Claire had to make it in time to save her grandmother’s cast-iron stove. The demolition of the house, well, one-room cabin, was happening today, and she had forgotten to tell the foreman to remove the stove. Claire stopped at Dexter Creek, shifted into four-wheel-drive, and headed up the old mining road. The river bed was dry, she could hear loose rocks crunching under her tires. Her body pitched with each boulder she navigated around. She loved this road, with all its twists and turns through aspen and pine forest. Normally she would savor the occasional overlook into her hometown, Ouray, but not today.
This mountain was a part of the Goldbelt region; her Great-Grandpa’s mine saved the town after the 1893 Silver Crash. His mine pulled more gold ore than any other in the area and employed half the starving miners. During World War II, the mining industry moved to uranium production in Moab, the workers moved for higher pay, and when Pappy died in 1952, his mine closed for good.
Grandma Sadie kept the land, and would summer in the cool high country, fleeing the sweltering heat of Little Rock. That’s when Claire’s memories began. Momma would drive her and her brother up on Sunday after Mass in their old rickety Jeep. They would sway away their weekdays and nights in hammocks strung between the pines.
Inevitably, sleeping outdoors got too cold, or the sound of bears foraging would be too scary. Inside, the stove kept the cabin warm and cozy. They would tip-toe inside, nestle next to the crackling heat, and fall asleep to the hum of Grandma’s snoring.
Claire’s grandma used to make the best brownies in that old wood-burning stove, they would taste like oakey-chocolate heaven. Her favorite pastime was nicking brownie bites off the stovetop and playing marbles with Ben. They would flick the shooters along the well-worn grooves of the smooth linoleum floor. Her grandchildren constantly annoyed Grandma by sitting in her path.
“Git outta my way!” she’d say with stern eyes and a glinting smile, then accidentally leave a bite of brownie closer to reach. One day, Claire lost her shooter under the stove. It was too hot to reach under, but even when cooled, they never found the large glass marble.
When Grandma passed, the land went into probate. Their mother and her siblings could not agree on its value, liens, or conservation. After several years of fighting, Ben, now a lawyer, negotiated an endowment into Claire’s name.
But during those contentious years, the cabin fell into disrepair. The aspen-chink logs rotted from deep winter snows, and without regular maintenance the roof collapsed. One year, a momma bear, with claws the size of human fingers, slashed-open the front door to hibernate with a couple of cubs. The biggest damage was to the cupboards. The thought of little cubs, waking up to spring, play-fighting in the cupboards put a smile on Claire’s face.
She wasn’t about to reopen the mine; the forest had recovered, only mangled ore tracks leading into closed-off shafts remained. Clarie wanted to reconstruct the original house and foster an education program for wilderness stewardship. She imagined an interactive historical site for families to learn about the mining history of Ouray, backcountry forest management, and wildlife protection. Her small piece of Colorado would become a model for conservation tourism.
But right now she had to know the fate of her grandmother’s stove. She rounded the final switchback and could hear the destruction of the bulldozer. Through quaking aspen, Claire could see the roof of her cabin crash-down and a billow of dust consume the space where it once stood. She was too late.
There stood Foreman Joe, standing lean against his peeling pickup truck, admiring the collapse. She pulled up next to him.
“Hey, it’s down!” He smiled through weathered teeth.
“Did you get my call?” His long fingers reached into his narrow front pocket as he spit a bit of tobacco away from her window.
“Phones don’t do us much good up here, no service.”
“Please tell me you pulled out the stove?”
“What? Yeah, of course,” His eyes drew her look over to the lean-to break area. There were a couple of bearded workmen in yellow hard hats standing around her grandmother’s stove; they had built a fire inside its cast iron belly. They were pouring coffee from a speckled percolator. “Oh, and when we moved it, this rolled out.” His hand retrieved something else from his pocket, “thought it might mean something to you?”
Nestled in his dirty, calloused fingers was her blue glass marble shooter. It was as if he held her entire world in his hand.