In 1954, my father bought a piece of land for $100 at the edge of the National Forest in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In the summer of his 20th year, alone in the woods, this is where he built The Cabin. We spent many moons in our home-away-from-home. It was a special place. No phone. No television. No running water. A latrine that was relocated every seven years or so, a half moon slicing in some freshness and twilight through the door.
Winter was a half-mile snowshoe hike up the side of a mountain in waist-deep snow, toboggans loaded with food, water and heating oil, ski gear strapped to our backs and wrapped about our hips. Sweating cold in three layers of clothes waiting for the air to defrost, the burp and rattle of the heater working in unison with the hum of the fan to dispel icy exhales. Mice in the drawers, bats in the rafters, bears in the woods – oh my! The welcoming scent of solitude was everywhere. Spring brought the beginning of blueberry bushes, blackberry brambles and black-eyed Susans; the rich smell of wet, loamy leaves, damp and rotting under our feet, finding rebirth in the rays of vernal sunshine; the bubbling whisper of fresh groundwater welling through thin layers of ice, sweet and chilled with a hint of apple on the back of our breath. Elk stared quietly from just behind the birch that stood at attention along a well-worn path. We learned to never stare back. The heat of Summer tempted us down-mountain for a heart-stopping shock of a bath in the river, amongst rockslides and pools washed smooth by centuries of rapids. Occasionally persons unknown would build a bridge across the river, which we would summarily dismantle every time it appeared. We agreed that one must traverse the rocks and rapids with sure feet and guts to get to the other side, or one must simply go home. When the bridge building ceased, we silently declared victory. Then autumn. Precious autumn. The rustling song of gemstone leaves a sigh on the air. We walked heads up, surrounded by a fully mature forest, watching it come into full color and fading into its inevitable decline, collecting the gifts of the great fall and pressing them into our hands, our noses, and finally into waxed paper pages – memories of another year having cycled bound into our homemade books. We paged through the Sears catalog while listening to static-filled oldies. We hiked through the thick woods and picnicked on massive boulders. We skied, and then we skied some more. We paid a quarter for a hot shower at the AMC hut a few miles down the road when we could no longer stand our own scent. We teased our parents about how they’d never taken us to Storyland, accusing them of simply pulling into the parking lot and snapping a photo of us, laughing endlessly as they protested each time we told the tale. Evenings passed with games of gin and backgammon, or Cosmic Wimpout for those who knew how to play, eventually falling into a deep mountain slumber, only waking for blind midnight sprints to the outhouse, avoiding creatures and cold as quickly as possible.
In 1997 we updated The Cabin, which had achieved a considerable down-slope lean. Over a long weekend, with my older brother designated as GC, we lifted The Cabin to install a proper foundation, then new windows, roof, and electrical. We slapped a coat of fresh paint on the ceiling and closed in the deck to make another bunkroom for the next generation. The old oil-burning tank and furnace were removed and we set about digging a trench down the side of the mountain for a propane line. Finally, we cleared some trees to make our hiking trail car-wide with a turnaround at the top – just a few things to make life a little bit easier as we got older, and a few things to make sure The Cabin could be enjoyed safely. In reflection of who we are, how we live and what we hold dear – like the simplicity of family enjoying family around a board game or dinner table – we made sure to respect what our father built, even as we upgraded.
It is still a special place. No phone. No television. No running water. A latrine that is relocated every seven years or so, a half moon slicing in some freshness and twilight through the door – with the very special addition of sixty years of love, laughter and memories, and more to come.