“And the rain, rain, rain came down, down, down…”

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.

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“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.

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Tomorrow was going to be another grueling morning.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Could I even stay here?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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Dry Cabin Cookin!

Julia Child would probably have a hard time getting behind this concept, Mario Batali I’m guessing would not enjoy the delights of cleaning up a red sauce pan with no running water, Mimi Thorisson would perhaps handle it best since she is used to living in a country farmhouse which I imagine has had it’s own share of homesteading dilemmas.  (She’d also probably do a killer job with the wine pairings!)

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I feel like first I should explain what a “Dry Cabin” is, since many folks are unclear on the term unless they spent some time in Alaska where no one bats an eye at no running water.  (Those Alaskans are tough!)  A dry cabin means a cabin without running water.  While we have full amenities in the summer, the cabin’s water is gravity fed from a creek which freezes in the winter.  We also have to drain the cabin completely dry when the temperatures start to drop consistently to insure that none of the pipes burst, which translates to we also can’t dispose of any water down the drains in the winter either.

While dry cabin cooking likely isn’t for everyone, it’s mostly a matter of getting creative with managing kitchen mess and clean-up, as well as coming up with simple dishes with limited ingredients.  This is important when everything you use has to be either frozen and stored from the fall, dragged in on a sled, carried on your back, or occasionally thrown like a piece of airline luggage and picked up several paces later.  (This tactic I sometimes employ when the snow is particularly deep and I’m feeling particularly fed up with whatever I am lugging.)

The first winter season we did the obvious.  Stocked the cabin with cans of chili, grits, pasta sauce, canned tuna.  All those things you imagine would keep in the rapidly changing temperatures and still be easy to cook.  Seemed like a brilliant idea, that is until you go to clean up all those pots and pans with melted snow!

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I recall the first time we made tomato sauce and it was time to rinse the pan.  First there is the matter of melting snow and making water.  Then there is the dilemma of how to scrub the pan.  I started the first time with a regular sponge.  I then realized I also needed to clean the sponge.  This required melting more snow and soaking it in a pan of hot water.  But then wait, now I needed to clean the pan again because the tomato sauce from the sponge was now back on the sides of the pan.  The joys of cabin living never cease to surprise one….!

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Next it became time to rid ourselves of the dirty water.  Since we can’t pour anything down the drains because the water would sit in there and freeze the pipes it all had to be disposed of outside.  After throwing the red water out into the snow I realized this looked very similar to a murder scene and probably not the best message to be sending to any random passersby.  I also came to the conclusion that if there were any starving bears or mountain lions around this probably was akin to ringing a critter dinner bell.

Obviously there is a lot more to this winter cabin cooking than I realized…

As we start on winter season part deux we have gotten a lot wiser about how to handle the cooking.  In Louisiana cooking the “Holy Trinity” is always considered mandatory:  Onions.  Bell Peppers.  Celery.

At the cabin we quickly have come up with our own version of the “Trinity” :

Paper Plates.  Aluminum Foil.  Wet Wipes.

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As eco friendly as we are in our daily home those rules quickly got tossed out the proverbial rustic window at the cabin.  For winter use we realized that good old fashioned paper plates were the way to go.  Although, since we tend to use the same couple of paper plates for most of the day instead of constantly rinsing china plates, perhaps the water conservation balances out against the paper waste.

I decided to record my first day of winter cabin cooking this year…

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For breakfast I normally have fresh ingredients handy.  It’s always lovely to have a nice leisurely mountain breakfast on a snow day, something hearty and comforting to keep your belly warm and cozy and help insulate you against the less than tropical temperatures.

One of my favorites is a potato and egg omelette.  You can make this in a traditional Spanish way where it comes out more like an egg cake or my favorite way, which is messy and loose.  More like an omelette scramble.

Loose ingredients for one serving:

1-2 Small Potatoes Cut Into Small, Thin, French Fry Style Pieces

Handful of Chopped Green Onions

2 Eggs

Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper

For the cabin the cast iron skillet is unavoidable and essential!  Not only does it look good in situ but it is by far the easiest pan to clean.

First decision today, which bottle of frozen olive oil should I use for this recipe?  Winter cabin cooking problem # 1 – everything freezes!

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I start out putting enough olive oil in the pan to coat the bottom and have a nice layer for the potatoes.  I tend to not use too much oil and more sauté them rather than deep fry.

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I scramble the 2 eggs in a paper bowl with the handful of green onions and salt and pepper, then set them aside.

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I cook the potatoes until they break easily with a fork.  Depending on how much oil is left in the pan I either drain and pat dry the potatoes or just blot them dry in the pan to remove the excess oil.  I usually lower the fire a bit so the pan isn’t so hot when I add in the eggs.

After the pan is the right temperature I add in the eggs and keep them moving with the potatoes until they are done but before they start to brown.

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Then serve immediately.  You can also garnish with additional green onions if you like.  Bon appetite!

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For this recipe I brought in the eggs and potatoes but had green onions chopped and frozen in the freezer.  This is a practice I learned from my New Orleans upbringing where we always kept at least this part of the trinity frozen and ready for eggs!

The clean up is very easy on this one.  While the pan is still hot I use the spatula to scrape any egg residue up.  After the pan cools I simple dump out the egg residue in the trash and then use a paper towel to wipe down the pan.  Voila.  The oil residue keeps it perfectly seasoned for the next use!

After a large breakfast I tend to just eat some snacks for lunch so the next meal up for today was dinner.  After an afternoon of harvesting deadfall wood in the snow and testing my mettle with the axe, I decided that a hearty lumberjack meat dish was sounding pretty good for supper..!

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I had stocked the freezer in the fall with a couple packs of ground bison and decided to make  a meat loaf.  I prefer bison over ground beef as it’s much leaner and cleaner than ground meat.  This is a much messier dish to put together.  I stock larger paper bowls for cooking projects like this one.

Ingredients:

1lb Bison Meat

Handful of Chopped Onion

Handful of Chopped Green Onion

1 Egg

Handful of Italian or Homemade Bread Crumbs (Optional)

Salt & Pepper

First dilemma for this recipe is how to thaw out the solid as a brick frozen meat in a below freezing cabin setting.

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Well you collect some snow of course!

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If you are scratching your head at that one and imagining that I’m some kind of outdoor magical genius let me be very clear, I am NOT and I have the scars to prove it.

I collect the the snow and then build a very hot fire in the wood stove.  I then take the cast iron skillet and throw some fresh snow in it to thaw.

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After that powdery goodness reverts to it’s liquid state I add in the pack of frozen bison meat and let the stove do it’s job.  It’s important however to keep an eye on the meat so it doesn’t start to cook in this set up!

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I take the bison meat out of it’s package and drain off any excess liquid or you can pat it dry with paper towels.  I salt and pepper the meat.  Throw in the onion, green onion, egg, and bread crumbs.  (If you’d rather not add the carbs you can leave off the bread crumbs.)

I massage this all together until it is well blended.   (This is the messiest part of this recipe since cleaning up your hands is a chore with no water!)  Next I take a medium size piece of heavy aluminum foil  (the one for grilling works great!)  and create a pan out of it by folding up the edges.  Then you simply mold the prepared meat mixture into a loaf and place it onto the aluminum foil and pop it into a pre-heated oven.  I normally go 350 degrees but you can adjust as needed.  The altitude wreaks havoc on oven cooking so it’s always wise to pay attention and a meat thermometer comes in handy.

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This is great pared with a baked potato or sweet potato in the oven, frozen peas, or any other easy to steam veggie.

Clean-up on this is also a piece of cake.  You are basically just throwing out the used bowl and aluminum foil.  Minimum trash and no dishes to clean!

And for those of you wondering about the hand washing I normally melt and boil some snow and then use some good old Dr. Bronner’s soap to finish the job which is biodegradable and environmentally safe so the water can be tossed outside with aplomb!

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Mouse Olympics

People are often surprised I go to the cabin by myself, and often doubt the wisdom of this.   My boyfriend is just happy to get me and my relentless nervous energy out the house when I’m not working.  My soul craves movement and the open road always….

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I love being at the cabin alone.  It gives me time to think and reset.  Dive into the endless chores and manual labor that I so enjoy about being out in nature and the homesteading environment of the cabin.  I like that I am only on MY agenda.

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No guests to entertain, no trying to decide on an activity that will make everyone happy, and no battle of wills with my boyfriend over chores versus relaxation…!  See I love the chores.  Love the stacking of wood, testing my mettle with a wrench, and seeing how many uses I can come up with for Gorilla Glue.  (You’d be surprised.)

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I can do whatever I want, when I want.

Sometimes that involves trying to carry an immovable large stump by myself, sometimes that involves rearranging all the lamps in the cabin in a creative mission to come up with a better lighting aesthetic, and sometimes that involves enjoying a whole bottle of wine by myself in front of the fire with a good book and no commitments.

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It was on one of these nights that I realized the cold snap had become frigid enough that it had become “critters inside the cabin” season again.  The one reason that I sometimes regret my decision to go it alone is the proverbial “bump in the night”.

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It’s interesting how the different seasons of the cabins each involve their own set of natural invaders to get accustomed to and deal with.

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In the spring it’s the massive explosion of spiders that coat the exterior in a fine glistening web of terror, in the summer it’s the gnats and moths beating against the window trying to get near the shimmer of the lamp light, in the late fall it’s the small, soft, rodents trying to escape the cold outside by finding there way into the walls of the cabin, and in the winter everything goes silent except for the wind.  Which is why it may be my favorite of all the seasons at the cabin.

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You see there is a space in the windows where the panes drop into the wall.  This small, tiny really, crawl space that has become the refuge of the rodent kingdom and also an object of terror for me.

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The first fall season in the cabin upon hearing something nosing around in the wall, I didn’t actually think it could get into the room, that is until it poked it’s furry head out right next to the bed!  img_3130

I wish I could explain the level of terror I felt when confronted with this little beastie right in my face.  Why does this scare us so much, this confrontation which such a small creature that probably wouldn’t harm us?

I think for me it’s the knowing that it could jump on me at anytime.  The knowledge that it is in there with me and completely out of my control.  That night he popped his head up, I screamed, he dropped to the floor.

Well that at least was an improvement.  From my perch in the very high bed that was custom made for the cabin I can keep my feet off the floor, no problem!

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This night though there was a different sound in play.  I had mentioned to the neighbors the night before that I thought I heard something up on the roof.  They assured me it was probably just tree branches falling from the wind, or maybe a squirrel.  I concluded that their thinking was sound and didn’t investigate further.

Until the next night when I heard it again, crawling around in the small water heater shed attached to the bedroom.  Then I heard it hit the metal shower wall HARD.

Ok, obviously something larger then a mouse had gotten into the shed.  Was it a raccoon?  Was it a squirrel?  Mountain lion?  Nah, too big.  Should I open the door and have a look?

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Regardless it was in the exterior shed not inside my room so I could probably just leave it alone and chase it out in the morning.  Let it get a cozy night sleep as well.

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The shed that had a small door that led into my bedroom was also adjacent to my actual bedroom closet as well.  I heard the noise shift into the top of my closet.  Crap.  It’s inside now.  It also sounded like it was gnawing on something.

I felt like I was in one of the Edgar Allan Poe stories that I had so loved reading as child.  The thing is, when one is alone in a cabin in the woods one does try to avoid scary stories and horror movies of all kinds.  Disney classics are the better way to prepare yourself for a night alone, maybe some Jane Austin, and Indiana Jones thrown in for good measure.  I’m not opposed to Star Wars or Harry Potter, although both of those have sufficiently creepy enough bad guys that they are even borderline.  I try to avoid reading any Stephen King novels before a trip alone.

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As a young pre-teen my parents used to have some of our slightly older friends from dancing school come over to watch us when they were all out together at an event.  Normally a Mardi Gras Ball during the colder months of the year.  These friends that were our sitters thought it was really “fun” to sit in the creepy Victorian room in our house complete with sadistic looking old dolls and read scary stories to us.

The dolls had patch work faces with parts rubbed off with age and use, sitting in Victorian strollers that I was always convinced would some how shift forward when I wasn’t looking.  This room was decked out completely in Victorian pink, as if the dolls weren’t scary enough….

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We would sit on the floor with our backs leaned against the old radio cabinet and they would read to us out of Stephen King’s “Night Shift” collection.  “The Boogeyman” was a favorite, “The Mangler” was always good for a laugh, and of course for a nice cold night “Sometimes They Come Back” was always a real charmer.

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I decided the best offense was a defense.  Perhaps I could scare “it” outside.  Instead of “it” scaring ME to death.  I grabbed the paddle off the wall and a flashlight, banged on the outside of the closet, and slipped the door open armed for a battle.  Typical to all scary stories, there was nothing there.  I did however realize there was a basket at the top of the closet and that’s what, “it”, whatever it was, was enjoying a late night snack on.

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I removed the basket, looked around the closet, satisfied that there was nothing there, closed the door and climbed into bed.

There was silence for a bit.  I thought my plan had worked and “whatever it was” had moved onto greener pastures.  Until I heard a scurrying from overhead and saw this long tail with a tuft on the end hanging off the side of the wooden rafter beam directly above the bed.

I wonder how long it took me to get out of the bed, grab the paddle, and scream my way through the French doors and into the living room.  That wasn’t a mouse!  It had to be a rat!

As I shined my flashlight at it, he turned around and looked at me with large ears and a mouse face.  So not a rat.  But not a regular mouse either.  This was a bonafide CRITTER!  It proceeded to run directly across the rafter above my bed and dive into the wall space.  This guy wasn’t as smart as he thought as he left his tufted tail sticking out the top of the wall so I knew he was still there.

Now what.

I made sufficient noise that accomplished a whole lot of NOTHING, so I decided maybe tonight was the night I should sleep in the living room.

After a half hour of reading on the couch and contemplating checking into Tamarack Lodge for the night I went and had another look.  Tail was gone!  I didn’t hear any other noises so assumed it was safe to move back into the bed.

About 15 minutes later was when the Mouse Olympics started to unfold in my walls.

He had already shown his skill in the balance beam department.  Which promised to cause me endless nights of unrest now that I knew the damn things could run over the top of my bed and drop on me anytime they wished.  Perhaps a mosquito net made of chainmail was in order?  Do they sell those at the Renaissance Festival I wondered….

Now he started doing what could only be based on the noise level a combination of the relay race and hurdles happening all at once.  This guy was FAST.  I didn’t think there was enough room in the wall to get up that much speed!

Mice in the walls was one thing, “Mouse Olympics” going on above and around me all night with what was either a Deer Mouse, Kangaroo Rat, or some other large rat like mammal was something I was not quite ready to take on.

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What was next?  The pole vault with the fireplace poker?  Water polo in the toilet?  Maybe the discuss throw with the kitchen coasters?  Or maybe he had a friend and there could be a nice fencing match with the fireplace matches?  I do love a good fencing match.  I’m sure Mark Harmon in Worth Winning never considered the live action version.

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I’m an animal lover and had recently decided I wasn’t going to leave out rat poison anymore although most of the cabin owners did that or something similar to avoid nests being built in their cabins.  This little guy was determined to ruin it for everyone!

I heard it “drop” back into the shed and decided as long as he didn’t prance over my bed again I should try and get some sleep.  All was quiet till about 5am when he decided to go for Olympic Gold with what could only have been an amazing gymnastics routine happening on and around the various contents of the shed.  I imagine the camping cot legs and the water heater coils provided some incredible opportunities for extra points.

As I was leaving that morning I left him to it.

I hope that he didn’t decided to open the floor to other competitive rodents and that my next visit doesn’t entail a call to the Mouse Olympic committee.

Sigh….it’s always something, which is why they invented champagne!

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The Honeymoon’s Over

It’s almost the one year anniversary of when I got the keys to my little haven in the woods. As I was reflecting on what magic this place has brought into my life I couldn’t help but be reminded of all the work that goes into it and the little bit of crazy that happens each time I come up here.

Like this morning.

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It’s just after Labor Day weekend, and all the tourists have left.  That late summer cold snap that heralded the approach of winter was upon us and we were snuggled up in bed enjoying the early morning sounds of birds.  Our apartment in Silver Lake is on the reservoir that has been under construction for almost 9 years and has more recently been dubbed “Silver Pit”.  We also reside on a street that people like to drag race down in the wee hours of the morning so one of the cabin’s most satisfying perks was that we could arise to the sound of Stellar Jays and woodpeckers and not the infernal Beep! Beep! Beep! of construction trucks backing up at 6am.

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Imagine my chagrin as I was lightly dozing and this familiar noise starts to invade my sleep.  I vaguely recognize the sound but it can’t be right.  Maybe I’m dreaming?  Or more accurately having a nightmare because that couldn’t possibly be the Beep! Beep! Beep! of a vehicle backing up.  Not here in my cabin paradise.

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I opened one eye and looked out the window directly into the taillights of a van backing up adjacent to my bedroom window.

This was going to be a trying first morning in paradise.

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While the cabin is on a small dirt road and there is a large, well signed, public parking lot across the lake, people still weave their way through the whole campground, find the dirt road, ignore the “Private Cabins” sign and proceed to bring their cars to park directly in front of the cabin.  This is sometimes amusing when you see these massive dually trucks fight their way down the super narrow dirt road and then realize there isn’t really a way to turn around.  Their answer?  Just drive right over my front yard or the shrubs and grasses.  Because in a national forest the rangers just love it when you drive over the trees they are trying to protect.

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Sometimes we get whole caravans of families in cars trying to get to the waterfall.  This is always interesting as now you have a line of 3-4 cars with no place to go.  There is a reason there is a lovely, large, parking lot across the lake but somehow our entitled nation feels as usual like they deserve the closest spot no matter what the repercussions.  This is also amusing when you consider that they are all here to go HIKING.

The taillights were followed by watching this older man casually go through his morning grooming by brushing his hair in the rearview mirror.  This at least was an interesting departure from the normal.  It was so weirdly charming I decided to just roll back over in bed and not worry about spending the morning looking at a van instead of the lake.

That’s about when the screaming started.

As I rolled back over I saw two large wolfhounds leaping out of the van.  They looked just like the direwolves from Game of Thrones.  They were gorgeous beasts.  One slick and black, one skittish and white.  There was also another multi colored one in the driver’s seat of the van.  Gave new meaning to the term “Unleash the Hounds!”  Hmmm, maybe this was the Doc Brown version of Ned Stark?

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Doc was very busy chasing these wolfhounds around and screaming at them at top volume.  It was 6:45am.

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Sigh.  I guess I had better go out there and have a polite conversation about squatter etiquette.  If you are going to park your van in front of my house, go through your grooming routine and let your dogs out, you could at least not chase them across my lawn at volume’s reserved for 5 alarm fires, alien invasions, and Guns N Roses concerts.

I opened the door to the hounds running circles around a tree with the man still screaming at them just outside my front door.

“Hi?  Excuse me but the public parking lot is across the lake.” “Huh, sorry I’m short of hearing.” (No kidding.) “I was saying that the public parking area is across the lake.” “Oh, Jack who owned this place before you has been letting me park here for 10 years.”  “That’s all fine but could you stop screaming on the front lawn, people are sleeping inside.”   “Oh, sorry about that, yeah no problem.”

Confrontation dealt with politely.  Morning noise resolved.  Climbed back into bed for a little more sleep.  Then the horn started honking.  ‘Have the lambs stopped screaming Clarice?”

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I did remember after the encounter Jack mentioning when he turned over the keys a year earlier that there was a man that would sometimes come by with wolf dogs.  I guess I had now met him and inherited a little bit of an eccentric visitor.

As I mentioned earlier there was always that little bit of crazy.

Now that I was officially awake I started my morning cabin routine.

  1. Start the coffee pot.
  2. Build a fire.
  3. Kill the 2 spiders in the sink.
  4. Kill another moth and pick up the carcasses of the 2 I had killed the night before.
  5. Pull a cup out of the cabinet and dump out more dead moths.
  6. Wonder why the water pressure is so low.
  7. Make a plan to go snake the pipe again.
  8. Sit at the window looking out across the lake with my coffee to remind myself why I deal with #’s 3-7.

The bugs I was getting used to.  That morning I was using a fly swatter to rid myself of a spider’s web that had popped up overnight when I somehow managed to catch a fly in the web that was on the flyswatter.  I don’t imagine the makers of fly swatters had considered advertising this extra feature.  Multi tasking at it’s finest.

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Now if only the fly swatter would also fix the problems with the water system.

When we arrived the afternoon before we turned on the water only to find out we had none.  Being briefed on how to snake the pipe properly by the plumber on the last trip up I heaved a heavy sigh, put on my boots, threw the snake over a shoulder, and headed up the hill to have a little chat with the pipe.  The chat turned into an argument.  Followed by a fist fight.  Or at least that’s what my body felt like after I had to yank 2 pipes apart, snake them for an hour, and then use a rock to bang on the pipe in the hopes of shaking out whatever was blocking them.

We finally managed to get some movement in the pipes and although the water pressure was low at least it was working.  I was desperate for a shower after the 5 hour drive and my extended debate with the pipe.  The new showerhead had worked amazingly on the last trip up and I was ready for a luxuriant, decadent shower.  That’s when problem # 2 came into play.  Not only was the water down to a trickle in the shower but the on demand hot water heater was not working.  The hot water heater that was sending out scalding hot, rushing water through four showers in a row on the last visit was now not working at all.

The honeymoon was officially over.

 Have you ever taken a cold shower?  Ok,now let’s say you’ve done that (and it doesn’t count if it was after a sweaty workout or if you live in Louisiana and are just trying to cool off!) have you done it under a trickle of water to where you have to stand in said freezing water for 10 minutes trying to get the shampoo out of your hair?  Did I mention the water was from a mountain stream not known for it’s cozy natural temperature.  At least it wasn’t snow melt anymore.  I could be thankful for that.

We googled troubleshooting the heater.  Drained the water off, unhooked the pipes, cleaned the filter with q-tips, took it apart to find spider webs coating the circuit board, and yes you guessed it more dead moths.  How the hell did those guys fly in THERE?!

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Somehow I survived this afternoon and settled in for a nice French duck confit out of a can (those French are pretty brilliant) dinner.  Nothing a little French food and wine can’t fix.

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The water worked at a low water pressure level for another 24 hours and then stopped again.  Timing itself perfectly with my mother’s visit from New Orleans.  She’d only been in the car for 2 days driving across Texas with her van loaded to bursting with a bunch of amazing antiques for the cabin.  Running water and a shower probably didn’t appeal to her at all.  Lucky for her she got to bear witness to “Pipe Snaking Throw Down #2”.  She coached, she encouraged, we got it going again, we celebrated, and then it stopped again.  We gave it a 2 hour try and then finally decided the top pipe was so corroded all the snaking in the world probably wasn’t going to solve the problem.  I guess it was time to put my homesteading skills to work again and figure out how to replace that pipe.

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Not only was the honeymoon OVER but some seriously counseling may be in order!

Luckily my mom is a good sport and we didn’t let that ruin our visit.  She was there on the first day that the Devil’s Post Pile road was open for the shoulder season my favorite time of year to visit.  Rainbow Falls was raging, the colors were starting to turn, and the park attendance was low.  At least some things were going our way!

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The cabin is certainly a journey like any relationship.  One that is challenging and rewarding and keeps me coming back for more over and over again.  Despite the spiders, wolfhounds, corroded pipes, and that little bit of crazy.

 

Gone Fishin

Spaz.  That pretty much sums up in a word my first attempt at going fishing in an inflatable kayak.

It’s not the first word that comes to mind when you think of a former beauty queen but I would like to be clear that I can trip over AIR.

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Having spent the morning going to the fishing shop, listening to the fisherman gossip, and getting my very first California fishing license, I was super excited about seeing what all the fuss was about!

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You see we had seen this man walking down the road by Lake Mamie with what can only be described as a bevy of beautiful trout.  He looked like an ad for Orvis.  This guy KNEW how to fish!

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I casually congratulated him and inquired in my best southern drawl what bait he was using.  I felt like a spy trying to get damning secrets out of a crooked politician over a martini.  I mean this was important.  Bait was where it was at!  He promptly told me what he was using (Succumbed to my southern drawl or just really nice guy?) and why he thought it worked so well and I hightailed myself to town to pick some up.

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First step was to practice my casting technique.  I had spent an endless childhood fishing in the bayous and lakes of Louisiana but it had been a couple of years since I had picked up a pole and I wanted to see how out of practice I was before boarding an ocean going vessel made out of rubber with a sharp hook.  I carry a life jacket on my kayak in case of an emergency but I wasn’t planning on having to test out this safety feature if I didn’t have to.

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When we were cabin hunting one of the things that kept bringing us back to our sweet little place on Twin Lakes was the lake access.  While we were attracted to some of the higher, more remote options it was the front door with steps to the water that kept pulling us back.  I put this to good use with my kayak, now it was time to start participating in what I was watching countless people do every day in the front yard.  Go fishing!

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I popped on my wellies, took a glass of wine over to the falls, found a slightly submerged spot on a rock on which to keep my wine glass chilled (priorities), and started going through the paces of casting.

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Would you believe I caught a fish right away?  I guess I wasn’t that out of practice!  Unfortunately, having forgotten to grab the net and having gotten excited I did exactly what my Dad always told me not to do.  I jerked the fish out of the water, it promptly fell off.   As I was completely unprepared for what to do with a caught fish since I was just trying to hone my technique it was probably for the best all around.  I pondered this over another glass of wine.  As I was feeding the fish I figured it was only fair to feed myself as well….

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With this success in my back pocket I loaded my kayak in the car and headed up to Lake Mamie to see if this bait story held water or was just a diversionary story by a wily old fisherman.

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I don’t know if any of you have ever fished from an inflatable kayak.  I certainly hadn’t.  Some small issues….

First off, you can’t anchor it since it would more then likely sink, it also being a lake in the mountains which is often quite windy the first battle was trying to get the line in front of me.  I did some stationary gymnastic worthy moments trying to get out from under my line.  Probably not an Olympic sport contender yet but give it some time and who knows!  Drift is a serious problem as well.  As soon as I got cast into a great spot towards shore I would somehow end up on top of my line.  Thank goodness no one was filming this spectacle of spasticness, although I’m sure it would have gone viral with the utter ridiculous of me spinning around in circles trying not to get tangled in my own fishing line.

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This was all fine and dandy as this was partially an experiment, that is until I caught the line on a log and snapped it.  I managed in a fancy ninja move to catch the line before the hook sunk out of sight.

Now I was in a fix.  I had the hook, line, scissors, but trying to rig this on a wind tossed kayak wasn’t exactly what the designers of fishing line had in mind.  I did however by some miracle manage to get the whole thing re-rigged without flipping or running into land and was feeling quite proud until I did my next cast.  There was a catch.  Meaning it caught and didn’t cast.  Seems I had done something wrong, I thought I knew what it was but fearing some calamity that ended with me and the pole in the water I decided to head back to shore.

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Which is when I found THE CANADIANS.  Oh Canada!

I was dejectedly paddling back to shore when I ran across this very nice Canadian family that lived in Santa Monica fishing from the shore.  They asked me how it was out on the lake and I explained my dilemma.  These two delightful gentleman offered to help and spent the next 10 minutes re-working my pole!  Turns out they were from the St. Lawrence river area where I had taken my very first white water rafting trip and had gotten hooked on fast clear water. Kismit at work once again.

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It would be a couple weeks before I stepped back out on the lake with a pole.  It was dusk and I was in the mood for a light paddle on Twin Lakes.  I decided to take the pole just in case.  The lake was calm, the fish were biting, the waterfull was providing a spectacular evening show, conditions couldn’t be more perfect.IMG_1043I landed a crafty little fellow a little while later and managed to reel him in and net him without tipping out of the kayak.  Success!  Unfortunately, the little guy had swallowed the hook completely so I had to paddle back in to sort it all out.  But, fish was on the table for dinner tonight!

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I had never cleaned a trout before and decided that if I was going to get into this I had to be prepared to do the whole job even the dirty one.  Being a nature softie like myself there is always a bit of sadness when killing a fish.  But I also believe in a way if you are prepared to eat something it is a good lesson to understand that it has given it’s small life up for you and to appreciate it.

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I looked over a quick tutorial and went at it.  I think I did alright in the end.  I could have used a sharper knife and now my Opinel that I bought in Chamonix will be living at the cabin for just this purpose!

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My boyfriend broke out the cast iron skillet, browned some butter, and tossed in some lemon wedges with the trout.  It’s unreal how delicious fresh fish right out the lake is compared to what you buy in the store!   I can see now why there are so many people out on the lake everyday trying to score dinner to bring back to their campsite!

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Bon Appétit!