It was just getting dark as the sun slipped behind Lucky Jim, the mountain across the valley floor from the cabin, but the driveway to the cabin from the highway was covered with snow. About a foot had fallen over the course of the day before we arrived. A pair of vehicle tracks could be seen underneath the top layer, but it was difficult to know what the total depth was. It remained to be seen if Jilly, our Jeep, could get up the hundred yards or so to the front deck without getting stuck. The thought of having to haul our packs and supplies through the deep snow in the gathering cold darkness was not appealing.
Yes, the snow was deep, but the combination of four wheel drive, all terrain tires and my excellent driving ability made the trip from the highway to the front of the cabin a piece of cake. Now we had to find the key to the front door. We’d neglected to ask anyone and assumed that it would be in the lock box on the garage, but, after crawling through the snow to the side building, the key was not to be found.
We called several in the family who might know where to find the key, and as to be expected in this day of instant communication, no one answered the phone. Eventually we had a few texts containing a variety of answers, but no one actually seemed to know where the cabin key might be located.
Sheila has never been one to wait around for a problem to magically solve itself. She grabbed a shovel and cleared a path to the front door where she found the door unlocked.
The cabin was ready for our visit with dry wood in the box next to the stove and a pail of small sticks and pieces of bark for kindling. Waste paper was inside the stove, ready to light. Within minutes a warm fire was blazing.
There was still a small, Douglas fir Christmas tree next to the front window with colorful, home made, paper chains wrapped around the boughs. Through the windows long ice sickles could be seen hanging from the roof. Shots of Jim Beam and Pendleton whiskey welcomed our arrival.
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2021. A new year. A new start after a really shitty year, probably the worst year I had since I returned from a short stint with the Marines as a Navy Hospital Corpsman in the last century and ended up in the St. Albans Naval Hospital in Queens, New York with a hole in my left lung caused by tuberculosis. I would spend nine months there before transferring to the VA Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, to have the diseased part of my lung cut out with another six months of recovery and rehabilitation.
In 2020 our lives were being threatened by a rogue virus that jumped from an animal to humans in China and, with incredible speed, became a pandemic. COVID-19 was soon discovered to be especially dangerous to old people like Sheila and me. Almost a year later it was found that 80% of deaths related to the corona virus were people 65 or older.
2020 was also the year of a presidential election where the loser, Donald Trump, trumped his long history of lies by claiming that the election was rigged and that he, not the legitimately elected Joe Biden, had won by a landslide. Online conspiracy theorists jumped on his band wagon with vicious support that goaded a faux paramilitary in Michigan to attempt to kidnap the governor and planned a follow up by storming that state’s legislature with more armed fools.
It was also the year of social unrest with the murder of Floyd George and the Black Lives Matter movement. There were counter protests with armed right wing extremists like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and other militia groups. Destructive riots in Portland and Seattle went on for months.
We faced personal challenges with worries about family, and the death of a dear friend. Other loved ones became seriously ill with possible terminal outcomes. Personal isolation, mostly in our own home, brought loneliness and interfered with sleep, creativity and the thought process.
With the turning of the calendar on January first, we were somewhat comforted with the news that vaccines are being developed and distributed that will potentially end the nightmare pandemic of COVID-19. We also had a new president to be inaugurated soon. Hope began to be something reasonable to behold.
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More snow fell over night and it was still falling. The temperature was ten degrees and the cabin was cold. There were no embers inside the stove from the night’s fire.
Looking around for some paper to start a new fire, I could only find a few pieces in an empty cardboard wine carrier. But, the kindling was dry bark. The small bit of paper fired quickly and soon the bark was lit. A few small pieces from the wood box slowly caught and soon larger pieces were aflame. With a few puffs from the wooden and leather bellows, a proper fire began to warm the room.
Sheila had started the Mr. Coffee and a rich aroma added to the early morning ambiance. We sat down at the table where we began our daily routine. First we wrote on yellow legal pads our Morning Pages, a stream of conscience exercise where we write as fast as we can, putting down anything that comes to mind. We ignore grammar rules and spelling. Just write to fill both sides of a sheet. Then we tear our finished product up into small pieces and throw them into the fire.
The writing ritual sort of clears the junk of complaints out of the way and makes our minds ready for proper thinking and creativity. Maybe.
We have a friend who had been doing the Morning Pages for years. She admits that, during some dark periods in her life, she has filled both sides with “fuck, fuck, fuck——.”
Next we sit next to each other on the sofa next to the stove where we ask about the past night. How did we sleep? What dreams did we have? Then we read something. The content varies. It could be something from a Buddhist periodical, a poem, even something as mundane as an article on the Internet. Opinion or news.
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We call ourselves isolated, but at the cabin we have a great Internet connection. If we can get to the road, we are equidistant from Mazama and Winthrop, a mere seven miles. However, there are no next door neighbors, no one walking past on the sidewalk or in the alley. The only visitors are whitetail deer who frequently stroll over the foot bridge behind the cabin on their way from the river to the stack of alfalfa at the end of the drive.
The snow had let up to only a few flakes after breakfast when we pulled on our boots and coats to go out and shovel. There was about a foot of new accumulation, but the snow was piled high on either side of the paths that lead to the wood shed, the garage and around to the front of the cabin where the Jeep is parked. We used scoop shovels rather than the small snow shovel. The snow needed to be tossed over to the side rather than plowed.
The sky cleared as we shoveled and the sun was bright enough to hurt the eyes as it reflected off the pure whiteness of the landscape. The sun and exertion made it necessary to take my jacket off as I started to sweat. It was hard work, but it felt good as I built a rhythm into the loading of the scoop, tossing the snow and lowering the shovel for another go. I tried to remember to alternate sides so that my back would not become strained.
Scoop, lift, toss. Scoop, lift, toss. Scoop, lift toss.
I’d not had much to use my upper body in the last several months after the gyms closed in March due to COVID-19 restrictions. I grieved little when my access to the health club was denied. I hated going to the place.
It’s not that I loath physical calisthenics, but the workout at the gym seemed pointless with nothing accomplished at the end of two hours. There was not a sense of productivity in working with the weight machines or doing workout training in a room with other old farts. Jogging on a treadmill seemed equally as useless. After a workout I usually felt like I’d lost a couple of hours of my life and had nothing to show for it.
Shoveling snow was different. Looking at a cleared path, sweating from the effort, I could see that something had been accomplished. It felt good even though I was quite certain that the cleared trail would be covered soon with another layer of snow. For now it was a good job done well.