Is it a place to hide? A place to heal? A place to quarantine? Or a forever member of the family?
This place. Friends and family coined the phrase “Fishman’s folly” when we purchased it. No doubt that its original homely, rickety exterior…sharply listing to one side, the stale interior air redolent with the dusty, funky possessions of the previous owner…encouraged this view.
But here we now sit, 65 miles away from our legal residence in Arlington, VA. At 2,200 feet above sea level, the mountain top catches clouds when the rain rolls in, resulting in deep, dreamy foggy mornings that sometimes linger for days. With few people and plenty of trees, it is a perfect social distance place. But what else can it do?
Once the longtime weekend and summer getaway for a childless couple who had converted the original layout of this 1960s cabin from a two bedroom to a one bedroom in order to enlarge the size of their master bedroom; the place was filled with owl-themed items, lamps, wall hangings, pillows. During our 1999 closing, the original owner, an elderly gentleman in his 90s, told us, “Everything in that cabin is yours now, I took out everything I wanted except her ashes. They are scattered around the cabin; she loved the place more than I did. This was her place to be with nature and recharge.”
So, we didn’t just acquire the physical, we acquired the spiritual and emotional remains of this place. We discovered a diary that his wife kept, noting where and when she spied a specific wild flower or plant around the premises and what birds scouted a good nesting place in early spring. What will this all mean to us?
When we bought it, I was glad for a useful hobby/retreat for my husband Rob as I focused on my career. I had just begun a weekend MA program which coupled with a full-time job and a high school-age son left me no time to be available for much else. Rob had just been diagnosed with Hep C and was planning the first round of his treatments. At the time there was no promise of a cure, just the hope that the chemo could improve his chances of not getting one of the cancers associated with the disease.
So, the cabin took on a significance beyond its homely exterior and dated interior. And improving it, caring for it, developing its potential was a way of staking out a brighter future and creating a retreat in a natural setting that promised the potential to heal. And that is what it has become.
It took Rob two more tries to be cured of his Hep C, largely due to the evolving efficacy of the treatments available, but he is now cured. When we sold our four-bedroom home after our last child graduated from high school and went off to college, we renovated and moved into an urban condo. We also undertook a large renovation and addition to the cabin. Much of the family room and kitchen furniture from our family home found a new home in the cabin. I remember laying my head on the familiar oak kitchen table that had seen so many weeknight family dinners with tears in my eyes. I was grateful this familiar piece of furniture had found new life in our empty-nest existence.
On my son’s 18th birthday when he was in the first few weeks of his freshman year of college, our family dog, Benji died. He had been sick for a few months, but that hot, sticky July day his pain made it impossible to touch him and he was euthanized. My husband, I and our 24-year-old daughter made the sad trip to the cabin with Benji’s lifeless body in the car trunk. My husband struggled to dig a small grave in the back of the property…the rocky earth defied his efforts and the futile attempts my daughter and I made to help him. We sweated and wept. Finally, we had a shallow place to lay his body and we scouted for large stones and rocks to place on top of the little grave so roaming animals and preying birds would not unearth it. We drove home in silence. We avoided telling our son until the next day. The end of a part of our lives had come, our children’s childhoods had been laid to rest and the cabin held the remains.
A few years later, I found the quiet solitude of the setting a good backdrop for taking long, solo walks down nearby paths to ponder and review thoughts and plans as both of my aging parents became ill and decisions had to be made. We subsequently hosted several family Thanksgiving dinners there and happily witnessed the birth of multiple vineyards in the area around us. Our son and daughter-in-law’s cat breathed his last there as well and his body has found a spot next to Benji.
In August 2015, we held a first birthday party for our first grandchild there for more than 20 people and spread a plastic tablecloth on the front driveway for her to explore and demolish a heavily frosted birthday cake baked for that purpose. A blue bucket bath followed.
Now, in the age of Covid-19, this is a time for which the cabin originally was created. It is a place to practice social distancing, a place demanding the kind of simple, earthly chores that keep our hands and bodies busy while we take a break from corona virus news reports. A place that reminds us that everything returns to the earth unless we work to keep natural forces at bay.
We wake up when the sun streams through the skylights and do simple yard work, reading, writing, painting, cooking; and try to imagine the good times, the times with our family, will return. We have faith in this eventuality, because we see the seasons changing and spring blooming into summer. Time, patience and perseverance will reward humankind as sure as sunrise follows sunset.