beyond have been swift and glorious. Know that through the memory of a young boy, your place is etched in the annals of history.

My name is Steven C. Johnson; just a man who sat in front of his keyboard and fell head-first into the abyss of my own fertile memory.

Steven C Johnson's great-grandfather on his mother’s side was the sheriff of Okanogan County in the early 1900's. His name was Charles McLean, or Baldy McLean to some. His great-grandfather on his dad's side, James Johnson, had a lake named after him. Johnson Lake sits above the mountain where the old Wagner-Zellerback saw mill stood in Twisp. Steven's ancestors were among the first white settlers in the Methow Valley.


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