As a child I really hated Thanksgiving. A product of two crunchy liberals who came of age during the 70’s, I adopted a vegetarian diet from a young age, and, while I was well versed in environmental and social responsibility, matters of societal and cultural values tended to be overlooked. Consequently, the primary staples of the Thanksgiving holiday had little appeal to me; I was as interested in feasting upon turkey meat as I was in the practice of watching my heaping plate of side dishes grow cold as I entertained the long-winded proclamations of thanks offered forth by each of my adult relatives. I could not comprehend the practice, which required me to squeeze around a chronically overcrowded table to suffer a seemingly endless bestowing of grace before being permitted to indulge in a dinner that on all other occasions was provided to me in the absence of such conditions.

I see your heads shaking with disgrace, your fingers wagging shame. But really, knowing the surrender that is demanded of us over the course of a lifetime, is there any other way than to begin from a stance of absolute egotistical self-interest? (Borrowing this philosophical bend from author, Stephen King, I must admit credit where it is due.) While your heads may shake and your fingers may wag, as I look back upon this unabashedly narcissistic child version of myself, I feel more jealous yearning than shame.

Since that time, Thanksgiving has moved up on my list of preferred holidays with each of my accumulated journeys around the sun. It demands less of me than any other day of celebration. (The self-interested child lives on!) And, as my values shift with the spinning rotation of time, they have become increasingly aligned with this day of thanks.

Jim and I have a lot to be thankful for this year. We are grateful for deepening connections with friends, family, and our pups, for health enough to continue our mountain adventures, and (on many more days than not) for each other. But this year, above and beyond all else, we are thankful for WATER! The gift of indoor plumbing was bestowed upon us in completion this week by the hands of a patient and diligent plumber (who has been shockingly tolerant of our unique cabin-specific plumbing requests). We are equally grateful for the removal of the portable toilet, which has marked the entry to our driveway for the past 16 months! How will we now direct visitors to our home in the absence of this beacon???

While water represents the most recent gift bestowed upon us and our little cabin, it stands on the shoulders of giants. Carpenters, electricians, earthwork magicians, friends, family, and all others who have contributed to the transformation of our lives over the past year, you hold a special place in our hearts this season.

After arriving at Jim’s parents’ home late last night where we will celebrate this turkey day, Jim Sr. and Sue laughed along with Jim Jr. and I as we reminisced upon my reaction to entering their home of lights and indoor plumbing last year at this time. I’d been overjoyed by the switching on of a light. Shocked by the vast expanse of their standard size refrigerator. And nearly brought to my knees by the prospect of indoor plumbing and a warm shower.

When we return home at the end of the weekend, we will enter into a home ablaze with electric light and heat, where water (and hot water at that) is called forth in endless supply with the turning of a faucet. Our gratitude pulses through our little cabin like electric current. Awe pours in waves through the pipes that weave through our walls.

This past week, on the day the plumbing was completed, a rainbow emerged from the darkness of a storm to arc across our muddy yard. A bridging of water outdoors to in. I am appreciative of the small, persistent child inside me who innocently and egocentrically believes that this spectrum of light was born from the universe for her, as she marks the simple yet profound emergence of water in her home. And I am grateful for the bow that connects this child believer to the adult who, with muddy boots, gazes out upon the water and the light from a little cabin nestled in the woods.

photo 1





Around this time last year I scolded myself for having procrastinated in purchasing firewood and vowed to never again allow myself to end up stranded in the cold. Well, apparently old firewood habits die hard. This year, Jim and I once again spent the summer months basking in the warmth of denial. We kayaked, hiked, mountain biked, and barbecued. We lounged in the sun like reptiles, intent upon soaking up every ounce of warmth provided to us during the lengthening hours of daylight.

To consider the purchase of firewood was to admit to summer’s mortality. And so, once again, we waited until the slow decline of summer could no longer be repressed from consciousness. And then, resigned to acknowledge summer’s passing or be snowed in and frozen in our steadfast refusal, we picked up the phone to inquire about ordering a stash of wood for our fire. We were laughed at. Scoffed. Mocked, once again, for our ill-preparedness. However, what our approach lacked in proactivity, it made up for in persistence. A source of firewood was found! As supplies of the seasoned stock had been tapped out long before we picked up the phone, we were resigned to accept “green” wood (meaning that the wood is not sufficiently seasoned, not, as I once believed, that it is literally green). Having had consistent (forced) practice over the past year with the concept of being grateful for what is available, we accepted our delivery of green wood with open arms. Looking back upon last year’s acquisition of firewood, during which we sawed, chopped, split (and on occasion wrestled) log-length monstrosities into morsels deemed appropriate by our little wood stove, we reflected upon how easy we have it this year.

Our firewood was delivered to us in pre-sawed, pre-chopped, and pre-split ready-to-burn pieces. And, since September, there it has sat. A heaping pile of procrastination, tucked conveniently just out of view in the far corner of our yard. In all fairness, we have not had the opportunity to stack it until very recently, knowing full well that our mediocre piles of timber wouldn’t stand a chance in the path of the excavation equipment that has been dutifully transforming our driveway and front yard.

And so, as our little cabin draws ever closer to entering the 21st century, we followed suit through the implementation of modern innovation (also known as laziness). We called in the troops: Mom, Dad, and their dump truck arrived last Saturday with their tractor in tow. And so we set to work. Dad, who appears at his happiest when in command of his tractor (a machine that submits to his every knowing request in a manner that my brother and I steadfastly rejected upon many a weekend workday), directed our heap of firewood into the dump truck, bucketload by bucketload. The mass was then deposited inches from the location where it would sit for the winter, in waiting. Mom and I needed only to lift the logs from the ground, turn, and stack them neatly against the cabin’s outer walls.

IMG_0941     IMG_0927

IMG_0933     IMG_0952

Jim was the only one to rage against the machines. Quiet and methodical in his rebellion, he emerged between dump truck loads to deposit in our yard small wheelbarrow batches of logs that he had sawed into wood stove length pieces earlier in the fall. Beneath the intrepid purr of engines, he echoed a thin but persistent rhythm of logs being split by hand and maul. By the end of the day, he had laid out before him a heap of freshly-split wood, a splintered pile of the cautious but resolute expression of conscious self-sufficiency that he has maintained throughout the lifetime in which I have known him.


Even with the support of two extra sets of hands, a dump truck, and a tractor, the daylight hours dwindled rapidly. After delivering the majority of our firewood to the edge of the driveway, the equipment was trailered and driven away. Our job was only to stack the remaining mass of logs. And then it snowed. A drain beneath the house froze (although we don’t yet have running water, we have been using a hose- connected to the pressure tank- as a temporary water supply). Jim spent the day under the cabin using a space heater and a hair dryer to coax the sufficiently chilled drain pipe back into commission, then constructing a solution so as to avoid spending future afternoons in the company of dirt and spray-foam. Thus, we decided to abandon the wood-stacking project, planning to return the following day, at which point the snow surely would have melted from the earth. And then it snowed the next day. And the day after that. Suffice to say, a partially-stacked pile of firewood sits capped in snow, patiently awaiting the return of the sun. If winter persists in its (somewhat but not entirely) precocious emergence, our little wood pile will remain, resigned to pass the time before its final journey to the wood stove as a heaping collective, delivered from centuries of effortful hands, each offering up the same end result.


Water for the Pipes


We continue to be a cluster of moving parts, drawing closer together each day, but still not connecting. We have electricity. A well. Our septic system is complete. Plumbing will go in soon- the final integrating step. We have cabinets but no countertop (yet). Appliances have been ordered, but cooking is an impossibility today. We rely upon cold meals or take-out from a small handful of local restaurants, each of which are becoming familiar with us and our all-too-predictable eating habits. I feel like I’m developing a reputation…

But the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is growing brighter by the day. Now as I glance around the cabin, I catch myself seeing shadows of what will be rather than what is. This morning I actually turned on the faucet of the bathroom sink, fully expecting to be greeted by a stream of water. (I should mention here that in my slightly impatient anticipation of the arrival of our plumber, I have set up the sink to appear as though the pipes are actually connected- I even adorned it with a bottle of hand soap and a display of our toothbrushes. The only thing missing- plumbing aside- is the physical manifestation of my aspirations for this tiny space. Believe me, if they were in any way tangible I would have splatter-painted them across the bathroom walls.)

The hardest part about construction is the state of dysfunction. We lived in this little cabin for more than a year with nothing- no electric, no well, no septic, no cabinets- but we could cook, clean, and stay warm. Now, in the presence of many of these luxuries, we are remarkably not self-sufficient. We are dependent. We used to have a shower (water was carried in, so it was an admittedly short, but always hot, shower). A Coleman camping stove served as our cooktop. In the process of seeking more, what little we had has been dismantled.

But this is ok. As the renovation of our little cabin nears completion, I feel more and more like a sellout crawling around in the infrequently-bathed skin of a hippie. I read about others who stumbled into their own versions of the cabin, and remained there for years. Even a lifetime. A haunt of what-ifs comes rushing down. Vultures preparing to feed.

Going through this renovation, I realize, is my last foreseeable opportunity to connect with the original reason I fell in love with the cabin. It keeps life hard. Maintains the few remaining threads that link me to the version of myself I discovered within the past year. The one who builds a fire when she is cold, and lights a candle when it is dark. Because her consciousness is required for such things as light and warmth, she places her heart into the mundane, and in doing so, finds the pulse. She is connected. Grounded. An albeit messy part of the whole, but still a living, breathing, inextricably integrated, component of some great rhythm.

The version of myself who sits with me now is decidedly disconnected. In limbo. Like the facade of a functional bathroom sink, any semblance of integration she presents crumbles away when you reach beyond the superficial. She fears the trade-off associated with simply turning a knob for hot water. Finds herself absentmindedly leaving lights on when she once marked time by the dripping of candle wax, the reduction of its wick. While I have to admit that I look forward to being able to shower on a whim in a way I never could have comprehended before this year, I worry that this will come at a cost. That the force of ease and comfort will drive me away from the heartbeat. The great rhythm will drum on without me.

I am going to have to find new ways to tune in- as I doubt the old avenues will continue to mark the way much longer. Even now, I can feel the path closing in. The connection fading. The pulse, when I am able to hear it, comes only in whispers. There are other noises now, and they muffle the sound.

But it will come. It will be a new adventure, like wandering toward a familiar summit from an unexplored approach. Perhaps I’ll even discover new perspectives along my way. But I must start at the beginning rather than pretending that I am already at the top simply because I’ve been there before. I must find water for the pipes before expecting the sink to serve its purpose, or I will simply be left with an appealing, yet inwardly empty, vanity.