As I sit at a pool on the North Shore of Kauai I find myself obsessing about the cabin.
I barely made it up in the winter and then traveled for work through the entire spring.
I find the Sierra’s now slipping firmly into summer and I still have yet to make an appearance to check for winter damage, turn the water on, and see the waterfull at it’s full snow melt splendor.
I miss it so much!
Like a first child away to college I find myself wondering how it’s doing. Dreaming about opening it up for the season, painting the trim on the new window, worrying about getting the water on, and chopping wood till my arms hurt. It’s strange how much these cabin chores bring me such pleasure.
I’m in Hawaii for my step sister’s wedding and yet still the cabin is never far from my thoughts. As we were sipping mai tais at the reception and mingling with the family of her new husband I chanced into a conversation with my new brother in laws uncle who’s had a cabin for over 40 years near Lake Tahoe. When I asked him about it he blurted out “I love it!”. It was refreshing to see after 40 years of cabin ownership it’s luster hadn’t faded for him. We chatted about our different cabins, when they were built, and what to do for the next generation of family cabin owners.
As the light drifts across the green hills of the Na Pali coast and the palm trees dance in the South Pacific breeze it’s hard to believe my mind is adrift in the Sierra’s.
As John Muir said “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
As I pass the time on the verandah of the New Orleans apartment I review the morning news over a steaming café au lait in the muggy post storm air, listening to the swish of the verdant pecan tree foliage across the rutted street. Devastating wild fires in various regions of the country, massive hurricanes tearing through the overly warm waters of the gulf, Napa in flames, Puerto Rico cut off from the world, New Orleans with an unusual October hurricane that shut down the whole city on a Saturday night, what runs through my head is “I can’t remember there ever being a hurricane in October….”. I also can’t remember there ever being a summer blizzard in drought ridden California.
Global warming for some is a political catch phrase, a path to elicit much needed funding, a potential motive for mass hysteria, an easily used scape goat to deny things that aren’t beneficial to your businesses bottom line. To me at this moment it is simply what is actually happening.
It feels odd to be sitting here and seeing the real physical outcome of years and years of ignored warnings. It seems like when scientists are advising you that global warming equals a rise in temperature, which equals bigger storms, that what runs through your head is “Well that’s going to happen sometime…to someone else”.
As I observe and reflect on the succession of things that have happened just this one summer you start to realize you are living in a science fiction film and that sometime is now.
Having grown up in New Orleans a town infamous for the most famous hurricane of all you rarely saw a storm bigger than a category 3. You never saw multiple category 5’s lined up in succession one after each other like children in line on the playground of adolescence. In the historic tragedy of Galveston and the aftermath of Katrina we never would have imagined a storm that broke out above the actual categories.
As summer unwound itself in a virtual wave of natural disasters, an unclassified rating of Category 6 was something it’s waterlogged southerners had never dreamed of. Just like in all my years of traveling to the Sierra Nevadas I’d never heard of a full on blizzard in summer…until now.
Not to say these things have never happened historically, or couldn’t just be freak weather patterns, but it does cause alarm to see them all happening at once in a live and in person replay of every fictional end of days movie ever produced.
Since the temperatures were dipping rather ahead of schedule we wanted to make sure to get our wood stocked up early. The menacing dead tress behind the cabin had finally been felled and since the weight of them was too heavy to take across the old Twin Lakes bridge the logging company had left them for us to use.
It was very exciting to arrive at the cabin and see these stacks of timber lined up all around the cabin waiting to be chopped! We wouldn’t need to purchase wood in town this year or for the next couple years to come, we just had to “log” in some hours of manual labor in another round of cabin boot camp…!
Having purchased my first real axe I was very excited to be getting into the swing of things so to speak….
After some trial and error with the swing and trying not to chop a foot off I discovered that there are few things more satisfying than the swish and crack of hitting the log just right and taking the blade straight through the block. It became an almost addictive high and a desperate desire to get that perfect swing in again.
We live in such a modern society where very few people get to experience the joy and satisfaction of accomplishing something with just your hands and force of will. I’m so grateful for these moments where I feel like I have this singular purpose of just completing a simple task and feeling useful.
Having spent the first 24 hours at the cabin chopping and stacking wood I was ready to give my arms and back a break and had planned a hike or bike ride for the last official day of summer. The weather service had mentioned that we might get a dusting of snow in the morning and I was delighted to actually be there for the first snowfall of the season, albeit a month earlier than expected. We awoke to not a dusting but a full on winter blizzard!
The dusting quickly became inches and the powder kept falling for the rest of the day and into the night. I wondered if the campers in the adjacent campground when they awoke to the inches of snow were excited by the unexpected winter wonderland they awoke to or annoyed by the wet gear and changed plans.
This snowy September marked the two year anniversary of cabin ownership and in those two years only a handful of friends have made it up for a visit. Outside of the long drive the question I always hear first is “Does the cabin have wifi?”. It’s so hard to step outside of our daily lives and routine, step away from our cell phones, televisions, computer monitors, and simply live in a different more simple time for just a minute and experience the incredible joy of a perfect axe swing.
As I sit in my salvaged adirondack chair rescued from a neighbor’s thrift pile, with the heavy reassuring weight of my porcelain mug in hand I find myself catching my breath and sighing into the peaceful morning after the insanity of last night.
I’ve come to realize along with the joy of cabin ownership there are also deep moments of despair and self doubt.
This past winter with the severely needed snow pack also brought extreme amounts of damage to so many cabins. My immediate neighbors and I got off light. Minor deck damage, some broken shutters, my disintegrated door, flooding in low zones, and various swelling and shifting of wood. We were so lucky. Some neighbors across the lake had massive structural damage, a resort on Tioga Pass looked like it had been wrung like a dishrag by a passing giant.
The weather was crisp yesterday afternoon when I arrived, it almost had a touch of fall in it already, warning signs of a possibly exceptionally short summer. I loped about the cabin opening windows and inhaling deeply. It always feels so incredible to be out of the car after that 5 hour drive. There’s a deep layer of delight in lowering the heavy wooden shutters and opening the cabin up for the week.
When I reached the bedroom and went to open the window I realized after much pulling and pushing it was stuck firmly shut.
As the summer progressed the wood of the cabin had been on an ever evolving journey of self discovery. In most cases it seemed best to just let it go through it’s paces like an emotional teenager trying on it’s personality for the first time. Best to give it some space and hope it all settled in for the best of all involved.
When it didn’t budge after an acceptable amount of trouble shooting I let it be with the patience of an indulgent grandparent knowing that at some point the toddler will stop blowing the whistle. Acceptance is sometimes the best defense.
Per my usual routine that evening I went about the cabin switching on lamps and enjoying the glow of light bouncing off the wood beams.
I was busy flitting about doing some first night chores so failed to notice the festivities unfolding around the lamp in the bedroom.
By the time I waltzed into the room book in hand, ready to collapse into an evening of chivalry and poets a festive monster’s ball had unfolded around my bedside milk glass lamp.
The window that wouldn’t open had contracted in such a way that a small gap existed between the outside and the box the window dropped into, causing a tiny speakeasy door for the thousands of gnats beating against the pane of glass anxious to get close to the belle of said ball, the warmth of that stylish 40 watt light bulb.
Scarlett O’ Hara never had it as good as Ma Bell this evening.
The image that flitted through my mind as I watched them enter in, one and two at a time from the corner of the window, was that scene in The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland of the ghosts in the ballroom waltzing in and out of vision, floating in and off through the wall.
As they entered through the window I watched them dance their way up and under the shade and descend serenely into their deaths. The amount of tiny carcasses dropping onto my nightstand and pooling in the bowl of the lamp were too numerous to count and disgusting to behold.
There were so many in the room there was that brief moment of thinking “Are they going to suffocate me?”
I didn’t think I needed to add “Death by insect suffocation” into the hazards of the cabin but who knew at this point? After quickly scanning the insect party busting options it seemed the most effective line of defense was to shut off the disco ball and plug the hole. That seemed to stem the bulk of the tide and I drifted off to sleep with the smell of burnt gnats tickling my nose.
I awoke and started my day with a firm resolve to resolve this issue with the window. After my morning coffee I pulled together my little cabin assistants- Hammer, screwdriver, wrench, and an old beat up coffee can full of nails and the rusty hum of tetanus.
I figured I should start with getting the window to actually open and go from there.
The wood around the window had swollen so much from the moisture that it was pressing the window in a crushing grip of immovability. The remnants of the wet dog atmosphere of the winter of no power in the snow buried bedroom.
It was an easy enough fix. Although it was a trick to not break the window with the hammering, a couple of nails to secure the loose bits tighter resulted in a window that now functioned the way that it was designed.
Plugging of the gnat hole proved to be slightly more challenging. I tried hammering in a new exterior sill in the hopes that this would block the little guys entry, but alas that night it was back to a stuffed shirt and a miniscule dance party. In the end a piece of wood inserted into the inside sill worked as a temporary fix until the day I could finally get real screens installed.
As I was working next to the house, hammering and perspiring in the morning sunshine I was amazed to observe a man casually walk up to the open window and nonchalantly stick his head in and take a look around. I was relieved I was outside when this event took place since if I was inside he likely would have been greeted with a scream and a blast of mace in his face!
As I looked at him in astonishment he turned and shot me a beaming grin, I smiled and quizzically inquired “If someone did that at your house you’d probably call the police right?”
His smile faltered and he looked towards his girlfriend and back at me and questioned “This is your house?”
I replied amused “Yes, hence the hammer, nails, and manual labor.”
He then responded “I thought you worked for the resort and I was curious about the inside.”
My internal thoughts at that comment were “You thought I was an employee of the resort and still thought it was ok to stick your head in the window?”
He was extremely apologetic and I realized this fell in line with why people think it’s ok to sit and then move my lawn furniture around and occasionally walk into my mud room to have a look.
They don’t consider it someone’s property or house, while if I walked into their garage to have a poke around they would probably call the swat team or at the very least scream very loudly at me. To them it’s just part of nature’s Disneyland. Like the row of art directed shop fronts on Main Street Disneyland, something designed for their own personal entertainment and perusal.
We had a good chuckle over it and I gave him and his girlfriend a tour of the cabin but since this encounter I’ve considered getting a life size print out of Jason in his hockey mask, or maybe a half undressed woman with a scream on her face. Just something to advertise that peeking in people’s windows isn’t good for anyone involved!
After this interesting interlude I continued down my path of small cabin fixes and tweaks. I was excited to have my first batch of summer houseguests coming out the next week and anxious to get it in tip top shape.
I shouldn’t have bothered. If I had know I was going to have the Dr. & Dr. team of Mr. & Mrs. Fix It come out I would have just sat on my laurels and waited!
A person has never been luckier in the selection of cabin guests. I will not disclose their names as then everyone would be competing to have them out for a visit. (Or perhaps a remodel!)
As the weekend rolled around I informed the upcoming guests of two caveats.
That the water still wasn’t working. As a point of fact it had barely worked the whole previous summer and the toilet had also gone on the fritz to complicate things even more.
That because of all the heavy snowmelt there was a river flowing across the road courtesy of Horseshoe Lake overflowing and creating the only 3 time in 50 years “Horseshoe Falls” that was now raging down the backside of our cabin tract and while creating an absolutely stunning scene it was also now impossible to drive to the cabin and one had to wade across ankle deep frigid water with all of their baggage.
My adventurous friends were not put off and after the usual pleasantries and guest welcome cocktails the surgeon turned to me and asked “So tell me, what’s going on with your water system?”
After laying out the basics he looked at my boyfriend and suggested they take a walk up the hill to have a look.
An hour later while all the ladies in the cabin napped in an ode to Victorian times the men rejoined us having solved “The problem of water.”
After realizing that the old pipe was completely corroded and unsalvageable the boys cleverly used a piece of rubber hose to re-run the line and came up with a crafty solve to sediment seeping into the pipe. We now have this handy system of just lifting the hose out of the water basin each time we leave. Presto chango!
It was with great excitement that we started to connect the inside pipes and reconnect the new water heater to our in house system. I knew it was going all too well. As we pulled the heater out of the box we found it needed to be wired together by an electrician.
No hot water was a set back but I was thrilled to have any water, icy or otherwise!
The toilet however having suffered damage to the inside workings from sediment was filling at a snails pace. Dr. Fix It securing his place as officially the best houseguest in history took a look and told me if I went into town and grabbed the part he could fix it in 10 minutes.
The water system problem solved and the toilet repaired, it was like homesteading Christmas in July!
Bug invasions, no water, too much water, power, no power, peeping toms, bumps in the night, flooded roads, snow shoveling….was it all worth it? I imagine so.
As a group of energetic French tourists from Avignon on a motorcycle tour sailed out of the cabin after partaking in some California Pinot I had on hand I felt like Louis the 14th holding court. The Sun King may have had his lush golden palace but I had my lovely chalet in the wilds behind Mammoth Mountain.
It’s technically the summer in Mammoth Lakes being early June, but the shoulder season is hanging on for the town and I. The upper lakes still had a firm grip on their winter coats come the middle of the month, although some resilient hikers and paddle boarders were trying to make the best of winter in summer!
The snow however was finally melting with a raging intensity causing roads to turn into muddy run off rivers, campgrounds to flood, and adding messy road work to the long list of spring repairs on my list.
I had a mini celebration upon arrival this time when the windows that had been completely covered 10 days before were finally exposed and I could have a view different than the backside of white that I had been gazing at for the past 5 months. What a difference a few days make in the mountains!
I’ve been spending a lot of time this trip getting a head start on summer repairs and taking advantage of the 80 degree temps to sit outside in the sun and beam in the glow of actually being able to sit ON. THE. ACTUAL. GROUND.
The bustling waterfall in all its epic snow melt splendor seemed to be on the top of the tourism checklist as I watched an unending parade of folks tromp past through the slushy snow banks in attire ranging from full winter gear to shorts and muddy flip flops.
When they see a girl romping about outside hammering shutters, shoveling snow, drinking wine, or reading a book they can’t help themselves but to inquire what I’m doing here.
“Are you the caretaker?” they ask. You could say that I muse, but not in any Jack Torrance kind of way.
“Are you renting this place?” No, I actually own the joint hence why I am hammering madly at a loose nail drenched in sweat!
I’m considering proposing to the Forest Service a cabin version of the “Home & Garden Tour”. In the last two days I’ve paraded at least a dozen people through the cabin. Explaining it’s history, how the Forest Service cabin leases work (no they are not 99 years), pointing out the original 1920’s douglas fur floors, and telling them all about how “You too can own one of these if you are CRAZY like me”. I’ve finally had to ask my realtor friend Jen to leave me a stack of business cards since some folks are pretty serious about investigating these little nooks and crannies of the Mammoth Lakes basin.
As the week meandered on I careened ahead with backbreaking cabin chores that mostly involved moving snow around. There was still a LOT of it about. In my efforts to unearth the fire pit and get access to the grill in our back shed the yard started to look like an avalanche disaster movie with snow strewn everywhere!
When I finally located the fire pit the weight of the snow had actually ripped the metal on the swivel arm, it and my sopping bathroom floors were both casualties of the 6 foot high snow bank still dripping behind the cabin. Apparently there was lots of flooding in town and the main lodge had to rig up platforms for skiers to get across the pools of water spreading through the locker floors.
I had been chatting and getting visits from the power and phone company over the past few days, while enjoying our talks about this epic snow year, all of those visits ended with the phrase….
“We can’t quite get the truck down here yet.”
As 2 days wore into 3, I decided to take matters into my own hands- LITERALLY. There was one 2 foot high snow bank still blocking the road so I got to work clearing it out.
After a few hours of digging I succeeded in clearing a truck size hole in the snow.
Everyone thought I either worked for the Forest Service or was a good Samaritan clearing the path to the falls. I assured them it was the entirely selfish reason of not wanting to go another day without a fridge!
What I found comedic was how many unaware people almost walked into my shovel in motion as they were trying to use the path I was in the process of clearing! I got one good natured man with a shovel full of snow, after we had a laugh he offered to do some digging for me.
The power company were good to their word and came back at the end of the day. I toasted them as they shimmied up the tree and got the neighborhood reconnected!
The phone company however still had a lot of work to do. Those poor guys after discerning that our box had been struck by lightening and was completely burnt out, then hiked all the way up the hill and across the falls tracing the line trying to figure out where it was out. Turns out two trees had fallen and knocked out the line on the other side of the falls so the construction team would have to be called in to clear it.
Still no phone, but by that night I enjoyed a glass of wine while listening to the delightful hum of the now working refrigerator and turning on every lamp in the house!
One thing that became clear as my week progressed with a stream of locals, technicians, and tourists was that no one had ever seen a winter like this in Mammoth.
It was truly a season of wonder and we were lucky to have survived it with just the inconvenience of no power or phone, and some minor repairs. It seems on my second winter season at my little cabin in the woods I had gotten the full force of mother natures bounty and took it in stride and the joy of wonder. It is a lesson in our world of amenities what little we actually need to survive and how if you just let go, all those conveniences are just another thing adding to the clutter of life.
As I sit here drenched in sweat, my leather workman gloves soaked through, I contemplate the fact that I just spent the entire morning excavating the commode.
It’s early May and after our last failed attempt to stay at the cabin that ended in the complete disintegration of my very expensive new door, the power being out, and a snowdrift in the mudroom that came up to the top of the compost toilet, it was beyond being Januburied anymore since now it was March!
As a couple months flew by and we drifted from April into May, the spring temperatures warmed the town and reports were in that the lower elevations were free of snow. I was positive that the cabin would be well on its way to shedding its igloo coat and a piece of cake to get into.
People are sometimes excruciatingly wrong.
As I sludged past the neighbors cabins that faces were mostly exposed I got my first glimpse of my front picture windows that were still almost completely hidden by a massive snow bank, the back of the cabin encased in a white icy drift up and over the roof. The door that we had patched together was still mostly in place and thankfully no bears or people were living in the snowy mudroom. One small relief in an avalanche of disappointment.
The door crest was peeking out so I rejoiced in the ease I had unlocking the gold padlock holding the door partially closed. This joy was short lived as I almost impaled myself on a broken limb of said door as I slid into the ice skating rink that was now the mudroom. The Omen, Carrie, and several other horrors flashed across my over imaginative brain as I realized how close I had come to, while not being eaten by bears or wild dogs, or sautéed by the prom queen, bleeding to death in an undignified position proving to all the world as they read my obituary what a massive klutz I was!
As I had skidded in and survived the wooden spike of death, I also managed to climb my way over the frozen and icy toilet to get to the spot that I prayed I had a hidden key. A key I had left for the phone company in February when they were supposed to reconnect my phone line. (I don’t have to tell you this never happened.) I had lost my entire set of house and cabin keys on a hike at Malibu Creek State Park a month before and it was going to be an awful drudge back to the car if the spare wasn’t still in it’s clever hiding place. Luckily it was right where I thought it was.
Whew! The door had held, there were no bears living in the mudroom, I had a key to get in, now if only the power was on.
I had chatted with the power company a couple weeks back and they confirmed that the power was connected and most likely I just needed to reset my breakers.
Easy peasy, right?
Except the breakers were outside in the back corner of the cabin that was currently still covered by at least 10 feet of snow. Sigh.
This reminded me of the cartoon from the S- Town podcast where there are 3 drinking glasses lined up, one proclaiming “I’m half Full”, the next “I’m half Empty”, and the next “I think this is Piss”. Well I think this is piss.
After weighing the pros and cons of wielding a saw versus removing the wood spikeof death from the door I decided in the icy, slippery condition the snow steps were in it was twice as likely that I would impale myself flying into the cabin than severing an artery with the saw. I reviewed every “I’m alone” safety procedure I could think of and quickly put the wood spike of death into it’s grave with Final Destination, Saw, and A Cabin In The Woods where it belonged.
I had managed to get some of the windows slightly dug out to allow some light into the cabin so first order of business now that immediate death was off the table was seeing what non-powered illumination devices I had handy.
I dug out candles, refilled lanterns, got my headlamp, and flashlight all ready to go. On a whim I tested the stove. By some non-logical miracle it worked! The good luck continued when the wall heaters all turned on. With my main concerns of food, light, and warmth being covered and me not having suffered a bloody death I moved on to opening a bottle of rose and getting this business cozzzy!
Who knew power really wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought? It was like camping indoors.
I had already experienced the cabin for a winter season without water, then this season the phone line had gone out fairly early, so I added no phone to that list, and now no power. As my neighbor had succinctly informed me when I messaged him very frustrated after the last trip up “ We can’t beat Mother Nature”. We may not be able to beat it but we sure can join it!
It’s interesting how when you start stripping away all those creature comforts and expectations how much you can do without. I love watching shows about the apocalypse. The Walking Dead, Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact, Melancholia, The Road, you start to wonder what would you do in that situation. Would you be a survivor? Would you learn to adapt? Do you have the skills necessary to live off the grid? As I type this on my computer that is slowing losing power which I can’t recharge until I go into town tomorrow, I wonder those same things….
While I feel hardship wouldn’t bother me too much as I relish challenges and seem to enjoy masochistic manual labor, it’s the alone part that would trouble me.
Having been mugged multiple times I have realized the fear of people (and small rodents trapped in the cabin with me) is the one thing that always drives me back to Los Angeles. (That and the desperate need for a shower!)
Just today I was out for a long walk on the loop trail in town and ran across two men in a deserted section of the trail. My heart started racing and fear enveloped me. I always make it a point to look people in the eye when I am afraid or feel threatened and say hello, which is what they teach you in self defense classes. What bothers me is that is always my reaction. Then a panicked departure.
Today I went out of my way to take a trail that lead into town that looped me further from my car in the growing wind, but the panic was so high I couldn’t help myself.
I often wonder what life would be like if the universe would just take back ONE of those muggings. Would I feel more sane and in control when I’m alone?
The cabin is definitely a test of my physical strength and endurance but also of my mental ability to look this fear in the eye and try to make sense of it and take command of my terror.
I did however sleep like the full dead last night not walking, the fear of being alone was buried under the weight of sheer exhaustion.
As I had no power I slept on my favorite cot in front of the fire. The bedroom while not having any wall heaters also smelled like a pack of wet dogs since it had spent so much time under the dome of snow coating the roofs, windows, and walls.
I awoke to the vibration of a small earthquake rumbling under the cot. It was morning. I had a date with a cup of coffee and several snow removal chores.
Which is how I find myself excavating the loo.
After spending the previous afternoon and evening peeing with my knees encased around my ears, I decided the first order of “business” if I may was digging out the god damned toilet. (In my head this is in the voice of Samual Jackson in Pulp Fiction.)
As I knelt sweating with a shovel breaking up large boulders of ice and then using my leather encased hands to sweep out the snow around the delicate mechanics of the toilet I felt a kinship with Indiana Jones. As he swept out fine grains of sands from the tombs of ancient kings, here I was on my hands and knees digging out a different kind of throne altogether.
Zombie apocalypse? I have a feeling I’d do just fine.
As I sit in the lee of the window I’m reminded of a song from Disney’s “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” which our childhood VHS tape was so worn down from repetitive plays that the rewind gears screeched like a steam locomotive coming to an inevitable stop.
“And the rain, rain, rain came down, down, down…” was running through my head while contemplating the symphony of snowflakes battering against the picture window.
I watched in quiet detachment as the window I had just dug out for the second time slowly started putting on its next winter coat of white.
Tomorrow was going to be another grueling morning.
It was official. This was the largest snowfall in a single month since Mammoth Mountain started keeping a tally. The town itself had received over twenty feet and it was still piling up. There was so much snow that during each break in the weather you could see dump trucks piled high with it being trucked out of town. A portable winter playground on the move to a less congested destination.
Even though we had invested a monumental snow shoveling effort on the last trip up just two weeks before, we at least could still see the cabin door in plain view when we started. This time it was not to be found. It took a solid twenty minutes of digging, then using my best Sherlock Holmes investigating techniques to trace the roofline back from the front of the cabin and stumble my way to the door lintel.
As I continued digging for another two hours I slipped back in time to thoughts of Howard Carter and other great archeologists and their herculean efforts to unearth remnants of past stories as I was digging and creating my own history. I only wish I had Britian’s strongman Belzoni, whose graffiti name I once battled my claustrophobia down an unending flight of stairs into the dark heart of the second pyramid of Giza to set my eyes upon.
That same claustrophobia was running through my conscious as I slid into the mudroom in an avalanche of snow. What if it kept snowing? What if there WAS a real avalanche? Did I even want to go in there?
Once inside it had the damp closeness of a tomb, not unlike our Egyptian heroes last destination. I took some breaths, brought in my bags, and realized I was in my very own igloo or in travel circles “ice hotel”. Granted at a quarter of the going price.
Could I even stay here?
Maybe I was better off retracing my steps to Tamarack and getting a cozy lodge room. The phone line was down (actually snapped in two I later discovered behind the cabin) and my cell was barely getting a text out, so the isolation would be absolute.
After two hours of digging out the door did I even want to consider flying in the face of reason and exhaustion to unearth a window just to allow some light into my buried wooden box? An hour later I had my answer. Light is everything.
I’ve now been here two days and the snow has started it’s dance with the land again, wrapping it in it’s gossamer threads like strands of white cotton candy on a carnival cone.
The snow steps I had carved into the drift like the Egyptians had chiseled their hieroglyphs were starting to fill back in like the grains of sand that their monuments spent centuries buried beneath.
It brought me back to Pooh Bear when he eats so much honey that he gets stuck in his own door. Would I be trapped in my buried igloo of wood after this latest deluge?
Hard to say at this point… but after all this exertion and calorie depravation I do believe some version of honey is in order. After all…“Bears love honey and I’m a pooh bear, so I do care, bears love honey and I’m a pooh bear, time for something sweet!”
Sweat. Trickling down my nose and wafting on the light breeze to plop and disappear into the snow drift at my feet. It combined with the slowly dripping icicle that dangled from the cabin eaves and disappeared into the wall of snow I was standing atop trying to dig out the immersed windows and cast some light into the deep shadows of the cabin. My hair was moist and dripping, as were my hat, gloves, undershirt, and collar with excessive perspiration. Snowmageddon had arrived to the Sierra Nevadas and as Mammoth Mountain had the most snow in North America a large portion of that had landed squarely on top of my little homestead in the shadow of the mountain.
It was the conditions we skiers dream of, and the mountain was rejoicing after so many years of drought. Being only my second winter in the cabin and the first after a long drought I approached the cabin with a deep sense of dread and worry. It was the biggest snowfall in 10 years and was looking to be a historic month. Before now as a skier I would have given a whoop, checked into my favorite lodge, and let the envelope of luxury entrap me. I would have sunk into the routine of continental breakfast, pounding the mountain, and then après ski, followed by a sumptuous meal.
All that had changed. I had a home now and all the worries that entails. Is it buried? (Yes.) Do we have power? (Thankfully, yes.) Is the phone line down? (Unfortunately, also a YES.) Will we be able to get in? (Yes, but not without a massive headache with my new custom made door that was maybe not custom enough.) The challenges of cabin life did not disappoint.
Now a big storm was also a big headache and cause for thought and pause and most of all planning.
I had been up a month earlier in December and didn’t even need to put on snowshoes to walk out to the cabin. I therefore didn’t think to bring a shovel out with me to store in the car in case we had a big storm. After all, massive storm systems were unknown to the Sierras for several years. The mountain ski slopes had been mostly empty as conditions hadn’t warranted the adulation of worshippers coming in droves to plow her hallowed slopes.
As I watched the weather reports with a mixture of excitement (as a skier), worry (as a homeowner), and sheer awe (as a human), I romanticized about what was happening at the cabin. What metamorphasis it was going through and what changes would befall me as I witnessed a true winter in my mountain escape. Last year’s average winter was just a training ground for what lay ahead of me with the “atmospheric river” wafting across the peaks and bluffs of the Sierras.
That evening after our heroic shoveling efforts, I lay in bed with my new (game changing) hot water bottle tucked into the deep folds of the sheets relishing the warmth seeping into my sock bound feet. The moon was reflecting off the snow wall revealed by the twin picture windows and rebounding that light back into the cabin making it feel like it was under a dome or entrapped in an icy snow globe. I reflected on the atmospheric river I felt was flowing not only over the mountain passes and valleys but also over our nation as a whole as we all came to grips with a river of polarization and separation that was wafting across the entire country.
As I sat in my snug igloo of nature’s making I was enthralled with the peace of it all and the separation from the constant assault of social media. The ability to step outside of myself for a minute and just appreciate the solitude of nature is something that I want to constantly remind myself to never take for granted.
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of our National Parks and America waits with baited breath and fear of the potential reversal of protections that our forefathers worked so hard to put in place I hope that many of those who don’t have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the beauty of our gorgeous country’s natural environments will get an opportunity to experience the peace and understanding that comes from being submerged in something larger than yourself and how important it is to continue our preservation of this planet, not just for our future generations but for our own sanity in the here and now.