Letter to the New Owners

 

Look, it’s my fault, I think.

I must have forgotten to mention the trees. Surely, if you’d known, they’d still be standing.

That little aspen grove in the corner of the yard? They were babies, not higher than my knee, when we moved in 16 years ago. Eight or 10 of them, connected in ways we may never understand. We watched them grow and struggle and grow and then finally thrive. They were a few feet taller than me when we packed the moving truck. They had survived a blizzard that dumped 9 feet of heavy snow on top of them, a storm of a century that broke the branches of our sturdiest pines. They survived several summers when no rain came until early September, when their stressed leaves turned not bright gold but a mustard brown, and fell to the ground in the slightest breeze. But they survived. Provided cool shade from a burning high-altitude sun, allowing ferns and mushrooms to grow in the patches of earth between them. Until now.

And that one thick lodgepole pine by the deck. For 16 years, that tree held the wooden birdfeeder my father built for me with his own hands, and that my husband hung snugly against the trunk, so tight no 120 mph wind in the dead of February winter could send it flying through the woods. I lost my dad two years ago, but I still had that weathered birdfeeder. That he made me. In that tree. Birds of all shapes and sizes ate from that feeder year-round. Chickadees, woodpeckers, pine grosbeaks, bluebirds, gray jays, nuthatches, dippers, pine siskins, crows and the incomparable stellar’s jays, with their breathtakingly rich blue-sky wings and screechy call. Red-tailed hawks sat in that tree waiting for a rosy finch lunch, and once, a golden eagle rested there. Right there. My kid learned about birds from watching that tree. He knew the call of a chickadee before he knew any kind of rhyming song. I wrote and edited novels next to it, listening to the noisy chipper games of squirrels and chipmunks.

You see, these trees were quite possibly some of the most spiritual things I’ve ever accepted into my over-cynical mind. If there was a god of some kind, a power in the universe working beyond our control, I figured it must reside in the bark of those trees.

But now. Well.

So for future reference, here are a few other things to note.

The woodstove in the great room is your lifeline. Don’t treat it like an appliance, something that can be replaced easily. It will heat the whole cabin on a 50-below zero night with 60 mph winds howling outside, when there is no way a propane furnace could keep up with that kind of cold. Not all woodstoves pack that kind of punch. But our little one can. And did for 16 years. If you treat it well, it will protect you from the kind of cold you can die from.

Also, there’s a little piece of skinny, floor-to-ceiling wood that frames the closet in the extra bedroom. It has tiny marks and dates, indicating how our son grew, from when he could first stand with his head proudly flush against the wall, his chin a little raised. He’d let me mark his height there, in his room, and spin around to see just how much he’d grown since the last mark was made. We marked his last height the week before we moved. He’s 10. And I know those are our marks, not yours. And yet, they belong to that cabin in a way you don’t yet.

Let’s also talk about the creek behind the house. A selling point for our cabin, no doubt. But there’s a responsibility that comes with that. Stupid people sometimes come up to the mountains and dump their crap back there, near the creek. Don’t ask me why. And the winds, so fierce in the winter, blow things all around on the mountain, too, and a lot if can end up in the creek. So, you’ll have to stay on top of the trash in the spring and early summer. If you want the moose and bears to still visit for fresh drinking water, and the trout to still swim through it during snow melt-off. And that way, if you take care of it, you can sit by it in the summer evenings, listening to the still and then the rush and the flow, and know that it’s not polluted with beer cans and Styrofoam and parts of an old mattress, but quite likely renewing a whole ecosystem downstream. And maybe a part of yourself, too.

There is so much more to say. The little blue spruce that is about 4 feet tall along the rock walkway? I planted that our first year in the cabin. We were broke, but it was on a clearance shelf at Home Depot for $3. I bought it and planted it and cared for it like a child during the years when I suffered miscarriages and the emotional and physical pain of infertility. I couldn’t make a baby, but I could water that tree. After his adoption, my son and I hung Christmas lights on that tree many years. No tree was ever more wanted.

Oh, and the front of the house next to the large boulders? There’s a perfectly sunny spot there in the winter where you’ll want to stack your firewood. Trust me, we tried a lot of stacking locations over the years. But the important thing to remember is that you have to move that wood by middle of May, if there is any left over, because if the ground is allowed to feel the sun, it will eventually spring forth a mountain wildflower garden in late June. Purple fireweed will bloom, and wild roses, and yarrow and sunflowers, and pink clover, and even a few yellow wallflowers, and they’ll change your life every time you see them in the morning light.

The back deck. Where to begin? My son gardened with me on that deck, rode his Big Wheel on that deck. Learned to shovel snow on that deck. Took naps on summer afternoons on that deck. Had picnics on that deck. Laid, wrapped in blankets, on chilly August nights watching meteors showers on that deck. My husband perfected his barbecue techniques on that deck, with his old-school charcoal grill. We’ve listened to music on that deck as a family, made s’mores together around the firepit, wrote songs together, sang Rocky Mountain High together at midnight on that deck, ate lazy summer meals on that deck with good friends and family. A family of raccoons lived under that deck one winter. This year, it was rabbits. Lots of rabbits that our golden retriever mixes would visit 10 times a day. We have had bears on that deck. Red and black foxes that look into the sliding glass door at dinnertime. We made our most important decisions on that deck.

I could go on, but why? Why. We chose to leave. Life moves on. Things change. The raw, unbridled, sometimes-harsh life at the top of a mountain was exactly what I needed when I moved to Colorado from Texas so many years ago. I wanted to be tested. I wanted to heal whatever was broken. I wanted that log cabin and piece of land at 10,500 feet above sea level, with its surrounding snow-capped peaks, to save me, and it did. Again and again and again. I didn’t want to leave that cabin, or my mountain. But I had to, and now. It’s not mine anymore.

You are the stewards.

Please handle with care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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15 thoughts on “Letter to the New Owners

  1. Reading this an hour past my bedtime with tears streaming down my face. Please promise me that you will print a copy of these beautiful words and send them to the people who bought your house. This is too important NOT to do that. Please, just tell them. They are living on sacred ground, and maybe if they understood that they would accept the responsibility of caring for a special corner of the world that will never really belong to anyone, but can be loved by many future generations if treated with respect. Hugs from home, heart aching for you!

    • Thank you. I know you understand this all too well. I thought about sending this to the new owners, I really did. I’m glad that the place comes across as “sacred” in my words. Because that’s exactly what it is. xoxoxo

      • Re-reading your beautiful words again this morning; just wanted to say I think this is the best thing you’ve ever written. Send it to HuffPo – seriously. It’s that good. So many “tree hugger” rants come across in a way that alienates the earth plunderers; this speaks to their hearts (assuming earth plunderers have hearts, of course!)

      • Ha! You make me laugh. I’ll think about it. I get requests from HuffPo every now and then, and am set up in their system. Hmmm…

  2. Wait! You’ve had to move off of your mountain? I seem to have fallen off from notices of your posts, unless there have been none to read…I’ll go look.

    I know what you mean about planting trees. As I think about the future and needing to move from my wooded spot someday in the not too distant future, I think about the tiny twigs I planted which now, 17 years later, are trees. Beautiful trees.

    One of the best things about visiting England is seeing the trees that someone had the forethought to plant, knowing it would be many generations after they were gone, that the trees would reach their full glory.

    I hope you are well.

    • Hi Anne, thanks for always reading. I haven’t posted in awhile. We moved this summer. The boys had an intervention with me. Sigh. Being a grownup is hard. Love what you said about generations and trees. Hope you’re well, too. I still love your panda work!

      • I’m sorry you had to move off your mountain. I know how much you love it there, and in a year(s) of changes, it’s hard to lose a place that fed your spirit. Much love to you and your family. I know they are your “place” as well. We always find the refuge we need at the time we need it.

        Thanks for your kind words about the pandas. They are part of my place of refuge. and stay tuned for tales of actual pandas coming soon!

      • You’re, as usual, very wise, my friend. And yay for actual pandas! And what is up with the publication of your book?

  3. Kathy, you brought tears to my eyes with your description of love for your wild place. Growing up in Alaska, I too learned the value of the wilderness and the animals who live there. Now they aren’t being protected as they have been in the past, and that causes me great pain. Thanks for caring and writing. I hope your transition to life at the foot of the mountain is at least bearable (no pun intended).

      • Kathy, I’m retiring at the end of January next year. Maybe then I’ll have the energy (mental and physical) writing requires. I’ve never thought of writing about that part of my life, but now that you mention it, it might be fun!

      • I’m so happy for you. Having more free time will be amazing, and I hope it does spur your creativity. Let me know if I can help. Would love to read anything you write!

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