Saturday, August 8, 2015

That Magical Place We Knew As A Kid (Part 2)

After passing through the deep valley where we always stopped to look for deer; we would continue on down the bumpy dirt roads towards the cabin. We'd have to take many twists and turns down different roads before reaching our destination. I always tried to remember which road was the correct one for us to turn off at, but I never could quite remember the right direction. Yet, for some reason I never once feared that we'd get lost. I knew that my dad knew exactly where he was going, even if I didn't. There was always that sense of security being in this different world, completely cut off from everyone else. Even though I was fully aware that I'd be completely helpless should I ever be left on my own, I still never had to feel that fear.

After we'd head down the last hill before reaching our cabin, we would first see the cabin that my Uncle Ken built. He had sold it to some friends of the family that we went to school with and were fairly close with in that chapter of our lives. About 200 yards beyond that was our cabin. We would slowly pull onto the needle and fern strewn ground, sprinkled with broken branches and deep roots that twisted in and out of the forest floor. Our car would slowly bob up and down as we passed over those roots, making our way in between two trees off to the left side of the cabin. For the most part, that would be the final resting place for our car while we were at the cabin.

Rear view of the cabin.

Almost like clockwork, mom and dad would start unpacking the car dutifully bringing things into the cabin, while my brothers and I more often than not, would run off to begin playing. One of the first things we often did was start gathering small sticks, twigs, and pine cones together to start the first fire in the fire pit. After all, the fire was one of the best things about camping. Since it was also a fairly long drive for three impatient kids, we often had to relieve ourselves in the outhouse. Since we didn't have any running water, it was either that, or we would have to find a tree. I don't think mom ever really cared for the outhouse.

Although there were many times that it was just our family (and usually our friends up the way) staying at the cabin, there were probably even more times when another family would join us when we went to the cabin. Three different families in particular have blessed me with life long memories at that place. My brothers and I had so much fun, if for no other reason than because we got to share this magical place with other kids around our age. We would run back and forth between the two cabins, pretending we were ninjas. Armed with long sticks stuffed down our pants, or tucked inside our shirts we were always ready for the evil enemy that lurked around every tree. Oh, and in case you didn't know, there are HUNDREDS of sticks that look just like pistols. That's because in our minds...they were pistols.

Front view of the cabin

One of the strangest yet greatest thing about the cabin was the spring. As I previously mentioned, we didn't have any running water (or electricity for that matter) at the cabin. So we'd have to take empty milk jugs and walk what felt like a mile, back up the hill that we came from when we first arrived to the cabin. Near the top of the hill, we'd exit off the road to the left, and walk down another hundred yards or so before reaching the spring. We could always hear the running water, long before we reached that spring. To my knowledge it was a natural spring, the origins from whence it came...I never knew. But long ago someone had put a pipe into the ground, and that's where the water would flow. It was completely covered in moss built up from the constant running water. There was also a metal box a few feet down from the "spout". People would often store their bottles of pop or other items in this box to keep them cool.

How we got all of our water while at the cabin

A couple years ago, Danae and I found ourselves visiting in Pennsylvania. We were able to take her up to the cabin to show her the place that I loved so much. I'm pretty sure she didn't quite feel the same warm and fuzzies that I did. But, I was glad she was able to see it for herself. Almost like a family ritual, my dad, brothers, and myself all went back to the spring, and each one of us in turn straddled the rocks on either side and cupped our hands into the frigid water for a sip. That was another strange thing about the cabin. Water in the area was always FREEZING, and it stayed freezing even after we brought it back to the cabin.

The inside of the cabin was by no means large, nor was it glamorous. But I never once thought that it was anything less than perfection. There was a very small kitchen/dining area upon first entering the cabin. In the back there were two beds on either side of the room, and in the middle was a sleeper sofa. All of us brothers loved sleeping on the fold out couch. I don't know if it was just more comfortable than the single bed, but it was definitely cool as we never slept on a fold out couch any other time than at the cabin. We would rotate who had to sleep on the single bed and the remaining two boys got to share the sleeper sofa.

Looking at the front door from inside the cabin

The kitchen/dining area. To the right is the ladder that led to the loft.
The bed mom and dad shared and the fold out couch

So what does a family do for a long weekend without running water or electricity? Plenty. This time period was well before the recent technological boom of our society, so thankfully we still had our childish imaginations fully intact. We spent hours just running around in the woods, playing whatever game or adventure that we could think up. We played board games, and learned how to play different card games. We would spend time up in the loft and read mystery books with some of our friends. There were actually two mattresses up in the loft, and when we had guests that didn't bring their own camper, they would sleep up there.

The loft. Pay no attention to the falling insulation.
The cabin also had a wood stove that we used to heat the cabin. There was a gas stove in the kitchen that we used to cook from (if we ever made a meal that wasn't utilizing the fire pit outside). That fire pit outside was where we enjoyed all kinds of hobo pies. For those of you who don't know what a hobo pie is, it's a little cast iron square (the size of a sandwich) that you put your ingredients into, and put either over the fire or place into the coals. The possibilities were endless. We made everything from toasted PB&J sandwiches, to pizza, toasted ham & cheese, and even desserts. The dessert was usually two pieces of bread sprinkled with powdered sugar, and some kind of pie filling or marshmallows inside. Of course we had potatoes that we'd wrap in tin foil and toss into the coals, plenty of hotdogs and roasted marshmallows. There was also a grate that we used to stretch out over the fire so that we could grill on top of it as well.

After the daylight was gone, we'd often all be outside by the fire pit. Each person would have their own lawn chair and we'd just sit and bask in the warmth, sharing stories and memories. Sometimes we'd swap riddles or tell jokes. Us kids would always collect a few long sticks to hold into the fire while it slowly ate away at that stick. We'd hold onto it until our hands would start to hurt, then it was time for another stick. Directly above us, the trees overhead opened up to the sky. You could always see thousands of stars.

We had so many great times at the cabin, and I could go on and on about the all the different things we did: hiking, the first day of trout season, pulling bullets out of the bullet stump, Jake's Rocks, Hector's Falls, Crocodile Rock, Kinzua Dam. We had so many great times there and I will always look back on those memories fondly. My hope is that one day, I can share the happiness I felt at the cabin with my own children. I imagine it won't be in the same place, but as long as we're together enjoying each other and making our own unique and lasting memories, it won't matter one bit.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

That Magical Place We Knew As A Kid (Part 1)

Danae's been mentioning to me the past few days, "I haven't seen you write anything for your blog in a while." I know, I know. I can't quite put my finger on it; call it lack of inspiration. More accurately put: lack of motivation. My tendency has always leaned more towards the lazy spectrum of life. I'll go through these highs and lows of drive towards different things. Take for example: the other day, I got it in my head that I needed to start cleaning. The house wasn't very messy by any means, but that's just what I was feeling compelled to do. So that's just what I did. The following day....not so much.

That's how it goes for me. I feel ready to go one minute, and the next I'm just as content to sit on my butt and stare at the ceiling fan. Oh, did I mention that we got a new ceiling fan? This one actually puts off a bit of wind, which is PARAMOUNT during our oh-so-beloved Texas summers.

The past few months, my thoughts have been traveling back to my family's trips to our cabin. My great grandfather Sam Mears, built a cabin in the Allegheny National Forest many years ago. Our family would take multiple trips to the cabin throughout the year, and I LOVED it! As a kid, there were hundreds of amazing things about that place. 

I vividly remember how anxious my brothers and I got as we loaded up the car so much that you couldn't see out of the trunk window. We often would fight who would get to sit in the back seat. That seat was often loaded up with the pillows and sleeping bags, which is a natural pre-built fort ready to accommodate the lucky inhabitant for the duration of the trip. 

It's amazing how in just under a two hour drive, the complete landscape of the world can change before your eyes. I remember it seemed as if we were driving to a different world. The trees became giants, the rocks and stones turned into cliffs, and the air always became more crisp and fresh. It felt as if this different world was very old, yet somehow pure.

Once we got to the entrance of the woods that would lead to our cabin (marked by the crossing over a specific railroad and emerging onto a dirt road) we were allowed to take off our seat belts and roll down the windows. I would get chills as I took that first deep breath, taking in the scent of pine, spruce, and hemlock. My dad always slowed the car down to take in the sights. I would always scan between the trees, hoping for a glimpse of a bear. I'm not sure if I ever came across one. 

At a certain point between entering the forest and arriving to our cabin, we would pass through a deep valley that stretched on either side of the road. The area was completely devoid of trees on both ends as far as you could see. I believe it was a power line trail. But, to our family that was the prime deer spotting location. Every time we went to the cabin and hit that specific spot, dad would stop the car (or at least slow down significantly) and check both sides for deer. It got to the point where we would anticipate reaching that mark of our journey. I'd dare say that now, most of the things I've just mentioned were all little parts of our journey that we anticipated the most. 

Not the actual power line trail, but a field in the area

But there were so many more great things to come...