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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recycling

We’re moving again, back to our home at the top of a mountain in Colorado, after two years in the Denver foothills. It’s been a short experiment, and there have been some good things about it. But mostly, I can’t wait to get back home to my cabin.

With this move, though, I’m dedicated to a minimalistic approach to what we bring with us. I want a fresh start in my old home, and I want to leave behind things that are dragging me down, and ones that no longer serve a purpose in my life.

Jeans from 2008 that don’t fit anymore? Donated. A desk that I never actually use for writing at? Gone. Bowls that are chipped and stained and oh by the way I didn’t really like to begin with? Off to Goodwill.

I also just sold an antique hutch I bought right after a life-changing breakup. It had been a project that took me several weekends to finish back then, nearly 20 years ago. I remember working on it in the Texas summer heat, sweat dripping into my eyes. It had kept my mind off how badly I was falling apart inside, and it gave me something to put all of that hurt into. And it gave me a sense of pride that I could tackle refinishing the piece on my own, without him. I brought the hutch with me when I moved to Colorado — just me and my dogs — partly because I needed a reminder almost every day that I was strong and capable.

But I have other reminders of that now. I don’t need the hutch anymore. And it doesn’t need me.

I also took a huge step and recycled about 30 years’ worth of my feelings and thoughts (and bad poetry). I started journaling when I was in 3rd grade and stopped only during the college years. (Possibly due to not wanting any evidence to exist of what may or may not have happened at the Dixie Chicken in College Station, Texas.)

Recently, I flipped through all those journals, one by one. I could feel the pain dripping from the pages of my adolescent and teen years, when I felt so alone and so terribly ugly. And I caught my breath reading through the years of clinical depression, the years of fighting unexplained infertility, the years of losing my grandparents and saying good riddance to friends I thought would never let me down.

I suppose I’d held onto these journals, thinking they would inspire my writing at some point, thinking they might hold important insights some day. But all they are now are reminders of darkness when all I want to feel is light. So I ripped them into millions of pieces and threw them into the recycling bins.

I did choose to keep a few journals … the ones documenting my decision to move to Colorado, the ones reminding me how and why I fell in love, against my strongest judgment (I wasn’t interested in marriage!), with my husband. And the ones filled with the limitless joy and amazement when our son came into our lives.

It feels good to let go. It feels really, really good.

Saying Goodbye to My Dream, or the One-Year Experiment with Normal Living

Dear cabin, I’ll miss you.

It’s difficult for me to even type these words, but here it goes: This is the last week of life at 10,500 feet above sea level for me. [insert sobbing noises]

At least for a year.

That’s right. We are conducting a grand experiment that involves moving from our beautiful log cabin at the top of a mountain, along the Continental Divide, to a larger home at a much lower altitude.

In other words, we’re trading crazy for how regular people must live. And I’m not sure I can survive it.

I’ve done a whole lot of writing and relaxing on this deck in the summer.

Why the move? A lot of reasons, I guess. My husband has given me 10+ years of living in a raw, often brutal climate. That’s pretty darn good considering I gave him three months when we first moved up here. He was a suburban boy who’d never used a chainsaw back then, a guy who practically lived in movie theaters. Now, thanks mostly to Netflix and heavy drinking (kidding), he’s adapted quite well. But he’s tired of the drive, which can be about as dangerous as it gets in the winter, i.e., nine months out of the year. He’s tired of the snow. (When Denver gets a foot of snow, we get three.) He’s tired of the hardships of mountain living, which can range from temperatures that hit 50 below for days on end, 90 mile-an-hour winds and mountain lions on the prowl for snacks like our son and dogs, to days without power and weeks without water. And I’ll admit these things wear on me, too, some days.

So the answer: We’re testing the lower-altitude waters by renting a home in the foothills west of Denver. At a whopping 6,500 feet. That’s 4,000 feet and two ecosystems lower than where we live now.

At the new place, we’ll have things we’ve learned to live without for over a decade. (A decade!) Things like a garage. Trash pickup. Newspaper delivery. The opportunity to grow things in the spring and fall. The ability to take a walk in the winter without putting on professional snow gear. The capacity to not have a week’s worth of blizzard supplies in your car at all times just in case you careen off the side of a mountain on your morning commute. It’ll be a whole new world for us.

So what’s not to like about the move? Why am I so grumpy I had to warn my family to stay away from me while we packed boxes this past weekend?

My neighborhood.

Because this was my dream. When I moved to Colorado, I knew I wanted to experience true mountain living, with all of its ups and downs. I didn’t want comfort; I wanted adventure. I wanted an authentic log cabin. I wanted to heat with wood that I cut with my own hands. I wanted to write in total peace and quiet, and thrive under the watchful eye of a golden eagle and the supervision of tall pine trees and groves of golden aspens.

Besides, I like the challenges this life presents to me. I like that I can’t get complacent here; Nature keeps me on my toes. I like that the air up here feels unlike any other air I’ve ever breathed. I like that the blue sky here is so crisp and so exquisite that it can make you literally gasp from the pureness of it all. I like that on a clear night, the dark sky is like a field of a million diamonds above me, stars so close you think you could really touch them if you tried. I like that I can walk to our meadow and see wildlife every time, because bears, deer, moose, elk, coyotes and foxes are our closest (and best) neighbors. I like that I can trout-fish in our creek or mountain lakes with my son all summer long and never have the same experience twice. I like that I don’t have to drive to get to hiking trails; amazing ones are outside my door. I like that I can snow-shoe or cross-country ski on my lunch hour when I work from home in the winter. I like that the summer wildflowers can be so breathtakingly beautiful that there really are no words to describe them.

Mostly, I think, I like that not just anyone can make it up here. I like that it makes me different. And frankly, I like what it says about me: I’m strong. I’m resourceful. I’m fearless.

I’m basically bad-ass.

And yet. Did I mention there was a garage at the new place?

So, I have promised to give this a chance. I will embrace my 2.5 bathrooms and the fact that I can now recycle at the end of my driveway. And I’ll try really hard not to get progressively meaner when fall and winter settle in, and I’m living in complete and utter comfort, with not a carnivore predator or a four-foot blizzard in sight.

I’ll also try to remember this quote from Winston Churchill: “We shape our dwellings, and then our dwellings shape us.”

After all, the mountain has shaped me in so many ways. But there are things the new place can teach me, too.

Right?

At least this way I’ll be closer to Texas Roadhouse and a good liquor store.