#254 In which our hero discusses a small cabin in the woods, and the deteriorating condition of the same.
“My family owns a cabin in the Allegany National Forest Reserve.”
I’ve spoken this phrase probably a thousand times in my life; always in response to the question, “Where are you going this weekend?”
This cabin has been in my family for more than 60 years. While that’s not a huge amount of time, big-picture wise, it far exceeds my lifetime. I’ve never known a time when we didn’t vacation at “the cabin.”
That’s the only name it’s ever been called; “the cabin.” And while there are plenty of little hunting cabins in the region with fun names, like “Termite Tavern,” “Aces Wild,” “Bob’s Whispering Pines” or “Hole in the Fall”… this cabin, our cabin, has never had any other name.
I never thought it strange that my family owned a cabin in the woods. I did think it odd that it was smack-dab in the middle of a national forest reserve, though. I don’t think most people know that there are tiny dots of private property sprinkled throughout the thousands of square miles of virgin forest. I’m not sure if the land was purchased before it was declared a forest reserve, or the state sold parcels to help finance roads or whatever... but there are a lot of private cabins. In fact, there are probably 50 other cabins within a short walk of our cabin. So that kinda destroys the remote cabin in the woods imagery, I know.
But remote or not, it is primitive. One big bunk room, one big kitchen/dining room/living room. No running water--the outhouse is a short distance away. There is electricity, however. At one point we had a phone line (a party line, remember those?) but we cancelled the service years ago. Just not worth the price for the one or two calls that ever came in. And now, you can actually get a cell phone signal if you walk up to the road.
The cabin is top-of-mind for me right now because we were just up there a couple of weeks ago. I loved this place as a kid (and still do) and I want my kids to love it, too. They seem to… they enjoy running around the cabin, playing in the leaves, collecting acorns, and all the other dumb stuff that I used to do.
While the cabin has hosted dozens in the past (complete with tents and campers to house those that couldn’t fit in the actual cabin), this was a low-key affair; only me, The Scientist, the girls and my mom. In fact, this is what the gatherings have been like in recent years. All the regulars are getting too old to go, or are dying out.
My Aunt Joyce died last year. Uncle John, who can’t drive any more, comes when he can. Aunt Joan is in Florida and has had both hips replaced. Uncle Frank refuses to return since his wife died. Dad’s been dead for 15 years. Mom’s the most able-bodied person to go, and she’s 76.
This is a different generation than mine, of course. My sisters are spread out all across the country, and only get up every few years. My cousins come sometimes; but no-one goes up on a regular basis, like this older generation used to.
And it shows on the cabin. Built by amateurs, it was never any sort of feat of engineering to begin with. And the harsh winters take their toll. Chipmunks have free access to the attic through any number of holes they’ve chewed through the eaves. Spiders nest in every corner.
I’ve seen cabins literally fall to pieces up in those woods. For years, there was a cabin down the road from ours that slumped lifelessly, roof fallen in, walls bowed outward, utterly unsalvageable. And there was another cabin--a really nice one, in its day--that did the same thing. Uncared for, it collapsed into a heap of rotten timber and memories. It was eventually cleared away, and the plot of land bought up by a neighbor. This sign is the only reminder that it was ever there.
This makes me sad, because I fear a similar fate for the cabin. I’m not at all handy, so I don’t really possess the skill or know-how to make real repairs to the structure. I’ve re-tarred the roof many times, and repainted the wood, but that’s really about the extent of my ability. And, honestly, there’s so much work to be done that I’d guess that it would be cheaper to raze the thing and start new.
And that’s my dream. Build a brand new cabin, one that will last another 50 years, a hundred years… so that my kids and their kids can still go up there and enjoy roasting marshmallows around the fire, playing cards late into the night, and laughing and catching up with friends and relatives.
But I don’t know if that will ever happen. Maybe if I win the lottery. But Lord knows I detest the idea of this wonderful get-away simply sinking into the dirt; unused and forgotten. I hope my children can always tell their friends, “We’re going to a little cabin in the woods that my family owns.”