Sacha Snyder and Dan Weidinger have become accustomed to the quiet. Their closest neighbors are the birds and animals that live among the trees towering over them and in the creek that runs past their house. The couple relocated from SE Portland to a home just inside the main gate of the Bull Run Watershed about three years ago when Dan took a job as the lead watershed ranger for the Portland Water Bureau. He’s responsible for protecting the 147-square mile area inside the Mt. Hood National Forest that contains the main source of drinking water for Portland residents.
Sacha didn’t hesitate to say “yes” when her husband told her about the job opening. “I mean, we get to live in the woods by a creek and we see deer in our front yard. How could you say ‘no’ to that?” she said.
What Do You Do Out Here?
Dan estimates that he spends 90 percent of his working time outdoors. The rest of the time, he’s inside the office connected to his house that serves as the ranger station for the watershed.
While Dan is currently the only watershed ranger, the city has budgeted for a second person to join him in patrolling the watershed. He says that will be a welcome change, since it will enable him to take time off without being on call, but for the most part, Dan enjoys the solitude his job requires. “I’ve always been kind of a loner to some extent,” he says. “I do a lot of fishing and camping and hiking and stuff like that and those are kind of solo activities.”
Sacha says while life is busier for Dan than it was when he worked in Portland, her life has gotten a lot easier. She’s an artist and, while she does have a part-time job at a gardening store in Boring, she says she relishes the opportunity to spend more time working on her art. She also enjoys working on what she calls “house-wifey things” like craft projects and perfecting her chocolate chip cookie recipe.
Sacha isn’t the only one who likes to cook. Dan recently invested in a custom meat smoker that he refers to as his “pride and joy.” It can hold 100 lbs of meat and he hopes it will draw family and friends to visit them in the summertime. The couple says they got quite a few visitors in the first year after they moved, but the long drive home in the dark can be a deterrent.
Life With Wildlife
Wildlife is abundant inside the watershed. Dan and Sacha have seen quite a few deer, some elk, a red fox, bald eagles and they recently came across some cougar cubs in their driveway. “We’re in their neighborhood now. That’s how I see it,” Sacha says. “We had a skunk spray in the back yard during the summer and it blew into the bedroom through the air conditioner and it was unfortunate for us, but this is their territory. We just live here.”
Dan often comes across animal skulls on his patrols and Sacha has several of them on display in her “cabinet of curiosities” in their living room along with an elk antler, some rocks and shells, and a mummified bat she bought from a store in Portland that specializes in taxidermy. She also has several terrariums with leaves, moss, and plants on a shelf behind the couch next to the tank where her betta fish lives. (His name is Robert Paulson.)
There are a few other animals that live inside their home. The two cats — Pete and Puddles — are strictly indoor felines, though Sacha says they don’t seem too interested in going outside. And a tank behind their kitchen table houses Dan’s African sand boa, Solomon, which he’s had for about eight years.
Dan and Sacha spend a lot of their free time maintaining the yard behind their house, “trying to tame the forest,” as Dan puts it. They’ve cleared away dead leaves to reveal brick pathways and garden beds planted by the residents of the home that used to be there before the water bureau tore it down and built the house where Dan and Sacha live. The remnants of that previous home make up a small structure they currently use to store wood.
Here To Stay
The couple spent their first wedding anniversary at their home in the watershed. They had been staying elsewhere while the house was being treated for mold and when they came in, there was a plastic membrane separating the kitchen of their house from the part that was still being treated. Shortly after they dug in to the slice of wedding cake they’d been saving in the freezer, the power went out. Sacha and Dan say losing power is actually a pretty common occurrence.
Despite the power outages and long hours of solitude, Dan says he’d like to keep his job as lead watershed ranger as long as he can. “I’d love to retire from here,” he says. Sacha would also like to stay in the watershed. She feels lucky to live in a place most people never even get to visit. “[If] you live in the city you don’t get to see what Oregon is really like, but you come out here and this is what it looks like without people,” she explains.