Atmospheric River

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.


A Year in the Woods

There’s a passage from Hemingway that I’ve often told people if offered a choice I would live in for eternity….

“Now that the bad weather had come, we could leave Paris for a while for a place where this rain would be snow coming down through the pines and covering the road and the high hillsides and at an altitude where we would hear it creak as we walked home at night.  Below Les Avants there was a chalet where the pension was wonderful and where we would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.  That was where we would go.”

And that was where I had gone.  While not in my beloved France, I had carved my own version of this utopian scene in my own little patch of forest in the woods.


This first winter I had done just that.  Sat in my bed reading with the window slightly cracked, the snow falling softly with that almost silent swish, the fire cracking in the wood burning stove.  The warmth not fully reaching me in the bed but seeing it there created an internal warmth that spread outward and covered me in it’s own glow.


When people speak of bucket lists they are really speaking of dreams.  The dream of going somewhere or doing something that uplifts their spirit, gives their lives hope, fulfills a deepest wish in their soul, makes them leap out into the world, throw themselves in the mix of humanity and experience.

You could say the cabin was my ultimate bucket list check off.

It’s the first anniversary of acquiring my little patch of felicity in the woods.  It’s been a year of wonder, magic, aggravation, solitude, terror, reflection, disruptions, solace, empowerment, but mostly it’s just been absolutely life changing wonderful.


It’s become not just a place I go to but almost a mental retreat available at all times.  If I’m having a soul punishing day I shift my attention from what I’m working on to looking up a cabin project idea and daydreaming about what I’m going to plunge into on the next trip.  Cabin as a state of mind?  I certainly think so.

After traveling around the world and methodically checking off one bucket list destination after the next I came to a point where I was not satisfied with just my week or few days in one of the places that I loved.  I yearned to be able root myself to a specific place of meaning.


I normally spend a lot of time researching interesting places to stay.  Whether just an off the grid destination or someplace that had been designed with a bit of magical realism in mind.  Places where they spent that little extra time to add something intangible that you feel as well as see.  I drew inspiration from these places and wanted to carve something like that as my own.


The cabin was years in coming.  It was a spark in the back of my brain after my first visit to Mammoth Lakes when I was 25.  I didn’t ski, I hadn’t spent much time in snow, and even with being raised basically underwater in New Orleans I was a mountain girl in spirit and I knew it.  My heart soared anytime I saw a peak in the distance.  There was a little leap inside of me every time I saw the topography of the land changing to a rising landscape that directed your eyes and your soul UP!


As I look back on the year it’s sometimes amazing to me that there wasn’t always a cabin.   Maybe in my mind it was always there.  The reality of it was just an extension of someplace I was already living in the deep reaches of my soul.

Why the cabin?

Why did I decide to plant my soul in a spot with no running water in the winter, road access only 4 months of the year, horrible resale value, and a water system that defied logic or reason?

When I inherited the cabin there was a book there.  Sitting solemnly in a stack of other old books on the coffee table called “The Man from Mono”.


On one of those nights that writers always love to write about, where the wind and snow were swirling outside and the wood stove was stacked with as much wood as I could squeeze into one metal box.  I was buried under four blankets, wearing a pair of ear muffs, and trying to figure out how to line my long johns with long johns when I realized that I had left my book in the car.  Having no desire to test the limits of my wardrobe and sanity by trying to deconstruct my sofa attire and rig myself back up to go out in the blizzard.  Then snowshoe a mile round trip to the car parked at Tamarack Lodge just to retrieve a small paperback.  Tonight’s reading was going to be “The Man from Mono” by default.

What a find.

As I sat there with my frozen fingers and a bottle of wine that was conveniently chilled to the perfect temperature.  (Not by a wine fridge or any special device, but by the sheer chill of the cabin.)  I delved into this story that brought to light just why we do it.  Why we’ve always done it.


The need to not only be in nature but to conquer it lives very deeply in all of our souls.  John Muir, Shackelton, Franklin, Captain Cook, Krakauer, Ansel Adams, Bruce Chatwin.  Contemporaries to our world and the years behind us.

This man from Mono told a story of a very regular life led in very extraordinary circumstances and hardship.  Where this simple man set up trap lines in the winter, tourists wait in long gate lines to get into one of the most famous National Parks in the world.  His world was challenging and difficult.  He lost many friends to the rigors and dangers of that time and lifestyle.  But you could sense that he wouldn’t have chosen any other life.  His existence was connected and fed by the world in which he lived and the people who also chose that same life.


I was no different.  That siren pull of nature was always beating inside me.

Somebody asked me recently what the best part of having the cabin was and I answered because I knew it was always there.  Always within reach.  Always just a drive away….