When I first moved to the woods, I lived in a rustic cabin with no running water or electricity. It was summer and beautiful. I would eat breakfast on the old wood beams of a dilapidated deck, basking in sunshine, wind, scents of forest, sounds of the creek. I carried water from the creek, and learned about wildlife. One night I roamed with a flashlight trying to find the woman I’d heard screaming, only to learn later that cougars sound like women screaming…
And then winter came. I learned that it takes a huge amount of snow melting in a stock pan on the wood stove to make an inch of warm water. I learned that what looks like a huge amount of firewood when chopping it, shrinks to a tiny pile when stacked and needed. I learned a whitewater river can freeze if it gets cold enough. Those reading this that are locals will remember that winter of 1988 when the river froze. I quickly figured out that an outhouse in the summer, with the door open to mountain views, is much less romantic when the seat is covered with frost. The infamous words I said to my father still haunt me: “I’m not going to spend $200 on a heater that I’m only going to use a couple months a year!”
Remember leg warmers? An elderly woman made me a pair and she struggled with knitting so they reached from ankle to crotch. Picture that as you read on because this is what I wore, layered, to bed that first winter: heavy wool socks over two other pairs of socks, leg warmers, sweat pants, tee-shirt, flannel nightgown heavy sweater, robe, mittens, scarf, a cat under a big pile of blankets (living hot water bottle) and a dog on my feet, under her own blanket.
I woke up each morning with the blankets frozen to the walls and my breath turned into frost on the blankets. The cat’s water was frozen and the windows had a thick layer of ice on them, on the inside.
I bought a propane heater.
It worked really good, creating a glow that looked warm at the far end of my tiny trailer. It kept the cat’s water from freezing if I put the dish next to it. But it did nothing for the blankets frozen to the wall. I got used to that ripping sound when I got out of bed in the morning.
My parents retired and moved into the tiny cabin that I have been restoring recently, and have posted pictures of on this blog. My father, being a genius, built a water wheel out of pulleys and pipe caps and old single cell batteries, creating electricity. My brother, father, and I, put in 1500 feet of pipe down the ridge to get the flow of water needed to generate the electricity. We still used kerosene lanterns, but the electricity powered a refrigerator (in the summer I had used a small cooler powered by a car battery), and my father’s television. Reception was terrible, and he swore shows came in better when there was snow on the mountain.
And now, many years later, I have come full circle in a way, living there again with my husband and son. I know to stack lots of firewood. I know to have a supply of kerosene. I know to can and preserve and freeze to fill the shelves for winter. I know not to yell at cougars or to look for them with a flashlight alone in the dark. I know when the bears are in my compost. I know the haunting sounds of owls hunting at night, and the sight of stars not dimmed by city light pollution.
But sometimes I miss those days of self-reliance, of knowing how to live without. Well, I don’t miss the frozen blankets.
Here’s a link of last winter, on the road I live on. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kB9eN5SCoO0&feature=plcp I’m giving my son a lesson on driving in the snow, and the snow was actually deeper than it looks here. We were driving from our place into town in our big red diesel truck.