He delighted in animals’ personalities and respected their independence. His cabin became their haven and his ranch yard their park.
Petite took the cub home and raised him like his own, always fascinated by the cub’s insatiable curiosity and vocal repertoire.
As the cub grew, the most difficult part for Petite was Mister B’s craving for affection. When Petite milked his cow, the cub climbed his back and “mumbled” into his neck.
When he got too heavy, Petite would shrug him off and give up his left foot to be gnawed on instead.
Petite’s niece, Sue Morris, now of Seattle, remembers being chased by the young bear, who wanted to play, though she didn’t.
Morris also remembers a day when the young bear “got mad” and trashed the cabin.
“He opened the refrigerator and rummaged around and then he found flour and threw it around all over the kitchen,” she recalled. “He wanted HIS food – the fruits and vegetables and sorghum that Uncle Irving fed him.”
When Petite returned, he looked around tolerantly and said, “Oh, I’d better get his food together for him.”
In “The Elderberry Tree” (Doubleday, 1964), Petite wrote of a pack rat which moved into his cabin.
At night, she noisily dragged and dropped trophies she had brought inside, carrying them in and out of her hiding places over his bed.
Of course, Petite had plenty of room on his ranch and in his heart for not-so-wild life, too.
In “Life on Tiger Mountain” (Doubleday, 1966), he tells of a sow he called “Ungodly” moving in. If the cabin door was open, she went in. If it wasn’t, she forced it. Petite would then oblige her by scratching under her chin.
Petite was known locally for his goats, said his nephew Mike Petite, who lived there as a child and who now lives with his children on what was part of the original property.
“He must have had 50 goats in the barn,” said Mike. He also remembered a goat which was raised in the cabin.
When a neighbor went into the service in WWII, he left his goats with Petite, who combined the herds.
Sue Morris remembered Petite letting them forage up Tiger Mountain and calling them back home in the evening.
“He would just call them and they would all come!” she said.
Petite enjoyed times with his nephews and nieces. They would go up to what they called “Big Falls” on their creek.
Morris remembers taking naps in the cabin with “Man,” an orphaned deer raised by Petite.
When his ranch income was not enough, he made and sold fence posts, hop poles and shakes from downed lumber and snags left behind on his land.
He substituted as a mail carrier on Issaquah Rural Route 2 and free-lanced for the Seattle Times.
He wrote articles on composting and recycling, among other topics, as well as four books about life on his mountain, and another about a boat trip to Alaska.
He filled his books with stories of possums, coyotes, birds and the lessons of nature learned from the land in every season. He was sometimes called a local Thoreau — after the famous American writer Henry David Thoreau — a title Morris said he would have enjoyed.
The refrain goes: “I know you don’t believe me/But Uncle Irving said,/“That chicken house is freezing cold!/Now there’s chickens in the bed.”
The Issaquah History Museums has several copies of Irving Petite’s books, now out of print, in the archives at the Gilman Town Hall.
Some copies are available through various online sources and in King County libraries.
This is one of any year's rarest days. But every day has this same quality. There has never been a time when something of beauty was not happening -- whether it be as commonplace as the sound of rain moving forward on leaves across the nearby forest ... or the upsurgence of puffball mushrooms ... or simply the smell of apples or of grass. Nothing of Nature's can I label "trivial." Just to watch the sun come up, to walk out in the full moon's light strikes my soul till it vibrates like a tuning fork ...
From "Life on Tiger Mountain," 1968