An Eagle for Christmas

Eagle head carved on a 1916 hand hewn Douglas fir banister post that once flourished the staircase of the historic Zigzag Mountain Cafe.

To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature. —Thomas Hardy, English novelist and poet (1840-1928)

Two days before Christmas, my husband and I were finishing up the last of our holiday errands.  As we had pulled into the Hoodland Shopping Center parking lot, a cougar caught my attention.  The big, beautiful cat lay spread-eagle across the hood of a red pickup.  There were also some wood carvings for sale, but my sights were on the cougar.  The big cat would make a fine addition to our black bear, coyote, skunk, and beaver skins.

As we left the store, the man with the cougar had just packed up for the day,  but gave us Mr. Kelly’s number, the owner of the cougar skin, and carvings.  A short while later, we called Mr. Kelly and met him at his home in Zigzag, the next village over.  

While my husband and Mr. Kelly were negotiating a price for the cougar, I got my first closeup of the big cat.  There were flaws.  The pelt was in good shape, but the head bothered me.  The teeth were worn and slightly chipped, I could accept that, but the right glass eye was distorted, and the ear tips were badly worn. Disappointed, and about to say thank you for your time, I saw the eagle.  A five-foot tall chunk of wood with a beautiful carved eagles head with piercing yellow eyes.  I wanted that eagle, and as Mr. Kelly shared its history, I wanted it even more.  

In the Cascade foothills, west of Mount Hood is Zigzag, one of four unincorporated villages named for the zigzagging trek pioneers endured along this stretch of the Barlow Route in 1846.  It was in 1916, in the village of Zigzag that the Gateway Inn was built along Bear Creek by the Bear Creek Land Company.  It sits at the Junction of Lolo Pass in what would become US Highway 26.  Back then, the roads were primitive.  There was no pavement, only dirt, plank, and corduroy roads in which travelers ventured on horseback, horse and wagon, and for those that could afford them, automobiles. 

Harry and Gladys Perkins operated the Gateway Inn from 1931 to 1948 as a cafe, store, hotel, filling station, and a post office that opened in 1917, and closed in 1974.  It was in the 1970s that the Gateway Inn was renamed the Zigzag Mountain Store, but neglect made the structure unsafe, and it was condemned shortly thereafter.  In 1995, Mr. Kelly bought the store with hopes to restore its badly deteriorated state.  He built a porch and removed three historic 1916 hand-hewn Douglas fir banister posts from the worn out staircase. Sometime between 1995 and 2005, Mr. Kelly had the banister posts carved by a woodcarver in Alder Creek—an eagle, a beaver, and an owl. 

Realizing that restoration efforts far exceeded his expectations, Mr. Kelly sold the Zigzag Mountain Store in 2005 keeping the carved banister posts.  In 2008, and under new ownership, the building was restored and renamed the Zigzag Mountain Cafe.  It is now a beautiful landmark with good food, friendly service, and rustic charm overlooking Bear Creek.

Mr. Kelly was happy to learn we were locals and that we appreciated the history behind this unique work of art. A price was agreed on.  My husband with injured elbows, could not do any lifting.  So, Mr. Kelly and I carefully hoisted the 200 pound eagle into the truck; its base revealed the large notch where it had been fitted for the staircase.  It was the perfect gift!  As we drove away there was just one thing that concerned me, how I would get the eagle from the truck into the house. 

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