Saturday, June 9, 2012

An Attic With a View

Way up a mountain in the piney woods of New Mexico, The Doc and I own a cabin on the edge of a national forest.  I have briefly mentioned this cabin when I talked about abrief experiment with a wood burning hot tub.

Usually, when someone says they have a cabin in the woods, when you get there you discover a condo with a view of a pine tree.  We own a cabin (a hovel, or possibly a shack) where you cannot see or hear another human being.  Wildlife abounds, including a black bear that makes a regular circuit around the neighborhood.  I’m not exactly afraid of that bear, but I do have a healthy respect for him.  The bear holds me in what can only be called open contempt.

Actually, the bear has solved one of life’s great philosophical questions:  Does a bear shit in the woods?  From deep experience, I can answer:  “No.”   He prefers to shit on my deck—frequently--and with deep satire--on the welcome mat.

Recently, The Doc and I made our annual spring cleaning journey to the cabin--dusting the corners, replacing the mouse traps, and sweeping out the collection of bugs that miraculously can find their way into a closed cabin, but can never find their way back out.  So, it was time to clean out under the kitchen sink, sweep out the storage closet, and poke in all the nooks and crannies of a cabin built over 60 years ago.

Cabins collect history; each and every vacation home becomes the owners’ personal family museum.  When you purchase a new television, where else does the old one go?  And the old sleeper sofa that is exactly like the one Lucy and Desi had eventually gets transported to the cabin, and rests through eternity under the strange Mexican blanket you purchased a third of a century ago.  The binoculars with a small crack on the edge of the right lens, the massive electric can opener, the vacuum cleaner that won’t (and I bet half the fondue sets ever made) can all be found either at altitude or close to a beach.

There is a large collection of VHS tapes in that cabin, right next to the box full of cassette tapes of old-time radio programs.  Few things are as memorable as sipping wine from the last surviving wineglass (from a set of four) while listening to The Shadow on a snowy night with the only illumination coming from a fireplace. 

From a cabinet next to a kitchen stove so old it was made by General Motors, The Doc pulled out a treasure from a bygone era: a tall round quart can of furniture oil, sold by the Fuller Brush Company.  I haven’t seen a can like that in fifty years.  It is funny how an object from your past will throw you back in time to a memory so fresh that it seems to play like a movie being projected on a screen just behind your eyes. 

A long time ago, a can just like that was a favorite toy of my brother and me. We played in the dirt next to the driveway, making an improbable town of cigar box  houses and heavy Tonka trucks.  For some reason, the only inhabitants were green plastic toy soldiers, (many of whom, as they lived their lives in our town, felt the need to crawl up and down the various streets).

My brother had taken an empty furniture polish can. like the one pictured, and used an ice pick to poke a hole through the can along the bottom rim.  This was the town’s water tower.  When you opened the lid on top, water would pour out the hole on the bottom, giving our town… well, a flood.  As I remember it, very few residents of our towns actually survived.  And suddenly, I can remember it clearly, the gritty feel of the sand, the boxes still smelling of cheap cigars—I can still picture the faces of the toy soldiers and feel the molded edges of the plastic in my hand.

It could be that the vacation in a vacation home is the ability to travel back in your own personal time, to leave the now and return to then.


  1. A wonderful piece; and I can only hope for a miracle for your cabin and your memories

  2. I absolutely agree, My son plays with toys that are older than most of the kids in your classes, I'm talking about toys that were around before the first space shuttle explosion. It amazes me how when he says "play with me daddy" I can almost see myself as a 7 year old boy playing with a friend. I pray that the fires leave your cabin alone, and maybe you should leave a roll of toilet paper for the bear near a tree or something....

  3. When I wrote this, I had no idea that the forest was ablaze. My wife was up at the cabin until about noon, by the time she left, the fire was already growing.

    Thank you to the all the people who wrote wishing the best for my cabin. Far more importantly, let us remember the men who are fighting the fire.

    Right now, I have no idea if that cabin still exists. The fire maps keep changing. Either it is 100 feet outside the perimeter or 100 feet inside it. Anyone who knows if the cabin is still there is far too busy to talk to people like me. All I can do is wait.

  4. I really should have updated this sooner. The fire was stopped within a 100 yards of the cabin by the firefighters. Today, what was once a brushy valley is now a verdant field routinely grazed by deer and elk.

    Many, many thanks to the men of the forest service and multiple fire departments who fought that horrible fire.