The Cabin (Part V)

(Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV)

Sarah and Lucy had just returned from town. They, unlike I, had walked back and forth, and had also stopped to buy a few groceries. The timing was almost perfect. As I pulled in, they were stepping up onto the porch. From their vantage point, the saw was easily visible. Sarah leaped back down from the porch, plunging into the snow bank between her and the truck.

“Paul!” she gasped. “Is that for us?”

I nodded at her, hoping again for the twinkle. She laughed at my smile and reached into the bed, feeling the heft of the saw under her gloved hands.

“So this is what you were bringing me…I had no idea what it was going to be! This is so great, now I can cut fast before we borrow the horses.”

“I know you like the axe,” I mumbled, embarrassed. My face was red, but not from the cold. “But yes, you can cut quicker with this. You can get a whole bunch of trees down and limbed before Friday.”

Sarah already had the saw on the porch, admiring the oiled teeth and worn grip.

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The Cabin (Part IV)

(Part IPart II, and Part III

My morning routine takes me to the post office, cup of coffee and newspaper in hand. It’s been like that for years now, since I quit my job at the hardware store and started to write full time. My wife used to make the coffee, but when she passed away I stuck the French press into the closet. Now I get my coffee at the general store—it’s weak and watery, but it’s gotten to the point where just the smell makes me more alert and I rarely drink the whole cup. By the time I walk down the road to check my mail, the cup is half empty. I dump the rest into the snow and toss the paper cup into the recycling bin just inside the door. My box is straight ahead. I beeline to it, holding the small, brass key out in front of me. Before I can slip it into the lock, a flash of motion and a giggle grab my attention. Sarah and Lucy trundle in, smiling, frost heavy on the collars of their Mackinaws where breath has been condensing and freezing in the still chilly morning air. They both wear grey wool hats and gloves, but their cheeks are rosy red and most of Sarah’s brilliant blond hair is spilling out from under her watchcap.

“Hiya Paul!” says Lucy, unbuttoning her jacket and grinning. Sarah does the same and puts her arm around my sagging shoulders.

“Any mail?” She’s practically shouting with happiness.

“Why are you two in such a good mood?” I ask.

“Jim is letting us use his horses on Friday to pull trees out. We’re going to cut all day and tomorrow and haul everything then. You know Jim? He lives up the mountain road? We saw him at the general store.”

“Yes, I know him. Can I help you both on Friday?”

“Sure Paul,” says Lucy. “That would be great!”

They’re bubbling over with excitement and it is contagious. We angle towards our separate mailboxes, pull out some junk mail, and head back towards the front door. Sarah slips their pile into the recycling—two weeks worth of fliers and coupons. I drop my Pennysaver in also, and we three push through the door into the winter sun. My project has just become more urgent, so I hurry off with barely a goodbye.

I bypass the house and pull open the door of the barn when I return home. It hasn’t housed animals in years, but the smell of cow and horse smacks into me when I step inside. I breathe deep and slow, remembering when we were busy here. It’s hard to travel with animals though. I could never find anyone around who was willing to babysit three ornery dairy cows and two foolish horses while I traveled alone for months at a time, looking for subjects, looking for stories. I gave them away easily enough, and sometimes the beneficiaries bring me a quart of still-warm milk or let me take a short ride through the woods on Tonto. All the stalls still have hay in them, most of it rotting and damp. The snow blows through cracks and piles on the rafters and drifts into corners. My workshop is a little tighter—years ago I nailed tarpaper over the gaps in the wide pine boards to keep out the damp.

Here are my tools, all still working, albeit begrudgingly. They’re split into sections. One corner holds hammers, miter saws, chisels, pliers, and screwdrivers. In another is a pile of irrigation pipe, plastic sugar hose, wrenches, valves, miscellaneous rolls of plumbers tape. The third holds rakes and hoes, spades and shovels, an ancient scythe, rusty as can be. The fourth is where I look now: my double-bit axe, gleaming in the sunlight that cuts through the dusty panes above. Two mauls, a neat stack of splitting wedges, and my newest acquisition, a chainsaw. I haven’t used it in three years—when I sold the animals, I also got a furnace so the pipes in the house didn’t freeze while I was away. The woodstove, disconnected and rusting, sits among weeds behind the barn.

I pick up the saw and place it on the bench. By hand, I pull the chain slowly back and forth along the bar, making sure time has not stuck it in place. It moves a bit stiffly, so I unscrew the cap of the bar oil reservoir and top it off. The gas, what little is left in the tiny tank, has been sitting for years. I root around in the pipe area, dig out a siphon, and suck out the spoiled fuel. I feel each tooth of the chain, testing for weakness, probing for dullness. In a few places, I drag the round file firmly across a bedraggled tooth, pulling it back into shape and giving a new, clean edge. When it feels sharp and ready, I splash some fresh gas into the tank, tighten the chain tension, set the kickback lock with a bump of my wrist, and yard on the pull-cord. After three yanks, it fires to life. I rev it high for a few seconds, and then set it on the dirt floor to idle happily.

Outside, I have a stack of old cordwood. Most of it is gnarled oak and sugar maple. I grab the top piece, a length of oak, and lean it against the pile. With one smooth stoke, the saw slices through, writhing like a snake in my hands, hungry for sawdust. Everything satisfactory, I plop it and some plastic wedges into the bed of my truck and drive up the road to the cabin.

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The Cabin (Part III)

(Part I and Part II. Sorry, I think the formatting is a bit wonky here.)

There are three chairs here, all of worn leather. Worn might be putting it lightly—one came from the dump, one from a used furniture warehouse, and one from a neighbor that owns three cats, none de-clawed. Between them sit the floor lamps, and in front, a wooden bench to prop one’s chilled feet and rest one’s mug. The middle chair, the one for visitors, is directly in front of the fire. That’s where I sit when I visit Sarah and Lucy.

“Hi Paul,” says Lucy, swinging open the door and ushering me quickly inside before the cold enters with me. I hadn’t even knocked, but my truck makes a characteristic grumble and creak when I kill the engine and engage the rusty parking brake. And now, on my third visit here, I’m welcomed warmly without uttering a word.

I step inside and push the door closed. Lucy takes the few short steps back to the kitchen and puts on the kettle while I remove my boots and jacket. I sink into the chair.

“Hello, Sarah,” I say. She looks up from her book and smiles.

“Hi Paul!” Her eyes shimmer and reflect the orange glow of flame just beyond her woolen-socked toes, wriggling in the heat. There are woodchips in her hair and her face is flushed.

“I saw the axe on the porch, were you out cutting?”

“Yes,” she says, “I just came back in a moment ago.”

“I can still see the red in your cheeks.”

She laughs.

“It gets cold this late in the afternoon, and I walked far today. I’ll need to borrow a horse to pull the wood out.”

Lucy brings over the tea she made without asking. She knows I want a cup to warm my hands. She sinks into the empty chair and picks up her own mug.

“Where have you been Paul?” Lucy asks. “I thought you were going to come yesterday, or at least help us split wood today.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I sort of got on a roll with this new story, and my back isn’t much for splitting anyway. You guys probably did better without me.”

“No, we waited. I just stacked wood all day and Sarah went to cut more trees. All the wood to be split is still in the pile behind the house.”

I stand, look across the room and out the kitchen window and cringe when I see the pile. And Sarah has only added more today, somewhere deep in the grove.

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The Cabin (Part II)

This is Part II of an earlier post called The Cabin. The whole story will be posted in pieces over the coming days and weeks.

Inside the little house the furniture was sparse, the kitchen ill equipped, and the decorations Spartan. Two beds on old, metal frames. An overhead light, two floor lamps, and a reading light clipped to the bookshelf that stood between the beds lit the evenings once the sun had dropped behind the hills.  In between the cold windows of the right wall, there were shelves. There were enough shelves to keep all their clothes, their framed pictures, their trinkets, and their cookware. The cookware was kept on the shelf closest the kitchen, as this was how it was designed to be. In the back right corner was the refrigerator, and looking left, counter space and a deep, cast iron sink with a built in drying board and plenty of space for dirty dishes too, but that was rarely utilized. Under that counter was much of the food, but there actually wasn’t much at all. To the right of the icebox, along the right wall, was a window, then the shelves holding the few copper pots and pans, an assortment of empty fruit jars, assorted plates and bowls, and two large, ceramic mugs. Dividing the kitchen from the rest of the room was an island of pine, a single, wide slab sliced from a once great tree. The varnish of it shone in the morning light, and in the evening reflected the overhead light and glowed with a comforting sheen. In the middle of the pine slab was the propane stovetop and oven. The fridge ran on propane too, though that was because it was old, not because there was no electricity. On the contrary—there was plenty of it, and phone lines, and Internet cables, and a small satellite dish on the roof bringing in untold TV channels and on-demand movies. But they came for peace, so each Monday, they would unplug the modem and not turn it back on until the following Sunday night when they gave themselves two hours of online time apiece, on the clunky laptop that Sarah had gotten from her sister. The phone was left plugged in, but rarely used, and the TV cable was permanently unplugged because there was no TV to plug it into. When the landlord had driven his truck down the long, dirt driveway after handing over the keys, the girls had loaded the TV into their little car, driven to a thrift shop, sold it, and used the money to pay the second month’s rent. When it was time to move out, Sarah knew she would have either wooed the landlord into letting it slide or earned enough to buy it back. But Lucy was slightly worried—it seemed dishonest in a way, though she figured the landlord was cheating them anyway, and she loathed the idea of a television.

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The “soft” defeat packed a little more punch than first anticipated, but I’m back. More than a month has passed, and I won’t pretend that I can even begin to catch up. I’ve changed tack—looking ahead, I won’t post every day, but I’ll get a few per week up and loosely promise to keep future vacations to less than a month….

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A Soft Defeat

Even though “Beginnings” are short, writing seven of them in a row is pretty damn hard. So, in light of that, my plan to schedule posts for the whole next week has gone out the window. I admit a slight defeat. So starting today, there won’t be a new post for about a week. And over the next few months, that will be the case every other week. Luckily, being off the grid might allow me some time to write more. Maybe I can write something other than a beginning… Don’t stray far—I’ll be back before too long.

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Beginnings #15: Empty Roads

The road was long and straight.  And empty.  Northern Nevada is pretty desolate at 5:00 in the morning.  I hadn’t seen any other headlights for what seemed like hours.  Dawn was starting to show itself over the hills and the landscape was finally revealing itself.  There aren’t towns along lots of I-80, only decrepit houses.  Almost every exit advertises its lack of services like gas and food.

Dave drove, he had been for hours.  We switched off every tank of gas and he was nearing the end of his turn.  He gets distracted when he drives; he wishes he could just stare out the window and take it all in.  He hates having to concentrate on the road when it’s the landscape that is screaming for his full attention.

Dan sat shotgun, passed out.  His turn was next.  He always claimed that he never could fall totally asleep in the car.  He snored a lot for someone not sleeping.

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Beginnings #14: Garfield

Peter was always annoyed that his last name was Garfield, since he’d been reading the Sunday comics since he could, and before then he’d always looked at the pictures. He read the cartoons last though; first it was the business, then the front page, then the magazine. Sports he saved for Monday. He did not identify with that fat, orange cat—he hated Italian food, detested napping, and adored Mondays. Mondays were fresh and new and had the promise of a whole new week ahead of them. And he could read the Sports section. The only part he didn’t like about them was that the Sunday paper was as far away as it could be. Each bright Monday, he dressed early, walked to the train, and made it into work before eight. With a full week ahead, there were innumerable tasks ahead of him, so he sat down, buckled down, got down to business. He only stopped at noon (that’s when he read Sports) and five. Back on the train, he looked over Tuesday’s schedule and reclined into his seat with a satisfied, smug look on his face.

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Beginnings #13: The Cane

On the cracked, crumbling, cement sidewalk young Billy Conrad walked each day to the store on the corner and bought one dollar’s worth of bulk dark chocolate. As the years passed, the amount lessened with raising prices, but on the day he started strolling with a cane, a buck still bought him a heaping paper sack full of the delectable treat. On the third day he used the cane, young Sally Bowman stepped from behind the old oak near the corner and demanded his attention.

“Why the hell do you use that cane?” she scoffed. “You look like you’re walking fine to me.” Though her name suggested timidness, she was forward in matters that piqued her curiosity. But her boldness never carried into action—strong in voice, she faltered in moments that bled a bit of fear into her. This was one of those moments, for instead of answering, young Billy grinned and spun the crooked head of the cane three times and the cane slid quietly in two. The bottom half, the wooden sheath, dropped onto the sidewalk. With the top half, Billy deftly swiped at her dress and a slit opened at Sally’s left knee and carried down to the hem. She recoiled in terror and fled back to the oak. And young Billy picked up the bottom half, slid the sword inside, screwed the brass fitting tightly together, and carried on to the store for his daily chocolate ration.

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In the Woods

Starting next Friday (the 16th), I’ll be spending alternate weeks deep in the woods, caretaking at an AMC hut. I’ll try to write and schedule enough posts beforehand so my steady posting is uninterrupted. If some are missing, don’t lose faith.

And as it’s Sunday, there won’t be a Beginnings today—just like last Sunday. I observe the day of rest; instead of writing, I’ll be painting the new closet in the attic and installing carpet. Restful indeed.

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